Makarfi: Whether Buhari Runs or Not, He Remains A Danger to PDP

18 Aug 2013

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Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi

Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, an astute politician, has been a key player on the political scene since the return of democracy in 1999. He was governor of Kaduna State between 1999 and 2007, and at present represents Kaduna North in the Senate where he chairs the Senate Committee on Finance. The 57-year old former banker, ex-commissioner for Finance in Kaduna State and one-time lecturer took time off his schedule to share his thoughts on several national and regional issues with THISDAY.  Fielding questions from Tunde Rahman and Tokunbo Adedoja, Makarfi speaks on the build-up to 2015 election, the situation in his party, PDP, crisis in the governors’ forum, his impression of the five Northern governors pitted against President Jonathan,  his relationship with Vice President Namadi Sambo, who was his successor in office as governor , and the security situation in the North, among other issues.

Recently, you received some Chrisitian members of Arewa and you talked about the need for them to look beyond religion in the choice of candidates towards 2015. You may not have put it that way. But you were saying they should look beyond religion. What was on your mind when you made that appeal to them?

Well, they asked me to give them audience and they were recommended by notable Chritian leaders that I know. Most of them from the North, some of them not even from the North. They informed me that they had seen other limited recommended figures in the North, well respected. I don’t need to mention their names. And they explained their mission. Their mission was to really get very much involved in all the peace and political processes with a view to restoring peace and harmony in the North and by extension, the country in general. They were there to brief me on this mission statement and to seek for my support in anyway that I find suitable.

That was their mission statement. And of course, in the North and indeed in the country, we are multi-religious, multi-ethnic. So, not just Christian, any religious group or any group that comes with the same objectives as they explained, naturally one of the advice you will give them is to look beyond their callings because you don’t bring unity or harmony or peace if we all restrict ourselves to our various callings. That among other things I recommended to them. And I stand by that call, whether they are Christians or Muslims. It doesn’t matter your religion, it doesn’t matter your ethnic background. We should look beyond our ethno-religious or communal considerations when we are looking at leaders otherwise we will not end up with the best leader that we normally should have if we are to move forward. That was just it. I don’t know why you brought it up. Of course, what at least surprised me a bit about the news item was that no journalist was present and so when it was reported, in fact I expected, probably, was to quote the source. Whether it was a release from them, at least it would be them saying what they saw or probably what I said. But there was nothing wrong with what I said.

The build-up to 2015 has already started, I want to begin by saying that if we look at the PDP and the pockets of crisis here and there, going into election in 2015, what do you see as far as PDP is concerned?
Personally, I am not surprised by what I am seeing. I said before now that we should expect all these kinds of happenings and one of the reasons I adduced for this was that, you see when in 1999 we came back to civilian administration, the parties were new. We didn’t have predecessors. We had new set of people starting civilian administration. So, how you operate from 1999, even a bit from 2003, would be completely different from how you continue to operate going forward because the system will continue to produce ex-this, ex-that, everybody with their own sphere of influence. And except the political parties evolve in such a way that they absorb, they accommodate, what we are going to end up with is this kind of problem that we have. If the way you started in 1999 is the way you think you will go in 2011, 2013, that is not possible. And even going forward. So, really it is a challenge for all the political parties to know that they have to reform, they have to adjust based on the political terrain as we make progress, that the political terrain is going to be different from what we left behind. And we are in the process of evolving into a real democracy, you know, where I can say I don’t agree with you. If I say I don’t agree with you, what do you do? You don’t come and say that I have no choice. It is democracy, you need to talk to people, you need to embrace people, you need to apply political mechanisn to resolve most of these issues. Some of the strategies used in the past cannot work now. I still believe that whatever problems that we may have that we can resolve most of them, if not all of them, politically. All we have to do is to start playing politics.

