By Daniel Kanu
Former Minister of Interior, Comrade Patrick Abba Moro, is representing Benue South Senatorial District in the Senate on the platform of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). An ex-lecturer and one-time local government chairman, Moro, in this interview with Sunday Sun, spoke on a wide range of contending issues concerning Nigeria as an independent nation. Excerpt:
On October 1, 2020, Nigeria marked 60 years of independence. Do you share the views of some who described Nigeria as a failed nation after 60 years of self-governance?
I don’t know where to place myself now in the characterization of Nigeria at this moment. Ordinarily, as I keep saying, most of the problems that confront us now as a nation are problems that we don’t really have business with at all, given the abundance of resources in Nigeria, human and material. We should not have anything to do with poverty. Unfortunately, we have not found the right mix. We are still confronted with problems as if we were in the period when we were agitating for independence. From one agitation to the other – marginalization, lack of adherence to defined processes of governance, all of them add up to making Nigeria virtually a caricature of what we are supposed to be as a nation. Don’t forget that only recently Nigeria was classified as the centre of poverty. That certainly is amusing and ridiculous given the abundance of resources in our country. And so, I want to think that what we have right now is actually unacceptable. It’s not something that we should actually be associated with. We cannot continue to be work in progress. This is what Nigeria is today. If you look at the scenario, it is very scary. Maybe for those of us who are at the verge of exiting the scene and life entirely as it were, it’s okay. But what about the upcoming generation? What are they learning from us? What have they learnt from us? Can they carry on from where we are leaving now? That is a big question that we need to ask ourselves.
What would you say are the major factors responsible for Nigeria’s backwardness all these years?
Well, right now I know that you know that Nigeria is as divided as ever. We have never been this divided. Today, I was in a meeting, and a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in a meeting of all senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, characterized some people as APC senators. And, of course, that means others are on their own. What that goes to demonstrate is that we are still seeing ourselves as party senators not as senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. When Yakubu Gowon split Nigeria into the 12 states structure, the idea was to de-emphasize the whole concept of tribe, so that you don’t see yourself as an Igbo man or see yourself as a Yoruba man or see yourself as Hausa-Fulani person or see yourself as a Tiv man or as an Idoma man. That was the idea. Of course, we have gone on to become 36 states now. If you open the pages of newspapers and listen to radios and watch television every day, you keep seeing Southwest, Northwest, Northeast, North-central (hardly mentioned anyway), Southeast and all that. The moment we continue with these divisions, we cannot work as one. You hear that Christians are being massacred. They tell you that Muslims are killing Christians or the Hausas are killing the Igbo. One of my brothers recently, for instance, a police officer in Enugu State was killed and his body burnt to ashes. What was his offence? That he is a northerner. And that northerners had killed Igbo in the North. A police officer serving the Federal Republic of Nigeria from my own village in Ugbokolo was mercilessly killed and burnt just like that.
Is it in connection with the EndSARS protest?
Yes, in connection to the EndSARS. Only because like I said he is from the North. Even when he insisted, talked to them, and cried to them until his death that he was an Idoma man and not from the North, they didn’t believe him. They still killed him. That is how sad the situation in Nigeria is today. And so, as long we do not see ourselves as Nigeria first, as long as we do not see ourselves as belonging to Nigeria, we cannot work together for a common purpose of building Nigeria.
What kind of re-orientation do we need in this regard?
