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Sardauna, others had better leadership qualities than today’s leaders —Yakassai
YOU took part in the pre- and post- independence politics in Nigeria, to move the country forward. Fifty-two years down the line, would you say that dream has been achieved?
Not totally. Certainly, we do not have the whites as our bosses any more. In those days, if you entered any bank in Nigeria, the manager was a white man.
The white man was the magistrate in the courts. You go to the port, the white man was everywhere, including the ministries and parastatal agencies. So, to a large extent, we do not have that anymore. But we have not made the progress we have been driven to make in terms of development and transformation of the country.
What is responsible for that?
It is because of failure of leadership. You see, our early leaders were full of visions and I will give examples. Take the first Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, he initiated the Kainji Dam project and the projects were designed for three phases. Sixty years after the initiation of the project, we are still in phase one, yet to move to phase two. He conceived the idea of drilling the River Niger for easier transportation to enable big ships from Lagos and Port Harcourt to move into the hinterland and discharge goods. He also went as far as working out a programme for expansion of the railway system. He started by taking the rail line from Jos to Bauchi, to Gombe and Maiduguri. He also planned to take the rail line from Enugu or Port Harcourt to Calablar, and to take rail line from either Gusau to Kaura Namoda to Katsina and Sokoto. If you go to the Ministry of Transport, you will see the blueprint which attempted to ensure that the railway system covered everywhere, where by goods would be transported to every part of the country with ease and at affordable prices.
If you compare the politics of that era with the politics of the Fourth Republic, do you think what we are seeing now is politics?
What we have now is politics of self- serving interests. But in those days, it was politics of serving the nation. There are examples of four prominent national leaders that I can give here. Tafawa Balewa, the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, was a headmaster in a Bauchi school. He started as a minister from 1959 and was killed in 1966. But he had no house of his own and he had no share in any company. He had to borrow money from banks to build a house and he rented it out so that he would be paying back the loan with the rented sum.
By the time he died, he had not paid off the loan he took. The family held a meeting to decide whether they should continue to collect the rent and use it to pay his debt or they should sell the house. But some said they should sell the house. Another person was the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, who ruled the northern Nigeria for 16 years and was a prime mover at the centre. He never had a choice house. In order to encourage people to farm, he took a loan to establish a farm at Bakura. By the time he died, he had not yet been able to pay back the loan. So, the governor of his zone, Usman Farouk, thought of protecting his good image and then decided that the western state government should buy the farm.
There was Dr Micheal Okpara, leader of the NCNC who started as the Minister of Agriculture. When he died, he had no house of his own. He went to Island for a course and by the time he came back, he had no house to return to. His people had to collect money to build a house for him and his wife. Such attitude cut across the leadership cadre then. I also have a friend who is still alive; Mbazulike Amaechi. He was the first Minsiter of State in the first Aviation Ministry, he takes to farming to keep soul and body together. Alhaji Sheshu Shagari was a president of this country. When he was released from prison after being incarcerated, he went back to his farm and he had no generator in his farm.
There was no electricity in his village, so he needed a generator to pump water from the borehole. That was the kind of leaders we had then.
Some people have observed that the missing link in the politics of today compared to what we had in the past is lack of internal democracy. Is that what you think too?
Yes, we have no internal democracy because of the kind of system that we are incorporating. The founding fathers of the present democracy made a constitution with a presidential system that would make the entire nation the constituency of the president and he, in turn, would make the entire country matters of concern for him. The difference between this sytem and the one we operated before is that political office seekers would be contesting elections in their localities and constituencies. With the other option, the leader of the party would be made head of government. But now, the president is the head of government, but where we got it wrong is where we allow ministers who run the day today affairs of government to come from outside. So, there is a disconnect between the minister who operates within the government and the legislature.
You see, if the ministers are picked from among elected members of the legislature, and if one commits a blunder, there and then, the legislature would check him.
Are you happy with the happenings in the country?
I am not happy about happenings in the country. I am also not happy about what is happening across the world. My quarrel now is that the media world wide today tends to be encouraging anarchy. You have a constituted authority and with every member of the government elected by the people, you will find the media encouraging few individuals to take up arms against the government.
What is currently happening in Syria and other places is what is also happening in Nigeria. About two weeks ago, I was flabbergasted when I picked up a newspaper and I saw the burnt body of a person slammed on the front page. I felt it was terrible.
As a former Hausa Editor of the Daily Comet, do you think the media in Nigeria is patriotic enough?
I don’t think so. I was conscripted into journalism. I came from prison in 1953 when we demonstrated against the 8-point agenda of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) with the intent to divide Nigeria and make the country a confederacy. We felt such was not the view of the generality of Nigerians. So, we mobilised against it and after that, we were arrested. After I was released, the Editor, Daily Comet, was nowhere to be found, so I was directed by the party to take over.
I will like to blame the present day journalists for not being patriotic enough. I will also blame your employers. A situation whereby a journalist would work for two to three years and would not get paid is bad enough. I was told about the attitude of a publisher who told his employees that his identity card alone is more than their salaries. That is what brought about the idea of brown envelopes. There are two people I ‘dash’ money in my life; the journalists and the police. I give them money because they are not well paid. Journalists are not patriotic enough because they are hungry. So you go out with the mind of making money. How many owners of newspapers today pay their journalists salaries at the end of every month?
The issue of corruption has been a major source of concern in Nigeria today. Where do you think this problem would lead the country?
If care is not taken, corruption would lead Nigeria to perdition. But we can have a way out of it. We should seize the opportunity of the fresh process of amendment of the constitution by the National Assembly. We cannot solve the problem overnight. But the most important thing is to re-introduce accountability. In this regard, we should introduce the French system whereby ministers are not picked from anywhere. You become a minister after working hard enough to win election through your party, get elected, go to the parliament and then get appointed. First, you will have a feeling that you are really representing your people. Let us change the constitution and adopt the French system.