In the second part of interview with Alhaji Sule Lamido, the Minister of Foreign Affairs under the Obasanjo administration and two-term governor of Jigawa State speaks on the war against corruption as being fought by the Buhari administration and his trial for allegedly stealing billions of state funds among other issues.
Usually, people of your standing reside in the cities and not in the village living with the locals. But here you are living in the village with your people. It looks strange.
Where was I born? I was born here in Binukudu. My daddy lived here and I grew up here as a child with my peers. So, why do you think worldly attainments or status should simply make me bigger than this village where I was born?
You can’t be bigger than where you were born?
How can I be? I was born here. I mean in this village and the people knew me before I became what I became.
You are a national figure…
I was exported from this village to the entire country. So, it means I cannot grow bigger than my village. So, whatever I am in life, my foundation and beginning was in this village. It’s my pride, history, heritage and everything. So, you think I am now what you think I am, therefore I should be living with people like you? You found me, unfinished product from this village, produced from this village. You are talking about material definition or status.
Looking at when you were growing up, pre and post independence, the values and virtues your generation held dear have all been eroded, same with infrastructure and governance…
Our founding fathers had a dream and a vision for Nigeria. And they were colonized. And they knew the pain of being colonized, of being owned territorially. And so we were colonized and the first thing the colonialists did was to induce in us the notion and feeling that we were inferior.
From there, they kind of made us feel ashamed of our tradition and culture because our way of life was different from theirs. And, therefore, they tried to convert us to their own system and way of life. So our history, tradition, culture, tribe and everything about us was destroyed.
And we were psychologically also destroyed. Our founding fathers were very active on what they wanted. To them, there was nothing like North or South, Christians or Muslims, Yoruba or Hausa – Fulani because they were fighting a bigger vampire which was trying to consume us. So, the unity was total, the commitment to our independence too was total.
And the main function of any government is human development. But human development will never be complete because the more you elevate a human being, the higher he becomes aware of himself and the more he meets human development. We are pursuing perpetual perfection. If you say, for instance now, that you are contented as a human, then your life is finished because it cannot take challenges.
Shortly after our independence, there was a civil war but, at independence and there in our national anthem, there was a stanza that says “though tribes and tongues may differ in brotherhood we stand”. That stanza was fully wiped away and we went about killing each other. From there on, we got the issue of North, South, East, West and Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Ijaw and the essential thing was simply abandoned.
Which was what?
Human development! You must be a human being before you become Hausa, Muslim or Christian. So, these manipulative differences are mere distractions from the leaders.
How did this affect our stunted development?
After we fought a civil war, we came back to democracy. But those mistakes of the war threatened our democracy. The second effect was the introduction of new dimensions, new leaders, leaders who are disconnected, leaders who have no idea of the sacrifice made by our founding fathers. Even now, there is no curriculum. I understand we don’t teach history in our schools.
And that is the biggest mistake because if you have no history, who will write your own history? So, we have been grappling with these problems since then because there is disconnect between our founding fathers and the young generations. And then the clamor for wealth became the main thing. That is why I said we have been having governance issues right from 1960. In 1960, we had four governments – the Federal Government and three regions (Northern, Eastern and Western regions).
By 1965, we had five governments – the Federal Government and four regions (Northern, Eastern, Western and Mid-West) but today we have 37 governments (Federal Government and 36 states). Now, we’ve been having government, whether military or civilian, for the past 60 years and, therefore, there has been leadership mismanagement of resources.
We have been making budgets since 1960 to construct roads and we have not finished. Go anywhere in the world, you don’t see government constructing new roads but maybe creating new modern highways. In Nigeria, for over 60 years we have been budgeting for health, yet malaria keeps coming and malaria is our problem. Similarly, we have made budgets for education for the past 60 years, at all levels.
But look at the turn out and quality of education in our schools. But, conversely, if you look at the operators from 1966 to date, you could see the rapid and astronomical growth of individuals. The Nigerian individual can compete with anybody in the world in terms of material possession. And their lifestyle is comparable anywhere in the world. So, it means, our primary duty of human development has been subordinated.
The country has been subordinated; the operators lead while the country follows. And that is why Nigeria is a paradox: Two compelling extremes, extreme poverty and extreme wealth. The poorest man in the world is a Nigerian. Look at the smaller countries, it is because they are small and, therefore, they have human management to give benchmark.
In Nigeria, as you travel on highways, you find a fellow human who you call a mad man picking something to eat. People who you see crippled or blind, it is not their fault; it is because government has failed some 30 to 40 years back to address the root causes of those afflictions from the beginning. There was no vaccination, so there was polio. There was no good drinking water, no personal good hygiene and, therefore, people fall sick. So these things you see advertise our failure some 30 to 40 years ago.
Manifestation of our failures…
Absolutely, they are the root causes of our failure. If the root causes have been addressed 40 years ago through good governance, provision of facilities, health, drinking water and vaccination, everything would have been addressed. So, failure to address these challenges is the biggest corruption. Failure is the corruption. And we term that as material theft.
