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Wednesday, 18 January 2017

We are still walking the tight rope that could lead to destruction -General Sam Momah (Ex Min. of Science and Tech.)


Former Minister of Science and Technology General Sam Momah is back from a writing retreat. The prolific writer who held numerous appointments including: Adjutant-General of the Army, Commander Training and Doctrine Command, council member of University of Jos and Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka; Vice President Third World Academy of Science with headquarters in Italy; and later became a pioneer Director of the National War College, Lagos, has returned with a book that he intends to give Nigerians a re-think about divisions and wars.
 
The new book which is titled, Nigeria’s Break-Up: Consequences and Solutions, unravels all the likely intrigues that will take place when the country decides to choose anarchy. The General shares his mind in this interview with Paul Ukpabio.

Your 8th book is here and you have titled it “Nigeria’s Break-Up: Consequences and Solutions.” What are your reasons for this title?
I have watched and seen the pillage and wanton destruction by Boko Haram, then the irredentist activities of the pro-Biafran youths, the Niger-Delta Avengers blowing up our pipelines, and recently in the House of Representative, where we have had the second reading for the Christian Court bill, all these portend a lot of dangers for our country. When you mix up physical insecurity with religious antecedence, it is very dangerous for our country. Of course, the Christian Court bill is the consequence of the Sharia law; they are trying to counter it. All these bring up a very complex situation for the country. I feel that Nigeria is too big and too precious to be allowed to just disintegrate. I felt like alerting especially the youths, the danger inherent in agitating for the breakup of Nigeria because I believe that Nigeria basically was built on a tripod of the Hausa-Fulani, the Yoruba and the Ibos and if one leg is broken, I believe you can no longer stand on two legs and it will definitely collapse. This is why it is important to let those agitating for Biafra, to know the consequences of their actions. 
Nigeria has the potential of becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Nigeria has the potential of becoming a global super-power in a number of decades to come. I am doing enough to alert Nigerians to make the necessary give and take that will make the country survive. This is the essence of the book, it is just to alert and alarm the war mongers on the grave consequences of the situation of Nigeria. Syria is an example, Libya and Yemen too. it shows you the magnitude of violence that could engulf our country if we go the wrong way.
In the past, examples have been made of countries that disintegrated and till date, they are still in the war mood. We can start with Sudan, Sudan fought a war for several years and eventually by referendum carved out Southern Sudan but today, Southern Sudan is at war with itself. We have the example of Somalia, Somalia has been at war since 1991, that is almost 25 years and Somalia is still at war. Eritrea went through 30 years of civil war and it is still restive. We have other examples like in Korea, you know what is happening between North and South Korea since 1950, the conflict have been on, making about 66 years that they have been in conflict. We have the example of India and Pakistan since 1947; they have been at war in Kashmir for over 70 years. So, the examples are unlimited and this is what I foresee that if we ever… we are not just talking about Biafra, if we go into a second civil war, the war may last upward of 50 years and I can see most of our cities being obliterated. Because a war that will last 50 years will make us lose about 30 million souls.
So as a country, how do we correct ourselves at this point?
I believe in dialogue, I believe in give and take. We went through the civil war for just 30 months and the ill-effect of that war is still on. A lot of things are wrong. Nigeria needs to take a bold step to make good most of the lapses that has been constitutionally enshrined in our constitution. And those things are things I believed should be made good so that the nation will move forward. The re-structuring we are talking about is to cut down on the over head expenses. Instead of having 36 states, can’t we cut it down to 12 states? Can’t we remove the local government areas and have provinces? Let’s say 60 provinces for instance? Can’t we have 36 Senators instead of 109? Can’t we have just 120 House of Representatives members instead of 360? So, these are the re-structuring I am talking of and once we do this, we will be saving almost five trillion Naira annually and that five trillion can be put into infrastructural development and offering employment to the youths and cut down on the restiveness of the youths, and then of course, neutralizes militancy among the youths.


You were one of those who campaigned profoundly for President Muhammad Buhari. As his former PSO (Principal Staff Officer) you said he meant well. But do you think the government has lived up to her change mantra after a year in office?
Well, everyone is saying that the change is not with human touch, that the change is yet to be felt by the grass root. And the change is still looking theoretical. And I believe this is what the government of the day should try and look internally and see what has actually gone wrong. For instance, the jingle of change to me is not powerful enough. We want a jingle that will ginger people and motivate them. I used to always like this (jingle) of War against Indiscipline (WAI) when we had it. It had an impact. So, I think the jingle, maybe have to be reviewed and made more powerful. I believe there has to be more coordination between the federal and state government. Change out to be total and holistic to be effective. Today, Change seems to be only in Federal Government. The 36 states are still on their own not to talk of the Local Government Areas. 

