Professor Ango Abdullahi is the leader of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) and a prominent voice in the quest for the socioeconomic development of the north. In this interview BABA NEGEDU, the former Vice Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria said President Muhammau Buhari’s performance in office so far has been below expectations. He believes that those who said former President Goodluck Jonathan did not perform but supported Buhari in 2015 did that purely based on sentiments.
What is your take on the emerging calls for North to retain the presidency beyond 2023?
For me I don’t think I will like to delve into this theoretical hypothesis, because for the time being I regard that as theoretical hypothesis and I think the north should be looking at the challenges ahead of it, in terms of its development and social economic problems, not to start talking about power.
What we are concerned with is that like we said some months ago, is that the Northern political leadership seems to have failed the north and we from the Northern Elders Forum about a year ago made public statement about the failure of northern politicians from the presidency downward, having not done much to help the difficulties being faced by the socio economic challenges in northern Nigeria. To that extent we even warned politicians that if they did not show serious improvement in terms of what they are doing or what they have done , we will not recommend their reelection in 2019.
And that is why we took the position we took , not to support President Buhari’s re-election. So for somebody now to start talking hypothetically that the north is already thinking about retaining power , we will have to see evidence from those who are talking about it , in terms of what benefit they have shown in terms of their holding power in northern Nigeria for some time and what sort of magic they will introduce to make it desirable for us to support them on this hypothesis which for the time being I call it a hypothesis.
Apart from what you talked about, has his presidency improved the lot of the North?
This is what is killing Nigerians, the politicians have succeeded in dividing Nigerians along various fault lines. Mainly based on regional location, religious sentiments, based on a number of fault lines that the politicians exploit and when they successfully exploit it, they eventually failed Nigeria in terms of the Nigerian aspirations.
So the time now has come for us to look at what Nigeria has achieved, if it has not achieved much, why it has failed to achieve much and what needs to be done to make sure that Nigeria is redirected in a way that the Nigerian state as a whole irrespective of what area will develop and the people of Nigeria will see that they have a country which they are proud of and for which they can see visibly and physically dividends of being free in a democracy.
The main issue in the country now is the insecurity and…
Yes, and let me say that am going to hold a press conference soon and that is the topic, I have chosen, this insecurity that has become pervasive in the country, especially in this part of the country.
There is also the politics of the National Assembly that is raging now, as to who gets what. What is your view?
You see, the problem with us as usual is that we don’t work on the basis of status and principles, we work on the basis of an adhoc day to day basis. Everybody knows that it is the responsibility of the National Assembly any time it is being inaugurated to elect its own leaders and other principal officials and so on and so forth. This is clearly stated in the constitution of the country, that the National Assembly at the point of inauguration will elect its leaders.
Now it appears to me that for whatever reasons the elections are taking place outside the National Assembly. The fact that a party has numerical strength, should not as a matter of reasonable consideration deny the assembly being able to identify a competent person, irrespective of his political leanings and association. To say yes, this is the man we want to elect as our leader or as our senate president irrespective of which party he belongs to. It is the job of the National Assembly members to do so.
But this is the mistake they made even in the 2015 election, they conducted elections outside the chambers, they conducted elections outside the senate, they conducted elections on what they thought it should be outside the House of Representatives. But when members got into their chambers they decided to act differently, from what those who are working on the issues outside the National Assembly. This will continue to draw Nigeria back.
When we are talking about moving Nigeria forward, there are three branches of government, we have the Executive branch, the executive branch has its duties, the legislative branch has its duties, the judiciary has its duties, the constitution provided for these bodies that will promote a balance. But for example the way these discussions are going from outside the National assembly, outside the two chambers, somebody is there anointing principal officers, unbehalf of the senate in the case of the senate and unbehalf of the House of Representatives. Already the party is usurping the functions or powers of the National Assembly and they have no power to do so. The fact that numerical strength should determine who becomes what is a matter for a consensus in the entire membership of the National Assembly, you cannot come and say simply because we have the number other people have no right to choose somebody and so this is really what is killing the entire democratic process in the country. This is why we are having the kind of elections we had in 2019 because , like I have said before this is a tragic election as far as democracy is concerned in Nigeria.
NEF which you lead did not endorse President Buhari for 2019, but at the end of the day he won…
Well, am not going to discuss that in details because is subject to court process that are ongoing now. As somebody has already observed, the subject is subjudice because the contestants and other people are before the tribunals to say that their logos were not included in the elections. This is a very fundamental fault. Legally and strictly speaking if you satisfy all the requirements and you have applied to be included in the election and you are denied the inclusion, obviously the Justice system which applies the rules strictly will on that basis alone even if you are going to get one vote cancel that election, so I understand there are quite a number of cases that had gone to the tribunal on the basis that their logos, besides satisfying all the requirements were not included in the list of contestants during the presidential elections.
Apart from what you have said, how do you see the election process in itself?
If the process was free and fair? I was one of the signatories who encouraged Atiku Abubakar (the candidate of the PDP) to go to court, because if according to him as a candidate or according to his party , there are sufficient irregularities in the process, of course they should go to court and open up the discussion on these irregularities for Nigerians to know about them, and for us to learn about them , so that if we are serious, we can use it to avoid future mistake so that we can avoid a repeat of what has happened in the elections. So am one of those who encouraged Atiku that he should go and bring all these things up in the tribunal.