There is clamour for power to return to the North in 2015. I am sure you are aware that the South-south is insisting on retaining power for another four years as a constitutional right of two terms of four years each. Where do you stand in all these debates?
First of all, there is no constitutional provision as to who retains power. The constitutional provision is that whoever Nigerians select would have power. And I stand by the provisions of the constitution. It’s an open thing. Nothing stops somebody from the South-east or from the South-south or from the North, nothing stops anybody from getting elected but as I mentioned earlier on, we should know that it is about politics. So, let people play the right politics so that they can convince the majority to be with you. Within your party, whether PDP or APC, you get nominated and going beyond the party, you get elected across the country. But you will continue to have agitations, agitations will never cease. But we should not take agitation to mean it is like we are in a state of war. We are in a democracy and in a democracy, you must tolerate agitations. I respect your agitations, you respect mine but let’s meet in the field. The person that plays the best politics will eventually carry the day. That is the way I see it.

Going by our political experience in the last 15 years, the incumbent president may likely get the ticket of his party. The APC on the other hand seems to be thinking of a northern ticket. If APC eventually comes up with a northern ticket, would you see this as an advantage for the opposition party? In addition, does the registration of APC pose a major challenge to the PDP?
Well, if it does, as a PDP member I wouldn’t say so because I will not tell you what my strength is or what my weaknesses are. I won’t tell you what I fear or what I don’t fear. But it is good for democracy. We should not think just about ourselves, we should think about the system, we should think about our country, we should think about the people. A robust and vibrant opposition party is good for democracy. And in that light, any democrat should have no problem with the registration of APC, even though you may have cause to have sleepless night depending on who you are and where you are. That is natural. Now, I will not start talking in terms of the expectations of the APC or where their candidate would emerge. It is what each of the parties eventually does that actually matters. We in PDP, as I said earlier on, whatever problems we have, we can resolve those problems if we act in a very diplomatic way and if we play the right politics. If we do that, most of the anticipation and the fear that some are expressing will give way. But naturally, if we don’t do that, we will surely encounter problems. What those problems would be is too early to say. Equally, The opposing party or the APC, because you were specific, if they assume that because of one sentiment or the other, that it is a done deal, then also that would be a miscalculation. It is really about how each side plays its politics, goes about its campaigning, and on election day, goes out to turnout the voters and within the provisions of the law, protects the votes that voters cast. Ultimately, that is what matters. So, for me, it is neither here nor there. No one should assume any comfort or should assume any discomfort because the work is not yet done. The work is ahead of us and it’s for each side to do its own work well.

Let’s go back to your party, PDP. I am aware that some governors are not comfortable with what is happening in the party and we have seen about four, five governors moving round the country and consulting with former heads of state and prominent leaders. What do you think is responsible for the problem the party is having with these governors, because you were governor for eight years and I don’t think that you went through this during your time?
Well, we had our own different kind of problem and as I mentioned, we didn’t have predecessors, we were just starting the process. So, the terrain then was quite different from what we have now. I haven’t had time to talk with any of them about their mission other than what I read. But whether one, two, three, four or ten PDP governors express reservations, in my opinion, it is really to sit down and look at those reservations and see what can be addressed and what they themselves should know that it is not possible the way they are looking at it. And that is why I said that it is all about politics. And as a politician, it is not even the number of dissents I see, it is the number of dissents that I don’t see that should bother me because in politics, it is not just what you see, there could be a lot more that you don’t see. And if you see it too late, very bad for you. And its affects all parties, whether PDP, APC or any other party. So, for me, the various reconciliation teams set up should really get to work and maybe they should be re-invigorated with a lot more people involved in such a way that party members can open up to them and will be able to resolve the problem. Probably not all of them may be won back, but it is possible that most of them or some of them, we could win them back on the basis of addressing issues which may be central to their dissent so that we reduce our problems going forward, looking at the 2015 you have mentioned. So, until I sit down with them, even if I sit down with them or any of them, they may not even tell me their mission statement because I don’t belong to the group of the governors now. So, what they may tell me also I may take with a pinch of salt because it may not be actually the reason. But I believe we are all gentlemen and we can sit as we are sitting on this table and resolve so many of these issues. I believe it is do-able.

