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Interview: Al-Mustapha has suffered enough


David Attah
• Photo: The Sun Publishing

In this interview, elder statesman, Chief David Attah, examines Nigeria’s 51 years of existence and calls for attitudinal change by all Nigerians. Attah who served two former military Heads of State, Generals Sanni Abacha and Abdulsalami Abubakar as Chief Press Secretary, expressed sadness at the level of corruption, poverty and unemployment in the country.

He posited that for the nation not to become a laughing stock in the eye of the world, every Nigerian must change his /her current attitude such as lack of love for our fellow human beings and for the nation and learn to be disciplined. “With love and discipline, you will not covet, you will not cheat and you will not abuse anybody.

If for 51 years we are saying that we have not done well given the endowment and resources available to us compared to others countries of the world, then we need a big change of attitude to be able to break the vicious circle.” Excerpts…

This year’s Independence Day celebration was low-key all over the country. But 51 years of nationhood, how have we fared as a nation?
First of all, I want to congratulate you that God has preserved our lives to witness our 51st anniversary of political independence. We always take this for granted but I don’t, considering the ways we have survived so many trials and tribulations. Sometimes it seems to me that God wants this country to be one because many of the crises that we have endured would have caused a violent revolution in other societies. So, we must thank God we’re still together, given

the nature and character of our society; our diversity, our plurality religiously and culturally. Fifty-one certainly is not infinitesimal in the life of an individual let alone a nation. So, by the time you reach 51, you should be fully matured in every respect. People are worried, if you look at the entity called Nigeria, it is richly endowed; we have everything it takes to make Nigerians very happy and contented but what exists here is an abiding paradox – poverty in the midst of plenty.

Mother Nature has blessed us but either through mismanagement or under-utilization, we are not enjoying fully, the benefits of nature’s bounty. We are worried. We are all in the system and Nigeria has become part of the global village since the whole world is now a global village. We have reference points. We know the level of development that has taken place in other societies. I think it is when we draw this parallel that some of us get the feeling that we have not worked up to our full potentials. The rate of unemployment is so high such that it’s no longer possible for a Nigerian to finish from the university and walk straight and tall into waiting employment.

Thus, in order to keep body and soul together, our youths find themselves in doing things that does not normally uphold their essential worth and dignity as human beings; cultism, kidnapping, armed robbery. Majority of them, I believe, are pushed into these anti-social activities because of the unemployment situation. Development is a result of human effort. It doesn’t fall like the rain.

So, where did we miss it as a nation?
We need to look at the issue of leadership; the quality of leadership. To what extent have system managers placed service above self? To extent have they lived up to the basic tenets of the oath of office they took to be faithful and loyal to the country? Why have we allowed things to go so bad that it has almost become a vicious circle, too difficult to break? I think it is time for national introspection. We have to search our soul to discover what is wrong with us.

For now, I believe everything is wrong with us. We are not doing anything right judging by other nation’s standards. Are we making the right judgment and decisions? Are we putting square pegs in square holes or indeed we are sowing the seeds of failure and expecting success which is foolhardy, isn’t it? Are we punishing evil sufficiently? Are we introducing mechanisms that will reward virtues? Are we adopting management style that will motivate people to high standards of performance?

Do the wrong people get benefits to the detriment of those who give their best? I see institutional decay as a problem. Look at our education and educational system. There has to be institutional purity. The judiciary, the legislature, the executive and the people we serve, do we ever remember how well they are faring? Having taken a general panorama of our socio-political environment, I want to invite all of us to change our current attitude such as lack of love for our fellow human beings and for our nation. We must learn to discipline ourselves.

With love and discipline, you will not covet, you will not cheat and you will not abuse anybody. I have always been impressed by the four-way test of the Rotarians of what you say or do; is it the truth? (Only the truth can exalt a nation). Is it fair to all concerned? (Whatever action you are embarking upon). Will it build goodwill and better friendship? Then fourthly, will it be beneficial to all concerned? We are the problem and nobody is going fix it for us. If for 51 years we are saying that we have not done well given the endowment and resources available to us compared to others countries of the world, then we need a big change of attitude to be able to break the vicious circle.

