A member of the defunct Provisional Ruling Council and one-time Principal Officer to Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, Maj-Gen Sam Momah, is of the view that Nigeria may be heading for the precipice, with her unity threatened. He implores President Buhari not to see restructuring of the country as an option but an obligation in national interest. This and more he shares with Funke Olaode in this interview. Excerpts:
You were the principal staff officer to then Maj-Gen Muhammadu Buhari, when he was the GOC of the 4th Division of the Nigerian Army. How will you rate your former boss as Nigeria’s president today?
As a senior officer we had a lot of regards for him – which I still do, because President Buhari is exemplary. He was referred to as ‘Mr. Integrity’ which is a rare commodity in Nigeria. His Spartan way of living is worthy of emulation – that singular attribute makes him outstanding. He is selfless. He is humanly incorruptible and so we looked up to his leadership example. But that’s not to say he’s perfect, because people have their imperfections as they can be scored very high in certain areas and vice versa. But overall, he is an exemplary leader.
Do you think he deserves a second term and if so, what must he do differently in his second coming?
I believe that if the president is lucky to have a second term, he must make sure he lays a very strong strategic foundation for a modern Nigeria. Nigeria cannot continue to wobble as it is doing now. If the President is lucky to get there – or whoever does – must make sure that Nigeria is restructured. Restructuring is fundamental. It was Albert Einstein that says: ‘Insanity is like doing the same thing the same way and expecting a change.’ Nigeria has been doing the same thing the same way in the last 118 years and we are not getting results. It means there is the need for change in the way we are doing things.
But Buhari is not a fan of restructuring.
That is why I am saying Nigeria has to restructure and he (the President) needs to have a rethink, because you don’t put up an edifice on a sandy structure. I remember eight years ago, I wrote a book titled: ‘Nigeria beyond the oil’ where I made my recommendations on restructuring, which we must try and do things differently. For instance, we have a situation where 15 states are almost bankrupt. Twenty-seven states cannot pay monthly salary for months, 30 states don’t contribute to the pension scheme, and 32 states cannot survive on their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).
It is only four states that can do the aforementioned. We have over 20 million people unemployed. Are these attributes? Must we continue with this problem? If you have states that cannot pay salaries and with 774 local governments, you have 360 members of House of Representatives, 109 senators, and more than 600 MDAs (ministries, departments and agencies), do we realise that 89 per cent of our revenue goes into paying salaries? So, there is nothing left to build our roads, power houses, railway stations, health care, and education and so on.
When I was in the government, then Minister of Finance was my friend. I used to pop into his office and each time I walked in, I would always see him walking up and down that the month is ending and he is looking forward to pay salaries. That was when I found out that Nigeria is actually poor. You find out the saying that Nigeria is very rich in an island of poverty is very true. A few have money to buy private jets and many think Nigeria is very rich. But what is the per capital income? We cannot continue this way.
Since 2007, Nigeria has been given this first state alert that as a nation we are in the threshold of becoming a failed state. I wrote a second book titled, ‘Pulling Nigeria off the Brink’ which I presented on my birthday – and to actually pull the country out of the brink we must restructure. I am using this time to tell the President that this restructuring thing is not something that is voluntary; there is no choice about it. I don’t understand why people said we must not restructure.
It is not a north versus south issue. It is an issue of survival for Nigeria and we must look at it very seriously. I want to alert fellow Nigerians that the restructuring should not be politicised. It is a critical thing that must be done otherwise in 12 years’ time, Nigeria may collapse which may ignite a civil war. We must not allow the issue to get to that stage.
You turned 75 years on June 6. How has life treated you?
One is very lucky because the first thing I ask myself everyday is that I can never be 70, which the Bible has prescribed. I have always said if I got to 70 I would be very grateful – and today, I am 75. I am happy to be 75 and I believe the best is yet to come. I believe the environment will improve, because the only thing that makes one unhappy is when we watch what is going on in our country.
You were born two years before the World War II ended. Tell us how you grew up in the aftermath of that war and why you chose to be a soldier?