Pointedly, do you have any problem with the way they are trying to draw attention to their differences - going round, junketing, meeting one leader or another and then shunning PDP activities?
Well, I have seen some of them at PDP activities I attended. So, I don’t think you can generally say that they shun PDP activities. There are a number of activities I attended, whether BoT meeting or NEC meeting or any other meeting. Honestly, I have not kept a complete diary of their movement, so it is possible they have missed some but I have seen them in some. What I would advise them or any other person is to give peace a chance. But equally is to advise also our leaders to give listening ear. I don’t believe that any problem, no matter how small, should be ignored. As I said earlier on, as a politician, I tend to look beyond what I see. And supposing that is not just it and you say, ignore it. And maybe three months, five months, or a year down the line, the number increases, then what are you going to do? A stitch in time saves nine. So, I think give and take is required here. As I said, it is not everything that can be given in a give and take. That is why it is called give and take, anyway. In politics, you cannot give everything or someone takes everything. You have to let go something and the other side has to let go something. I believe we can do that and we will go back to what we have always been - a big family. And you see, the concentration on governors, governors, governors, yes, they are important, but there are other equally important elements that probably don’t have the publicity that the governors can have. They may even be more potent than the governors that you are seeing. So, overall is that we need to reconcile party members and this reconciliation should be in such a way and manner that people who feel sidelined are brought back into the mainstream of party activities. Sometimes, what they need is just recognition. Give them the recognition and the respect and peace returns. And you can find this in all the parts of the country. Governors are in the North, but who says that there are no problems in the South-west? Or even in the South-east or the South-south? Ofcourse, the problem may be more pronounced somewhere, but the problem still remains a problem.

You were a founding member of the Nigeria Governor Forum and I know that the NGF was very cohesive during your time. What we have now is that the forum has been divided down the line. We have the Amaechi faction and the Jang faction. One, as a founding member of the NGF, how does that bother you? Two, how do we resolve the crisis in the NGF? What is your advice to the Amaechi faction and the Jang faction.?
Well, as you said, you know we started the new democracy. So, as those starting the new democracy, that is in 1999, a lot of the divides were not there. We were more cohesive, you know. Now, that cohesion is not as its used to be. We all know that. But the governors’ forum, when we started it, we started it just following what happens in the US where we know that they have the governors’ forum as a pressure group to pursue.... because as federation, the states are always at loggerheads with the centre. But when you come together discussing matters of state interests and you now approach the centre, and also then, it was not by use of force, but it was through persuasion. But you persuade when the number is large, if the number is small, you are going to persuade no one. So, we were that solid and so many issues that came, we easily resolved with the central government without any dissenting voice. National politics or subregional politics did not creep in.

But even that time, even though we didn’t have a formal PDP Governors’ Forum, we informally had, because we used to meet as PDP governors to also take position on certain things, though nobody formalised it. So, formalisation of PDP Governors’ Forum now, there is nothing wrong with it. I mean, it has been there in existence informally. So, people should not try to make an issue out of that, that it was to further factionalise the governors’ forum. But the main governors’ forum, it is unfortunate what is happening there, and my advice to all of them is that, just like me, someday, they will be former governors. Nothing is permanent. So, what they leave behind matters. If they leave behind a fractured or near non-existent governors’ forum, that is what would be recorded against their names. Tomorrow, some other set of governors may come and they can revive it. So, it is really up to them how they want history to remember them. If they want history to remember them as those who killed the forum, it is up to them. Definitely if they do, some other people would revive it and it won’t be them. So, it is an issue for them to close ranks, sit down, put on their thinking caps and decide how best they want history to record them.

In this extant case of the division within the NGF, some of the factors that influenced this division have been extraneous and beyond the NGF itself. Like the president had been alleged to have favoured a particular candidate.
(Cuts in) And the Presidency has consistently said that was not the case. So, if the Presidency has consistently said that is not the case, then it is up to the governors.

