Jubril Aminu’s name rings a bell within and outside Nigeria. The reason is simple: he has served for over 40 years in many strategic positions in Nigeria and abroad, making history in many instances. Although he studied medicine and rose to the zenith of the profession as a professor, Aminu has repeatedly been saddled with critical political assignments in other sectors of the Nigerian economy by both civilian and military heads of state.
He served as Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission, NUC, Petroleum Resources Minister, Education Minister, Ambassador to the United States of America and a senator before retiring from public service in 2011. In this Vanguard interview, Aminu confesses: “I’ve never lobbied for any of the posts I’ve occupied in life and the records are there”.
Where have you been for a while now?
I am retired and resting. If you are asking me about politics, I am in the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, and a member of the party’s Board of Trustees. When they call me, I go and, if they need my advice, I give.
Are you happy playing that role?
Yes, I am happy doing that. What else can I do again? Do I reduce my age? I cannot. So, I have to thank God for what He has used me to do and where I am today.
But Adamawa, your home state, is embroiled in a self-inflicted crisis where the governor is on one side and the PDP National Chairman is on the other. Why have you not intervened as an elder to resolve the crisis?
Some of what is happening in Adamawa today is my fault because we put Governor Nyako there. But Nyako is not good enough. The state is not moving forward. We don’t know what he has been doing with our resources and not much has happened under him. Some of us believe he should go and he does not like that and almost all of us, who were responsible for his emergence, are uncomfortable with his style of leadership largely because the state is going backward. In fact, I may say that it is the most backward in terms of development and even younger states have overtaken Adamawa.
You can see younger states like Taraba, Gombe, Yobe. So the people are asking us, what did you people send to us? And we have no answer to give. The man has failed woefully to change the state in any form. That is the problem. Bamanga Tukur was elected the National Chairman of our great party, but he comes from our state. Nyako does not want Tukur at all and he did everything to stop him from being elected. The only luck Tukur had was that the President wanted him as the Party Chairman. Nyako opposed Tukur at every turn. He has been using the Governors’ Forum to oppose Bamanga.
But many believe that the problem with Tukur is that he wants his son to take over from Nyako while he remains PDP National Chairman …
No, that may not work the way they think. Tukur’s son has been trying over the years to become Adamawa’s governor without success. In 2007, he tried and I don’t think Tukur can succeed to impose his son on Adamawa because a lot of people also want to be there. The present governor also wants to impose his son as well. He (Nyako) has already made him (son) the leader of the youths in the state and has given him security and protection to drive around the state as an anointed candidate.
Where does Abubakar Atiku, the former VP, stand in all of these?
I think it would be difficult for Atiku to influence anything in the state as a former Vice President. He has his own problems too. You remember that at a time he wanted me to be recalled from the Senate and so on. But what I know is that there are so many strong and powerful politicians in Adamawa that you cannot just hoodwink to do your own bidding. So, I doubt if Atiku can wield any significant influence in the on-going political situation in the state. But he is doing well. I don’t know how much he is doing, but we wish him well. I don’t think he still has the clout to influence things politically as he used to do when he was the Vice President of Nigeria.
What is really your problem with governors in Nigeria?
The governors are against all of us and the President. They appointed all the NWC members in PDP. They have organised to stop the government from doing what is right for this country. You can see that they have organised to stop anything functioning in Nigeria without them. This is what is happening. As an elder seeing the role they are playing in national politics, I had to speak out. They are imposing things on the rest of us.
The problem with the governors is that they meet regularly and have their way by threatening the President that they would not support him for a second term. They form another tier of government. You can’t do that because it is wrong. They must realise and be told that, as governors, their first responsibility is to their states. Many of the states are in a parlous state and their governors are moving about in Abuja trying to fight the Federal Government in a needless war.
Number one, they have stopped the local government from functioning. They decide what amount to give to the local governments under their control. They decide what the LGA chairman should spend, up to the last kobo. It is a complete negation of the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution and they must be told so in clear terms to desist forthwith from such unholy practice in the interest of the country and its people. But they keep on doing it with impunity.
Secondly, there is no way of calling the governors to order because they have swallowed their Houses of Assembly and no one can call them to order. Nobody gets any job or appointment at the state or national level without the approval of the governors. Even elections into the National Assembly are controlled by governors. So they have super powers and nothing gets to anybody except the governor approves same. And now they want to extend their power to the President. They want to dictate to him what he should and should not do when it is not their right to do so. This is not right and that is not what the Constitution envisaged. This is not the federal system we hope to get.
