Alhaji Muhammed Mera the Emir of Argungu, a first class monarch in Kebbi state and foremost traditional ruler in Nigeria. In this exclusive interview conducted by OLANREWAJU LAWAL warned that Nigeria risks another devastating civil war if the calls for the country’s break up are not halted. He said the nation is better off as one entity. He details things Nigerians need to do to sustain unity and avoid the consequences of a divided the nation.
Your Royal Highness, what’s your message to Nigerians on the country’s 59th independence anniversary?
First and foremost, I want to congratulate all of us for witnessing this 59th anniversary. I want us to work harder to address the issue of our disunity. It is my prayer that all of us would channel our energy to ensure that this country continues to survive despite our challenges. We should all remember that our forefathers fought gallantly, sincerely to actualise this freedom we are celebrating today. Therefore, we must protect, guide this unity, one nation with our minds and sustain it for our children, and unborn generations.
How would you assess the journey so far; are we getting better or worse than the past?
In my opinion, Nigeria has gone a long way. I am almost as old as this country and if I reflect, looking back into how we started, I must say here that as a Nigerian, we have recorded tremendous achievements and progress compared to our peers in Africa.
Just 30 years ago, not a single district head in Argungu Emirate has electricity. No single district head was connected to towns by tarred roads. No single district head had a tap water. But today, all these social and basic amenities are present in all these district heads now. In fact, in 1975, Argungu only has one secondary school. Today, we are having more than six public secondary schools and many private secondary schools including private and public primary schools. In Kebbi State today, we are having two universities, two polytechnics, Colleges of education spread across the four Emirates. Recently, the College of Agriculture in Zuru was upgraded to University of Agriculture. These are some of the landmark achievements we have recorded and these also spread to other States.
Again, if you look at the number of graduates we have produced in Nigeria, this country has done well compared to our peers in Africa. Our main problem is that, we don’t reflect on our past, analyse it and see how we can develop rapidly. In my candid opinion, Nigeria has really progressed in the last 59 years.
Sir, you keep mentioning Nigeria’s peers in Africa, can you mention few countries we are better off on the continent?
If you travel to other African countries, you will be shocked with the level of underdevelopment. It is then, as a Nigerian, you will appreciate our level of development. I was in East Africa two months ago, the kind of roads network we have here in Nigeria is not in existence there. Nigeria is far ahead of many African countries and I think we should congratulate ourselves. The only thing that remains now is to work harder to achieve more.
In 59 years, would you say our leaders have met the dreams of Nigeria’s founding fathers like Sardauna, Zik and Awo?
Yes, these Nigeria’s past heroes wanted to see us as one nation and remain united. So, we have been able to achieve this, which is a great achievement. These patriotic Nigerians also laid a good foundation for education, economy and other sectors so that as a nation we can survive. Yes, we are still surviving.
We cannot compare our present status with the nation’s situation in 1965 before we got into civil war and when the war ended. I think our problem is that we lack a sense of history. Because of that, we always like to write off our leaders and their achievements. In a nutshell, we have sustained the visions of our past heroes despite passing through turbulent periods in this country. Our founding fathers would be happy wherever they are that we are still surviving as a nation.
Our founding fathers introduced free education. Do you think we are still keeping the policy?
I think free education is a political gimmick. It is very expensive to implement good and quantitative education considering our population now. Where good education is given, it is not free. We didn’t plan very well before we adopted free education and that is where we derailed. We declared free education for all when our population was fewer than 120 million. When we were agitating for this, we didn’t plan for the number of teachers, classrooms, schools, teachers’ accommodation and other facilities required to sustain this programme before our population exploded.
That is why our education sector is in crisis. I could remember vividly, I went to public school here in Argungu and I could write a letter to anybody who sought my service. Any day I did not do this for anybody, they would take it to another person and they could read it, and understand it because the teachers that taught us then had passion for education, and the teaching profession. But today, all manner of people are joining the teaching profession not because they have a passion for it but to secure a job. So, the recruitment of all sorts of people as teachers in our schools must stop.
In those days, when teachers were posted to rural and urban areas, accommodation was awaiting such teachers. Today, teachers are facing a lot of challenges. If examination were set for pupils in those days, the process would be judiciously followed to the letter. There was no short cut. Even after passing your examination, you will still be subjected to oral interview in secondary schools, teacher’s colleges. Today, many schools were constructed across Nigeria without teacher’s quarters. So, this is the bane of education in Nigeria.
What do you think is holding Nigeria back from attaining her full potential?
We love ourselves more than this country. People have loyalty to their ethnic groups, villages, States and leave the nation in isolation. Unless we address this issue, we cannot attain our full potential. We must work together, put the nation first before our tribes, our villages, States or religions. For the survival of this country, the unity of this nation, we must put the nation first.
Secondly, bad leadership is another challenge. Our leaders always discontinue laudable projects or policies of their predecessors. Every leader wants to introduce new projects and policies and that is costing Nigeria a lot. So lack of continuity is affecting us.
We need to build our institutions, allow all arms of government to operate independently, let them perform their duties as enshrined in our constitution. For example, a Commissioner of Police must not be receiving orders from State governors. The same thing with Immigration, Customs Service and local government agencies.
What is your view on the agitation for local government autonomy in Nigeria?
Local Government Councils were initially created to be independent and it was written in our constitution. But what made this arrangement to fail was lack of sincerity, lack of accountability and immaturity among the Council executives. It is a pity that they have derailed. In the past, when we had Native Authority, nobody could steal public fund. It was on record that many leaders of Native Authority were remanded in prison for stealing money not up to today’s N5, 000. But today, once somebody becomes Chairman of Local Government, within three months, he would build mansion, riding luxurious cars and nobody questions them.
