A former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Dr. Obadiah Mailafia, in this interview with Saturday Tribune, speaks on the country’s economy; the security situation in Nigeria, and a host of other issues affecting the polity.
You were in the CBN as Deputy Governor. Recently there was an uproar over allegations that the central bank was printing money to shore up government revenue. Can we have your perspective on this sir?
Answer: The CBN Act 2007 makes currency printing one of its mandates. But it is not a blank cheque. There are required guidelines to be followed. Monetary authorities normally print legal tender currencies to replace old ones while printing a few more to meet increased needs for cash in a growing economy. What they make from such printing – the face value of the money over and above the cost of producing it — is known as seigniorage. The issue centres around the question of Quantitative Easing which is a new novel monetary policy instrument being deployed by several central banks in recent years. In the nineties, the Bank of Japan (BOJ) invented a new monetary policy instrument known as “Quantitative Easing” (QE). This entails printing money to buy back securities from the capital markets as a means of injecting liquidity into the economy during stagflation. Remarkably, it worked. And it was not inflationary. During the Great Recession of 2008 – 2010, western central banks, particularly the American Fed, Bank of England, and European Central Bank, implemented successful QEs of their own. The CBN has structured more than a trillion naira “intervention funds” ostensibly to bolster economic recovery. However, there is a qualitative difference between the classic QE approach and what CBN has been up to. The advanced countries never printed money directly to support budgets or for consumption. They instituted QE to shore up liquidity in the economy via the capital markets. What CBN is allegedly doing is printing money for direct consumption. It reminds one of the confessions made by the late Chief S. B. Falegan, former Director of Research of the CBN who passed away in February. He revealed that, in the nineties, under the military dictatorship, the Mint was put on overdrive; printing naira, which was then loaded into waiting trucks and driven into the midst of the night. A banker of great honesty and integrity, we have no reason to doubt his testimony. So, this printing business didn’t start yesterday. Apart from the penchant for printing, there have been cases of criminal recycling of old naira notes. It was also alleged that billions of new notes disappeared from the Mint, including, alarmingly, one of the steel plates for minting our currency. Can we, therefore, trust all the currency in circulation to be genuine legal tender? I have my doubts. Let me also say that the CBN of today suffers from a massive trust deficit. It is not quite what we used to know not too long ago. We have the impression that it has been hijacked by vested interests in the government and the private sector. The cabal and the sharks have a game-theoretic interest in maintaining multiple exchange rates for their own corrupt and rent-seeking interests. And they would do anything that Machiavelli and Kautilya would have recommended to ensure that no reforms are made that undermine this “exorbitant privilege”. The classic scaffoldings underpinning a sound monetary system are macroeconomic and geopolitical stability, diversified exports, low indebtedness, stable inflation, national competitiveness, economic growth, robust public institutions, and a central bank reputed for both integrity and competence. We must embark upon a massive agro-industrial revolution to boost growth and to create jobs while diversifying the economy away from oil dependence. But must also recognize that some things are beyond the control of even the best central bankers: the quality of national leadership, political stability, security, and effective democratic governance. Indeed, economic science and the lessons of the infamous German hyperinflation of the 1920s and the more recent cases of Zimbabwe and Venezuela make it clear that there is a point beyond which you cannot continue to print currency without destroying your economy entirely. Prudence is therefore imperative. The competence and trustworthiness of the central bank leadership matters; as does their integrity, patriotism, and single-minded commitment to the common good.
A lot of people have lost hope in Nigeria getting out of its security problems because of what they think is the complicit body language of the government. Do you also share their pessimism?
Answer: The word that comes out starkly in your question is “hope”. For me, hope, I can never lose. I am a social scientist and a development economist. My hope is in science. I have faith that there are no challenges that science and the human mind cannot solve. Therefore, I do not lose hope. But definitely, you are right in observing that many Nigerians have lost hope. In moral terms, we do not have a government. The government we elected has turned into a weird and bloodthirsty Leviathan that we no longer recognize. They have an agenda – and a very evil one at that. This is why it does not bother them at all that defenceless people are indiscriminately being killed, raped, and maimed. Entire communities are being wiped out. And the people at the top seem to be sitting pretty. They have no ideas. The truth is, you cannot give what you don’t have. Former American Secretary of State, a student of the dark arts of political power, famously observed that “political power taxes intellectual capital”. Rulership in our twenty-first century requires skills of intellect and leadership of the highest order. It is not for charlatans. When your country is ruled by monkeys all of you will sooner or later become a land of monkeys. God and history will judge them very harshly and they will pay for their wicked crimes against those Nelson Mandela described as “an unarmed and defenceless people”.
