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The Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series #5

A Meeting of the Minds
(Balarabe Musa in Conversation with Sukoji Bakoji)

The Chinua Achebe Foundation

Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa, Alhaji Balarabe Musaformer civilian governor of the Old Kaduna State in the Second Republic, and National Chairman of the umbrella opposition political parties, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), is a radical of the socialist school or left wing idealogue.  Alhaji Balarabe Musa who is also the National Chairman of the party for the downtrodden and pauperized masses (The talakawas), the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP). He has been consistent in his trenchant criticism of the unpopular policies of government.  In this interview with Sukuji Bakoji, he bares his mind on many national issues and the way forward for the nation. 



S.B: Sir; forty-five years after independence, Nigeria, like a drunken giant, is still groping in the dark, and seems not able to find her bearing.  What is the way out?


The way out is to change the socio-economic system controlling all developments in this country, which is based on self-interest, and replace it with a socio-economic system based on public interest.  We believe public interest is primary, private interest is secondary.  There is no security in private interest if there is no production of public interest, pure and simple.  Let us bring about a socio-economic system which is based on public interest and that system will automatically change the type of leadership. Then, we shall have peace, stability and progress.  Pure and simple.


A renowned literacy guru and author, Professor Chinua Achebe once opined that the trouble with Nigeria is bad leadership.  Do you subscribe to the view?


No, that is half the truth. Actually, what is wrong is the socio-economic

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system responsible for development in this country.
  This system also produces the leadership appropriate to it.  Therefore, if you want to change anything for good in this country, you must change the system. Once the system is changed, then the leadership will change, because the leadership follows the system; it is the system that produces the leadership, it is not the leadership that produces a system.  We have a system, which is based on the supremacy of self-interest.  Let us have a system, which is based on the supremacy of public interest. 


But the government’s privatisation policies undermine this, constituting a gross violation of the constitution, because while the constitution provides a leading role for the public sector, the private sector is being delegated a leading role instead.  The government is aware of this violation, and wants to use its conference to change the leading role of the public sector to the leading role of the private sector. But there is no way we can stop them from doing that other than by being watchful and drawing the attention of Nigerians in an organised way. 


If we remain an independent opposition, we will not be able to accomplish much, particularly with the money politics we have in this country, whereby every Nigerian comes with a price.  So if we come together as a strong force and are watchful, we can prevent the government from doing something that will lead to the country becoming even more neo-colonialist and dependent. 


You can see that all our oil resources have now been transferred to the control, and even ownership, of foreigners.  Our oil is explored by foreigners; our oil is produced by foreigners with their personnel, with their equipment, our oil is exported by foreigners, refined overseas by foreigners, to produce a number of by-products.  The amount of the by-product that will be returned to Nigeria is decided by foreigners and the oil overseas is sold by foreigners.  So where is the control of Nigerians, where is the role of Nigerians, where is the benefit to Nigerians? And this is as a result of government’s privatization policy, a neo-colonialist policy.  Where on this earth, except in this part of the world, does his happen? The benefit to Nigerians is absolutely minimal.

Now do you think that people selected by government to attend a National Conference will attend to this matter?  No.  They will only do the bidding of those who appointed them!  Are we saying that those in power, who have clearly failed the country, should be allowed to become custodians of our fate?  No.  And we cannot stop this if we remain disunited! We must come together.


S.B: One school of thought argues that the problem of Nigeria is the political system, hence the agitation for us to go back to the regional and parliamentary system or presidential and federal system or even confederacy.  What do you think is the right system that will pull the nation out of the woods?


In my opinion, none of these are the deciding factor in improving the situation in the country.  As I mentioned earlier, the deciding factor is the overall system that controls all developments.  All the same, we can talk about, for instance, whether it should be a parliamentary system, or the presidential system we have now; whether we should go back to the regional arrangement or not.  We can also talk about directive powers between the centre and the units under the centre.  Yes, we can have different ideas about this.  But we have reached a stage where our contending ideas have not solved anything.  Thus, we have to go back to the people. The people are the masters and should decide what is best for all of us.  The people are the ones more concerned about the country than the bureaucrats who are meeting in this conference.  So, what I am saying is that these issues you raised are supplementary.  They are secondary.  The primary issue is to decide the socio-economic system to control all developments in the country.