So how do we get out of this mess?
No, the Constitution was defective from the beginning. I was a member of the Constituent Assembly. We should not have given anybody any form of immunity. We should have controlled the access of public officers to public funds as is the case in other parts of the world. A governor can take up to a billion naira directly from the treasury just by summoning the Accountant General to make the fund available to him without anyone stopping him. How can you do that? No control system seems to be working in this country. Is it your money?
In America, they went to the Congress looking for bailout and the lawmakers asked how many of them came with private jets and almost all of them did so. And they said no, we cannot give bailout with public funds. And everyone went back to look at other options to revive the economy. But there is no accountability in this country. Everything has gone haywire. There is no control of public funds at all in the country and it is very painful. How can you just allow governors to be buying jets and flying about doing nothing for the people who elected them into office? This is wrong and there is no control of public funds because everything is in the hands of the governor who cannot be impeached or prosecuted because of immunity.
This means the Constitution is defective in that instance?
You think that if you try it – reduction of their powers through constitution amendment – the governors would allow it? They would spend every kobo to stop it from sailing through. They would threaten the lawmakers not to pass it. We need a completely new constitutional provision to get things working in this country. I have come to the conclusion that any constitutional amendment in this country would not work except we go all out to get a new one written. We have to write a new one to remove objectionable clauses to save Nigeria from chaos.
But who will write it given the fact that the National Assembly believes that there is no need for a National Conference since they are already in place?
The PDP is the party with the majority and they can write it. But there is a problem. When you finish from the NASS, you still have to go to the states to get the approval of two thirds of the Houses of Assembly. That is why I said that immunity should be removed and stringent laws put in place to restrain unhindered access by public officers to public funds.
So are you saying that the NGF does not have a place in the polity?
It has no place in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is only a platform for governors to advise themselves on issues of their states and not to access powers of the Federal Government or to give them the latitude to challenge the President. They have abandoned the joint services they are allowed to undertake for something they are not authorised to do. If you find out, a lot of these things have not been done. They don’t do any of these. The most important thing they do is to be challenging President Jonathan daily.
But they may accuse you of being a sympathizer of President Jonathan given the way you are speaking in his favour?
I would be very happy if President Jonathan considers me as one of his supporters. There is no single gesture of this government about me. When they were campaigning in Adamawa, I did not follow them because I knew that Governor Nyako would be the chief host. I could not have gone with them to dignify a governor who has failed to perform since being elected into office.
What do you think about the clamour by the North that presidency should return to it in 2015?
I am not worried. We must stop talking about where somebody is coming from and insist on the ability to deliver. We have seen them over the years. When I was insisting that Nyako should be governor, he had all the credentials but he has failed to deliver.
So, in 2015, you don’t care who becomes president?
I care very much whether it is Jonathan, Benjamin, Toyo or Ishaku. What the nation needs most is the ability to perform and solve the myriads of challenges confronting us as a nation and not where the person comes from. That is my position.
Are you pleased with the granting of amnesty to Boko Haram?
I am in support of dialogue and not granting blind amnesty to people. We must have made mistake with what happened in the Niger Delta, where people just said, ‘oh we have given you amnesty. How much money do you want for your transport and maintenance of yourself’, and they named their price and the money was given and the people went away with the money. Look, amnesty must be preceded by dialogue and determination of the crimes committed against the state and the punishment that should follow such crimes. We should not just make amnesty look like a child’s play.
To require amnesty means that one has committed a crime, which necessitates investigation and determination of the nature of punishment to be given according to the law. But for the sake of peace, the state may then decide to pardon them and avert the punishment. So, we need dialogue. The court or tribunal cannot bring out the issues that dialogue can bring. So we need to dialogue with the people before amnesty. You cannot just grant amnesty without talking with the people involved.
Northern governors are opposed to the passage of the PIB, arguing that it would increase poverty in the North. Do you share this view?
Yes, indeed, it will aggravate poverty all over the country and not in the North alone for obvious reasons. I think the money is not going to the coffers of government. That money is going to some people’s pockets. That is why I say that money must be properly controlled. The money would be wasted. It is the same thing I say about what they talk about Excess Crude Account. We should not even have a benchmark for oil. A benchmark is simply to allow room for some people to determine how much they can steal from the budget yearly. A benchmark is just an incitement.