So what will you say about those allegedly asking Alhaji Atiku Abubakar not to go to court?
Well, I don’t know who they are, and I don’t know on whose behalf they are appealing to Atiku not to go to court because our records have shown that at least in the last four or five elections, the presidential election had consistently gone to court. So they have not told us why Atiku now should not go to court to challenge the outcome of the elections. So I want you to ask those asking Atiku not to go to court for us to throw some light as to why Buhari went to court so many times after he lost an election.
We have heard people say that because of his popularity among a segment of the north, there might be crisis if anything happens at the court against Buhari’s election…
All I can say is that we have to wait until we reach that bridge before we can cross it, because it is speculative and I don’t see why, in any case for example the contestants got votes across the country like he also got votes across the country. So the ‘war’ will start between those who voted for Buhari and those who voted for other candidates or what are people really talking about. I believe these are all speculative gimmicks that are intended perhaps to intimidate, scare people from seeking for their rights and this is absolutely unacceptable.
I remember when your organisation and others passed a vote of no confidence on northern leaders even before you refused to endorse Buhari, some of the issues raised were on the insecurity, even now it is still on the increase, what can be done?
Let me tell you, this is the point now. When we stood against the reelection of president Goodluck Jonathan then, we did not do that because he was an Ijaw man or because he was from the Niger Delta or because he is a Christian, we took into account a lot of things that was happening and some of those things we took into account included political considerations. You remember the issue of power shift, power sharing and so on was a major factor in the campaign I led. I personally led the campaign because I was myself a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party. I was one of those who sat down to draft the constitution and manifesto of the PDP and we included this power sharing between the north and the south, the problem actually as far as I am concerned started because that arrangement was not being respected and that was why we stood up and fought against the reelection of Goodluck, for me and for many of us this was part of the reason. As far as I was concern at a point I argued that just bring a competent person to me from any part of the country I will support him.
So what is actually the problem now, the problem simply is yes we expected that the administration that replaced the Goodluck Jonathan administration would do better in the various aspect of our national concern. Some of these areas included economy, security, the main security challenge of that time was Boko Haram, but four years on now, it is not just Boko Haram, there is virtually insecurity in every street corner of our cities. You cannot use the roads, you have bandits killing people in their numbers, sacking villages and so on, so the insecurity problem has Infact gotten worse than it was in 2015 and this is part of our criticism and that was part of the reasons why apart from the economy, poverty situation in the country has worsen. Nigeria has had the name of being the poverty capital of the world and so on.
All these has to do with the economic mis management that is going on by the government and its agencies. So I cannot see on the basis of simple principles of fairness and justice, if Goodluck Jonathan has failed because of insecurity and poor economic management and he has come and he has not improved the economy or on security, you simply support him on the basis of some other sentiment. Because I gave an interview before which I said, Buhari’s reelection in 2019 will not be based on sentiments it would be based on performance and as far as our assessment went his performance went below what we expected and that is why we are looking for an opportunity where we can have somebody else. We don’t care who will come, but would come and do better than he has done and if somebody comes and he does not do well, we will also react the same way. So sentiments will not be the guiding principles in terms of who has done well and who has not done well, but with those that we disagree their passion is sentimental and mine is purely based on principles.
Based on your analysis and if you put that beside what Aliko Dangote said in Kaduna recently about the endemic poverty in the north. Why do you think people still want power to remain in the north, to which effect?
Well, I respect Aliko Dangote as a business man, his main endeavor is to make money through legitimate business which he does, but am happy to hear from him in particular that the north is poverty stricken and whom are you going to blame for that, you have to blame people who are supposed to be in policy making position, that will craft policies that are appropriate, will implement those policies very well so that the issues that has to do with the economy of the country are addressed and this is why we pass that judgement which we did about a year ago that northern politicians , especially those governing the states and others have failed or were failing and that is why we were warning them that we were going to encourage Nigerians to reject them at the polls.
We did not succeed completely, but we are happy to note that at least some of the states have rejected their Governors and voted them out. This is the way it should be, if Aliko Dangote being a successful businessman makes this observation he is absolutely correct. But then who takes on from there, what takes on from there on good policy design that will make it possible for capital injection to businesses in various parts of the country, that will try to alleviate this hard poverty. Because it is this poverty and unemployment that is driving our youths into crimes of various types.
So that is why I asked why some people should still be angling for the presidency…
No, let me make it very clear here, you will find good leaders, very good leaders in every nook and cranny of Nigeria, very good leaders, if you allow me today and I have power to do so, I can identify excellent president for Nigeria outside the present political system, excellent presidents that will ran this country effectively, efficiently and for Nigeria to be happy about. But the fact that we have a political system that makes it impossible for good people to emerge as leaders is what is giving us the kind of situation that we are in now. All over the country, they are excellent leaders in various parts of the country, I can even venture to mention names, but this is not where I will like to expose those names, but the issue is that they are good leaders that you can find anywhere in Nigeria.
Now the challenge is how to encourage them and bring them out to come and serve Nigeria, but the present political processes as there are, are not process that can really bring out these good leaders, the fact that somebody is arguing that the leadership should move to the south purely is not a guarantee that the leadership that will emerge from the south will solve the problems of Nigeria or the problem of the north, no guarantee at all, what will guarantee good leadership is a system that will make it possible for all Nigerians to appreciate that they are good leaders across the country and all that is required is to identify them for them to do their work.