Senator Adamu Aliero was governor of Kebbi State between 1999 and 2007. He was later appointed as Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. He is presently the Senate Committee Chairman on Customs. He explains, in this interview, why he supports the pro-Biafra protesters but disapproves of their break-away plan. Aliero says importation of rice must remain banned and describes the present revenue sharing formula as unconstitutional.
You once said you don’t support the pro-Biafra protesters action but they have the right to protest. How did you mean?
I believe in unity of Nigeria and in its indivisibility. For that, I am against the agitation for the sovereign state of Biafra. However, they have every right to protest. If there are genuine complaints or grievances, there is nothing wrong in people coming out to express their feelings. If there are genuine grievances, either in representation in the appointments at the federal level or any organs of the government for that matter, you can come out and forward such to government. And government is duty-bound to address it. But without exhausting that avenue, you start agitating for succession, or break up of the country, I don’t think Nigerians will support that. I saw a situation during the last National Conference, where people came out with a determined position, an agenda which they were bent to push through which , of course, could have led to the break up of the country. But, when we started talking, we came to an agreement that Nigeria must remain an indivisible entity, irrespective of our grievances. We have more to gain by living together than breaking up. Nigeria is better as a united country. It will be more prosperous, more attractive for foreign investors, than breaking up and each of the units tries to survive on its own. I don’t believe in that. I believe in being my brother’s keeper. God in His own wisdom brought us together through the instrumentality of colonialism. And we have come to love each other. Of course, there would be disagreement here and there. Even between man and wife, there are disagreements, but you sit down and dialogue. This is what I believe should happen. And for that reason, the agitation for Biafra is belated. It happened in the 60s. You cannot take us back to that era. We need to move ahead.
But part of the grievances is that the Igbo are not well represented at the national level?
I don’t want to believe that statement. Who is the Deputy Senate President? He is from the East. The oil minister is from that region.
Some people have rebutted it that the oil minister is not from a core Igbo state?
If you are talking of Biafra, and to my understanding, it consists of the South- East and South- South. May be you were too young to know what Biafra was in the 60s. Ibe Kachikwu is from Delta State. If you look at the composition of government, you will find out that there is the preponderance of the Igbo extraction in it. It is wrong to say the Igbo are not represented at the national level. There is Ogbonaya Onu, a fine gentle man and of very high integrity, there in the cabinet. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Commerce, are they not Igbo? The Constitution has made it mandatory for the President to have a minister from each of the states of the federation and President Buhari has complied with that provision of the law.
Development should ordinarily take place more at the state and local levels, yet, the Federal Government gets the biggest in terms of revenue allocation. How can this be addressed?
To be honest with you, revenue allocation issue has always been a contentious issue. Since the restoration of democracy in 1999, we have never had an acceptable revenue allocation. The organ responsible for the sharing of revenue allocation is the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission which determines the revenue formula, that is after consideration of all the variables from stakeholders. Twice, they came with the formula which was presented to the President and, the first time the formula was sent to the National Assembly, it mysteriously disappeared. The second attempt, they came up with another allocation formula and presented to the National Assembly for ratification.
I was governor for eight years and I know how much suffering we went through under President Olusegun Obasanjo. We tried at that time to come out with a revenue allocation formula that is truly representative but our efforts were thwarted. So, there is really no revenue sharing formula that is constitutionally acceptable because, if the formula did not pass through the National Assembly, then it is not constitutionally right. If the President makes adjustment and passes it on to the Minister of Finance today, it may not be acceptable to everybody because even the formula in use today has no constitutional backing. The National Assembly did not approve the present revenue sharing formula.
Some people argue that the little allocation to the states is not judiciously used?
It all depends on the state. I can talk about myself. When I was governor, the little my state was getting was prudently used. I was able to execute a number of projects that have impacted on the lives of the people. And I guess that is why I am still relevant in the politics of the state more than nine years after leaving office. I impacted both economically band infrastructure wise on the state. We reformed the education sector, we ensured that potable water was in all nooks and crannies of the state. We built a number of roads including some federal roads that were rehabilitated, though we were reimbursed later. We built the only airport and university in the state. Hospitals were built. Over 700 towns and villages were connected to the national grid. We made an indelible mark while in office. So, it depends on each state. To generalise that governors were misapplying their allocation is not correct. It is not fair. There is an exception to the rule. There are obviously some governors who misused their allocation but not everybody.
The only source of the nation revenue, crude, which price has crashed in the international market. Apart from oil, in what other ways can we diversify our economy such that we would reduce the over dependence on crude?
I am one of those who believe strongly that we must diversify our economy. Perhaps we are the only OPEC member- nation that failed to do that. It is true that we misused our oil revenue. We should have used oil money to develop our agricultural potentials. A number of things could have been done with the oil revenue to mobilise people to embrace agriculture as a way of life and also as a revenue generating venture. I think by now if we had done this, large scale farmers capable of cultivating from between 2,000 and 5,000 hectares of rice, sugar ,cocoa, cotton, livestock would have emerged. But instead, we started using oil money to import all sorts of rubbish. Things we were exporting ,we started importing .
Malaysia in the 60s came here to get seedlings for palm kennel. 20 years after, we started importing from them, and up till now we are still importing and even smuggled it atimes. We were exporting cotton to Europe in the 60s and 70s, but now we are importing textiles from China and India. For example, in the 60s, we didn’t know anything like imported rice. We were relying on locally produced rice. Suddenly, we started bringing rice from Thailand, Vietnam, even from America. We have to come to the basics. We were living in fool’s paradise. And that made all of us lazy. Those that were not lazy became complacent. In my view, the only way out is to go back to agriculture, rely on what we have locally.