That is just one aspect of corruption. It is because the entire system is corrupted that you call it material theft. So it is because the system is corrupted that material theft becomes very visible. And, therefore, it is all about stealing money. In our personal conduct, we are corrupt. You pass by a fellow human being and you call him a mad man because he is naked or half naked, trying to pick something to eat from the dustbin and you don’t feel concerned and you say you are not corrupt. You are morally and mentally corrupt.
And, therefore, institutions supporting better lives for human beings have been truncated. In churches, mosques, board rooms, editorial boards, the character of the operators is not clear.
Talking about characters, we have been entertained of recent by actors at the National Assembly on the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, probe involving the Minister of Niger Delta Ministry, Senator Godswill Akpabio, and the erstwhile Managing Director, Joy Nunieh, on corruption charges leveled against the commission?
You see, all these are just symptoms. The question is, as you are talking to me, in all honesty, if we reflect and interrogate ourselves in terms of personal conduct, social behavior, is it normal or ideal?
Are you not surprised?
I am not surprised. Let me tell you, you as a person, if you are put in that place, you will ‘chop money’. Because when we established these institutions, we didn’t think about how they would operate. What kind of people are you looking for? People with the right mental disposition and character… But when they lobby to get there, you find that the institution is not designed to give effect to the objective of the institution.
Look at the EFCC for example, I mean the Chairman rides in bullet proof SUV, he confiscate Jeeps, tankers, etc. He is a fellow human being operating in a Nigerian environment where things are all wrong. Why do you blame suspended EFCC Chairman Magu or Minister Akpabio when a civil servant or a tax collector is expected to go to the market and collect tax but hides part of the money he collects for government?
Akpabio said during the NDDC probe that Committee Chairmen collect contracts from the agency they are supposed to be supervising…
It is against work ethics. We are so unethical in the way we do things. Tell me anybody in Nigeria who is standing upright? Who in the Presidency?
The Presidency or the President?
The President is only a symbol. He is perceived to be upright and perfect. And, therefore, he is seen as a shield and people are frightened and run away. But then, those behind the shield, what are they doing there? What do they do with the shield?
Still on corruption, the EFCC and Ministry of Justice which ordinarily should be fighting and criminalizing corruption are ironically enmeshed in corruption allegations?
You once found Magu sitting next to President Buhari in a public occasion. And there is a Police Commissioner in Abuja. Magu is Deputy Commissioner of Police. In the same occasion, you found the AIG, DIG sitting far off from the President, and Magu is seated beside the President. The operators of the institutions should be anonymous. The duty of the EFCC is to investigate and prosecute. I mean they are too visible. And that, on its own, puts fear into people. And because they are feared, therefore they can do anything. If you want to buy a house in Abuja, EFCC can make a call to invite you because they are monitoring your account. As you make withdrawals, you are invited, as the owner of the property receives alert, he is invited and he would be asked how he came about the money. And then they pressure you. My pension fund account has been blocked for the past three years because they say I laundered money. This means, as far as government is concerned, I shouldn’t even eat. So, this approach which purely instills fear into people is not the proper way to fight corruption. The institution of government should not frighten the people. They should give you confidence and inspire you to do the right thing. Today in Nigeria, the culture of fear has become the new normal. Government should be compassionate, humane because they say it is for the people. Government is held in trust for the people and so therefore you don’t use power to harass and humiliate people.
Despite your efforts and sacrifice you made to the development of Jigawa State, are you not worried that you are being tried for corruption?
That is coming in my memoir. My case of corruption is not an APC case. You will read the full details when my memoir comes out. It is a case arising from a civil war we had in PDP when I was perceived as nursing an ambition to run for the President. And I think everything was done to diminish and demean me. For instance, the DSS wrote a report that I stole N33billion in Jigawa. And they revealed this to some journalists. There was this effort to destroy me. Lamorde (former EFCC Chairman) called some members of the National Assembly and told them that I had an account in dollars in a place called Jersey. For the first time I heard about the place called Jersey from Lamorde. It’s somewhere between England and France and that it is a safe haven for laundering money. Lamorde said this. DSS said this about me. Former attorney general Adoke was also used to fight this perceived presidential ambition.
They harassed my people and officials. They picked my son at the airport who was sick and they did everything to embarrass me. They checked everything in my house. They just wanted to silence me and put me in check. That’s why they arrested my son. DSS invited about 10 of my office staff members.
So, the corruption charge against me was on account of the civil war in the PDP over presidential ambition. So, it is not an APC thing. They tried me through Dasuki money and found nothing. The money for elections, unfortunately I didn’t even see it even though I was Director of the campaign. So these are the areas the APC tried to get me and they couldn’t. But the case I am having is simply a case organized by the PDP based on my perceived ambition to put me in check and control.
You are 72. You don’t look your age. You look 62…
All my life, I have been challenging the unchallengeable. I have overcome so many obstacles. I have met and overcome unfriendly people, not enemies. I don’t have enemies, but unfriendly people. Today, I don’t fare well if there is no crisis.