A former governor of Kano State, ex-Minister of Defence and New Nigeria Peoples Party’s presidential candidate, Dr Rabiu Kwankwaso, speaks to a group of journalists on why Nigerians should reject the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), his sacrifice for two Yoruba who were elected presidents, his plans for Nigeria and the citizens. DARE ADEKANMBI brings excerpts.
In the last decade, you have shown this quest to serve the country at the highest level. What is driving this desire to be president?
I believe you could as well ask me why I joined politics because anybody in any chosen profession will certainly want to reach the peak. I was in the civil service for 17 years and I voluntarily decided to retire and join politics in 1991. By 1992, I was deputy speaker of the House of Representatives and then governor, minister, senator and so on and so forth. You have given me an opportunity to appeal to Nigerians across the board, especially those who have credibility, capacity to join politics. I joined politics because I believe I have a lot to contribute to the development of the country. When I started in 1991, I decided not to be at the local government or even the state. I decided to go to the House of Representatives which gave me the opportunity really to meet so many good people at the National Assembly and of course people from my party then, SDP and even those in the NRC because as a presiding officer in the national Assembly, of course, I had the opportunity to work with everybody. That was the foundation I built over the years as a politician who started at that level.
Over the years, I realised that our people in this country are so good. All what they require is good leadership and that was why at the end of the Constitutional Conference and the ban on politics was lifted, we decided to come together across the country. Of course as a young man then and I am still young now, we decided to join forces to form the PDP in 1998. In 1999, I became governor of Kano State and of course, I lost my re-election in 2003. I was also lucky that, based on my performance, commitment and dedication to the party and the leadership, President Olusegun Obasanjo decided to appoint me as Minister of Defence. All the experiences in those positions are experiences that actually important for anybody who wants to vie for the office off the president of the country. It was during that time we were elected that we realised that unfortunately we just formed the PDP based on the fact that we wanted to kick out the military. When we succeeded in kicking out the military, we realised that we were together with the wrong people. We did everything possible for them to understand, but unfortunately the problem was so critical and deep-rooted. When we were struggling to supply water or electricity or other infrastructure or even education, others only believed in sharing the money among themselves at that particular time. That explains why I even lost my re-election in 2003. Along the line, many friends and I realised that something had to be done and that was why in 2013/2014 and I was governor during my second term, we thought of bringing in a positive democratic change in the country. That was why we formed the APC and five of us who were PDP governors then were part of the formation of APC. At the right time, we decamped to APC, believing that we would have a new Nigeria; a Nigeria that will be led by progressives and people who believe in the masses and the country. Unfortunately, it did not take us too much time to realise that probably the PDP at that time was even better than APC and we were very angry about that. We thought that Nigeria deserved a much better leadership than we saw in the PDP. That was why we decided together with other progressives to look for an alternative for Nigerians, especially that the two parties have been taken over by people who are so self-centred, many of them so arrogant. So, we wanted to register a political party for the 2023 elections. But unfortunately, INEC decided not to register a new party and we looked around and decided to select NNPP. We invited all our friends based on our ideology, love and empathy for Nigerians. I am so happy that within a short period of time that we decided to pitch tent with NNPP, so many people have joined us across the country. Now as it stands, we have our political structure in all the 8, 809 wards in the country and so also in all the local government areas, all the states and in all the six zones and of course at the national level. We have very credible candidates, carefully selected based on the fact that we believe this country deserves a much better leadership and this leadership depends on the personalities who will lead at various levels. We paid a lot of emphasis on credibility in picking candidates during our primaries. We believe in NNPP that whatever the problem we found ourselves today in the country was started and maintained by the two political parties, PDP and APC.
I am happy the southern part of the country, especially the South-West, is relatively peaceful and more prosperous than other parts of the country, particularly the Northern Nigeria. Today, in the North, many communities cannot go to bed peacefully, people can’t go to their farms and poverty is everywhere and of course illiteracy. I am sure you remember we have over 20m out-of-school- children in the North. All these things have to do with the mismanagement of our country by APC and PDP. That was why, for example, in Oyo State we have an engineer [NNPP guber candidate, Joshua Olukayode Popoola] who is well known to us in Abuja and I am so happy the state has got credible candidates in him and other candidates who are contesting elections. I am happy we making tremendous progress. At a stage, many people thought that we were just one of the four [leading parties] and by design and strategy, we don’t want to make too much noise. We try to be at the grass root level. NNPP, we believe, is the party to beat in the country. When you mention Rabiu Kwankwaso, the first thing that comes to mind is Kano. Well, it is good. Kano is a big state by whatever standard, especially in terms of population. Now, we have millions of people who have registered to vote and I can assure you that most of them will vote for Kwankwaso, not because I come from the state or I am a Hausa man or a Muslim, but because they believe in my performance while in office and my commitment to the state and the country.
What are your chances in the South West where a son of the zone who is also a presidential candidate, Senator Bola Tinubu, is looming large?