Would you say the traditional institution has played its role in the unity and security of lives in Nigeria?
Yes, we played our role to maintain unity and security in this country. In the constitution of Nigeria today, the traditional rulers were not given any role to play. No role allotted to us. Our roles originated from our forefathers, which we inherited from them. Our roles are embedded in our norms, tradition and customs hundred years ago before the creation of Nigeria.
I do sit down in my palace here from morning till evening to settle different issues except criminal cases. We always refer any criminal case to the police for proper investigation. When it comes to security, no security agency has the strength of our tentacles. If Nigeria’s security agencies could fully tap from our potential, their intelligence gathering would be very strong. Let me give you one example of how our role could bring peace in this country. A case was referred to me from High Court about six years ago and we settled it. All the parties are living in peace and harmony with each other now because they were satisfied with our decision. That is how traditional institutions could bring peace in our country because we know our people more than any security agency.
Your emirate and indeed Kebbi seem relatively immune from the security challenges of Boko Haram, kidnapping and banditry ravaging parts of the north, what do you think is responsible?
When the insurgence was at its peak, government and security agencies had good synergy with the traditional rulers in the state. That is why we recorded relative peace in the state. We have direct lines of communication with all the stakeholders concerned and we give information freely without any barrier. If DSS, Police or other agencies arrest any suspect, they would contact us. And we do the same if we suspect any body. In short, we don’t make any publication when we make any arrest and I think that contributed a lot to the peace we are enjoying in the state. And I would recommend this kind of synergy to other states and the Federal Government as part of measures to curb crimes in our country.
Of recent, there have been calls for Nigeria’s break up, restructuring, return of presidency to south in 2023 and counter claims. As a foremost royal father whose opinion counts, what do you make of this and how do we escape crisis ahead of the next general election?
I am not a constitutional lawyer or politician. Whatever restructuring would take place in this country, my sincere advice is that we are better off to remain one Nigeria than divided into pieces. I keep on telling my friends in the South- East, South-South regions of Nigeria that it will be a sad day for me whenever any one of them would have to collect visa before they could visit me. There is strength in number, unity. We are over 150 million now in term of our population and there was a forecast that before end of this century, Nigeria’s population would exceed 300 million making us the most populous nation behind China and Indian.
If you look around the world today, the most successful nations are those with highest population. Like I said, our problem is that we are not patient with our leaders. Just imagine, if Igbo break away, how many land space do they have? The same thing with Yoruba, the same thing with us in the Northern region.
Every part of this country has something to offer to other regions. We are better the way we are now. Whatever our grievances are, let us embrace dialogue and address our differences. Whenever I hear our people are agitating for Biafra here, another region calling for break up, I feel sad.
We must not forget what happened to Albania, Yugoslavia, and others when they separated into seven nations. Their country was the most vibrant nation in Europe in term of economy. But today, they are small nations with inadequate resources to cater for their citizens. This should be a big lesson to us. If we break up, all of us would suffer for it, because we have many ethnic groups and tribes across the country. If we were separated today, each of these ethnic groups would start rising against each other, waging supremacy war. May God forbid, that would be the beginning of civil war. Instead, we should continue to pray for our leaders, unite for the country’s survival and development.
What do you think government should do to stop these break up agitations?
We need to fully tap our potential. We were made to understand that Zamfara state is the richest state in Nigeria in term of gold deposits. Have we fully utilized this potential? Also Kebbi state is blessed with gold and other mineral resources. In fact, each state across Nigeria has two or more natural resources that could change the economy of this country for better. We were also told that there are large deposits of gas in the Northeast. Let us bring all these potentials out, utilise them and I am optimistic that all these threats of breaking away, restructuring and others would be history in our country.
If you meet President Buhari one on one today, what will you tell him about things you think he doesn’t know are happening to Nigerians?
I don’t think President Muhammadu Buhari does not know what is happening in Nigeria. He has his ears across Nigeria; our problem is that we are not patient and not organized.
What is your take on the borders closure?
I love it because this is what I have been advocating for many years now. I think these borders should remain closed as long as our action is in accordance with agreement with other Africans countries. You see, our neighbouring countries are not helping us and they know that their country’s economy solely depend on Nigeria. Countries like Niger, Benin, Cameroon and Chad are relying on our patronage. Though Niger Republic is my cousin but we cannot treat any of them in isolation. They should listen to our demands and requests, until they follow what we want, all these borders should remain closed.
Do you think Nigeria’s political leaders have been fair to the development of the north?
Like I said, every politician, when they come on board into political office, all they wanted to do is to introduce new programmes and policies. We lack the political will to enforce policy of continuity and that has been a major factor that is creating setback for us.
Why do you think there’s so much poverty and insecurity in parts of the north?
Poverty by definition depends on the level individual views it. We must not be using other nation’s yardsticks to measure poverty in Nigeria. If you think you are poor, that means you are poor. I received a team from EU recently in Argungu and they were complaining of poverty, poverty, and poverty. To address their curiosity, I took them to one village called Gary. When they interacted with women, they asked them how much of money would they need to remove them from poverty level? To our surprise, none of these women demanded for more than N20, 000. So, level of poverty depends on individual’s satisfaction, level of happiness.
Though I don’t have robust bank account, but I am contented with what God has given me. If you look around, no nation across the world could boast that there is no poverty in their country. So, l believe once somebody could afford medical bill, school fees of your children and have access to basic things necessary for living, such person is above poverty line.