How I withstood pressure and got Jonathan employed at OMPADEC A Nigerian critical of the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan today is the Convener of the Committee of Concerned Northern Professionals, Politicians, Academics and Businessmen (CCNPPAB), Dr. Junaid Mohammed. Ironically, the same Junaid, who was a former member of the House of Representatives in the Second Republic , highly recommended and fought for the appointment of the President at the defunct Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC). Barely 19 years after, the same Junaid thinks otherwise of the President. In this interview, our Managing Editor, Northern Operation, YUSUF ALLI, the critic opens up on how he met President Jonathan. Excerpts: … Full story
A Nigerian critical of the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan today is the Convener of the Committee of Concerned Northern Professionals, Politicians, Academics and Businessmen (CCNPPAB), Dr. Junaid Mohammed. Ironically, the same Junaid, who was a former member of the House of Representatives in the Second Republic , highly recommended and fought for the appointment of the President at the defunct Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission (OMPADEC). Barely 19 years after, the same Junaid thinks otherwise of the President. In this interview, our Managing Editor, Northern Operation, YUSUF ALLI, the critic opens up on how he met President Jonathan. Excerpts:
With your avowed commitment to sanity in public life, how did you come about OMPADEC appointment? Wasn’t it a failed assignment?
I came about the assignment without knowing what OMPADEC stood for. While on a visit to Umrah in Saudi Arabia , a friend told me that they understood that a school mate of ours, Barr. Ibrahim Ismail, who is currently the Managing Director of this Heritage Printing Press, was looking for me desperately because he said that ex-Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, wanted to talk to me about the new national assignment and that he thought it is a good idea if I could come back to Nigeria very quickly. And I told the people to tell him that I wasn’t coming back.
I went to Saudi Arabia not only for Umra (lesser Hajj) but also to find time to relax and find my new bearing and commiserate with myself. Eventually, I did not hear anything. When I returned to Nigeria in May, I had a phone call from Babangida and from Ismail Ibrahim and I was made to understand that I was being considered for appointment as a member of that commission. I said well I do not know anything about oil except those I had contact with the people of the Niger Delta during my years in the National Assembly in 1983.
I also told them that I think the government was confused which they needed to clarify because as far as I was concerned, the responsibility for the development of the Niger Delta as a critical area of our national life lies and still remains with the Federal Government. Any attempt to handover the responsibility for the development of Niger Delta or for handling the consequences of oil exploration in the area to the elite will not work. I believe the development of the oil region should never be given to any elite group in the Niger Delta because the elite in the Niger Delta, like the rest of the elite in Nigeria , are irresponsible.
My feeling has been, since I was in the parliament, that the Federal Government must have full, high power commission to take over the development of Niger Delta. Any attempt to either settle the people or the elite in Niger Delta will backfire badly and Babangida as a friend knew my views about the area. So, when this commission was being put together, he said look, is there any way we can make the commission open for any Nigerian who knew and believe he can be of service to the country and people? But there was uproar from the people of the Niger Delta in government.
When they wanted to make it an exclusive club of only the Niger Delta, there were reservations from the then Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Finance, Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji, the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Aliyu Mohammed and some other people, including even Generals of Niger Delta origin. These Generals said if the matter was going to be left to the elite in the Niger Delta, there will be no development.
So, Babangida decided after consultations with some people that he was going to put the commission together in such a way that the people of the Niger Delta from oil producing states will have their representatives nominated by their respective governors. But he as president of Nigeria will reserve the right to appoint the chairman, the secretary and three others which meant that there were five people who were appointees of the government and who were not beholding to any of the local politics or any of the local politicians. And that was how my name came about.
