… Northerners need economic empowerment now, not presidential power
Former governor of Kaduna State and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, Dr. Muktar Ramalan Yero, has said that what is important for Northern Nigeria is to find ways to get out of pervasive poverty and economic retrogression instead of insisting on retaining power in 2023. He told ABDULLAHI HASSAN in this interview that the North has potential to retain power but socio-economic challenges including insecurity could be a hindrance. Yero, a chartered accountant, one-time Commissioner of Finance and deputy governor to late Mr. Patrick Yakowa before emerging the governor. He spoke on 2023 elections, insecurity and party politics, among other national issues.
For some time, precisely since after the 2019 elections, you have not been active in national and state politics, what happened?
I don’t understand what you mean by saying people have not been hearing about me since 2019 elections. Anybody who lives in Kaduna and he knows that I live in Kaduna will see me because I always attend programmes and functions if I am invited, so anybody that lives in Kaduna sees me all the time. Well, as a political party and individual, once an election is held and concluded what follows is the issue of governance, so it’s no longer the issue of politicking. We are an opposition party, and people expect that whatever the government does is subjected to criticism, but I feel it’s the time of governance which the party in power has a lot of responsibilities to all of us not necessarily to a political party and that’s why I don’t say much about politics. We allow the APC to do its governance and then we will observe and allow people see what they can do from now to 2023.
There are many projects being done by APC under el-Rufai administration including uncompleted ones bequeathed by your administration, does that mark signify the success of APC rather than PDP government in Kaduna State?
Since you are talking about political party in governance, there is a wide difference between PDP and APC administration right from 1999 to 2015. On comparison, PDP approach to development is quite different. PDP is concerned with the entire state, all the local governments and wards across the state, you see the presence of PDP, unlike APC that concentrates only in three or four local governments, namely, Kaduna, Zaria, possibly in Kafachan and Birnin Gwari which I have not been to since last year. Even in Kaduna North, you can see that the projects are concentrated only in some few business areas. But most, if not all the projects are our projects. PDP in 2011 and 2015 had done a lot of road mappings to be constructed. Some of the people in the present APC government in the state were consultants. They are everywhere, people can testify to that. The APC government under el-Rufai is following the PDP blueprint to implement their programmes. So, it is our projects’ masterplan that el-Rufai is following for APC. Secondly, if you observe very well, APC is more concerned with physical development while PDP concentrated on both human and physical development as well. PDP has improved life of state citizens through economic empowerment and social security.
Are you saying that the APC government in Kaduna State has not done any project, apart from those you (PDP) initiated?
You see, government is about continuity. Any government that comes in power ought to look at what the previous government had done or started and see if there is need to continue with it or not. Like I said earlier, from 1999 to 2015, Kaduna was divided into political configuration of senatorial zones and consultants were assigned various zones to look at all the roads. So many road projects you are seeing today are projects designed by the Kaduna masterplan, which this administration reviewed. In 2008, when we came, new Kaduna masterplan was produced. In fact, I was the governor that signed the last masterplan before Governor Nasiru el-Rufai. The initiator was late premier, Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto in 1965. You see that government is about the continuity of programmes whether you are the owner that initiated or not, provided it is of benefit to the people, that government in power ought carry on with it. Of course, we cannot deny the fact that there are some new projects initiated by APC administration in the state, which you cannot take away from them.
Since after the failure of PDP in 2019 elections, there are rumors that you are planning to defect to APC, is that true?
Thank God you said it is a rumour, people have the right to say their minds, but if you look at my activities despite challenges which I embraced heartily, I’m still a strong member of the PDP, and I will continue to remain in PDP by the grace of God.
Are you hopeful that PDP will bounce back to power in 2023, both in Kaduna state and Nigeria?
Of course, I’m optimistic. I told my supporters when I was addressing them immediately after 2019 election that in everything you are doing God will certainly test you on it. So it was a trying period for PDP because they have been in power in Kaduna and at the federal for 16 years, people wanted to have a change. We thank God, people have tested the change and they know what it is now. To me, I strongly believe that PDP will bounce back if all PDP members will put their heads together to know that they are in the opposition, no longer in government and want to come back. So their manners and behaviours including political attitude of those few in government must change. The dream has changed; also the music and the dance must change. If we are able to come together and eschew bitterness to ensure that the right candidate is placed at the right position, definitely, PDP will come back to power at all levels of government.
