FORMER Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Yakubu Dogara, during an interaction with journalists in Bauchi, speaks on the battle for 2023 presidency, same-faith ticket, presidential ticket controversy, predicament of the North-East in politics, and other contentious national issues. ISHOLA MICHAEL brings the excerpts:
You led the Forum of Northern Christian All Progressives Congress Leaders that opposed the Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket of the party. Your forum has adopted presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP), Atiku Abubakar for the general election. We want you to shed light why you took that step?
Our journey started with the adoption of what is now popularly known in Nigeria as the same faith ticket by the APC. Before that happened, the Church through the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) had come out with a position which was later reinforced by a group of Christians from the 19 northern states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), who were of the APC. Well, we held meetings upon meetings which led to a summit. At that summit, we took a crystal clear decision compelled by our vision of a united Nigeria – involving both men and women of all faiths – Christians, Muslims, even those who do not subscribe to any creed – uniting to build this country in a way that guarantees peace and prosperity; we will not support same faith ticket and same faith voting.
You started as Christian APC Leaders. At what stage did you reach out to other interest groups?
There was no way we could support the position of the APC and as such, we came up with a communique that addressed the need for us to do a wider consultation and to reach out to our Muslim brothers and sisters for us to jointly search for a pan-Nigerian platform to adopt and push across the finish line in order to better serve our collective interests as Nigerians for peace, unity, progress and development of this our great country. No sooner than we had concluded that exercise than we proceeded to hold an inter-faith summit which took place at the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Conference Centre, Kado. The major highlight of that meeting was that we resolved to form a technical committee of both Christian and Muslim leaders in the North to help articulate and craft a position for us taking into consideration only political parties that had inclusive tickets. This, of course, is in line with our stated vision and passion to push for an inclusive society and obviate the risks associated with our politics polarising along religious lines.
Who chaired the committee?
The committee consisted of eminent personalities chaired by the Honourable Mohammed Umara Kumalia with Barrister Mela Nunge (SAN) serving as the secretary. The committee did an excellent job which was later fine -tuned and adopted by the larger house for presentation to the public. So, the committee recommended that the forum should adopt the Atiku/Okowa ticket as the pan – Nigerian platform. Certainly! The report as adopted has been presented and it speaks for itself. It is res ipsa loquitur, as we say in law. To me, in summary, the report is the only reason why we gathered at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre on December 2, 2022 where it was presented to us. We also received inputs from religious leaders; Christian /Islamic clerics, as well as women and youth groups, who were well represented before we took a common position on the way forward. In our choice of the Atiku/Okowa ticket, we did a lot of analysis. We do not want to waste votes and destroy destinies. Our votes are our God-given talents which we cannot waste without attracting dire consequences. Anyone who knowingly wastes his/her votes has earned the name, “wicked and slothful servant”.
Some people have said that you came out to oppose the same faith ticket of the APC after you lost out in being selected as the running mate to the presidential candidate of the party, Senator Bola Tinubu?
I have heard it said by spin doctors, including no least a personality than the candidate himself. But what do you want them to say? I guess that’s the only sensible thing to say if you want to deflect attention from the stark reality of prebendal politics that excludes nearly half the country, to begin with, I have never read anywhere that Tinubu gives power. To the contrary, only God gives power. It takes only a fool to start getting angry with a mere mortal because he didn’t put him on a ticket. I have seen the hands of God in this regard in my own life, so I cannot be foolish. My loyalty is to principles not individuals and I am profusely thankful to God who helped me very early in life to learn to be alone in a crowd. With the benefit of a hindsight, I am more than grateful to God that it didn’t happen and so many friends and well wishers have also said to me they are thanking God daily that I am not on that ticket granted what they now see and know about the candidate.
What I find funny is that the candidate and his spin doctors always forget that I am not even close to the first tranche of those who first said no to the Muslim- Muslim ticket. Before me, CAN and all major Christian denominations had vehemently rejected it and as we speak, they are all still stuck to their guns on the matter. Can any reasonable person say CAN and the Christian denominations that denounced it did so because they were not selected as running mates? What of some major Muslim clerics and leaders that have equally rejected same? What of the former leader of a world power that said the same faith ticket is a major problem for Nigeria? All did so because they were not selected as running mates? Give me a break. What a tasteless joke!
I want to say with every sense of responsibility that my position is based on the long term interest of this country and the need to protect the interest of people wrongly classified as minorities in this country. I believe that for Nigeria to be a first class nation, it must not hold second or third class citizens within its borders. Were it for self interest, I would have settled for some plumb favours in APC and damn the consequences; after all, which party can better serve your personal interest more than the ruling party? Do you think most of the people following Tinubu today are blind? They see the danger but their bellies are open sepulchers so they price the food they anticipate would be on the table above national interest.
Why then are you up in arms along with others against the Muslim – Muslim ticket?
