Immediate past Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Aminu Wali, has said that the greatest mistake of the Buhari administration is the president’s refusal to engage with all shades of opinions in order to find answers to the myriad of challenges confronting the nation.
In an interview with AIDOGHIE PAULINUS, Wali, a former Ambassador to China and Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN), cited the government’s inability to curtail the insecurity bedevilling the nation and the poor management of the country’s economy as partly responsible for the different agitations for self-determination.
You clocked 80 last week. How do you feel at 80?
First of all, I will like to thank God in His mercies for giving me this long life and blessing me in so many ways. At 80, one would have to start taking stock of what one has achieved and what mistakes one has made and what one looks forward to in whatever remaining time on this earth.
As somebody who has always been involved within the polity in Nigeria, I have come through so much within those 80 years, the situation in Nigeria today is something that should be of concern to every Nigerian. The foundation that our forefathers made, that is the leaders of those three regions, has sustained us up to this time. With the coups and counter coups and the rape of democratic setting that has happened, within this period, the country has taken a lot of beating. But it is the resilience of Nigerians as a people that has really sustained the existence of this country. So, I thank God for keeping me in health and the wherewithal to be around and participate in a lot of those activities that has happened within the last 60, 70 years.
Where did we miss it as a nation?
First of all, the first coup that toppled the first democratic government in 1966. In my experience, when I look at those countries that attained independence at the same time with us or maybe a little bit earlier, maybe two, three years or five years or ten years before we attained our independence; when you look at them and see how much they have achieved in terms of developing their countries, then we really have to look inward in Nigeria to find out what went wrong. So many things went wrong. If we had sustained the democratic legacy that was left, maybe by now, we too would be in the same league with countries like Malaysia and India. I am talking about those countries that were under the British colonial rule that got independence about the same time with us. You will be surprised at what Malaysia has achieved; what even Ghana, next door, has achieved. But, at least, the one thing that I appreciate about our country is the resilience of the people and the determination of all of us to see that this country remains one. And at a certain point in time, we’ve seen the rise of Nigeria’s profile worldwide where Nigeria became the leader of Africa. But today, it is a different matter. So, that is very lamentable for some of us that have come through those years.
Specifically, how do you see the state of the nation?
On the state of the nation, whether we like it or not, we have to accept that a lot of things have gone wrong and a lot of sacrifice will have to be made on all sides.
In terms of what? How?
There are a lot of agitations which are fairly justifiable. But in the interest of the unity and development of this country as a nation, and with our eyes looking forward to be the leader and protector of black people the world over, then we have to subsume our differences and accept that no side in this country, no region, no state in this country or no tribe in this country that has not done something wrong at one time or the other to bring us to where we are today. So, we have to make sacrifice for the sake of our country and for the sake of the future generations that are coming because we shall all be held responsible for what is happening today. I will not take out myself because I happened to hold public office. But, of course, I know what contributions I have made as an individual. If everybody else has probably behaved in the same manner and way that some of us have behaved, we may not be in this situation.
As a former diplomat and Nigeria’s ex-envoy to the UN, China, and Minister of Foreign Affairs, can I rightly say these are your thoughts on the Biafra and Yoruba nation agitators?
Yeah, I mean, I said we have to make sacrifices. A lot of mistakes were made and most of them were not intentional if you like. It was probably lack of treatment or lack of understanding; so we really need to appeal to the next generation of our people.
In your opinion, what do you think is fuelling these agitations?
What is fuelling the agitation, I think, is the political system that we have adopted. Before, we had a parliamentary system. It has never been that expensive, which really put the onus of responsibility fully on the government of the day. And that government for example, if you take the Western Region in those days, the Western Region and the Government of Western Region had decided under Chief Awolowo to make education free and compulsory. That is the result of what we are seeing today. And in the North for example, the Northern Regional Government took a decision also to pursue education and started to establish a lot of schools in the various provinces and we are products of that effort. But somehow, along the line, we lost that. Even Azikiwe, he made a lot of compromise even to be President of Nigeria. But for the sake of the country, he accepted to be a ceremonial president just to keep this country going. So, we should go back and learn from the experiences of those people, the sacrifices they have made for their people and for the country all together, which is absent now.