S.B: But what do you think is responsible for the leadership problem in Africa generally?  African leaders, with the exception of Nelson Mandela of South Africa do not want to quit when the ovation is loud.  What is responsible for this sit-tight syndrome?


Because politics is business; particularly in Africa, people go into politics to enrich themselves.  Anywhere people go into politics for public service you don’t see this kind of thing happening, because it is public service.  Here, people go into politics to make money, to enrich themselves.  You can see, as I am now talking to you now, the quickest way to make money for yourself is to go into politics.  Once one is prepared for it, one goes into politics, occupies public office.  Within a short time, one becomes the richest person in your constituency. 


Recently, it was rumoured that the PDP has budgeted for N500 billion to contest for the 2007 presidential election. Now we know that no matter how patriotic you are, no matter how popular you are, no matter what qualities you have in Nigeria, you cannot win any election, at any level, without money.  And this money is money stolen from public funds.  You can see with the 2003 election, and all the other elections after it, including local government elections and other by-elections, that only the rich prevailed, only political parties controlling government, you know, won the election with a reasonable margin.  The PDP, ANPP and AD who were in government before 2003 elections were the only parties able to win elections at the national level and the state level.  The outrage continues.  This is money politics, pure and simple.


S.B: A press statement once credited to you suggests that the political class has surrendered to the military politicians, hence the militarisation of the Nigerian democracy.


First of all, let me make a correction.  We never talk about political class,

because there is nothing like political class. A class is a district socio-economic category.
  So instead of political class, we talk about political establishment. Now, you see that things have deteriorated to the extent that it is no longer an issue of whether the establishment is military or civilian.  The civilian politician has failed so completely that if you continue campaigning for a civilian politician, you will get nothing.  This is because civilian politicians are not as patriotic as they ought to be.  That is one.  Most of them are prepared to serve the interests of military personnel.  So what we should be looking now is really a person who is credible, who has courage, who is patriotic, and who is independent, whether he is a civilian or a retired military man.  Once we establish a level of credibility, legitimacy, courage and independence, once we establish that, we can use it to pursue real civilian politics.  But as it is now, I can say that every Nigerian leader whether military or civilian is a risk, because of money politics. 


Therefore, we should go for the person who is the least risk, whether military or civilian. And that is how we can begin to sanitise the situation.  I said this when we were campaigning for the incumbent President.  Since the situation in the country was so bad, it did not seem to me that our principal concern should be whether the president was a civilian or a military man.  We have seen betrayal of the course of the people by both military and civilians.  We agree the military candidate is a greater risk than the civilian.  But that is simply because the civilian has no gun.  You know this! 


But you can see what has happened now with the incumbent President? He is supposed to be a civilian with no gun but he is seems to be using the gun much more than his predecessors, the military dictators, did.  In some cases the incumbent has placed himself even above the state.  So, in short, what I am saying is for the mean time, let us look for the person who is the least risk.  That’s why we supported the President in 1999.  Of course, in my opinion, he later betrayed the course of Nigeria, betrayed Nigeria and even betrayed himself. Because nobody, no honest person can say that the President has not betrayed the hopes of Nigerians. This man, in 1999, before that year’s election, virtually looked like a saint.  But look at how he has turned out.  This is a major disappointment that directly affects my position that we should look for the candidate of least risk.  I think that as long as money politics continue, the best thing will be to continue looking for the candidate of least risk.


S.B: What then do you think Nigeria, in particular, and Africa generally should do to get rid of the dictatorial tendencies of the sit-tight leaders?


Well, first of all, remove the role of money power as a deciding factor.  But to accomplish this is something that needs much study and examination.  I should point out here that in the Peoples Redemption Party we have done that.  We have come to the conclusion that if those responsible for bringing the state of the nation to its present negative position are not dealt with decisively, the issue of money as a deciding factor in our politics will not be eliminated. When the incumbent President won the election in 1999 we called on him to probe everyone and everything.  However, the corrupt leadership in Nigeria has become powerful, and therefore, should be dealt with decisively. Otherwise, the President will find that he will be dealt with decisively by these people as is happening now. These corrupt persons are being exposed on daily basis, and we are concerned that he is not able to do anything about it.  In fact he seems to be protecting them. 


Look, the former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun, was alleged to have enriched himself greatly. This allegation was made about a year ago. At that time nothing was done about it.  Even Tafa Balogun himself could not account for things he was accused of; he could not answer the allegation effectively.