In our own opinion in NNPP, both APC and PDP are dead parties. Nobody can come out and tell me more about PDP and APC because I was part and parcel of their formations. These are parties that have disgraced and disappointed Nigerians. In a civilized society, I don’t believe these parties can even raise a finger to say they want to contest. But you know Nigeria, anything goes and no punishment for people who do bad things and this is why we have found ourselves in this mess. Like desertification, some of the failures of these governments started in Northern Nigeria and they are moving to the South. If we allow APC and PDP to continue to govern us, only God knows what will happen in this country. Nobody can tell me or those in my camp who believe in democracy that they love candidates from the South West more than Kwankwaso and I can tell you why.
In 1993, we had two presidential candidates in MKO Abiola of SDP and Bashir Tofa from NRC, both of blessed memory. Tofa was from the same ward and the same polling unit as me and we had a candidate from the South West, Ogun State specifically. But we went out there because we believed at that time, MKO, in terms of quality and so many things, was much better than our own. As deputy speaker at that time, we dealt with Tofa and he lost the election in our polling booth, ward, local government and the state. Don’t forget also, in 1999, we had Chief Olusegun Obasanjo from the same Ogun State and he was contesting with Alhaji Abubakar Rimi (of blessed memory) who was our leader. We were in the same Aminu Kano camp. We respected him as our leader. But under the circumstance of that time, we felt the a Christian Yoruba man specifically form Ogun State was in our opinion better than Rimi. I was already governor-elect when we went to Jos for the convention of the PDP. One week before the primary election, I removed every delegate from Kano and too them to Kaduna and camped them in hotels. I got an aircraft to lift them back to Jos under the leadership of my then deputy and now governor of the state. At the end of the day, it was at the stadium in Jos that we told Rimi categorically that he should withdraw. So, Obasanjo won the election. In fact, we literally forced Rimi to withdraw because we did not want to disgrace him.
So, when somebody comes and tells me this is a Yoruba man I just laughed. In 1999, how many people voted for Obasanjo in Ogun State or even in the South West? We did it in the North. We worked for him and voted for him. After preparing myself over the years and I am now contesting and a Yoruba is saying ‘we have our won.’ Which one is your own? Is it us who have worked for the interest of the zone over the years? We did it based on the fact that we had quality people. Now, under the current circumstance, you cannot tell me there is a better person in the race than Kwankwaso in terms of educational qualification, right age, holding positions, credibility or health. We have a lot of issues in this country. In 2022, some people wanted to selected a president for the country and they selected by friend and brother from Katsina, Umar Yar’Adua. Everybody knew he was sick and there was no question about that. What happened? To should the responsibilities of the country is not easy. Within a short period of time, he was crashed and had to die. Since then, we have been having crisis and people are still talking about having their own because of selfish interest, because the person comes from their region or profess the same religion as they. Let me tell you any person who comes out to contest on the basis of ethnicity or religion has lost the election before February 25. At the 1994 Constitutional Conference, we decided that candidates seeking to be president must score at least 25 per cent of the votes in two-thirds of the states in addition to getting simple majority of lawful votes. It is not only numbers, but also the spread of votes. No candidate in the current race can come out to same he has a bank where he can get millions of votes other than me. When you say Kano, you are talking about the North West or even Northern Nigeria. Today, every responsible leader in this country is saying it is not a matter of party but that we should have the best. It is only people who are collecting money left, right and centre, either clergy men or traditional rulers or business men who are working for particularly candidates. If you ask such people why Nigerians should go and vote people who have a bad history and no records for themselves. In our opinion in NNPP, such people should not even come close to where people are talking about leadership of the country. That is why we believe in NNPP that we have to go round and talk to the people in the villages, towns and cities. We have gone to over 400 local government areas in the country. What we saw during our trips to these places was horrifying. People are living in abject poverty, no single tarred road in most places. These things have to do with leadership. What we are telling Nigerians is that they should not be talking about their brother or sister. Many people have no experience in this game and they don’t even care to learn. From my own personal experience, those who think if their own becomes the president they will benefit may be wrong. In 2015 when we supported Buhari, I brought almost 2m votes from Kano alone. Not only that, it was our group, the PDP group that provided the cutting edge. It was not the ACN or CPC that did. Did they even know how to win elections? We provided them with the intelligence, local and international contacts and the resources necessary to win the election. My own brother form Katsina State [President Buhari] became the president. What did I get? Zero. So, for those who think if they put their brother there, they will get benefit, they are making a big mistake. What we are telling Nigerians now is that they should vote according to their conscience and go for the best. All APC and PDP have is money and they also boast they have governors, PDP has this number and APC has this number, not knowing the governors are the problem. What have they done? Who is talking about education today? They are just putting their posters and billboards shamelessly in the cities, towns and villages. Local government councils are doing nothing now. They are being charged by their governors to go and install billboards and banners and posters. They don’t even know that people hate them and they don’t want to see them. They contributed to the crisis that we have in the country today. What can APC or PDP tell any Nigerian?
Will you go into alliance with either of the two big parties, APC or PDP.
