The National Director of Publicity and Advocacy of the Northern Elders Forum, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, shares with GODFREY GEORGE his thoughts on Nigeria at 62, insecurity in the country and other national issues
Nigeria clocked 62 on Saturday, (October 1, 2022). From your assessment, is the country where it ought to be?
Of course not! At 62, this country is supposed to be run as one of the best countries in the world. We lost our way somewhere around the 1960s and now. Unfortunately, we lost a lot of opportunities and made wrong turns. As a result, the country has faced incredible damage that a lot of other countries may not have survived. We should be grateful to God that we have survived it, and we should be grateful to those patriots, who still believe in the need to work for Nigeria’s survival as one nation and its unity and economy. We must find a way to create hope among our young people. This is the most important task for any leader who wants to take over from the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). We must have a leader who can inspire hope and confidence and a nation to work harder. We need one who can exploit our economic resources and build our values of honesty, hard work and tolerance. These things are very critical. Nigeria has not had it too badly either; we have survived for over 100 years since amalgamation in 1914. So, we have done well, but we can do a lot better.
What do you think may be responsible for the underdevelopment in the country?
I think the prolonged stay of the military stunted the growth and development of the democratic process that should have allowed the full expression of Nigeria’s potential. The military not just stunted the economy, it also allowed corruption, which has now come to be the centrepiece of all that we do. Power has become something that one buys, grabs or steals. These things have combined to create poor leadership in the nation for the citizens of the state, frustration and anger among the young, and underdevelopment across communities. We haven’t had good leadership since the late 1960s till date. It has been increasingly dwindling, and we are now at the point where we literally just yield power to persons who are completely ill-equipped to govern. All they have to do is buy power irrespective of their credentials.
Citizens have lost control. Nigeria runs a democratic process where leaders are impoverishing the citizens. The class distinction between the ruling class and the poor is wide. The ruling class is not just Hausa, Fulani, Igbo and Yoruba; it is everyone. They think alike and act alike. When they want power, they use us and dump us when they are done. That ruling class is exploiting our weakness and is becoming stronger. The Nigerian citizens have become weaker and weaker in terms of their ability to exercise some measure of influence or control over the democratic process. This is very sad. Unfortunately, that is the reality.
What do you think the country should do differently now?
In 2023, I hope that we will elect a leader who genuinely has the capacity to turn this country’s fortunes around, not just because he said so. We need someone who has the understanding and personal quality and mental and physical capacity, integrity to inspire Nigerians to work harder and follow. Nigerians need to see all these qualities in him so they can trust him. We need to produce good leaders who will serve as examples and produce good citizens. This country should produce good citizens. We are devoutly religious people. Ninety-five per cent of Nigerians believe in God and they know what is right and wrong in doing things. They know that cheating, stealing and embezzlement are bad, yet they go ahead and do them. These ills have become a part of us. Something has gone wrong.
We need to rediscover our values as a nation, but we can only do that when we have the right set of leaders in that direction. We need leaders who can rebuild institutions and reunite this country. We really need to reunite. There is no reason why the Hausa/Fulani man should be fighting the Igbo or Yoruba man. We have nothing to fight over. God has given us everything to live on. We don’t need to fight for anything. No part of Nigeria is so poor that it has to fight another part of the country for food or resources. If we don’t get it right in 2023, I am afraid that we cannot just hope that in another four or eight years we will be lucky enough to survive this decline in every index of national life. I don’t think we can survive another decade together if we continue to go the same way we have been under Buhari.
Speaking of the general elections and looking at the political atmosphere, what are your hopes for 2023?
I hope they (candidates) all have a level playing field. I hope they have the freedom and security to go everywhere in this country and show Nigerians why they are asking us to trust them. I hope Nigerians do not just get the chance to rally around, but also to interrogate these people. I hope we will be able to choose the best, not because they share our faith or because they share our region. I hope that we will learn our lessons when we look at the last 10 or 12 years. We don’t need sentiments about religion and ethnicity.
The NEF has collaborated with other pressure groups to have interactive sessions with all the presidential front liners to evaluate them and acquaint them with the issues that are central to the North. We will ask them for commitments and to undertake that they will lead the country with honesty and goodness, and that they will keep their eyes on the economy and the fight against corruption and insecurity. That is what we intend to do. It is going to be a very serious conference, and we have extended invitations to all the aspirants in that regard. They will come in person with their running mates. We will spend a few hours with them. We have incredible and respected Nigerians who will come there and interrogate them. Hopefully, something positive will come out of this. We will have a very close interaction with these candidates; so, it gives us a good understanding of who they are and what they will do with the power if voted in. They must be able to give us the future. What do they want to do with this country? We don’t want someone who is ill-prepared to be in the Presidential Villa as we did in 2015. Nigerians have a lot of challenges and we need a man who can solve them.
Do you think age should be a factor when considering who to vote for?
Age is a double-edged sword. There is an advantage in wisdom and also an advantage in usefulness and youthfulness. We are not putting a premium on health alone. We are putting a premium on other things. One can be young and do nothing, and one can be old and still not understand what change is. Take a look at the President. He has never changed anything in this country from 2015 to date. So, we don’t want to put too much emphasis on age, although it has its values.
Insecurity used to be a regional thing six or seven years ago. Now, it has become widespread and has become a major part of the nation’s recent history. Where exactly did Nigeria get it?
Every problem has roots; they don’t just spring up overnight. When they do, we find out that there are remote causes. We need to genuinely ask ourselves questions about why we have widespread violence all over the country. We need a clear and informed understanding of why violence is so rampant in the country. When we understand this problem, a significant part of the problem has been solved. We have had weak governments. From (former President Goodluck) Jonathan to Buhari, they have failed to understand the social context in which some of these problems are generated and to explore alternative ways to deal with them. They just throw the military and the police at every problem. That is why they have been missing the point. What is the dimension of this widespread insecurity? What gave rise to it? Why has it continued to be a problem? The whole country is programmed to fight every threat with the military.
We need an enlightened leadership that will visit the South-South and South-East with an open mind, discuss with the Niger Delta agitators, the Indigenous People of Biafra and everyone who feels aggrieved the same way they will also discuss with the bandits, Boko Haram and kidnappers. We have to find out if there are ways we can resolve this problem by talking with them. This country has to reduce its exposure to armed criminality. We cannot continue to be this exposed. It is destroying our economy and our coexistence, and it is giving more and more room to criminals. The states are shrinking and giving criminals more space and power. We cannot continue like this. What we are looking for is an enlightened leader who will be bold enough to ask questions and seek answers. If it is economic deprivation, injustice or something the states need to do, they should do so. One is likely to find different reasons for why this regional insecurity abounds. We must do things differently from what this administration has done. We cannot just continue to throw the military that is stretched at every problem.
Look at the South-East, the IPOB has virtually taken over the five eastern states. How is the President going to reclaim these states and make them believe they are part of this country and stop this business of stay-at-home on Mondays? How do you go to places like Kaduna, Zamfara and Niger states and face the bandits and remove from them the huge number of communities they are currently controlling. So, security and defence must be prioritised by the next administration. There must be a lot of good thinking and the willingness to explore options that have not been expressed before.