Mallam Adamu Ciroma, journalist, administrator, politician, former minister of different portfolios and erstwhile governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, is one of Nigeria’s leading statesmen. Ciroma, who will be 83 years old soon, was third in the 1978 presidential primaries of the defunct National Party of Nigeria, NPN, but subsequently became a close confidant of President Shehu Shagari and served as minister in the Second Republic.
He is also a close confidant of President Olusegun Obasanjo in the Fourth Republic and a rallying figure in the northern opposition to the 2011 presidential bid of President Goodluck Jonathan.
In this exclusive interview with Saturday Vanguard, Ciroma speaks on wide-ranging issues, restructuring, Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, the 2014 National Conference, the PDP, among others.
As someone who has been around, if you look back to the days of Nigeria’s struggle for independence by late Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and others, would you say that this is the kind of country they had envisaged during their struggle for for self governance?
I don’t know, what is your business with how Dr. Azikiwe or Awolowo wanted this country to be?
In the country at the moment, there are agitations by the Niger Delta Avengers in the South South; Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB and Movement for the Actualization of Sovereign State of Biafra, MASSOB in the South East as well as Boko Haram insurgency in the North East. If these are sustained, don’t you think that indivisibility of the country cannot be guaranteed?
What is indivisibility? Every country has its problems and the problems arise from how people are living with one another. In the meantime, we are talking of this Nigeria where we are living in. There is Boko Haram, the government said they are going to bring it to an end at the end of last year, some of it is still there and if you are well experienced, you know that no trouble ends in one place and that is it; full stop! Something will linger. Now the Riverine people who live in the oil producing areas are having their trouble, they are called Avengers, I believe they are dealing with their problem as we see.
There is this loud cry for restructuring especially from the South, they are saying Nigeria should be restructured, but the North is saying no. What is your view with regard to restructuring Nigeria and why is the North afraid of restructuring?
I don’t agree that the North is afraid of restructuring. I don’t believe that even the people in the South want restructuring, but I believe every country has a problem at one time or another; some may be economic, some may be social. So every country has problems. The Americans are just having problems now with the black people and we thought the problem had been solved long ago. But the problems are arising.
The South Americans are having their problems with corruption and manipulation. So everybody has problems. Europe is having problems with immigrants from Asia, from Africa, from everywhere so which country does not have problem? If you have a problem, it is the duty of the leadership to solve the problem.
Professor Ben Nwabueze, an Elder Statesman said recently that north’s resistance can’t stop restructuring, what is your take on that?
Why should I reply him? He is old enough to know what this country was before. He is old enough to know what this country is like now and he is old enough to propose solutions to what he thinks are the problems we have now. Why should I bother to reply him? We have discussed with him several times and we don’t always agree, but we know how to live together.
So what is the way forward since the leadership has the responsibility to solve the problem but appears unable to find solution to it?
What I know as a person is that problems are there to be solved. When human beings live together, they have problems, it is their duty if they want to survive together to solve this problem. We were run by the colonialists from one country that negotiated with us and they left us with the problem of living together and we are trying to live together. So what is the wonderful thing about that?
It seems like we are not living together, but tolerating one another?
Living together means tolerating one another.
So we should continue to tolerate one another?
It depends on who is talking from my own point of view. As someone who has been to school, who learnt about how people live together, I know we have to tolerate how to live together and in fact I believe Nigerians are doing well.
Back to the earlier question of our forebears, is this the kind of Nigeria they had negotiated for?
It can’t be the same, they are not the people living here now, we are the people living here now and we are the people that are going to solve the problem now. The economy has changed since 1960 and people are changing and they have to learn how to cope with the change.
How can we tackle these issues that have continually led to agitation by the militants, IPOB, MASSOB and Boko Haram insurgents?
There was a time when the economy of this country was based on cocoa, groundnut, cotton, Palm oil and stuffs like that. Gradually oil came to take a dominant position and the agricultural production has changed and this government, at least I know since independence, Nigerian leaders have been trying to ensure that agriculture is revived so that the economy can still rely on agriculture in addition to oil.
So looking at solving the problems there will never be an end to this country not going to have problems. Britain is having problems, Europeans are having problems amongst themselves, Americans are having problems with the black people, a problem we thought had ended. So, these things never end, it is a question of life and survival. As long as you are alive and you are not the only one living in this world, you would have problem of how to live together with your neighbour, with your friends, with your relatives. So what are all the hullabaloo about?
This may have explained why there was the convocation of 2014 National Conference by former President Goodluck Jonathan who assembled who was who in Nigeria as delegates and came up with recommendations on how to tackle the problems confronting Nigeria as a country. Do you think that President Muhammadu Buhari should revisit the confab report and if he is to revisit it, what areas should he address?
The president has got his problems, handful of problems. He is to determine what is his priority, what is their business asking him to go back to 2014. Who was the president at the time of the confab? Goodluck Jonathan was the president and now it is Buhari who has got his problems to deal with.
But we see past, present and future governments as forming some kind of Continuum?
