Convener of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Prof Ango Abdullahi has pooh-poohed the view that a Northerner should not succeed President Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s president, insisting that Nigeria’s laws do not oppose such.
In an interview in Bauchi, the former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria said Nigeria should try the parliamentary system again since the presidential system has failed to move the country forward.
He spoke on other issues of national importance.
It’s politics season now. Are you satisfied with the way the campaigns are going on now? Do you think the candidates are addressing the issues?
Well, indeed it is campaign season and before the campaign season, something must have given birth to the campaign season, meaning here that the various political interest groups or political parties in whatever nomenclature have decided to go to the electorate to canvass for their consent to occupy certain political offices which if you like could start from a counsellor through State Legislative Houses, through structures like governors, National Assembly and eventually the apex, the presidency.
You know the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is supposed to regulate and guide all these and so on. It is INEC that will supervise primaries according to the rules and regulations and so on. And eventually, at the end of the process, there will be a candidate who will emerge for a particular office starting with the presidency down the line.
If I am to start from there, l will say I will not be satisfied and l have expressed this position that lam not satisfied with the system that is being used now to bring up candidates for election and eventually candidature for elections translate into executive responsibilities from President down. I had criticised the system as unsatisfactory and unsuitable for the country. It has not served our interest very well. Particularly, I have criticised the mistake the country made by adopting the presidential system of government. And this is what we are struggling with now. We tried the parliamentary system for only five years. We disbanded it or it was disbanded by some people without consulting Nigerians. Eventually we are forced, more or less forced, to say that we should go and borrow presidential system whether from France or from America. And that we have done from 1979 when President Shehu Shagari was elected under the system. And now for almost 24 or 25 years, we have been trying the presidential system of government and l wonder if those who criticised the parliamentary system have something to say whether it was worth our while to change from the parliamentary system.
We tried it for only five years, and we have tried the presidential system for almost 25 years and yet things are not working. And so for me the real crisis facing Nigeria today in terms of its politics or so called democracy and so on is the fact that the system is not working and l have argued very strongly along with many of my friends who believe in the same thing. I remember when l discussed this subject l always call back or recall my personal friend and classmate Dr Ibrahim Tahir, a good political scientist and sociologist who had insisted up to his death that Nigeria has made a mistake in abandoning parliamentary system and jumping into presidential system that doesn’t fit our history, doesn’t fit out cultural set up, doesn’t fit our economic systems and so on and so forth. And that’s why for 24 years now, we have been groping in the dark and this country has not made the kind of progress that one would have expected it to make under any reasonably good political system.
But this country has not made that kind of progress that l would like to recommend or commend in relation to the political system we are using. So that’s where my problem starts. My problem is with the system. So the system has thrown up people who are virtually recycled from 1979 to date. It’s a system that keeps recycling politicians or if you like leaders under the system that has not added value to the development of the country in all indices, under any indices you want to discuss the progress of Nigeria you find out that the country has not made that progress that you like to commend and attach to the system that it has used for the last 24 years. So this campaign, to me, is recycling a system that has failed for the last 24 years.
From what you have said, you are pessimistic about the future of Nigeria as it were?
Of course l am. I am still an advocate that Nigeria still needs to re-examine itself politically and we have to really, realistically be honest and say have we succeeded with the presidential system that we borrowed from America or somewhere else that we have tried for 24 years visa vis the parliamentary system which we used for only five years, which our fathers have successfully used in really setting up a presidential system of government that we are asking for now. You people talk about restructuring and true federalism. We had it and yet it was destroyed from 1966 on and that’s where we are now. So I want us to go back to the drawing board and have another look at what we were and where we are now and where we want to go in the future.
Let’s look at the candidates for the forthcoming general election. Are they really addressing issues? And then what are the thoughts of the northern elders concerning the leading presidential candidates?