With the picture which you have painted do you think that we have found ourselves in this situation because our independence was hurriedly given to us?
That is being too simplistic, in the sense that if you reason that way, you will be cheapening the amount of struggle of our nationalists. Chief Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sadauna of Sokoto, Tony Enahoro, Herbert Macaulay, name them. It didn’t come easy. But the fact that we didn’t gain our independence like South Africa and some other African societies did after a very violent liberation struggle does not mean that our independence was offered on a platter of gold.

By nature, there is too much ethnicity in our society and when we compete, we fall on the drive. So, when the British left actually, we suddenly discovered that we are Yorubas, we are Hausas, we are Idomas, we are Efik, We are Tivs, we are Igbos and all of that. And that formed the basis of our relationship. The leadership who were pre-occupied with winning power even in doing so, did on the basis of tribe. They couldn’t reach out to friendship and solidarity. And this has been carried over the years. So, the plurality of our nation is a factor. Nation building after 51 years is still a primary exercise.

We have more tribalists than nationalists. Ethnic champions and not Nigerian champions. There again, the attitude has to change. Some of you were born into a united Nigeria. I am the only one amongst you here who was born before independence. By that token, you don’t know any other country than Nigeria.
So, we owe it a duty to make Nigeria work. It’s not working alright? We must make it work by emphasizing those things that bind and unite us and de-emphasize the things that divide us. The common wealth belongs to all of us. Sadly, the attitude now is how this wealth can be shared. Nobody is talking about production and yet we do know that any prosperity that is not based on productivity is like a foundation built on a quick sand.

Our diversity should be seen as our strength and not a weakness. But it requires a national leader to be able to inject this type of idea.
Looking at the present administration under the leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan, do you think with his transformational agenda, he can take us to the promised land?
As a statement of intent, as a mission, it’s laudable. You must have a vision, you must be committed, otherwise it becomes a pipe dream. The will to act; the strength of character, share determination to change things for the better. It is not about words, we are not short of words, we are not short of paradigms or even methods but the will power and the sincerity, the moral fiber and strength required to do things differently to be positive in our mental attitude.

Our present mental attitude is too negative and too confrontational. It’s not confrontation but cooperation. We must solve our socio-economic paralysis with analysis and good action, otherwise we will be permanently caught in it. There is no other way out.
It’s not Goodluck Jonathan. It’s about us. It’s a collective indictment, a collective responsibility. It’s just that a man has to lead the nation. The responsibility of making the nation function belongs to every Nigerian. Proportional to the office you hold, the position and the responsibility, this responsibility varies in degree but it’s a collective thing and the environment under which Jonathan is operating now is not very conducive. There are too many distractions.

We have to be fair in our assessment of situation. If you literally put a man on the run and you expect him to sit in a place and plan to turn things around is a dilution bordering on fantasy. The environment has to be more congenial. We must find a solution to Boko Harram. I have avoided a very vexed issue deliberately because it has become a cliché in our national discourse. Corruption. It’s not good that everyday you open the papers and you read about fraud, embezzlement and all of that. Nobody is confirming or refuting it. Tomorrow you come up with another one. If it continues unabated, won’t we become a laughing stock in the eyes of the world? Something has to be done about corruption. And the issue of minimum wage. I was thinking that we would be talking about a living wage rather than a minimum wage.

When you start talking about a living wage, you take a critical look at the cost of living indices given the fact that we attend the same market. If certain things are subsidized, then it would be understandable when we are talking about a minimum wage. When you talk about a living wage it has to relate with the cost of living index. Then it leads to a decision whether what you are offering now is fair or unjust. Man must wack. We attend the same market.

So, the federal government owes it a duty to look inwards to see how it can cut cost of administration and look for money to pay. It’s the direct responsibility of the state governors but if you look at the resources available to the state governors, sincerely speaking, some of them would be handicapped. This leads me to the discussion of the need to review the revenue sharing formula. Give more money to the states and local governments because they are closer to the people.

They know their problem of poverty and backwardness. The federal government can shed off and concentrate of Foreign Affairs and Defense. Then delegate some of these functions to the states and with effective supervision. I think that is a better arrangement. At the moment, the federal government has almost 50%. For doing what? When all of us are rural dwellers? Every Nigerian including the President belongs to a state.

