By way of agenda setting in view of the challenges facing our country, Nigeria, what do you recommend for President Muhammadu Buhari in the New year?
The Nigeria Television Authority(NTA) came to me to comment on the President’s speech and his promises. I congratulated him but the one I said was faulty was the question of him not being honest in a sense that he accepted that the process upon which he is now president is faulty and he has decided he would correct it before he leaves. I am saying that this is not honesty. If you accept that the process that brought you into the position you are is faulty, you should resign. But the NTA said they would not publish such a thing, so why are you then interviewing me.
On the agenda setting for Mr President, well, I belong to the other side. I believe in the wisdom of my mentor. He has a secret to turn Nigeria into Dubai. This is because Alhaji Atiku Abubakar thinks that if one single human being could turn a desert into a place the whole world would admire within a decade or two and with the potentials of Nigeria in human and material resources, he could make our country like Dubai. But Nigerians do not admire God’s gift. The reason why others are progressing is because if they identify that you can change a situation to better the people’s lives, they allow you to do it. Wherever and whatever you are, they would admire, encourage and empower you to do it. But in our case, we don’t. So, I know what we discuss with Atiku all the time; that would have been my agenda for any president of Nigeria. Since I have no ambition of getting into election myself, my contribution should always be advisory. I would prefer to back Atiku in his mission. Therefore, I ask and urge you to go and look at his manifesto that would be my agenda.
Do you agree with those whose projection is that 2023 would be the long-awaited time for Atiku to realise his presidential ambition?
Some people believe that though he is ageing but he is still strong enough to take a shot at the presidential seat in the next general election.
I agree with that totally but the problem is that this is not the first time that vision has been seen by Nigerian citizens but as soon as it appears to be so, you see some of his adversaries working against him. It had always been so. Now, it appears so apparent that he is the one for 2023. If you look at the politicians, after Buhari, I am telling you there may not even be the APC. Even with the remnants that would remain, it would be so hopeless to go for the presidency of this country. So, that apart, look at the personalities that are in Nigeria; we all know them and you all know us. We all know what we have. You can easily pick Atiku as number one among other people like former governor of Lagos State who are aspiring to be president. You go to the East and who do you get apart from those who are talking. You hardly would say this is a politician that is aspiring that is qualified by age, education, experience and so on to rule today’s Nigeria as in the case of Atiku. The danger is that they now know that he is the one standing alone in the field of politics for that contest. But I also know that already, the background is that a new political party is being formed to deny him. So, that is the problem. I don’t know whether we are talking about Nigeria or individuals. If we are talking about individuals, Atiku has reached a stage where people would go and beg him please, come and lead us. But that is not the case here. You hardly would have a courageous group of politicians who do that; instead you would have many groups who would work against him. That is my fear.
You are close to Atiku and from what you know about him, what do you think are the recurring reasons for the gang up against his ambition each time he wanted to lead the country?
Jealousy is number one. This is an orphan who grew up from nowhere to be somebody and you know the class system in Nigeria, particularly the autocrats. There is this system of who is your father. You must belong, particularly in the Northern part of this country, to a group of nobles which he is not but he has now acquired it because he is the Waziri of Adamawa today, almost second in the hierarchy in the kingdom. These are the things that people do not like unlike other nations where people could have admired him. He is very generous, kind and very humble; and surprisingly a very intelligent man with a vision to help. You cannot say he is a poor man. Another thing that people are so jealous of him is his love for his own people. Look at his educational institution; he has bottled water, fertilizer and so on. He has always been thinking about people. That is why for every political party we started from the Peoples Front, he must be there. He is in the PDP because there is the word, people. He is a man of the people and he would always like to maintain that position; and people do not like it.
Some observers argue that part of why Atiku did not win the last election was because he supported restructuring which is not a popular idea in the North. Do you agree?
No, I do not agree with them on that. We must have a politician that is courageous. We should not be deceiving the electorate. He knows that this is the best thing for this country to have the powers in the centre, decentralised; it is to bring it down to the local government as it used to be during the time of Sarduana of Sokoto. When I was Senior D.O in Borno, we constructed roads but at the moment, even the state government cannot do things for their people unless they go begging in the centre to get resources. The centre is too powerful and large for a single human person to rule the country. The centre is so powerful and that is why other people are killing one another to get there. Restructuring as I seem to hear Atiku talk about it is such that people will not struggle to get there. This is because there would not be much power at the centre as it is today. You have to be honest to tell your people the truth. Why should he hide his feelings? If he wants to rule his people and he has an agenda, it is up to them to accept it and he would also take the pains to explain to them why restructuring is good for the whole country.
So, are you saying that if Atiku throws his hat to the ring in his quest to be president of Nigeria that you would still support him?
Of course, I will support him. Do you know I am 90 years old? I should tell you the reason why I am still alive. God is prolonging my live so that I should be among those that will take Atiku and lead him to Aso villa. Probably, after that I may not be long again but I am waiting for that day. Because of my wishes for Atiku, God is permitting me to still hang on. I will definitely like him to be president and Nigerians would not regret when Atiku becomes their president. If he will do what I had been hearing him talk in a normal conversation, then everybody would be happy. In whatever political party he contests, I have no choice than to support him.