You are from the north, a region that is in turmoil. Kidnapping, murder, banditry, etc have gone out of control. The security forces appear overwhelmed. What advice do you have for the leaders of that region on the way out of the challenges there?
Answer: I need to politely correct you here. I am not from the North. I belong to the Middle Belt of Nigeria. The Old North died with great leaders such as Sir Ahmadu Bello and Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. The Old North died with Aminu Kano and Sa’adu Zungur of blessed memory. The leaders of the North today are very corrupt, morally bankrupt, and murderous renegades. We in the Middle Belt have vowed that we shall — by fire by thunder – forge an independent course. Our destiny is different. We discovered long ago that we have nothing in common with Arewa. We have been living under an Apartheid system in the Old North for many decades. Our people have been subjugated, humiliated and exploited, and marginalized as dhimmi second-class citizens. We are no longer having any of it. Today, the North has suffered more than any other part of the country. They created Boko Haram. Didn’t Muhammadu Buhari as opposition leader in 2014 declare that any attack on Boko is an attack on Islam and the North? Were some of the political elites not patronizing and financing Boko Haram? As far as we know, Boko Haram is a Frankenstein’s Monster that is currently devouring those who created it. They also created the bandits. Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje revealed not too long that they (APC) imported thousands of bandits and gave them voter cards and also use them as foot soldiers. After the elections, they were abandoned. They imported hundreds of thousands of Fulani terrorists, promising them land in abundance. They have made them believe that Nigeria belongs to the Fulanis of the whole world and is their patrimony as of right. The Sharia North is to all intents and purposes, already separated from the rest of Nigeria. We are not opposed to Sharia – for those who want it. But we shall never be part of it. We shall live under our own laws and our own vision of what a civilized community is. My advice to the leaders of the North, therefore, is to wake up and smell the coffee. Your plans have backfired. Today, you are worth nothing on the scale of human values. Your people have been reduced to being miserable beggars. Hunger and degradation have become the lot of the Talakawa throughout the North. The rest of Nigeria is marching. And will march on, with or without you.
There is a general air of despondency in the country over the state of the economy. Things are very difficult for the ordinary man, even the rich are also crying. What word of comfort do you have for the people?
Answer: Well, to be transparently honest with you, I wouldn’t know how to answer this question. If you are looking for words of comfort, I’m afraid you will have to book an appointment to see your father-confessor, priest, pastor, Imam, or Ifa priest. You may also wish to consult your psychotherapist. We development economists are not in the comforting business. We deal with facts and figures. And we go wherever the facts and figures lead us. But at the same time, let me also say that I always try to follow the wise counsel and example of the great medieval Dutch-Jewish philosopher and sage, Baruch Spinoza, who said, and I quote: “I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, not to hate them, but to understand them.” The stark reality of our time is that poverty is biting harder. And when you add poverty to the widespread insecurity, kidnapping, banditry, nihilistic violence, and general lawlessness, you get an unprecedented atmosphere of anomie, despondency, and despair. I have never seen such fear in the faces of grown men. Some of our biggest moneybags have transferred their funds from naira to dollars and have squirrelled them abroad. The rich are getting their bags ready to jump into the next available plane at the slightest hint of war. I hope you realize that the smell of war is thick in the atmosphere. Demons from the pits of hell are baying for the blood of the holy martyrs in order to fill their blood banks. Their agents are spread all over the ancient savannah of the Middle Belt and the primaeval rainforest of the South. They are having a field day; killing, kidnapping, raping and committing rapine atrocities. Nobody knows how it would all end. When the current APC administration came to power, the national debt rose to $86.3 billion (N32.9 trillion), of which the domestic component was $53 billion and the