Looking at the performance of President Buhari’s administration and that of Malam Nasiru el-Rufai in Kaduna under the banner of APC. How can you rate them, successful or failed?
Well, as I said, PDP as an opposition party was in power for many years, people have criticized them for many reasons. People thought that APC government is a better option, that they will be better than PDP. It is now obvious. I allow people to judge. Whether PDP has done well or has not done well, all the areas the APC campaigned, all they promised to add value, such as eradication of poverty, improved economy, provision of security and more, they have not really done so. Let the people judge whether the promises were actually fulfilled, forget about the media campaigns, once you are a Nigerian and live in Nigeria, you know what is going on. Sometimes, I don’t criticize some people in government just like that because, I was there and I know what is in it. I know it is not easy to govern people, the challenges are enormous but once you promise to do something, people should be able to take you on that and see whether you can fulfill. Honestly, I have not seen what APC government has done closer to PDP based on what they claimed and promised to do.
On power shift or rotational presidency, as it is being debated by Nigerians, do you support the idea for North to keep power beyond 2023?
Well, in my personal view, the North has a lot of challenges; one of it is economic challenge. But a lot of people think that once you can have a political power you automatically have economic power. This was an old version of thought. To me, based on what I have seen, as a key player in government and based on my background as a professional financial expert, I realized that if the North really wants to continue to eradicate the poverty that is eating up the people of the region, then we must shift our attention and our thinking to how the North can became economically viable. If the political power will be a means to improve our economy, we can continue to pursue to retain power in 2023 and even beyond. But looking at the prevailing situation with north holding power, we can ask ourselves, is the North empowered economically? What is happening to other regions that have relatively less interest in political power, but has more interest in economic power? Are they getting what they want? You see, looking at a typical northerner, he is a fair person when it comes to dealing with other people outside his own area. Once he gets power, he tries to be fair to everybody. In trying to be fair, he would not be too selfish to concentrate on his region. At the moment, we need to go back to the drawing board and look at the economic challenges before talking of retaining power. We need to see whether our economy is viable and we can become competitive, if not in the near future, even the political power we may not be able to get it because we are not economically empowered.
You see, in the North, we have the highest population; the largest land mass and the highest number of army of illiterates, including school dropouts, as well as highest number of street beggars. These are all socio-economic challenges which the North must overcome as precondition for sustainable governance in the country at the moment. Despite our opportunities in agricultural production, are we doing much in commercial agriculture? I don’t think we are doing enough to serve our immediate sustainable needs. We need to operate agriculture as a business, not hands-to-mouth. We also have potential in mining. If you look at the North, all the mineral and other mining activities are hampered by insecurity. So even the entire insecurity, especially in the North, is as result of economic deprivation of some productive people who resorted to criminal activity as last option. To me, let the North concentrate on economic sector or activity so as to get out of massive poverty in our communities, because it is very key and important to any development strategy.
Already, PDP has been divided along caucuses. Some prefer young men like Aminu Tambuwal while others prefer older class like Atiku Abubakar. Your Excellency, where do you belong?
To me, I don’t belong to any clique or candidate or age requirement. What is most important is for the party to present a candidate that people will accept and also the candidate must have the capacity to hold Nigerians and govern Nigerians successfully. The candidate must have the capacity to unite Nigerians irrespective of religion, tribe or political background. So whether you are younger or older is immaterial to me.
You have been part of the power cycle in Kaduna as finance commissioner, deputy governor and governor at a period when Boko Haram troubled the state. How do you see the present state of insecurity in the country especially in Kaduna and the North?
A lot of us thought that using guns would solve our security challenges.
Northern Nigeria has a kind of structure that if it is properly managed and followed, it will help solve the insecurity problem. Don’t forget that I mentioned earlier that the poverty level we found ourselves in the North is very alarming, and if we don’t address the issue of poverty properly, we will continue to have an insecurity problem. Our number one challenge is our economy. If people are gainfully employed, if they have jobs, they will take away their minds off criminality. So the North has to come together to address this economic problem. The northern economy needs to be reviewed. Secondly, we have traditional institution, which has been neglected at the moment. Those traditional institutions have a structure that we have to work on because you have a village head, district head and emirs and chiefs. We need to work with these structures to address security issues in our communities. There is nobody who will come to a community and the village head will not know. But neglecting them, there can never be useful for effective intelligence report about insecurity situation, which of course is lacking in the current fight against insurgency and insecurity in Nigeria especially in the north. Addressing insecurity is all about intelligence and information report. We must find ways and why things are happening, but allowing things to happen before we make moves means that the situation is already out of hand, just like what is happening now. Thirdly, security agencies must be motivated especially those in the field. If they are not motivated, they will end up compromising any operation. For instance, they see their colleagues suffering and dying while their officers are living in air-conditioned offices giving directives, honestly, they will be discouraged.
