In what looks like a U-turn from its initial hardline position on the 2023 presidency, the Northern Elders Forum has said that though it is too early to declare support for any person wishing to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in the next election, the forum chairman, Prof. Ango Abdullahi said the organization will not subject itself to ethnic or religious consideration in supporting the candidature of any person but would rather support and identify any good leader from any part of the country through their records, performance in politics and other fields of endeavour. In this interview with ABDULLAHI HASSAN in Zaria, Kaduna state, the NEF chairman spoke on insecurity in the North, political parties crises and a host of other issues.
Southern Leaders have sued the federal government over marginalization and other issues, are Northern Elders considering same in response?
No, to be honest, I have not seen any details concerning the legal suit by the elders you are referring to. I don’t know whether it is the entire elders in the south or some of them, so I don’t have any details about their suit so that I can have an idea of what the main issues they have raised in terms of complaints that made them to approach the court against government. Since I don’t have the details, it is difficult for me to disagree or agree. But NorthernElders Forum has been on government on what is being done right, if any, and most of the times our contentious areas are on issues that are not being done right in terms of governance generally, with particular emphasis on security in recent times. Well at my age, now 82, I am very familiar with the previous federal government activities in Nigeria starting from Abubakar Tafawa Balewa who was prime minister.
I have done a special exercise on issues of marginalization, claims and complaints. We did a project in a book form to take every federal government from Tafawa Balewa in term of structures of government including administrative and so on; to put to rest this constant claims.
In fact, there was a time if you take Balewa or Gen. Gowon government, Babangida and others, you find that there were more non-northerners in those governments either as ministers , permanent secretaries and so on. I will find that document and give it to my friends; the southern elders to have a look at it. If you take for example my elder brother, Edwin Clark, he was a minister in Gen. Gowon government. If you take Mbazulike Amaechi, who was also a minister in Tafawa Balewa government together with Maitama Sule, you will find that the appointments were very much wide spread. The problem is that, when you try to politicize the issue, it would look something else and that is what is going on now. If you say north is favoured now, in what aspect? Is it on appointment or what? That I contend strongly because you only need to look at the list and see who is who and who is where.
You see, my interpretation of this move is to start the processes of who becomes what in 2023 and I strongly believe and suspect that is the agenda. As we are coming to end of Buhari’s second tenure, some people have already claimed the position will soon be vacant. So you can see the struggle has begun. These are the things that I am seeing now; the beginning of a movement for power game within Nigeria after Buhari’s government.
At at a point, Northern elders appeared to be the ones complaining of marginalization especially on projects. So, when did the switch happen?
You see, there are different aspects to consider in terms of who gets what. We did an exercise for example in 2016, we repeated the same in 2017 and we concentrated on the national budget.
By the time we finished, we discovered that the North had only 30 percent of the capital and recurrent expenditure in the nation’s budget.
The entire North, which gave Buhari the winning vote had only 30 percent. In fact, it is true this was part of our complaints in those years but we didn’t consider it necessary to take Buhari government to court.
I think what my colleagues are doing as elders of the South is to start the process of trying to cajole or pressurize or blackmail the North into accepting that the power should move to South.
Northern Governors appear overwhelmed by the activities of bandits and have been begging the president for military deployment. Is there any link between this problem of insecurity and the quest for power in 2023?
First of all, you have to define security in its broad term and look at legal responsibility for security in the country, who is responsible for what? Has there been a division of responsibilities between federal, states and local governments? To the governors, the security in their respective areas becomes cumbersome to handle because they cannot give directives to commissioners of police in their states. Police commissioners must get clearance from their Inspector – General on any issue concerning their states depending on what is on the ground, sometimes the IG seeks clearance from their respective Ministers or President as the case may be. By and large, the kind of security situation we are complaining about daily is largely the responsibility of the federal government . I don’t see the possibility of any governor taking an isolated position to change the situation in his area after all he is not in control of armed forces in the states. Of course , the governor constitutionally is the chief security officer of his state but technically on the ground he contributes little towards the control of security personnel. If you look at the budgetary allocation on security, you find that governors have little to do except assisting police with vehicles or fuelling . I don’t see and I cannot put it on their door step the failure of security in the country, or in the North on any governor. The only thing I would consider as their failure is their inability to put their heads together, apply the necessary pressure whether it is political or constitutional for the neighboring states to tackle common security challenge. Of course, they are expected to engage the federal government in the matter, whether financial or tactical.
As you have been saying in your previous interviews on the failure of leadership in Nigeria. What type of leadership should Nigeria have in 2023?
