2023 Presidency: Southern governors’ pronouncement not backed by constitution —Yarima

Former Zamfara State governor and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Sani Ahmad Yarima, says the 1999 Constitution and the Constitutions of existing political parties have not declared any zone ineligible to run for the presidency. TAIWO AMODU brings the excerpts:

 

WE have less than two years to the 2023 general elections. Are you still nursing presidential ambition?

Yes, I want to confirm to you that by the special grace of God, if I am alive, I Senator Ahmad Sani, intend to vie for presidential office of Nigeria.

 

The body language politically and naturally of Nigerians today and the outcome of the meeting Southern Governors meeting in Lagos is that the presidential ticket be zoned to the South. Don’t you think national interest should supersede personal interest?

Well, I don’t see any body language either as a law or as a document that guides us in politics and in politicking. As far as I am concerned, democracy is guided by constitution; by rule of law. It is not personal interest of people, selfish interest of individuals or the projections by other people that will guide our democracy.

If you look at all other parts of the world, even in America that is the leader of democracy of the world, citizens are guided by the document called constitution to aspire for any office.

As far as I am concerned, the Nigerian Constitution and that of All Progressives Congress (APC), as of today, unless there is any amendment in the future, has declared that every Nigerian who is qualified based on the qualification that is enshrined in the constitution should aspire for any office in the land: Governor, State Assembly, National Assembly. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, my constitution, both party and national, has not barred me from contesting for Presidency. So, no statement of any group can stop me. But, you see, if tomorrow my party comes up and says we have zoned Presidency to the South, I, Yarima, will follow it. I will then know that it is a decision, legally and lawful that is binding on all members of the party. But, so long as the constitution is still saying citizens of Nigeria and APC Constitution is saying citizens of Nigeria, I am a citizen of Nigeria and I am going to contest.

 

You said if APC decides to zone it outside the South, you will abide by the decision of the party, what then happens to your ambition? Won’t you opt out of APC to actualize your ambition?

You see, I am a very religious person, as a Muslim; I know that power comes from God first and if God destined that I am going to be the President, that will happen. I have never left my party. I started with All Peoples Party (APP); we merged and became All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP); we later merged to become All Progressives Congress (APC). So, I am a member of APC and I am not, in any way, thinking of moving from my party to another party. So, once there is zoning, I know that my time is up but I am sure that God Himself will decide, not people.

 

Given the practice pattern with regards to power shifting from South to North, if your party did not recommend zoning to the South, would you for the purpose of peace and unity of this country advice your party to do so?

You see we are Nigerians and I believe citizenship is very important. I pray that one day, we will become like America, United Kingdom, France where citizenship overrides all other considerations: ethnic, religious, tribal. All these things are because we don’t take that citizenship as we are supposed to. Voters are supposed to determine, not me, not you, not any regional governor. Voters will determine who they want to elect. Every Nigerian citizen should come out with something that he is going to offer to the people and sell himself or herself. The person can say this is what I have for education, housing, infrastructural provision, human development and so on. Then, people will compare and see who, between Mr. A and B, is supposed to be our President. It is not regional.

Let me ask you one question: Let us say we zone to Rivers State, even within Rivers you see people saying that is Ijaw, that is this, and that. Is it politics? The Constitution is very clear; people are politically illiterate because they don’t read the Constitution; even if they read, they read because of personal and selfish interests, that they want to acquire power by allocation. It is not done in politics.

People should be allowed to go and contest, present themselves, offer what they want to offer to the nation and Nigerians will decide and see who is going to be our best President. So is not by allocation, zoning or no zoning that is not an issue. As far as I am concerned, it is democracy and democracy has some principles and practices that have to be followed.

Nobody will sit in Lagos and say these governors were elected. Were they elected based on zoning from their states? No! Go to Benue State, tell them that it is now the turn of Idomas. Will you force the Tivs to vote for that Idoma? But if they have an Idoma candidate that is very good, credible, I am sure the Tivs will not say he is an Idoma. That is what we should aspire as Nigerians to make sure that citizenship is more important to us than any other.

