Tanko Yunusa is the National Chairman of National Conscience Party (NCP) and was the presidential candidate of the party in the 2019 election.
In this interview, he speaks on the President Muhammadu Buhari presidency. He expressed worry that Buhari is not in control of power, just as he called for a shift of power to the Southeast, hinging his position on the region’s capacity.
Yunusa expressed strong views on other critical national issues, including Ruga controversy, the challenge of good governance, which he said is in short supply under the present government, insecurity in the land, Ndigbo, among others. Excerpt:
Let’s begin with your rating of the Buhari-led government?
I have nothing to rate. This is because a lot of people came with a lot of hope, there was an opportunity to unite this country, but they lost it at a point. It seems the way things are that there is no particular blueprint on the ground on how this country can move forward. It is not that every time we are criticizing, but there are facts on the ground to show that we are not getting it right. We wish to see and say that Nigeria is moving forward, we want to see and say that Nigerians are enjoying themselves because we have no business with poverty. Nigerians don’t need much from their leaders, they are not gullible, and there is just a little that you can do and you gain their trust in a short while. One thing you could do and people will love you fast is there, improve on the power supply, improve on the network of roads.
Does it mean you have your fears for Nigeria today?
Of course, I have. My fears are majorly on the way the government is treating the people and I am worried that by the time the people will want to revolt given the way the system is carved against their interest there will be an explosion. As it is today the people are terribly hungry, they feel insecure, the people have no hope and future or how their country will be like in the next three, five or 10 days, nothing seems to be certain and this is worrisome. Democracy is being put into a lot of litmus test that we are thinking and bothered that it may not survive, so all of these things are worrisome. Nigeria has not been deeply divided as it is at the moment and the people triumph on fake news because the wall has cracked, what I mean by that is that; the government of the day has not been able to find an antidote into uniting this country and make it polarized in such a way that every ethnic tribe in this country is feeling like it’s been neglected, destroyed or annihilated and once the people cannot work together the country cannot move forward. This is worrisome for me.
Do you see part of this sad evolving development as confirming the fear raised by former President Olusegun Obasanjo that there is a deliberate plot by the Buhari-led government to Islamize and Fulanize the country?
No, I do not share in that view of Chief Obasanjo, but what I know is that there has been bad governance that gave a wrong perception in that light. It is not true, but the way the government is leading the people gave room for doubt and people now lash in on it to make people believe that it is true. Let me give you an example, when you talk about one people trying to dominate the country, the tribe itself in question (Fulani) has already multiplied in different sectors and they are already integrated into the whole Nigerian system for a very long time. For example, I am a Hausa man and my parents are Hausa, they have married Fulani people, so we are Hausa-Fulani and them, the Fulani themselves have married from the Igbo and the Igbo have married them, they have married the Yoruba and the Yoruba have married them and vice versa, so already they are integrated into the Nigerian system for a very long time not even today. It is not the Fulani people you see on the streets carrying cattle everywhere, no, there are more refined ones already integrated all over the country, they have them as Christians, they have them as Muslims. So, when people start lashing on it, it is not that one that they are lashing on, it is the ineptitude of the government that is unable to midwife and lead the country into a better forum that made the people begin to think and react the way they are doing today, to give a kind of resemblance of uncertainty. There is a proverb that says: where a wall does not crack a lizard cannot enter. So, the situation in the country has made it so much polarized in such a way that people no longer trust those in governance and they (government) are not making any effort or attempt in trying to make that particular allegation to fizzle away and make it unrealistic by engaging in meaning action for the good of every citizen. How can you explain why the government of the day is choosing his inner cabinet members only from his enclave, his nucleus sector in Nigeria of today? You cannot rule today’s Nigeria in that way. How can you explain to me that in the first term of this government for six months ministers were not appointed and the same scenario is unfolding itself again and the president is telling us that in his first term that he did not know most of the people he chose as ministers, that he wants to chose the people he knows as ministers now. That is not tenable. Are you choosing the people you know or the people that know the job, that know what to do? We need to change the narrative in such a way that Nigerians will feel that government belongs to every part of this country irrespective of your tribe, your religion or where you come from. It is that action that will make the people believe that this country is one, so we need to start showing leadership by example. This is the crux of the matter.
But for the president to have been consistent in what he is doing without feeling that he is doing anything wrong, do you want to say that he does not know what he is doing?
