Renowned university don, social commentator and former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Professor Tam David West, in this interview, reviews the state of the nation and concludes that Nigeria’s oil is the worst managed in the whole world. He insists that injustice and social disparity will fast-track the collapse of Nigeria, not Boko Haram, nor Niger Delta militants.
How would you describe the state of the nation today?
Whenever we are talking about the state of the nation every Nigerian should be concerned. Let me start with the government. A government, not only state or federal, exists to serve the people. That is why, in every constitution of any nation, sovereignty belongs to the people, not the government. I have always held this position; which has been there right from the Roman days. The good of the people should be the supreme concern of every government. Cicero the great orator and politician said that the welfare of the people should be the supreme law for the state.
Many years after that, great philosophers in Britain insisted that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the focus of every government. It is commonsensical because every society as conceptualised as a social pyramid, shows that more people are at the base of the pyramid than at the top. As you go from the top to the bottom of the pyramid you get more and more people. So in every country, whether it is industrialised like America, Britain, Russia or any other country in the world, as you come down from the peak of the social pyramid, we are going to meet more and more poor people.
The privileged few are those at the top, and these include the government. If you are in government you are a privileged person. The president is a privileged person. Some Nigerians even tag him First Citizen, just as they say, First Lady. You are not a First Citizen or First Lady in anything. It is only by convention. Citizenship is not graduated. Every citizen is equal. So there is no question of First. If you have a First Citizen and a First Lady, then you will have the Last Citizen and the Last Lady. It is all nonsensical; just convention, which is used so much more in Nigeria than anywhere else. In any society, any government policy that impoverishes the masses is a bad policy; a government policy that puts the masses in difficulty is a poor policy. And such government has no right to exist. As Edmund Burke, the great British philosopher said in his writings, “Government is a contrivance of human wisdom. The citizen has the right to expect that the wisdom should provide for their needs, answer their problems.” But when you come to Nigeria, what do you find?
Specifically, where are we getting it wrong in Nigeria?
We are getting it wrong in Nigeria because we love ourselves more than the country. Most people in government, especially at the top, love themselves more than Nigeria. When I was in Bama Prison, one of the thoughts I came up with was called “Accountability Quotients.” What do I mean by that? If you are a public officer, what you contribute to the system over what you get from it is the quotient. And most people contribute less and get more. What is wrong in Nigeria is that people are most interested in enriching themselves and impoverishing the masses.
We are not oil-rich even though we are a very wealthy country. The wealth is not used for the people. Those that are exploiting this wealth maneuver and make laws for themselves.
And this is worse in the oil industry. It is worse there because oil is the life blood of Nigeria. Oil makes up about 90 per cent of every money Nigeria has abroad; And over 85 per cent of every budget is oil. We are in a mono-product economy essentially. That mono-product economy is crude oil. If we don’t manage oil well, then the country is in trouble. Government after government, with very few, one or two I can remember, has manage the oil industry poorly.
Nigeria’s oil is the worst managed in the whole world, and I stand by it. I stand to be challenged. I was oil minister under Buhari. He appointed me oil minister on January 18, 1984. Babangida overthrew him. I was brought back as oil minister again in 1986, and later I was taken to Mines, Power and Steel. So I know what I am talking about. Nigeria, as at now, produces over 2 million barrels of oil a day. And 24 hours ago, oil was sold at over 100 dollars per barrel. I monitor it every day.
A country like Nigeria has no business suffering. But we have a rich country with many poor people. Nigeria is a rich country; we don’t even know how much oil we have. People in government are not thinking of the masses. They only think of themselves. You put someone in government, and within few years he has become a billionaire – he has estates, there is no accountability; there is no transparency. That is the bane of Nigeria. Until we have accountability in our governance we can go nowhere.
Corruption has eaten into Nigeria’s fabrics, from top to bottom. Except we have leaders that will fight corruption, Nigeria will go nowhere. Corruption produces injustice.
I have not got any fear in all my mental ways that Nigeria will break up or collapse because of Boko Haram or Niger Delta militants. No. Nigeria will collapse because of injustice and the disparity between the rich and the poor; the suffering of the poor. The cry of the poor will go up to God and those that are responsible will be punished.
I can see a situation in Nigeria where we are going to have the type of revolution where the poor and suffering masses would become tired and find out that there is no much difference between living and dying. They would become desperate and march on the streets and hunt the rich. So those people who are rich and are very comfortable, but are not caring for the poor are living in a fool’s paradise. Can’t they get their minds back to history? Look at the French Revolution. Most of our leaders are arrogant – of power, indiscipline – and they think they can do anything. You can’t. A day will come when the masses, the people who have suffered so much will get you out of where you are by force.
