Helon Habila was the literary editor of
the Vanguard newspaper in Nigeria.
He is currently a writing fellow at the University of
East Anglia. He won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2001. His novel,
Waiting for an Angel is published by Hamish Hamilton in the UK and W.W. Norton in the US.
About Mohammed Abubakar Rimi
Abubakar Rimi was born in Rimi Village
of Sumaila Local Government Area of Kano
State, Nigeria, in 1940. Two decades later, he attended an instructor’s
course at the institute of Administration, Zaria,
which a year later became Ahmadu
Bello University. He also undertook private studies for the General Certificate of education of the
University of London. In 1972, Alhaji Rimi attended the University of London, where he completed a diploma in international affairs at the London institute
of World Affairs, and later, a Masters Degree in International Relations.
worked with the late Mallam Aminu Kano and some progressives, to form the people’s Redemption Party (PRP), which
was one of the five political parties registered and he contested in 1979 General elections in Nigeria. On the 11th of December 1978, Dr. Rimi was elected the party’s Deputy National
secretary at the PRP’s first national convention in Lagos.
Alhaji Abubakar Rimi was elected the first civilian Governor of Kano State on 28th July, 1979.
He become governor of Kano
State at the age of 39, and his tenure witnessed fundamental
changes and unparalleled achievements in Kano State.
Abubakar Rimi’s administration was widely recognized as one of the best state governments in Nigeria during his tenure as Kano State governor in terms of spreading social amenities and
introducing new progressive measures for the betterment of the people – for instance, educational institutions
at all levels tripled during his tenure of office. Inaccessible and neglected rural areas of Kano State were opened up with massive road projects, rural electrification
and extensive rural water programmes. His administration gave Kano state a great Television Station the CTV, in 1981. He also set up the Triumph Publishing Company
home to four newspapers.
Women in Kano State benefited significantly from Rimi’s administration. In December 1979, and for the
first time in Kano State history, he appointed a woman to be a Commissioner in the State executive council.
During his tenure of office between 1979 and 1983, there were three women Commissioners who served in the ministries
of Trade, Industries and co-operative, Home Affairs and Information and Health.
Abubakar Rimi also introduced a celebrated Adult Education programme under a department he named ‘Agency for Mass
Education’, in April 1980. Through this agency, adults who could not go through formal education to secondary and
university levels obtained a high quality education. This Adult Education programme was recognized by UNESCO (United
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) of the United Nations, based in Paris, in 1983, as one of the best Adult Education programmes on the African continent.
Abubakar Rimi is the recipient of numerous honors including an honorary Doctor of laws degree from the University of Calabar.
1993, he was appointed Minister of Communications. In that capacity, he was responsible for all telecommunication
and postal services in Nigeria.
Alhaji Abubakar Rimi is one of the foundation members of the PDP. He was the Chairman of the Finance committee
of the Party at its inception and also one of its presidential candidates.
Nigerian Leaders and Nigerian Leadership
Habila: The country is at its lowest
ebb politically, socially, economically and morally. What do you think are the reasons for this, and how can things
Well, for a numberof years we’ve had corrupt leaders running
the affairs of the country. When I say corrupt leaders, I mean many of those who are involved in running the affairs
of the country, at the national level, the state level, and the local government level. Corruption and acts of
impropriety have become a way of life, and it is evident that corruption in Nigeria is not being punished. People know that if they steal public
funds, they will only be relieved of their jobs or their office, and they are left with their ill gotten wealth.
It is only fair to the people of Nigeria, that if someone is found guilty of corrupt practices such as the theft of public funds, they should
be called to account for those funds, and be sent to prison. If corruption is punished, people will think twice
before indulging in corrupt practices. Although, it is not humanly possible to eliminate corruption, bribery and
selfishness, it can be reduced to a minimum degree. This can only be done by exposing those involved, and punish
them by sending them to jail. But as long as we close our eyes to corruption and other acts of illegality and impropriety,
we can’t make serious progress in our country.
H.H: Now, many are of the opinion that Nigeria’s problem is not necessarily that of leadership, but mainly
that of followership; because people are not politically aware, Nigerian leaders
have been able to get away with bad leadership. Do you agree with that?
