Aliyu Modibbo Umar was the federal Minister of State for Power and Steel, Minister of Commerce, and then Minister of the FCT, a post he held until October 2008. In this interview he speaks of the various issues bedevilling Nigeria and the way forward. Excerpts:
Daily Trust Saturday: You’ve not been heard from for quite a while, what’s been happening to you?
Aliyu Modibbo Umar: It’s just that about two years ago the University of Oxford, St. Antony College, gave me academic visitorship. I was there for like a year; it was renewed again by the African Centre Studies of the university, as Senior Academic Visitor, and then COVID-19 came so I couldn’t go back, so my focus is to have time to return to my roots, the academia, to also synthesise my thoughts and experiences. I’ve been presenting a lot of papers at conferences and I’ve been writing a book. But I’m still involved with my newspaper Rariya, though we’re now online and pursuing few businesses here and there.
DT: The alarming security situation is threatening the country seriously, what is your view on this?
Modibbo: The Nigerian security situation is very worrisome. The country was already embroiled in the endless insurgency in the North East, and as if to add salt to injury, this one started like a joke and is growing but if you don’t chop off the head of a snake, it will keep growing and is still growing.
The Abuja-Kaduna road now came, thank God it has abated. The security agencies are trying their best. It makes me recall the situation when I had the opportunity of being the FCT Minister; I made it my priority, my own cardinal objective to make sure the territory was secured and I had to have the right personnel to do the job, and to utilise the security vote effectively. With my experience of working in the Villa for a long time, I approached the then IGP Okiro and requested for additional 2,000 men and he agreed. I also requested for my own Commissioner of Police; he agreed, and I requested for the late John Haruna. I also requested for SSS DG. So I upgraded the security apparatus in FCT. I got Col. John Madaki, of blessed memory, and Ali Kwara with his unorthodox method as SA on Security. So in administration, the most important thing is security, so the synergy was fantastic.
Then we created the Abuja Crime Control Squad (ACCOS). I even wanted to create the Abuja Metropolitan Police but the Police hierarchy refused to budge, saying I wanted to create a state police.
DT: But you created the G-6…
Modibbo: Yes, I created the G-6. We had to have cooperation from Niger, Nasarawa, Benue, Kaduna and Kogi states. You’re wasting your time, so I approached the governors and they all agreed and we pulled our resources together. The first experience I had was when someone went to Habib Bank in Wuse and withdrew money; he was shot around 3pm and his vehicle taken. I deployed the security agents, and I kept calling on an hourly basis until 2am when they were arrested.
So, whichever administration, it must be very pro-active. With democracy getting deeply rooted, criminals become emboldened, the security apparatus is over stretched, and the governors are doing their best. Nasir El-Rufai is very capable; he recently said the governors are in disagreement. There must be synergy, our judicial system too must be overhauled because it is difficult to even convict an armed robber because human right lawyers, this or that will come in and before you know it the criminal is freed.
And now they’re becoming celebrities; they’re even given airtime, they’re brandishing AK-47 making it look glamorous. I was shocked to see small girls, 12- year olds, kidnapped. And some are profiteering from all these, even the lawyers, the so called human rights activists that will start pontificating, they should allow us to have peace first. But to allow our country to keep disintegrating because some hoodlums are holding us to ransom, it is frustrating.
Recently in my home state, Gombe, some hoodlums, based on fake news, rioted over the installation of a traditional ruler. The shocking thing in the video we saw was the police who were just standing and just looking, instead of taking the law into their hands.
So you have to strengthen the police. They have internal affairs unit; they should check the bad ones within themselves. It gladdened my heart when I heard the new EFCC Chairman Bawa saying that he would strengthen the standard operating procedure of EFCC. This is what should be done.
Our generation was very integrated; we went to unity schools together, NYSC together, and universities together. Before you used to find only one or two Northerners saying they went to Unibadan but now it’s different. President Obasanjo has said without any component of Nigeria together, we’re diminished, so it is better we remain one indivisible country.
DT: But is all this a struggle for 2023?