In your time, you didn’t formalise the PDP governors forum and you operated, was the formalisation necessary now?
It has happened, no need crying over spilled milk. It has happened and the party then was aware of it. Going back to 1999, it was essentially the governors-elect PDP forum that was the main machinery used to get Obasanjo nominated in Jos. So, even before they were sworn in, you know, as governors-elect; though it was not unanimous, but it was a forum identified and put together as the main machinery to get him nominated in Jos. So, you can see that way back to that time, there was interest in governors. Only at that time, you had some for Ekwueme and some for Obasanjo and the one with the majority of them carried the day in Jos. So, it is not a new thing anyway.

I think, essentially, the problem with the forum is that of leadership. How should the leader emerge? Should it be alternated between the North and the South? In your time, how did the leadership of the forum emerge? Was it alternated between the North and South? And how influential was the chairman?
North-South never featured during our time. It never ever featured. The issue of zoning never featured. We always elected the chairman of the forum, and there was only chairman, there wasn’t any deputy chairman of whatever. Just over dinner, we just meet over dinner and as we are eating, chatting, laughing, oh, who is there, you... that’s all. For me, if it is about how relevant a governor can be to anybody, it is that the relevance of a governor is limited to his or her state. If you are chairman of PDP Governors’ Forum or chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, you cannot go to anybody’s state and do anything for anybody. Whatever you can do is going to be limited, political influence, to your own state. And you cannot make any other governor do your bidding. You know, you are one among equals. So, I see no real relevance of chairman of either PDP Governors’ Forum or chairman of Nigeria Governors’ Forum other than just chairing a meeting of colleagues. A meeting that he can’t tell them what to do actually. They will ultimately tell him what they want done. So, I think we should really look even deeper into what anybody can do for anyone.

You have seen the APC registration as a welcome development now. Some of us know that the big problem the APC would likely have is the choice of candidate and Buhari appears to be the elephant in the APC room. But your party, some of the leading lights within your party are saying that if it is Buhari, then we can go to sleep because Buhari is easy for us to defeat. One, do you share that sentiment? Then, how do you place Buhari in northern politics? What is your impression of Buhari in northern politics?
Well, Buhari is well loved by ordinary men and women, no doubt. Even quite a number of the academic society, you know, intellectuals, for one reason or the other, they like him. No matter his flaws, the truth of the matter is that he is liked very much. So, that portends a problem for my party, whether he runs or he doesn’t run. Even as a mobiliser and not a candidate, the danger is still the same. The question of running or not running, to me is not relevant. The issue is that he has the capacity to mobilise and he is respected and trusted by a wide range of individuals and personalities, as much as he is mistrusted or dislike by also some elements. And that applies to almost everybody. So, I will not think for the APC (about) what it does, who it fields. That is its own decision. Equally, within the PDP, whoever the candidate of the opposition party is, we should be worried if we don’t address the issues that we need to address before the election and if we don’t campaign very well. But we have what it takes to campaign very well, we have what it takes to mend fences. We should not lose time in doing that. That is the way I look at it. I don’t make plans based on one individual. If you miscalculate, you will be sorry that you did.

What are the issues you want PDP to address before the election?
Reconciliation basically. To reconcile party members and to make sure that there is internal democracy in the processes that will lead to the nomination of candidates because the real problem will really come during the nomination process. I consider all of these as peripheral problems. Whether PDP or APC, any of the parties that gets its nomination wrong in the nomination process will likely have problems. So, we should pray that ours goes well and others don’t go well.

You are talking about nomination now, some have even started to canvass?
(Cuts in) That is what I am saying. We should not take voters for granted, equally we should not take other party members for granted.

I was going to say that at the moment, some people have started canvassing automatic ticket, that the President should be given automatic ticket. Do you subscribe to that?
If I know I am going to win, I wouldn’t even ask for a dash. Because, again, you know, you play into some people’s hands. You just mentioned earlier on that it’s given that he would get the ticket. Why even bring up an issue which would take off some shine from the process?