In essence, what you are saying is that you would not die until Atiku realises his dream of leading Nigeria?
I am praying so that God will sustain me until I see Atiku in the presidential seat to witness him fulfill what I saw decades ago. I want people to see it. I want people to know the man is honest. You do not have to be dishonest to be rich. God has given out different gifts to people. Look at your fingers, they are not the same. Pray for me too so that I hang around and see Atiku to the villa.
As an elder statesman who has seen it all in Nigeria, do you think it is fair for some prominent people from the North to insist that power should still stay in the North after President Buhari’s eight years in office?
You are giving too much emphasis on the issue of rotation. I know when it all started. It is not part of our constitution. You should know that. It was meant to attract votes to a particular political party. I was there when it started when we established the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Before we went into action, we were in Lagos with five representatives in each of the federal states. I remember vividly that the Southerners, particularly the West led by Chief Akinloye offered the presidency to the North. They said, you seem to have more supporters in the North and we are conceding the presidency to you this time so that you should allow us to have the chairmanship of the political party. In the event of a Northerner winning, he should select an Easterner as the Vice President; that was how late Alex Ekwueme came in. It was never part of the constitution. It was rather a way of being able to win the minds of the Nigerian electorate. So, it went from there and the objective was that the next person after Shehu Shagari’s two terms would be somebody from the East. Ekwueme could have taken over from the South, and it was from the NPN, and not the government or constitution. It went on and the PDP now adopted that system. After the military era, we decided and I was an eyewitness; we decided that the presidency should now go to the South after Shagari. That was why I say that it was our political party that decided for rotation but it is not part of our constitution. Ekwueme and former President Olusegun Obasanjo contested in 1999 because the presidency was zoned to the South. They did the primaries in Jos and Obasanjo got it. Most of the activities of our party in that event were done in my house. It was not part of the constitution but according to the wishes of our party, it was a way to win the election. Then Obasanjo finished his eight years’ term and it was now to come back to the North. Late Umaru Yar’Adua did three years and died. Now the constitution now came in and the vice president then, Dr Gooluck Jonathan had to continue and complete the term in which he was elected with his boss. We expected that after Jonathan finished that constitutional requirement, the next four years would still have remained in the North so that we would have completed our eight years term for us to allow the South to take over. But it was disrupted because President Goodluck did another four years and he wanted to do even another four years. This is the trouble. Now, Buhari becoming the president was not part of the PDP’s rotational system because any of the 70 political parties could choose from wherever they wanted. Rotation is not a constitutional requirement. So, now in the PDP, they still demand that the four years not completed by Yar’Adua by the promise of the PDP should still be given to the North. That is all we are talking about. But any of the 70 political parties could say, I want it in the South South if they know that they would win the election by that demand. So, the people of Nigeria should know this. They keep on talking as if there is a constitutional requirement that makes it mandatory that power should be rotational between South and North.
One of the greatest challenges facing
Nigeria is the lack of unity among the different ethnic nationalities that make up the nation. Are you not worried and how can the dream of one Nigeria be actualised?
You, the media people are the ones that would make it work but instead, you are promoting the divisions. If you hear that one Alhaji has been caught and convicted for adultery, then you say all Muslims are adulterous. You blow that so big as if every Muslim is guilty. If you hear that a Bishop or a Reverend particularly a Catholic Reverend Father, a single human being with a soul is caught in acts of adultery, you condemn all Catholics. You say the whole catholic members are like that. You are the ones promoting the negatives. Try and promote the positives. You would be helping Nigeria by doing that. Go to the markets; we had experiences in Jos on the Plateau when crises erupted and people were killing one another and the following day when the whole thing was gone, you found a Yoruba man, Hausa woman, Igbo man, Berom woman and so on saying, thank God you survived. They greet one another because they were not the cause of the crises. The problem is the elite who had no vision, education and nothing to give for their election; they keep dividing people. I am a Christian and they do not like us Christians, come and vote for me so that I can look after you. This is what is happening. You, the media, should condemn such action. You should be the one to promote positives and not negatives.
What is your take on the proposed withdrawal of the military from the North East and other volatile areas?
I am frightened because even with them, you could see what is happening, more so, when they will not be there. I do not know what would happen. So, there must be a reason why they want to withdraw them. This one is part of the security measures that I have no knowledge of.
Another issue agitating the minds of people is the closure of the borders? Do you feel comfortable with it?
In fact, there is the best part of it and the worst part of it. The best part of it is to give our farmers and our factories opportunities to excel and to be self-reliant. The negative part of it is that if by the time we reach the position of wanting to export, if the other people also close their borders, what do we do with the excess? So, it is reciprocal. We need them, they need us but if what the present government is doing is temporary, I agree with it but it should not go to the extreme in such a way that our neighbours should start thinking otherwise.