But funnily enough, a few months ago, the same Tafa Balogun was then found by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to have enriched himself to about N11 billion in Nigerian banks alone.  He was forced to retire…and we all await a judicial commission of enquiry to investigate the allegations against the former Inspector General of Police! Some critics are alleging that Tafa Balagun’s fate occurred simply because of a clash of interest between him and the President. 


People are saying that, that is exactly what happened to Audu Ogbeh.  This Audu Ogbeh was the President’s man, chosen by him; however, he found that there was a limit to which he could serve the president’s personal interests as opposed to serving the nation; and tried to clear his name. For this, he was forcibly removed from office.  And believe me, this is really a serious threat -- a threat not only to the PDP, but the rest of the country.  Let me tell you -- when there was this report of Audu Ogbeh being forced to resign at gunpoint, so many governors were opposed to the action.  Many members of the National Executive Committee of the PDP were up in arms against it.  It actually appeared that more than two-third of the members of the National Executive Committee of the PDP were opposed to the action and were prepared for a show down.  Yet, after a few verbal skirmishes, everything suddenly stopped.  Everything became quiet.  No PDP governor, no PDP member of the National Executive could do anything.  Everybody was quiet.  And suddenly, talk changed to who was replacing Audu Ogbeh. Everybody stopped talking.  Suddenly, like a disciplined country, all discussions stopped.  Why is that?  Why is it that the President cannot stop the crisis in many parts of the country, yet intervenes in the crisis concerning the leadership of the PDP? In this country, we have experienced a number of ways the leadership deals with opponents from within and from without.


S.B: Like other progressives in the country -- Chief Anthony Enahoro, Wole Soyinka, and some civil rights organisations such as the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) --- you boycotted the on-going National Political Reforms Conference.  What is your next line of action?


First of all let me correct you.  Progressiveness is not the connection between the names and groups you mentioned. What connects us now has nothing to do with progressiveness or otherwise.  It happens that we are opposed to this [National Political Reforms Conference]; that is the only common factor. We are opposed to this conference for various reasons. 


The National Political Reforms Conference is one of representatives appointed or selected, directly or indirectly, by either the President himself or the governors to look into the affairs of Nigeria. This, I believe, makes proper governance impossible. What needs to be emphasized is that the president and governors have failed in their duties, their responsibilities, and this is what has kept up the demand for a conference.  Therefore, it is illogical, undemocratic and improper for those responsible for the negative state of the nation to select or nominate people who are to examine the state of the nation. 


What we are saying is that -- since the state of the nation is so appalling, and this nation and everything about it belongs to the people of Nigeria; since the handling of what belongs to the people of Nigeria is so poor, then the most logical thing is to go back to the people who are the masters, who are supreme, even under the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  Let us go back to them, explain ourselves and seek for new mandate from them. 


Now you can only do this through elected representatives of the people.  And this is not the first time that has been done.  Even under the Abacha dictatorship when there was a need to have a new constitution, a constitutional conference was held – a constitutional conference of elected representatives of the people.  The election took place from the ward level to the local government level and finally to the national level. That was during Abacha!!!


But by now we ought to have progressed further!  So why do we have to go back to the feudal arrangement where bureaucrats who have failed will also appoint and select those who will decide for the people?  So that’s why while the government is calling, and is having now a national political reform conference of appointed and nominated representatives - appointed and nominated by those who have failed, - we are calling for a sovereign national conference of elected representatives of the people for a united and democratic Federal Republic of Nigeria.  We believe that is the solution. 


And we believe that this is not possible, this sovereign national conference, is not possible under any circumstance as long as Obasanjo is in power…which means that the Obasanjo regime must resign, or if he chooses not to resign voluntarily then be pushed out democratically through organised national protest. The same way Babangida was forced to step aside and hand over to an interim government.  If we could do this to Babangida and, in fact, we did this to Abacha -- only an act of God saved the situation -- why can’t we do this to this regime?


S.B: There is this impression that those of you clamouring for a Sovereign National Conference want the country to disintegrate.  How do you react to the allegation?