When the array of elite from the Niger Delta, who were not in government or military wanted to rush Babangida into taking action, he was desperately looking for me but I was out of the country. Finally, when they wanted to have the commission their own way without anybody from outside the Niger Delta, the Permanent Secretary of Finance, Alhaji Abubakar Alhaji and the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Aliyu Mohammed and Muhammed Gambo (who was National Security Adviser) said no. They said they would not have that commission composed only of people from the Niger Delta because these people have had their history of not doing justice to their fellow brothers and sisters. And since the President(Babangida) had committed himself to making them the majority stakeholders, other Nigerians must be there to put eye on behalf of the government and the rest of Nigerians because what is at stake is the survival and the entire good health of the national economy.
We were constituted in June and we went straight to Port – Harcourt. The former Chairman of OMPADEC, Albert Horsefall, had managed to hijack the decree on which effectively would have made the activities of the commission impossible. He had said that if you are going to distribute projects, it will be on the basis of oil produced in the area and this is against the decree. Horsefall was determined that certain parts among oil producing areas were going to be favoured. He is a Kalabari, which is like a sub-group of the Ijaw. He wanted the Kalabari to have the largest share of the development funding arising from OMPADEC into their area. But if you go back to the argument of Horsefall saying that you must put money in proportion to the oil and gas produce by an area, then his own town and where he has his house, Degema, would have nothing.
Was that why OMPADEC failed?
Before we left Abuja , Babangida had summoned me and Albert Horsefall and said look, this is a national assignment and I believe the two of you can pull it through if you put your heads together. So, if OMPADEC fails, I will hold you Albert and you responsible because I believe the two of you matter. If you succeed, there will be success in that area but if you fail, the nation would have failed. We promised to do our best.
When we got to Port – Harcourt, it was a different ball game. But I opposed him (Horsefall). And anytime he brought something which I found unacceptable, I would tell him and confront him. If it became serious, I would fly to Abuja to brief Babangida, the SGF, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance and the National Security Adviser. That was how I survived through the years I was in OMPADEC.
How did you know President Goodluck Jonathan? Where did your path cross each other?
In short, I met President Dr. Goodluck Jonathan exactly early 1993. I met him in the cause of my work as a federal commissioner in the then OMPADEC in Port Harcourt . It has been renamed as the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). So, recruitment into OMPADEC brought me into contact with President Jonathan. We went to Port Harcourt as a skeletal group comprising only commissioners. This means we had 14 staff, apart from the secretary who was a Federal Government appointee. So, we had to start recruiting people.
In the method of recruiting, the former Chairman of OMPADEC, Albert Horsefall again violated not only the constitution but violated Decree No. 23 of 1991 of OMPADEC. He put employment into OMPADEC as a proportion to the oil that is being produced in an area. Producing oil an in area does not guarantee you that the area is the kind of area that produces engineers or doctor. If you have no doctors in the area and you produce all the oil in the Niger Delta, you could not be employed.
So, we found ourselves in a very serious manpower situation. Areas where we have the manpower to come and carry out the projects and execute them were not available. At the same time, areas that were producing the oil hugely so to speak could not unfortunately produce the manpower that was necessarily for the maintenance of the infrastructure that we are trying to put in the Niger Delta. In one of such, there had been earlier recruitment, but there had been a lot of backlash and complaints. So, people especially among the Ijaw were complaining that they were grossly under-represented and they said some of the people who said they were Ijaw were not Ijaw and did not come from the areas which have now been renamed Bayelsa after the creation of the state.
I took that into consideration and reported to Babangida and Gambo that there were a lot of complaints after the last recruitment exercise. We were about to start another recruitment when the name of President Goodluck came to my attention. I realised he came from a very under-developed area in terms of educational attainment. I also realised that the area is a huge producer of oil in the local government. I had two friends who are Ijaw. There was late Sam Ikikoro who said there is a young Ijaw man. I asked further, he said they are regarded as Ijaw and they speak Ijaw but they are a small tiny clan or group within the Ijaw group. I asked whether Jonathan comes from that local government or not he said yes. I said okay.
Then I also asked a close friend of mine, an engineer who had settled in Ghana and finished at Ahmed Bello University , Paul Abiu. I said do you know this man (Jonathan)? He said no, he did not know the man but he knows this local government. It is definitely an Ijaw local government. When the issue of recruitment came, I found out that in short- listing the names of applicants, Horsefall said he had an appointee.
