Interview by Simon Utebor
Dr. Junaid Muhammed in a recent interview said the northerners fought and died to create South-South states. Do you agree?
I believe that Junaid Muhammed must have been misquoted. If he said northerners fought and died to create South-South states, the statement is not clear. The issue here is that without the South-South, Nigeria would not have been one today. When you talk of South-South, two thirds of South-South are in Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River states. And they were supposed to join the South East to form the Republic of Biafra but because those four states opted out and wanted Nigeria to remain one, that is why Nigeria is one today.
If those four states had backed the five South Eastern states to stay with Biafra, no northerner could penetrate the Niger Delta. You remember that we lost some of the greatest brains during the war. You talk of Isaac Boro, Major Yanayo, you talk of Major Amangala – these were first class brains that we lost because we in the South-South wanted Nigeria to remain one. So, anybody who is saying they fought for South-South is talking rubbish. I still believe he must have been misquoted or he does not know what he is saying.
He also said it is wrong for South South to lay claim to Nigeria’s oil resources, that the resources belong to all Nigerians?
I expected him to say the groundnut pyramid belonged to all Nigerians before the military intervention. I was expecting him to mention the tin mines in Jos, what of the lead and gold in Zamfara. Wherever you go in the North, they are mining solid minerals illegally and the money is not going into the federation account and nobody is saying anything. Then how can he now come and claim that the one in the South-South belongs to all Nigerians?
Yes, we are not saying it does not belong to Nigerians, if it does not, we wouldn’t have been sharing the revenue. That is why we are sharing because we are part of Nigeria. But there are owners of the resources. Because we believe in one Nigeria, we are sharing everything with them. What are we getting? Just 13 per cent, Yet during their own period with the groundnut pyramids, it was 50 per cent. That was the money they used in building the North.
Now it has come to South-South, they are saying no, you cannot benefit from it separately, that it must be shared equally. And they have also forgotten the terrain where God has put these resources. To build a house here today, you spend what it takes to build four of it in Abuja, Kano, Sokoto and anywhere in the northern region. I am telling you the truth. Find out what it costs to build a structure here. So, they should not deceive us.
Some northerners are saying the issue of resource control is capable of splitting Nigeria. Do you believe this?
Look, the best thing that will happen to Nigeria is fiscal federalism, in the sense that states source for their resources, use them, pay specific tax to the centre and then use the money to develop their own states, their own environment at their own pace.
Oil money is making Nigeria to be very lazy. We are not ready to source for any resource. Those people that were in agriculture have abandoned it because of free oil money. And the federation we are practising today is like an employer-employee situation where the President is the employer and the 36 state governors are the employees. At the end of the month, they go to Abuja to receive their salaries. That is the system making Nigerians to be very lazy.
Secondly, with this type of system, demand for creation of states will never stop. Immediately you introduce fiscal federalism and each state is told to source for funds, develop their resources and pay specific tax to the centre and use their own to develop their areas, this incessant demand for creation of states will stop. If we continue with this system, we will continue to create more states, until may be we get 774 states.
Muhammed also claimed that resources from the North had been used to develop South-South in the past, do you agree?
He does not understand the system – how we operate in the oil industry. I am a petroleum engineer and a lawyer. So, he is not right. How much did Nigeria contribute for the oil exploitation? Almost nothing. The white men came, used their own money to source for it. After the oil had been discovered and the first shipment made, then Nigeria had its own money out of it, then we went into joint venture partnership. Nigeria did not use its one kobo of groundnut money, cocoa money or palm oil money – nothing whatsoever. The white men came in and worked for it. It was after the discovery of oil and sale of oil that Nigeria started adding its own part of money from the profit it got from the sale of oil. Nigeria did not use cocoa, palm oil and groundnut money. He does not understand the working of the system as far as oil industry is concerned.
Could that lack of understanding make him to say that the offshore resources belong to the whole country instead of the oil-producing states?
Are we claiming everything? That statement itself is not right. We are not claiming everything. When we say resource control, we are not claiming everything. If we are claiming everything, we will not pay the tax and royalties that we are paying. Even internationally, I am the owner of this house I have here. I own it from this ground level to the sky. I can add and add as I wish. The same thing, I can add and add, downward to the bottomless pit. That is the known law; it is only Nigeria that practices something different. So, the oil found under land is ours. But because we are Nigerians, we do not want to take all – we said, look, identify us as the owners but we will pay certain percentage to the centre and that the centre can distribute it to the less privileged states and so on, but each state should fend for itself.
As a member of the National Conference, everybody thought that the confab would give Nigeria fiscal federalism, what happened, why did it not come to pass?
You have just mentioned an interview granted by Junaid Muhammed. How could we achieve things like that with characters like that within the system? Because some people believe that as far as they are concerned, the 1999 Constitution is a perfect document; that nothing should be touched there.
Why is that so?
The so-called group believed that it was done by their military leaders with the help of civilians. So, as far as they are concerned, the 1999 Constitution is their own baby and nobody should touch the baby.
