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Northeast governors created Boko Haram – Son of Tafawa Belewa

Dr Jeleel Tafawa Balewa is a son of the late first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. He speaks on how Nigeria should handle the Boko Haram insurgency; the main problem facing the country and how he has been pressurised to contest the presidential election, among others. Excerpts:

HOW would you introduce yourself to those who do not know you well?
I am Dr. Jeleel Tafawa Belewa, a father. More than anything else, I am someone who cares about his environment. I am a patriot.

At the mention of Tafawa Balewa, everyone would remember the first Prime Minister of Nigeria. What is your relationship with him?
It is a father, son relationship. He was my father.

But you are not known in Nigeria as the other sons of the late Tafawa Bellewa…
I did not live here for almost 48 years. There are some other sons of the late Prime Minister who have been living in Nigeria; I just came back to Nigeria about seven years ago.

Since you came to Nigeria, what have you observed about the way we do things?
The way we do things have created certain attitudes and one of those is an impoverished attitude and there is no reason for that, because Nigeria is a string of dynasties. We have fields of dynasties. The old kings, chiefs and other rulers should have been able to create wealth, because there is a lot of wealth in Nigeria. It is just that, in recent times, the wealth is not evenly distributed.

Have you been following the political lines in Nigeria and if you do, what is your impression?
I do follow the political lines and I see a lot of elected officials. People are so much into politics and they take politics as a profession. We don’t have professionals as politicians. We have political professionals and that shouldn’t be, since politics is a way of helping the people and understanding the people and wanting to bring some help to them from a central government. Our people take politics as a job which is not supposed to be so.

You have been in the United States for a long time. How is politics in US different from ours here?
One, whether it is a party in opposition or a ruling party, one thing is common to both of them: the country first and then patriotism. What concerns the country concerns all of them. Here, what concerns the party is what they define for everybody to be concerned about. When a party is in power, it only enables members to rip off of the country. But these parties are more like clogs. They are supposed to have purposes, I don’t see that. They may have it on paper, but in practice it is not just there.

For Nigeria to get its politics right, what are the fundamental things the country needs to put in place?
The fundamentals are very simple. First of all, the parties need to have ideologies. Do you know any of the parties that has any ideology? In the United States, for instance, and in Britain and other developed or developing democracies, each of the parties will have a particular lead whether it is towards Labour or towards established Labour givers. Now, we need to have a vision of what we want the country to be at some particular points. What is happening now are just elected officers coming in, ruling in whichever way they think is possible. Even though they travel round the world, they never really try to see how things work in other places. They just go like tourists, go shopping and then they come back.

Will you attribute that to African mentality?
It is not because of our African mentality, because we have seen in other African countries where people have patriotism. Ghana is a recent example. Until Rawlings came in, everything was running as it is in Nigeria. Then Rawlings decided to clean up the system, and it is a much better system now, such that the US president visited Africa and never bothered to visit Nigeria, the largest black country. The US president refused to visit us because we do not have what it takes to be known as a leader in Africa.

Now the security situation in Nigeria is getting above the head. Are you not scared that the problem could pull Nigeria apart?
I am not scared, because when it comes to Nigeria getting pulled apart, Nigerians will sit up and fight to save this nation. This country needs to be ruled by people who know what they are doing and not people who learn on the job. We thrive on mediocrity, which is a shame, because Nigeria has a depth of capability. There are so many people in Nigeria that, if given the opportunity to rule or work for the nation, they will perform excellently.

Why are you so optimistic that Nigeria can survive the security challenges currently bedevilling it?
We have made so many mistakes. Right from the outset when these problems started, I didn’t see a reason why we couldn’t have learnt from other countries and then have some embedding. And what is embedding? This is the training of people within our security services to go into the enclaves of the terrorists and decode their activities in no time. They should find out what these people really wanted and be able to report it back. We missed the opportunity when General Owoye Azazi was the National Security Adviser. It is a little bit late for Nigeria to do that now. At the moment, we don’t know who these terrorists are. One of the simplest things in intelligence is to be able to find out where your opponents reside, terrorism or no terrorism. Didn’t they find out what happened with the militants? Right now, all of these children that were stolen should have been found out immediately. There is one thing that is common to all mammals: they need water. The terrorists can buy food, they can buy clothing, and they can buy some other things. But they need a source of water to be able to cook their food. There are sources of water. We have satellite, for instance the K-band satellite, which can see a can of coke from the orbit. They should deploy that. Even if we cannot use our satellite, there are so many satellites in the geo-synchronous orbit area, very close to the equator, that could be put to use. You cannot have a report that 10 Hilux trucks were moving some good number of girls from one place to the other and nobody could track them. Nobody has been able to say anything about that; we are only focusing on 234 girls. In the Sahel where Maiduguri is, thick forest would only occur where there is a large supply of water and this may be where to locate these people. There are ways the military can follow to locate the terrorists. They did it in Mali; they did it in Sierra Leone; they did in Liberia and they are doing it all over Africa. Our soldiers were in Darfur and they had these experiences. Darfur is the same climatic zone with Nigeria. So they should be able to deploy such experiences to help themselves in locating the terrorists and the girls they abducted.

