Daniel Dem, representing Riyom State Constituency in the Plateau State House of Assembly is the House’s Majority Leader. He speaks with JAMES ABRAHAM on salient national issues. Excerpts:
How do you assess the strides so far made by Nigeria at 52?
There are no doubts that we have made progress as a country, but whether this progress is at par with the progress expected of a 52 year old independent nation or not is a question we need to ask ourselves. The truth is that the situation in Nigeria today warrants that a lot still needs to be done. If you cast your mind back, you will discover that Nigeria’s economy used to be better compared to what is obtainable today. Many things have actually changed drastically. For instance, the unemployment situation which has lingered is today so high that you wonder whether people no longer get employed. There is corruption on virtually every facet of the society. And in a country where you find unemployment very high, corruption very high, then the country in question has a very serious problem.
Do you think the nation should have rolled out drums to celebrate the independence anniversary?
Well in those days when we were still in school, everyone looked forward to celebrating the Independence Day because at that time, the leaders were so committed to the country. They were committed in the sense that all they did was to ensure that the country moved forward. You could see that in their actions and utterances despite the differences they had. You could see that enthusiasm and joy in them any time the nation is about to mark its independence anniversary and such enthusiasm had reverberating effect on Nigerians.
But as time moved on, the celebration gradually became low keyed to the point that today, we have almost lost the steam. Why is it so? The reason is simply because we have virtually little or nothing to celebrate. There are problems here and there, crisis and so on without corresponding efforts to solve them. If we have something to celebrate, then the jubilation and enthusiasm that usually accompany such a national day would be justified. As it is, I can tell you that we have very few leaders who are committed to the course of this country. Selfish interests have replaced collective interest which should be the guiding principle of our leaders.
Is Nigeria truly independent?
It is really difficult to say where the country is really independent. We can talk of political independence when Nigerians are allowed to chose who becomes their leader’. But can Nigerians say today that they are free to elect who becomes their leader. If the answer is no, then where is the political independence?
Economically too, Nigeria can hardly claim to be independent. Even the oil that we produce is being refined abroad to the detriment of the economy. Internally too, nearly all the 36 states of the federation depend on monthly federal allocation for survival. Where is the independence? A situation whereby states cannot pay the N18, 000 minimum wage to civil servants due to paucity of fund tell much about the type of independence that we have as a country. There is the problem of roads across the country, power generation and so on. To me, these are serious indicators of a truly independent nation. So, Nigeria is really grappling with underdevelopment challenges.
What do you think is responsible for Nigeria’s underdevelopment?
Corruption is number one. It does appear that everybody in the country wants to be rich. Whether it is your money or not, people want to accumulate wealth which does not belong to them; you forget that one day you will die and leave everything. To fill your pocket with public till in order to live big; this is the problem and we need a lot of education to be able to change the psyche of Nigerians on this issue because even a messenger wants to amass wealth by all means. You find some of them hiding files and can only bring them out if you give them money. That is corruption. There is the need for every Nigerian to be committed to this country and put the nation first above all other considerations. With that, we can make headway. I think we have reached a stage whereby we must do something to save this nation from further destroying our collective heritage.
Do you think we have utilised our potentials as a nation?
I think Nigerians must be grateful to God because He has blessed us in this country. In all the states of the federation, God has blessed us with both human and natural resources that should really help us as country. Other countries that are developed today are obviously using what they have, even smaller countries like Ghana that have realised this have gone very far in terms of development. So, I think Nigerians should learn to appreciate God’s given potentials and use them to help themselves. If you go to our hospitals, we lack doctors, yet Nigeria has surplus doctors abroad. What we need to do is to ensure a conducive environment for them to work in; if that is done, the penchant for overseas medical check up by some privileged few would be a thing of the past.
Do you see Nigeria remaining one with the quest for autonomy by the various component units?
When you see people agitating for autonomy, there is a problem. If you check very well, you will discover that injustice is the spring board of such agitations. If am being oppressed, the natural feeling is that of independence, I want to be on my own. Some feel that they are feeding Nigeria and have nothing to show for it. Some feel cheated in terms of appointment in an entity where they are stakeholders; you see them crying of marginalisation, so it is natural with human beings and such issues being raised should be looked into by those concerned with a view to addressing them.
We in Plateau State for instance are agitating for state police because the federal security apparatus is incapable of protecting the citizens. They are being killed almost on daily basis under the watchful eyes of those who should protect them. We believe that if state police is established, they should be able to curtail some of the problems that we are facing. So, if people make demands which they believe can solve their problems and such demands are ignored, then there is bound to be such agitations. But if you are able to listen and solve the problems, then such agitations for autonomy would not arise in the first place. The centre should be able to carry the various component units along to avoid such agitations that tend to tear us apart as a nation. Assuming that the country is to be divided today, how will you do it? I always caution that we don’t take decisions when we are annoyed. It is important to recognise the fact that whatever our grievances are for agitation for autonomy, we should consider the issue of unity of our country. We need to join our hands together to build this country for our collective good and benefit of all.
How would you describe the present democratic experience?
There is nothing wrong with our democracy, but how we operate this system of government in this country is the problem. If the operators can follow the tenets of democratic ethos, there is no reason why Nigerians will not enjoy it. If you look at the military for instance, they really took us back, but I have heard people who are annoyed with the system calling on the military to take over. Then I ask; why the military? That is why in electing people into positions; the people should be able to know the antecedents of the persons in question.
None of those who are ruling us today came from the moon; we know them in the communities, villages, neighbourhood and what they are capable of doing right from their childhood. We need to elect people with good character. But you find out that a known criminal will throw money to people during an election. At the end, he is elected as a leader and somebody with good intentions and upright character would be ignored because he does not have money to throw about. The same people will start complaining when the criminal begins to manifest his criminal tendencies in governance. In that case, who do we blame?
If you were in a position to advice President Goodluck Jonathan, what would be your suggestion on how to move the country forward?
As a leader, one should be able to take decisions that will help the people and should be firm. It is wrong and condemnable for a leader to say this today and change it overnight without any reasonable cause. The decision in question must be in line with the aspirations and in consultations with the people. This is important so that people don’t lose confidence in your ability to lead them and most importantly, you don’t make yourself an enemy of the people. As a leader, you should be able to match your words with action. If you promise the people steady power supply within a given period, you should be able to give yourself a target and people should be able to see that there is sincerity in your effort to meet the target. Once this is lacking, it becomes deceit. I know that in the power sector, today, there is an improvement, tomorrow, the improvement is lost. I think Mr. President has to sit up as a leader. We hear that some people are pushing him to contest the presidency in 2015. I think he should ignore such promptings for now and concentrate on how to make this country work. Once, he is able to do this, he can be sure that Nigerians will be the ones to demand for his re-election. I think he should be proactive enough to be able to confront the many problems militating against Nigeria’s development .