Rimi: It is not the people who have let the country down, though
they certainly play a role; a surreptitious support in what is happening. You see the general Nigerian populace
does not have the power to do much. First of all the majority of Nigerians are politically unaware, and largely
uneducated. Most are afraid of the authority, because it is, in the main, unjust, corrupt, and sometimes ruthless.
Thus, the people are unable to do much on their own. But if there is a leader that will lead them to revolt, they
will participate in the revolt. However, in Nigeria, if an individual begins a revolt, his own colleagues or partners who might benefit from the act
will very likely report him to the authorities.
So, people are scared always
to organise anything which might be considered subversive, because they could easily be charged with treason or
coup plotting or something of the sort. And such an individual will find that his best friends will desert him
in the time of trouble unlike in Europe where people can meet and organise themselves, and come
out on the streets to demonstrate against the government without anything happening to them. In Nigeria, the police and soldiers will shoot demonstrators on sight.
This is why people don’t have the courage to revolt because there is no unity in collective action, and the leaders
who are supposed to organise the people are watched by security agents, and are arrested and charged with one thing
or the other. It might even happen that through such intimidation, people will blame the leader for revolting against
the government…So the people, in a way, might share in the blame of their oppression.
Secondly, voters in Nigeria tend to expect money from a candidate during elections;
they sell their conscience as well as their votes…
[interjecting]: But is this not
because people are, in the main, poor and hungry?
They are hungry, yes; but the amount
of money one receives from a political candidate during an election will not take care of any problem. It is plain
ignorance to think that it would, and of course, poverty plays a role in this…
H.H: Can you explain the idea behind the union called Nigeria? It appears that the Britain simply merged disparate groups of people for the sole reason
of exploiting them. This, in a way, is why we mostly see ourselves as northerners, or southerners, Christians or
Muslims first then as Nigerians, second. Are we forever going to be loyal to our tiny units, but disloyal to the
Rimi: The idea of disloyalty started from colonial times when
the British, in carving out the territory for themselves, decided to divide the country into two protectorates,
namely, southern Nigeria, and protectorate of northern Nigeria. In the year 1904 or 1906, there was an amalgamation, which
resulted in present day Nigeria. The British ruled till 1960 when we became independent. Such a history fostered the notion of
“northerner,” and “southerner…”
So, is it possible that we might
ever have a unifying idea or philosophy like the American notion of “freedom and liberty,” and the British “crown?”
Rimi: People can agree to any philosophy or any practice which
they desire as a country, that is valuable, and helps launch national cohesion. But corrupt leadership, and ethnic
rivalry, which is part of corrupt leadership, will not allow this to happen. This is because the leadership of
this country has and continues to be more concerned with selfish sectional, religious, and ethnic interests rather
than in the interest of Nigeria as a unified unit.
It is not true that the problem
with Nigeria is that it is composed of different ethnic groups. In fact
there are more ethnic groups in America than you have in Nigeria… Every ethnic group today is represented in the United States, so while we have 250 or so ethnic groups, I am sure America must have over 1000 ethnic groups. Every ethnic group that
you know in Nigeria is in America. Today, one can find Nupe, Gwari, Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba,
Efik, Anang peoples; they are all over the place in America, as students, residents, and nationals…they are all
there. It is the same thing in England, in the New Britain where you have Indians,
Nigerians, Arabs, Greeks, Turkish, Bulgarians, Caribbean,
and East Europeans, not only taking up residence, but becoming nationals, becoming British. And nobody really talks
in terms of ethnic groups there as well.
So what, essentially, is our problem?
Rimi: Selfishness of the leaders, first and foremost. The leadership
selfishly instigates the people against each other, so that they can benefit politically, financially, whatever…
So, in truth, people do not want to be tribal. After all if you look at it from a practical point of view, you
find that ordinary Nigerians who are not in government or in politics, conduct their own business, interact among
themselves, inter-marry, not caring about ethnicity. Unfortunately, when selfish, corrupt, political leaders take
power, they instigate a change in broadminded thinking. It is not the fault of the people, that of the leaders.