Let us look at the issue of security. Boko harram which is now being labelled as Boko Harassment now. What do you think can be done to address this issue of security?
Boko Harram is a very strange phenomenon. It’s incapable of any precise definition. I have been very curious trying to understand what the objective of Boko Harram is; is it a social protest or is it a religious movement because it is hanging loose. Judging by what people try to interpret it to mean, that they are against anything western, (Western education is a sin or a taboo).

For us as a country, having been engrossed in this system or culture of life, do we suddenly dismantle it? So, meeting their requirement becomes difficult. Understanding their intention becomes difficult. So what do we do? People are suspecting some individuals to be behind this Boko Harram insurgence. Well, I started saying that we must solve our socio-economic paralysis with analysis. And unless you dialogue, you cannot analyze. All the overtures being made in the direction of dialogue have met very stiff resistance. And I am worried about it. Judging from Obasanjo’s intervention, his initiative in going to take the pain to talk to the people on the Boko Harram issue in Maiduguri is one thing I admire.

Sadly, you saw what happened overnight thereafter, the man was killed. And suggestions are being made that a committee should be set up consisting of such respected traditional rulers like the Sultan, the Emir of Bauchi and some clerics. Here again they (Boko Haram sect members) are saying No, that these people are part of the problems they are fighting. So, what do we do? It makes dialogue difficult, it makes negotiation difficult, bargaining almost impossible let alone talking about solutions. So, Boko Haram is a riddle.

There is this insinuation that some northerners are using the sect to disrupt Jonathan’s government because they are not happy with his emergence. What is your take on that?
Some people have argued that way but me, I want evidence. They are only insinuating. They may be correct because many things are latent in society. You say Boko Harram has been in existence and is only coming to the forefront now. If it has been in existence but was not operating in a manner that was injurious to our internal security, it will not be engaging our attention the way it is now.

Most of the religious conflicts have emanated from the north for understandable reason. As far back as 1993 when a Peace Panel was set up, a paper I did, titled: Extinguishing the Sitting Caldron, A Challenge Facing the Former Northern Region in Contemporary Nigeria, was adopted. So, Boko Harram is northern in origin but given the enormity, it has become a Nigerian problem because non-northerners live in Kano, in Maiduguri, Bauchi and the rest of them.

When I was growing up, the southerners have a myth about northern Nigeria which they think was monolithic. Then suddenly when these series of religious crises started, it was then they said, these people are not as united as we think. So, as plausible as that suspicion may be, it is not conclusive but it is worth investigating. Who are the brains behind the upsurge, the sudden outburst of this phenomenon which is by our own experience strange to our land? It’s nothing we have experienced before.

May be the timing; it came in the immediate aftermath of the election. That may have tempted people to feel that way. But then, the government should now go into it; put up a high-powered study group to demystify Boko Haram. The activists, the brains behind it, the strategists, the operational commanders. My worry is that our security forces, it has been said, are being infiltrated. I feel very concerned about that because in all situations, the Nigerian Police has remained one and its loyalty is to the federal Government and not to any sub-interest. That same thing applies to the military.

So, we should not under-estimate the dangerous potentials of this phenomenon called Boko Haram. We must do everything to nip it in the bud. We must understand it properly so that we will not be treating symptoms instead of the actual ailment; so that we will not be making individuals scapegoats, casting aspersion because we are lazy to investigate.

You were there when Major Al-Mustapha was the CSO to the late President Abacha and he accused some Yoruba leaders of doing some ‘funny’ things. This he raised during his trial. Can you shed some lights on that? What exactly happened? May be you have some idea about what he is saying?
If you don’t mind, this is a matter I feel very reluctant to talk about. I will give you reasons. I am a builder. I covered the Civil War for Radio Nigeria. I was in the war front. I knew how people made supreme sacrifices to keep this country. I developed my national fervour from covering the civil war. Of course, I was in my impressionable years then; I was about 17 years old. I have had constructive engagements with Nigerians too early in my life and I have remained consistent.