foreign $33.3 billion. In 2014, our total national debt was 20% of GDP. Today, it stands at 35.51% of GDP. Within 6 years, the follies and spendthrift, prodigal profligacy of this administration has ballooned the national debt by 27.47 percent. What is even more worrisome is the foreign component of the debt, which has increased by a staggering 243.3 percent. Most of these loans are owed to the Shylock Chinese, for which we have allegedly pledged our national sovereignty and key national assets as collateral. With inflation hovering above 18 percent and unemployment averaging 33%, we are living on a time-bomb. The naira has plummeted to N480 to the dollar while the Euro exchanges for N577 and the pound sterling at N672. With dwindling foreign reserves, insecurity, and erosion of business confidence, there is a flight to safety in dollars. The increased dollarisation of the economy is further fuelling dollar scarcity while weakening the naira and reinforcing a vicious cycle of poverty and hopelessness. And as if our woes were not enough, news just came that the senior management of the NNPC, through a letter signed by its Chief Finance Officer, Umar Ajiya, has warned the Accountant-General of the Federation that the goose that lays the golden eggs has no eggs to give from the months of May through June and July. In effect, no disbursements will be coming from NNPC for distribution under the FAAC in the coming months. The NNPC blames the increased landing costs for PMS which have risen from N128 per litre to N184 per litre as of March 2021. The apex national oil company is therefore obliged to remit N111.966 billion for payment of landing costs. As a consequence, there will be zero remittance to FGN over the next couple of months. This is really bad news for the great Nigerian people, for workers and civil servants throughout the federation. As you know, all the tiers of government depend principally on the monthly FAAC allocation to finance their operating budgets, including payment of wages to public sector workers. The other contributors are FIRS and Customs. This is coming at a time when many states are finding it increasingly difficult to pay salaries and to meet their basic financial obligations. In terms of internally generated revenue (IGR), only states like Lagos, Ogun, Rivers, Oyo, Kano, and FCT could manage to stay afloat without handouts from Abuja.
The CBN has been using forex restriction as a way of fighting importation without considering local capacity. How effective is this strategy?
Answer: I am by conviction a free-trader. I am a believer in the freedom of international trade. If you look at the most prosperous nations – from Hong Kong to Singapore and Israel, Indonesia, Mexico, and Malaysia, they are essentially open economies. They tend to emphasize a low structure of international tariffs and they also tend to eschew non-tariff barriers to external trade. I am of that school of thought. When you impose quantitative restrictions, you may in fact be rewarding incompetence by protecting inefficient local industries. Of course, we need a strategic approach to international trade. We must identify industry champions and nurture them to grow until they can become world players. What we are doing now is not the right approach. Consider cement, for example, Nigerians are coughing out nearly N4,000 for a bag of cement which in our neighbouring countries is less than half of that price. We are unwittingly encouraging cartels that are fleecing the average consumer. In the end, it is all of us that will suffer for it. There are things that we have no business importing – bottled water, toothpicks, and things like that. The solution is, as far as I am concerned to partner with local investors and to provide them with clear guidelines on how to produce those goods for our local market. Import-substitution industrialization still makes sense in a country with a humongous domestic market such as ours. As most of these things go, CBN has never produced technical studies evaluating some of these policies, evaluating their impact and efficacy, and making adjustments where necessary. Their idea of central banking is to grope in the dark and hope that, somewhere, something good will emerge. As the ancient Romans would say, Ignorantia non-excusat legem (ignorance of the law is no excuse). By the law here, I am referring to the law of economics and not jurisprudence. Economic science makes it abundantly clear that protectionism — protecting a bad business — will not guarantee your long-term prosperity.
What can the country do to reduce youth unemployment and youth restiveness?
