•Says Yoruba, Igbo have no reason to complain of marginalisation
Alhaji Lawal Kaita, former governor of Old Kaduna State whose tenure lasted just three months between October and December 1983 is one politician who does not sit on the fence on national issues. Having been around in politics for a long time, there is no gainsaying that he is one of the most respected voices in the Northern part of the country. Though a core believer in the unity of Nigeria, he does not pretend in defending the interest of the North. In 2011, for instance, when former President Goodluck Jonathan was warming up for the presidential election, the vocal politician who was then a prominent member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had cautioned that: “Anything short of a Northern President is tantamount to stealing our presidency. Jonathan has to go and he will go. Even if he uses his incumbency power to get his nomination on the platform of the PDP, he will be frustrated out…the North should not be blamed for the calamity that would befall Nigeria if Jonathan emerged as President.”
Currently, the elder statesman disagrees with the position of the Southern part of the country that Nigeria should be restructured. Among other issues in this interview with WILLY EYA, he was emphatic that Nigeria does not need any restructuring.
Nigeria recently clocked 57 years since her independence in 1960. As an elder statesman who has witnessed Nigeria literally grow from childhood to adulthood, if you sit down and reflect, what comes to your mind?
In the 57 years of her existence, Nigeria has progressed tremendously. We have improved and developed and we are among the leading nations in the world.
Accepted that Nigeria has recorded improvements in several areas, but are you not also worried about the level of challenges it has faced and it is still facing now?
The worst and troubling challenge that we have faced so far since independence was the Nigerian- Biafran civil war, which we fought with our blood and we crushed it. We are now 57 and we are facing a smaller challenge from the same people, the Igbo again. We have faced so many apparent changes of governments through coup d’états and we have survived all of them.
How do you feel that after 50 years of the civil war that agitations are still coming from the same people? Don’t you think that maybe the Nigerian state has not adequately addressed the problem which the Igbo have been agitating for?
I can say that a small minority within the Igbo feels marginalized in their own expectations of Nigeria. But we the majority of Nigerians do not think that the Igbo are marginalized. They are everywhere and are doing well in commerce, business and so on. They have no reason whatsoever to agitate; they are agitating for what?
What is dominating public discourse today is the issue of restructuring even though there is no consensus on whether the nation actually needs it at this point in time. There does not seem to be an agreement between the Southern part of the country and the North on this matter. What is your perspective of the argument?
My own position is that Nigeria does not need any restructuring. I do not think Nigeria needs any restructuring.
But having existed for 57 years, don’t you think it is high time the structure of the country is amended to suit the realities of the time considering that after all, the only thing permanent in life is change.
Tinkering with the constitution is not restructuring. It may be part of it, but you do not have to restructure Nigeria. And I ask you what is restructuring. If you say restructuring, what do you mean?
In Nigeria today, restructuring means different things to different people. To some, it is true federalism in terms of resource control. To others like the position of the South West, it is a return to full regionalism. The East is also calling for true federalism and so on. But the agreement in all of these perspectives is that something needs to be done to the present structure. Don’t you think so?
I was part of the constitutional conference where we advocated for the presidential system and we voted against the parliamentary system.
But don’t you think that Nigeria should be doing better than she is doing now?
That is another angle to the question and I am not prepared to discuss that.
Do you agree with those who insist that the North is reluctant to support the call for restructuring because they are benefitting from the existing structure?
No, how can I agree with that? What other benefits does the North get from the present structure that others are not getting? As far as I am concerned, the North is not benefitting anything. What is the North gaining?
A typical example is the skewed number of local governments in favour of the North where the old Kano State, which includes the present Kano and Jigawa has 77 local governments, whereas Lagos State with its population has only 20. Considering that the federal allocations are shared among the three tiers of government, don’t you agree that this structure unduly favours the North?
I was a governor of Kaduna State for three months and I created new local governments out of the existing 17 or so then. Why did the governor of Lagos not create more to the number he wants?
Even though Lagos created new local governments, they are not recognized by the constitution and so do not get any allocation from the Federal Government.
Why don’t they receive an allocation and why are they not recognized by the constitution? The highest revenue earner is the federal government, Lagos and those states that produce the oil. They are the highest revenue earner. The North does not get much in terms of revenue allocation.
Your tenure as the civilian governor of Kaduna State was short-lived and just for three months following the coup by the then military government under President Muhammadu Buhari. What do you think was the effect of that coup to our democracy today?
Without the truncation of that republic, Nigeria would have been much better. If democracy was allowed to flourish from that time till now, Nigeria would have been better than it is now. Nigeria would not have been where it is today. I was a governor, but they removed us for nothing.
There is this argument, which comes up once in a while that the era of one United North is over. The validity of the argument finds expression in the ongoing debate for restructuring where the Middle Belt is aligning more with the South than with the core North. Will the North ever regain its unity like it used to be in the past?
The North cannot be as united as it used to be but the division is not as much as people talk about it. We in the North still understand one another very well.
Do you agree with the perception that the power elite in the North is too selfish considering the level of poverty in the region despite having dominated the nation’s leadership since independence?
I cannot say that and I do not believe what you are saying.
How do you compare the calibre of politicians of old and the ones we have today in terms of commitment to the public interest?
When you talk of Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, they are much superior to the class of politicians we have today. Honestly, they are much better than us. You cannot compare Ahmadu Bello who ruled the whole North with the politicians of today. He died without anything. He had no money. (The Sun)