Senator Kanti Bello is a former Senate Majority Whip, who represented Katsina North Senatorial District on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) before joining the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), one of the legacies parties that formed the All Progressives Congress (APC). He speaks with Senior Deputy Editor, TAIWO AMODU, on the party’s 2019 presidential ticket, his fears about Buhari and the chances of his party.
How will you assess the Buhari administration in the last two years?
I will be frank with you. This is the first interview I am giving in the last two years. I have decided to be quiet. The reason is simple: this is our government and I contributed a lot for the government to be formed, both at the state and national level. I did it not for personal gain, but I thought it would be the government that would assist the ordinary people; a government that will turn round the economy.
I am a very practical person. I thought that a government, when it comes to Buhari, will be able to put smiles on the faces of Nigerians. I know that there are some difficulties; I know that the price of oil has gone down. I know all that but the human expectations, of the ordinary people, the way the government works, I can say 90 per cent of Nigerians are disappointed. And the simple reason is this; when we voted for this government, we believed, it was not only corruption that we wanted it to stop. We also felt that ordinary people should have enough to eat; they should have work to do. We expected some of our factories, especially up North here, would be revitalised. But look at what is happening. I can tell you, no nation with 120 million people can live and be a great nation when it has to import the food it will eat and it has to import clothing. We have the land, a favourable climate. We have sunshine. So, there is no reason we should be importing food and there is no reason why we shouldn’t be clothing ourselves. The reason is simple; there is no agenda to get things done.
Are you still an APC member?
Are you saying your party didn’t have a blueprint of what to do when it took over power?
Well, I don’t see its implementation. Tell me one. For example, power generation and transmission is one of the problems met by Buhari. Up till today, how much are we generating? 4,000 megawatts? It hasn’t gone beyond that! Is it not a disgrace for a government that is supposed to be moving forward? Up till now, our factories, our industries are dead, our people are poorer. Look at our economy, it has been so bad; the exchange rate, they say it has been improving. Improving? From N160 to a dollar, now it is N368 to a dollar. Is that an improvement? Two years ago, it was N160 to the dollar. Is that something to be proud of? It reached almost N500. We thank the acting president, because each time he comes in, there seems to be some improvements in the way things are done. We don’t know why it is happening that way. Maybe it is his luck, but there are some little improvements.
You mean, each time the vice-president takes charge in acting capacity, you see improvement in governance?
Yes, I see little improvement.
Are you insinuating that Buhari lacks the capacity for the office?
Well, even if he has the capacity to do it, he didn’t do it. Look, some of us have to be honest with ourselves, I have nothing against Buhari but the ordinary people of this country are suffering today.
Let me be frank with you, in Katsina, where I come from, people are finding it difficult to eat three times a day, not even two times. Things are difficult. The economy is so bad, whatever you are buying, and inflation has tripled. A bag of maize that used to sell at N4,000 when Buhari took over is now selling at N16,000 and at that price, people aren’t getting it to buy.
I am a practical person. Do we look at all these and continue to praise the government? No! Yes, we praise the government when it comes to Boko Haram, it has reduced its activities in the North-East and there is some stability in parts of the North with regards to the bombings—it has reduced drastically or virtually gone. Yes, there is something good there but then after it has gone, there is kidnapping. People are being kidnapped and murdered. We aren’t safe, you cannot even travel from here to Kaduna without feeling that something can happen to you. You see, we have got rid of one evil and another has come in.
So, all we are saying is that Buhari and his APC government hasn’t solved our problems. I am part of that government and I apologise to the masses that our economic policy is a failure. We have scored 50 per cent on security but certainly the economic policy of the government has failed the masses, because I am part of the masses. People aren’t living well in this country. That’s the truth.
But, your party always attributes the poor state of the economy to mismanagement by the immediate past administration; it claimed it inherited huge liabilities from the PDP. What is your take?
No, come on! That’s not true. We kept quiet about it, because we thought they were saying the truth. Look, how much money has the APC government now collected from the anti-corruption they are doing.
Where is the money? Nobody is accounting for the amount of money they have retrieved from people. Each time you hear so much billions. With that, there should have been some improvement. So, you cannot continue to blame the PDP. After two years, you are still blaming the previous government and you have only four years. Now, we have spent over 50 per cent of the time blaming PDP. I think something is wrong with us. So, I think it is high time our party stopped blaming [Goodluck] Jonathan, because the ordinary people somewhere with their anger are even saying that the Jonathan government was better. That’s the truth. We are afraid to come out and that’s why some of us don’t even speak, we worked hard and we believed in what we were doing, we thought things would be better, but incompetent people are put in charge and of course some people are behind the scene controlling Buhari.
