Elder statesman and a founding member of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, shares his thoughts on restructuring, insecurity and other national issues
The Senate advised the service chiefs earlier in the week to step down, owing to the rising insecurity in the country. Do you think the service chiefs should go?
This action came as a result of continued public outcry. Nigerians have been crying and their representatives (at the National Assembly) have collectively decided to request the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), to take action. And as a democratically elected President, I ask President Buhari to look into the cries of Nigerians and the cries of their representatives and do the needful.
Earlier this year, you advocated a return to the 1963 constitution as an important step towards restructuring the country. Do you think the government is looking in this direction?
No, when I said I supported restructuring and a return to the 1963 constitution, to be honest with you, I foresaw difficulties. This is because in going back to the 1963 constitution, I discovered that it was a big mistake that this country was broken down into small states. It was unnecessary. From increasing the number of states, we went on to increasing the number of local governments. Unfortunately for Nigerians, the increase in the number of states was about how to embezzle more public funds. So, the more you create them, you create opportunities for those who are planning or looking for how to loot public funds. More states will mean more governors, more deputy governors, more secretaries to the state governments, more commissioners and more local government chairmen. This is the reason why 70 per cent of our revenue is spent on governance. It is just as if you are living in a house with N1,000 salary, and N700 out of that money goes to payment of your guards, fuel for your generator, water and others. From all the monies made (as a country), political office holders from national to local levels share 70 per cent of it among themselves, while only about 30 per cent gets to the populace. So, Nigerians are getting only about 10 to 15 per cent of the revenue. This is the reason why no public or civil servant will get enough salary to take care of his family.
You said in 2019 that Buhari did not need the South-West anymore. Do you think that is the reason for the President’s recent decisions in the All Progressives Congress particularly his alleged withdrawal of support for Adams Oshiomhole as the party’s national chairman and the APC National Leader, Bola Tinubu?
The reason is that a mistake was made by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Obasanjo made a mistake by making himself the leader of his political party, the Peoples Democratic Party. And today, Buhari is the leader of the APC. The President is elected to govern, so also are the governors. Let them take care of the constitutional responsibilities assigned to them. But let the chairmen of the political parties take care of the running of their political parties. That custom (of the president heading the party) was where we started losing our way. Obasanjo became the leader of the PDP, the governors became leaders in their respective states and they didn’t have time to attend to party matters. So, the party becomes anybody’s business and the party men are doing whatever they want and waiting for the President to bring the money. All they need is the money which they share and they do whatever they like with it. The person who will be elected as the national chairman by the members of a political party is the man who should have the confidence and support of the party members. Since he was elected by the members of the party, he would not do anything that will mar the interests of the members. Until you take power back to members of the political parties, there will always be problem. It is a radical step but, sometimes, when you are sick and the injection is given to you, it may pierce your skin. It will be painful but you have to tolerate that in order to get well. So, we have to take drastic measures. I am glad that people like (Prof Attahiru) Jega are now coming out to speak. I hope something will be done in the about three years left. Actually, Buhari has only two years left. The third year is for campaigns and preparations for elections. He is not going to be a candidate. He has no vested interest in whoever emerges.
Are you sure he will have no interest?
He may have but it will not be as strong as when he was the one contesting. I don’t want a coup because a coup has no guarantee of success. They (military) come with beautiful pronouncements but, in two or three months, they change. It was military rule that destroyed this country. If you look at the three regions we had, we were doing very well as a country.
The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum presently has a court case against the President over his alleged lopsided appointments that they claimed favoured the North. What do you say to this issue of Buhari marginalising other regions of the country?
All of them are my friends. On the issue you raised that they went to court, what solution will it bring? What we need to do is to query the fact that 85 per cent of Nigeria’s revenue is being shared among office holders at the federal, state and local levels and the money is not serving the interests of the majority of Nigerians. What we (the elderly) people should do (because we don’t have much time to live) is to advise and bring attention to such issues. How do we change the narrative and make majority of Nigerians benefit from the dividends of their governments? So, to talk of appointments, just take the budget of the Federal Government and look at the personal emoluments of the public office holders. I was the Commissioner for Finance in Kano State for three years at a time when Kano State was the second richest state in Nigeria.
