Member of the Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mohammed Abba Gana has advocated that power should rotate between the North and South of the country to avoid the tyranny of the majority. In this interview with WILLY EYA, he decried the level of division, mistrust and hatred among people of Nigeria today.
The APC–led administration has just been sworn in for a second term; what are your expectations from the ruling party and President Muhammadu Buhari?
What we are hoping for is that they will get the wisdom to run the country in an all-inclusive manner. Now, the country is so divided and there is so much bitterness in the polity. In Nigeria today, there are all kinds of ethnic, sectional and religious differences. So, the country really needs a government of national unity and they should consider this second term as a transition so that they save the country. This is so that in 2023 since it is a government of national unity, they will be fair to all concerned and they can organize the election, then handover and go away. There is so much division now and we really need a government of national unity because the politics is so bitter and partisanship is not going to work and will not help the country right now. The people are so divided and there is so much hatred. In 1999, former President Olusegun Obasanjo did it, I recall that he did not get more than 10 per cent of the votes in the South West region where he comes from. Even then, he brought in the leader of the then Alliance for Democracy (AD), Bola Ige as a Minister. He brought a lot of people from the South West; some were Senior Special Assistants and other officers of the government. From the ANPP, he brought also some people and that was how he was able to calm the country down. So, too much partisanship is not good for Nigeria.
But in specific terms, looking at where we are today as a nation, what agenda should you set for President Muhammadu Buhari?
The agenda really should be the economy and security. These two issues are very serious. One is that unless the country is secure, all other things cannot be done. Security and welfare of the people are fundamental. It is contained in Chapter 2 of the constitution which talks about the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy. Section 14(B) states clearly that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. Once you secure and unite the country, there will be peace. When there is security, peace and unity, other things can be done with ease. But without all those, what can the government do? So, the agenda is to heal the wounds of the election, bring unity and stop the insecurity whether it is Boko Haram, Islamic State, banditry, Fulani herdsmen, armed robbery and kidnapping. All of them, you know, look like local revolt.
Who are the kinds of people you would expect in the president’s incoming cabinet as he settles down for a second term?
I have said that all the political parties represented in the National Assembly should be brought in. That arrangement should be the gateway. Right now, if the APC pretends that all is well and they are going to be as partisan as before, the country will be in pieces just like that. I say they should ensure peace and unity because if they don’t have peace, they would not even have the mind to work. Everybody in Nigeria now is suspicious and there is so much misunderstanding. There is a lot of mistrust among the people. So, under this kind of atmosphere, how do you work together? All hands must be on deck. Atiku by the INEC account scored more than 11 million votes. Are you going to ignore that? This government cannot pretend that all is okay and run the country on partisan basis. The division, bitterness, misunderstanding and hatred will increase. Nigeria will be left behind because partisanship will mean that a lot of opportunities will not come the way of the nation.
Do you think your recommendation for a government of national unity will work when the National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole has said categorically that the ruling party will not be ready to share positions with the opposition party this time?
That is a very careless statement and it is very unfortunate. We should talk about unity. When elections are over, generally, it is governance later and it is for everybody and not only those who voted for the party in power. If you become elected, you are now the shepherd of all those who voted for you and those who did not. So, we need a government of national unity to midwife the next administration in 2023 and to keep the country one before that time.
How do you feel about the prevailing security challenges in the country particularly in the Northern region?
The problem is all about leadership. When things go right, it is because of leadership and when things go very wrong, it is also because of leadership. The truth is that within the state and local governments, we need good leaders in the North. I think that is part of the problem and that is why what the National Financial Intelligence Unit did was very good. Right now, the local economy is demonetized because the allocations of the local governments are not spent at that level of governance. The allocations of the local governments are spent elsewhere. I also feel that the state electoral commission should be abolished. They are of no use because with the commission, there will not be any free and fair elections in the local government. All elections should be conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). If we leave the state electoral commission, the majority of the local governments would be won by the party controlling the government in the states. No matter what you do, the ruling party in the states would always win. The governors would always put their boys or loyalists there.
