Senator Salisu Matori represented Bauchi south from 1999-2003 in the Senate. In this interview with Ruth Choji, the Deputy Chairman of Former Senators Forum, North-east zone, speaks to Leadership on the Biafra agitation, arguing that the British colonialists that put Nigeria together were not fools.
There has been a renewed agitation by youths for the creation of Biafra state, are you worried with these protest that are beginning to spring up here and there?
I think we have reached a crossroads, it is either for us as a nation to agree that we want to live together or otherwise, but we must learn from the mistake of others. Look at Southern Sudan of recent for example. Southern Sudan started their agitation and got their independence, Silver-green and Marshal started fighting themselves. The people of Sudan had big dreams because they had oil and fertile land, they claimed they were suffering because the Northern Sudan has been suppressing them through religion. So when it became worse, the country was divided and everybody went his own way. Unfortunately for Southern Sudan, from the day they got independence, that was the day their problem started. It is only in Southern Sudan that you hear about five hundred people will be killed in one night, wiped out in a day and all these fight is between two people, Marshal and Silver Green. These people speak the same language and have the same faith. So it is a homogeneous society but because of greed and selfishness of some people, they destroyed so many lives and villages. Now I read recently that ordinary South Sudan people were asking, ‘what is this? ‘So if some people in Nigeria feel that we should go our separate ways, let us do it peaceably without shedding blood. One wrong notion I have noticed is that anytime some people want to make criticism, they will say it is the North that don’t want to let go of leadership because they don’t have anything in their zone. The British that put us together are not fools, they have a reason for doing so. So let us come together and discuss, not in national conference because those that come in the conference always have hidden agenda but if the people of Biafra want to go, let them go. Let this administration not make the mistake of forcing people to live where they don’t want to live. We in the North are the ones suffering because of the division these people have caused. When we were kids, we didn’t know the difference between Christians and Muslim. We used to love each other and live in peace, families have both Christians and Muslims before, but they introduced religion in politics, we have seen what has happened in Kaduna and Plateau. So enough is enough. Anybody that feels they can balkanize Nigeria, it’s enough, they should go.
You wrote a book some time ago on the large deposit of oil in the North, in places like Lake Chad basin and Benue trough. What did you hope to achieve with the book?
My belief is that generations after will know that some of us tried our best. What remains a mystery is that leaders over the years have refused to do anything that will better the lives of their people in the North…
But what will it take for Nigeria to exploit this oil?
Political will. When there is a will, there is always a way. There are twenty three wells that are showing signs of carbon. We have visited the wells in Bauchi, Gombe and the rest. We once took it to Obasanjo when he was president, he tried to do something about it but so far, there is nothing on ground. Abacha started and even brought Shell and Chevron but when a new government came in, they abandoned it. What it will take is will on the part of government.
Going back to the North-east, what has been the impact of insurgency in the zone?
I think as it is now, we are only able to assess only 10% of the devastation that has occurred in the region. The devastation that has occurred in the North-east is multidimensional. Apart from the physical destruction of cities, villages and their wealth, the most devastating experience is when your values have been devalued. People can come into your compound and rape your women, young girls and in some cases, the men and burn their houses and properties. There is no way you can remove that from their memories. If you want to quantify that kind of damage, what will it be? Their way of life has been damaged forever, they have to start all over again. The difference between what is happening in the North-east today and the Biafra war is that, I mention Biafra because I see that some people are beginning to agitate for the creation of Biafra again. I see it as nonsense. What we have before us is how to revive our nation, not what they are talking about…
What will it take to rebuild the North-east?
After the First World War, the Marshall Plan was established for the whole of Europe, if they can borrow from that, then we can have a good beginning. After the civil war, there was no area that was not touched by government. The government of Gowon brought up the idea of three Rs which was reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction. We need to reconcile the people, then rehabilitate the women especially those that have been raped. They have been degraded and disgraced and one way or the other, it will affect them for life including their families. So they will need a lot of rehabilitation and then government must embark on lot of reconstruction, homes and businesses that have been destroyed must be rebuilt and persons compensated.
How will you compare the present day senate with the one of your time?
Basically, there is not much fundamental difference but the advantage this senate has is that it has the opportunity to build on previous precedent from our time till date. For us we had to start from the beginning because of the long years of military intervention in the polity, we had no precedent to follow.
The 8th senate has been involved in one crises after another, from its leadership to chairmen of committee, what do you make of this?
It is not healthy because it portrays the senate in bad light, it depends from what perspective you want to view it. For me, the national assembly is called to serve with integrity and selflessness which they have. So if we start to reduce it to the issue of committees, then we have missed it. This is the first time that I started hearing of the term ‘juicy committee’. Are you going to that committee to serve or to make money? To me, I think we are all aspiring to serve our fatherland so that we can leave a good legacy. The question of struggling for committee is not statemanly.
This senate set a trend of having a deputy from the opposition, is this another precedent?
As far as I am concerned, we are operating under a rule of law and that rule of law is called the constitution and it covers everything in the nation. It was clear that there shall be a senate and in that senate, there shall be a presiding officer or senate president, and they will choose among themselves. It is stated that it is from the majority party in the senate. But what has transpired is not secret, what is happening in the current senate will constitute part of their history, which is indelible, you cannot erase it.
The president has decided to man the petroleum sector himself and we know that Obasanjo tried to do that and nothing much was achieved. Do you think it is the wise thing for him to head the sector?
These are two different people with two different approach to governance. If you look at Obasanjo, he has never been in that sector unlike Buhari who was a minister of petroleum and chairman of PTF at a time. His understanding of the industry coupled with his standing in the comity of oil exporting nations has given him an edge. We need to give him support so that he can realize his vision.