Government and life is about continuity. You want all the problems solved now?, then we are not being realistic. Okay become the president (challenging the reporter)
No one will bring me out as the President now…(the reporter responded which elicited laughter from him
That is your mistake, nobody is brought out, everyone has to bring himself out. If you want to be president, you should tell us, then we can consider you amongst others. If you wait until we call you, then you will never be called.
President Buhari’s government of change is more than one year now, in your view as former minister of various portfolios, former Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, former Editor, New Nigeria, among others, is this really a government of change?
It is Buhari you should ask now and not me.
What areas do you think President Buhari should address now that will make Nigerians happy?
In my view the president should involve all people in the government and he should consult them so that the problems of this country would be analyzed and dealt with. He has got his priorities and I don’t know what his priorities are. So what is the use of asking me when I don’t know what his problems are? Do you know his problems?
Nigeria and Nigerians’ problems are his problems.
You are giving me in a nutshell. It is just like Britain, Turkey or France or any other country. You see everyone or any country has got its problems and it is for the leaders to analyze the problems and sort them out so that the citizens would live together in a more peaceful and more convenient pattern of life.
To me, Nigeria, in spite of everything, isn’t doing badly. A lot of Nigerians are against corruption and against the things happening in the National Assembly but there are problems in Europe, problems in America, so everybody has problems. This corruption isn’t your own alone. This oil problem is not Nigeria’s alone. The president is just being persecuted for nothing, it is nothing new, but someone who has accepted the responsibility of leadership has to deal with these issues. He may take them the right way and solve them or he may take the wrong way and the problems remain.
Are you comfortable with the anti corruption war of the present administration especially against the backdrop that some people have alleged that it is selective, it is one sided and targeted at the people now in the opposition party, the PDP?
Take the meaning of corruption as an example, not everyone understands the same meaning of what corruption is and the truth is that corruption means different things and it takes a lot of effort to deal with the problem of corruption in all its varieties. So, it is not an easy thing, but basically the solution to corruption must rely with individuals. There are many people who, when they had the opportunity to take bribe, they would take it, but it is the man who can resist that can help solve the problem of corruption.
Since Buhari came, there have been mention of corruption in the military, in the office of the National Security Adviser, in NNPC, in all sorts of places and in politics. People have been taking bribe, people have been corrupting the system, has it stopped? Isn’t it now that people are talking about National Assembly? So it takes individuals to really resist corruption. If you many of the people who condemn corruption have their own chance to indulge in corruption they will do so.
Let me tell you something to be honest; I believe Buhari is one of the few people in this country who will not take government money and put it in his pocket. He will not divert government monies to enrich himself. Did you know before now that all these military leaders were sharing money amongst themselves?
You didn’t know, but no one has mentioned Buhari that he has ever taken money. I don’t want to be arrogant, but have you heard my name being mentioned amongst people that I have taken and shared money?. Didn’t I pass through the places where we had money? So I am able to tell you that it takes individuals to have the power to resist corruption.
A lot of these people that talk a lot, put them in position of responsibility and see how corrupt they will be. So, to me it begins from moral standards; who is morally correct to resist. I am sorry that we are talking about Northern Christians because these are the kind of things that make me not ready or willing to talk to people like you. Northern Christians are complaining that they want to break away from CAN or go back to Christian arrangement before British left.
The leader of CAN had an aircraft which was used to carry weapons from South Africa between him and the president of this country; the cash was stopped in South Africa. What kind of Christian leadership is this? What kind of Islamic leadership is this? What kind of political leadership is this?
It is not the normal way of dealing with money in international affairs and I can talk like this because I was the governor of the CBN. If the Christian leader in Nigeria doesn’t know how to deal with money internationally, then you have to provide your aircraft to carry money, it is only when he finishes that you can say he has succeeded. All these people talking now, we don’t know how they succeeded, we don’t know how they got the money, it is only a few that you can say how they got their money.
On Speaker Yakubu Dogara, the National Assembly, Constituency or Zonal Intervention Projects, and Budget Padding
Now Dogara says that padding is not an offence. What is an offence? If it is not in the law book but you should know morally that, that thing isn’t right. I was Minister of Finance from 1999 and I resigned in 2002 and then the members were talking about constituency projects and we told them look, what is constituency project, if you want something done by the government, then tell the government, put it in the budget so that it can become part of the one thing called budget. But we go round and round in circles ‘do this for my constituency’ what you are not spending on the states, you spend on the constituency of somebody. What kind of leadership is this?
So even as a leader, you have to look after the ordinary people. Now, you are making me say a lot of things that I didn’t want to say, but the truth is that individuals must resist bribery and corruption.
It means the National Assembly has a case to answer with regard to the issue of padding and even recently, former president Olusegun Obasanjo alleged that the lawmakers were criminals and thieves.
I will not describe it that way. I have talked to you about a lot of things in different ways and
you have got the answer to the question you are asking me now.