H.H: So, is political education part of the answer?
Rimi: Yes...but only part… people definitely need to be politically educated. People need to know that
when they demand or accept money from their member of parliament, that money will not solve their problem. Also,
demanding money from our political representatives encourages them to engage in corrupt practices in order to make
money apart from his legitimate earnings.
Committee: What are some of the
key ingredients for tackling corruption in Nigeria?
Rimi: The problem of Nigeria is poor leadership. Nigeria simply hasn’t had a history of good, honest, patriotic,
incorruptible leadership. Everybody sees government as a way of feathering his nest. And if you talk to any politician
today, who has been voted into office, in any elective office, he will tell you his concern is not to serve others;
his concern is to serve himself. And he will tell you, look I have spent millions to get where I am, why do you
expect me to go and serve anybody else? I have made an investment, and I have to recover my money and make some
Committee: Is it not a credit to
the present government that the ICPC [the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission] was set up to fight corruption?
Rimi: Perhaps… however, in my opinion, the ICPC [the Independent
Corrupt Practices Commission] has not achieved anything, it has been there now for over five years and it has not
jailed any body. They have tons and tons of complaints from the public, tons and tons of evidence of corrupt practices
by different individuals from all parts of the country, but nobody is being punished... If you punish anybody,
people will expose you immediately. They will say
we know the houses you bought, we know the houses you built …you too you should be punished, so because of that
Committee: What kinds of checks
and balances are needed to curb corruption?
The only checks and balances necessary
will be to punish the corrupt! The laws are there. They just need to be enforced. Corruption in Nigeria is in every sector and affects every strata of society,
and all kinds of people. What encourages the perpetuity of corruption is the fact that corrupt people are not being
exposed and punished. Unless you punish corrupt government officials corruption will never stop.
If you discover a government
official is corrupt and you decide to punish him, who will implement it? The policeman who is supposed to arrest
the fellow, will demand a bribe, the judiciary is corrupt…Corruption is so entrenched in our national psyche…It
will take a very daring and courageous national leader and government to do away with corruption.
Politics and the Military
H.H: Is the military still a threat in our politics?
Rimi: The military are in politics, and they will continue to
be in politics for some time. Why? Because it has financial power... Nigerian politics today is guided by money.
The Nigerian voter wants money from the candidate before an election. They are not interested in the qualities
of the candidate, only in what the candidate will do for them when he is elected. People are interested only in
the candidate dipping his hands into his pockets and giving them money.
There is the belief on the part
of many Nigerian voters that when you are elected into an office, you are going there to make money for yourself.
So what they saying is that when you get elected, you will become a big man, and inaccessible to the general masses. Therefore, you should give them their share of the money you are going to steal before you go there
and steal it! And because of the knowledge that one will not be punished for theft of public funds, political candidates
will steal anything, and get away with it…
So, the military in Nigeria is the richest group of Nigerians today, because you know
when the military comes to power, their concern is not how to rule or in justice; that is not their training. Their
concern is to conquer the country so that everything becomes booty. When a military man takes over power, his attitude
is that everything belongs to him. He cannot understand why there should be an independent National Assembly, or
an independent party. He cannot understand why Nigerians will ask him why he is not serving them, why he is taking
all their money from the annual budget. What he wants from you is blind loyalty; just obey, whether he is right
or wrong. Otherwise you become an enemy who must be eliminated. And this attitude doesn’t leave them no matter
how many years they have been out of the service.
Tribalism and Democracy
Committee: Tribalism is one of Nigeria’s greatest challenges. What constructive measures should
be put in place to protect all Nigerians from discrimination irrespective of tribe, tongue, ethnicity, religion,
creed and gender?
What will be required is equal opportunity and fairness.
Look at America, it has more ethnic groups than any other country – every
group is represented there. In Nigeria we will need policies similar to what they have in America. Adopt policies whereby people will be treated according
to merit. In Nigeria today if a man becomes president, he will hire only people
from his ethnic or religious group, favour his people by spending the country’s money to develop his area. The
same would be true if he were Hausa or Igbo or Yoruba or from any ethnic group. In order to end tribalism, we will
need leadership that is fair to everyone.
