No law stops Atiku, Tinubu, Tambuwal from contesting 2023 presidency – MukhtarI Shagari

MukhtarI Shehu Shagari, was a Minister of Water Resources for six years under President Olusegun Obasanjo between 2001 and 2007. Shagari who is a nephew of former President Shehu Shagari left the federal cabinet to contest for Deputy Governor of Sokoto State in January 2007. He was so elected along with Aliyu Wamakko as Governor in April 2007. In this interview with FEMI BABAFEMI, he said the raging argument about power rotation and zoning in the country is good but no law stops prominent Nigerians like Atiku Abubakar, Bola Tinubu and Aminu Tambuwal from contesting the 2023 presidency if they desire. He accused Governor Nasir El-Rufai of preaching fairness in power sharing at the national level, a principle that he has breached in Kaduna state.

In view of what is happening across the country today, what’s going on in your mind, talking of insecurity, the tension on the political terrain?

Somehow, it should be disturbing to every responsible Nigerian. In fact, the first responsibility of every government is to ensure the security of the people and to protect the integrity of the country. The security situation in the country, everybody will tell you that it’s not the sort of thing we want to find ourselves in. If you take a state like Sokoto which in the past has the acclamation of being the most peaceful state in the country, it is no longer so.

You go through areas like Sabon Birni local government, you go through Isa local government and all those other places, the insecurity in that place is so terrible. I remember when we were doing our campaigns for the 2019 election; I had to accompany the governor of the state to a funeral of about 31 people in Rabah local government. That’s the first time I saw so many corpses. And you know, before 2015, in Sokoto, we have never had a situation where bandits will go into the villages and kill people anyhow, so, the security situation in this country, in Katsina, Zamfara, in the North East, Central, all over the country, is really very disturbing.

I hope that the government will do something about it and I hope that people will tell the president the truth about what is really happening as far as security is concerned in the country. Look at twenty something in Kaduna, people being killed everyday. I am very very disturbed and I hope that this will change for the better.

Is it that the military is incapable of bringing this thing to an end or you think there is a conspiracy against the government?

Well, you see the situation is that, I’m not a security person, I don’t have any access to any security briefings or so but whatever it is, I think the government has really not lived up to the expectations of Nigerians. If you remember the reasons why Nigerians decided to vote for APC to take over power, one of the things they told Nigerians was that, the insecurity under the government of PDP was too much and that they are capable to handle the situation but anybody will tell you, including members of this government that it has gone from bad to worse.

Beyond Sokoto, you are a voice in the country, if you’re meeting President Buhari today, what would you tell him to do to end this bloodshed?

First of all, I want to say that every leader would want to do better than the one he took over power from. Buhari took over, democratically, from an elected president with the promise that things will change for the better but it is not so at the moment. If I have the opportunity to meet with the president, I will just tell him the truth about what is happening. I don’t know whether he knows the truth or not because he has his own people who work for him but one thing I think the president should really do, as Nigerians are clamouring, despite the fact that the service chiefs in this country, military, the air force, the police, DSS and so on, they are all trying to do the best they can to bring security to our country, I think so far the Nigerian people are not really happy. Nigerians have been calling for the change of guards as per the service chiefs that are concerned. I think he should listen to Nigerians.

Secondly, he should do everything possible to give access to people who would tell him the truth because I don’t know whether he really knows exactly what is happening because once you’re the president, you’re in the villa, it is only what they want you to know that you will know, so the issue is that he should open his doors and try to get information from people, other than the security people. People that will tell him the truth, people that will believe him.

Personally, I want him to succeed, because if he succeeds, Nigeria has succeeded, if he fails, Nigeria has failed. Even though, we belong to different political parties, but as far as I’m concerned, I think the president has to look at the security aspect in the country and do something about it. Probably, we may have some respite.

Looking at what is happening on the political terrain, the drums of war in Edo state, what does it tell you about what is likely to come in 2023, the next election year?

It is very unfortunate, that politicians, who are supposed to be protectors of our people, are always bringing one thing or the other, which creates insecurity, which threatens the lives of people, in some cases, people are killed.