Well, I didn’t actually choose to be a soldier. It was a coincidence. I am of the eastern extraction – from Nnewi in Anambra State. I stumbled on an application form to join the Nigerian Navy in 1963. I was forced to apply, because I was doing my Lower Six and my senior brother, who just finished secondary school, was aiming to go to the university. And in those days, the question of parents sponsoring two children to the university was a problem.
My father insisted that my senior brother go to the university and me to a teacher training college. But I didn’t like being a teacher. When the Navy application came, I decided to apply to the navy and not the army. In the interview, we were about 193 applicants out of which four of us – Admiral Nyako, Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, Admiral Kosoni and me – were admitted. That was how I joined the Navy. Two years after I had joined the navy, there was an eye test indicating that my sight wasn’t good enough to remain in the navy – I was still a cadet in Indian Defence Academy. That was how I ended up being in the army.
How would you rate the military today compared to the military of your time given the current security challenge?
Well, given the circumstances, I think the military is trying its best but that is not to say that they couldn’t have done better. I am very happy that they have resisted pressure as they carry out their duties – there is no question of interfering in governance. I can see that they have become more professional and they have restricted themselves to their profession. I do hope that politicisation would be less in the military. It is the politicians that are trying to politicise the army. The army has a system that there is a great bond – there is no segregation in terms of religion and ethnicity – among the personnel, the officers, rank corps and others. We are armed and if you try to show some differences or favour one particular group against the other, you will be in danger. So, any sensible leaders must make sure that within the military, fair treatment of personnel is done equally to ensure that they are happy.
Retired Gen T.Y. Danjuma recently accused the military of complicity in some of the recent killings in the country. Would you say he was wrong?
Gen. T.Y. Danjuma is a tested, trusted and respected senior officer. He has done a lot for Nigeria and has continued to do more. I believe that he must have his facts. I don’t know the details of those facts. But I do know that the army set up a board of inquiry to ascertain the authenticity of that statement and don’t think the committee has finalised its reports. I believe when they come out with their findings, government would be able to take action.
I believe there is no smoke without fire. Definitely, Gen. T.Y. Danjuma is not somebody that would cry wolf when there is no wolf. I believe something must have gone wrong but we have to ascertain the degree and authenticity of that accusation – and until that becomes clear, I am afraid we wouldn’t say whether Gen. Danjuma is right or wrong.
The tenure of the service chief has been extended three times, yet the killing is going on unabated. What is your advice to the president?
I want to say that the security of Nigeria is a responsibility of all Nigerians. It is not the responsibility of service chiefs alone. This impression being created that once a service chief is not everywhere he’s not performing is wrong, because he cannot be everywhere. I agree it is not normal for service chiefs to have their stay or tenure elongated. But if the President found reasons for doing that we have to give him the benefit of doubt. But what I want to say is that service chiefs, per se, do not determine the situation of Nigeria. If a service chief is in Lagos, will he know what is happening in Enugu or Ibadan or Ilorin?
The troops and commander are the service chief’s subordinates and have a lot of role to play to complement their principal. There are so many things wrong with the security situation of Nigeria. I think (that when) we start taking them one after the other, we (will) realise that it depends on unemployment. How do you secure a country, where almost 50 per cent are unemployed, roaming around doing nothing? Is it the service chiefs? We must do something about unemployment.
But some people have called for the removal of the service chiefs in the light of the current security challenges. Do you agree?
Those calling for the removal of the service chiefs have their reasons. If the service chiefs are incompetent, they must be removed. If they have overstayed their time and they are becoming stale, they should be removed. But the issue is that I want us, as a nation, to look at it (the issue of the service chiefs) objectively and not subjectively. Let’s look at the issue from a broader angle, because if you want to solve a problem you have to look at it from the holistic angle.
But if you are looking at one corner, you may not get a result. Those calling for the removal of service chiefs have their reasons and the commander-in-chief should find out why – and if he finds the reason cogent, he should remove them. We shouldn’t look at it as if the service chiefs were removed today, the problem of Nigeria would be solved. It will not.
We are approaching 2019 general election, do you have fears for the country?