Let’s look at the constitution amendment process going on in the National Assembly. One of the issues that attracted attention was that of local government autonomy which couldn’t scale through in the Senate. You were a governor for eight years and now a senator. Why do you think governors and senators are against local government autonomy, which many Nigerians think could make Local Governments perform better? Why was the Senate specifically opposed to fiscal autonomy for local government?
Well, individuals voted. So, I wouldn’t know what made some individuals not to vote for it. Mind you, I think about sixty something voted for the autonomy. We were short of the two-third majority by seven or eight votes. Of course, as the record shows, I was one of those who voted for it. Now, the problem that I see is that we have a confusing constitution. We don’t even know what we want. We don’t even know what system we want to operate. When you look at several provisions of the constitution, you will say, yes, this is a federal structure.

When you look at some other provisions, it is unitary. And that is the confusion that is following local government. In a federal structure, the centre should have nothing, nothing at all, to do with local governments. They are a creation of states in any way and manner they deem fit. That is strictly under a federal system. Now, the constitution recognises democratically elected local governments and recognises that there shall be a joint state-local government account, the state to legislate on all sorts of things. On one hand, the constitution gives and on the other hand, it takes it away. Now, I think some of the senators that voted against the issue of direct funding to the local government, mind you the issue was even about funding, so that funding from centre goes directly to them. That was the amendment we wanted to bring about. That was the single reason.

This money was coming from the centre, let it go directly to their coffers. Still, the state Assemblies will legislate on their budget. So, that power was not taken away as the constitution provides, but at least they keep the money, you approve the budget. Not that someone keeps the money and the approval of the budget so what happens in some local governments happen where funds get diverted for purposes other than services being rendered by local government. That was the amendment we wanted to make. I think some of the senators that must have voted against it did so just because they were against the centre being involved in local government issue. Not that they were against local government autonomy per se. Some just have a strong belief that local government should be a state creation in the way and manner they want. If you want one hundred, it’s up to you. If you want only five, it’s up to you.

They believe the centre should not continue to get involve in that. That affected the thinking of some of the senators. But my opinion is that we are trying to make the best out of a very bad situation and the best out of that bad situation is to continue to be involved but allow them that fiscal autonomy until such a time that we develop democratically and can say look, we have tutelage of this system so long, now we have fully developed democracy, the centre can hands off. You see, it is a developing issue. What you can’t do today, tomorrow you can be able to do. I think that was really what affected the outcome of the votes in the Senate. Not that, generally, senators don’t think that local government should have autonomy. But the thinking that they should be completely off the centre affected the outcome of the voting.

If we go by that argument that local governments are creation of states and the centre should have nothing to do with them, would it also be proper to say that state should look for resources to fund Local Government and the centre should have nothing to do with them in terms of funding as it’s currently done through the State-Local Government Joint Account?
You see, that is part of the problem. Part of the problem is that we have made local government one of the variables for sharing money. So, all these factors, you know, have muddled up. But probably, if the money due for local government were to be merged with the money due for the states, it could resolve the problem. But again, the political class really need to sit down for the good of the system to discuss and to resolve how to move forwad in such a way that we can have viable local governments. I think it is the inability of all the players to really sit down together and say, “Look, let’s be honest to ourselves.

How do we improve the system? This is what we have and coming up with a defined solution to dealing with the problem. I share the concern being expressed. As I mentioned earlier, if N10 million is given to local governments in a particular state, you add that N10 million to the money the state takes. But you can end up with a worst situation. In some states, the local government, that would be the end of them. So, it is the political players that are mismanaging the system. That is the cause of all these confusion. If we the political players at the state level, at the local government level really behave well and operate within the details of standard democratic norms, this problem would not arise.

