Convener of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) and former Vice Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna, Professor Ango Abdullahi, speaks with DARE ADEKANMBI on the state of the presidential race and North’s position, eight years of the Buhari administration, among other issues.
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) in a statement during the week raised the alarm over the purchase of PVCs from electorate in the North for as low as N2,000. How serious a problem is this?
The information did not really emanate from NEF, but from INEC itself. INEC is the one complaining about vote buying and even people being paid to attend rallies and so on. SO, INEC seems to be saying we should be prepared for vote buying in 2023 elections.
Vote buying has one problem that seems to be defying solutions…
It is a very serious problem. The issue now is that it is the highest bidder that will eventually win elections and this is unfortunate for Nigeria’s democracy, if there is democracy in the country. It is unfortunate that, that democracy will be bought at polling stations at the rate of whatever people will pay to the voters. So, it is either the voters don’t know what they are looking for or the politicians are taking advantage of either ignorance or poverty of the people and divert whatever opinion people may have to their own in terms of money. So, it is a very sad indicator and I hope that not just INEC, but all Nigerians, should know the danger that is in it, if indeed vote buying is on and there is no mechanism to stop it or there is no deterrence that could more or less prevent it completely.
How do you think this problem of voter merchandising can be reduced to the barest minimum or solved permanently?
It can be stopped by security agencies searching and arresting the persons involved and the culprits being punished severely and immediately because we need to set an example. The problem we have in Nigeria is that people who offend the law take advantage of whatever weaknesses there are in our legal system. Instead of trials that should take a day, it may take six months or even a year. Our legal system also is a factor in this because if there are rules set aside against offences, there should not be any delay in applying justice where breaches have taken place. So, it is a serious problem indeed and the politicians are guilty completely.
Looking at the state of the presidential race, how would you assess the campaign so far?
The campaign is empty of ideas. The campaign is not on issues. It is about insults and denigration of each other between candidates and political parties and so on. We have not seen serious campaign in terms of the challenges the country is facing. For example, there is insecurity. We need them to tell us something about security, what they are going to do. They also need to tell us something about the economy. Naira is so valueless that it is almost N1,000 to buy one dollar and so on. This is part of what is killing people in the country and the candidates are not talking about it. They are busy talking about Muslim-Muslim ticket, South versus North and so on. These are not the real issues in the country.
Was this what you were trying to say when you were quoted to have said we should not seek solutions from the candidates on the basis of religion or ethnicity?
That is true and that was exactly what I was trying to say. This is exactly what is going on now. The campaign being based on ethnicity and religion is clear for us to see. We can’t deny that. So, if that is the basis for campaign and the emergence of a leader, then whoever emerges on the basis of ethnicity or religion has a lot of work to do because that is division that is almost permanent in Nigeria.
You have been quoted to have said the North will only support a presidential candidate who will lead the country with competence, integrity, compassion and fear of God. Has the North seen any candidate with these qualities?
Well, I am sure you remember we organised an interactive session in Kaduna State for presidential candidates who cared to attend. Some of them attended. The reason for that interactive session is for the candidates to come and tell us what they are going to do for Nigeria generally and what they are going to do in Northern Nigerian specifically. Only five candidates appeared at the session. So far, we have been evaluating what they have said. And we will not take their presentations before us alone as the basis to support any of them. We are also following their campaign, finding out to see if what they told us is the same thing they are saying in their campaign. So, the evaluation of candidates is an ongoing thing from our own end. Very soon, we will come to the conclusion as to who is the best material to support.
You once said the North bore the scars of governance by voting Muhammadu Buhari twice into power and that the votes from the North in 2023 will make a major impact and will be ‘cast by people who are now wiser and more discerning.’ What are you trying to say here?
It only means nobody can take the Northern votes for granted in 2023. The Northern voters have to be convinced in terms of what they are voting for. They are not voting based on sentiments, but for something substantial in terms of what their interest in Nigeria is. That is the meaning of that.
By saying the North bore the scars of governance by voting Buhari, are you saying he has not done enough for the region?
Yes, he has not done anything for us and our spokesperson has been talking about this and I am sure, as a newsman, you have been following the comments and discussions NEF is involved in, about the failure of government and so on and so forth. So, it is very clear. We are bearing a lot of the failure of the Buhari administration. There is insecurity in the North. There is poverty in the North. So, we are certainly bearing the brunt of hardship in terms of the way we voted before. So, we have learnt quite a lot of lessons from that and we should be looking forward to something better than what we have now in the next elections.
Do you think it is morally right to have another northerner as president after Buhari will have spent eight years in office?
Look, there is no morality in politics and there can be no morality on this. Go and look at the constitution and the constitution will tell you the basis on which you become a voter or the basis on which somebody will vote for you. If it is about morality, then you should go to the mosque or church.