That is not, for me, what politics should be about. Politics should be about, one man, one vote, free and fair, transparent and peaceful election so that the people have the opportunity to choose whoever they want to govern them, whether it is at the national level, or at state level. It is very unfortunate, what is coming out of Edo, then I hope the politicians in Edo, both in PDP and APC, will have it at the back of their minds, that the people are supposed to be protected, the people are supposed to be allowed to make a choice. Whoever they choose, that is actually him.

I actually want to appeal to both APC and PDP that the drums of war should not be beaten in Edo state because if Edo goes on fire, then I think that will be interpreted as the precursor to what is going to happen in 2023.

We already have very serious security issues in this country, we should not add Edo to that, we should not allow our elections to be so violent to the extent that people will be killed and maimed and so on. I’m in politics because I believe that politics should be the very great tool through which we can bring development, peace and security to our people and I hope that the politicians in Edo and those at the national level both in PDP and APC should also make sure that the election in Edo is peaceful.

I also want to say that the security agencies should not allow their resources to be used by any political party to achieve set objectives, whether people will be killed or whatever. I actually want the security agencies, this time around in Edo to show Nigerians that they’re not for APC or PDP but rather for peace and for the people.

There’s a major discussion going on across the country today about the issue of power rotation, zoning and competence. Where will you pitch your tent, competence or power rotation?

First and foremost, let us try to understand why our leaders came out with this issue of zoning. Zoning in the first place is not a concessional matter; it is an arrangement and understanding by people to give opportunity to each side of the country; the South and the North. So, it is normally up to the political party but to me, what is so important, as far as I’m concerned is competence and credibility and capability of the candidate that you pick, whether it is through zoning, or open for everybody, what should be the criteria are competence, credibility of the person, his capability and his love for Nigeria from where ever he may come from. But, zoning is good, in the sense that it gives everybody a sense of belonging. You know we have practised zoning in the past? Because I remember, even in 2003, people still came out from other sections of the country to contest against Obasanjo in PDP. And it has been happening, and I hope that whoever the parties eventually choose to be their flag bearers, whether it’s from the North or from the South, I think the yardstick should be his competence, his capability and then also, his credibility. Those should be the things but I wouldn’t want to say zoning is not good, it is good, but for me, these three things that I’ve mentioned should be the yardstick through which we should elect our president, it should be the yardstick through which the parties also elect their own candidates for the various elections in 2023.

In essence, if your party, PDP, decides to pick someone like former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, or the current Sokoto Governor, Tambuwal, you’ll back them, irrespective of whatever zoning arrangement people have clamoured for?

First of all, I have demonstrated over time that I’m a party man. Don’t forget that in 2007, I won a primary election with 80% of the votes. My party brought in somebody who was not even of our party and gave him the ticket.

Yet I supported, because I believe in party supremacy but all the same, the parties should do what is right. They should always look for people who are competent, people who have the capability, credible, people who really love the country. People who will deliver the goods, that is what I do but if I still remain a member of PDP in 2023, whoever the candidate is, I have the responsibility and duty to work for that candidate otherwise it will be what is called anti-party. And that’s what I will never do. I have principles, if I belong to a political party, I must abide by the rules and regulations of that party so if that happens and I’m still in PDP, then, I have to support the candidate of the party.

It’s obvious you have your eyes on the governorship seat in Sokoto. Do you think 2023 will be the appropriate time for you to give it another shot?

I am not going to impose myself on anybody. If the party feels that I’m the best candidate, the most credible candidate and they give me a ticket, then I’d run. Actually, I’d stand for the election but I’m not going to impose myself on anybody. I have tried my best to be the governor of Sokoto State in 2007. In 2015, you know what happened, in 2015 when a candidate was decided from Abuja then I was given only one vote and I said that even if I stand for an election in China and I speak to the people, I should be able to get more than one vote, not in Sokoto. In 2019, when my own party called me to come and make preparations, Tambuwal came in and I said since Tambuwal has come in as a governor, the most important thing is for us to win the election. I dropped my candidacy, I supported him and he won. So, in 2023, it is up to the party, if they feel that I’m the most credible, the most competent, the most experienced candidate and they want to put me forward, fine, if not, I’m not going to bother myself too much about that.

