National President of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Dr Bitrus Pogu, has accused the British of introducing ethnicity and religion to politics in Nigeria, thereby creating a cog in the wheel of development of the country.
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the MBF leader noted fuel subsidy was a creation of fraudulent politicians.
Over 60 years of independence and over 50 years of civil war, why are ethnic and religious considerations still strong points in determining who gets what in this country?
It is unfortunate that many people, including you and I, have made wrong assumptions right from the onset. While Nigeria was under British rule before independence, the British had already created a dichotomy, which introduced religion and ethnicity in the formative years of the country we called Nigeria today. The British favoured the northern oligarchy, that is the Muslim north over other parts of the country before independence to the extent that even in 1957 and 1958, when the Willinks Commission was constituted to look at the plight of the northern minorities and southern minorities with a view to creating regions for them.
Reports that were disclosed after 50 years indicated clearly that there was a conspiracy among the colonial government, the Northern regional government and the Willinks Commission to ensure that no region was carved out of the north, so that the north would be favoured to take over the helms of affairs of Nigeria.
So, the northern minorities were used ab initio as a buffer to assist the north to be in control, though the census of 1958 or thereabouts indicated clearly that the Eastern Region and Berminda – by then it was one bloc – had the highest population followed by Western Region, and sadly following was the north, which included the Middle Belt area.
So, you can see that this issue of ethnicity and religion were established by the British even before independence, and at independence though the far north educationally and otherwise was disadvantaged, but everything was put in place to ensure that there was a dominating north in the whole equation, and the north that was aware of this situation thrived to ensure that this dichotomy is maintained all through this period.
Our brothers in the Middle Belt naively continued to toe the line of one monolith north, but the far north, the Muslim north has a different agenda and it was never like that. So, we have gone 60 years down the lane, religion and ethnicity were there at the beginning and they continued to manifest, and might continue to manifest unless we get a leader who will stamp his feet and say this is how things should be because even during the military regime, you can see the kind of constitution, which has a very strong northern Muslim undertone that was produced in 1999 under the supervision of General Abdusalam (retd), using Prof Awal Yadudu.
Ethnicity and religion were there before independence; they were there and practised and maintained by the far north, and naively, the Middle Belters were used as willing tools by the far north to achieve its objective. Today, whether it is the military, police or whatsoever, that manipulation seems to have gotten to the state where some elements from the north would now come and be lifted up on Nigeria to take total control. It is unfortunate that these are realities that are staring us in the face.
What do you think the President should do to bring unity to the country?
It is not for me to be his adviser. Mine is to say, let’s wait for the court because as far as I’m concerned, I don’t know who is eventually going to be the president because a lot of things that were unconstitutional were committed. And as far as I’m concerned, I’m still waiting for the rightful president to emerge through the court process. Some people have dismissed the court, but with the evidence coming out, I don’t think we can just wish away things like that.
However, setting up commissions here and there doesn’t solve the problem. The problem is change of behaviour by Nigerians. It is not the government that gave birth to Boko Haram, the Fulani herdsmen, militia that is killing people in the Middle Belt and in the south. It is Nigerians who want to dominate others by all means, using religion and ethnicity as tools. So whatsoever the president does, unless Nigerians are willing to be Nigerians and not to be Fulani, not to be Muslims, not to be Christians, not to be Kanuri, not to be Igbo, not to be Yoruba, not to be Middle Belters, etc, it won’t solve the problem. So, unless we all agree to be Nigerians because we are not yet a nation, we are just being patched up. Some people out there believe that they have Sharia, which is their main thing; some states in response to that says, theirs is a Christian state. Unless we all agree to be Nigerians and adhere to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, no commission, nothing will solve our problems because people fall for another constitution, which is different from the Nigeria constitution because they want to benefit from what it provides. Without the constitution, we are not one entity, but yet, both the one that wants to benefit and the one that wants to go by a different rule not by the constitution are the problem.
Tinubu is being applauded because of the reforms he is carrying out. What are your views?
I told you that the court will determine. However, what he has done so far seems to be more Nigerian than what Buhari has done. Fine and good, let’s wait and see what will become of this, whether he just wants to appease us, knowing that he has problem in the court so that he would get the sympathy of Nigerians. Some of the things he has done are good. If somebody does a good thing, you say it. In the same way, if somebody does what is bad, we say it. So, many of the things he has done are good. Many of the appointments he has made are also good; some of them have question marks because some of the characters have lot of baggage, but all the same let’s wait; time will tell. He as a person that was accused of so many things, including drugs. But people can repent and become even better people than those who have not done anything. Let us wait and see. What he has done, a lot of them are good, but there are a lot of things which need more tinkering here and there. You don’t lord fuel subsidy removal on people who cannot earn what can fuel their vehicles, and you say you have palliative. Which palliative?
