In an interview with TheNEWS magazine last year August, when he clocked 82, Professor Tam David-West, professor of virology, former minister and university teacher, who died on Monday, expressed disillusionment about Nigeria. He was disillusioned by what the nation has become, about the high level of poverty and the ethnic divisions in the country. He was disillusioned about the selfish political leadership that was not delivering the goods to the people and also the followership, that had failed to hold the leaders to account.
Read the excerpts:
Why did you say that you are not happy with the country?
This has nothing to do with any government. I am a die-hard supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari, but I believe he can do much better. Nigeria that I had in my mind when I was a student is so different from what we have today. I was at Yale when Nigeria became independent. I was the president of International students in Yale. When we had independence, the international students at Yale held a party for Nigeria. I was very proud of Nigeria. Today, I am proud to be a Nigerian but I am not as proud as I used to be because everything I never thought would happen is happening.
Our leaders are so selfish. This has nothing to do with party affiliation. If somebody is corrupt in party A, he will still be corrupt if he defects to party B. Party don’t make you corrupt, you are corrupt because you are corrupt. You are corrupt because you have no manner or standard. It is not the system that makes you corrupt, it is you that is corrupt and you corrupt the system.
Why are you crying?
I am not crying.
But I can see tears coming out from your eyes?
No. Sometimes ago in Yale, Professor Akin, a brilliant Yoruba man was asked where he was from and he replied that I am a Yorubaman. When I was asked the same question, I only said that I am from Nigeria. After, I told Akin that he should not have been tribalistic he should have just said that he was from Nigeria. But later, I realised that I was only idealistic. Few months later, I told Akin that he was right and I am wrong. Scientists don’t make absolute statement. There are very few Nigerian that say I am Nigerian. They will first say I am Yoruba, I am Fulani, I am Igbo, I am Hausa, I am Ijaw, I am a Kogian, etc. that is the problem in Nigeria. Today, I can tell you that over 90 per cent of Nigerian politicians love themselves not the country.
Truthfully, we don’t have up to five per cent of Nigerian politicians that love Nigeria. If they love the country, they will not do what they are doing. How will you be happy that government can’t pay N18, 000 minimum wage and public office holders earn millions of naira monthly? How can one be happy when Nigerian lawmakers earn three times more than America lawmakers? A Nigerian senator can employ three American presidents.
Is that not exaggerating…
I am humble with the figure, not exaggerative. It is even more than that, but I want to be humble. Truthfully, we don’t have up to five per cent of Nigerian politicians that love Nigeria. If they love the country, they will not do what they are doing. How will you be happy that the government can’t pay N18, 000 minimum wage and public office holders earn millions of naira monthly? How can one be happy when Nigerian lawmakers earn three times more than America lawmakers? A Nigerian senator can employ three American presidents. Sometimes ago, I had a confrontation with a senator. I asked him if he was not ashamed that they wanted to pass a bill to be paid wardrobe allowance. I asked if they campaigned to be a senator naked. If the answer is no, why are they asking for wardrobe allowance? I told him that they are not honest and they do not love Nigeria. The mere fact that they ask for such, shows that they are corrupt. How can a lawmaker say I need allowance for wardrobe? Nigerian senators are the highest-paid senators in the world. There is this stupid argument that the cost of running the government is high because we are running a presidential system of government. Are we the only nation running presidential system of government? The running cost is high because of corruption. America has been running a presidential system for over 231 years and they don’t do what we do. It is a lie that the military chose a presidential system. Nigeria chose it. I was a member of the 50 man committee that drafted it. We had about 300 memos from the public and most of them prefer presidential to parliamentary. More than 60 per cent chose a presidential system. Murtala Muhammed that inaugurated us gave us free hand to operate. He didn’t influence our sitting or recommendations. The committee is composed of people of integrity including Bola Ige, Baba Obafemi Awolowo refused and gave a reason which I don’t believe is very honourable, Chief Richard Akinjide, Alhaji Aminu Kano. FRA Williams chaired it. We were not telly guided. After we finished the draft, over 200 members of the national assembly endorsed the presidential system. Daily Times went round the country, state by state, everybody voted for a presidential system. The 1979 constitution was more rigorously pursued than the American constitution of 1787. The difference is that those that drafted the American constitution love America. The people in power make the system expensive. They love themselves more than the country. Until that change, we are going nowhere.
What are the other things that are making you sad about Nigeria?
The followership – we say Nigeria has a leadership problem, but Nigeria also has a followership problem. Followership can change leadership by committed protest. Abroad, some people protest even in winter and they will not stop the protest until they bring down the government. Responsible followership can effect a change of government. In Nigeria’s situation, the followership is more to blame. This is a reversal of what everybody believes. I believe in followership more than leadership. Why do I say that? If you have very committed followership, no matter what the leader is, he will come down.
In the midst of hunger, how do you expect followership to do anything meaningful?
