Despite the rising tension and mutual distrust among Nigerians as a result of the worsening insecurity in the country, a former Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, lawyer and son of Second Republic President Shehu Shagari, Mukhtar Shagari CFR, says there is still hope to salvage Nigeria, in this interview by KUNLE ODEREMI and SUNDAY ADEPOJU, stating some conditions.
Since Nigeria returned to civil rule in 1999, Sokoto State has been producing governors on the platform of leading political parties in the country. What will be your analysis of the situation on the ground in terms of performance and rating of successive administrations? Do you see any remarkable difference so far between the PDP and the APC?
I actually think that it will be good you visit Sokoto State. As I am talking to you, Sokoto town itself has become a construction site. Flyovers are being constructed; new roads are being constructed. On education, new educational institutions are springing up, teaching hospital is also there. Aminu Tambuwal is really making us proud in Sokoto State. There is absolutely nothing that the All Progressioves Congress (APC) can use to criticise the government at the state level. Salaries are being paid between the 24th and 26th of every month. Pensions are being paid. The civil service is being reposition and like I said, road projects, water projects, health sector projects, and so on and we are happy with what is happening in the state and I can tell you that Tambuwal is doing well in Sokoto State and he is making all of us proud and happy. That is our governor.
It seems you are, in a way already, campaigning for his speculated presidential bid. If he thus throws his hat into the ring again, will it not be against the grains of the gentleman agreement that power rotates between the North and the South?
If Tambuwal is nursing a presidential ambition, he has the constitutional right to aspire to be the president of this country. And I can say that he is amply qualified. Apart from that, he is an accomplished lawyer; he distinguished himself as a member of the National Assembly, even as the speaker of the House of Representatives. During his time, we had the most stable House ever. Now that he is the governor of Sokoto State, I should say he is doing well and that is not because he is in my party. Ask other people; they will tell you the same thing. He has the credentials to do so.
I don’t know of the gentleman’s agreement. I actually have no idea of any gentleman’s agreement. The fact is the constitution of the country has not provided for zoning and which means that any Nigerian, whichever part of the country he or she comes from, has the right to aspire to be president of this country. But if the two major political parties decide that their candidates will come from the South, then, we will surely have president of the South extraction. If they decide that their candidates will come from the North, then, we will definitely have a president of the North extraction. But if the two zone it alternately, it will now be the electorate that will decide which zone will have it. It is as simple as that; it is not complicated.
There is palpable tension across the country with individuals and groups expressing fears that the situation could get to a tipping point. What must be done to steady the ship of state?
I actually believe that the Nigeria of today is not the Nigeria of our dream. It is not the Nigeria of our dream because of the issue of insecurity in the country, poverty and the threat to our unity by various groups. The Nigeria of our dream is a Nigeria where fairness, equity, justice, fair play, security and prosperity are the order of the day. But, today, we are getting more and more divided for selfish personal interest, and not in the interest of the nation. Our founding fathers never envisaged a country where there will be what we have today; where people are being kidnapped; where bandits are ravaging the nation; where there is poverty and insincerity; where there is corruption. Our founding fathers never envisaged a situation whereby Nigerians of whatever religion and tribe will not have the freedom to live in whatever part of the country they want without hindrance. But look at what is happening today. Though, it is not in all parts of the country that we have problems, a lot of Igbo and Yoruba people are living in Sokoto, Katsina and other parts. Nigerians should begin to love one another. In other words, we should live the dreams of our founding fathers: Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, Sardauna of Sokoto and Nnamdi Azikiwe of blessed memories. Their vision was to have a Nigeria in which everybody would still wake up and opportunities would be there for everybody in which we can also develop at our own pace; in which we can trust each other. That is my view.
A former head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, warned that Nigeria is moving towards the precipice due to the frightening dimension of insecurity across the country. How did we get here because people claim that the farmers-herders’ clashes have aggravated the problem? What do you think is really wrong?
The root of the problem is that people have put their self, personal, tribal and religious interests above the interest of the nation. Today, we do not seem to trust one another in this one nation with one destiny. As soon as we begin to believe and trust one another, I think things will change for the better. But for all these things to happen, the Federal Government has to come out seriously to tackle the insecurity facing the country today. When people feel that their governments at all levels care, they will begin to have confidence in the nation. We should do away with religious and tribal sentiments. We must look at all as Nigerians first before we talk about regions, religions, tribes and so on.
In the midst of the apparent climate of fear and uncertainty, some politicians are already involved in intense scheming for the 2023 elections, while others are becoming skeptical about any election in the light of general insecurity, mutual suspicion among the ethnic nationalities that make up the country….
