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  • Whether we like it or not, restructuring is inevitable – Rear Admiral Mike Onah (retd)
  • Rear Admiral Mike Onah retired as Chief of Naval
    Accounts and Chairman of Military Pension
    Board in 2004. Since then, Onah has joined
    forces with people of like-minds to move Nigeria
    forward. The National President of Ndokwa
    Leaders Political Forum, in this interview, speaks
    on the state of the nation, saying only lazy
    states are afraid of restructuring.
    It has been 18 years of unbroken democracy in
    Nigeria. How do you assess the growth of
    democracy against the back drop that this has
    never happened before?
    It is a good omen for our democracy. Although
    there have been trials and challenges within the
    period, we thank God that democracy has
    endured – what this shows is that we are
    maturing as a nation. Life is about give and
    take, nobody is perfect.
    My belief is that as we march on in our
    democratic journey, we should be tolerant of
    one another, I mean the government and the
    governed. If we can tolerate one another, we will
    be able to avoid pitfalls of governance. God has
    also been on our side. We have moments where
    democracy has been threatened but God has
    been kind to us to enable us weather those
    storms.
    There is no system that is 100 percent perfect,
    just as nobody is perfect. Only God is perfect.
    What this means is that we should strive to play
    the game according to the rules. Our leaders
    should strive to serve diligently. Service is about
    giving your best to the people who reposed
    confidence in you by electing you to serve them,
    but, unfortunately, some of our political leaders
    are selfish and self-serving. Such politicians
    should, however, remember that they were put
    in office to serve the people, and not to indulge
    in self-service. It is unfortunate that some
    politicians have come to view public office as an
    avenue to amass ill-gotten wealth rather than to
    serve the people.
    What’s your assessment of the last two years
    since power changed hands at the centre, with
    APC now in control of the Federal Government?
    What people should remember is that before
    APC took over power, the country was in bad
    shape, and Nigeria is a very big country with
    equally big problems; so people should be fair
    to APC. You can’t blame the party for Nigeria’s
    problems. The party inherited a lot of problems
    which I believe government has been doing its
    best to address, and this cannot be done
    overnight.
    Nigerians since take a large chunk of the blame
    for the present situation we find ourselves in. We
    Nigerians are greedy and selfish. We don’t know
    how to manage ourselves. Corruption is the
    major problem facing us as a nation.
    How do you assess the Buhari government fight
    against corruption?
    This government has been successful in the
    fight against corruption. Corruption has been
    put in check. I’m not saying that we have
    completely eliminated corruption, but at least it
    has been put in check. Today, the fear of Buhari
    and the EFCC is the beginning of wisdom.
    Although some people might say not many
    people have been jailed for corruption, the mere
    fact that these looters are being caught and
    exposed is a big disgrace. I believe that sooner
    or later, we will have people being sent to jail
    for corruption. You know this is a
    democratically elected government, so due
    process must be followed, but I’m very sure
    that these looters will not be spared.
    Buhari has done well in this area of fighting
    corruption. He should be given his due in this
    regard. What Buhari is doing in fighting
    corruption and trying to restore financial sanity
    in our polity, no government has ever done that
    before.
    Exposing looters is commendable. Like I said
    earlier, Nigeria is a very big country with big
    problems. My expectation of Buhari is that he
    should prioritise his programme. He should not
    try to resolve many problems at the same time.
    Which areas would you like him to give
    attention?
    Power is the first. Power is the key to many
    problems facing us in this country. If there is
    steady power supply, a lot of things that are
    dead or comatose will be revived. Industries
    that almost dead will come back to life. Even
    small scale businesses will bounce back to life;
    welders, hair-dressers, barbers and other small
    scale business operators that constitute a large
    part of our population will have something
    doing. So, to me, fixing the power sector should
    be given top priority by the Buhari
    administration. As the saying goes, where there
    is a will, there will always be a way. Although
    the administrations before him failed to fit power
    sector, I believe strongly that Buhari can do it.
    Is it not a big shame that with our population
    estimated at about 170 millions, Nigeria, the
    acclaimed giant of Africa, can’t generate up to
    4,000 megawatts of power supply whereas
    South Africa, with far lesser population, is
    generating 40,000 megawatts power supply? So,
    what is the problem with Nigeria? The power
    sector is an area Buhari must address with
    vigour just like he is doing with corruption.
    Is that all or …?