Look, a few days ago, a country in North America changed her policy because people said they are not happy. To show that followership matters, before independence, Nigeria was to have a defence pact with Britain to establish a military base in Nigeria, the students of the University of Ibadan marched to Lagos and made it impossible, because they felt that such a thing would erode our independence. They fought the Federal Government to stop it and it was stopped. Aba women protest in 1929 against law tax, the same thing in Abeokuta. Followership can change leadership. Followership has more responsibility.
Are you saying that both leadership and followership are not responsible in Nigeria and that they don’t know what to do?
They know what they should do, but they don’t want to do it because they are selfish. Followership and leadership are selfish. Leadership is selfish because they want to get everything for themselves and followership is selfish because they are not ready to sacrifice to force the leadership to toe the path of honour.
What is your take on the defection that is ravaging the nation?
Nnamdi Azikwe calls political defectors political harlots and that confirms part of the reasons why I said that I am not happy with Nigeria. Nigeria is a great country. God has made us great by endowment, size, intelligence but we have messed it up. We are not a giant of Africa but an ant of Africa because all the things that make us giant are given to us by God not by our own doing or effort. Lot of things will change if the followership is committed. Followership has more blame than leadership. If followership is committed, no amount of money can buy them. There is no amount of money that can bribe an honest committed man. If leaders give you money to change your mind and things go wrong for the nation, don’t blame leaders, blame yourself. Not to be corrupt is a moral issue. If a leader comes to give you money to do what is wrong and you take the money and mortgage the future of generations unborn, blame yourself, don’t blame the leader. The money he is giving you is the money he stole from you.
If you are asked today the question that you were asked then, that where are you from, what will be your answer?
I will say I am an Ijaw from Nigeria.
You are now more conscious of your origin?
I will say I am a Nigerian. I will say I am an Ijaw from Nigeria.
Are things that bad?
Yes. I will say I am an Ijaw from Nigeria.
It shows that Nigeria is more divided than before?
We are more divided than when we got our independence
So, is it a better option to reverse to before 1914?
Never. I believe in the unity of Nigeria.
But it is not working as you have pointed out?
It is not working because we don’t want it to work.
How can we make it work?
Nigeria has over 300 ethnic groups. If all these groups should go their ways, we will suffer more. Nigeria is like mosaic. The mosaic is beautiful if it is together, take one part off, all of them will crumble. Nigeria is better united. We can correct our mistakes.
Can anyone believe that Chief Awolowo once supported Ernest Ikoli, an Ijaw to go to Legislative Council against Samuel Akinsanya from Ijebu ? There is intrinsic greatness in Nigeria, but we are messing it up. Some people claim that Awolowo is a tribalist. For me, Awolowo is a nationalist, not a tribalist
We can correct it by purging ourselves. Can anyone believe that Chief Awolowo once supported Ernest Ikoli, an Ijaw to go to Legislative Council against Samuel Akinsanya from Ijebu ? There is intrinsic greatness in Nigeria, but we are messing it up. Some people claim that Awolowo is a tribalist. For me, Awolowo is a nationalist, not a tribalist. I can’t call him a tribalist. In the other way round, Zik supported Akinsanya, not Ikoli. We are the one to blame. It is unknowledgeable people that are making the stupid statement that Britain caused our problem. Lugard was sent to amalgamate the North and the South for administrative convenience. Don’t blame Lugard. Lugard did what he was sent to do. After Lugard, what did we do for ourselves? Nation is created by people, not by those abroad. Nigerians have not been able to create a nation of their own.
Do you believe in restructuring?
Yes, I believe that Nigeria must be restructured. Each Nigerian has his/her own definition of restructuring. I don’t believe in political immature restructuring. The argument that the centre is too strong is stupid. If the centre is too strong, who do you blame? Followership should be blamed. The constitution is clear. By the constitution, we are supposed to be a federation and so if our leaders have disallowed that to work and we fold our arms and do nothing, who do we blame? – we who have decided to be docile in the affairs of the country. The executive will always want to pocket the legislature and judiciary and Olusegun Obasanjo is guilty of this. They don’t want separation of power. The defection we are witnessing today is started by Obasanjo. Also, if the centre is too powerful, don’t blame the federal government, blame the states and the followers that are so weak.
Are you calling on the followership to be bold to challenge the leadership with the aim of correcting the imbalances in the society?
Exactly. That is what I am saying.
People are suffering. Is Buhari doing well?
I will not give him A, but I can give him B or B+. I can’t give him F.
B and B+ by my understanding is 60 per cent and above. Buhari is a retired general who should score A or A+ in the provision of adequate security for Nigerians. Now, are you awarding him B or B+ despite his failure to provide security in the country?
That is the basic problem Buhari is facing. To operate as a military head of state is different from operating as a civilian president, though with military background. As a military head of state, within few minutes at state council meeting, decisions have been reached on how to tackle a problem but in a democratic environment, it takes days and months. I believe that a lot of things can be done better, but unfortunately, these are things he can’t do alone.