I objected to that and insisted that the recruitment was an opportunity to redeem our image as a responsible organisation which is strictly speaking a Federal Government organisation belonging to all the people of Niger Delta. When the name of Goodluck Jonathan came, Horsefall said he had a better appointee, he introduced another name of his cousin. I said I would not accept. That was the beginning of the fight we had and it went on into so many areas and the activities of OMPADEC until the very end. Horsefall was defeated because majority of the commissioners in OMAPADEC then agreed with me and he had no alternative than to recruit Jonathan.
The fight came between me and Horsefall and the fight lasted until the very end of OMPADEC when it was dissolved by the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha. The important thing is that there was another boy who is now late, he is an Ijaw man. His name was Joe. Joe and Goodluck wanted to come and thank me and even come with their community. I said I didn’t want to see them because what I did was to satisfy my conscience. I believe Horsefall had done injustice by putting too many Kalabari at the expense of Ijaw people.
So, Jonathan knew what you did?
Very much. In fact, he thanked me well for that gesture, which meant nothing to me. As far as I am concerned, it is not for me asking Jonathan for compensation. It is not my business to come and see Jonathan. It was only lately I knew that one of my brothers happened to know him and they are close. That has nothing to do with me and I know I have seen him several times at OMPADEC. As far as I am concerned, my idea of public service is that you do what you can and regard politics as public service. I believe whoever is the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria must learn to listen to criticisms because the country is not his personal matrimony. Nigeria belongs to all us, whether he is my brother or somebody I knew, Goodluck or Horsefall, he has a responsibility to listen to us.
Are you saying your bitter criticism of Jonathan is not personal?
Absolutely no. Jonathan knows better than anybody. Even each time some people tried to incite him against me, he will look and say Dr. Junaid was my boss and that has been the case. As far as I am concerned, that has nothing to do with me, I have never had any quarrel, not even an argument with him when I was in OMPADEC where we worked together.
That would be how many years?
The relationship started in 1993 and we are now in 2012. So, what is the big thing?
If you knew of good qualities of Jonathan and you recommended him for a job then, why is that you don’t seem to agree ….
(Cuts in) I recommended him to be an Assistant Director, I did not recommend him to be the President of Nigeria. These are two different things. If I were to assess him as an Assistant Director, Ecology, that is a different matter. If I were to give assessment now as a president of the country, it would have been a different assessment. I did not vote for him, I would never have voted for him. I believe he has very serious shortcoming as the President of Nigeria. One, he is not only tribalistic, he practises it. We have a situation whereby the President of Nigeria is an Ijaw man; we have a National Security Adviser who is an Ijaw man; we have the Minister of Niger Delta who is an Ijaw man; we have a Minister for Petroleum Resources which is really the cornerstone of our national economy who is an Ijaw woman.
This is a nation of 150 million people, and your generation has a responsibility to know that Nigeria can never be governed the way Goodluck is governing it and if we are to continue doing that, we are going to find ourselves in a very serious trouble. It is better we all stand up and say no, than allow ourselves to be drawn into a civil war. As a Northerner, I stood my ground that he must be recruited into OMPADEC to redress the injustice meted out to Ijaw. That is the kind of spirit that I am expecting from him. If I had not appreciated his potential and the need to be fair to all groups, would he have gone this far?
But why can’t the North, especially the group you represent, give him the chance to spend his four years? You are not giving him a breathing space…
How are you sure he has planned to spend only four years? Did he tell you? He has made an announcement saying that he is now in his first term? That is not our own interpretation of the provisions of the constitution. If he contests in 2015, God forbids, he would be the only president who would have taken three oaths of office which is clearly unconstitutional. So, what are you telling me? Number two, the North has become irresponsible and completely irrelevant in the scheme of things because Northerners have gone and taken bribe and handed over their own patrimony. The PDP was formed by Northern Generals and handed over to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo and Obasanjo has abandoned it and gone somewhere else. As far as I am concerned, it is the responsibility of all Nigerians- either from North or South, East or West- to make sure that we have a working democracy in Nigeria .