Coming back to what has happened today; politics has taken a whole new turn. A lot of people, when they say they are in politics, they are there simply because they want to have an elected office or appointed office. And they should not be there. And some go into politics because they believe that is how you can make money fast. That is a misnomer. If we are honest with ourselves and we really believe in serving our people, regardless of whichever party you come from, then we should take politics as a service to the people. But today, that is not the case.
Now, in those days when we had a parliamentary system, members of parliament, both the regional and federal, they were part time. Any member of parliament would be doing his own business or whatever work he is doing and then, they go in for sessions and will be paid allowances for those sessions. And when they finish, everyone goes back to whatever he is doing and that really cut down the cost of governance. For goodness sake, when I was a young man in Lagos, I was attending various training centres in Lagos. I had a cousin who happened to be a minister. I would come out of his house and stand at the bus stop in Falomo and then, he would drive himself and pass me standing at the bus stop waiting to get in my bus to Tinubu. The minister would be driving himself alone to the office. But today, we have replication of governments all over the country. Thirty-six plus the central government and the resources invested to run those centres all over the country, if we can be able to minimise cost of running governments, probably we won’t be where we are today and the agitations that we are talking about, may not be there because the whole idea of this agitation is probably poverty, unemployment, and a future without hope.
What can the government do to bring the love for Nigeria back into people’s hearts?
I think the whole thing starts with just ordinary Nigerians. The solution to this problem is for Nigerians to insist on one, free and fair election. Two, to make sure that they understand what they want and they should not be bought at the ballot box. If the right people were selected through the primaries or whatever, to be your representative, let that person be of sound character and believe in the welfare of his people. But the situation today is not like that. If you don’t have some money to invest in any election, then don’t even start it, don’t even think of running for any office.
If you are one of those that believe in the welfare of your people and you want to serve them, if you don’t have a backer or you don’t have enough money to invest, don’t even start to run for any elective office. And the situation is so bad today; allegations are awash that you cannot get any employment in government or even in some private companies unless you pay something to get the job. Now, that is something that should not be tolerated by any right thinking and civilised society. So, the way that we can correct the situation is not to allow the government to now just lead us by the nose. It is to make sure that Nigerians insist on government doing the right thing and the only way to do it is to make sure that we get the right persons into the place.
One, the president of the country, regardless of whichever part of the country he comes from, he has to believe in this country and to believe in serving the people of this country. And the people that want to go into the various assemblies, both at the federal and state levels, will also equally be committed to the welfare and wellbeing of the people of this country. Because so long as the people do not have hope in getting or in realising their dreams of a Nigeria, we can never have peace and unity in this country.
What should the government do that it is correctly not doing?
Well, a lot of things are being done. I have to concede. There is no government that can tell you it is not playing down the policies through the right thing. But a lot of things happen to be amiss in the implementation of the promises that government made before they get into office. Those promises have not been implemented. It is not the fault of the policy maker, but the problem of implementation.
Now, there is a lot of waste in this country, a lot of corruption in this country which is very, very endemic. The resources that should go for development are being hijacked into other series of corrupt practices. So, this is where we are today. And yes, the current administration has come up with beautiful promises and policies, but the implementation is not there. Look at the insecurity happening in this country. You can’t point a finger at anybody to say that you are the cause. But we all know that the responsibility of any government is to safeguard the security of its people. That is number one priority, to safeguard the security of its people. Once there is no security, the whole basis of the national experiment will fail. Economic activities cannot happen if there is no security and peace. So, you see, where government failed for example today, the greatest failure that we have today is insecurity. Second is the bad economic management that renders so many people jobless and with no hope in sight for getting absolved into the system where they can earn a living. So, obviously, these things drive the factors that we have so much insecurity and so much agitation for various issues. But they are all interrelated.
In terms of insecurity, do you think we need foreign assistance to be able to win the war?
