ByÂ Emeka Mamah, Kaduna
Former National Chairman of the Peopleâ€™s Democratic Party (PDP), Solomon Lar, was in Kaduna for the launch of the N20billion Sir Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation last week. He spoke to some newsmen on the significance of the appeal fund among other national issues. EXCERPTS:
What is the significance of the recent launch of the N20 billion Sir Ahmadu Bello Memorial Foundation?
Sardauna was the first and the last premier of Northern Nigeria.Â He did a lot for his people and the Northern states now want to appreciate him and to also immortalize him. So, this is the significance of the foundation.
It is basically to have some legacy that will help the people of the region, even though it is no more one region as it was because it has been broken into states which have helped to the fasten development of the region.
The states still remember what Sardauna did for them. He made sure that there were good schools that were funded properly.
He generally encouraged the education of women and boys, especially girls in his time. This is what the North is trying to remember. Although there were different ethnic nationalities within the region, he kept them together, irrespective of their differences.
Apart from that, what he used to do, which is very important, is that he never allowed religion to overshadow what he was doing at that time. Although he was a good practising Muslim, he also recognized and realized that there were some other people of different faiths with him like Christians. He did not deny them their rights as they are doing now in some states in the North.
Apart from some few states in the North, all the others discriminate against Christians.
This form of discrimination will not bring about theÂ unity of the North that Sardauna left for the people,Â and I am sure the money realized from this foundation will be used and utilized in order to kill thisÂ ugly discriminatory tendencies thatÂ some young governors are doing.
You said the Sardauna was not sectional or tribalistic. Do you think that this foundationÂ can achieve his aims,Â knowing that these same people are sectional and tribalistic?
That is true but definitely such governors will change because if they do not change they will not be remembered the way Sardauna is being remembered now.
The middle Belt region used to be known as a strong force that spoke with one voice and were heard. But what is happening these daysÂ is as if the region has lost it.
The region has now been destroyed. It produced people that kept the country together. For example, when General Yakubu Gowon took over when the country was going into disarray, especially during the civil war, and after the war, he said that there was no victor and no vanquished Â which is a great statement ever made. But the present civilian administration seems not to properly have any concern for the Middle Belt.
The region is forgotten completely. They have been complaining about appointments, economically and developmentally; the roads in the Middle Belt are even the worst now.
Still on this Middle Belt issue. Has the region given up and stopped fighting?
No, we have achieved what we were asking for. For example, we were asking for a separate region for the Middle Belt for the purposes of development. We in the Middle Belt said that the Northern region was too big, so the development would be too slow. We appreciate what Sardauna did. Honestly we appreciate it.
Because of the limited resources in those days, money was not much and the North only took one share, necessitating the need for another region out of it, as it was the case in the West when the Mid_West was created.
When it was time to share from the federal purse, the West took two portions and the North just took one, and we thought that it was unfair. But thank God that after sometime, the government saw the rationale of the MiddleÂ Belt agitation for more regions and states. So, more states wereÂ created. The Middle Belt has achieved its objective for a balanced federation and we should be grateful to the Middle Belt.
Whichever state you are in Nigeria, you have to be grateful to the Middle Belt because you have got your states due to the agitation from the Middle Belt. This is what the Middle Belt stood for and it is still fighting for those who have not got a state for themselves yet.
But should the Middle Belt states come to Kaduna for the Northern governors meeting? Why are they not meeting inÂ places likeÂ Jos, Makurdi or Adamawa?Â At the launch of the Sardauna Foundation, most of the Middle Belt states were donating millions of naira that were not appropriated in their budgets. Is this not a signal to the young ones that their leaders have surrendered?
No. It is not that their leaders have surrendered. But it shows solidarity, just because there were states created does notÂ mean that people will not meet again. It shows unity in diversity. Although we have got our states,Â it does not mean thatÂ we should not discuss our problems collectively.
But is there still unity among the Northern states, considering the bloody religious crises that have engulfed the region at one time or the other?
This is what the Foundation is all about.Â The foundation is trying to teach the people of the North the importance of education, otherwise why will you say that education is forbidden, or talk about Boko Haram?
That simply means ignorance, because even in Islam, it encourages education. So, if we are educated, there would not be this crisis. During Sardaunaâ€™s time, there were not these kinds of crises. That is why we want this Foundation to send signal to people; tell people that we are all brothers and sisters and tell everybody that we are all Nigerians.
The 2011 general elections are around the corner. Yet we do not have an enabling law that will guide the conduct of the elections…
The electoral reforms are on the way. The National Assembly is working on it. There will be an enabling law.
The thing is that we need a very good, reasonably and perfect electoral law which will give every Nigerian confidence that the election is free and fair, and as I said before PDP,Â has no reason to rig any election. I said this earlier and it was misquoted by some press.
But I still stand by what I said that PDP has no reason to rig election in Nigeria. The support that the party has, it doesnâ€™t need to rig election before it can get elected into power. Because rigging election is not good. So, PDP should not be a party that engages in that.
I was the first national Chairman of the PDP and we have never rigged election. Our president won on merit alone.