It was Dr Martin Luther King Jnr of blessed memory that reminded us that, “the ultimate measure of a man’s worth is not where he stands at the moment of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at the moment of challenges and difficulties.” Of course, these are difficult moments for Nigeria and I know that some of us may not find it easy to even take a position. But if you are a student of history, you will know what division and lack of unity has done to Empires and Nations. Tell me one civilization that has ever been built by a divided people throughout human history. I challenge anyone to point at one. Permit me to share lessons from the Roman Empire and Rwanda . The Roman Empire, as we all know, has been the most powerful in human history. There is no empire on earth that has risen to be greater than the Roman Empire. None! As powerful as the Roman Empire was, it was not defeated by an invading army. Rome merely collapsed from within on account of divisions. Rome was never conquered; it simply died due to divisions. If you think that is an ancient story, just take a look at Rwanda nearly three decades ago. Ethnic divisions between the Hutus and the Tutsis led to a genocide – a situation of near total collective suicide. It has remained a scar on our conscience as Africans, as well as on the conscience of the world.
But that was Rwanda in the mid nineties, not the Rwanda of today. Rwanda today represents a major promise in Africa. Rwanda is outperforming its peers and is even strategically punching above its weight category. Why? It is because the emphasis in Rwanda right now is on unity. If you mention the word Tutsi or Hutu in Rwanda, it is regarded as a “criminally divisionist.” They say we are all Rwandans. So, when it was Hutu and Tutsi, they couldn’t build a civilisation but now that they are united as Rwandans, go to Kigali and you will describe Rwanda as the miracle of Africa. I believe some of us have been there. It is just like the Roman Empire; when it was a United Empire with strong leadership, it was a conquering force and when divisions took over, it simply decayed and died on its own. So, these two scenarios I have painted, which is true in every material sense, are pointers to us as to what will happen to our country if we fail to unite our people and develop this country. And the most dangerous thing to toy with is not even ethnicity, it is religion. If a religious war ever breaks out in this country, God forbid, that will be the end of Nigeria as we know it.
We have heard of dangerous vitriol, especially of people saying a section of Nigeria kills people and as such, all women and men that belong to that section are disqualified to hold leadership positions. Sadly, we listen to such vitriol and laugh. We also have heard people talked about religion in a manner that they pass dangerous stereotypes about Christianity or Islam, and laugh over it. But you see, in most cases, we just think those who spit such brazen hate into the political wind are merely crazy. I’ve heard people say to me, oh, no! There is no way I can ever support a Fulani man to be president, for instance, because the Fulanis are killing our people. It’s a pity that sometimes we easily forget history. We’ve had the likes of President Shehu Shagari, in the past. Who can ever describe that great Nigerian as a terrorist or bandit? We’ve had President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. That man was as cool as cucumber and I am saying this from the bottom of my heart. I believe, even though it was brief romance, he could easily have passed as the best president this country has ever produced.
I’ve always said this, when militancy turned the Niger Delta into a killing field, it was President Yar’Adua, who rose to the occasion although he wasn’t from the Niger Delta. In the midst of recriminations and mutual mistrust over the matter, he said no, we cannot allow our people to continue killing themselves as if we are barbarians. On account of that, what was therefore a regional problem, President Yar’ Adua elevated it to a national problem and it was only at that level that we were able to find an enduring solution to the militancy in the Niger Delta that claimed many lives and billions of Naira worth of properties of Niger Deltans. I must acknowledge that some Fulanis are majorly responsible for the parlous security situation in the country but the truth is that not all Fulanis are. Therefore, we cannot demonize the whole Fulani race because of the activities of some evil Fulani men just like we cannot demonize the whole kanuri race because the involvement of mainly Kanuris in the Boko Haram insurgency. We all know that there is no Nigerian tribe or race that does not hold criminal elements nay killers among their ranks, except we choose to lie to ourselves. Assuming it’s entirely a Fulani or Kanuri question, is there any reasonable person out there that believes you can find a solution to the question in the absence of some level of Fulani or Kanuri leadership?
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So, the point I am trying to make is that those who promote same faith ticket and same faith voting are not just crazy, they are dangerous. They are as dangerous as those purveyors of hate on the basis of tribe or creed who demonise entire tribes and races. The truth is that if good people like you and I do not rise up to stop them, those who are crazy enough to believe they will stop us from building an inclusive society will truly succeed in destroying this nation that we cherish so much. So, we have an obligation to rise against those dangerous voices of hate and stereotypes and not just rise against them, but to quieten them so that all of us can collectively make history and build this country. This is why I will never support a Christian -Christian ticket or a Muslim – Muslim ticket in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural nation like Nigeria. Our diversity must be our strength and anyone who does not want us to harness it is a rabid hater of this country and must not be anywhere near the seat of the Presidency.
Don’t you fear that some people may see you as someone who is against Muslims or Islam?