Answer: Apart from insecurity, youth unemployment is by far the greatest tragedy of our time. The recent figures from NBS show that national unemployment has risen to 33.3 percent, from about 24 percent a few years ago. When at the peak of the depression in the United States of the 1930s, unemployment rose to 25 percent, the Americans believed the world had come to an end. So, you can imagine what it must be for the average Nigerian today. As a matter of fact, the ballpark figure of 33.3 percent hides the youth component. It has been estimated that youth unemployment hovers at an average of 40 percent. For the backward regions such as the North East and North West, youth unemployment is nearer the 70 percent mark. It is easy to see why insecurity and banditry tend to dominate the landscape in those regions. There is also what is known as under-employment. This is a situation where, for example, a graduate of mechanical engineering is fully engaged as an Okada rider. Yes, he has a job; but it is hardly the sort of job for which he spent 5 years in university. We have a lot of such youths. Many graduates are Keke Napep drivers. When Aliko Dangote advertised for truck drivers for his cement business, thousands of graduates applied, many of them with masters and PhDs. It is a national tragedy when a PhD in theoretical physics struggles to get a job as a truck driver. I have always been a believer in the sacredness of human labour. It is through labour that human beings can live lives of dignity and hope. When we deny the youths this opportunity, we are robbing them of dignity and hope. As for solutions, my deepest conviction is that our ultimate solution lies in a mass agro-based industrial revolution. Forget palliatives. Forget the nonsense of poverty alleviation strategies pandered by the World Bank and other international imperialist agencies. The deepest solutions lie in agriculture and an agribusiness agrarian transformation, linked to industrialization. But you know that this can hardly be achieved without electricity and infrastructural transformation within a stable macroeconomic environment and a political order anchored on peace, the rule of law, and social justice. There may well be “low hanging fruits” such as public works and other strategies that will bring more and more young people into the workspace. We must also address the curriculum. Many of our so-called graduates are barely literate or numerate. Many are unemployable, to be brutally honest with you. I went to a rural missionary secondary school. I tell the youths of today that my level of written and spoken English in form three is what the average graduate has in Nigeria today. I say it not out of boastfulness, but with sorrow. We as parents always want our children to be better than us. When we end up being better than our children, it gives us tears and sorrow. Part of the problem, of course, is that the youths of today are into cultism and all sorts of drugs. They spend a chunk of their social lives on social media and hustling. Most of the year, ASUU is on strike anyway. The libraries are not well stocked and the laboratories are virtually empty. None of our universities features in the top 500 in the World University League Tables. This, of course, cast despair in our hearts. Some of our youths, despite the challenges, have done outstandingly well. A young Nigerian girl of 13 recently won the top prize for a maths competition globally, beating the Chinese, Americans, Europeans, Singaporeans, Indians, and others. We must revamp the school curriculum, putting more emphasis on the STEM disciplines – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We must transform the pedagogy from rote-learning to applied knowledge and skills acquisition. We must do a lot of mentoring and ensure that our young are skilful, entrepreneurial, and confident in themselves. We must build up young people with the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in our emerging global marketplace.
Although Nigeria exited recession recently, the growth rate has been quite low. How did this come about?
Answer: The Nigerian growth story has been a topsy-turvy one. During the early years of independence, growth was moderately positive, averaging over 5 percent annually. The lowest rate we had was during the crisis years 1966-67 when growth went as low as -17 percent. The country emerged from the tragic civil war with impressive growth results, reaching a peak of almost 30 percent in 1970. From the 1980s to the 1990s growth was a moderate annual average of 3.5 percent, undulating between negative and positive figures during that decade. The years 2005 to 2014 were the most impressive in terms of consistently high growth, averaging 7 percent. However, as the World Bank described it, Nigerian growth was characterized as “jobless growth”. It was hardly inclusive. It also did little to incorporate sustainability elements in the general upswing in output. The current APC-led administration was unlucky to have inherited a virtually empty treasury in May 2015, at a time when global oil prices had collapsed. But the recession that followed was not entirely inevitable. The administration wasted considerable time in getting itself off the ground. These delays generated uncertainties that were quite negative for growth and investments. The economy was plunged into recession between 2015 and 2017. During 2016 overall economic output regressed by a factor of -1.8 percent, the worst since the height of our tragic civil war in 1968. External reserves dwindled to a dangerous $27 billion while the exchange rate nosedived to N493 to the US dollar. The public debt rose to an unprecedented high of 5% of GDP even as inflation rose to 18.9 percent. Manufacturers reeled under the burden of high inflation, capacity underutilization, falling exchange rate, and general insecurity. The spectre of famine was exacerbated by killings in the rural countryside.
Whilst it is true that the APC-led administration inherited an economic crisis; the truth is that they went ahead to nail the coffin by their bungling incompetence. It took several months before a cabinet could be constituted, thereby losing a lot of valuable time. And it took even longer to develop an economic blueprint that would provide a strategic framework for frontally tackling the economic recession. Failure of both government and parliament to expedite action on the annual budget has been a recurring problem over the years, with all the negative consequences on the economy. The Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) was announced as a tool to re-boot growth. But it was poorly implemented, if at all. The last 5 years have been disastrous for economic growth. In 2016, it was -1.62%; in 2017, it inched upwards marginally to 0.81%; in 2018, it rose to 1.92% and to 2.21% in 2019. It again fell to a disastrous -4.28% in 2020. The outlook is bleak indeed. What can we do to spur growth in the coming years? It goes without saying that the current model is not working and we must therefore change it.
