Former Minister of Communications in the Second Republic, Chief Isaac Oryina Shaahu, says that in spite of the various agitation by different nationalities in the country, the truth remains that nobody wants Nigeria to be disintegrated. Shaahu in this interview with NAJIME TER, also says that Nigerians are always in a haste to complain just as he said that the APC administration is not God that can fix everything at once. He equally canvassed that states that are not viable to pay workers’ should cease to exist. Excerpts
With all these agitations by different nationalities, do you still think Nigeria state is a viable project?
Do not tell me that. Nobody, I tell you, nobody is ready that this country to be separated. No way. It is only pretense. Who want to be poor like Dahomey and other very small countries that cannot protect or feed their citizens? Who want to be poor like Chad? People who are shouting Biafra this, Oduduwa that and Niger Delta this, ask them to be sincere and tell you whether they are very comfortable that this country be separated and they will tell you no. As for me, I am not threatened at all and I wish Nigerians should know this. Just like we had discussed the inability of some states to pay salaries, are these states not in regions that are daily agitating? If they have so much of the potentials to go independent, why are they not showcasing same so that we will know that these states can be on their own? Is it the Nigeria state that stopped them from development? If a state relies solely on federal subvention and people of such state are calling for independence, then, something should tell you that the people are only been mischievous. Let us see how you help your governor or governors to use whatsoever natural resources you are endowed with to change the fortunes of your state so that we will know that if left on your own, you can still survive. Anything other than this is nothing but mischievous noise making.
As a former member of the Board of Trustee of the People’s Democracy Party (PDP), do you see any prospect of the now disseminated party reviving and taking over power in 2019?
Well, I am not God and I should not be saying what would be and what would not be tomorrow. All I can do as an elderly person who has seen it all, to borrow your description is to look at the particulars on the ground, assess the issues as they affect a people or group and suggest how they may end. So, I cannot decide the fate of the PDP here. However, with the look of things, it is practically almost impossible for that party to bounce back and reclaim power as early as 2019. This is because they have substantially destroyed themselves. Today, it is even difficult to discuss PDP as a party. What would you say? Are you going to talk about Ahmed Makarfi or you will be talking of Modu Sheriff’s PDP?
Nigerians are complaining that there is no difference between what was obtainable in governance by the PDP and what is happening now. The general feeling is that there is no change in anything, rather, things are getting worse?
This, I must say is an interesting one. It is rather unfortunate that our people are in a haste to complain without properly thinking on how things are done. How can you expect someone to come within two years and correct all wrongs done for 16 years? Is that person God or a magician? This is just two years. We are doing our best and you could hear how monies are been recovered every day. By the end, we will plug these monies so recovered back to the country’s economy and the people will have course to smile. Even if we were voted in to perform magic, we need more time. APC is not God. The APC government needs time to correct all the wrongs done by PDP for 16 years and that, we must do.
But you were a founding member of the PDP and eventually, you became its Board of Trustee member. Are you not indicting yourself; especially by stating that things went wrong for 16 years of PDP’s rule?
Yes. I was not just with them. I was a founding member of that party. But to answer you properly, I did not steal one kobo of the public money. If I had stolen, by now they should be calling me to refund it. Let me tell you, some of us came from the background that we don’t steal. It is not just in us. I am 82- year old, and if not for the military that took over and arrested all of us, all politicians and took us to jail, I would have conveniently said I have never been detained. But the military took over, jailed some of us and still kept us there even when they checked and realized there was nothing against us, we were left to languish in jail for almost ten years. Besides, in PDP, ours was to advice. I advised them against all of these atrocities especially looting of the treasury yet they couldn’t listen. That is why I decided to leave and join the APC where I belong today.
Having mentioned corruption and looting of treasury, may we have the benefit to know how you compare the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s and the current happenings as regards the corruption index in the country?
Yes, truly, the level corruption in the country has escalated. It is worrisome to say the least. As I stated earlier, Nigeria was not ran the manner it is being run today with corruption in every sector. I started work with the Native Authority. That is my background. It was not a joke. You dare not touch the public money and you are allowed to go free. I rose with that discipline and became a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, but I had it at heart that there was no way I will mess myself up by touching the public money for whatsoever reason. I knew that you must go to jail for touching the public money. No matter how you try to cover it up, you must be fished out and severely dealt with. But imagine what is happening in the system today. Imagine as old as I am, a man of 82 years. If you mention N2 billion, it is too much. As a matter of fact, as a Tiv man and as far as my language is concerned, I cannot count beyond N1 million, but today, a single person loots billions and nothing happens. The other day, I read in the press how Diezani Allison-Maduekwe, a former minister like me, looted over N40 billion. What madness is that? What would she do with that kind of amount? What? As a matter of fact, there is nothing you can do to finish spending that kind of money. So, is it the matter of assembling the huge monies so that you can look at it and say you have money or what? I think people looting this country now must be examined by psychiatrics to ascertain whether they are normal at all.
Can you assess the two years of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led APC administration?
We came and met a dried treasury even at the centre. The president is only trying to get money to put the economy back to shape. That said, let me tell you that you will not expect us to do magic as if we are God. So, in assessing the President Muhammadu Buhari -led government of APC, I will simply rate it far above average. Trying to curb corruption and instill discipline in the system alone is a very huge move that has already started yielding very positive results. Beyond that, there is so much innovations that are gradually redirecting the system to the legitimate way of doing things. Do not forget that farmers are beginning to have value for their produce with the banning of importation of food items into the country. Infrastructure wise, there are developments going on everywhere in the country. Remember, it was a dried purse that was handed to the APC government. So, we are not God. Buhari is not God to shout change, and change will be there. We have to correct the wrongs first by recovering what was stolen so that when he sits down and appropriate it, the money would be used for massive development of the country and payment of worker’s wages.
Some state governments are finding it difficult to pay workers’ salaries. Do you think we need states that are not viable economically?
These issues are difficult to talk about. Before Nigeria discovered oil that has made us so rich, but unfortunately very lazy, this issue of states been unable to pay salaries was not there. It was not. In fact, at the Native Authority level, every Native Authority was so financially viable to the point they could pay salaries and tackle certain issues with the funds they raise. Why is today different? Why is it that up to the level of states as the second tier of government, governors would be complaining of not having enough money to pay workers their wages? Tax was basically a source of revenue that was enough to take care of the wages of workers at these authorities. Ideally, what comes from the central government as subvention should only be an addendum to what has been generated by other levels of governance. Let us start by merging the small Local Governments so we can forge ahead. I remember how we use to have Tiv Native Authority, Kano Native Authority, etc. Of course, we had something else in the southern part of the country. So, states that cannot pay workers should simply merge and cease to exist. You cannot be operating as a state with workers under you and you cannot pay them. You are not economically viable to exist. So, there is no need.