I am very confident that there will be elections in 2023; and the people’s voice will be heard. I am actually optimistic about it because I believe in the audacity of this country. This country resolved a civil war in the past and I believe this time again, Nigeria and the people of Nigeria will definitely win. But, people must be given total assurance that the insecurity will be brought under control within the shortest possible time. People must be given the assurance that their votes will be counted in 2023. Politicians must stop tipping politics. We must all come together, regardless of political, religious or tribal affiliations. We must conquer the elements that are threatening the peace of the country. We can do that if we unite. Nigeria is an enviable nation. Nigerians are intelligent; we excel everywhere we go to. We are the most populated black nation on this planet and we have some of the most intelligent people in the world from this country. We must also understand that divided we fall, united we stand and succeed. In fact, I can assure you that this country will not break up; this country will remain united. We have Hausa all over the country; ditto the Fulani, not those foreign Fulanis that are causing problems in our nation. You have Yoruba all over the country – they have properties, businesses all over the place. Many of them cannot even trace where they come from when they go to the South-West. We have the Igbo all over the country, living in peace and doing their businesses. So, tell me, which responsible Igbo man or Yoruba man or Hausa man or Tiv man or Ibibio man will want to see this country divided? We have become one through some inter-marriages, business partnership and political affinity. I want to strongly say that Nigeria will not break. It will remain strong and united. We should try and understand one another; let us try and love one another. Let us try and tolerate one another. We should know that we do not have any other nation than Nigeria, and that Nigeria will remain our country.
If you believe that some Fulani who infiltrated Nigeria from other countries are responsible for the awesome state of insecurity in the country, why is it difficult for the authorities to fish out those criminal elements?
I think it is the government that will answer that question. The Federal Government has the military, the police and they are well-equipped. It is the responsibility of the government to dislodge the elements. As far as we are concerned, the Federal Government has the responsibility to ensure the security of lives and properties, as well as the territorial integrity of this nation. That is their responsibility.
Banditry has almost taken over the entire North; bandits have almost overrun most of the state governments, especially in the North-West and North-Central zones. Is it the same aliens that you talked about that are responsible?
The security of Nigerians, their properties and the territorial integrity of Nigeria is the responsibilities of the government. The present government came to power because they promised Nigerians total security. They promised to end Boko Haram and every other criminal activity. The government has responsibility to ensure that that promise is kept. It is only the government that has what it takes to combat insecurity. They have the police, the military, the Directorate of State Service (DSS), the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Nigeria Immigration Service, and many other security agencies that they can use to dislodge these people permanently. And that has to be done because it is their responsibility to do so. This is the oath they swore to all Nigerians. Sooner than later, the Nigeria of our dream will come alive.
Nigeria appears to be moving towards a one-party state based on ongoing realignment of forces. Some key elements in the main opposition PDP, have defected to the ruling APC. For instance, the governor of Ebonyi State, David Umahi; former Ogun State governor, Gbenga Daniel; and even former top military brass like Ihejirika have joined the APC. The feeler we get is that three or more governors of PDP might also join the fray.
I want to say that Nigeria will not become a one-party state. It is not possible because Nigeria is a democratic country, in fact, the largest democracy in Africa. Gbenga Daniel has not been in the PDP for a very long time. The governor of Ebonyi State, Umahi, has moved to APC for personal reason. But how many political bigwigs have moved along with him? In 2014, governors, senators, members of the House of Representatives and so on, moved out of PDP to form APC. Has that made the country to be a one-party one? Did PDP not win more elections in 2015? The truth of the matter is that the electorate have realised that APC is not the party that can take them to Eldorado. So, they are coming back to embrace PDP; they have been talking to us that ‘look, organise PDP very well, we are all going to support PDP in 2023.’ The fact that some people, who have no serious political followership have moved from PDP to APC, doesn’t mean we will have a one-party system. There are some people, who are also moving from the APC to PDP, even in my local government. In fact, immediately after local government election, we are going to receive more people back into the PDP from APC.
So, don’t forget that some people are moving from one party to another with a view to realising their political ambitions of 2023. They do so, hoping that when their chances are slim in their present party, they may be favoured when they defect to another party. That is opportunistic. That is not being done in the interest of the nation or in the interest of anybody. So, there is nothing about the movement that we are experiencing in the country now. However, I am assuring you that by 2023, the PDP is going to form government by God’s grace and things will be better in this nation.
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