Chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who represented Ekiti North senatorial district between 2007-2011, Senator Ayodele Arise, speaks on the controversy trailing the Muslim-Muslim ticket of APC, threat by federal lawmakers in the National Assembly to impeach President Muhammadu Buhari, among others national issues. TAIWO AMODU brings excerpts:
The controversy over your party running a Muslim-Muslim ticket has not totally died down. Opposition, especially, has come from the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) among other groups. Don’t you think you party has miscalculated in this regard?
The Muslim-Muslim ticket is a decision that cannot be said to be perfect. A Muslim-Christian ticket ordinarily could have been ideal if not for the fact that the presidential candidate is from the South West and is a Muslim. If the candidate had been a Christian, it would have been much easier to pick a Muslim northerner. It is much easier for a Northern candidate who is a Muslim to pick a Christian Southerner. It is very clear that 60-70 percent of the Northern population comprises Muslims and we are talking of numbers to win election. No doubt, there are very able, intelligent, technically sound Christians but the question is that how many votes would the person command to be able to win election, particularly from the North. If the reverse had been the case, it would have been a suicidal error for any Northern candidate to pick a Muslim from the South. So, when you look at the situation, the party’s presidential candidate had very limited choices.
Meanwhile, anybody that wants to rule this country must not make religion the priority. If you make religion the priority, then our chances for development is moving towards zero. In today’s world, people are discussing issues of creating life in the space. They have gone beyond talking about electricity. But, in this country, we still don’t have electricity to work; people don’t have electricity in their homes. Are we looking for solutions like that or we are looking for solutions to resolve our religious differences. What concerns a leader should be providing minimum acceptable standards for the citizens, security, availability of amenities and facilities for livelihood, employment.
These are things I believe should be the focus of leadership. I think Nigerians should be more worried about these at this point in time. How do we resolve our security challenges, unemployment, cure the situation of our nepotism, tribalism? I think what we need now is to focus; it is practically not feasible for Tinubu to say he is dropping his Vice because he is a Muslim. Moreover, we all know that wife of our presidential candidate is a Pastor of Redeemed Church and they have been living together for long. So, I do not think that the basis of discussion in their home is religion. For many of us, the situation of inter-marriage between Christian and Muslim is more prominent in the South West. What we are looking at is for us to live as brother and sisters. We should not be looking at ourselves from religious perspective and this is an opportunity for us to begin to move forward. The apprehension of people in this country is being festered by a few.
Those are the things that have brought so much suspicion into the society and people are looking at religion as an issue. We only need good leader to ensure that he lives by example. If we are being directed towards becoming a Muslim nation, I believe there are people in Nigeria who will stand against this and I don’t think it will ever come to the mind of Tinubu and of course, the Vice is quite an educated person that has antecedents. The gentleman came to the Senate after I left. I don’t know him that much but from all that I heard about him, I think when he was governor, there was no time he was said to drive Christians out of Borno State. So, when we look at, it is an experimental thing. We saw it before, but Abiola never ruled for us to know what he could have done. But we have an opportunity to see how things will work out in the current time. If you look at Singapore, under Lee Kuan Yew, you saw what he had contributed to that society to make Singapore what it is today, a very developed country, and his legacy continues. I believe all what Tinubu wants now is a name to say I have left a mark on this country the way he did when he was Governor in Lagos State.
We still continue to say the masterplan for Lagos is what others are still following. Even though I have known the governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-olu, for more than 25 years, I have never bothered to find out whether he is a Christian or a Muslim because those things don’t bother me. In fact, it is not long ago that I knew that Fashola is a Muslim and when you look at many of these people, they have Christian wives, so, there is no fanaticism. We cannot rule this country based on that. I believe we will do what is right. I think it is a major issue that we continue to appeal to the Christian Community that this is not a slight. So, I think reasonably, in terms of calculation and strategy, I believe the candidate of APC considered all that before coming up with Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Do you think the party is doing enough to help Tinubu to reach out to Christians? We had a gathering of northern APC Christian leaders recently in Abuja and they vowed to work against the ticket.
We must constantly appeal to Christians, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), leaders of churches to allay their fears of not only marginalization and discrimination. I think the safest avenue for our candidate to win this election is to continue to appease the Christians, and I believe the Christians will realize the fact that this man, even though he is a Muslim, his wife is a Christian and has never converted. So, they should give him the benefit of the doubt that he will be fair to all sides. It is not about religion, it is about the development of our people.
Issues are being raised about Tinubu›s health challenge. Do you think he is medically fit to be president?