For me, the other issue with respect to the Senate is this whole debate about child marriage. I am aware of what transpired in the Senate even though I know that the Senate did not set out to either vote for or against child marriage. But the mere deletion of that Section 29(4) (b), would be deemed to now mean that the coast is now clear for an underage to be married. The Senate President said the other day that they were blackmailed into deleting that section. My question really is that one, are you one of those senators who felt that way? Second, are you embarrassed the way the entire debate has turned out?
Well, the first vote was carried. Now, confusion set in and when confusion set in, in my opinion, majority of people could not even understand what the issue was. And when people don’t understand what exactly the issue was, you either find people abstaining or they vote in the separate ways they felt possible and that was why we ended up with what we ended with. But as you did observed, the deletion of that section, relating it to who can renounce his citizenship. It has nothing to do with marriage. The Electoral Act, even if you are married, you cannot vote until you are 18. Driving licence, even if you are married, you can’t get driver’s licence until you are 18. So, why are we not saying the Electoral Act is against child marriage? Or the rules for driver’s licence is against child marriage? What is the difference? These two key legislations, you can be married, you can’t be voted for vote until you are 18 and above. Why are people not crying that the Electoral Act is against child marriage? They are completely different things.

Let’s go to Kaduna. You were governor of that state for eight years, since you left, we have had Sambo, we have had the late Yakowa and we now have Yero. What is your assessment of Kaduna that we have now in terms of projects implementation, in terms of welfare of the people, in terms of governance as opposed to when you were there?
It would be unfair as a former governor to start assessing my successors. It won’t be morally right. This is an assessment that the citizens should make.

I asked that in order to set the tone for the question I wanted to ask.
(Cuts in) That was a wrong tone...(laughs)

I am familiar with the politics of Kaduna. What we see and what we hear is that there are two major tendencies - Makarfi tendency and Sambo tendency. And those tendencies have tended to permeate governance in the state. That after you left and after Sambo left, Yakowa came over and chose to complete the projects that you left and chose to align more with you than with Namadi Sambo. And now, Namadi Sambo’s godson is now in power and has picked up all those projects that appeared to have been abandoned during Yakowa’s administration. Do you also see things this way too?
Well, it is better to inform those who said what you have said. I am not monitoring what the state government is doing and so it would not be right for me to report on what I have not monitored. But you have a bureau chief in Kaduna, I am sure. Let them go and ask the people, they will be in a better position to say... But honestly speaking, it would be morally wrong for me to start assessing my successors in office. If I have advice to give them, I will make efforts to give them. Whether they make use of the advise or not, it is purely up to them.

A lot of people say there is a kind of rivalry between you and Vice President Namadi Sambo. How would you describe the relationship between you and Vice President Sambo?
What kind of relationship are you talking about?

Relationship generally
You see, people tend to look at the past. May be in the past we were having a lot more time in our hands. He is the number two citizen in the country, he is much more busier than when I used to know him. And Of course, you don’t expect me, with my position and responsibilities, to also, with the little or the much that God has done to me, also to be hanging around any individual no matter the individual’s office. So, while he is busy, I equally have to respect myself and give such individual space. But when there is need for us to be together, we are together. But you cannot equate me with some other associates or new friends that every time you expect to see around him. That should not be where you expect to see me.

In the build up to the 2007 election, your name kept coming up as a likely presidentical candidate of your party. In the build up to 2015, your name is also coming up, but now, as a likely running mate of the president.
(Cuts in) well, I haven’t heard that.

We have been hearing it.
You see, the choice of a running mate is the choice of the principal. You don’t canvass for it, you don’t look for it. And what you are saying, I equally have not heard. But you are journalists, you hear all sorts of stories. For me, what concerns me most is that we should work well as a family to retain power. And in anyway that we can legitimately win the next round of election, we should do that and whatever support or contributions are expected from me, I will give. But I am not in the race for anything. I am not in the race for anything.