I have heard such comments. Someone recently said to me, if you don’t subscribe to the APC code and support Tinubu, people will think you don’t like Muslims. I said, no. That is not what I’m looking at. I’m looking at Nigeria, I’m looking at unity, I’m looking at a government that can pass as legitimate to virtually every Nigerian. I said if the question was the same faith ticket involving Christian-Christian, I might even do more in opposing that ticket because I believe that it doesn’t tally with my vision of a greater Nigeria. Those of us who will say an emphatic no to Muslim – Muslim ticket and Christian-Christian ticket will do so not because we are not Muslims or Christians but because we believe justice and fairness are a basic, pedestrian and irreducible minimums of the demands of our creed and that it will take the collective efforts of Christians and Muslims from the South and the North to build this great nation.
What do you make of Tinubu and his ‘spin doctors,’ who have been attacking you on all media platforms?
I hate to talk about people especially when it relates to information you obtain in confidence. So, I won’t say anything about what I know when working closely with them except I obtain their consent to discuss them. I can only talk about what I see now and the compelling revelations that are pouring in almost daily. Anytime I listen to the candidate speak at rallies or events and watch how character impeaching revelations are left to stagnate, I feel so much pains so much so that I believe anyone who sees the condition of the candidate and does not feel the pains is either a wicked person or is actually the person who is sick. I think his spin doctors harbour some extravagant delusions. They think the Presidency would make the president better, no! It would only reveal who the president truly is. My candid assessment is that if Asiwaju were to make it to the presidency, I believe he will regret securing the prize for which he has struggled so long, because the experience of the presidency will lay bare his absolute unfitness for it. What we see now assuredly is what we shall get from him as President. Mark my word, if he makes it, his presidency will certainly reveal a contempt for Rules, precedent, order, stability and national cohesion. As for the spin doctors, they have forgotten that dignity still matters in public office and it is unlikely that they will ever have it. So, instead of addressing issues they believe they can insult their way to the presidency. Yet their graver vice is cowardice, reflected in a willingness to always lie to the public to please and appease, heedless of the inevitability of its contradiction, moments later.
What other concern do you have about the APC and its candidate ?
Apart from the same faith ticket my additional worry is that the candidate himself is running out of ropes on devastating revelations touching on his character. Unfortunately for him, in order for anyone to lead he/she must be a person of influence and without character you cannot influence people. People are more intrigued by your example than your words which your character can easily cancel. They may continue to hide and deceive people, but history will never be kind to them. I now see the candidate as a cultural heroin because he makes huge segments of our people feel better (for obvious reasons) as long as the effects last but he cannot heal what ails them. As I said earlier, with him, assuredly what we see, is what it is! It is up to us Nigerians. The moment is upon us to decide whether we want to elevate the greed of a few above the needs of the many.
What bothers me with the stand you have taken is the fact the you framed the issues around justice and fairness, yet you are supporting a northerner to take over from another northerner. Is that not a contradiction in terms?
I can tell you for free that I don’t have any problem with a southerner becoming president; I will certainly work for an Igbo man or woman to be president one day because I don’t believe in the stereotypes we tend to propagate against the Igbos. I have met Igbo leaders whose lives are a legendary epic and I can say are even overqualified to occupy the office of the Presidency. The only issue I have with the way you have also framed the issues yourself is that it ignores the fact that the North East where I come from, of all the zones, is the most cheated since Independence.
The South-East has produced the great Zik and Gen Aguiyi – Ironsi and they had Alex Ekweme as vice-president in the Second Republic but since Tafawa Balewa, the North-East has never ruled Nigeria. Therefore, judge for yourself, between the South-East and North-East, which zone deserves to produce the president first? I have always said to my South-East friends that in as much as I believe Nigeria has not been fair to the South East in terms of the Presidency, I also believe that we in the North East are ahead of them and we do laugh over it. Even in national budgetary allocations since the advent of this democracy, the South-East has always gotten more than the North-East. Go and do the analysis of federal budgets over the years and revert if my assertions are not true.
When it comes to South versus the North, sum up the years of Presidents OBJ and Jonathan from the south and sum up those of Presidents Yar’Adua and PMB from the North, you will discover that the South is ahead of the North by almost 4 years. Therefore, if we are just and fair in our analysis, we must admit that the North needs to cover four more years to catch up with the South. That being the case, I see no injustice in the position we have taken. The requirements of justice favours the North East where Atiku Abubakar comes from more than the South East and between the South and North, it will be justice for the North to be allowed to catch up and balance the years then we move on from there. Every promoter of justice and fairness must come to one unequivocal conclusion that for Nigeria to rise the South East must be given the unflinching support to produced the president just like the North-East too must be equally supported to produce the president. Justice is not divisible so what is justice for the South East must be justice for the North-East and what is justice for the South must also be justice for the North.
I totally reject the narratives that exclude the North-East from consideration for the presidency as if we are not part of Nigeria.
Where is Engr Babachir David Lawal on these issues, if I may ask. You started this struggle together and suddenly we saw him in Labour Party, what happened?
Like him or hate him, he is such an enigma. He has been an inspiration to all of us. He is never short of words and never shy to canvass his position. I am sure he would welcome the opportunity to oblige you with an interview.