Well, you are a journalist. You must have been looking at the candidates in their various campaign rallies, in their various statements whether maybe on the television or newspapers and so on and you find out all of them are talking about the same thing. So you can say there is no difference between the candidates. There is no difference in terms of really addressing issues facing Nigeria. There is no difference. They talk about the same thing. The ideas that will push Nigeria forward are not within the system in which they operate and that’s why they keep pushing themselves. And if you look at many of the so called candidates or politicians that are running round the country, many of them have been members of various political parties at one time. So if you take each and every one of them individually and examine their historical antecedents in terms of politics, he was in party A last year and is in party B right now. Before you realise it, maybe next year he is in another party. So what in most cases they are chasing is to chase a targeted ambition of being elected either as president, as governor or as senator and so on rather than targeting an ideological position concerning the people of the country, meaning concerning the voter or the electorate. They make no distinction – even the voters themselves. I am being confused by the so called campaigns because we hear the same thing from each and every one.
What are some of these things they say that are almost the same?
Well, each and every one says l want to do something about security, each and everyone says l want to do something about economy. A dollar which is equivalent to about N900 now, I want to do something about that. They want to do something about all manner of things, education, transportation and so on. Where are the roads today in Nigeria? Look at the main trunk roads, where are they working? So this is what they keep saying and this is what they really should be doing. The problem is that nobody is arguing about them. We have problem of insecurity. We have many problems but the issue is, are these problems being addressed? Take the National Assembly for example, what are they debating on? Go and listen to the debate. Are they really debating some of these fundamental matters that affect the population? Is it security? Is it poverty? It’s whatever but what they are concentrating on is each group seeking how to manoeuvre to get the support of the electorate so that they get whatever position they want.
Take for example a situation where a two-term governor is supposed to finish at the end of eight years but before he finishes he is the one who will anoint his successor and this is something they consider normal. He will them carve out the constituency which he will use to be a senator. Go and check the National Assembly, how many of them were governors? And how many of them have manoeuvred to become a senator? And one can understand why. This is the place where laws of the country should be made and these are the place you are supposed to find guidance in terms of the direction the country will go. And when a group of governors who have failed in their respective states, financial abuse, human rights abuse, and so on, the best way to protect themselves is to become members of the National Assembly so that they can do what they want to do to protect their crimes in the past.
Nigeria is being referred to as the capital of poverty in the world. And have you been following what kind of remunerations members of the National Assembly are being paid? What are the remunerations of senators? What are the remunerations of a member of House of Reps? What are the remunerations of the governors and so on and so forth? Do you hear them discuss the minimum salary of N30, 000 for a Nigerian worker with family when people are seen, l have no evidence on this, but I understand that a senator collects N30 million a month. A member of the House of Reps collects N25 million monthly or thereabouts. And yet these are the chambers where in terms of equity and justice public reward system is discussed. And public reward system means the ordinary worker from a cleaner to a messenger to a teacher in primary school to a teacher in secondary school and so on should get at the end of their services. And you find that N30,000 is a major problem for workers to receive a month at their respective places of work whether federal or state. And yet the people who are making the laws are making laws that suit them. They don’t care. They are not discussing this now. And if you are not discussing this you are not really discussing serious security problems, unless you are addressing yourself to poverty problems meaning a failed economy where there is so much poverty everywhere, where the youths are unemployed, where even children are not in school. And you expect peace? Short time and long time? You must be joking.
These are issues they should be discussing but they are not discussing this. They are discussing how to win election and carry on. In fact, some of them are discussing that they want to carry on with what they have inherited either from their governors in the case of the state or from the president in case of the president. They’re not discussing some of these fundamental areas that really keep the peace and happiness of society. And as long as this is not done, you can’t expect the kind of peace they are looking for, the kind of comfort and the kind of long sleep they want to have in their mansions and so on. This cannot happen. As long as these children cannot find jobs, they will be in the bush. Some of them are already in the bush and they are not discussing issues that will bring these boys out of the bush and keep them either in school or keep them employed usefully in many areas of the economy.
How is the Northern Elders Forum guiding the average northern on what and what issues to consider before voting?