Committee: An attempt was made in
the 1980s to develop what some saw as ‘Nigerian style affirmative action’ with a policy known as “federal character.” Even
as some hailed this policy, others believed it was an attempt to entrench mediocrity. What is your view?
The essence of ‘federal character’
is to ensure even and equal representation in government and educational institutions from Nigeria’s great ethnic and religious diversity. That is the purpose.
We must accept the reality that for historical reasons there is a lot of in balance in certain spheres such as
education amongst certain ethnic groups in Nigeria. A policy that attempts to solve this problem does not entrench mediocrity. It is an attempt to
be fair to everyone. To run a true federation, everyone should be at the table…in other words; there should be
equal and fair representation. Without it, there will be instability.
H.H: Do you believe that the agitation of minorities and the
Igbos for the presidency is justified? They have never had the presidency since the war, and some people think
that giving them the presidency will be a way of solving the feelings of alienation by the so called ‘marginalized
I think that is propaganda; it is
a way of campaigning for sympathy. As far back as 1979 an Igbo man was the vice-president of Nigeria, and interestingly enough, all the vice-presidential candidates
were Igbo men, in all the five parties. In the NPN it was Alex Ekwueme; in GNPP it was a Barrister somebody - one
Onitsha man; I have forgotten his name…and in NPP, the presidential
candidate was Zik, himself, whose running mate was Shettima Mustapha from Borno. We were in the same party then,
and then Awolowo himself took a lawyer, whose name unfortunately slips me, to be his running mate. And of course
Ikoku was the national secretary of our own party, the PRP.
You see where the Igbos are going
wrong in my view, in their bid for the presidency, is that they are toeing the ethnic line; they are playing the
ethnic card. We Igbos, we Igbos; we should be given the opportunity to be president…. No, you don’t become president
because you are Igbo; you become president if you are able to organise a party or you organise support within your
party to get the necessary votes at the convention of your party! So you don’t campaign along the lines of being
Igbo or Hausa or Yoruba or anything, the ethnic card is not good for anybody who wants to be president of Nigeria. Because people can easily react, and say what about us
the Hausa, what about us the Nupes, what about us the Fulani, the Ishekiris, what about the Ijaws etc, we too we
have somebody who wants to be president.
H.H: But the whole idea of rotation in PDP, your party, runs
counter to what you are now saying.
I have always been against the idea of rotation, because
I believe it is not the best way to get the best candidate for the party. Now we have a problem with the leadership,
the majority of party members and Nigerians believe that the leadership in Nigeria is not doing well; there are not the right policies to
galvanise Nigeria, and put it on the right footing, and in the right economic
direction. So really I am not saying that Igbos would not make a good president, there are lots of Igbos who can
give Nigeria a fantastic leadership, but they should not campaign on
the basis that they are Igbos or members of any other ethnic group but on the basis that they can effectively galvanize
the support of all Nigerians. If they or any other group want to be president, in which ever party they find themselves,
they should fight for the nomination to get the majority of the votes to be the candidate of that party. And since
PDP is now the winning party and the largest party, any man who wants to be president should be in PDP and fight
at the convention of the party and not stay at home and hope that other Nigerians will have sympathy for them and
then they will give them the presidency, that is not going to happen.
committee: For a short time following
independence from Great
Nigeria’s leaders appeared to have a vision for long term development.
We had a clear time table and development goals articulated through 5 year development plans. Why do you think
that strategy was abandoned? Would returning to that type of economic planning help Nigeria today?
The early 1960s and 1970s is really
the era you are talking about. I believe the most serious threat to that kind of planning came in the form of military
coups. The instability that the military brought with them was also apparent in their chaotic economic plans or
rather lack there of. The 5 year development strategy was a good idea…but you know the annual budget is just like
a shorter version of the 5 year development plan. My point is this… Annual budgets have clearly spelt out capital
expenditures, economic objectives, thrust areas, proposals, federal, state and local government financial allocations,
projected tax revenues etc…So the annual budget serves the same purpose on a shorter time table. What is required
is accountability, strong leadership with a grand vision for developing the nation, a concerted effort to rid the
country of the corrupt. Only then will short or long term development plans work.