I have always known Tinubu from afar and I have always admired many of his styles even though I did not support him during the primary because I believe every politics is local and I had to support somebody from my local government that s running. I have no regrets, apart from the fact that he lost. People thought Buhari was going to die. It is only God who controls who will die or live and as such, even if a person is not feeling well or looking frail. The most powerful president in the world, that is Joe Biden, is 80 years old. You Si-kun, the Taiwan Speaker, is between 75 and 80 years old. In America, the President, Vice President and the Speaker, are the three most powerful people. It is different from Nigeria where you have the President, Vice President, the Senate President and the Speaker. The Speaker is number three in America. The two of them are very, very old and we cannot say that individually or collectively we are smarter than an average American. There is no single statistics to prove that. So, if those people feel that these people with experience and old age are the best to entrust the affairs of their country to, who are we to challenge that? We have had a young man as our president in this country and maybe part of their policies or lack of their policies is why we are where we are today. It is not impossible. There is nothing as a single factor to define who should be president in terms of how old or how young. It may look like Tinubu has some health challenges but we are not doctors. Just like we are not doctors when Buhari was sick and he came back looking ten years younger, so, no one knows what will happen. It is Tinubu’s life ambition to be president. After winning the election, he might look like 20 years younger than he is looking because the heart and the way you feel actually define what happens in terms of your health. There are some people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, so it is God who says how long people will live to lead your country. Even his opponent, Atiku is 77 years old. So, if the man says he is 70 and some people are trying to disprove that. I don’t know when he was born and a number of us don’t know. If you look at the calculation of when he left the university, those ones seemed to tally with the age that he is mentioning. So, these are some of the things people are not looking at. But I know as long as he means well for this country, to plan well, to put a developmental roadmap for Nigeria that will change the way we think, live and ways of doing things, then I pray he will win the election.
In campaigning for your party in 2023, what are those legacies of President Muhammadu Buhari that you can point to?
l read a few things that Tinubu said he would do and one of the very first one, in terms of tackling security, is the fact that he would automatically start the process of having State policing. I don’t think that if he says that he will continue the legacy of President Buhari, he would become President and start rubber stamping everything that Buhari did. In terms of policies of this administration, you will notice that a few things are focused on social benefits of the people, that is, to ease the burden of the downtrodden, now the implementation might be another question. Have those policies achieved what they were set out to achieve? I do a few things for the government. I think our civil service needs total overhaul. We are the ones responsible for the ailment of the country. A leader can come in and begin to change things but the rot is so deep that when you even try, it becomes a problem. When Buhari started, we started hearing the slogan “corruption is fighting back”. People didn’t know what this meant and when you look at where we are today, you ask what is the thinking those people that surround. Are they thinking about how to bleed this country to death or they are thinking about how to provide infrastructure to benefit all. If a leader does not go beyond his advisers, the chances are that he might not know half of what is going on in the society. So, it is still part of our responsibility to begin to talk to power that this is what is going on. These are the problems we are facing. So, I think, he will come in and do his best.
What are your thoughts on the plan by your colleagues in the National Assembly to impeach President Buhari over worsening insecurity in the country?
I believe such a threat, even though I know it cannot be achieved, isn›t out of place. This is because people are being kidnapped here and there. These people have gotten to Kubwa and they are now knocking on the doors of people to kidnap. Do you think the President is aware of this? No, he is not; because if he is aware, he would have done something about it. He did not become president to expose us to danger; he became president because he felt and meant well for the country. Meanwhile, this is a question of numbers in the Senate. I believe it is a mere threat. It is not a threat that can actually happen because the majority of people in the Senate are APC and this is their president. Whatever you think the President has done, it is the solution that we are want, not impeachment. If you look at the voting pattern, you need two-third majority to carrying out the impeachment threat.
Are you sure loyalty to the party is still there because some of them have lost their return tickets. If it comes to voting, do you think they will stick their necks out for Buhari?
Let me say this, who is the person to decide whether it will be open or closed?
As we speak now, he is being threatened even more than Buhari
Recall that when former president Olusegun Obasanjo was faced with impeachment, he did not have votes per say in the South-West but the simple fact that they wanted to impeach him was what galvanized votes for him to win the second time. Can’t those that lost their elections not win another time? Many of them don’t want to retire and go home; they are looking for appointments here and there in the coming dispensation. So, the truth is that it cannot happen and why did they wait if it is truly based on altruism or in the national interest. The President is leaving by May next year and we are in August. Do the people marshalling the impeachment want to damage their party so much that they cannot win the next election? There are so many reasons and dynamics. Based on my experience in the Senate, I know it will not happen. To impeach the President is not easy. In fact, how many state governors have been impeached before? In a very practical form, whether it is correct move or not, is another issue, but it is something I know cannot happen. They can›t impeach the President; they don›t even have the numbers. The estimation that some people have lost their ticket will not work because that is not the end of their lives, they will still come back. So, it depends on the character now and don’t forget Buhari is very popular in the North regardless of what he has done. So, it is not something that can easily be done.
What are your fears about the 2023 elections especially considering the general state of insecurity in the country? Some people are calling for state of emergency?
Well, the truth of the matter, I entertained no fear about the fact that the election will go smoothly but my only fear is that how quickly can the issue of insecurity be resolved starting from now. During Jonathan’s time, when Boko Haram started kidnapping over 200 girls and installed flags in the North, Nigerians wondered whether we can have an election. Some people said it wasn›t possible, they had to do some things to make sure that the elections held. So, the President has the powers, either to recruit people in the Army or the Police and this should not be done based on ethnic recognition alone. If you don›t put quality people at work, you will get poor results.
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