Well, we have been debating that for ages; this has been a subject of discussion by individuals, groups and political parties. This is the real crisis we have today, Nigerians have not been able to define what kind of leaders this country requires. They should define these leadership qualities devoid of where they are speaking from , we should be able to compare notes in terms of the kind of leadership we want from South- west, South –east, North and other parts of the country, and see where we have common ground in terms of persons we should be looking for. By the time we agree on the kind of quality we require, the issue of where the man or woman as the case may be comes from becomes immaterial and the party that he should again come from becomes the basis for which the people will make the decision that this man or woman has all the qualities that we agree on and we feel he or she will be the leader of this country. The country will have good leadership and by implication good governance, so this is the real challenge that Nigeria will continue to have until this is sorted out because the issue now is, some people have started that we want to retain power in the north while some said no, no it is our turn now. If this is the basis that we will use to choose our leaders in Nigeria, then there’ll never be good leadership that will take this country forward. What we are hoping for which I personally and I believe northern elders prefer is a situation where Nigerians define good leaders and able to identify them through their records, performance in politics or other fields of endeavour. This is the kind of leadership we want. In fact, the person that may meet up their definition may not necessarily belong to any political party, by then if we are convinced that this is the kind of man we want, what is left is to convince Nigerian voters that this is the kind of leader you want; it is not necessarily the leader that is presented by a political party because the political party has been the base for failing to produce good leadership in this country because the political system does not leave much room for good people to participate in politics let alone contest for position that will eventually make them our leaders.
We are urging Nigerians to re-think and change. If you take for example, I read in a newspaper recently with the headline; ‘It is the turn of the South’ How do you define the South? If you go into details, the Igbo will say this is our turn, others will say it is ours. If this is the only basis of finding leadership then we would never find good ones. Therefore, for me, we have tried turn by turn from 1999 to date , but it has failed, we have to move away from it , the political parties must think of new ways of involving people who have ideas, who have good qualities which eventually will be presented to Nigerians for voting. If we continue with turn by turn, ethnic or religion, then there will never be an end to our problem.
You talk of the processes of choosing leadership, what kind process are talking about, party primaries and party formation?
The formation of the political parties itself, if you see how it is being formed, of course, anybody can form a political party and try to attract people to join based on programmes. That is a good start but as you see, by the time you reach the nitty-gritty especially when you start talking of who will be the leader of the party, that will be the beginning of the crises. Some of those who founded PDP must have a story to tell. We suggested that the best material to lead PDP at that time was Chief Sunday Awoniyi. We argued hard for Awoniyi to emerge the leader of the party but it didn’t happen. And this was the beginning of the failure if the party could not see any reason why Sunday Awoniyi with all his good qualities more than any other candidate could be the leader of PDP. The system could not allow it because the system was only inclined to those who can dash out money. Since that time, PDP has been in crises up to this time.
Who among Atiku, Tinubu , El-rufai and Bashir Tofa meets your specification of an ideal President in 2023?
For the northern elders, it’s too early to begin to point at somebody who will be a good material for Nigeria, because Nigerians have not yet defined the qualities we have been looking for, for president. If we are looking for a president who speaks the same language with me or pray together, then we know the right thing to do. NEF will rather concentrate on urging Nigerians to learn from history, that the method we adopted in the past has not yielded any good result for Nigeria. NEF will continue to urge Nigerians to go for good quality leadership for the country at all levels depending on the structure we end up with if we are restructuring the country and so on. There is responsibility at all levels of governance from local, state and federal government. We must have good leaders at these levels for us to move the country forward.
How do you view the recent developments in the ruling party, APC at the national level and the opposition party, PDP in some states. Are they positive developments in party politics?
To be honest with you as far as I am concerned, we don’t have political parties that you want to define really as political parties as found in other parts of the world . The parties are supposed to be a product of a very, thorough ideological position taken by those who subscribe to be members of that political party. For example, in Nigeria there is somebody who may have won an election as a Senator but he has changed a political party for more than three times. So the issue in Nigeria party system is not based on principle at all, they may have a document called constitution but practicall on the ground, they are not parties that you can swear that you can come tomorrow and find them on the same page with the ideas they started it . Parties are changed like chameleon everyday to serve the interest of a few group. You see what is happening in the two political parties now is a good example of this problem and that is what I refer to earlier on the issue of Sunday Awoniyi who would have been PDP Chairman, and the party would have been stable by now, but now cash and carry leaders are exchanging money on how much money the contenders are bringing into the race. I am not excited with qualities of the political parties we have in the country. I hope Nigerians will change the system or the change themselves so that quality leaders could be presented to Nigerians.