If you wait on the North, you are likely going to be disappointed because North itself has not behaved well. From the time Sardauna of Sokoto was assassinated and other northerners were killed in a coup, the North has never completely recovered. It was as if there was a mental breakdown. And some of the people who in their 80s who are pretending to be leaders of the North, were ministers when they were in their 20s and 30s. They have run out of ideas, you cannot ask somebody who is in his 80s, he cannot read a newspaper, he does not watch television, he doesn’t listen to radio. He is not used to computer. He must remain a leader, but he must remain simply because he happens to be a contemporary of the Premier of the North. That is not my idea of leadership.
What is the condition for peace with Jonathan? Is it about power shifting back to the North?
No. I do not believe in power shift, zoning, and rotation. And I said when they are negotiating this trash with the South, especially by some Northern leaders, I said no country that is truly democratic practises this so-called rotation of power or power shift. I gave them concrete example of Yugoslavia when after the death of Tito, they introduced this thing that they would practise rotation of power. What has happened today? Yugoslavia has been split into five countries and they are still not at peace. They have about 10, 000 soldiers who are now maintaining peace in a country that used to be one country, one government and one constitution. Is that an achievement? No. if Nigeria was to continue with this zoning or rotation thing, I assure you Nigeria will break up into pieces and there is no way you can break Nigeria peacefully. And even those who are against zoning and rotation because of their own selfish interest, especially our Northern people, they are now coming to realise that you cannot have a system of gentlemen agreement. There are no gentlemen in PDP. And even when you have something, it should be in the constitution.
You are telling me that we must continue with rotation. The North has the chance to produce the president of Nigeria on merit, the North does not have to rely on zoning or rotation. What we need in Nigeria if we want democracy sincerely is to have a credible electoral system.
Don’t you think INEC is on this path already?
The INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, has bastardised the system. We recently in 2011 had the most violent election in the history of Nigeria . Over 5000 people died and Jega is telling us that we had a free and fair election. You assess an election by the way the registration is conducted. The first problem we had with the last election we had was that the registration failed. It has to be done twice. Secondly, the machine which has dubious technological validity which was being introduced also failed. So the data capturing machine which was an innovation introduced by the so-called chairman, Jega, failed and they said because he did not use normal norm of awarding contract.
So, as far as I am concerned, the whole thing was done in bad faith, his appointment was done in bad faith, the registration was done in bad faith, the introduction of the data capturing machine was done in bad faith because PDP does not believe in free election. Number two, when the election itself came, the man did not realise that there is a limit within which you can hold an election giving the constitutional provision when the outgoing president must leave and when the incoming president must be sworn in. They started changing the dates of election until he found himself without the one week necessary between one election and another and so some elections were conducted by only two or three days in between. That was enough confusion to invalidate that election. That to me was not an election. Whether he is from the North or South, Jega failed woefully.
Are you being sincere in your assessment or critique?
Why won’t I? Nigerians must learn to keep aside personal feeling and criticise. For example, I have nothing but contempt for the CBN governor but I also oppose the current effort by the Senate to introduce an amendment to the CBN Act. I know the CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi is prone to verbal diarrhoea but that does not mean that you should go and amend a decree on a personal basis. That is too petty of the National Assembly and it speaks about how dishonourable they are. And you can see how people who had been governors of CBN like Adamu Ciroma and others opposed the amendment because there is no need for it.
You are a convener of a group, concerned professionals in the North, if you are seeing that, what does the North want again?
I will be deceiving myself if I could open my mouth and tell you I know what the North wants. What I am saying is that the plight of the North should apply to the rest of the country.
The President on Democracy Day tried to immortalise Abiola, what is your take on that?