Change has to be total so that, nobody reverses it tomorrow. So, the platform for enforcing change or making people to imbibe change should be widening. I believe no matter the party in the state, what we are talking about is change for the survival and prosperity of Nigeria. And to do so, whether you are in PDP or APC, whatever party you may belong to, the survival of Nigeria is the ultimate aim of everybody. We must agree that Change should be total and then, thirdly, I agree with the Change slogan. People tend to think that change is just a means of allowing milk and honey drop from the sky. Change means you, how much have you changed? Look at yourself in the mirror and say, ‘am I what I should be?’ I’m I too fat or too thin, what do I do to myself? How do I change?’ Then, families should also look at themselves. If a family has a young man who is an armed robber and they just keep on benefitting from his armed robbery and you don’t change that attitude, of course you are not contributing to change. So, change should be attitude of the mind. Change should come from the heart.
Our value system should change. But when it comes to productivity, the yard stick has to be by merit. Particularly our education, you find out that most countries of the world that has prospered, their education is knowledge best. Japan, Switzerland, Austria, Netherland, they have no oil but they are leading the economies of the world. They are human based economies and human beings can move mountains. It is not only oil and others that should make a nation. 
Sir, recession is biting hard and the cost of dollars and living condition is getting quite unbearable what should the government do to make life bearable for Nigerians?  
We sell our oils and we get our money in dollars and because we don’t export anything, we import virtually everything, we have to pay in dollars, and that is why the dollar’s exchange rate becomes a very important denominator in the growth of the economy. But if we start producing and we eat what we produce, then, of course we don’t need to import so much and with that, whatever dollars exchange rate is, it will not affect us. Productivity is key! There was a time Naira was acceptable in Europe, you could go to London and buy things in Naira because Naira was strong. But now we can’t do that because we are not producing.
So, what can government do to stop this recession?
To stop recession, we must be able to feed ourselves. I think Government in conjunction with the state should go into massive agricultural program. I have not seen that happen. We must make it a duty that everybody including civil servants wherever you are, you should have a little garden behind your house, you should rear some chicken or something because that is what they do in Israel and some of these advanced countries. Everybody owns little cattle, chicken farm or something. They have tomato garden or something and you find out that, collectively, what it sums up nationwide at the end of the day is a lot. And you find that their people are healthier. We must go back to what Nigeria used to be in the 50s and 60s when our parent had that knack of having some gardens or farms at the back of the house to generate some agricultural products. 

That is one; secondly, we must not joke with power. Power is very, very crucial. We must restore our power capacity, we must improve on it. Power is important because you need power to energize your factories. Today, most of the factories are closing down because they can’t stand on private generators. So, power is very crucial and to wade off recession, we must find a way to make peace in the Niger-Delta and be able to make sure that our power source is assured. And lastly, Nigerians must realize that, to get out of recession, all hands must be on deck. Today, people are used to driving luxury cars and all that, it has to change. We have to change our lifestyle.
The report of the National Conference carried out by the former regime of President Goodluck Jonathan was said to be only meant for the dustbin by President Buhari which shows him as being vehemently opposed to National Conference. What do you advise Mr. President to do on this?   
That is similar to re-structuring which cannot take place if there is no national conference. I believe the best way to get it done is through a national conference where a consensus can be raised on what would be the content of the re-structuring. The National Conference would back it and of course, a referendum would be held to now make a people mandate to exist. I believe too that Mr. President would have to, for the sake of posterity, do something about setting up a National Conference. It is virtually inevitable. Because some of these changes we are talking about, some of the baggage that has been dragging Nigeria backward, it is a national conference that can address those things.
The President recently put up a request for $30 billion Dollars loan from International Bodies and the National Assembly debunked the request with strong criticism from eminent Nigerians like former President Olusegun Obasanjo. 

Do you think Mr. President is misunderstood? 
As a person, I don’t believe in taking loan and I know Mr. President too is averse to taking loan. For him to have decided to take loan, it must have really been a very sad decision for him to take because it is not the best. But you take such decisions when you have nowhere else to run to. Maybe he knows details of what is going on and maybe, he knows the details of how bankrupt the economy is. And of course, he now wants to see how he can leave a legacy of development behind. So, if for instance, the $30 billion Dollars loan will give us a refinery, maybe one in each zone; if the loans will crisscross Nigeria with rail, if it will build our water transport system. If it can give us a twenty megawatt power capacity, I will say ‘take it’. But we have to know what the $30 billion Dollars is going to be used for. It has to be enshrined and understood by everybody because we can’t go into the debt trap that we fell into before Obasanjo came and bailed us from that trap. 
What are your views on the economy vis-à-vis exchange rates, multiple taxation, diversification and all that? There is strong complaint about the tax regime of government; do you think there is need for moderation? 
What I have to say is that Government should allow the Naira to find its own level with exchange rate. And unless we do that, you will find out that there will be so many gaps between the official rate and the black parallel rate that is the black market rate. Right now, government says it is N304 Naira per dollar but you know in the black market, it is almost N500. So, those who are making fortune are making almost N200 naira per dollar, which is a kill. They get these things at government rate and then of course, sell at black market rate and that is a lot of money and that is what is killing the economy. So, we must let Naira find its own level, I know it is not palatable. But that is the only way Naira can survive. That is why we have to be productive to defend the Naira. If we are not productive and we depend on oil, of course, Naira will keep going down. 