This issue of negotiating with anybody is being propagated by enemies and opponents. In the last 30 years, I contested elections 18 times, both primary and secondary elections. I won 15 times and lost three, one in Lagos to Buhari, one in Port Harcourt to Atiku and of course the third when I was a sitting governor in Kano State. Those who know me know that I am very serious. APC believes PDP was bad, but APC is very bad. So, in my opinion, the election is between bad and very bad. When we brought NNPP, they took us for granted. Let them continue to underrate us and think we are out to negotiate. Now, we have a few weeks to election and somebody is thinking I will withdraw. No serious candidate, not even me, will withdraw for anybody. In fact, INEC and many people believe there will be no clear winner in the first ballot. But in NNPP, we believe there will be a clear winner on the first ballot. That winner will be me and NNPP. These other people are living in the air. They don’t know is happening. Some are living in the social media shouting. But we are on the ground. We are loved by the people. It is nonsense to say I will step down. Count me out of any negotiation.
A northerner is in the saddle and you, another northerner, are jostling to succeed him. Is it fair, just equitable to allow this?
In NNPP, we believe in fairness and justice. I told you how I led the campaign of MKO Abiola and Obasanjo. The issue now is if you go to that other side of balance, for 24 years of democracy, Buhari has done eight years and Yar’Adua did only two, making 10 years. The South has spent 14 years in power. And I was always there to support the South West in these elections. What we are saying now is ‘who is the best?’ Let Nigerians decide that we should go and do a race of say 100 metres and see who will be number one or two. This is because health is an issue for leadership in Nigeria today. We lost Yar’Adua in the game and even Buhari, how many months did he stay out of office? Six months he could not appoint his ministers because he was struggling to get well. We have to try and do the right thing this time. If there is any part of the country that should do the right thing, it is the South West because of its level of education, capacity and so many other things that are working for them.
What should Nigerians expect from a Kwankwaso presidency?
Based on my experiences in the last 30 years, all the leaders in the party sat down and produced the best manifesto ever in the country. It is practical and was not done by consultants. We decided to do original work unlike those who went to dig up a 1993 documents and gave it to someone to panel beat and called its renewed hope. Our plans are tailored towards addressing the challenges in each sector. The most biting challenge is unity of the country and the next one is security and then education, infrastructure and so on. It is a 152-page document. On security, as former minister of defence, I know that the number of our security personnel is not enough. We will multiply it by about three. We will look at their training and re-training as well as reform them to bring them to international standards. I am very well respect in the military. I did very well for them when I was Minister of Defence. When I was governor, education as free in Kano and form primary school, we were giving our pupils two sets of uniforms per session. We were the first government to start school feeding programme in the country in 1999, jut to encourage them to go to school. That little food that people are taking for granted is very important. When we started it, the enroll number shot up and we had to create nursery. We built over 200 secondary schools, new ones. We stopped the almajiri system. There was nobody begging on the streets of Kano either in the name of almajiri or even people with disabilities because we identified them and those who required help, we helped. We even put lepers on government payroll.
You said you took NNPP from ground zero and nurtured it to where it is today within one year. Are you not worried that a lot of people and leaders who joined you initially, including a former governor of your state, Ibrahim Shekarau, who was already a senatorial candidate? You have lost people in Bauchi and the entire North East…
On the issue of lost leaders, based on my experience, we are better with 100 people who are in peace with us than to have 1, 000 and we will be fighting. We did not invite Shekarau. He came on his own and joined the party we built. We are happy he left. There is no permanent enemy in this game. We gave him Kano Central Senatorial District ticket free of charge and that is the most secured seat in the country. You may lose all the elections, but you will get that seat. It is my district too. He might not even come for campaign, but he would win it. For somebody to forgo a safe seat that he is currently occupying today and throw it away and go to another party, you know many things have happened. I don’t want to speculate, but there are many beliefs about that. I think it was a very big mistake on his part to leave NNPP. But most of the people he came to NNPP with stayed back because he could not justify where he went. So, in that case, we are happy he came and even when he left, the people he came with who ordinarily would not have come us, joined us because they know our capacity. We are happy he came. Even though we are not happy he left us, we benefitted from his coming to join us tangentially before leaving. On the other hand, we are very happy he left us. You need a leader and not two leaders. In the Nigerian military today, they have one leader and any time they have two leaders, there will be crisis. I am his senior in this game. He started in 2003. He was a permanent secretary under me. At the end of the day, he got the ticket to run as governor. Someone else won the ticket. They went into a primary and he lost and congratulated the winner. But Buhari [who was the presidential candidate of ANPP at that time] said he would not work with the winner who was the chairman of the party. So, they brought a clause in their constitution that somebody has to resign from leadership position 30 days to the primary and the man was said to have resigned only 29 days and not 30 days to the primary. This was just to create space for Shekarau.
Yes, I lost election in 2003 not because I did not perform but because of sentiments. One, Buhari from my own backyard was contesting and everybody was shouting sai Buhari. That time, I was with Obasanjo, a Christian from the South West. But I stood my ground. Many governors were saying, vote for Buhari and vote for me in PDP. But I said I would either float or sink with Obasanjo. That is my party and my candidate. Up till today, that decision earned me respect from Obasanjo. I showed I was reliable person. But I knew one day I would go back to government. In 2011, I returned as governor of Kano State and because a Senator after that.
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