The kidnapping and banditry we have presently across Northern Nigeria, which is basically grounded on demand for ransom of huge amount of money, has brought us back to the issue of economy. If Northern economy is good, all these things will not happen. It has now become a common business for the jobless people in the North. Some jobless people now gang up to search for someone with money and abduct him and ask for huge amount from relations as ransom or invade a village, take away their property and kill them. This is a very dangerous trend in the north and should not be taken lightly.
Are you of the view that the fight against insurgency is a winnable one?
Yes, it is a winnable one. Once there is sincerity and honesty in the fight. If there is no sincerity, definitely it will not work. So everybody has to be sincere and put all hands on deck and see how we can eradicate it completely. If some people are fooling others, it would not work.
Being one time governor, there is no gain to say whether government has failed or not. Though there could be mistakes and loopholes in handling security of life and property, which is number one function of any government. However, it is difficult to say that there is a president or a governor who will be seeing his people killed and remain silent. That is why I said there must be sincerity. The president or governor may be doing his best and some people may be sabotaging his effort. Their duty is to coordinate while some people are responsible for enforcement. To me, all of them are doing their best, but in between, there is a problem, which is their duty to check and correct the lapses.
What is your next step as politicians have started preparations for 2023? Do you wish to recontest for governorship again or go for National Assembly?
Honestly, I leave that to Almighty Allah to decide for me. I told my supporters that they should be praying for what is good for the party and me. What is important is for PDP to strengthen itself and get things right at the different levels. The choice of credible person is very important. Let’s concentrate on building a party.
What is your view on party politics in Nigeria? Is it really working in accordance with tenets of democracy?
Let me talk of PDP that I know. The party politics in Nigeria is not encouraging at all because very few people who decide the fate of millions of people hijack it. The party is always supreme; whoever is a member of the party has equal right with any financial member of the party because the most important thing is the due not millions of naira that one contributes.
The problem we have is that the few people that think they have money hijack the party, they run and decide who become what at the expense of the party, and at the end of the day they go back to the people who thereafter reject whatever they have done. To me, if we want to succeed in party politics, all political parties must have to make sure that people at the grassroots are involved and give them right to have a say in the party affairs. So the party supremacy has to be restored, the issue of party leadership has to be looked into critically. The party leader has to be respected at the different levels, not based on the opportunities or money they have. These rich people decide what happens whether people like it or not. Thirdly, much as political parties will continue to bring out their candidates through delegate system, it’ll continue to have problem. The political parties need to have a strategy to select its leaders or candidates through direct primaries where every card carrier and financial member will democratically elect his candidate freely. Wards congress in PDP is the best. All card carrying member votes for his choice. But if it is a few people that will vote on behalf of majority then there is a tendency for highest bidder takes it all. You can see that most primaries of PDP are based on highest bidder take it all and at the end of the day, the candidate does not go anywhere. For me, let’s go back to the people. If your candidate has good relationship with people, it will be shown. I think, since the PDP constitution provides the two types of election, it will be more appropriate to choose and adopt and operate direct primaries despite its challenges in order not to repeat past mistakes. Delegate system is open to corruption and provides opportunity for people who want to make money only, not those who want to serve. Same with other parties, unless delegate primaries are removed in the system, we’ll never have transparent, free and fair election in our party politics in Nigeria.
Recently, INEC de-registered 77 political parties for poor performance and failure to meet its requirement. How do you see this development within the context of democracy?
I don’t see anything wrong in that, in fact, to me I don’t see the rationale behind having more political parties. We need only few political parties, get them intact and strengthen them for competition so that no political party will tell you that I will spend more years in power. Having few political parties will give politicians the challenge to responsibility, to perform. No matter the amount of money you have, people will ask you to go, if and when you perform badly. You see, how can you keep a political party that cannot win a councillorship in a ward? I think that party has no business to be in the race at all. What INEC did was correct by allowing only those that have representation to remain in the system. The Sun