 

The problem of bandits, kidnappers is very rampant in the country. If you eventually get the ticket and become President of this country, how do you think this problem can become a thing of the past and what do you think President Muhammadu Buhari ought to have done to solve this problem?

First of all, I will say he (President Buhari) is doing what he ought to have done. He has started with the change in the leadership of the military and the arrangements they are making. You see, initially the President was very soft; some governors will come and tell him we should negotiate; we are negotiating, some people are saying no; let’s use action but I think now he has resolved by his statement that anybody seen with AK47 should be shot.

Now with this change in the administration of the military, go and find out in Zamfara, they started action just last week and I am sure very soon they will rout out all these bandits that are in the bush and the forests and it is going to be history. I know that this will happen.

So, I am sure of the action he is taking now. Government has procured a lot of equipment for the military; it has organised the military hierarchy and I think they are now being given a lot of support by government, both at the national and the state levels. So I am sure they (federal government) are doing well.

What I will do as a follow-up to your question is that: one, I believe in restructuring of the police. That is going to take care of all the local problems. I will prefer a situation whereby those people in the state should be made to concentrate in their localities; they know everybody there and they know the new comers; they know their forests; they know their terrain and if you have state police, all these things will be managed and well handled.

 

Let’s talk economy. What is your take on the free fall of the Naira as it is now? And secondly, the Electoral Act, there are thoughts that we should not have electronic transmission of results. So what is your take?

On Naira issue, we have fiscal and monetary policies that are very faulty and they influence production. A situation where even toothpick is being imported by businessmen let alone rice and others. So we should have robust and fiscal monetary policies and development strategies that will encourage development of agriculture so that we can produce all we need locally and once your production level increases, the demand for foreign import will not be there. That is only when you have Naira getting its true value. The value is now being determined by import and export which is not good for our economy.

I am sure that by the time we have industrial and agricultural policies that are good such that we can produce what we need, even the clothes we wear, some people will go for local suits because we will have very good fabrics that compare favourably with the international ones that we import. We have to export; we were exporting cotton to China, America, but now we are importing cotton. We were exporting soya beans but now we are importing soya mills to feed our chickens. This kind of thing has to change.

Now to your second question, I support electronic voting. I think that when we were queuing to register (accreditation) without the card reader, what was happening? People will just sit down and write names and say we have certain number of people. By the mere introduction of card reader, the whole thing has changed. You can see that you have your fingerprint and look at what is happening now, registration of voters online. The world is changing, Nigeria has to follow. We need to use technology as much as possible. As far as I am concerned, one day, we are going to go for electronic voting.

 

Still on the economy, you have admitted that it is too much import-dependent, but this government has promised us that we are going to diversify. In the last six years, how would you appraise the government in terms of diversification of the economy?

Look at what is happening today, Covid-19 has changed the whole plan of government. When this government came in, I always maintain that the previous administration was selling crude oil at $140 per barrel and suddenly it started blinking and came to below $30 per barrel.

Secondly, as the federal government was struggling to get out of that crisis, then COVID-19 came in and changed the world, not only Nigeria. There are so many challenges that affect government policies and programmes. Government will have a good intention but in the end what happens, there are so many factors that would come in.

As far as I am concerned, today, the Vice President has just said it that they are pumping money to agriculture this year so that people will be back to the farm and with the current effort of tackling the armed bandits, people will go to their farms. For the last two years, people in the North cannot go to the farm. Even in the South, these herdsmen and farmers conflicts did not allow some people to go to their farms. With the efforts that government is now putting in place, I think we are now moving on the right track, as regards diversification. It is not yet on the right track because of these challenges.

 

Recently, the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El Rufai was quoted as saying that kidnapping is a thriving business. Also, an Islamic Cleric Sheik Gumi made the same assertion. What is your take on these assertions?

Of course, we have major problems associated with that, poverty and ignorance, illiteracy. The level of poverty in Nigeria today, both North and South, is so high that people are looking for any other means of making money and so kidnapping and banditry came and then people started joining.