There are also several daily expenses in the government offices and this is where the money is being expended. They have allowances for cars, rent, travels and it is not up to half of what the personal emoluments are taking. The issue is, how do you get up to 50 per cent of money generated in Nigeria for the good of Nigerians, in terms of building roads, electricity and water supply, as well as other amenities that will directly benefit the lives of Nigerians? This is the reason why other countries are progressing but we are not. To change the situation for the better, you are now talking about going to court. You and I are Nigerians and you know how many years the court process can take. The court will rule and there is an appeal for whoever is not satisfied and this goes on also for many years, and then, there is the Supreme Court. The higher you go, the longer it becomes to get justice. At the time a final decision is taken, you may even lose the case. And during all these years, the government is making money from you as you are going to court. So, this is the reason why I am not excited about going to court. Therefore, we should direct our attention to how we can change the situation for the better.
I expect people like Edwin Clark, Ayo Adebanjo, Solomon Asemota and others to think of the hard issues that are facing the country. I am not stopping them; they can go to court, but you and I know what going to court means in Nigeria. I know that some of them are lawyers and they will not spend much money. But how many of us can be around in the next three years when Buhari’s tenure is expected to end and someone else comes in? If we don’t think of a credible alternative arrangement for Nigeria, we will be wasting our time, Buhari will go and another man will take over without a single programme. Why is Buhari not making progress? He didn’t come into office with a single programme. That is why somebody such as Jega was talking about the incompetence of the government and so on. We need somebody with competence and tested programmes that are as clear as ABC. That programme must be what the person will sell to the people to win their votes. Not a situation where they will just be shouting ‘Buhari, Buhari.’ Why? The military cannot solve our problems, because they are responsible for the problems.
Oh, are they for destruction then?
Not that they came with an intention of destroying the country but they have no experience and no plan to change the country. So, what we need is somebody who will come with good programmes. Check the United States of America, the greatest sector which employs and empowers people is the small and medium scale enterprises industry. If we do the same, people will get jobs. If we empower our people, they will generate income for the people. Then after that, the government must provide electricity. To me, the cheapest thing we can give our people is electricity.
In five years, why do you think this government has not delivered electricity satisfactorily to Nigerians?
This is because they didn’t have the programme. Electricity is the most essential service and if you don’t have it, you cannot industrialise. And when you cannot industrialise, you cannot address the issues of unemployment, empowerment and many other national challenges. So, when the government does not plan for something, it cannot get it. It is a simple fact. They didn’t plan for it and they cannot do it overnight. The bill is going up, as I also pay in my house, and the supply is going down. That is the irony of the situation. It is a lose-lose affair. The country is not getting anything and we are paying more and more.
As the insecurity and banditry menace in northern states continues to fester, the Presidency has blamed some traditional rulers for the problem. Do you agree with the assertion that the monarchs are culpable?
Let me tell you, as long as the government does not address the issue of unemployment and empower the youths, we can continue to shout at the top of our voices but the problems of banditry and kidnapping will continue. The quickest way to solve the problem is to empower people. If people can work and get money, they are not going to steal. Stealing itself is not even an easy job. It is a very risky business. You are afraid that you will be arrested and so on, but there is nothing you can do. People tend to go to the greater evil, which is stealing. The only way is for Nigeria to empower the people and that will solve the problems of banditry and insecurity.
What about increasing the number of security personnel?
Yes, they can also improve on the number of the police personnel and other security agencies. I don’t support the creation of local police.
Why don’t you?
This is because you (government) cannot control and train them. It will also be very expensive to run. If you cannot handle them, you are inadvertently preparing them to be criminals.
It is better to expand the Nigeria Police Force. Why can’t we multiply the police threefold or more? We can spend more money on the police and strengthen the security architecture. We should increase financial allocations to them so that they can recruit more personnel and train them to be able to police the country. But for the local creation of police, I tell you that it will be a multiplication of the problems, because you cannot train them or instill discipline into them. And in the end, you are multiplying the number of armed robbers in the country officially.
What about the roles of the state governors; do you think they need to have a regional security outfit like Amotekun in the South-West?