But the generality of Nigerians feel that this document is not perfect and that it is not ‘we the people of Nigeria’ that have done this; that if we are not changing it completely, we need to do some panel-beating. So, we wanted 70 per cent, if we can’t get consensus, 70 per cent must agree – it became very difficult. They used that one to strangulate the system. But we tried. There were some key issues that we passed. But because of resource control, nobody is ready to go to the land to farm or industrialise. Okay, a lot of money flowed during the military era.
Where are the industries? Go to the North, you can see abject poverty. They (North) do not believe in the middle class; that is another problem they have. So, any government coming to create the middle class is their enemy. They believe they will remain upstairs and drop food for the masses to struggle over. They still believe in that dirty system. We said no, every right thinking man will like to create the middle class so that things can easily flow to the grassroots. So, anybody who is kicking against fiscal federalism is a lazy man and does not want to generate funds for his people.
There is this argument that 13 per cent derivation fund for oil-producing states is not well accounted for and can’t be justified. What is your reaction?
I have given you an example, 13 per cent over hundred. What is the difference? 87 per cent. The cost of developing infrastructure in these areas is by far four times higher than anywhere else. Have you ever seen a two-storey building here without piling? Do they pile their houses before they build? You know how much you will use to sink foundation. The foundation itself will put up two-storey building in any part of the North. We have very difficult problems. That is why we need enough funds to develop this area.
If you go to Texas in the United States, they have the same terrain as Niger Delta, but Texas is a beautiful city like Houston. They are beautiful cities because they control their oil money. They pay tax to the centre. They were able to use it to build skyscrapers and flyovers. If you go to Houston, you will see it. So, we also want to develop our areas, using our own oil resources. We also have gas now. So, we need this money to develop our areas. I hope you will visit Oloibiri (a place where oil was first discovered in commercial quantities). What is Oloibiri today? Just recently, they were able to construct road to Oloibiri.
In Nembe, Bayelsa State, former Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, awarded this road (the sand you came through) in 1974. Forty three kilometres of road could not be completed in 40 years because they were ruling. But what we believe today is that Nigeria is owned equally by everybody. So, no Northerner can dictate for anybody in the South-South. We are equal holders and Nigeria must not break. Nigeria must remain one, but every nook and cranny must get what is theirs. So, nobody can dictate for any other group.
Do you support the proposal that some northeast states should get special funds to rebuild states destroyed by Boko Haram?
That is a fund I call criminal fund. Unless you do not want Nigeria to progress; if you now say you want to set aside five per cent to develop North- East because of Boko Haram, good. Southeast has MOSSOB; MOSSOB will rear its head, so that they can get five per cent; the OPC, they are there. So, if violence will attract money to them, they have to get involved too. So, it will now be a recurring decimal. We should not try it at all. If you call it reconstruction, stabilisation fund, whatever fund you call it, for the whole nation, fine, no problem. At the confab, that was my speech. I was strongly against it because I believe that if we try it, it will never end.
Do you share the belief that the north desires strong central government because it virtually lives on federal allocation?
It shows sign of laziness. Somebody mentioned at the confab that the North has more population than the South. And the reason he gave was that in the North, they marry four wives while the Southerners marry one wife. Can you comprehend that somebody made such a statement? If you have four wives, must you come to the man who has one wife and then say, feed my four wives? You are free to marry your four wives; you are free to feed them. You have to source how to feed them.
Secondly, it is only in Nigeria where more people live in the desert than in the coast. Go to Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, concentration of population is in the coast. But here in Nigeria, they say it is in the desert.
Are you invariably saying that census figure for the North is exaggerated?
Yes, very much exaggerated. It is simple to know. Where an enumeration officer will go to a house and the owner of the house will come out with a list and say you cannot go in here, my wives are here. How do I know that your wives are there? And they give figure and the enumeration officer records. Is that how you get the population?
Some have argued that Boko Haram in the North might be a political reaction against President Goodluck Jonathan’s rule, do you agree?
Yes, I agree totally. I agree for two reasons: Initially, we were thinking that it was a religious stuff. But now in order to spread out, thinking that it was not a religious thing, they have started torching mosques too. Initially, it was churches alone. If it is ordinary religious problem, it would have ended by now, but if you look at the set up, somebody or some group of people said in 2011 that if Jonathan won, they would make the country ungovernable for him. This is exactly what they are tying to practise. Unfortunately, it is now backfiring. Nobody thought Boko Haram would become what it is today. Now, it has happened, people are now worried; they are looking for a way to escape but for now, they can’t escape.
In your own opinion, what do you think is responsible for Boko Haram activities?
I am saying Boko Haram was a political set up by a group of northern elite but they did not think the rug will be removed under their feet. Now, they cannot control Boko Haram any longer. That is the problem we have. I was very happy during the confab debate when somebody came up and narrated how it was formed, the people that formed it and so on. So, people formed it; it did not come from nowhere but now it is above their control. I am afraid even though people using Boko Haram want to force President Jonathan out of office, which is not possible; they will not be able to control Boko Haram with the level it has taken because the sect is getting funds from outside. They are no more depending on the elite that formed them. Boko Haram is now so powerful both financially and technically.