At the moment, I’m sure you have a very good relationship with the governor, that’s Tambuwal…

Yes, in fact, our relationship is wonderful. Don’t forget, I spent over four months in Sokoto campaigning for him to win the election, our relationship is really wonderful. It is a relationship that we built a long time ago, it is not about politics. It is a personal relationship.

What about with the former governor of the state, Wamakko?

What people do not know is that Wamakko has been my friend for a very long time even before we came together as Deputy Governor and Governor and that’s one of the reasons we even accepted that we should run together. Our relationship, despite the fact that, when he left PDP for APC, I did not follow him, our relationship has remained very cordial. We greet, talk to each other, not necessarily about politics but personal issues and so on. Our relationship is really wonderful. I’ve made it part of my principles that I should never have an enemy no matter what. I actually learnt how to forgive people because if I offend God, I always ask for forgiveness, so why won’t I forgive people when they offend me? The relationship between Wamakko and myself is a very cordial one. In fact, it has been there before politics.

As a former deputy governor, ex-minister and one from a very prominent political family in this country, if you have to assess the standing of the PDP dispassionately, objectively, putting the PDP and the APC side by side, what would you say their chances are like, in the next round of elections, especially talking about taking the presidency?

I think it is only a stupid politician that will predict what will happen in 2023 especially because of issues relating to security, economy, and hunger in the country and so on and so forth. I think APC has a lot of baggages; they really have to do a lot to convince Nigerians that they should give them another chance again. They have given them the chance in 2015 and they repeated again in 2019 even though the election was disputed but eventually settled by the Supreme Court, which we have accepted. If performance is anything to go by, then I should believe that unless APC changes into something dramatic and then some miracle happens, I think PDP has a good chance but that does not mean that the PDP should just fold their arms and hope that Nigerians will do it because PDP also has its own internal problems. One of the issues that the PDP has to settle is that they must be able to protect and ready to ensure that there’s internal democracy within the party. If that does not happen, then there will be a lot of problems for the PDP to take over power in 2023.

How do you assess the rumoured aspiration of the APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu? Do you think he stands a good chance to contest for the presidency of this country in 2023?

Well, Bola Tinubu, I will call him my brother and my friend; we have a very good and cordial relationship even though we have never belonged to the same political party. Bola Tinubu is a very competent person and he has been able to raise a lot of leaders from Lagos, from the local government to state and national level and so, he is a very good person, he’s a very competent person but whether or not he will be presidential candidate in 2023 depends on his own political party and as I said I belong to the PDP, I cannot say who and who the APC will want to field but he’s a very competent person, he is alright.

The Kaduna State governor, last weekend, said it would be unfair for any Northerner to show interest in 2023 presidency, do you share his view?

That is his own view. I think the presidency of Nigeria belongs to all Nigerians. And the constitution of this country has not said it has to come from one particular area. So if somebody within the APC from the North feels he wants to contest for the Presidency, that is if APC decides to zone its own presidential candidacy to the south, then, you cannot stop that person and if the PDP says our presidential candidate is coming from the North, it also has no right to stop anyone from the South from saying, ‘no, that’s not in the Constitution, I’m going to compete’, so, I don’t see anything about being fair here.

When you talk about politics, you simply talk about interest but unfortunately, my brother and my friend, Nasir El-Rufai knows very well that, in Kaduna, the politics has always been, if you pick somebody from the Muslim side, as the governor then you have to pick somebody who is also a Christian, that’s from Southern Kaduna but he actually broke that practice. So, you can’t talk of fairness when you are not fair to the system but that is his own personal opinion and he is entitled to it. He’s a very good friend of mine. We served together in the past and so on and so forth, but now, we belong to different political parties. I think that is his own view but the Constitution of Nigeria has not talked about saying that if a particular candidate from a particular party has not come from one area, that is fairness, that’s not constitutional, that’s his own personal opinion. I feel that Nigerians from each side of the nation do have the right to contest; political parties also should look at this issue very critically and do what is right so that everybody will have a sense of belonging. So zoning is good, I must say, because it helps to create sense of belonging in everybody but as I’ve said, the number one issue for me, is competence, credibility and of course, capability and acceptance by the Nigerian people.

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