How can we restore the economy to the path of sustainable growth?
Answer: In fact, one Western economist recently predicted that, under current path-dependence, Nigerian growth can never pass 3% for the foreseeable future. He based his claims on our overwhelming dependence on oil and on the fact that the world is moving out of the hydrocarbon industrial civilization that has defined our epoch since the 1900s. we must therefore diversify our economy. We must restore prudence and professionalism at the heart of macroeconomic policy management. We must operate a smart, entrepreneurial developmental state that places human capital at the heart of the development process. We must reinvent our country as a progressive country anchored on the rule of law, science, development, and social justice. Some countries are currently enjoying rapid growth, notably Rwanda, Tanzania, Vietnam, and others. The factors accounting for accelerated economic growth are now well-known. Not too long ago, the World Bank created the Commission on Growth headed by Nobel laureate Michael Spence to report on the nature, dynamics, and sources of growth for developing countries and to suggest possible frameworks for driving successful growth strategies. One of our own, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was a member of the group. According to the Spence Report, the most successful countries with regard to sustained growth are countries that are hooked up to the global economy. Such countries also tap into the knowledge economy and are particularly strong on human capital. In addition, they enjoy macroeconomic stability. They tend to also possess a high level of savings while also being oriented towards heavy investments in terms of both public and private investments. Successful growth countries also implement effective strategies for rapid structural diversification and continuing structural transformation. Growth-driven countries also provide effective market incentives while maintaining flexible labour markets. Equally crucial is the quality of political leadership in their ability to make strategic choices while articulating a coherent growth strategy. They also have to be able to communicate the new vision so as to get buy-in from the citizenry, in view of the short-term sacrifices involved in high investment rates. Leaders of high-growth countries also have to maintain a persistent, determined focus on the goal of inclusive long-term growth; build consensus among stakeholders; and create “pragmatic, effective and when needed, activist government over time”. Also important is the “understanding and respect for markets, price signals, decentralization, and private sector investment” as critical ingredients for spurring growth. The final element is fostering effective institutional development that is strong both on regulation, upholding norms, and ensuring effective delivery within a transparent environment. Ultimately, growth is about markets and private sector investment operating creatively in an environment created by effective government. In this context, inclusiveness is accorded the highest importance in driving the growth process. By inclusiveness, they mean equity, equality of opportunities, and social protection in market and employment and wage-labour transitions. The authors of the Spence Report believe “in the strongest possible terms that inclusiveness is an essential ingredient of any successful growth strategy”; a necessary ingredient without which the entire process could derail. One of the most important insights from the Report is to confirm the correlation between growth and poverty reduction. There is empirically grounded evidence that growth is a necessary condition for poverty reduction in developing countries. While these principles apply universally, Spence cautions that countries such as those of Africa may be hampered by their small size, landlocked and isolated geographical location, and long history of dependence on natural resources, ethnic divisions, and weak states. We also agree with Dani Rodrik of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government when he asserts that those who wish to promote rapid growth in their countries have to give ultimate consideration to “first-order principles”. According to him, “first-order economic principles—protection of property rights, contract enforcement, market-based competition, appropriate incentives, sound money, debt sustainability…. Good institutions are those that deliver these first-order principles effectively”. He also makes the important point that igniting growth is not the same as sustaining it. Igniting a growth process requires a mix of reform policies while sustaining it requires institutionalization of mechanisms that ensure the resilience of the economy in full awareness of local constraints and opportunities while driving economic dynamism and building capacity for resilience over the long term.
Chad is in crisis and there are fears its problems could complicate matters for Nigeria. Given your experience in public service over the years, how do we escape this?