I said my views about Amotekun already. The people from the South-East are yearning for their own version of Amotekun; the South-South will follow. Then the North-East and the rest will also pick it up. There is no way an APC governor will employ PDP members into his state security outfit. And there is no way a PDP governor will equally employ APC supporters into his state security architecture. And the man who leads such an organisation will himself be a card-carrying member of the ruling party in the state.
I had suffered from local government policemen. At that time, the local policemen in Kano were about 80 per cent of the security in Kano. So, I am not for it. At 94, I know I am on my way going. But any day Nigeria makes that mistake of having state police, we will be in for a trouble that we cannot get out of.
Related to that, with the current population of the country, several regions are clamouring for the creation of more states to make the government more representative than before? Do you share this view?
When we said we were creating states, everybody was clapping that we got states. Why? It was because they wanted to go and steal money in their respective states. Can you get a man with a Doctor of Philosophy to go and contest as a local government chairman? No, nobody will do that now. We have secondary school leavers because that is the minimum qualification. So, how do you expect them to go and perform when they get there? We have to go back to the parliamentary system. I was originally part of those who supported the presidential system but it is clear that the presidential system has failed Nigeria. Don’t let us go that tragic way again. It is very bad for Nigeria. But in my honest opinion, the parliamentary system is the only way because you can now change the government passing a vote of no confidence in it, rather than by impeachment, which takes a longer time.
So, how do you think we can return to parliamentary system?
We can return through a movement; if there is a mass movement for it, it will happen. We can do it by a bill. This can happen through the National Assembly. We can sponsor a bill to change the presidential system to a parliamentary system. All you need to do is to pick the old constitution and change the aspects of the executive-legislative relationship. I think it is the belief of most people in Nigeria that impeachment as a strategy for checks and balances under the presidential system cannot work. This is because it is easy for chief executives at the federal, state and local levels to mobilise resources and overturn their impeachment plan. The beauty of a parliamentary system is that it is a collective system. No individual is greater than the parliament. It is a collective responsibility and all this misappropriation of funds because of the powers of the chief executives are eliminated. There is no fear of such again.
The country has been talking about zoning and the region that will produce the next president by 2023. Do you agree with that rotational arrangement?
I was a founding member of the National Party of Nigeria. I was a member of the meeting that decided to form the NPN. I was also a national executive member of the NPN from the beginning to the end. The NPN introduced the idea of zoning and rotation to Nigerian politics. But now, we have 36 states and people are talking about six geopolitical zones. But there is no consensus on that because some say it is eight zones. The six zones can be manageable because the South can be further divided into three – the Yoruba, the Igbo and the minority groups. The North is not so naturally divided. But now, we are at the level of states, how do you get the states to come together – maybe four from the South and four from the North? It is a big problem. But to do away with all these headaches, just go back to the parliamentary system. All these bricks will not be there. If we have a parliamentary system, it is a question of a vote of no confidence in the government. The vote of no confidence will be the wielding power to remove an incompetent government. The British prime minister, for example, is conscious of this process and that is why they rule well. But in the case of an impeachment, everybody knows that you cannot impeach even a local government chairman in Nigeria.
Why is this so?
This is because the state money is at his disposal. All he needs to do is to decide what percentage he is going to spend on members of the National Assembly or state House of Assembly or councillors or what have you. Also, I want the two chambers of the National Assembly to be merged into one. Then, I also prefer that all the 36 states have a single legislative chamber. In fact, why can’t the whole country use one legislature, just to reduce the cost? Let the members of the National Assembly also be part-time and let the government save money for other needs such as water, power, road construction, security and important amenities.
Are you advocating a reduction of salaries and allowances for the national and state assembly members?
When you change the structure, you will see what happens. What we are doing now is very expensive and there is no way we can sustain it. We can sustain it for a while, just for a while. Everyone has made this point. Even the Vice President has said we are spending 70 per cent of our revenue on bureaucracy. Even the 30 per cent that is meant for development is affected by corruption. The general public sometimes gets 10 or 15 per cent. With such a percentage, the government is not able to provide essential services such as good roads, electricity, empowerment, education, healthcare and so on. And like I said before, electricity is the key to national development. We cannot sustain this presidential system of government. – Culled from Punch.