You are making insinuation about a cabal, but the Presidency has always insisted that there is no cabal…
What the hell are you talking about there? No cabal? Well, if there is no cabal, the Buhari I know, I always wonder if he can behave the way these people are behaving. My reason: I have known Buhari since 1960, when I was a very small boy. He was my head boy in secondary school and the Buhari I knew, the Buhari I invited to come and play politics, I think he shouldn’t have been behaving the way he is behaving.
The people that are appointed into positions, everybody knew in this country, they aren’t the first class. For example, even this anti-corruption, the very first day it was reported that Babachir Lawal, the suspended Secretary to the Government of Federation (SGF) was allegedly involved in a shady deal and there was evidence to that effect, the Buhari I knew would have sacked him but he couldn’t do it. It was later I learnt that the man was suspended by the acting president.
The Buhari I knew has no reason to keep Ibrahim Magu. If Magu was alleged to be corrupt by the DSS report, so many people have been investigated and jailed because of DSS report, so is the DSS report supposed to be implemented, half-heartedly and selectively? For some people, it is right, for others it isn’t. And nobody is saying anything. Now, the same DSS is saying that Magu has a case to answer and the Senate is saying it cannot confirm Magu and the government, the one I thought is honest enough, is still keeping that man. What for? Is he the only Nigerian that can do the job? I have nothing against Magu; I don’t even know him but is he the only Nigerian that can occupy that office? There is supposed to be credibility in what government does. You keep telling me that they inherited a bad economy, why did Nigerians elect Buhari in the first place? Is it not because we felt Jonathan wasn’t doing the job and that he should come and correct it? That’s the reason why we elected him. We didn’t elect him for jokes; we didn’t elect him to give excuses. We elected him to correct things. Why is he not doing it? You see, we were quiet, because we didn’t want to talk, not because we thought what they were doing was right, but because we believed we should give him a chance for two years, if there will be improvement. But I am sorry to say I am disappointed.
Why are you so pessimistic? You mean you don’t see hope of improvement in Buhari’s administration, in terms of performance?
No, I don’t think there is much we can achieve. Look, two years into an administration is enough to make a landmark, because he has been looking for this job for so many years. Four times and he came in without an agenda, only to bring in some little boys who know nothing?. Incompetent people were given appointments.
Incompetent people? Can you be specific?
No. You think about the people he appointed, from the ministers, to heads of parastatal-agencies. Are they the best? I don’t have to name anybody. Why should I?
You are saying Buhari cannot effect positive changes, but the national chairman of your party, John Odigie-Oyegun, keeps saying the man is the best; that the 2019 ticket has been reserved for him. What do you have to say?
Oyegun can be as sycophantic as he wants, but the truth of the matter is that some of us are going to look for a Nigerian that’s going to address the economy. Our problem is the economy and we are going to shop for a Nigerian who can help us solve it. You see, every generation has to face some challenges and our challenge now in this country is the economy. It isn’t a question of Buhari coming to fight insecurity; it isn’t corruption anymore, because you can only be corrupt when there is something to eat. Yes, it still thrives because nothing is going on and there is an allegation that it is thriving under Buhari, only people that they dislike are being arrested. Let me give you a typical example. Even this fight against corruption, it seems to be one-sided. They said they arrested a former governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa, because he collected N100 million campaign money, but the same campaign money, I was made to understand, was collected by Tony Anenih and he wasn’t arrested. Is Anenih’s own different from that of Bafarawa? I don’t like anything that looks sectional and we are going to look for a Nigerian with no vendetta at all that wants to serve this country.
You are from Katsina. Can you mount the podium in your state and tell the people to reject Buhari at the poll?
Of course, why not? I was the one who went to Katsina to say Buhari was the best. Are the Katsina people not hungry now? Are they rich, because Buhari is the president? Look, I have told you, I have nothing against Buhari as a person, get that very clear. But his government hasn’t worked the way it should and we should be honest enough to say it. Are you saying because Buhari is president, Katsina people are now buying a bag of maize for N4,000? Are they very happy that bag of rice is now cheaper? Are they happy because the cloths they are wearing are now cheaper? Look, we are talking about reality and I am a practical realist. We have nothing against Buhari, we like him, he is from our state, but we also like ourselves more than Buhari. Our children have to live well, have to get better education. Why am I not accusing Katsina State government, because it is doing their best but unfortunately at the federal level, things aren’t working the way they should. The Federal Government is supposed to show the way for the states to follow and it is most unfortunate that they aren’t doing it and some of us have to say it. That’s the truth; I don’t care what they say on the social media when they read this interview. We are going to look for a Nigerian that’s going to change this economy and help the masses.