Answer: The recent death of Idris Deby Itno on the battlefield in Kanam was a tragedy waiting to happen. The Old Book teaches that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. He came to power by taking up a gun and leading a group of rebel bandits. They won. He remained in power for decades and decades. Granted that the discovery of oil helped stabilize the economy. He and his henchmen made themselves very wealthy from the proceeds. He ran an even more nepotistic government than we have in Nigeria at present. He made his son, barely in his thirties, a General of the army. That son has now taken over as the head of the transitional administration. Chad is almost 50:50 Christian and Muslim. But we were shocked to witness a drama when a highly capable woman was being sworn in as a minister in the cabinet. They gave her a Qur’an to swear with, despite knowing that she is a Christian. She said she could not swear with a Qur’an. She lost her ministerial nomination for her seeming intransigence. Yes, Idris Deby not too long ago led his army into Nigeria and dealt a heavy blow on Boko Haram. He had good credentials as an enemy of Global Jihad. But he was just another agent of imperialism. The French propped him up only because he supported their imperialist interests in having untrammelled access to Chad’s oil and other strategic natural resources. We also hear that the imperialist powers are not totally innocent regarding the insecurity in the Sahel and the Chad Basin. Their aim is to create so much havoc that a stable government and effective state administration would not exist in those regions. That is the model they have used in the DRC and it has served them rather well. We hear there is uranium in the Zambesi forest and there is oil in the Lake Chad area. World powers want a chaotic environment so that they can be stealing our natural resources without anybody dissuading them. Then they come back and lament with us and pretend to bring the solution, when, in fact, they are a part and parcel of the problem in the first place. Ibn Itno died by the sword that he himself had wielded and by forces he did not fully understand. History will remember him as one of the negative elements in the making of our glorious continent. A looming danger, of course, is that the CFF rebels who killed him might garner more force and might eventually overrun Chad. They might then join their allies, Boko Haram and other terrorists in Nigeria. This will greatly compound our crisis of insecurity shortly.
There was a time last year when Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State even said bandits from Mali were entering the country, especially the South West region. Are we not in trouble already?
Answer: I do agree with His Excellency Governor Seyi Makinde. I must commend the leadership of the Yoruba people for showing great restraint under extreme provocation. They have not heightened the tensions through incendiary commentary. Rather, they are appealing to the youths to show restraint. That is the Yoruba way. I am a great admirer of the ancient Yoruba civilization. They have been an urban civilization for more than a thousand years, unlike the Fulanis who do not have any civilization. They are desert wanderers who ended up in the mountains of Futa Djallon in Upper Guinea. Go to the encyclopedia of world ethnology, you will not find anything great written about any putative Fulani civilization. What they seem to be very good at is deploying taqiyya, deceit, dissimulation, and subterfuge. They will befriend you and allow you to be off your guards and then they will come in the stealth of night, kill you and your entire family and then take over. This was the pattern all over Hausa land. The Hausa king of Kano was slaughtered like a goat. The Habe rulers of Gobir and Zazzau were similarly slaughtered. They were dismissed as “Kado”, even though they were learned Muslims. I have visited their original homeland of Guinea. The hatred for the Fulanis by the indigenous tribes – who by the way are also Muslims — is terrible, terrible. The Yoruba people comprise both Muslims and Christians. But the Yoruba brand of Islam is tolerant, enlightened, and accommodating. The Salafi fascism is alien to the Yoruba worldview. The only challenge Yoruba people have right now is that one or two of their leaders have sold their souls to the devil. They are desperate to succeed Buhari and they will do anything necessary to get that power. When a man sells his soul to the devil, it does not matter what justification he later offers. Such a man is lost. The Yoruba people must not be led by charlatans, no matter how many trillions they have succeeded in stealing. It would be an insult to the memory of great men such as Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Let me also say that I welcome local security outfits such as Amotekun. It is a welcome response to the pervasive insecurity that has overtaken Yoruba land and the rest of Nigeria. Our extant laws and statutes and our constitution provide for the right to self-defence. Indeed, international law, the precepts of universal ethics, natural justice, and equity accord a right and duty to people who face an existential threat to their very survival, to take such measures as are necessary to protect their families and communities. This is an even more bounden duty as well as a moral right, as long as the government is unable and/or unwilling to come to the aid of defenceless people.
There is an ongoing controversy concerning Minister Isa Pantami over his extremist rhetoric in the past. A lot of people are saying he should resign or be sacked but the president has said he is not going anywhere. What is your take on this?