    Buhari should be commended in the area of
    security especially for dealing with the Boko
    Haram insurgency, but there are other areas
    relating to security which he must address
    quickly. Among others, you have kidnapping and
    armed robbery on the increase in some parts of
    the country. Kidnappers and cultists are on the
    rampage, and are having a field day in some
    parts of the country. You also have the
    herdsmen issue which has become a source of
    national concern – Buhari must find ways to
    resolve the herdsmen’s attacks on their host
    communities. Something has to be done quickly
    to avert the herdsmen issue snowballing into a
    bigger crisis capable of threatening the
    corporate existence of this country.
    Restructuring Nigeria has tcontinued to be on
    the front burners?
    If Nigeria is to move forward and advance as a
    nation, we have to restructure. Restructuring is
    very important. We can’t continue the way we
    are going. True federalism is the way out for us.
    What we have in Nigeria today is what I will
    describe as federalism in theory, but unitary
    system in practice. This is why things are not
    working. The fear of those opposed to
    restructuring that some states will not survive if
    we restructure, but that fear is unfounded.
    Are you saying the fear is not justified?
    The bitter truth is that many states have become
    lazy, they have become comfortable with the
    monthly allocation they collect in Abuja such
    that they are no longer keen to exploit the
    natural resources available in the states for
    financial purpose.
    From my studies at the National Institute of
    Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Jos, every
    state in Nigeria is blessed with natural resources
    to sustain herself. The problem with Nigerians is
    that we are lazy. People are comfortable with the
    monthly allocation from crude oil sales. But do
    these Nigerians know that one day oil wells can
    dry up? What do they fall back upon in order to
    get money to run their states when that time
    comes? In fact, our over dependence on oil as a
    mono-product economy is very unfortunate. We
    should have given attention to tapping the
    natural resources in other parts of the country.
    Now, look at how many states are in a mess
    following the crash of oil price. As a result of the
    drop in oil revenue, many states can no longer
    meet their financial obligations. Many of them
    are owing civil servants and pensioners, whereas
    if there are mineral resources we are tapping
    apart from oil, when oil price crashed, we
    wouldn’t have been feeling its biting effects as
    we are experiencing it now.
    What is your advice to those who have mixed
    feelings about restructuring?
    We have enough mineral resources to sustain
    every state but it is unfortunate that free oil
    money has made them to become very lazy.
    Our over dependence on oil as our only source
    of revenue is not good. It is not a healthy
    development for our economy. We should
    return to agriculture – I remember with
    nostalgia those good olden days of the First
    Republic and the pre-independence era when
    different regions of the country were renown for
    the cultivation of different agricultural products
    on a large scale. The South-West was renown
    for cocoa and palm oil, The North renown for
    cultivating cotton and also famous for the
    groundnut pyramid in Kano, while in the South-
    East and South-South, you had palm oil and
    rubber being cultivated.
    Then Nigeria was making a lot of money from
    the export of these agricultural products, but
    when crude oil was discovered in large
    commercial scale, we abandoned these
    agricultural products for easy money. It is better
    for us to return to the roots. We need to
    diversify our economy. Diversification of the
    economy is one of the keys to solving the
    multifarious challenges facing us as a nation.
    The presidential system of government which we
    practise has been described as expensive by
    some people. Do you agree?
    That’s very true. The type of government we
    practise is very expensive. The presidential
    system consumes a lot of money. A lot of
    money is spent on elected officials and other
    public office holders with little or no money left
    for development.
    Under the system of government, you have
    duplication of offices both at the federal, state
    and local government levels and you have
    thousands of officials collecting jumbo pay. I
    don’t think the presidential system is the best
    for us. We need to reduce the cost of
    governance in the country.
    Some Nigerians have suggested that President
    Buhari should take a look at the
    recommendations of 2014 National Conference
    organized by his predecessor, Dr Goodluck
    Jonathan, in finding solutions to the nation’s
    problem. What is your take?
    Whatever step that will bring us peace is
    welcome. There is nothing bad in Buhari taking
    some portions from Jonathan’s Confab Report
    and even Obasanjo’s National Confab of 2005 of
    which I was a member. It is better to jaw-jaw
    than to war-war. Buhari should set up a
    committee to look into the 2005 and 2014
    confab reports and subsequently take portions
    or sections which will help move Nigeria
    forward.
    There is no time to waste. We can’t continue
    like this. We are sitting on a keg of gun powder
    which can explode anytime. Let’s all come
    round the table and discuss in a harmonious
    way how we can move this nation forward. The
    time has come for Nigerians to jettison all forms
    of ethnic jingoism, unpatriotic acts and other
    things which are inimical to the growth of
    Nigeria.

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