Modibbo: To be honest, the 2023 issue is not even clear. Some people want to diminish Tinubu. In the North who is their candidate? The Ibo are clamouring for the presidency but who is their candidate? Tell us so we can assess him. The task is beyond the president; it is also for the governors, members of the legislature, let us all debate the issue. Time is fast running out, whichever party wins, we are guaranteed good leadership and that is all we need. The tipping point for Nigeria is a good leader, not a single leader but a good crop of leadership.
And some regimes which have created a collegiate government have become the successful ones. So a collegiate system is what is needed. Leaders of the First Republic all knew each other; they had the same vision. Even with a regional government, Awolowo, Sardauna, Zik etc. had always had the same vision in terms of integrity when they met at the centre at the federal level.
The next was Gowon; God endowed him with good common sense; he harnessed the experience of people like Aminu Kano, Tarka, Awolowo, to serve in his cabinet. Murtala’s government was brief but it was based on a collegiate system. Now the Shagari regime was not collegiate in my view because with the UPN, it was different. The NPN had a good structure; they got re-elected in 1983 but ran into problems because the structure was not correct. And Buhari’s government that came after him was not collegiate; different groups eventually clashed and he had to be removed.
But the best collegiate system after that was that of Obasanjo in 1999; he tried to create that, he brought Adamu Ciroma, Bola Ige, etc. in the cabinet. The missing link was in the National Assembly; they started on the wrong footing and since then the story has not been the same. They have not been thinking as a collegiate system, a cohesive one force.
Mal. Adamu Ciroma once told me something. When I wanted to run a governorship race, I told him I had changed my mind because it’s no longer my cup of tea, and he said ‘even if you are not going to run for office you guys have to do the right thing, because we are indebted to the common person in Nigeria. We owe the masses, don’t forget that. Any opportunity you get, try to repay that debt’. And he was referring to the talaka in the rural areas.
And where the situation is even more precarious is the new generation coming in. Let me call them the End SARS Generation. They are a little bit naïve; they don’t have leaders. Its good young people are getting politically involved but they must be guided, they must re-examine their methods, they must reach out. And they must listen to others.
Nigeria is great but they don’t like us; we are aggressive, go-getters. If it’s bad, we’re number one, if good we’re number one too. Go abroad and see. So people around are not going to allow us to harness this potential. We have to do it ourselves, so let’s not listen to outsiders. When I was Minister for Commerce and Industry, I couldn’t believe the hostility from even African countries.
DT: Is it envy?
Modibbo: Yes, I believe so, because they believe the moment we come, we’ll take it over and also, when I presented a paper at a commonwealth meeting, my neighbour, because we were sitting in alphabetic order, was Nigerien, the EU wanted us to open our markets but I refused. I stood my ground and I was bold. I even called the EU Commissioner a bully in the meeting. After that, the Nigerien minister whispered to me ‘you’re the only one who could do that, we cannot do that’.
So we must stay together, you can’t have peace when you go on your own, same thing in Arewa; you will not have the beauty of the Yoruba and Ibo. God put us together for a reason and God does not make a mistake, so we must rise up and make everyone feel a sense of oneness.
And that is why I am a strong advocate of restructuring. Yes, we have to find a way to restructure where everybody feels a sense of belonging. And it could be done. We are a federation for heaven’s sake. It used to be in the regions and it was respected; the Ibo forget that Ironsi pulled us together; otherwise everybody would have gone at his own pace. But later some Ibo intellectuals advised him that this is our time, so things turned out differently. The Northerners are not afraid of restructuring, they’re ready, if it’s suffering, we’ll find our feet.
DT: How do you see the future of Nigeria beyond 2023?
Modibbo: We will come out better, I am optimistic. Mal Umaru Yar’Adua, the late President, told me about his dream of how Nigeria, after some chaos, will be great, and it shall be so, Insha’Allah. If people are under the illusion that a chaotic Nigeria is to the advantage of anybody, they are deceiving themselves. This country is what we have; we must make it work and we have the wherewithal, the capability, the expertise to make it work. It’s just that the system of leadership selection must change for 2023. That is the recipe; leadership selection must change, we must not do it by sentiments, we should look for competent people no matter where they come from.
Good crop of leaders, a collegiate system and that’s it, but we should also be mindful that it’s not going to be easy. I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I know Nigeria and Nigerians are not liked, no matter our achievements, it’s just that our talent, our God-given ability would not allow them.
So we must make Nigeria work; we have no other country.