It is not as if he doesn’t know what he is doing, but for me, I don’t feel like he is in control. I don’t think he is in control, in full charge of what is going on. He is not the same person I used to know. I worked very closely with him at a point in time, I am not happy with what I am seeing. Even in the North where he got his strength from people have started losing faith in the system. Before anywhere you see the picture or poster of Buhari they worship it, but today they are being destroyed. Yes, I just came back from Zaria and I saw the posters of Buhari and Osinbajo (VP) torn to pieces because people no longer believe in them following what is happening. It’s a sad development and I wish they know this bitter truth. We from the North, we don’t support mediocrity, we don’t support people who don’t care for others, we can give you sentiment and love you, but once you disappoint the people they quickly take their position. Our people are very good politicians, they listen, they give you room to prove yourself, but the moment you refuse to take care of the interest of the people, which is the small thing they need; what do they need? They want to make sure there is food on their table, agricultural input is promoted, the security of lives and property, etc, that is all that Nigerians are asking for, they are not asking more than that and yet these few things are not being provided. How do you want them to survive? It’s becoming extremely difficult and when we say this, we don’t say it because we are Hausa or Igbo or Yoruba no, we are saying it because we are Nigerians, so what way do we go forward? The president needs to step up on his own beliefs of uniting this country, if any part of this country is claiming or accusing you of doing something wrong against them, please he should try and correct it so that we can work together and live together in harmony and peace, that is all that Nigerians are asking for, nothing more, nothing less.
How do you see the Ruga project that has generated so much heat, leading to its suspension?
It was politicized in such a way that people did not see value any longer into it. But ordinarily, it would have been a beneficiary system for everyone concerned. I don’t want to see cows moving around in the city, I don’t want to see cows moving around causing accident on the highway, I don’t want to see cows moving around in communities and houses causing disaffection and farmers’ crops are being eaten. The issue of farmers and Fulani herdsmen has been there for a very long time, even in the dominant North, but lack of consultation and wide acceptance of the project is part of the misunderstanding. Look, you can’t believe it the way people are feeling now, any little thing you say about Islamists they will politicize it. I saw one post in the social media, it was the Nigerian passport where all tribes are represented, but they singled out the Fulani one and say, okay, they want to Islamize Nigeria that even the passport carries Fulani herdsmen, come on, haba. Every other ethnic group is there in the same passport, that is where we are today and it’s dangerous. The daughter of Afenifere leader (Pa Fasoranti) was killed recently, we don’t even know whether the killers were armed robbers because the investigation is still going on, but some have concluded that it’s Fulani men that killed her, we have already taken a position. It’s because the leadership in the country has not taken a decisive step on some of the things that have happened in the past so people now make conclusions not based on facts or evidence, they just jump into wrong conclusions most times. That is why I told you earlier that the wall has cracked and that is the reason lizard is entering. If there has been a purposeful leadership and the country united together and we are working together as one, nobody will be lifting an accusing finger against any other tribe or religion.
Does it also bother you that the Security Chiefs, almost all, were selected from one side of the country?
Of course, I am bothered, already it has sent a bad signal. Look we are a country that has different tribes, different religion, and every religion and in every other sector, we want to be seen that we are all together, working together as one. No matter how or what good intension you may have and you think probably, that one religion or one tribe will do the job and protect others. No, put everybody together, involve every ethnic group, accommodate all sectors, let each group feel they belong, let’s work together as a team, everybody has a responsibility, it’s not a one-man show or business or one tribe or religion show, no, you must carry all of us together, that is how countries of developed world triumph. They do not carry a particular group to represent all other groups, no, it’s highly unacceptable. For me, I want to see a new lease of life that will protect the lives and property of every Nigerian, every tribe, every religion and that is the way we can prosper. If we continue in this particular way we will derail and that is what is happening. Look, no matter how good a particular Chief of Staff is or an army officer or a naval officer, etc once it is tilted to one particular tribe or group, others will feel insecure, it’s natural, this is not necessary. We have a system in this country that people don’t trust each other and that is the danger. There must be trust and before that trust can be established there must be somebody who leads and show it clearly, show an example, show the way for peace to reign. It is the leadership and its attitude that will make the people believe that we have one country that we can work together. The way we are going we are losing it, we are losing trust more and more, every second with the attitude of the government.
Let me take you to 2023 politics because while some are agitating that power, particularly the presidency must shift to the South, some still believe that it must not leave the North…?