There is no good Christian or no good Muslim who is religiously educated and will carry gun to kill another person. Both Muslims and Christians worship God with a view to going to heaven. But, because of poverty and ignorance of our own religions, people take gun and kill another person or even somebody will connive and sell his brother. This kind of thing is because of poverty but with robust economic programmes and policies of government, with current allocation of N2.3 trillion in this year’s budget for palliatives, I am sure things will change.

 

Not too long ago the Governor of Zamfara State defected from PDP to APC. There are some members of APC in your state that are still opposed to that defection. On whose side are you? Secondly, the governor himself said the main reason he left for APC is to see whether insecurity will end because if he remains in PDP, he may not get the support of the Federal Government. How do you feel about this?

For your first question, I am on the side of justice. Those people who are saying that the governor should not defect, should not be deceived. As I said, maybe they are not conversant with our constitution. One lady asked me two days ago how do we stopped defection? We can’t. It is part of our political history and development and even in America today, people defect because they see where they believe that their people are.

Every Nigerian knows the history of Zamfara. In 1998 when we started APP, PDP AD and so on, APP won election when I became governor. In 2003, ANPP won election and in 2007, ANPP won election again and the governor defected to PDP and in 2011 we recovered our state. When APC came, Abdul Aziz Yari became governor two times. So, Zamfara is an APC-controlled traditional state.

Therefore, the Governor was part of that history. He was in APP in 1998 and he contested for local government election. APP won seven local government areas including the state capital and we lost seven, including his own and I made him Commissioner for Local Government and he was supervising the candidate that defeated him and he went to House of Representatives after being Commissioner and when the governor then, my former deputy defected to PDP, he followed him and won his election into the House of Representatives. Now he decided to come back home. If you see the picture we have this morning, only two people: Yari and Kabiru Marafa, they will come soon. We are going to be a family as we used to be before. So I’m on the side of justice. The justice is that the governor has come, we have received him and there will be no problem.

For the issue of security or insecurity, even myself could not go to the governor and offer constructive advice because as an APC member, if I openly go and start talking to him, some people will say may be I am trying to cause more problems for him but now we are in the same party. I used to go to his office and give him advice on how to tackle the issue of insecurity but now I can go all out and take him to the President. We will discuss because our party now has the responsibility to make sure that not only do we win elections but we satisfy the yearnings and aspirations of our people.

 

Let me take you back to the economy, it is widely acclaimed that the APC-led administration is plunging the country into a serious debt. Just this week, the Senate approved about another loan request from government. Are you not worried over this development?

Well, I want to tell you that every country will continue to face challenges over time. We used to have a situation whereby, the President of Nigeria then, Head of State made a statement that: ‘our problem is not money but how to spend it’. But afterwards, Nigeria started having problem to the extent that we even went into very serious debt. Obasanjo came and tried as much as possible to exit Nigeria from debt. He almost achieved that. In fact, that’s why two days ago I was saying, he is one of the best President. People will not know until history of Nigeria is written. Obasanjo did very well. He almost exited Nigeria from total debts but Yar’Adua came and when he died, Jonathan was there for six years and went back to debt. Why? Not because of Jonathan but because the economy started having problems. The structural changes that we faced, the challenges that the President faced of Boko Haram required a lot of resources. There were so many problems in the Niger Delta until that discussion between the Niger Delta youths and government took place and then government came up with things that resolved that.

So, this current administration, like I said earlier, started with very bad economic parameters. When the crude oil was $140, it dropped down to $30, what do you expect them to do? They have to go into debt. Covid-19 is also another problem. Like I told you the production system is a very serious problem, not only issue of insecurity. Even UK is going to debt; Europe is printing more currency. So, it is an economic problem that is being faced by Nigeria and the ability of a leader to come up with robust policies and programmes to solve this problem is what is going to make him a good leader.