Of course, Abiola is somebody I believe should be immortalised but the manner of immortalisation was something I found objectionable. The President politicised the issue. It is clear to any Nigerian who is sincere that the Democracy Day broadcast was nothing but a campaign speech for 2015. The speech was too long, it was empty and a lot of details were so outrageous that you could see that the people who wrote the speech have no respect for Nigeria . For example, after what we went through on debt trap, how can any Nigerian leader be persuaded to tell any Nigerian that he is now in the process of securing more and more debts? It is something I found funny.
He said things are getting better
Things are not getting better. You live here? What proof is here that things are getting better. If I ask you as an honest Nigerian, from the time he was sworn in as a president, are you better off or worse off? So, what are you talking about? I mean the fact that he is a leader does not mean that everybody should believe him. I am telling you there was a paper by World Bank which is over 30 years ago where they said it is acceptable for that kind of economy to incur debt to as much as 40 percent of the debt of the GDP. Now, you are telling me that in a country which is still under-developed with a basically rural economy, we can still afford the loans which are of dubious nature and for dubious project in excess of 40 percent of our national economy. Unknown to him, the World Bank has already reversed the situation and I know it was reversed as far back as 10 years ago. Now, you can go and obtain loans of dubious nature for dubious projects and most of the loans get shared out and left in foreign banks and they leave us with debt in our books. I think that is to insult the intelligence of Nigerians.
Number two, we have countries in the world which has gone bankrupt, Greece has a problem with its debt, it is an European country and a member of the EU. What it has secured today is in excess of 150 percent of their own GDP. Are you telling me that debt is good simply because somebody who is living in air-conditioned office in the headquarters of the World Bank or IMF has told you that it is good to incur debt?
Number three, you look at the security situation. I always say that one single major responsibility of any government is maintenance of law and order, the protection of lives and properties. If the government fails in maintaining law and order, whether it succeeds in economy or whatever, it is of no consequence. As far as I am concerned, Jonathan and the PDP government have failed in the maintenance of law and order which is the primary responsibility of any government. He should now do what is honourable by handing over power come 2015. If he doesn’t do that, he will have to accept the consequences because Nigerians have already told him that if he rigged the election 2011, he will have to face the responsibility for whatever happens, and that is what is happening.
As far as I am concerned, the speech was nothing, it was a monumental anti-climax. Agriculture is the mainstay of our economy, it contributes between 15 to 20 percent to our national economy. There was nothing there about agriculture except we are going to export bits and bits of cassava to China and we are being told we are going to earn foreign exchange.
On constitution amendment, which areas do you want amendments?
As far as I am concerned, I do not want a full-time National Assembly, I want us to revert to a system whereby we have part-time members of the National Assembly because what we have now is National Assembly being a mockery. The idea that you can give a senator nearly N400 million in a year as salary and emolument is something I found unacceptable. As far as I am concerned, in a nation like ours, an institution like the National Assembly cannot be made to live beyond what the average Nigerian earns or lives on. The National Assembly has done nothing for the years we have been in this presidential system of government. So, if we have to retain the presidential system, we cannot afford to have a full-time National Assembly. That is one area and I am going to canvass for it strongly. Many Nigerians will want us to revert back to the part-time membership of the National Assembly.
Have we practised that before?
Of course we have, I think in the Second Republic . My salary was N15,000 and I had no other way or anything. In fact the staff I had were being paid by the National Assembly directly. And that is why some members of the National Assembly now wanted to be there because they put their hands in those accounts belonging to their staff. I worked as a full-time member earning N15,000 per annum and when I bought a car, I bought it on hired purchase and when I paid for four years, it became my own car. The issue is that we cannot afford it. The amount of corruption that is in this so-called full-time parliament is so outrageous, so shameless that we simply cannot afford it if we want our country to survive. As far as I am concerned we must never allow this full-time membership of the National Assembly. It is over and should be done with. If it means scattering the system of Executive President, so be it. Let us go back to the parliamentary system.