I am not so sure about what is going to happen. I would have wished a situation, whereby we have a different chairman of INEC. For the first time, we have INEC chairman that is from the same federal zone with the president. This is what people are insinuating. But we have to realise that Nigeria is no longer a place people can toy with. Anybody who tries to rig any election will face the consequences. Former President Goodluck Jonathan has set the pace that Nigeria’s future leaders should emulate.
For me, elections should be free and fair – whoever wins should govern Nigeria. I don’t have fears because I know that Mr. Buhari is not the type that can connive and rig elections and anybody who tries to do it on his behalf he should be able to disown that person. So, I won’t lose sleep if we do it as we are supposed to by using card readers that have been introduced. I learnt a bill has been sent to the President about reforming the electoral process, the outcome which I have yet to know.
Everybody should realise that 2019 is a watershed for Nigeria. It is a year that we either make it or mar it. It is a year that Nigeria will decide whether to remain a nation. As Nigerians, we must not gamble with 2019 elections. The (presidential) election must be taken seriously because it’s going to be the most crucial election – it will determine whether Nigeria will join the comity of nations as the train of globalisation moves so that Nigeria is not left behind.
I believe the President is patriotic and I am appealing to him now to have a rethink on restructuring. It is something that must be done in phases. We can’t have a restructuring without a national conference. The 1914 amalgamation gave birth to the North and the South. This was like a forced marriage (officiated) by the British. We should decide how we are going to relate. If two people decide to get married, they are in love. So, we need to talk to consummate that amalgamation to forge on. Nigeria has a potential of being the first black world power. Therefore, it is something we must not throw away; that is why we must stick together as a nation and the question of disintegration should not arise.
About three years ago, the Indigenous People of Biafra agitated for an independent state of Biafra, following which the federal government designated it a terrorist organisation. Today, there are killer herders terrorising communities across the country and people have called on the government to designate it a terrorist group. But the government appears not to want any of that. What is your view?
What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Anybody who picks a gun and kills his fellow human being in the society is a terrorist. If the herdsmen are not called terrorists, the international community has already declared them as terrorists. Amnesty International recently came out with statistics showing that 1,813 people were murdered within six months – January to June. So, the herdsmen are terrorists and should be classified as such.
You have written almost 10 books about Nigeria, committing money, time and resources. What is the motivation?
It is because I love Nigeria. I write on issues about Nigeria. I have written ‘Consequences and Solutions’, ‘Nigeria on the Brink’, ‘Technology is Power’, and many other books about Nigeria. I don’t have strength to join Nigeria’s politics – it is not about service. Politics is still dirty, that is why I write books. The inspiration is the love of Nigeria and a strong conviction that a black race must emancipate itself.
What was your relationship with Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, and Gen. Buhari in the army?
The relationship was cordial. In the army, everyone is like a member of the same family. It is unfortunate that coups came and counter-coups. In the military, you cannot afford to segregate. I see them as my seniors and I respect them and they do the same to me. We still hope that the lofty dreams we had for Nigeria will be realised. The most patriotic citizens in this country are in the military, because by nature of our training we must love what we are defending.
Do you regret being part of the military as many people blame its incursion into politics for the nation’s woes?
I don’t regret my role in serving in the Nigerian army. What I regret is that in the government that I participated, we didn’t achieve the lofty dreams that some of us had. You know when you are in a team you can be a good player but the team may not be good and you can’t do anything about it – you have to keep on doing your best. All these things are happening because we are not united, which is the biggest challenge. If we can fix the issue of unity, Nigeria will be fixed – doing things right by putting Nigeria first and not one’s ethnicity.
The constitution allows that – they will always ask you to put your state of origin. I think the essence of state of origin must be de-emphasised and allow people to operate true federalism. Where you live and pay your tax as a citizen should be emphasised – not the state of origin. Once we do that, the country will move forward. Singapore moved from being a third world country to a first-class country in less than 20 years. We can dynamically change Nigeria, if we put the right things in the right places. But the main thing is unity. I believe that Nigeria has the potential to be a great nation – to be a world power – if we do the right thing now, which is restructuring.