Well this question should perhaps be directed to the spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum, Dr Hakeem Baba Ahmed. And he has been doing an excellent job in terms of making a case for good governance in the country, for security in the country and for virtually everything that has gone wrong in the country. And l think I have seen his last political statement in which he said that it was a mistake that so and so was elected in 2015 and so on and so forth. Buhari is a Northerner, but we stand on a platform which is supposed to always look at things objectively and say the truth. It could be painful from time to time, but the truth can never fail you. As long as you stand on it, you shouldn’t regret anything you say or any action you take. So what we are advocating is that if the country is going through difficulties, the baseline is that there is failure and must not be voted for president. I was a founding member of the PDP and l was one of those who authored its manifesto.
There is no law that l know of that you can associate with the constitution of Nigeria whether l have a right to contest for an election at any time; whether l have a right to vote at anytime. So all this talk about a northerner has just finished, a Nigerian had just finished and another Nigerian, whether from the desert or from the lagoon, could come forward. If he is a good material, everybody should vote for him. This is what we said in our various advocacy discussions which Hakeem is very good at. He said that, yes, there is no law stopping me from contesting election unless that law for example in the constitution which says that l cannot run for president beyond eight years continuously. That one l know, but there is nowhere it says l cannot run for president because my brother, sibling – and l am talking here about blood brother – was president, or somebody coming from my village has become president before, or from my town or from my area.
The legal system does not speak about that. These are some of the problems we have in the country today. We don’t seem to really respect rules and regulations that should bring all of us to understand where we are in terms of difficulties, in terms of efforts to correct things. But now, when you insist that another northerner, no matter how qualified, cannot offer himself for election, this is denying him a right which is guaranteed in the constitution and you are making emotive campaigns that such a person should not be voted for in certain areas of this country. That is actually dividing the country and this will not take us anywhere. The Northern Elders Forum has spoken on good governance and always insists that Nigerians should seek to understand from those who are looking for their votes. Who are they? What have they done? And what can they do for the benefits of those who they want the votes from? I hope that they will veer away seriously from this, because this is not going to help the country if they keep talking about things like this. Yes, Buhari has finished. Fortunately, I don’t belong to any camp. I checked the APC manifesto and constitution. There is nowhere in APC manifesto or constitution which says that somebody cannot contest election because of the issue of rotating between the north and south somewhere. So l think it’s a very unfortunate state of mind and it’s injurious to Nigeria now and even more injurious perhaps in the future unless something is done.
Do you think INEC can refuse to be used by politicians as we approach the 2023 general election?
Well, it’s like saying is it possible for the police to run away from corruption on the road, or is it possible to stop corruption in our judiciary? These are human beings that have been given one responsibility or the other that have to deal with members of the public. Members of the public who are dealing with them have divergent interests. Unfortunately, because of this divergence of interests, the rules don’t seem to matter. Meaning here that if someone is desperate to get something, he doesn’t care about the rules that should stop him from getting it but rather get outside the rules to get it. Our only guarantee is that you constitute an INEC where the members of the INEC or the people you select can withstand those corruptive pressures coming from people with vested interests coming with divergent interests. This is why l feel a bit worried talking about INEC. Talking about INEC, there should be only one INEC in the country. There shouldn’t be any so called independent electoral commission in the states. See what is happening in the states. Just take local government election in the states. What the governor wants is what that commission he appointed has to bring. Niger State has just done local government elections.
Except two local governments out of 25, others returned the party of the governor in the local government elections. So if there is any major change apart from the one that l worry about the presidential system versus the parliamentary system, it’s the same thing. Most critical needs in terms of promoting democracy of this country should have one electoral commission. This electoral commission should have one register throughout the country. And even when there is election at the local government level, it is its responsibility to set up the committee or the body that will go and conduct that. It’s just like Supreme Court. If there are cases, they set up committees that will hear the case and the same thing with INEC. The Central INEC and the only INEC we should have should be able to not only keep the voter registration updated, conduct all elections by assigning people to do it in the states. But as long as there will be independent electoral commission in states, there will be no democracy.
What’s your take on the redesign of the naira notes by CBN? Is it a good development?