Do you think the APC can still win election, repeat the 2015 success story?
The way they are going, I don’t think so. What APC are you talking about? I have been there and I contributed a lot to the development of the party. But from day one when they formed the government, neither the government nor the party has invited us for a meeting. I think people are fed up with the party, let me be frank with you. They are just living in a fool’s paradise, thinking that people are very happy.
Let me tell you, we have a vice-president, who is now acting president; let me be frank with you, if there is no Buhari, he becomes the president and that’s what the constitution says. Let us give him the opportunity to serve. I am not judging Buhari on a tribal basis, if I wanted to be tribalistic, I will say he is the best thing that ever happened to Nigeria like some people have been saying but that’s not the truth. I repeat, I have nothing personal against Buhari but the system is drifting; the government is sinking. We are in a mess.
You have dismissed your party, the APC as a failure. Is there an alternative platform, because all the dominant opposition parties are in crises?
You are wrong. Look, I am telling you what is a party? If you want to define a party, it is a congregation of people. Of course, we accused PDP as a congregation of corrupt people, who were clueless. But some of these clueless people, some of these corrupt people are now in APC. They are there and they have taken over the party. So, if some of us decide to go and do something else and we get the right congregation of people to come in, then we have a party. Party is about people. There is a saying that the number of people in the market defines its importance, not the number of stalls in the market. So, that’s the truth. People will decide, it isn’t a question of party now. Nigeria has to be salvaged, economically. We cannot continue this way, because if we continue this way, where are we heading? We have to get people with the right economic sense, patriotic people who will come and solve this problem.
You said “the Buhari I knew’’ the other time.Are you of the opinion that he is being held captive by certain people?
I suspect so. It hasn’t made sense to me, because there are certain things I personally discussed with him and he told me, “okay, it will be done.” The Buhari I knew, if he gave you his word before, he would do it. But, he has changed. So, I believe that something is wrong. Maybe, his mind is no longer the one I knew, but I cannot determine, because since he got to power I haven’t been to the Villa. I only met him once in Katsina and we discussed.
Have you been shut out or you refused to pay him a visit?
Do you walk into the Villa just like that? You have to seek for appointment, isn’t it? Nobody will ever give Kanti Bello appointment; they don’t want to see my face there, because I had been a PDP person. After working for APC for four solid years: from PDP to APC. After working so hard for it, I was shut out. That’s the type of government we have.
What is your take on agitations for the restructuring of the country? Certain groups like IPOB and MASSOB are actually demanding for its outright balkanisation.
Let us be honest with ourselves, we have seen it in Southern Sudan now which is a new country. Are they better off? The truth is that, they aren’t. Why people are agitating for restructuring is simple: if you are hungry and you aren’t sure of the future of your children, then you start calling for restructuring. You have to look for an alternative. So, they think the country will be better, if restructured. That’s their thinking. I have no grudge against that but I believe it is wrong.
Some of us thought once we had Buhari, this talk won’t happen again. But unfortunately, it has remained with us, because people aren’t happy and we need somebody who is going to help the economy to be better. It isn’t impossible. We need somebody who is a detribalised Nigerian. Maybe it is difficult to get but we will, with a lot of hard work, efforts that can heal the wounds, so that after 2019, nobody will be thinking about restructuring again. That’s what we need
Any regrets inviting Buhari to politics?
I really regret it now, because I thought it is going to be better than what we are having now. That’s why I couldn’t speak for two years, because you cannot bring somebody and say he is the best, work hard for him and after one year you say he isn’t good. Is it fair? But after two years and looking at it, I can talk. I hope he gets well, come back and finish his two years. Whichever way, I don’t see much out of it anyway, because the first two years have been wasted, nothing to show for it. My regret is what I would tell the ordinary people I convinced to vote for Buhari.
What if he says, he is seeking a fresh mandate in 2019?
Let him come back and be well. We pray for him to come back in good health. He has every right to seek for our mandate, but some of us also have a right to look for who will give Nigerians the best.
What if he reaches out to you and assures you that he would make amends? Will you support him in 2019?
That’s too theoretical. I don’t want to answer that question, it is too theoretical. The truth of the matter is that, we are now in a mess. You don’t seem to understand how difficult it is for the masses. Is it because you live in Abuja? Look, I know what people are passing through in my village, this fasting period. People cannot eat. Now, you want me to go and tell people to forget what happened in the last two years; that it is going to be better. No, I am going to tell my people to look for an alternative, what will help your kids to go to school and be able to live a better life. The middle class is now wiped out. This country is in a hole, deep hole and we need to bring it out.