If you talk about government trying to know what the terrorists wanted, can you recall that they were indeed, asking for the impossible, by claiming they want to Islamise the rest of the country and they have been uncompromising. Is that not a misplaced agenda, something that no one could immediately help?
No, that is an assumption. We need to be able to get through to them. If embedding was done right from the start, we would have known a lot better. It is a little late now, because obviously they would know some people were coming to be embedded into them.

Some foreign countries have offered to assist Nigeria to rescue the girls. But some people have accused the country of being laid back in calling for assistance. What can you say about that?
It is not only laid back, one of the things that these people assume is that they don’t want Western influence. Now, this is the mighty Nigeria that has been able to go to Darfur and bring peace, to Mali, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote D’voire and bring peace. But now we want to look for help from these powers that the terrorists seem to be going against. Of course, they would even be more irate. If Nigeria is to get help from these people, it should not be public knowledge. It is really a bad diplomatic faux pass. I still believe the insurgents can be tamed. If you remember the problem of militancy in the South-South and how we came around to solve it and ended up with peace, then you can rest assured that very soon, the problem of insurgency will end too in Nigeria. All the same, the solutions proffered for solving the problems of youths restiveness in the Niger Delta, by sending some of the militants to school, to me is less than perfect. Some of the things done were near imbecilic. I see no reason why you should train a militant to be a pilot. Besides, can the Nigerian aviation industry absorb the huge number of militants trained as pilots? There are many other things that we can do to better the lot of these people, like the government creating an enabling environment for jobs. If the government cannot create jobs, they should be able to create an enabling environment for investors within Nigeria or outside Nigeria to come and do just that. Now, going back to the issues of the militants, most of the problems started with our governors, most especially in the North-East. In Bauchi, my state, we had the sarasukas who would just butcher people just to intimidate them and they eventually will welcome a governor to come in. Some of the beneficiaries of these atrocities are in government as ministers. The sarasukas eventually joined up with so many others warmongers and strangers to eventually make up Boko Haram. But people know them. The people who recruited them initially know them. They know where they come from, they know where they live. So the feet should be put into the fire to really come out and say something. We also had Darfur and some of the rebel soldiers in Darfur and in the Islamic Maghreb, such as Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya, after they were defeated, started looking for homes. And if you ever travel to Niger Republic, you will find out that all around the country, until you get to an oasis in the desert, there are these people you find who were looking for propagation of mentally-deficient ideals. The Qur’an does not say anything about this. What they are doing is not a jihad. They are just looking for places to fit in. We got rid of some in Mali; some left Libya after Gadhafi died and the lunatics in Sudan who were killing negro fighters are now coming in as Su’Arabs, Tuaregs and something like that. Cameroon, Chad, Niger should really be put to the test by Nigeria. Nigeria is not a small power around here, but the people in government need to know the Nigeria’s worth and what they can do to all these smaller countries and make sure the fight goes to the terrorists. The way the American deals with terrorism is good. If America is at war like this, it would go in with overwhelming force. You don’t have to keep telling people what you are going to do. We need action!

So what advice can you give on how to contain the insurgency?
They need to have as much intelligence as possible. Satellite capture is essential. We need to have scouts also; they cannot have embedding any more, but they need scouts within the population of those areas. We also need to find out what had happened from those who had been captured overtime. We also need to find out what happened from those they are just capturing. We have had successes in capturing some of them. They have to be questioned. There are ways of making sure that truth emanates from them. I am not prepared to talk about ways of getting the truth from these people, but I know some ways to get the truth out of those in custody. Then we need to know who their sponsors are. Those types of news can’t be made public and not the kind of news that Britain, the US and others are going to help us with. I know that when the time is ripe, the government will look for those who have the ethos to offer good and practicable suggestions on how to get out of these problems.