I was asking somebody about the National Orientation Agency. I know that when I was a minister, the office of the National Orientation Agency was next to my office. Where has it gone to? Where is that instrument for the mass sensitization of Nigerians on the need for the consciousness of Nigeria as a country? You talk to a Ghanaian now, he tells you he is a Ghanaian. He never tells you he is from Accra or from Kumasi or Gold Coast. No! He proudly tells you he is a Ghanaian. The same goes for a Senegalese. And if you go to the small republic, Benin Republic here, you never hear about enclaves or religions. They talk as one. So, why can’t we talk as one? Where is that orientation? Where are the agencies of government that are specifically positioned to orientate the average Nigerian especially up and coming Nigerians on the need to accept Nigeria as one indissoluble, indivisible country. And I ask somebody why are we having issues with discipline now. In 1985 or thereabout, General Muhammadu Buhari was the Head of State, Idiagbon was his deputy. And you hear all over the place WAI – War Against Indiscipline. And for the purpose of history, Nigerians were consciously becoming aware that there were penalties for certain actions. Nigerians learnt how to queue to take their turns in doing things. What do you find today? Most of the gridlocks that you find on our streets here are a result of indiscipline, a result of impatience, a result of lack of respect for the other road users. And so, before you know it, Nigerians have clustered all the roads and you can’t find a way to go. Even when they know that by their actions they themselves would not be able to move. We need to go back to the basics. I know it will be difficult. People will call it highhandedness. Yes, if it becomes necessary for this country to move on as one, why not? We must go back to those old values that bind us together.
Based on the precarious situation that we find ourselves as a nation today with the high level of underdevelopment, poverty and starvation, would you say that the recent EndSARS protest is justifiable where Nigerians beyond seeking for the disbandment of SARS were also asking for good governance?
There is certainly a lot to learn from the EndSARS agitation. As far as I am concerned it’s justified. Because we are moving towards a precipice. We are moving towards the tipping end. Everything has gone wrong. The roads are mere death traps. Journeys of one hour or two hours in those days, you are now taking six hours or seven hours. Can you imagine that coming from Calabar to Makurdi, for instance, a journey of less than five hours, you now spend 12 hours. From just one half of Nigeria to another half, not even to the end of another part of Nigeria. From Makurdi to Calabar, what is the distance? From Abuja to Otukpo my home state takes about six and half hours, a journey of less than three hours, just because the roads are bad. And every day you hear people dropping and dying, slumping and dying. It is as a result of hopelessness. Therefore, the agitation to end SARS as far as I am concerned is a justifiable one. It becomes necessary that at a point in time in the life of a country citizens must rise to tell the government enough is enough! That is exactly what the EndSARS protest has demonstrated. But let’s hasten here to say that I do not subscribe to the looting and violence that has accompanied it. That certainly is not a civilized behaviour. And I can tell you that inadvertently the protesters and the organizers of the protests played into the hands of those who preferred the status quo to remain. Because like Mahatma Gadhi said, if that is the way they are going on, then according to him, I have nothing new to teach the world. Because as far as he is concerned truth and non-violence are as old as the hills. And so, I think that the earlier we separate hooliganism from protests, the earlier we separate wanton destruction of lives and property from protests that are intended to make a statement as to the deplorable state of our affairs the better for all of us. We cannot continue like this as a nation. I agree that there is a lot to do in developing this country. But there is also a lot to learn from the hopelessness and irresponsibility of looting and destruction of lives and property.
Do you think it was proper for some state governments to have hoarded COVID-19 palliatives meant for the public?
I was into an argument with one of my colleagues, a senator recently, and I asked him why were they keeping those items? People were hungry, people are going hungry by the day and here you have a government having what they called palliatives piled up in stores. That is the height of insensitivity. Why would you be keeping things that are meant for members of the public in your own houses, because in some places they say they burnt personal houses of individuals who were perceived to have hoarded these items. Why were you hoarding them if they were for members of the public? Even if it won’t go round all of them, some persons would take some and some persons will wait for their turn. But I think hoarding them in warehouses, in government premises or individual premises was the height of insensitivity. But let me add here. Again, that is not enough reason for people to take the laws into their hands. Looting and destruction of property have certainly drowned the cogency of the protest. They should not have gone that far. Because what they have done by taking the laws into their hands is chaos and lawlessness. And so, when people were crying that look where are the police when these things were going on? I said but you are killing the policemen. The policeman is also a human being. They are children of other human beings. They have children and families. You are killing them and you are asking them to come and protect you. No policeman will risk his life knowing full well that the end result is death. And so, that is exactly what happened. You cannot approbate and reprobate at the same time.