Well, I will not rule out that because if we’ve been trying and we’ve not been able to succeed in curbing the security problems, then any responsible government will first make sure that that situation is being brought under control. And if we now realise we need assistance or support from anywhere to safeguard the security of Nigerians, I will not quarrel with that one.
Nigeria seems to be losing its conspicuous space in international affairs. People are saying that these days, we are no longer invited to G7, G20 and other international fora. Why? And how can we get back there internationally?
I think we have gone through that because what happens to you internationally is a reflection of what is happening in your country. Like you said, I have been a diplomat representing my country at the UN and in China and I know how much respect we were getting, particularly when I was serving in the UN under Obasanjo. You can hate Obasanjo or like him, but he was able to project Nigeria’s image internationally and earned the respect of the international community through which Nigerians also had that respect. But unfortunately, we do not have at the national level today the leadership that impresses the international community. Look at Ghana for example; it has a president that is almost as old as our own president. But he was able, during the time that he has been in government, to earn the respect for himself and for the international community. That is Nnana Akuffo-Addo. So, you can pick certain heads of state, see their performances in their countries and compare it to what our own situation in Nigeria is and then, you can see the difference. Take for example Kenya, Kenya is recognised internationally. They have a lot of clout which we used to have.
What is wrong with the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari?
I don’t want to be uncharitable to Muhammdu Buhari. I would have to accept the situation that today; we are in a digital age. Our generation were still analogue. For example, I admit that the understanding of issues today, for me, will be far less than the understanding if I were a younger person because the times have changed. The issues at stake are much more understood by the younger generation. So, my generation, I say it with all due respect, should accept that it is time to really allow or encourage younger generation to come forward to assume leadership of this country.
So, General Babangida was right when he said we should look at the younger generation?
I believe he is right because, look, Babangida, myself, Buhari and all of us, are still analogue whether we like it or not. And today it is digital. Alright? My phone, if I am fiddling with it, I can’t get it right, maybe one of my kids will have to come and say ah, no daddy, this is easy. One clip, one here or there, it is done. Alright? So, the problem that I have with my phone is reflective in the problem of the country, therefore, the generation that can be able to deal with it should be allowed to move in and deal with the situation.
People talk of nepotism that President Buhari is pandering to his Fulani people. Do you agree?
To some extent, yes because you see, the set up of this country, it is a country of various challenges, differences in terms of ethnic, religious and all kind of differences. And the only way that this country will have peace is to make sure that everybody feels it is part and parcel of this country.
In all we have discussed so far, what is your advice for President Muhammadu Buhari?
My advice is what I once gave him when we were all young, when he was the military head of state. I once told him, I said, Your Excellency, things are happening, you have good intention, but unfortunately, you always rely on official channel of communication to tell you what is happening in this country. You have to open your doors wide to accommodate all shades of people, to listen to what they are saying, not your official communication, then you will properly understand what is happening so that you can be able to juxtapose the official version and what you hear from different sorts of people within the country. I once told him that. And this is exactly what is happening even today.
So, that is where he got it wrong?
I think that is where he got it wrong. The point is, it is okay to have whoever you want in your cabinet, but at the same time, that does not stop you from trying to open up and reach out to a cross section of the people, maybe by organising certain functions on a weekly or biweekly basis where people from all walks of life, different areas, will come in under an atmosphere of relaxation and then be able to say their mind.
Finally, the political approach that people in government have towards opposition, particularly under the present administration, that any other party or any other politician in the opposition is an enemy of the government.
That is not so. When you are criticised, take whatever that is good for you and then you try to correct what is being pointed out. But the moment somebody speaks, you say, they hate the government, they don’t like us. It is unfortunate.
The national conference that Jonathan convened. People came, deliberated and it was a good outcome. It soothed a lot of nerves at that time, but unfortunately, it has not been implemented.
So, the government should revisit the recommendation?
They should look into it and see where they agree or disagree and then maybe, get some representation from various parts of Nigeria, or various groups to come and look at it, if they have any objections, they say look, here and there and there we have a problem. They can finally say we agree and let’s implement what we agree on.