The campaign for 2015 is now ongoing across the nation. How do you assess the scenario?
Any person who is campaigning for 2015 now is an irresponsible politician, whether he is president, governor, or whatever. People should be interested in what is happening today. When you have taken care of today and you have performed well and convinced the populace that you are doing well, it is then you should be talking of 2015. In 2015, Nigeria will not break up, but it will have a lot of avoidable turbulence if politicians play the same game they used to play, notably, rigging elections. One man, one vote is the hallmark of a democratic government elected by the people. The citizens must have free choice. But in Nigeria, they have always corrupted the political system. I have always said that rigging election is staging a coup with ballot papers. A ballot paper coup is not less offensive than a bullet coup by the military. In fact, a ballot box coup is worse than bullet coup. What am I saying here? In the case of a bullet coup, we know that soldiers never come in to stage coup except when the civilians have failed. No coup will succeed if a civilian government is successful. Coup succeeds only when civilians have messed up the system. What I am saying is that if politicians don’t respect the ethics of democracy because they want to perpetuate themselves in government, they should be prepared for a very rough time. It is not a curse; they will reap the consequence. Those who are saying there is no vacancy in Aso Rock or other Government Houses are enemies of the system. This is because they are saying that people’s votes will not count. And that is a dangerous thing. Nigerians have to be very careful in 2015. If we play the same old games of rigging and ignoring the wishes of the people, it will not augur well for the system.
How would you juxtapose your analysis with what recently happened at the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) election?
We have got two free and fair elections in Nigeria. The freest and fairest at the macro level is June 12. We messed it up. The other free and fair election where people voted according to their conscience and integrity was the Governors Forum election. The Governors Forum election of May 24 is like a metaphor of June 12 where people have expressed their choice; and you say, ‘No, we are not going to accept it.’ I have never seen anywhere in Mathematics where 16 is greater than 19. We should be ashamed of ourselves for messing up of the May 24, 2013 Governors Forum election. They should better retrace themselves and be honourable. And they call themselves Excellencies. How can they be Excellencies where 16 is greater than 19? When governors cannot be honourable enough to respect their own votes, how do we expect them to conduct free and fair elections in their states? We are sowing the seeds of trouble. The earlier we learn the better. If Governors Forum is analysed properly, it mirrors 2015. But the forces of nature, the forces of history, and all the metaphysical forces will force them out because they cannot enthrone evil.
I am very worried. I have been writing for over 50 years as a social commentator, but I have never seen a time in our history that things are as dicey as now. Things are worse now than even during the civil war. The constitution says the security of the people is a fundamental concern of the government. But how can you rate a government that has not provided security for the people? I have been teaching in the university for decades and was promoted as a professor in 1974. Look around now, we have graduates that are looking for jobs all over the place. Things are so bad in the country today that you see graduates selling recharge cards. Graduates are serving as stewards in hotels; graduates are compelled to be drivers. We have continued to graduate hundreds of thousands every year, but there is no job. That also is sowing the seed for social unrest. When parents send their children to schools, to universities, they spend four years toiling until they come out. The parents expect that they are coming out to take care of them. But see the irony of today. Parents train their child, having denied themselves of a lot of things, and the child comes out of the university, only to be fed again by the parents. We are creating problems for ourselves.
What is your message to the authorities on how to check the ugly trends?
My message is very simple. Be responsible. They should be disciplined and responsible. Let the welfare of the common man be the primary objective of governance. If you disregard the common man you are going to pay for it because you will go. Look at what is happening in Brazil. Government increased the price of transportation by ten cents, only ten cents, which is about ten kobo and they poured out to the streets in thousands until the government came down and reversed the price.
I believe in civil disobedience; I don’t believe in violence. Ghandi did it in India. Civil disobedience is more powerful than violence. And the way we are going, we are going to have serious civil disobedience in this country that will force authorities of government to do what the people want or go. The tears of the poor masses will flow up to the heavens and come down with hot brimstones.
Those in government must be responsible and think less of themselves. They should think more of the people. Your legacy should not be the number of mansions you built for yourself while in government; your legacy should be the improvement of the lot of the common man in terms of good education, health care, security, food on the table, etc. If you cannot provide all these things, and people are suffering while you are busy cruising about, eating, drinking and generally enjoying yourself, then you are not fit to be in government.
The fact remains that if those in government fail to make policies that will make the poor masses comfortable and happy, their tears and agony will flow up to the heavens and they will pay very dearly, either through revolution or the cause of divinity.
Source: Daily Trust