(Cuts in) For me, what is the interest is for everybody striving, I want merit, I want those that are capable, those that can lead, yes, I have been a proponent that power (the president) should shift to the Southeast and then the Southeast should take the leadership to rescue and see what they can do, I know they have the capacity. But the truth about it is that my brothers in the Southeast have not shown democratic tendencies too.
How do you mean?
They are not playing the game of politics. They completely continue to agitate for separation, others will not trust you in that regard, inasmuch as you have the capacity, I believe 100 per cent, I am an adopted son of Ndigbo, I know they have the capacity and all, but you need to integrate into the system and people will trust you. Once people cannot trust you they cannot give you the opportunity, you must have trust in the system so that people will have the trust in you too. I advocate that our brothers in the Southeast should integrate into the system and let other parts of this country feel their capacity and brave and whatever grievances they have is not meant to continue agitation for separatism. The Southeast is excluding itself from the total country, even though they gave genuine reason to be angry, but that is wrong. I am an advocate, serious advocate that if I was a president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, there is no way the South Eastern states will remain five, I will give them one more state because they deserve it. They have to feel the pulse that they are being carried along, so what they needed to do is to play the game of inclusivity. Look there is no gainsaying, our people in the Southeast have shown capacity, they are everywhere in this country, even though their landmass may not be up to what we have in Borno or Niger states, but they have shown good sign of their capacity, so in that case they need to show that particular value in everybody so that people will now start believing you, but when you continue to agitate for separatism it will not help the system. You see in every home there are issues, even husband and wife do fight if they disagree, but they still come back and reconcile. Now, here we are, we have a situation on ground and if our brothers in the Southeast do not see their brothers in the North as brothers, and do not see their brother in the Southwest as brother, then, of course, they too will not feel that they trust them to lead them. I am from Kano State, I just came back from Sabon Gari; virtually the whole of Sabon Gari is dominated by my brother from the Southeast, go to Kano you will see it yourself and that is how it is supposed to be, from there you will expand. They too in Kano you give them similar good responses so that they too will believe in you. Let there be a synergy. You can remember that Buhari’s first vice presidential choice was Dr Chuba Okadigbo, fine, very articulate gentleman, unfortunately they couldn’t win the election. Imagine if we had played the politics the way it ought to be? President from the northern extraction, with a deputy from Southeast extraction, who will have become a president in the nearest future? Your guess is as good as mine. So, that is the politics they are not playing at the moment now. Our brother in the Southeast should go back to the drawing board, so to speak, they need to make themselves inclusively involved. Whatever it is that we have done ourselves, any grievances, we need to find a way of forgiving ourselves. Nigeria is better when we live together in harmony and that is part of the challenge of leadership. I was looking at how if we work together as a team how great this country can be, imagine us developing Innosen Motors in the North where we have vast land and intellectuals like in Zamfara who can help in the design, imagine if the North goes down South and establish businesses, imagine if we share it with the Southwest, no country can beat Nigeria.
How will you rate the anti-corruption crusade of President Buhari government?
You cannot rate any anti-corruption fight in a situation where you are being accused of corruption yourself.
What is your take on the 2019 election that you were also fully involved?
There are challenges, no doubt both from the side of INEC and the politicians. It is this winner takes it all syndrome that constitutes serious problem too, where anybody or party that wins election scheme out others. For instance, you won election with 15 million votes and the other person had 11 million and when you assume office you forget the 11 million and want to carry along only the 15 million along, of course, the 11 million will fight back, if they don’t have hope for livelihood or experience neglect, and that is what the scenario is like now. When you win an election, you accommodate others…if you are the president, for instance; you become the father of all and no longer your party alone. When they win the election, others become useless. INEC should also go back to the drawing table so that we stop having inconclusive elections. We don’t want an inconclusive election in the coming Kogi and Bayelsa elections. We are proposing that in the next election we must have proportional representation. We must take a look at the laws and change it so that anybody that wins certain per cent is included in governance. It has been practiced in South Africa and other countries and it is working fine.
Your party, the NCP has not been able to win elections…?
(Cuts in), I know we have not been able to win elections the way expected, but we won an election in Ekiti State in 2013, but you know that even the ones that are having the financial war chest to run for election, where are they? The major problem is the financial war chest to be able to run an election. Our election has been heavily monetized. Our forms are free, but still people prefer to go and spend their huge resources to where they will not even emerge as a candidate. It is a tragedy. That is why we are suggesting that there should be proportional representation enshrined in our constitution and electoral laws. It will help bridge the gap.