So, for me, I close my eyes to things negative to Nigeria. I tend to see more of the pluses; what goes for Nigeria, what makes Nigeria great; what makes you feel so proud to say, I am a Nigerian. And by my own personal examples, when I was General Manager of Nigerian Standard, I was below 30 years. The edifice I left behind is the tallest building in Jos today. And Jonathan said during his inauguration that, “If I can make it, you too can make it. Let us learn to avoid anything that will re-open national wounds. I myself, you think I will just quit the scene without publishing my memoirs? I have things to say because I was very active. I remain a nationalist; a patriot. If I go to the village, my behavior and attitude about Nigeria remain intact in or out of government. Also, in my relationship with people, this is the way I have reached out. I have Yoruba friends, Hausa friends, Igbo friends, Efik friends.

I consider myself a Nigerian. Mustapha is facing judgment and his prosecutors are the people who prefered the charges. The only thing that I can say without offending anybody or my principle is that justice delayed is justice denied. Take a count from the time of his incarceration to now. Is it fair? I don’t believe in accusations, counter-accusations. That is not my life. I find it very difficult to react in such situations. I would not like to indulge in unnecessary conjectures. I face problems as they are presented to me. But in all fairness, speedy delivery of justice is essential for the respectability of jurisprudence itself. Why are we going to talk about national reconciliation?

We always focus on things that are divisive; that will push groups apart; that will rekindle things that we don’t want to retain in our memory. Let’s think positively; let’s transform our attitude; let’s reach out in love and solidarity. That is the requirement of the time. It is an idea whose time has come . I am flesh and blood and anybody who has worked with me, I won’t want to see him in unnecessary agony. I feel for Mustapha even if you kill me for saying so. He has suffered enough.
You were two-time Chief Press Secretary to two past Military Heads of State. We want to know if you still visit with the families of these former Military Heads of State particularly that of Late General Sanni Abacha.

I haven’t done much in that direction because I have a lot of problems. I lost my beautiful wife. You see that I needed to organize my life and everybody who knew Joy and I
(my wife) knew that we were very close. After she died, things have never been the same. I almost became a recluse. I am only managing to hold myself together. So, I have not done much in the area of visiting Abacha’s family. Again, I had a driver who was so close to me who I could use if I couldn’t go myself. He too died.

I am one person who believes that if you take relationship out of life it becomes useless, void. It is out of office that I would want to develop true friendship. Friendship, the way I understand it is far from being utilitarian but something spiritual. My friends mean so much to me and they know it. Goodwill for all, malice towards non. You will never find me criticize for the love of criticism or just because I want to be quoted or because I want to impress. God is love and we who have been created in the image of God should embrace love of one another. Even when we are aggrieved or we have been done under, we should forgive. Besides, this is an integral part of the Christian and Islamic faith.

There is this clamour now in several quarters to have the Senate President run for President come 2015. I don’t know if you are aware of this and if you are, do you subscribe to that? Is Idoma nation prepared for that?
Well, I am an Idoma, a minority group in the Nigerian scheme of things but there is one characteristic of an average Idoma man. He is not inhibited. He has a very big heart. Not just David Mark, including David Attah. Adam was the first man created by God and we believe that that Adam was an Idoma man. That is why we are the only people who answer Adam. Seriously speaking, you may be disappointed with this point I am going to make. Zoning is a political expediency that will vanish from our body politics in the nearest future.

When there is displacement, there is replacement. What value is going to replace it? Meritocracy. Whether you are Idoma, Tiv, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba or any other tribe, when you are within a system and you are qualified, you should be allowed. Even our constitution allows it. Anybody can aspire to the highest position in this country without inhibition. So, I will welcome that day and may God hasten the day. That one day, we will acquire the right political culture that will make zoning unnecessary because in principle, zoning is to encourage participatory democracy in a plural setting, in a multi-cultural, multi-religious society. It’s all part of nation building.

One day, God will help us to achieve true national integration when each one of us will be a perfect substitute to the other irrespective of our tribe or clime. That is the way of the future; that is the way of development; that is the way of civilization. We have started but going by the analysis we have been making, we are taking a critical look at ourselves to assess the journey so far. But we have the potentials to get to our destination by changing many things in our attitude, in our institution that have become clogs in the wheel of progress.

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