Colonel Muhammad Abdul (retd), a close associate of President Muhammadu Buhari, is a founding member of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and the district head of Tikau in Yobe State. He speaks with Northern Bureau Chief, MUHAMMAD SABIU, on Buhari’s government, 2023 presidency, ACF, the security challenges in the country, among other issues.
In the last couple of days, there have been protests in the North, especially by the Coalition of Northern Groups, calling for an end to killings in the region. What is your opinion about the protests and the killings?
I don’t think taking to the streets to protest the wanton killings going on in the region is the best way to express their grievance. To me, dialogue seems to be the best option. Our search for peace can only be fruitful through dialogue. All stakeholders must come together and dialogue. But there is a huge communication gap now between the youths and the government. The youths should find a way to reach out.
Where do you think the president should come from in 2023?
Everyone is expressing divergent views on the matter. Some are of the view that going by numbers, the North should retain power. Their argument is that democracy is a game of numbers. It is true, because people with the majority votes will always have their way. But let us look at the issues on the ground concerning power. What does the constitution say? And in the interest of togetherness and peaceful co-existence, we must obey the constitution. So, we have to be careful about the things we do as a nation. We are after the indivisibility of the country. We have seen wars and those of us who fought for the country to remain united will not support any war again.
What do you make of Buhari’s presidency?
To me, he has been able to ensure that the country remains as one entity in spite of the challenges of security and the COVID-19 pandemic. We all know what he inherited from the past administrations. Let us be sincere, what has he done that deserves our condemnation? Everything, to me, or to us up here, is moving. Mind you, we are not static. Governance has not stopped since day one. Even when he had health challenges, his deputy [Yemi] Osinbajo, was running the government. The civil service has not stopped either. Ditto the economy. Everything you can think of, the legislature, the judiciary, is working. Apart from that, the president has not changed. He is the same man we have known for decades. He is still not corrupt and will never support corruption. Yes, there may be bad eggs in his government, which is obvious, but I want to assure you that once his attention is drawn to an anomaly, he will not hesitate to take action. That is the Muhammadu Buhari we know.
We know people have been saying all sort of things to malign him but we know that those saying all these negative things are doing so either because they are not part of his government or because they have not benefitted from a single contract. So, they want people to see him as a bad leader. But they are forgetting that he inherited a decayed system. In fact, his coming to power is a blessing to the country. If not, the world could have since forgotten that Nigeria ever existed. Yes, we were moving towards that when God brought him on board. His integrity, to us, has not decreased. He is the Buhari we have always known. He is the president. He is in charge of the affairs of the country. What I want to say here is that people should emulate him. Yes, everyone, especially, those in government, whether you are a minister or a governor. If we do that, the country will move forward and there will be progress in the land.
They said lots of unprintable things about him. One of the laughable things we hear is that someone or a group of people is running the affairs of the country for him. They are free to express their opinions but what they are saying is not true. The Buhari we know will never allow that. One thing the people tend to forget is that he can’t be everywhere. He can’t divide himself into 200 million parts. People should also take responsibility for their actions.
So, the president, as far we are concerned, is an elder statesman. Whether you love him or you hate him, he is somebody who does not speak twice. We, elders in the North, have followed what he has been doing for the past five years as president and we are very proud of him. He has not put us to shame.
The president has also been accused of making lopsided appointments…
You know, those who are saying that he has concentrated his appointments in the North are being economical with the truth. From available records, the Yoruba have the highest number of appointments in his government. Go and check, it is not hearsay but the gospel truth. Some people are using the social media to propagate lies and turn people’s heads. Even the conventional media who are supposed to counter this campaign of calumny are not left out. To my chagrin, people who are supposed to be telling the truth, as elders, are also culpable. If you check the records, you will be shocked. Let’s even look at the aides of the president and the vice president. Buhari has so far appointed only nine aides but his deputy has appointed 19. Don’t forget that it was like war when Osinbajo’s aides were asked to be reduced to this number. But sadly, people talk all sorts of rubbish: the North wants to Islamise or Christenise the country and because a particular section of the country has dominance on the media, people fall for these intrigues.
How does the appointment of Audu Ogbeh as ACF chairman sit with you?
It was done in the best interest of the North. I was part of those who recommended his nomination, which was subsequently approved by the executive committee and later the entire house. Over the years, a certain section had held sway over the leadership. We felt this might not augur well if the forum continued this way. We are the only recognised voice that speaks for the North and so we must set good examples. We must give responsibilities to others in steering the affairs of the forum for the sake of unity and progress. From hundreds of names, we settled for Audu Ogbeh, a respected Northerner who has served the region as well as the country. We are really proud of his antecedents. We also gave others the opportunity to serve, to man certain critical positions. We have to set good examples for our children. We have been living together for many years, irrespective of tribe or religion. We need to show our children the way and one of the ways is to see us living together as one entity.
What is your view on the security challenges facing the country?
This is the sad reality we are facing today. The security situation is alarming. The increasing rate of kidnapping, banditry and cattle rustling, especially in the Northern region, is not what we envisaged. So, any right-thinking person will agree that the security challenges are not in the interest of the country. Certain institutions have the constitutional responsibility to tackle these challenges but people are not looking in that direction. Two of the most important institutions in the country are the police and the judiciary. So, if we are to blame anyone, I think these two institutions are to blame for the worsening security situation in the country. It is the responsibility of these two arms of government to ensure that criminals are arrested and, if found guilty, get prosecuted. Just last week, there was the case of some bandits that were arraigned before a court but, unfortunately, the presiding judge set them free. Those before us who created the police and the judiciary knew what they were doing, so it is left for the people to ask these two units to always do the right thing. Are the police not part of us? Is the judiciary not part of us? So, if these two institutions feel that there is something beyond them, they should tell us why they are not able to work or achieve results. Whatever the government has decided, to me, they are the implementers. No matter how beautiful a law is, if the implementers are culpable, that law is useless.
What do you make of the country’s efforts at combating the COVID-19 pandemic?
The federal and state governments have been doing a good job on the containment of the pandemic since its outbreak in the country. For instance, the Federal Government and some state governments hurriedly secured loans and received assistance from different companies and corporate institutions in order to tackle the spread of the pandemic.
I think as a president and leader of the nation, Buhari has done well in this regard. However, some of us have little reservations about the appointment of Boss Mustapha to head the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19. The SGF is a lawyer and so some of us feel that the job should be handled by the Federal Ministry of Health since it is a medical affair. After the ministry, we have teaching hospitals who have distinguished professors. From our own point of view, we believe these are the people that are supposed to be drafted into the task force to do the work. Boss Mustapha is an eminent Nigerian but he is a lawyer. We are not talking about judiciary here or about going to the court; what we are talking about are health issues.
How do you see the appointment of Professor Ibrahim Gambari as Buharis Chief of Staff?
From our end here, we feel God, in His infinite mercies, brought in a Nigerian of note to be the new chief of staff to the president. He is an international diplomat and political scientist. Fortunately, the office of the Chief of Staff needs someone who is knowledgeable in diplomacy and politics. With his pedigree and experience, we have no doubt that Professor Gambari will succeed in his assignment. He is mature enough to handle some of the complex issues that may crop up. His maturity is a very big advantage to the government.
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