You don’t see anything wrong in it if the next president is a Northerner?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with it as long as people have voted. The votes will determine who wins an election. That is all.
Are you confident that INEC will do a good job in the conduct of the 2023 elections?
I can’t speak for INEC and I have not worked for or in INEC. There have been elections before now conducted by INEC. Some of them are good and a lot of them were criticized as poorly organised and so on. I will have to take the words of INEC that it is better prepared now than they were prepared before. So, we hope that based on their preparations, something better than what we had before will come in 2023.
What do you think will be the immediate task for whoever emerges the president in 2023?
There is too much for the person to do. I am already feeling sorry for the next president because there is so much to do. He should really be having sleepless nights to tackle all the major challenges facing the country today. My only prayer for the next president is that he will find assistants that will really help him to carry the yoke.
We know there is more poverty in the North than there is in the South. But is the North going to have a new lease of life with the discovery of crude oil in some parts of the region?
Let me tell you this, as far as I am concerned, oil has been the cause of poverty in Nigeria.
It has killed the initiative to create something more permanent and more useful. Oil has been responsible for killing agriculture in Nigeria and agriculture is the employer of 70 per cent of Nigerians. Only very few people benefit from oil exploration and oil business. I am sure you have read recently that up to 700,000 barrels of crude oil are stolen every day. Is the oil stolen by the poor Nigerians? No, it is stolen by the elected and educated people in the country. So, oil has been a source of poverty in Nigeria. The faster we get out of oil mentality as source of wealth and something to eradicate poverty in the country, the better for us.
The fact that oil has been discovered in some parts of the North, to me, does not make any difference. What will save Nigeria, more so Northern Nigeria, is to go back to the primary productive area, which is agriculture.
You said you voted for Buhari twice and the conditions of the North have not improved…
No, I voted for Buhari only once.
You did not vote for him in 2019?
I said in 2019 that Buhari should not be voted for. I said Atiku Abubakar should be voted for in 2019. That was what I said. I made a public announcement on behalf of Nigerians elders. We had a meeting with Afenifere, PANDEF, Ohanaeze and we came to the conclusion that Buhari should not be voted for in 2019. I was the one who made the announcement.
But Buhari won…
I don’t know. It means people did not listen to our advice.
Are they going to listen in 2023 when you tell them who to vote for?
I don’t know. The point here is that you can make your views known. Whether these views are accepted and used is a totally different matter. So, in 2019, we said they should not vote for Buhari. That Atiku was a better option for Nigeria, but they decided to go the Buhari way and this is what we have and are all living with now.
So, in 2023, we will soon form an opinion as to who is the best material to vote for. Whether Nigerians will accept that or not is a matter for them to decide.
Buhari they say Buhari has been very kind to the North in terms of projects and appointments…
You must be the one who is saying that. Where are you doing this interview from?
I am speaking from Ibadan, in Oyo State…
Ok, the West has taken 70 per cent of what Buhari has to offer in terms of development. The North got virtually nothing.
How do you mean the North got virtually nothing…
That is not correct or it means you have everything in the West.
We have the railway line from Lagos to Ibadan and the Lagos-Ibadan highway as impact of Buhari’s administration in the West…
Ok, you come and show me the evidence of what Buhari has done in the North.
The railway lines from Daura to Niger Republic…
Is he planning to do so or he is already doing it? Will he be able to deliver the project in the next two or three months? He must be joking really or somebody is deceiving himself. Go and ask [Babatunde] Fashola [Minister of Works] what he has done for us and compare it with what he has done for you in the South-West.
Will the North speak in unison concerning 2023 elections? The North is no longer monolithic…
The North has never spoken with one voice. The North has always spoken with different voices and eventually some of the voices prevail in winning elections. In 2019, Buhari got 81 per cent of his votes in the North, but he did nothing for us. He went to places he got five to 10 per cent of his votes like in your area.
You said the votes from the North will make a huge impact in 2023…
Absolutely that is what is going to happen. We have huge votes in the North, waiting to be deployed where we think the votes will be useful to us.
Will the votes be for either of your sons from the North, Rabiu Kwankwaso of NNPP or Atiku of the PDP or for Tinubu or Peter Obi?
You are talking about Peter Obi and Tinubu from the South and Kwankwaso and Atiku from the North. It depends on who is drawing what votes to himself.
Unfortunately, his best has not been good enough for the country. That is the truth. As a former teacher, I know when a student writes an exam, he will say he tried his best and the teacher will say his best wasn’t good enough and that he has failed the exam. So, here is a situation of somebody grading or assessing himself in terms of his performance. But his performance should be left to be assessed by those he is serving. Nigerians should decide whether Buhari has done his best for us or it is Buhari who will determine whether he did the best for Nigeria
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