We have to do backward integration. This country is well endowed. We have a very good climate. We have fertile soil. We have able men and women that can work and feed ourselves and even export. I think once we do this, we can get our economy diversified. Solid minerals, to me, will be a good area of diversification. Nigeria is richer than South Africa in the area of solid minerals. We are three times richer than South Africa. This is what the United Nations investigation revealed. We have all sorts of minerals. There is no state in the country that does not have one mineral or the other. The only thing we should start dong now is the exploration and exploitation.
I think we can be better off if we can do this. South Africa earns 30 billion dollars from solid minerals, and we are richer than South Africa. If we can start exploration to the fullest, I think we can get up to 90 billion dollars per annum. That kind of money can do a lot of things for this country. ICT is another area of diversification. Look at India, it is now a net exporter of ICT technology. We were at par with India at a time especially in the 50s up to the 70s. What went wrong with us? Is it the political will that our leaders do not have? Is it that we are indisciplined? There has to be a change. Happily, the current president has been talking about change and I sincerely hope that, within the next four years, he would get this country back on its tracks. He got it back on the right tracks in the 80s when he was a military President and, with the kind of National Assembly he has now, he would be able to get Nigeria on track to the promised land.
You raised a motion on the floor of the Senate on the ban lifted on the importation of rice. What exactly is your grouse?
The motion was raised in our national interest. At one time, rice was being brought through the border, via Cotonou port. First, the importer would pay duty at Cotonou. After that payment, he would pay port charges before loading in the truck. On reaching border, what normally happens is that, with the connivance of the Customs Service, this truck comes into Nigeria without payment of duty. No genuine business man will import rice through Cotonou port, pay duty at Cotonou, and come to pay import duty in Nigeria, and still pay 300k per truck to bring the goods into Nigeria. If he does that, he would lose a lot of money.
So, once they get to the border, the goods slip into the country without paying duty. That is why we are against the idea of bringing rice through the border. Nigerian Customs has no infrastructure to monitor the movement of these trucks, small vehicles coming into our border area. But if they bring it through the port, the whole ship load will berth within the Nigerian ports. The Customs officers will know how much tonnage, know price per tonne; so, it will be easier to collate the import duty the ship load will pay. The NPA and the shipping company will collect their charges. The dockworkers will have work to do. The freight forwarders will have something to do.
But if you bring it through the border, it is the other country that will take advantage. Once these goods come into our border without paying duty, Nigeria automatically becomes a dumping ground. Substandard goods will follow suit. Again, as I said earlier, it is not all the routes taken by smugglers the Customs will know; so, by the time they bring these goods into our border, a lot of other things like substandard goods will follow, crime will follow. Meanwhile, if we should allow it to continue, our farmers will not get market for what they produce. If that happens, their equipment becomes useless as it becomes redundant. Automatically, there will be loss of the jobs that we are saying are not available. Again, the danger of that is that we may even be taking toxic rice into the country.
So, ultimately, we are the ones harming our economy, while we are empowering the other economies where these goods are coming from. I am sure the Comptroller General got it wrong. And we the Senate insist that if we are all talking about national interest, the policy should be reversed. And if it is not reversed, it certainly works against our national interest, because that would make us heavily dependent on foreign rice, millet and others. If things are done properly by bringing everything through our ports, there will be some level of certainty on the revenue coming into the purse of government.
The former Minister of Agriculture did a lot. Perhaps he was the best performing Minister in the cabinet of Dr Goodluck Jonathan. He worked so hard that the farmers, millers and business men in agric business in all the geo- political zones attested to his performance. Fertilizer issue, which hitherto was shrouded in secrecy, became very open such that it was reaching the farmers directly. As a result, a lot of farmers got empowered such that people started getting employment and the restiveness started going down. I think the present Minister of Agriculture will have to continue and improve from where the former Minister stopped. The idea is that this country should not be importing any kind of goods into this country
There are still frayed nerves in Kebbi as a result of the last elections which some have attributed as the reason why a cabinet is yet to be constituted in the state.
I wanted to bring everybody together as far back as 2011. Unfortunately, the election (that brought Dakingari to power) was flawed. If the election was held at the time it was initially planned, he would not have been governor in 2011. The postponement of the election really demoralized the then CPC supporters. I have been in politics for more than 20 years, but the best time of my life in politics was when I was in CPC. We actively mobilised the people of Kebbi to go in one direction. And they did. Unfortunately, the election was marred by a lot of irregularities, making CPC to lose, election. However, as God would have it, we were asked to return to PDP; we did, conditionally. And those conditions, unfortunately, were not met. And when we saw the opportunity of bringing our people into APC, we brought all of them to the party. The few ones adamant in PDP, we told them that they would not win the election.
As, through the assistance of Allah, we were able to form the government in Kebbi State. Since then, we have been trying to carry every one along, regardless of political affiliation. Once elections are over, governance takes over. You are now a statesman. You are governor for everybody. I think the governor is doing just that. We as his advisers back him very strongly to continue on that. The issue of commissioners will soon be a thing of the past as we have discussed the issue, consultations have been made with all the stakeholders, very soon the list will be with the state assembly. I agree that it has been delayed, quite honestly, but everything is now on course.
Once the cabinet is done, we shall then continue with the process of reconciliation, harmonising the various interests and finding the various forces in order to move the state forward. However, I am not promising you that we would get everybody into APC. We still need opposition, because without opposition, there will be no democracy. What is important is to get comfortable majority so that you will be able to execute your programmes and projects that will touch the lives of the people and the people will be endeared to you.tweet Follow @@metrolens1