As someone who had presided over the nation’s oil industry, what do you think is wrong with the sector?
It is all mismanagement. Simple, it is just lack of control and punishment for mismanagement and corruption. This is irresponsible. Are we the only country with money? I never heard of oil ministers keeping lions in their houses. You hear a Nigerian caught with a huge amount of money and nothing is done. This country is suffering from its children. If every mother is being treated by her children the way Nigeria is being treated by us, no woman will agree to have a child.
So, what do we do?
We pray for the country.
How should we run this country for us to make progress?
We made a mistake in choosing the presidential system (of government) because we took only the sweet part and ignored the bitter part. It was the same thing we did with the Udoji reforms. We must begin to think of what we can do for Nigeria and stop thinking of how to loot the treasury. We must be willing to apply the right sanctions to those who commit crimes.
How many oil blocs did you get as oil minister?
I distributed oil blocs around the country as much as I could. To me, it was just a day’s job. Every day I was at NNPC, whenever I left the office, I left my desk with the hope that it might be the last day. In Islam, every prayer you offer, do it as if it is the last prayer. I left office on a Thursday or Friday. My office was in Lagos but the seat of government was in Abuja.
I resigned from the government but because I had resigned, I did not go to the office. I just asked my secretary to go and pack my things. I had to leave because I was being hunted by people because of oil scarcity. At every point, they attacked the President, the oil minister and the GMD of NNPC. I was afraid somehow but not that I was afraid of death. That was why I had to resign and leave. Death can come at any time, so I was not afraid of dying.
What makes you happy?
I am happy to be a Muslim because they don’t care too much about the world. My advice to all Nigerians is to put their faith in God. God is in control of everything. I have my children, relatives and friends.
Do you miss medicine?
I miss it dearly. I tell you something. I have never looked for any of the jobs I have been given in life. I was doing my medicine happily in Ibadan, when I was asked to come and head the National Universities Commission and I said ‘I don’t know anything about the NUC’. Just as the military was going, I resigned from the NUC and went to Washington to refresh and return to my practice as a professor of medicine and I even got a job there. Then before I returned, President Shehu Shagari appointed me as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Maiduguri.
I finished the first term and was on the second when one morning Joshua Dogonyaro was speaking saying they had sacked Buhari; and Babangida said I should come and serve as minister. For seven years, I was in the government. When I left, I went to my house and people from my constituency came and insisted I must go and represent them. So you can see, I have never lobbied for any post in life. Whenever they dissolved cabinet, I disappeared and I have never lobbied for anything.
You also presided over the education ministry. What do you think is wrong with our education system?
The problem is that nobody has ever sat down to look at the problems holistically. We have more numbers than the money put in place to adequately cater for the education sector. We cannot succeed. When I was minister of education, I spread money and amenities to all sectors – federal and states’ schools – to ensure that people had access to education. We formed the Primary Education Commission and the Federal Government was responsible for paying 65 percent of the teachers’ salaries and the move was well applauded by the Nigerian Union of Teachers.
Now, if you want to know how bad the situation is, teachers don’t get their pay as and when due. In those days, teachers got their pay on time but they killed the arrangement I put in place just as I left. Even as I was doing that, they were abusing me that I was working for the North. But the truth is that all parts of Nigeria benefited from the programmes we put in place. We even had a programme to take care of educationally disadvantaged states in the North and South at the time.
How do you feel about the planned scrapping of JAMB, which was started during your tenure as education minister?
When people do not have something to do, they want to give the impression they are doing something. JAMB was formed with a lot thinking to remove multiple challenges in the system of education in Nigeria. JAMB was formed in order to remove a number of roadblocks that were militating against the growth of education.
Among other things, it was to remove tribalism in the admission of students into tertiary institutions and pave the way for a standard method of enrolling students into the universities and colleges. We centralized all that. It was not perfect but we achieved some form of national leverage. If you work in the education or oil sector, you will begin to understand how selfish the Nigerian elite are. So JAMB was to remove primordial considerations in admitting students. So, no matter what, JAMB should not be scrapped. If JAMB is not performing well, there are many ways to restructure it to bring it to optimum level and not to scrap it.