Committee: What in your view is
required to improve educational standards in Nigeria?
Rimi: Several things…first is better financing. You can’t do anything without money. Enough funds are
not allocated to the Educational sector. Even where they are earmarked, there is always a problem with the release
of the funds…Second, better training of teachers is particularly important. The quality of teachers at all levels
is extremely low. There is a need for great improvement and maintenance of high standards in education. We are
in a situation where a graduating student from university today cannot write you a letter in English! We should
strive for educational standards that produce graduates that can once again rival graduates from any part of the
world… Government needs to adopt policies that make it possible for teachers to get paid, and be given their entitlements.
There is no stability in the education sector today. Teachers are constantly on strike. ASUU goes on strike and
the universities are constantly closed because the government never lives up to the agreements they make. When
you have leaders that are not themselves well educated, how can you expect them to value, to understand the importance
of a good education? It is clear that Nigeria will never produce a strong educational system without good teachers. Therefore, the welfare of
teachers is paramount…and not just salaries – accommodation, facilities, vacation [paid holidays and leave] etc.
committee: Many experts have
pointed out that educating women can lift the standard of living of an entire country. Do you agree?
Rimi: Yes, of course I agree.
Committee: How can Nigeria improve the education of our women particularly in the
We will not advance as a nation
if we do not educate our women. Every census we have had since the 1950s has shown that there are more women than
men in Nigeria. If you do not give enough attention to the education of
women, you are saying that you do not want women to succeed, that more than half of the nation should not participate
in Nigeria’s affairs...that will spell disaster for the nation. An
emphasis should be placed on several fronts: double and triple intake of women in schools particularly in the educationally
disadvantaged states, train more women teachers- you know women are our mothers and, the mothers of everybody,
the mothers of the nation…they are more tolerant and patient than men. They should play a central role in the education
of the nation and the affairs of the nation.
When I was Kano State governor, we introduced
the now famous adult Education programme under a department called ‘Agency for Mass Education’, in April 1980.
Through this Agency, adults who could not go through formal education to secondary and university levels were for
the first time given access to education. In some areas of the state, we were able to double and triple the numbers
of women enrolled. This was a great achievement and was recognized by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific
and Cultural Organization) of the United Nations, based in Paris. The government was awarded a medal and certificate by UNESCO for running the
best Adult Education programme in the whole of the African continent! That programme can serve as a model for the
rest of the country.
all know that the National Electric Power Authority [NEPA] has been a catastrophic failure. What do we need to
do to fix this perennial problem?
Rimi: A Number of things will be needed:
A) We will need to reorganize NEPA. We must clarify what federal
and state regulatory authority and responsibility will be. We will not achieve anything until the financial health
of the sector is stabilized and clarity in regulation is reestablished.
B) We should rejuvenate and install
new equipment in our existing power stations and build new ones…coal and natural gas stations, hydro-electric stations.
The government needs to also invest in the grid.
C) Steady electricity will increase
economic output and productivity. It will not only have a positive impact on the manufacturing sector, but also
on all sectors of the economy
D) Increase transmission lines into
the rural areas as electric capacity is increased. Constant electricity should be a right and not a luxury.
E) Eliminate Corruption in
this sector. As in all sectors of government, corruption is preventing us from developing. We hear that billions
of Naira has been pumped into NEPA to make it work. There are other problems… If you look at the budget, the money
appropriated is not released to NEPA but is somehow still spent! A closer examination will show inflation of costs
of equipment bought by NEPA, third rate or second hand equipment rather than new equipment that is installed, and as a consequence a cycle
of constant power failures. Everyone from the top levels of government to the local NEPA official is trying to
illegally enrich themselves at the country’s expense. Until corruption is stopped, the electricity problem will
not be solved.
Sharia Law in Northern Nigeria
Committee and H.H: With the introduction
of Sharia in northern Nigeria in recent years, the shape of the north has changed from what it was previously perceived to be
-- that is unified. Now most Christian northerners feel a sense of alienation. One of Africa’s foremost writers called Sharia the greatest threat to Nigeria’s unity and democracy. Is this division going to widen?