Why is it that, I don’t know how far it is correct to say, Dr. Junaid Mohammed is rebellious?
I don’t think I am rebellious. I simply believe that I have had the benefit of what I regard as a sound education and it makes you restless and it makes you looking for answers when you see problems. When I don’t see a problem I don’t look for answer but when I see a problem I look for solution and sometimes I come up with many solutions to a single problem. For example governance is a very close issue to my heart because I believe no society can move forward unless it is properly and decently governed and when I found myself in Nigeria which has been misgoverned from 1950 until today, you can see why I am so restless. I am not rebellious. And mark my words, rebels don’t hold jobs. I have been in government jobs, both in National Assembly as a member twice and also in government positions in the private sector and so many other places. Life itself is a continuous process of learning, adaptation and doing the right thing. If you find yourself doing a wrong thing, the decent thing to do is to reserve yourself and start looking for solutions to the problems you are confronting.
Did you inherit this restlessness from your parent or nature made you so or as a result of your interaction with Mallam Aminu Kano ?
I think it is a combination of all. My father was in politics. I also went to the right kind of elite school. I also moved around at a very early age and life with Aminu was a defining moment for me because I got to know that as an individual you got autonomy of thinking. That you can sit down and think, that you can challenge certain wisdom, and give account of yourself and I believe in doing that and I have acquitted myself creditably.
You believe in probity, can you cast the first stone or have you ever cast the first stone? What were those defining moments when you were tempted with money and you rejected it?
I will rather want you talk to those who know me better. I left OMPADEC with debt and nothing and there has been times when the current Chief Justice of Nigeria had to pay for my transport from Lagos when I came down from Port Harcourt to Kano and there were times it was Abacha who had to pay for my transport from Lagos to Kano . So, if I had money, I would not go telling my friend I wanted to get a flight ticket to Kano .
OMPADEC was money spinning but it failed. It means all of you failed
If I was one out of the commissioners, you cannot hold the failure to me but I am prepared, and this is for the record to accept full personal responsibility for my own share of anything that went wrong in OMPADEC. It was not just the OMPADEC assignment, I was also a member of the National Assembly. I challenge any Nigerian today to tell me that he has given kobo in the course of my entire career whether in the public service or in the private sector and I want you to please emphasize on this.
Is any of your children taking after you?
I have only one son. He is just finishing secondary school and he is thinking of going to university to study economics. The others are daughters and they are married.
Is anyone of them taking after you in terms of ideology or medicine?
I don’t know, may be my last daughter who is now in secondary school, she may want to be a doctor, I don’t know. But whatever she decides, I will be there for her. One read law, the other one marketing. Nobody forced me to do what I am doing. I wasn’t discouraged. My father said it is up to me to take my own decision and I have made those decisions. I have rendered service to my fellow Nigerians and Nigeria is a country I love dearly and I am prepared to do whatever I can to make sure Nigeria is a better place than it is.
We are in era modern capitalism, even the Soviet Union where you trained has been balkanised, why are you not blending?
It is not that I am not blending. I believe that if we have a capitalist system, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the survival of the fittest. I believe you can’t have a capitalist with the national marketing incentive that allows for people to think collectively in terms of their collective destiny. I don’t see that happening. And I am telling you, those countries that were taken out of their ideology and said they are capitalist countries, actually failed. The Soviet Union actually collapsed, it went bankrupt, it announced its death and started all over again. But China which remains a capitalist country is doing well, better than the United States .
Is China a capitalist or a Marxist country?
Whatever you call it, it is not a capitalist country, China is a socialist country, it is being driven by a socialist principle, even if they find it necessary to venture out into capitalist market forces in order to develop their country. If capitalism is capable of developing Nigeria , I will be a capitalist but I believe Nigeria will not be a capitalist system and move forward. It is just because it is historically impossible.
What can we be?
We can be a mixed economy, there is nothing wrong in being a mixed economy.
Aren’t we already a mixed economy?
No, we are not, we are in a confused economy, we are in a messed up economy.