Well, what is going on now with Obasanjo’s Conference shows that if there is risk for the disintegration of Nigeria, then the risk is greater with the government’s Conference, because it is filled by people who are not elected by the people. That’s one. Secondly, this situation leads to fundamental contradictions within the society; therefore, the National Political Reforms conference is even more likely to lead to disintegration, because the conference itself is a manipulation to divert the attention of the people from the fundamental problems that worry the people. 


You can see from the deliberate imbalance created by the composition of the conference that it is a completely unnecessary imbalance.  The president should have avoided it, but he chose not to, because he wants to use the situation as a divisive tool; he wants to create a situation where Nigerians will quarrel so that in the end, he can say -- you can see Nigerians cannot do without me; ordinary conference they can’t run it.  This man did the same thing in 1978, you see, over shari’a. Now, if in 1978 shari’a was one single fundamental issue that led Obasanjo to disband the conference, today there are at least ten fundamental issues. 


Can you elaborate on the logistics of your envisioned Sovereign National Conference?


In our Sovereign National Conference, we are thinking of election of representatives from the grassroots – the village area, to the ward level to the local government, to the state and to the national levels. Let me tell how this will take shape: During this election of delegates from the village to the state level, all the existing issues such as ethnicity and religion will be dealt with by the candidate.  For instance, you will have people in the West who want to sell their ideas throughout the country; they will come to the North, address their concerns then listen to what the northerners have to say. The Northerners will then give them their conditions. Then they will go the East, to the Southwest, and so on. Anybody who wants to sell his own idea will meet with other groups and campaign for it.  And during this campaign pertinent issues will be thrashed out. 


So you see, by the time you reach the national level, the fundamental issues that remain are those that concern the rest of the country -- the issue of national unity; the issue of democracy; the issue of poverty; the issue of hunger; the issue of organised violence; the issue of our oil resources. These issues are the concern of all Nigerians.  On a separate level, divisive issues will have been dealt with.  From the village level to the state level, the issues would have been thrashed that in a mature manner. 


But what is happening now? The selected and appointed delegates have not dialogued with anyone. They were simply appointed by the President or the governors, and attended the conference table without having previously discussed anything with the constituents.  All that they are aware of is the division among them and the agenda of other delegates.  So what will you have?  You will have problems that have nothing to do with the people.  I mean, for instance, if there had been an election as I discussed, from the village level up to the national level, this issue of imbalance between Muslims and Christians would not have arisen!  The issue concerning generational difference, would it have arisen?  The issue of the marginalisation of certain groups and women -- would it have arisen? You see, if a Christian wants to be elected in a constituency,

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he will go to the Muslims and convince them to elect him and vice versa.
  If a Yoruba man wants to contest, for instance, in Kaduna, all the tribes in Kaduna will have to be convinced.  If it is a Hausa man, he will have to campaign.  So by the time you reach the national level, all these divisive issues will have been dealt with.  You are only left with the issues that really concern humanity, concern Nigerian people, concern Nigeria, concern the progress of Nigeria, and even the relationship between Nigeria and the rest of the world.


Since the sovereign national conference is yet to take place and you believe that the on-going National Political Reforms Conference will not yield any result, how should Nigeria develop a new political agenda for 2007 and beyond?


Even though we have refused to participate in the conference, we should be aware of what is happening in that conference, assess it, and if we find anything detrimental to the nation, arouse the consciousness of Nigerians towards it.


Secondly, let all those who are in favour of a Sovereign National Conference know that the demand for it has not stopped.  It will continue, and therefore let us meet, all the political parties, all civil society organisations, all ethnic nationality organizations; let us come together while this conference is going on. Let us together, harmonise our relationship, and decide what we should do next and do it, because this is our country.  This is our future.  This is our faith.  We must not surrender to reactionary forces.




S.B: There were a lot of high profile assassinations before 2003 general elections, and now as 2007 approaches, people fear things will be more volatile than 2003.  Are you by any means threatened, or sense any impending risk?


The risk has always been there.  But how can you avoid it -- with the present insecurity for everybody including the President, himself -- how can you avoid that risk?  It is a matter of whether one is prepared to give in or fight for what one believes in.  That’s all.  But the risk has always been there.  There are occasions when people come and tell us of the threat we face, and we try to make them understand that when one is fighting for any cause, one is continually taking risks, including risks against one’s life.


S.B: Thank you, sir.









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.

Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series: Balarabe Musa in Conversation with Sukoji Bakoji