You have been in the Senate representing the people of Benue South Senatorial District for over a year now. What specific interventions have you made to better the lots of your constituents?
You know as it were, there are various levels of interventions. And for the over one year that I’ve been in the Senate, in various ways, I have brought to the fore especially on the floor of the Senate the plight of the ordinary person in the Benue South Senatorial District and in fact Benue State and Nigeria. I have done this through a series of legislative interventions via bills, motions and contributions on the floor of the Senate. But in addition to that especially in the face of the current pandemic and the crisis arising from it, I know that I have also intervened in the provisions of palliatives and palliative loans to members of my constituency. I have worked more in the areas of palliative loans than physical distribution of items because of the enormity of the issues involved and the number of persons involved. What I have tried to do is to make sure that a reasonable number of the people of Benue South Senatorial District access facilities and funds to be able to provide for themselves, not just for the immediacy, but for the future. That is exactly what I have done. But I also have sponsored series of constituency projects that are beginning to manifest in the area of some of the dilapidated roads that we have in our community. Like the Ekeh-Ugbokolo old road that is going to come under rehabilitation very soon. I do know also that a road and a bridge in Obi Local government by the grace of God by next week the contractor will be mobilizing to site. We also have a road in Oju – Obusa – Adokpa – Oru road and bridge. I’ve also pushed for some electricity projects that are under consideration. Electricity projects between Ugbokolo and Otukpo are under consideration. Basic health centres in eight of the nine local governments are also under work. Some transformers and also street lights are also in the process of procurement for distribution to communities concerned. As a matter of fact, in the next couple of months, I will be in a better position to specifically mention to you one thing or the other that have been put in place for the Benue South Senatorial District. I believe that between now and December most of these works either would have been completed or would be in the process of completion. And I would be able to specifically mention to you what is going on and where. Right now, I can assure that every local government in my constituency has one thing or the other to benefit under the 2020 budget. And, of course, we have more to do in 2021. And I am working towards that. There are a few projects that also were not completed in the tenure of my predecessor, our political leader, Senator David Mark, like the Dam in Otobi, the Oweto- Loko -Nasarawa road, and of course, the University of Health Sciences. All these things are works that I am encouraging to be completed under the various budgets. Recently, you will recall that the dualization of the internal road in Otukpo had come under very serious searchlight. And, of course, as usual I have been able to talk with the minister, talk with the company. At a certain stage I had to mobilize my personal funds to go and start work on that road at least to make it passable for the people. But thank God today the contractor has been mobilized to site. And last Monday I was at the site and they were working very hard towards making the road passable for the people.
As a lecturer turned politician, how do you see the allocation to education in the 2021 budget proposal submitted to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari? Would you say it is sufficient?
I get worried each time I see paltry allocation to education. This is because education is a vital instrument nationally. An educated community is a vibrant community. An educated community propels development in all directions. But here we are, year in, year out, we keep falling below the threshold set by UNESCO as allocation to education. And so, you find allocation to education frittered in the direction UBEC, SUBEB, TETFUND. And the core element of education is allocated paltry sum. It doesn’t help society. It doesn’t help the progress of our community. I believe that we must be courageous enough. UNESCO proposes a minimum of 26% of total budget to education. And what we propose for education every year is less than 10 per cent, sometimes less than six per cent. Unless we are consistent in providing for the education of our children we will continue to wallow in underdevelopment. Today, I can tell you that Nigeria in the Sub-region of West Africa, has about the highest number of out of school children. All as a result of a poverty-stricken society. Parents cannot afford to pay the school fees of their wards and their children. Today, I can tell you that Nigeria has a very high amount of cross-border students. Nigeria is about 50 per cent of the student population in the Republic of Benin here. Why? Because the educational system in the Republic of Benin is consistent. Because when you enter any university in the Republic of Benin you know when you will graduate. What have we done to ourselves? Why are we getting it wrong all the time? We thin out all our resources in all directions without achieving any concrete result for ourselves. We must find what to do best. We must find what Nigeria should be known for across the world. Not this way!