People differ on the major problem facing Nigeria; with some saying it is corruption while others allude to poverty. What is the main problem facing this country?
The main problem facing this country is poverty and uneven or unequal distribution of wealth. There will always be poor people in every country; but a poor person in the United States lives a better life than a middle class person in Nigeria, whereas Nigeria is blessed with much more natural resources, much better land than most parts of the world. So, what we need is good leadership.

What is your background really like?
I am a medical doctor and a specialist in infectious diseases. I also had my master’s degree in enzymology, that is enzyme kinetics and reactions, and I have a PhD in nuclear chemistry with a lean towards preservation of food and reduction of microbial load. Most African countries produce enough food, but harvesting techniques have been really bad. I believe, however, that Nigeria having a nuclear facility in food preservation can be a major master in Africa. That is what we are trying to ensure. But we need people who can think outside the box to be able to achieve that.

There are speculations that you are eyeing the presidential seat. Is that true?
It is a speculation, because I am not eying anything. The truth is that groups and organisations are coming out from different parts of Nigeria to say “You have what it takes to rule this country.” The last count I made; I think there were about 70 organisations that have contacted me on that. I give lectures on some of the ills and what we need to do to correct those ills in this country. I have never shied away from anything and I have never failed in anything I do. It is still under consideration, even though these people are pressurising me to run for the presidency of this nation. The reason is not just to run, but they know that my tentacles are deep worldwide and that naturally, I encourage people to do their best. I can bring in Nigerians and non-Nigerians that have done or are doing well in other places, create a home for them to come and do for the country what they are doing well in other places, just as I am doing. I can also make Nigeria more viable for investors. If Dangote decides to go into say telephony; you will see monies going after him because he is a doer. This is someone who has been able to do things well. The difference between someone who do well and someone who doesn’t is that he has been able to do his homework well. We can encourage investors from all over the world to come and invest in our people which we are not doing now.

Are you likely to give in based on the pressure?
It is under serious consideration and consultations. If it is true that people actually believe in me to run the affairs of the country, I surely will do that.

Do you think you have the nerves, the ruggedness and the wherewithal to cope with the intrigues of politics of the country?
That is where a lot of people got it wrong. Do we need to be rugged to run a country like ours? I say no, because people have taken politics as a job, all of these people need to sit down and let the country run well and they might be turning up their noses now. I am one of those people that are not easily discouraged. If there are people that will stand in the way of the progress of this country, they will be dealt with adequately. I promise you that much. What is important is the progress of this country and if am given the authority to run the affairs of the country, you can bet your button dollar that it will run adequately. We have people that can do what is right to get this country where it should be. Opposition will be there and it will be allowed to be. But if I see retardants or distracters, they will be dealt with.

What about the financial muscle to run for the presidency?
I am not uncomfortable, but you can’t say the heaven is coming down is one person’s problem. What concerns all must be approved by all. If I am going to run, I am going to run with the people of this country with all hands on deck. I don’t have to embezzle or to have embezzled like some of these people have done. We have some of these people that had run for the presidency so many times and they have not been successful, but they feel that they are the only ones that should always be there because they have money bags with them, people who had stolen so much from the country and who always think that they still need to steal some more. All those would be discouraged. We will take the rationale to the people and for them to know that what we want is for Nigeria to be the Federal Republic that we had always wanted it to be.

On a last note, what level of consultations have you made for you to be convinced that the coast is clear for you to run?
It has been extremely positive so far. But you see, as a researcher anything absolute is a lie. I am looking for further consultations to see other leaders who will say don’t run and give reasons. If everybody keeps saying we are with you, I know that you have to be wary of the Indians bringing gifts. Now, I hope I will meet with some people that will say it to the contrary so that I will have a pool of thought to be able to get a better template.

If you are running, that means you will be facing the president of this country in the contest. He is supposedly your friend. Are you not scared?
Scared? No, this is about Nigeria. This friendship, this cordiality is not what we need. It is all about the future of my country, the country where my umbilical cord lies. No, I hope nobody shakes. But if I run, I can assure you that I will run with the intention of not wanting to fail or not to do extremely well.
–Tribune

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