I want to assure you that having seen the history of Nigeria as an economist – I read Economics at degree and Masters levels – I have studied the economic policies and programmes of the past administrations; I have seen what is happening today so we are now preparing to see what economic policy that will take into consideration the challenges that this administration is facing and what new things we can bring to make sure that the economy gets back to its normal situation, whereby debt relief is not being  sought. We will not even go for new debt, but it depends on the parameters of the economy. It is not me that will determine what will happen tomorrow, only God knows that. There could be more difficult situations but to face the challenge is what will make you a leader.

If Buhari did not come with anti-corruption programmes and corruption was given free hand like it used to happen before, we will not be talking now. We would have been like Rwanda or any other country that is facing crisis all over the world. This banditry is because of poverty. If there is increasing poverty and nothing is done, people will go all out looking for whatever they have to do to make sure that they feed their families. So I’m sure that the government is on track and we will also follow suit to make sure that we come out with robust policies and programmes that will make sure that we are out of this debt.

 

You talked about State Police and there are those who are arguing that having State Police is like scratching the issue on the surface. Will you rather advocate for a complete devolution of power in the country, and what plans do you have for Nigerians in the Diaspora?

On the devolution powers, like I told you, is already happening. It has to do with the ongoing constitutional amendment. However, the constitution has not been amended, the judiciary (State) has been given financial autonomy, States Assembly have been given financial autonomy and I hope very soon they will give local government financial autonomy. Once that is done, the yearnings of the people that are saying that there should be restructuring will be met.

On resource control, if you look at the history of Nigeria, during the first republic, our major export earners were cash crops; cotton, groundnut, cocoa and so on. These were the things we were exporting; it also provided the revenue with which we developed the oil sector. The effort of government to also explore oil in the North will reduce this pressure from the South saying that the North is not contributing because they have forgotten that the North had contributed earlier before we got the oil. It was the federal government that financed the exploration of oil through the export of cash crops.

So, I believe that we are all Nigerians. What we need to do is to look at the system and see how best the system will work. Those who are advocating for division of this country are only doing it for selfish interest. I don’t see us divided because we are better together. We do not know why God decided to bring us together and only Him can change the situation. So, we will look at the democracy that we are operating and see what amendments can be done to the constitution for everybody to be happy. If we say zoning should be part of constitution let it be. But, once you put zoning in the constitution, even zoning of the Presidency to the South-East will create its own problems. Some people will say Onitsha people are different from Enugu people or there are different types of Igbos. If you send it to South-South, they will say its either Ijaw or Itsekiri.

It is better we develop this concept of citizenship. Every citizen of Nigeria should have freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of movement as provided by the constitution. You can live in Zamfara, Rivers, Ile-Ife, you can live anywhere as a Nigerian. Once we accept that, all these problems will not be there.

For those in diaspora, every crisis must be a reason for it. The problem of Nigerians in Ghana is that they are doing well. The problem of Nigerians in South Africa is that they are doing well. Even before the Covid-19 crisis, the economic problem that is facing the world is the one causing all this crises. There has to be the interaction between the government of Nigeria and government of Ghana and any other country to make sure that our citizens are properly protected.

The foreign policy of Nigeria should be geared towards making sure that citizens of Nigeria operate freely without any hindrance and that is what we need to do. Government should be very strong on those countries that are allowing our citizens to be bastardised.

 

After the defection of Governor Matawalle, he said he is the new leader of APC in Zamfara State and before then there was leadership crisis in the party. Don’t you think that will affect you and who do you recognise as leader?

Do you have the knowledge of APC Constitution? The APC Constitution is very clear, President is leader of APC in Nigeria and every governor is the leader of APC in his State. So there is no crisis as far as that one is concerned. Nobody will allocate leadership. I was Governor in 1999, I left office, my Deputy took over, he became leader of the party and after him, Yari came and now Matawalle is there, he is the leader of the party as stipulated by the APC Constitution. The crisis that happened in 2019 election will not happen again because at that time, there was no proper primary election and that is the crisis we found ourselves.

In Zamfara, this is the first time that we have such crisis. We had election in 1999, there was no problem, we had election in 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 because once you are just and fair to all, you make sure that you allow free and fair election, there will be no problem.

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