Your party, the PDP has been going through some political quagmire and only recently, members of the Board of Trustees, BoT of PDP visited you. What do you think led the PDP into these problems, what did you tell the BoT members and what is the way forward to end the crisis.
You ask me something you know!
view as a founding father of the party.My own view isn’t the solution and isn’t the issue. Everyone who lives in Nigeria knows what has happened to PDP and now PDP is the only issue. APC doesn’t exist, APC doesn’t appear to exist because PDP’s problems are overwhelming. Today PDP has to solve its problems, the problems of APC are going sky ward and we don’t even know how they deal with their problems.The reason PDP is still the problem is because, PDP is the only party that was created to serve everybody in this country, to solve the problems of this country, to produce leadership that was acceptable to everybody in this country and they succeeded from 1999. It was when they departed from the principles that they set up that the problems started. Once you stop dealing with the principles, the honesty and the fairness, then you will begin to have problems. When the present leaders go back to doing things in the right way, then they would be able to solve their problems. Then we would know what the problem of APC is, but at the moment we don’t know.
So you are saying if PDP solves its problem, then APC’s problem will manifest more? Can you identify some of the problems that APC is facing currently?
If you don’t try to solve your problem, you would live with it. If you try to solve it, you may succeed. Hope you understand me?
Did the PDP get it wrong by bringing in former governor of Borno State, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff to complete the tenure of the North East which Alhaji Bamanga Tukur started?
You are reducing the thing to small bits and individuals and I don’t want that. My view is that a party is an organisation that is intended to solve national problems, to deal with issues worrying the country. If they stop doing that, they get into trouble and in any case, there is no way you can have a party that will rule for over 10 years without problems. Everybody has problems, problem is problem of survival; how you live and how you survive. Everybody has got problems, but if you have a leadership that is handling the problem properly, they will succeed in dealing with the problems.
At least if they solve the problems and with the zoning of 2019 Presidency to the North, PDP is sure of winning?
No; I am not talking of that. We formed the party and they departed from some of the main principles and got into trouble. They lost the election, they had problems and if they do the right thing, they can solve the problem.
To do the right thing, to be honest, fair and just.
No! Society, individuals, organisations; as long as they are run by human beings, problem must arise. The problem there now is arising from some other things, so don’t expect that the CBN will not face problems. Government or NNPC, everybody, every organisation has problems for as long as they are alive. So it is the duty as a leader to solve the problem. Solving the problem is the duty of the leaders of the Central Bank now and don’t ask me because I am not there. Do you know since when I left central Bank? A very long time!
On a lighter mood, you are looking fit, you are a great Golfer, but what other secret do you have to share with the younger generation on how to keep young and fit?
I don’t keep young, I am 82 and by next year I would be 83 so I don’t remain young. What I try to do is exercise and I enjoy it. I started when I was editor of New Nigeria. I found out that the newspaper work was taking all my time and I said this is not possible and I must do something, hence I started playing golf and I am still playing golf and I enjoy it. But I am old. When you tell me this kind of story it doesn’t make any point with me. I know it is not true, I am getting older.
How do you know? I can’t see well and when I am walking, I limp.
You have spoken for almost an hour now, with your age, your memories still in order as you captured every moment, but some people go to school after three months and they fail exams.
It is their fault; they went to the wrong school. I went to the University of Ibadan in 1958, a long time ago. I went to one of the best universities. You know in those days University of London set up colleges in Sierra Leone, in Ghana, Uganda and everywhere. All those colleges were high standard colleges and I went to one of them; University of Ibadan and education means you open your mind, you learn how to do things, how to solve problems. University of Ibadan produced sound people in finance, banking, whatever.
You will be 83 next year. What would you tell younger Nigerians especially those that will be in position of leadership?
I don’t want to be rude to you. If people have not solved their problems, how could I tell people in future how to solve their problems when I don’t know what the problem is? Do you understand me? You can’t form problems for people who are not here yet. Do you know what the problems are? When I left the university, I was employed as administrative officer in the Northern civil service and I was posted to the office of the premier of Northern Nigeria; I was working directly with the Premier, the late Sarduana and I learnt this simple thing that I am going to tell you.
Sarduana was a big man and highly placed amongst the people. He was the Premier of Northern Nigeria just like Awolowo or Zik was and when Sarduana had problems, he called the people who were knowledgeable and laid the problem before them and asked them to help him solve the problem and the people from all parts of Northern Nigeria would discuss to find solution to the problem and they gave him the solutions.
He did not just sit there and say he was solving problems by himself; he consulted with the people and I learnt how important it is for leaders to consult their followers because there are many things the followers know that the leaders don’t know and if the leaders consult, then they get the benefit of their advice. If he doesn’t consult with them, they don’t go to him and so the leaders will have difficulty in solving the problem.
I wonder how they would know what the leader’s problem is and until he tells them his problems, they will not help him to solve it. This is why in fact I always tell people that Buhari should contact and consult more people.
If you are a leader, you have to confide in the people. You think something is not a problem, it is a problem to people. You think something is a problem, tell them and they will find a solution, but you have to learn this as a leader.