Answer: I really did not want to jump into the bandwagon on the Pantami case. I think all his dirty linen has been washed in the public arena. The emperor has no clothes. He has threatened to go back to Medina or wherever he came from. He would be well advised to do so. The New Nigeria of our dream has no place for his types. He has allegedly eulogized the likes of Osama Bin Laden. I saw an old video clip of him waxing lachrymose about the need to go to Langtang and wage war on “the infidels”. In moral terms, he is a lizard. A cold, reptilian, and deadly enemy of our people. It is people like him, with their evil theology, that have brought so much bloodshed, sorrow, and tears to our country. We heard very well what the government said in his defence. They did not white-wash his wickedness; they merely tried to rationalize it as the waywardness of youth. We reject this line of argument. What he was alleged to have done took place when he was already an adult. He is not a fool. He has a PhD from a third-tier university in Britain. We hear he has the honour of being a Hafeez – someone who has ostensibly memorized the Qur’an. The greatest danger of his type is to memorize and internalize something in classical Arabic that they can hardly interpret into English or Hausa. Such half-baked knowledge is very dangerous. He belongs to the Salafi school, which emerged with the medieval philosopher and mystic Ibn Taymiyya. Unlike great thinkers such as Ibn Sinna, Al-Farabi, Al-Kindi, and the rest, Taymiyya and his ilk believe there can be no basis for dialogue with other cultures, religions, and civilizations. But they are a minority even in Islam. The majority of Muslims are civilized, enlightened, peaceful, and tolerant people. The Salafi are the people driving Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabbab, ISWAS, and other terrorists. My dear friend, the French philosopher and public intellectual, Bérnard Henri-Levy refers to them as “Islamo-fascists”. They are in the same league as Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. They are possessed by the same demons and the same ruling spirits. If you do not share their beliefs, your life is worth less than that of a dog. They have total contempt for human life. We and people like them cannot live in the same country.
The debate on whether the country should restructure or be divided is on. Where do you belong in this sir?
Answer: Let make it clear, I am an old Nigerian patriot. I believe in the idea of Nigeria. I am a believer in the Great Nigeria Project. I suppose those of us who are hemmed in within the Middle Belt does not have much of a choice. We have nowhere to run to, being caught and sardined in the middle. We see ourselves as Nigerians. And even if the rest of the country were to break up – if the North were to disappear into the Sahara and the South were to sink under the Atlantic Ocean, the Middle Belt will still be Nigeria, with our federal capital in Abuja. But I have read enough history and enough political theory to say that there are no guarantees for any nation on earth. The British historian Arnold Toynbee, in his epic study of world civilizations, identified about 22 of them. Nations and civilizations have risen and fallen. And it will continue to be so, world without end. Leaders that make wise policy decisions will see their countries move forward; those that succumb to folly will eat the dust of their own wickedness. This is how the world works. So, for Nigeria, I do not believe in our eternal indissolubility. From the way things are going, some people are hell-bent on destroying the country. They are pushing forward their evil agenda of “Fulanisation and Islamisation”. They do not give a damn what anybody thinks. They believe they are in power and this is perhaps the last opportunity they have to reshape the country in their own image. Through Pantami’s devious NIN palaver, they are allegedly importing millions of aliens and issuing them with passports, national identity cards, and voter cards. They are fighting a demographic Jihad to ensure that the North is the demographic majority by subterfuge. And then they will have a free license to call the shots in perpetuity. They have allowed hundreds of thousands of killers to invade our country. They are everywhere now. Recently, Niger State Governor Abubakar Sani Bello, lamented that the terrorist bandits have overrun over 100 villages. Niger, as you know, is the largest state by size in Nigeria. And it is less than 200 km to Abuja. The terrorists have already occupied most of my ancient Savannah homeland. The gestalt and hermeneutics of this administration lead us to believe they have a closet sympathy for the killers of our people. One of them was quoted as saying, “as you know, we always rejoice when Christians are killed”. With these kinds of attitudes, we never trust them. We would always have to decode and psychoanalyze even their best intentions. The tragedy of our situation has encouraged all sorts of secessionist tendencies, from the Old Biafra to Oduduwa and Middle Belt. Based purely on systems theory, there is no system that can take on so much pressure without something eventually giving in. Even those of us old patriots who love our country and desire its success and prosperity may be in no position to stop the madmen who are hell-bent on destroying her. If Carthage must be destroyed, then it is better for everyone to go their own way. The only solution, as I see it, is restructuring, political reforms, devolution of powers to the regions, and reinventing Nigeria as a forward-looking, progressive and prosperous democracy. The other alternative is death.
Courtesy Saturday Tribune Of May 1, 2021
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