In This Interview with Our Abuja Bureau Chief, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman said he supports the call for a regional government; he speaks on other issues concerning the National Conference. Excerpts:
The National Conference has begun following its inauguration by the President, and the conference has kicked off under the chairmanship of retired Chief Judge of the Federation, Justice Kutigi. Now how do you see Kutigi?
To answer the question, I will say first of all, I don’t know him, so I cannot say something positive or negative on someone I don’t know, but there is somebody there I know who work with me very closely, that is his deputy, in the person of Professor Akinyemi who was my deputy at NADECO abroad. I was the Chairman of NADECO abroad, and Akinyemi was secretary of NADECO abroad, so I know him that close. I can speak about him in terms of the fact that abreast with our desire for a National conference that is all embracing, a national conference that will transform the thinking of Nigerians towards one united country, without divisions, with representatives enough that covers the interest of every Nigerian in whatever sphere of life in order to avoid discrimination base on tribes, religion, or any other of such. We have been fighting for a National Conference when we were in NADECO, in fact we started with sovereign National Conference, so we followed the mood of the nation, when the mood was talking of National conference, we jettisoned the sovereign and went for National conference, because we want the thing to succeed. So because Kutigi has an assistant like Akinyemi, I can say that I have confidence in what the two of them are going to do for a successful conference.
There have been hues and cries from different groups, ranging from ethnic groups, to corporate bodies, NGOs and pressure groups, that they were not represented well or they were not even represented at all. With these hues and cries will you now say that the format for the delegates that will attend the conference has been distorted?
I will tell you my view about this, from my own side also, we have seen also the strength de-marginalising some element from representation in this conference. In Adamawa itself, we presented our own recommendation and list, nobody from our list and we are representing the nationalities. In Adamawa we have about 80 to 90 nationalities. Yet those picked are from one ethnic nationality, is that fair, it’s not fair. Secondly, other areas presented their first eleven of their top echelon of people who can present their case, in our own case, the ethnic nationalities of Adamawa didn’t present their first eleven, and those who are representing Adamawa are people who are traditionally dominating the majority of the nationalities. If that is what is applicable nationally, then from my own point of view this has started from a wrong footing, because we, who fought for the National conference, were fighting for representation of ethnic nationalities. We wanted every ethnic Nationality; we continue to say that we have 250 to 300 ethnic groups, is it too much for each ethnic group to present representative(s)? That is not too much. So why isn’t it done that way? So my view is that this thing is beginning already on wrong footing, unless it is all inclusive then some people may end up rejecting from the beginning the outcome of this process.
So would you say that the delegates that converged to make up the members of the National Conference are not all inclusive?
With what I told you, it’s clear that it’s not all inclusive. Well the basis of this hues and cries is that people sent their recommendations to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation’s office, and certain interest groups went there to manipulate those presentations to their own agenda, thereby denying some ethnic nationalities the right to be represented. That is wrong and it should be corrected. Even now that the National Conference is inaugurated, there are three months to go, it’s not too late within the next week to re-address this issue and bring on board those who need to be represented, so as to make this thing legitimate, reliable and acceptable.
So this blame now should be apportioned to the President or the office of the SGF?
I can say the President has not gotten the capacity to do this. I will say it is his advisers. I am aware of the case where the President selected some people, those people’s names were on list, as I am speaking to you, I was told categorically that my name is on that list, but some people out of selfish reasons removed my name and removed other people’s names, because they felt it didn’t meet their criteria. Yes, it happened. So people blame Jonathan, but in fairness Jonathan cannot be everywhere, he is not God. He cannot be all seeing, all hearing, he has good intentions, but there are people who are inimical to the progress of this country, manipulating things under his regime and causing crisis. For me those people should be checked otherwise they will take this country to crisis.
But they are his aides?
Yes, there is a saying in Hausa that “you don’t have an evil king, but evil advisers,” and it is a long standing saying that exists up till today. If you have evil advisers they will always betray you, even while the president will say do this, they will go and manipulate what the president has said to suit their own personal agenda. That is what is happening.
If as you advised that they should include those that were not included, and at the end of the day they didn’t do it and after three months they come out with their recommendations, do you think this will be acceptable to Nigerians?
It will not, why because, you know we have had this kind of conference before, it was not accepted because this kind of marginalization was allowed. If those things were done right we wouldn’t be doing it again. But we are doing exactly those things that we talked against; we are allowing them to appear. So people who are marginalized will reject it.
Pastor Tunde Bakare, who is also a delegate in this conference, has come to say he will not collect any allowance, he wants to do a job for his fatherland free, without collecting any dime. Do you think other delegates should also emulate this?
Let me tell you, Nigerians are very funny people; Bakare will not collect but that money will end up in someone’s pocket. The thing here is that the money will be released, including Bakare’s own but it will not be returned to the treasury. If you say who will collect it, since Bakare will not, don’t forget that people sign for Ghost workers and collect for them. Anything is possible in Nigeria. It’s a good thing he is doing and this country is our own and we must make sacrifices to make it better for our children and children’s children. So I commend Bakare for doing that and I call on other members to emulate. But in doing so, I am saying they should be very careful so that this money should not go into wrong hands.
A lot of issues have been raised to be discussed there, but you as an elder statesman, if you are among the delegates, what will be your major issue you will want to be discussed there?
One major problem in the country is inclusion in the running of Government at the center, so that is why I said in the beginning that this thing should be done well. For those that are there they should consider the full representations of the interest of Nigerians at all levels, irrespective of your tribe, religion or your social status. I am one of those who always believe that Nigerians should go back to regional government. We should have six regions and the states will remain under the regions. This formula am telling you, is happening in Russia, each region has states under it, so at the regional level you have a government. In Russia the call the heads of those regions presidents, here we can devise any nomenclature for them.
If for instance Regional Government is proposed, do you think it will solve these myriad of crises in the country?
Yes if your interest is taken care of in your own region, your interest at the center may not be there or it will be minimal. People at the center will be there in very, very little areas. Some issues such as police and others will be under the region and this happened in the first republic and there was no Boko Haram and MEND. So security movements were monitored. Let each government takes care of its problems. Regional Government will do its own, state will do its own and local government will do its own down to the ward level. So dependence on the Central Government will be minimal and it will whittle down the government’s expenditure.
This is not the first time that we have national conference; we have not gotten it right in previous ones. Do you think we will get it right this time around?
To get it right, the representation must be corrected. If it starts on wrong footing we will not succeed. So I am urging them to correct it because those ones didn’t work because they started on wrong footings. You know it was done during Abacha’s regime and that was what led to NADECO, 55 of us signed a document rejecting the process of the National Conference then. We boycotted it and that was why we were haunted by Abacha. Some of us were taken to Court as Treasonable felons. At the end it was not accepted and they came up with concussions.
Do you support the Call for a referendum?
Yes, I support a Referendum, and that is when we can say that it is acceptable to Nigeria.