Caretaker Committee Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), and Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni, in this interview bares his thoughts on the EndSARS protests, saying the carnage that followed genuine demands could have been avoided if the youths had accepted President Muhammadu Buhari’s acceptance of their demands. He touches on the controversial jostle for the 2023 presidency within the party by influential stakeholders across the nation’s regional divides, saying that it is not certain yet which part of the country, North or South, would produce President Buhari’s successor in 2023. He also gives details of how far his party has gone in rebuilding, reconciling aggrieved members and their future plans. His words, “ We cannot say where the chairman or president of the party will be coming from. We cannot cross the bridge until when we get there. Meanwhile, the committee is preoccupied with the task of rebuilding a party that would stand the test of time and remain Nigeria’s leading political party.” The party chairman explains this and more to JULIANA TAIWO-OBALONYE.
Your Excellency, what are your thoughts on the recent EndSARS protests?
Well, as you are aware, it started with a demand that the federal government of Nigeria should scrap the SARS unit of the police force, which was alleged to have engaged in some brutality and unwholesome activities on the citizenry. Such demands have genuine intention to check the excesses of the police. And I am happy that without wasting time, President Buhari ordered the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu to disband SARS and he complied with the presidential directive immediately and SARS was disbanded. It was expected that, with SARS disbandment, the immediate demand of the protesters had been met and the protests would cease and leaders of the protest would sit with the police authorities or other government officials to deliberate on the procedure or any other matter.
It is important to note that in heterogeneous societies like Nigeria where different people have different views and opinions and demands, there are bound to be people looking for opportunities to push for their demands. Don’t forget, in Nigeria we have groups calling for restructuring, whatever that means, we have others calling for a breakup of the country and others calling for cessation while hoodlums are also looking for the slightest opportunity to loot either private or public properties.
With such complex opinions and demands, we must be cautious and wary that everyone including the hoodlums could possibly cash in on any available opportunity to press for their ambitions including looting of properties.
As citizens and leaders, irrespective of our political background; whether you belong to APC, PDP, SDP, PRP or APGA, the cooperate unity and peaceful coexistence of the country is very vital and supersedes any personal interest because, as a politician, businessman, artist or even journalist, you can only achieve your ambition when the country exists and there is peace.
Unfortunately, at the commencement of the protest, the need for caution was thrown away, citizens with genuine and legitimate demands took to the streets, hoodlums also joined the protest and some leaders danced to the gallery not minding the possible consequences, and the protest degenerated to violence, looting and lawlessness.
Now, for anyone to think of achieving his or her interest, political or otherwise through violence, will only create chaos, disorder and lawlessness that will inflict injuries on law abiding and peaceful Nigerians. There can never be progress in a country with chaos, a country without law and order. Therefore, it is the responsibility of everyone to invest in the unity and safety of the nation.
Some people argued that the genuine protesters stayed back on the streets to ensure implementation of the presidential order. Don’t you see that there is reason in their argument?
Like I told you initially, the President respected their constitutional rights to protest and it was done without hitches up to when he directed for the disbandment of SARS. We have a president who is a man of his words, so the protesters should have vacated the streets to avoid giving miscreants the opportunity to attack police stations, kill policemen and civilians, destroy and loot private and public properties. It is said, you may know when and how violence may start but you can’t tell how far it will go, how long it will last and who might be the victim. I want to believe that those who started the protest with honest intention to end SARS are not happy with what has become of their good intention. Some might be regretting not vacating the streets after the president disbanded SARS. If you look at the loss of lives and the quantum of destruction of properties at a time when the global economy is adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, you will appreciate the monumental loss Nigeria and Nigerians have suffered.
Again, the greatest danger this protest has created is the desecration of authorities and institutions like the police and traditional authorities. You can see the protesters are now lawless and operating with impunity such that even the conveners of the protest are not spared.
There are reports that there was no EndSARS protest in Yobe state, could this be true?
Yes, there was no protest in Yobe state. When we saw the early signs and having been victims of violence from a protracted insurgency which bedeviled our state and the North East in general, we cautioned ourselves that we cannot contemplate having additional crises and hardships from the violent protests because we have suffered too much for too long. Government is currently battling to resettle, rehabilitate and reclaim means of livelihood for our people.
That President Buhari promptly gave in to the demand of the protesters and disbanded SARS being the cause of the protest, one is tempted to ask why continuing the protest? We expressed fears of a hidden agenda wrapped in the protest. The organizers prolonged and lost control of the protest until it was hijacked and assumed the obnoxious, destructive and catastrophic dimension.
Let me use this opportunity to once again specially appreciate our youths in Yobe state for their sense of reasoning and resilience to the challenges of the EndSARS protests and their refusal to join the protest. They have done us proud. I also salute them for their ingenuity in organizing prayer sessions for peace to reign in Nigeria. I am so proud of them.
Government will reciprocate this gesture through robust investments in their future for them to have a prosperous future and to remain shining role models to other youths in the country. I also appreciate our traditional and religious leaders, elder statesmen, parents and guardians for always preaching peace and peaceful coexistence in our communities.
Meanwhile, as you know, we are gradually coming out of the insurgency, our people are being supported by government and other partners to resettle and reclaim their means of livelihood. So, when the federal government COVID-19 palliative came to us, it was most timely to support our people and it was distributed across the 17 local government councils in the state. The support from the state and federal governments as well as other partners are greatly assisting us in our resettlement, reconstruction and rehabilitation drive. I am proud to say that the people of Yobe state who are beneficiaries of the support appreciate the transparency in the distribution of the palliative. They also knew nothing was kept away from them and had no reason to break into any warehouse or personal property of anybody. And so there was no looting or destructions in any part of the state.
How has it been, steering the affairs of APC as the caretaker chairman?
You know I am a party man with full background in party politics, therefore, I am used to disagreements in opinions. Yes, we inherited a party that is nearing collapse due to internal wrangling and squabbles. We constituted reconciliation committees to undertake genuine and sincere reconciliations, placing party interest over and above personal interests. We also carried our members along in all the states, giving them a sense of belonging and ownership of the party. This built a new confidence in our members and the party gradually came back to life. You must have seen a new zeal and unity amongst our members in the Ondo governorship election. APC is now back on its feet waxing stronger as Nigeria’s leading political party.
Has your party decided on where the next chairman and the 2023 presidential candidate should emerge?
I hope you understand the clear mandate of the Caretaker/Extraordinary National Convention Committee which I am opportune to chair. The committee is mandated to reposition the party from bottom to top, to reconcile aggrieved persons, factions and groups. We are to resolve all the differences that were tearing the party apart. The committee is expected to bring everyone on board. The committee is also to organize a national convention for the party to elect national officers for the party. We cannot say where the chairman or president of the party will be coming from. We cannot cross the bridge until when we get there. Meanwhile, the committee is preoccupied with the task of rebuilding a party that would stand the test of time and remain Nigeria’s leading political party.
Sir, how have you been coping combining the two schedules as a governor and party chairman?
I thank God for the gift of good health and energy, which makes me fit to be shuttling between my state Yobe and Abuja. Like I said earlier, at the party level we constituted reconciliation and election committees for the various states with credible personalities including state governors and national legislators and this made the work much easier and gave me more time to concentrate on my work as a governor. I am glad serving my state and the party diligently.