It’s a good development. The Central Bank is responsible for our monetary policies and they are the ones to guide, help government in terms of how to manage the economy. Central banks are critical, central to how the economy should run. And that’s why you need competent people in the Central Bank. I once, during my participation in Obasanjo’s government, raised an alarm when an accountant was elected to be governor of CBN. An accountant is supposed to be in companies where there is loss and profit account. Economists have responsibility for designing policies that guide the totality of the economy of the country and the development of the country relating to that economy. That’s why a competent economist is always key to how the Central Bank can keep an eye on the economy of the country. You can see what is happening. I was in office as VC and was travelling. From time to time, l needed travellers checks, foreign exchange, estacode and so one. One naira from the University to support my trip would fetch one dollar 40 cents. This is 1986.
Only recently one naira was equivalent to one dollar forty cents. And N1.20 kobo was equivalent to one pounds sterling. Today, just these few years, if l want a dollar, if l go to the black market, I will go with N900 to get one dollar. lf l go for the official rate, that is if l have somebody that will help me for whatever reason, it’s N460 to one dollar. So you ask yourself, really when will this change? I am not pessimistic but on this l am. Because when the first devaluation took place, l was in the office as VC of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU). l called social scientists to come and explain to me the meaning of the devaluation. I can’t claim to know economy and so on, but l had to face this question in meetings and so on. Of course they came and after a short meeting, one of them who eventually became an economic adviser said this first devaluation which devalued our naira five naira to one dollar was the beginning of the destruction of the Nigerian economy. And only God knows when it will stop. And this prediction has turned out to be true. Today, N900 to one dollar? And you don’t produce anything that you sell to make your economy acceptable? So the question you journalists should be asking is, when will this change? As long as our economy is at this level, not too far above this level, we don’t have much hope. This is how l feel, almost hopeless as far as the economy of this country is concerned.
The governor of the Central Bank to my mind has failed. As a honourable man, a honourable professional, if he finds out that it is the political system that will not allow him to correct things, he should resign, because it is all the politics that you see on ground today that is responsible for what you see in the economy and all the corruption. Now it’s a good policy that they either want to design or change the currency so that people who have stolen money and kept them in their toilet tanks and the bush wherever have to bring it out to change it to the new. Some indication are there that, yes there are signs, even on the foreign exchange, that the naira is gaining because money is pouring out from where it has been hidden. If these people who had stolen money had brought it out and invested it into the economy in terms of creating employment opportunities for our youths who are now in the bush hunting other people down for ransom and so on, all this perhaps would have reduced. But unfortunately, the politicians who have stolen the money and their cohorts are just there with the money, hoping that they will buy votes. How do you get good leadership from people who buy votes?
What can you say about the security situation of the country, with the recent security alarm raised by US, UK?
The country is not secure. There is insecurity everywhere – from the bush, from the road, from your house from everywhere. And of course governments that have diplomatic relations or economic relations with Nigeria and so on have a duty to always alert their citizens depending on the information available to them. So those countries that issued those alerts must have the information that l don’t have. But we share with them that there this insecurity but how to protect their citizens is up to them to define, even if they have to tell their nationals not to go to a particular place. The level of the advice depends on the security challenge their nationals are facing in the country. It’s so sad that everything seems not to be working.
Do you think the insecurity might scuttle the forthcoming elections?
I hope not, but it could. For example, l saw the president on another interview two days ago and he raised all these issues and he tried to assess himself in terms of how well he has fared going to eight years. I saw the interview and it’s such a pity that he must feel disappointed. But how about those he has assigned in the case of security chiefs, people in security here and there and those in charge of the economy and so on. He cannot run the country alone. He has to work with others. He’s working with the National Assembly, he’s working with the executive ministers and so on. The point is that if you appoint, you should also keep your ears and eyes open. Should there be complaints, you check. If these complaints are true, you take measures which may be punishing those who did that or removing officers who have failed to discharge their responsibilities correctly.
So it’s not enough to say l have service chiefs, l have police chiefs, ministers in charge of the economy and so on. As the leader, the bulk stops at your table and if anything goes wrong, the minister will fizzle away. You wouldn’t hear his name, but you will continue to hear the name of Buhari. And this is what is happening with him now, even though a lot of the failure is being done by those he assigned to carry out certain functions that should have helped his government. – The Sun.