Rimi: That statement is not true, it is absolutely false. Sharia
law is not a problem. It is not divisive. How does it destabilize the nation? Tell me! That kind of talk is a clear
display of ignorance of Sharia law. Christians in Northern Nigeria
are not feeling a sense of alienation because of Sharia. It [Sharia law] is not meant for non-Muslims. It is Islamic
law that caters to and concerns only Muslims. It does not affect the rights and freedoms of others. There has always
been Sharia. Sharia in Nigeria is as old as Islam itself… there is nothing which is new in Sharia as we know it today. The punitive
side of Sharia is not taking place. Where Sharia says you should cut the wrist of a thief, or if people are caught
in the act of fornication they should be stoned to death, or when people take alcohol they should be given eighty
lashes, that doesn’t happen. Sharia as we know it today is what it has always been, except when people want to
politicise it. And also, the non-Muslims, either through sheer ignorance or sheer mischief, do really not understand
what Sharia is all about. Sharia is only for Muslims, it is not for Christians, it is not for anybody who doesn’t
belong to Islam.
H.H: There are overzealous Muslims …
(interrupts) Overzealousness doesn’t
mean anybody’s action is correct. If there’s an overzealous governor or official in whatever he does, that is not
Sharia, it is miss-education or ignorance of what Sharia is all about, because Sharia does not force anybody to
be a Muslim. Even the Koran has stated that there’s no force in religion, you cannot force anybody to bend to your
will in religion. So, as far as I can see, I can’t see anything new now that is happening with Sharia; but still
the Sharia of inheritance and the law of marriage are still as they have always been. As far as we can see there
are certain aspects of Sharia which don’t fall in line with the common law and because Nigeria is applying the common law, because Nigeria is applying the constitution of the type we are applying
in Nigeria, Sharia cannot be implemented the way it should be.
It is important to point out
that, first of all, Nigeria is not an Islamic, nor a Christian state, neither is it pagan. Nigeria is a country with heterogeneous
religions and the constitution provides the right for everybody to practice what he believes, but even in implementing
Sharia as it applies to Muslims, there are certain aspects of it which contradicts the fundamental law of the country,
and from what we have seen in Katsina and Zamfara, - the cases of those women who were said to have born ‘bastards’
and therefore they should be stoned to death or something like that - you can see that it didn’t happen. Because
that action was considered to be violating their fundamental human rights. But in Islam you cannot engage in drinking
of alcohol, and then consider yourself as having any fundamental human rights, because consuming alcohol is forbidden
by God, and Sharia says if you are caught drinking alcohol you should be given 80 lashes of the whip.
But we live in a country where
doing that will be violating your fundamental human rights. So that is why it will be difficult for Sharia to be
implemented the way it should, and the fear of Sharia by non-Muslims is absolutely unfounded and unreasonable;
there is nothing about Sharia that stops Christians from doing what
they want to do. After all Christians still drink in the states that are supposed to be Sharia states. I am from
Kano, and I know there are clubs in Kano where people still drink, where non-Muslims still drink their alcohol in Kano. And as far as I know there are more Muslims in Kano
who drink alcohol than the non-Muslims who consume alcohol. And they are still drinking.
Still on religion. As governor of
Kano state you witnessed, and were able to contain one of the
first ever religious fundamentalist uprisings, the Maitatsine riots.
In recent years, however, the number of religious conflicts, especially in the north has continued to escalate.
Kaduna is an example; Jos is another case in point, the once beautiful
city has been reduced to a shadow of itself. ..
These are not really religious conflicts,
they are political conflicts created through religious methods. There are so many ways of creating crisis, you
can organise a demonstration, political, to resist something. You can organise it through religious groups and
whip up sentiments and so on. I don’t think there is any serious religious conflict among the people of Nigeria. The truth of the matter is political crisis is organised
through religious groups, that is my understanding. I live in Nigeria, I participate in the affairs of Nigeria on a daily basis and I know there is no Christian or Muslim
who will attack another Christian or Muslim simply because they are Christian or Muslim. There are retaliatory
actions where somebody may say, okay, the Christians or the Muslims attacked us, and burnt our mosque or houses
so we must retaliate, that will look like a religious crisis. But the organisers of the crisis only organised it
that way…it is all politics.