All governorsÂ and local government chairman won without any question. There was no complain for rigging in 1999 election. But it was after that,Â that people started saying rigging, rigging. Why should you rig when you already enjoy the support of the people?
Please, party should not rig election for anybody, please. When you rig election you are trying to kill democracy, allow democracy to take its natural course please.
I am appealing to all party to allow Nigerians to have their say at election, because it would encourage development, unity and bring peace and everybody would accept the administration that is at power. Please, let us accept the electoral reform recommendation by Justice Uwais as it is, because it would solve the problem
In the 2003 election, there was mostly no voting and in most part of Nigeria it was the same thing. It happened again in 2007 (cuts in)….
That was why I said is bad. That was why I said in 1999. There were elections everywhere in Nigeria. But once there is an attempt to rig, it means that the election is not free. It wouldÂ not reflect the peoples mandate and once the peoples mandate is stolen that becomes dangerous and bad for the country.
What will happen in 2011 if the PDP, which is the ruling party, rigs election?
PDP will not rig election. Why should they? I say that PDP has no reason to rig election.
Is it because the PDP has succeeded in muzzling other political parties?
No, PDP will not do that. How do you muzzle other political parties? You see, it is in the interest of Nigerians to have a strong, virile and reliable opposition. There is no need for PDP to kill any opposition party.
You were elected as a governor of the old Plateau during you days. But these days, the people will elect a governor and heÂ will defect to another party which wasÂ not the mandateÂ given toÂ them. Is it morally right to dump such parties and join other ones?
I would not answer that.
Are you saying that if PDP loses in 2011, they should not raise any eyebrows?
No. PDP will accept peoples mandate in 2011. Nigerians mandate are more important than PDP, Nigeria is more than any party in this country.
Do you think that the reason why politicians rig to get into office is because the incentives of political offices are so attractive?
The truth is that when you are a governor, you should be given a car, or some tools to work with. So, there is nothing wrong with the perks of the office.
Why do you think the PDP enjoy imposing candidates on the electorate, just like what is happening in Anambra, where allegations are rife that somebody is being imposed on the people?
The case of Anambra is different. There was an attempt to halt a primary. The part was intimidated. So, what do you want them to do? I support the decision of the PDP National Working Committee and the officials.
The PDP had to come out with a candidate and they devise a means of coming out with a candidate. Some people donâ€™t like PDP because of jealousy, as some people have ganged up against the party and that is not good for democracy.
When you gang up against a political party, that is not politics. Some people donâ€™t want the party to hold their primaries. Some have the intention to spoil the game in Anambra State.
Is that not a misnomer?
Well,Â it is not a misnomer in the sense that the party has to come up with a way to participate in the Anambra election. You knowÂ there was a deadline that the PDP had to comeÂ up with a candidateÂ or never. If it were you, what would have done? Knowing very well that there are people who are trying to stop you from contesting in the election.
How sincere, in your opinion, do you think the National Assembly is in amending the 1999 Nigerian constitution?
They are sincere, let us allow them. They are capable of bringing out something that will help us. I have a very high regard for the Senate and House of Representatives, because they did one thing:Â on the 16th of May 2006 they rejected a third term outrightly. They saved the country from a dangerous thing that was about to happen in Nigeria.
If it were not that the National Assembly is not credible they would have allow the third term attempt to go through, but they said no. I have high regards for them.
What particular area of the constitution do you think urgently need to be amended. For example, the issue of immunity for political office holders that some are saying should be removed, do you support it?
I do not support that because once you remove that, a governor will not be able to do anything again but will be fighting legal cases all around. I had immunity but I never did anything wrong. I was a governor that was awarded the certificate of peace during my era and that was why Plateau was called the state of peace and tourism.
And again when we were arrested and dumped in prison because of the military rascality and irresponsibility and they were charging us with different issue, but I was declared later as not corrupt.
But Plateau is not as peaceful as it was before. Even in the PDP, you have two factions, what is the cause of all these crises?
It is democracy at work. It is part of democracy. They will sort themselves out.
Which of the faction are you supporting?
They are all my children. It is democracy at work.
The Christian Association of Nigeria [CAN] presented a protestÂ letter during the Northern governors meeting alleging discrimination against their membersÂ in the North. What are people like you doing about the situation?
It is very unfortunate and if the North does not check such, it will break up.
During your time as governor, most of your mates performed creditably well. Can you compare your time with what is obtains now?
It is left with you to compare.
But because of what the electorate gets now in terms of poor governance, people think Nigeria is developing too slowly.
TheÂ Â reason is that if governor X started this university, governor X would like to change it so that the credit would come to him, and that is the problem.Â During my time, I saw something on ground and I continued with it and I also said that when the next governor comes will continue with whatever I started.
For example, the Jos market, the drawing was by JD Gomwalk. The drawing was there. When I came and I saw it was goodÂ and I built it which turns out to be the most modern market around the region. People from all over the country come to that market.
But why would state governments buildÂ markets?
Do you know the kind of market we are talking about? It is not this petty_petty markets that we are talking about.
It is not these dirty markets we are talking about butÂ modern markets that cost billions or even trillions of naira to build. Where will the local governments get such huge amount of money from?