Some prominent northerners recently stirred the hornet’s nest by projecting that power will remain in the North even after eight years of President Buhari’s administration; do you subscribe to the same position?
To say that is very unfortunate and divisive. I think we should stick to the rotational arrangement. The North and South rotation is better. It is not in the constitution quite alright but it makes a lot of sense. In a multiethnic and multi-cultural country like this, you should not really always push the interests of the majority because it leads to the tyranny of the majority. You must temper democracy with some form of social justice. If you say that you are in the majority and you will continue to rule, there will be problems.
Your former boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo recently raised the alarm of an agenda to ‘Fulanise and Islamise’ the country; what is your take on that?
He is my boss; I was a minister under him. I think people have not been fair to him. If you read his speech, you will understand that he did not intend what they mean. He was merely cautioning the nation to prepare before it gets worse or becomes a reality. Ninety-five percent of the speech is developmental; I have read it and you cannot talk about development without talking about security. The security situation in Nigeria is becoming more internationalized; so, we have to be more careful. We have to get our acts right even if it requires international help. We should ask for it before it gets worse like the Boko Haram sect. So, I think people are misunderstanding Obasanjo. He is one of the few Nigerians who really stand for one Nigeria forever. He is the first African military leader to handover power to the civilians in a planned and orderly manner in 1979. Remember he participated in the war of Nigerian unity. He was GOC of the 3rd Marine Commando and he was the one who received the historic surrender of the Biafran soldiers. Such a person cannot be working against the interest of the nation. And of course, he was responsible for the stability of the civilian democratic order that we now have. This is because from 1999 to 2007 when he was in power, he did a lot of things to stabilize the democracy that we have today in Nigeria. He institutionalized the rule of law and human rights, and introduced all the anti-corruption agencies like the EFCC, ICPC and so on. He is an institutional reformer. And come to think of it, how can somebody Islamise or Fulanise Nigeria? It is not possible. How can a Fulani man go to Nnewi, Onitsha or Aba and say he wants to Islamise the Igbo who have the largest population of Catholics in Africa? You know the largest population of Catholics in Africa is in the East. Or is it the Yoruba you will go to Islamise? So, it is not a good insinuation. It is not a good commentary on what he said. They quoted him out of context. And Obasanjo speeches are very long and that aspect is just about one or two percent of the whole thing. I think he and General Gowon still remain part of the few who can stand for one Nigeria. Even the Yoruba where he comes from accused him in 1979 of not handing over to late Obafemi Awolowo and that was why they did not vote for him in 1999. I cannot see how Obasanjo will say that the Fulani are coming to Islamise the nation. That is not what he meant and it is not even realistic to think so. He is cautioning against such agenda if there is; if there is none, we should forget about it.
It is obvious that you support power rotation between North and South; what is your position on the clamour of a president of Igbo extraction in 2023?
I support rotation because I was in the 1994/95 Constitutional Conference by the late Gen Sani Abacha. I was a member of the power- sharing committee and you know late Ikemba Nnewi, Odumegwu Ojukwu was in that conference and we were in the same committee. Every federation has peculiarities. In Nigeria, we have three distinct groups plus the minorities -the Hausa/Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba and other minorities. None of the groups can dictate for Nigeria. So, this is a unique federation. If you go to the Russian federation, the Russian tribe is in the majority. If you go to Britain, the English are in the majority where you have the Scots, Irish and Wales. If you go to India, it is the same thing. Every federation in the world, there is a dominant majority but in Nigeria, it is not so. The Nigerian federation is the most unique in the whole world. If you go to the United States, the Blacks are about 30 to 40 million and the pure whites are more in number. So, in Nigeria, we must realize this uniqueness of our federation. That is why I said that we must have rotation of power.