I don’t believe there’s a single
incident of religious crisis in Nigeria. If you investigate every single so-called religious crisis you will behind it there is politics….and
in each of these crises the people behind it are known. The imams, the emirs, the chiefs, the priests, the bishops,
the Obas, they are known, and the politicians who instigate them are known, but you find commissions of inquiry
being set up and instead of blaming those people they will blame somebody else. So Nigeria is not facing the reality of the situation, and it is not
punishing those who are causing the problems, and as long as there will be no punishment, the crises will continue.
Because as long as people know that they can cause a problem, get people killed, get churches or mosques burnt,
get houses burnt, bring the economy to a standstill and yet still they can go and sleep in their house without
anything happening to them, then tomorrow they will do it again. But if you fish them out, and other people, when
they see that some big people are punished, they will think twice before they do it. Most of Nigeria’s problems are caused because people causing the problem
are not being punished. The corruption, the religious and political crises, all these things are happening because
nobody is being punished for doing it or causing it.
H.H: At the age of 39 you were a governor, most youth today
at that age are struggling to get a job, or even to finish school. Has your generation squandered the inheritance
of the present generation?
No, I think people achieve certain status in
their lives either by dint of hard work or by luck, or by sheer circumstances. I have been in politics since 1964,
and I contested for the governorship of Kano
state in 1979, this is a gap of 15 years, and I joined politics at the age of 24. The youth of today are more concerned
about money, they are not concerned about ideals and ideologies and philosophies and service. That is not what
is before them, not all of them, but the vast majority, what is before them is to have a job, to get married, to
have a good car and live a good life. In our time we were not thinking like that, although I married very early,
five years before I contested election to the house of reps., and that was in 12 December 1959, I contested election in December 1964 that is a gap of five years. I was imbued with patriotism
and concern for the common man. I came from a rural area where I saw my people suffering abject poverty and deprivation.
Things like good road and electricity and good water are things which we were only dreaming of but we never had
them, and we had members in the regional assembly in Kaduna
and in the federal assembly in Lagos
who were supposed to speak on our behalf, the people who have put them into power, but they never did so. So I,
at the age of 24, I stood up to challenge the status quo, but the youth of today will not do that, they will tell
you they don’t want to suffer, they don’t want to be in trouble, but I suffered because on my first election I
was locked up, but no young man today will like to go to prison.
H.H: Probably because the prisons now are worse than they used
to be in your time?
Rimi: They were worse before, now they have fans, they have mosquito
have ACs, these things were not there then. So if the young people are not getting what they want it is their fault.
H.H: As a governor you got an award from the UN for your policies
on education. The country’s education system is a mess at present, what is your view on this?
Rimi: This is where experience matters. Before I became a governor
I was in public service for nearly twenty years… I have a university education, from two universities in the UK. I am not being arrogant or anything, but you can not compare me to people who have half education
or people who really have no plan. And secondly, in my party the PRP we had a programme, our party was an ideological
party which knew what it would do when it was in government, and everything in the party was organised by a committee
under my chairmanship. Our party concentrated on doing what would make life good or better for the ordinary person.
Today the situation is different, and I became governor of Kano
state at that time without spending anything. I didn’t spend anything to campaign. I didn’t spend any kobo on anybody
to vote for me, but now what is happening is that people will go into business, they will do dirty deals, sell
cocaine and get money through duping government by contracts and use that money to contest for office, so they
don’t feel any obligation to anybody to pay back. I believe as governor of Kano state I was paying back something and that thing was the support we got from the people without
bribing anybody. Ask any senator or any governor, ask them how much they spent to become what they are and they
will tell you either in hundreds of millions or for the lower levels it will be hundreds of thousands.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the interview are not necessarily those of the Chinua Achebe
Foundation. The Chinua Achebe foundation, an intellectual and cultural organization, believes in the right of every
Nigerian to express their opinion.