This again brings us back to the Soludo era, during the Soludo era, he was able to breach the gap between the official rate and parallel rate and that was very ingenious of him. I believe some measures will be taken to achieve that. On the issue of multiple taxes I think it is a serious problem. We are in a recession; everybody including the government knows that the economy is in the woods, that most businesses can not even pay salaries. But they come up with this taxation that is driving everybody crazy. I had the unfortunate experience of them (FIRS) arresting the GM of a company and taking him somewhere because, according to them, they haven’t paid their ‘tax’. Because normally, you pay everything you want to pay, your pay your vat, you pay your company income tax, you pay education levy tax and all that. Suddenly, they will just come with one fictitious amount and they will say ‘go and pay’. And we found out that some expatriates were arrested also, recently in Abuja; expatriates who have come to invest in Nigeria. 
They were arrested and locked up. So, how can you get investors when you now harass expatriates? If somebody does not pay tax, you have the normal courts you can approach not getting him locked up in some FIRS detention offices and embarrass the person. And when you see them go for this tax drive, they go with lorry loads of armed police men, intimidating the owners of the business. 

Humiliating them, I think it is not fair. If we are talking about unemployment problem, we shouldn’t malign the private sector so badly because government is no longer employing, it is only private individuals that are employing a few people of which if they lay them off, there will be anarchy on our streets. So, I think the head of FIRS must thread softly.
General Sam Momah (Right) gives signed copy of his books to Paul Ukpabio (Left)
Security, Corruption and the Economy are the three cardinal agenda of President Buhari’s government, this he promised during his campaign. Do you think he has achieved all?
Well, there is definitely an attempt to try to achieve most of it. First is security; at least, Boko Haram has been virtually castrated and no longer a force to reckon with. Even though they are still having skirmishes here and there but I strongly believe Boko Haram has been well decimated and dealt with. But then, in terms of social security, armed robbery, kidnapping and of course, the distortion of government’s assets in the South, I think a lot ought to be also done, particularly in the Niger-Delta. I am happy that of recent there seems to be a lull in the destruction of pipeline and I want to say well done to those who have succeeded in convincing the Niger-Delta militants to drop their sword and at least, listen to the voice of wisdom and give peace a chance. 

We hope that will continue so that we will be able to have a more meaningful development of our economy. The other aspect is corruption; we can all attest to the fact that Mr. President is very, very serious about fighting corruption. He does not tolerate corruption in any fashion no matter who is involved.  For that, we doff our hats and hope that he tries to take it to a logical conclusion and try and make it all inclusive because now, the war seems to be purely on federal level. What happens to the states and Local Government Areas? Are they also fighting corruption the way we are fighting in Abuja? No. so, it bothers me. Unless the base is broadened to cover the entire country, it looks like; eventually corruption will just bounce back.
 So, there is the need to broaden the base and ensure that every arm of government participates in the anti-corruption war. For instance, the Treasury Single Account (TSA), you know that the senate does not comply with it. The whole senate does not believe in it and that is one of the anti-corruption strategy measure I believe government can use to block most of the loopholes of corruption. If the senate cannot even support the TSA, how much corruption are you fighting? Something ought to be done and that is why I am talking about ethical re-orientation of Nigerians. We must agree that, this is an issue for the front burner and I believe that Nigerians should assist Mr. President to ensure that corruption is erased in our society.
We have several groups like IPOB calling for secession yet the President said Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable. Do you think Mr. President is right? 
I am not too sure of Mr. President’s frame of mind when he said that. There is nothing on earth that is not negotiable. The only issue he pointed out was the fact that he will not be the president of a disintegrated Nigeria.  He will not stand by and watch Nigeria disintegrate. That is to say he will not see Nigeria disintegrate under his watch. That is what he is saying by that; after all, today he is negotiating with the Niger-Delta; he has been talking with their leaders. I think the press just misquoted Mr. President. What he means is that Nigeria will never disintegrate under his watch and I think he has a right to his views on issues. As it is, we are still walking the tight rope of destruction.


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