So what is your view on the removal of fuel subsidy, because there are divergent opinions about it?
Nobody in Nigeria knows the truth about this fuel subsidy thing. I’m not a technical person. The crude oil is being extracted from our soil. Do you have to send it abroad, refine it and bring it back, and then use the international standard to determine what is ours, the price of fuel? This is our product. We killed our refineries deliberately. We were told that the money contributed or the shares bought by government in Dangote Refinery can even build a refinery. That means the government gifted that refinery to Dangote and now you slammed this money on Nigeria so that we pay and you remit to Dangote. When you look at government, and previous governments, you realise that we don’t love this country and we don’t love ourselves. We only want to impoverish people; torment people. Sometimes we even ask, what is the difference between democratic rule and civil rule? Are we being democratic? In what way? Has the government considered it the right thing to inform Nigerians, whose earnings, remunerations, salaries, etc can afford this kind of money on fuel and transportation?
I travelled home because a bosom friend of mine died last week, and to get to my village and come back, I spent up to N300, 000 on fuel. If I didn’t have this money, I wouldn’t have gone and it would have been better for me if I had to send N100, 000 to the person. But I ventured out and discovered that I was already in deep shit. It is terrible. Tell me how many people in this country earn up to N300, 000 in a month, which I spent on petrol just to travel to my village and come back? It’s a long journey. It is criminal, and nobody even knows the truth about the matter. This is our product and you are foisting on us international standard because you deliberately killed our refineries. It is unfortunate.
Why is it difficult for the anti-graft agencies to go after these people who are allegedly scamming the government and benefiting from the subsidy regime?
It is the government. Who is paying them? Is it not government? Anybody stealing our money through fuel subsidy, it is the government. The government is the one who determines and pays these people. Do we have to import fuel, which we extract locally? How much did Dangote spend to build that refinery? What is Nigeria’s budget every year? Is it too difficult to build new refinery or maintain the existing ones. It is just a fraud from the government and not from the so-called beneficiaries because the government determines who collects what and who gets paid. So the whole conspiracy is that we had and have bad leadership. I’m sorry to say this; many people castigated the late Gen Abacha and up till now still castigate him. When Abacha was in office, he was able to maintain a stable exchange rate, and even fuel price up till the time he died. Did he come from the moon? Those who were castigating him are today the people destroying this country. If Abacha could do it as a military Head of State, why couldn’t others do it?
How did this fuel subsidy come into our polity?
Fuel subsidy is a creation of fraudulent politicians and others who are benefiting from it. Unfortunately, the lifespan of majority of us is hardly beyond 70 years. Whatever one has accumulated would go down. Patriotism is lacking, we have people who come into politics just for making themselves richer than they were before. With this kind of development facing us, we cannot make progress. Look at the solid minerals, which the Chinese, who are all over, are taking out of this country. You ask yourself, how much have we made from solid minerals over these years? It is very minimal and very unfortunate. So many things are wrong. Our problem is bad leadership. When we have the right leaders, things will turn around and all these wrongs can be done rightly and then Nigeria will be better, which is what all of us are looking out for.
Some people are calling for Tinubu to probe Buhari. What is your position?
I’m not somebody who will say probe this and that. All I’m saying is that we had a bad government, and that bad government gave birth to Tinubu himself. So, whatever that is happening, Tinubu is the product of it. If it was a different political platform, we can say, but Tinubu himself is a product of what Buhari did. He didn’t appoint Prof Yakubu; it was Buhari who appointed him. Tinubu, whether he probes Buhari or people around Buhari like Godwin Emefiele, the former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, it is to me immaterial; they are all one and the same because they are both All Progressives Congress (APC) members. I’m not an advocate of probe here, probe there. What I’m saying is let us have good governance and let government work properly and let Nigeria develop. I hold similar view with the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, who asked, will he leave his shop and go running after thieves? He said he would rather take care of his shop for it to grow. People have messed things up. Many of them deserve to face the law. We have institutions out there, but whether they can do that is another thing. But the important thing is, let us have good government.
Curled from The Sun Newspaper…..