In the constitution we did in 1994 which was received by the Abacha regime, we said the president would rotate among the six geo-political zones. What it means is that every region will produce president one after the other and the governorship seats would rotate among the three Senatorial zones in each state so that people like the Idoma who are in the minority in Benue can taste power like other majority tribes. The Tivs are more than 60 percent of the Benue population. In Kogi, if not because of the death of Prince Audu, Bello would not have been governor because the Igalas are more in number. Without rotation, they would continue to produce the governor no matter how you do it. So, to avoid that type of dominance, we said the position of the governor should be rotated among the three senatorial districts of every state and the presidency should be North and South. And whenever it is the North or South, the zone which has not produced it would get it. We recommended that there should be two vice presidents and one vice president must be from the same zone with the president so that if the president dies, the zone from where he comes from would replace him. For example, when Umaru Yar’Adua died, if we had that system, there would have been a vice president from the North West who could have easily replaced him. The arrangement is that if anything happens to the president, the zone that produced him would not lose its quota. The 1994 constitution was really excellent. In that constitutional conference, we had people like Odumegwu Ojukwu, Umaru Dikko, Tanko Yakasai and so many senior people including late Gen Yar’Adua. A lot of leaders were there. Justice Karibi Whyte was the chairman of the conference and we did a lot for the country. It was an excellent conference. That was how we came out with the federal character. Abacha liked it. That federal character principle was not only about employment; economic opportunities should also be spread out so that no zone should be left out.
The splitting of the Kano Emirate Council into four is a major development in the North considering the strategic position the state occupies in the politics of this country; how did that development come to you?
The matter is already in court and I do not like talking about it. But I can say that it is very unfortunate. Anyway, the lesson it teaches is that our traditional rulers should remain neutral. They should never remotely, directly or indirectly get involved in politics. It would not cause them anything to remain neutral. Our traditional rulers should try to maintain neutrality. They are the fathers of the people including politicians, technocrats, traders and so on. If you are a traditional ruler and you get involved in politics, definitely, you will be affected by the game because politics is dirty. If a governor who you did not support wins, definitely, you do not expect him to be nice to you. Also, what happened in Zamfara State is a lesson for all political parties to ensure they conduct free and fair primaries. In the North, we need education. They say education makes people easier to govern and impossible to enslave. It is so fundamental that people should be educated. Most of the crises in the North are caused by ignorance. Finally, what I would add is that Nigeria must be kept together for all the black people of the world. Nigeria must not toy with the democratic order, development, peace and unity of the country. We represent the whole black people of the world and we should not allow ourselves to be messed up by anybody. Nigeria with about 200 million people is really the hope of the black race. That is why we as Nigerians must try to get the right leaders all the time there is an election –in local government, state, federal and even the National Assembly. We must always get the right people to lead us and that is very important to not only Nigeria but the black race. If we do not get it right, we would embarrass the whole black race. No matter how South Africa, Kenya or any other African country develops, unless Nigeria gets its right, the black people all over the world would not take its pride of place. All the state assemblies now are under the state governors and there is no oversight functions happening anywhere in Nigeria. And the media is not really talking about that. About 46 percent of the federation account goes to the states and local governments. In the National Assembly, they try to do the oversight but those at the state assembly don’t.
What is your take on the President’s maiden Democracy day speech on Wednesday June 12, 2019.
The President has shown renewed determination to improve the lot of Nigerians in all sectors particularly in security and the economy.
He talked about massive poverty reduction programme as in China, India and Indonesia. He also promised renewed support to be given to the security agencies to quickly handle the escalating insecurity in the whole country. Accordingly, we pray to Allah to help him to walk the talk. I commend the naming of the National Stadium in Abuja after Moshood Abiola. The new leadership of National Assembly has also made commendable promises about all inclusive and non-partisan National Assembly. May God give them the courage and wisdom to always work in the national interest and try hard to avoid or minimize tyranny of the majority in all the crucial/fundamental aspects of governance as in real life sometimes, majority can be in the wrong.