You gave general advice here and there to the party, to the governors and I know you are a major stakeholder and chieftain of the party. You are not going for the vice presidency, you have said. So, what would your role be going forward in 2015 and as a leader in Kaduna?
That was what I said when he asked me about my name being mentioned in some quarters when it has to do with a particular office and I said my role as I see is to contribute in any way that I can for our party to retain power in 2015 and I have been doing my best and I will continue to do my best. And I will not put personal interest ahead of our larger collective interest as a political party. So, I don’t want to put anything, not even issue that has to do with my seat, or anything at all. A party member should be interested in the collective interest of the party irrespective of what becomes of you. But I mentioned equally earlier that we have a lot of work to do and we must not pretend that we have a lot of work to do. We have a lot of fence-mending to make, we need to truly reconcile, we need to accommodate, we need to ensure that we have a transparent, fair and just electoral system, that people are freely nominated and not imposed. You cannot mobilise party men and women to go and campaign for general election if candidates are imposed.

Let’s look at the security situation in the North. You were governor of Kaduan State for eight years and it was a period when we had the Sharia controversy. Despite the delicate religious situation in your state then, in a way, you managed the Sharia issue well. Now we have moved from Sharia controversy to a situation when you don’t even know when the next bomb would go off. What do you think is not being done right in the handling of the security situation in the North?
Well, it is a new kind of problem all together. No one was ready for this. Before it started, no Nigerian could believe that somebody could be a suicide bomber or do all sorts of things. Our security apparatus, it was a completely new terrain to them. Naturally, we will be stumbling from the beginning, we will be making little progress as time goes by. And we are making progress. You see, security issues, you don’t overspeak about them, otherwise when you overspeak about them, what you are doing, what progress you are making, you will actually be undermining even the security itself. So, I sympathised with those involved because they can’t talk as often as Nigerians would want them to because doing so automatically undermines whatever it is that is being done. But as observed, force cannot resolve the problem.

It can deal with some issues, it can contain some issues. Ultimately, through dialogue and discourse, we can establish a more lasting peace. By now we ought to have started to reflect on why we are where we are so that when we have established that long lasting peace, we can now begin to do the right things that will make sure that we don’t find ourselves, 20, 30, 40 years in this similar situation. And that work is also going on because we need to look at how did we get it wrong. We need to look at so many things, our religious teachings, our religious practices, we need to look at so many things that we had neglected for several years that must have contributed to bringing us to this situation that we are in now. So, I don’t think we are doing badly. Some other countries with smaller problems, they are gone. But we have been containing, it’s not on the increasing, it is on the decreasing scale. Look at the case of Northern Ireland, even with the fact that they reached agreement, last week or so, there was a problem. So, issues like this you don’t tap with the tip of your fingers. Even traffic light changes from red to amber to green not to talk of a highly dynamic situation such as this.

One of the tools of national integration is the federal character principle. Just recently, there was a report that cut off mark into some unity schools were as low as two for some states in the North compared with the cut off marks for some states in the South as high as 160. Would you say that the federal character principle, as its affects education, is still relevant in this present day?
First of all, I don’t know if any state has two as cut off mark. Except when authority makes official statement that is when I can say that is it.

But it was published in the papers
Who published it?

It was a report in the press and the relevant agency or ministry has not come out to deny it.
It cannot be that low. But let me also tell you, because we started, not the King’s College age, the first set of Federal Government Colleges were established after the King’s college, even at that time, the cut off marks were not the same. I went to Enugu and we had to struggle to catch up in our first year, second year. But I assure you that by the time we were in our third year, it was a marathon race. Some of us were finishing first. So, we finished well. So, I am not for diluting our educational standard, but I am also certain that even when it started, the first set of admissions were done in 1973 before the larger number of Federal Government Colleges were established, the cut off marks were not the same. And I am telling you as someone who went through that process. In our Form 1, we were struggling, Form 2 we were struggling but we were not struggling from Form 3. Ultimately, the fact is that every child given the right opportunity can excel. But then, here is the challenge - the states with this kind of problem should concentrate on giving our children that opportunity. If all they do is to educate the children, they would have done excellently well.

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