With the Chibok girls missing and incessant attacks by Boko Haram, do you think Jonathan could still go ahead to seek re-election?
Elections are being conducted in Libya, Iraq and even in Somalia. So, there is nothing stopping Nigerians from going ahead to elect their own President. So, nothing will stop him from seeking re-election. We are not electing him to control North East, we are electing him to control Nigeria. So, he is still free to seek reelection.
In your recent interview, you said North-West should wait till 2031 to contest the Presidency. Could you shed light on this?
I still maintain it. Now we have agreed, the so-called northern oligarchy – those who are not ready for Nigeria to move forward, wanted only South and North presidency. The president should come to the South, the next to the North. We insisted that it cannot be the North and the South, but the six geopolitical zones. I have achieved my aim by that. In that case, after Jonathan, if the Presidency is going to the North, it must not be the North-West. It could go to the North East or North Central, then the other one should be South East, etc., then I have achieved that. When you calculate it, it will be around that time before the North West can get it again.
When you raised the alarm about oil theft, who in your view do you think are responsible?
Oil theft is being done by high level people. The creek boys – I am advocating modernisation of the so-called illegal refineries. I do not call them illegal refineries. I call them crude refineries. What we need do is to modernise it and teach them how to use them properly.
In Biafra in those days, we refined our products in crude ways and we were driving our vehicles. It is a technology that these boys are developing. So, you can assist them; modernise them so that they can save the ecosystem. They discharge about 60 per cent of crude into the rivers and take very little. So, if you can first group them and teach them what to do, you will get the best by developing local technology to refine our products. We can do it.
These boys are not ship thieves, they are bucket thieves. The ship thieves are the big ones; you do not find them here in the Niger Delta. They are either found in London, they take breakfast in London, they go to New York and take lunch and return to Lagos for dinner. Those are the people. They have private jets. They have very fat accounts. Go round and investigate how many of those boys they arrest everyday have any account that can boast $1m. These people are not the thieves; the thieves are far away. They may be known or not known, but I strongly believe these boys are not the thieves that we are looking for.
Some people say that when the North ruled, they used the resources to build roads for their region…The people of South-South are saying that Jonathan is not paying attention to the zone. What can you say about this?
It is not true. I do not believe when the North was ruling, they used the whole money to develop the North rather the money was being siphoned out. The people are poor. Those beautiful roads you see in the North now were done by Obasanjo and Jonathan.
The people were wallowing in abject poverty when they were ruling. That is why their leaders are not getting the main support they want. The northern people are now very wise, but these elite are now causing confusion in the system. They are better off today than when their people were ruling. Find out. So, Goodluck is not supposed to divert every resource or fund to develop the Niger Delta. We are not complaining because we are Nigerians. Our major concern is that we should be able to get resource at the state level to develop our states. It is not the Federal Government’s responsibility. That is why we went to the confab. We need devolution of powers. The Federal Government is not supposed to construct roads, public toilets, jetties, primary health centres, classroom blocks etc. These are the things that are crippling Nigeria.
The northern oligarchy is still insisting that type of system is okay. They say the Federal Government should construct health centres in their local governments. No, how can Nigeria grow? These are the problems. Do not blame Jonathan. His constituency is Nigeria, not Niger Delta. And he is doing the right thing. We have the 36 states and local governments to do their own work.
Are you saying the North is dragging Nigeria backward?
Definitely, that is the truth. It is the truth, and they know it. That is why majority of northerners are not happy with the so-called oligarchy.
Some northerners have accused the South-South governors of not justifying the resources allocated to their states, what is your take on this?
It is because of our difficult terrains. You know development takes long time here. And we have only four months sunshine. So it is always difficult. If you want to construct roads, greater part of the roads will either go for piling or it will fail after few years. If you are constructing a house, you have to do very firm foundation and so on.
So, you cannot blame the South-South governors and say they are not doing anything. Whether you like it or not, things are happening in Yenagoa. That flyover they are building, if it is to be built in Plateau or any other part of the North, you would have constructed two or three of that type. So, you just don’t open your mouth and say they are receiving 13 per cent. What is 13 per cent? Those who are blaming the South-South governors are ignorant. If you go to Akwa Ibom, you will see what is happening there. It shows that the governor is really spending the money he is getting.
The local government system created problem at the confab, what happened?
The same people refused, saying the local government should be part of the federating units. Today, what we have proposed is the federal government and state government. In that way, you cannot go and collect from the Federation Account because you are running a local government. The LGs are being controlled fully by the governors and the other ones were being created not by law but by fiat.
Some of them, I do not even know what they are doing – some of the LGs are being donated to their girlfriends because there is no law. If there is law, can you explain the law that gave Kano (which by 2006 Census, has 9.5 million), 44 LGs but Lagos (with about 9.2 million according to the census), 20 LGs? Another scenario; Bayelsa by 2006 census was 1.7 million, Nasarawa by the same census, 1.8 million. Difference of 100,000 but Nasarawa has 13 LGs while Bayelsa has eight, difference of five LGs. What criteria did they use?