By Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief
In this interview, the Coordinator of the Northern Emancipation Network, Mal. Abdul-Azeez Sulaiman, says that the ordinary people in the North can no longer follow the political elite blindly. He also warns that the North could suffer after 2015 if it continues to antagonize President Goodluck Jonathan as it is not in a position to win the presidency in the next general elections.
How do you assess the political atmosphere in the country right now?
I think the atmosphere is dicey but interesting, because, about two years to the elections, the battle has already started. It makes the atmosphere very exciting at least to those who are political- minded.
We have seen the excitement that came with the registration of the APC, how a merger was achieved for the first time in Nigeria’s political history. I do not think there has ever been a complete merger, although we have had some alliances.
People were surprised when the PDM was registered. It should not have been a surprise; it was an expected move from former Vice President Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. What happened at the PDP convention, we all know, is a build up to 2015; so I can say the atmosphere is exciting.
Would you not consider the battle for 2015 as a distraction to government both at the federal and state levels? It is like we are going to waste two years politicking, rather than allowing those in government to concentrate on developmental issues.
The issue of government, to my understanding and the experience I have, is that only those who are in government are concerned with government. People outside are only concerned with how to remove that government and replace it; so as far as this gang of emerging opposition is concerned, it is not a distraction. It is left for government to focus on what is before it. For the opposition, the government should not even work. So it cannot be said to be a distraction, opposition is allowed everywhere.
Some people have raised issues about the quality of the membership of APC which we all know is a merger of the ACN, ANPP and CPC. Some people say what happened in 2011 where the alliance between CPC and ACN did not produce the desired result of fielding a successful candidate, especially at the federal level, will repeat itself. Do you see the APC as an alternative platform to the PDP?
When we talk of the APC, I would rather separate two issues, whether the merger is even going to work is one thing, producing a government that is better than the PDP is another .
About the merger, we all know how it started as an alliance in 2011 but failed practically and theoretically. And the move continued to produce the merger that is now the APC. If you look at the partners, you will discover that the marriage may not last.
When we look at the composition of the ANPP, the same people that could not contain former Head of State, General Muhammadu Buhari, in 2007 and 2011, he (Buhari) had to leave to form the CPC. So, at what point are they telling us that they have reconciled their differences. And Buhari’s differences with the ANPP were fundamental.
Now, if you look at the A CN, we all know that it has an articulate political agenda, and the Yoruba may be more politically conscious to a point where the Yoruba voter may be redirected to vote the APC. But in the North, the problem is that they might not have the consciousness to adopt the APC as a common platform.
Why do you say so?
That is what is happening now. You can see that with the coming of the APC, the Yoruba people said they do not need the presidency. When the APC held a meeting in the South-west, the Yoruba clearly said they do not need the presidency.
So, the general feeling is that Buhari may pick the APC presidential ticket and we all know that Atiku would never jettison his personal ambition for anybody; he will definitely contest that election (2015).
So, you can see already the North is divided. And, before the end of the year, we are going to have another platform where some of the breakaway governors could contest because they are not actually going ahead with Atiku. All the northern governors that walked out of the PDP National Convention with Atiku are not his bed fellows.
If you look at their antecedents, all of them are Obasanjo boys. They have never had anything in common with Atiku. But Atiku will eventually leave the PDP because of his personal ambition. He knows that it is going to be almost impossible for him to pick the PDP ticket and he must contest. And he cannot join the APC; so he got his associates to register the PDM which has, all along, been the political organisation which he inherited from General Yar’Adua.
Now, instead of him to just move out, to his PDM, he has to cause commotion. The mainstream PDP would be looking at the crack in the party but that is not the end of it. Whatever the reconciliation effort may be, Atiku is not going back. He will eventually end up in PDM, where he will contest the presidential election.
Could give us an insight into the game plan of the politicians in the North who are against the present government that led to all of these?
What we have today is a conscious North and the northern political elite. Before now, wherever the elite went, the crowd followed them. But, now, it is no longer the same. People have started thinking that they should not allow the elite take them wherever they go.
By the virtue of my position as a journalist and Coordinator of the Northern Emancipation Network, I have had the opportunity of meeting some of these northern elite to discuss.
Most of us in the Northern Emancipation Network and our affiliates do not see the necessity of the North insisting on the presidency in 2015 or any time in the near future. Our reason is that if holding central power is the key to the success of a people, then the North ought to have been the most successful region in Nigeria. If that yardstick is true, the Igbo ought to have been the most backward because they have not in practical terms had power at the centre.
The North held power for the most part of Nigeria’s existence as an independent nation yet we are the most backward.
The Igbo that have not held power is by far the most advanced technogically and economically.
Why? It is either power at the centre is not enough to develop a people or the northern political elite misused it
Some of them who told the nation that our public infrastructure cannot work even if the entire public funds were invested in them are the same people now telling us that they can make the facilities work under privatization. These is the type of people we had as leaders from the North and they are the same people who are transforming either through their children or their wives or brothers.
Some northerners of your class sound very bitter about Nigeria than people of Igbo extraction because, just as you said, the region held power for a long time and the power was meant for the holders alone.
The motive is personal. It has nothing to do with the larger North. The northern political elite believe the region is their personal asset. They started this rotation thing when they made Obasanjo president. Because it has not been the entire North handling the region’s political situation, it reclaimed power in 2007 under Yar’Adua.
The North had the opportunity to place itself appropriately to reclaim power after President Jonathan if it had played the right card but it played the wrong card when Yar’Adua was sick. None of these elders came out to do the right thing by asking Jonathan, who was then Yar’Adua’s deputy, to take over. Instead, they fought this man until God took power and handed it to him.
The elite did that claiming they were doing it for the North. Some of us were talking then but our voice was not loud.
The impression you are creating is that the crisis we are witnessing especially in the North was precipitated by the elite.
What crisis? We have political and security challenges.
By your reckoning, has it anything to do with the struggle for power come 2015?
It may not have been directly incited by the northern elite but it must have been caused by their actions or inaction. For instance, in Yobe and Borno states where the insurgency started, you have situations where by some people were governors and, after their tenure, they moved on to the Senate and their wives into the House of Reps or were given other government appointments as if they were the only families in their states.
Go round the North and see the type of schools our children attend. Today we have a generation that is no longer prepared to be slaves to the northern elite.
Six years ago, if someone tells you that a northerner will pick up a gun go to a mosque or church to kill people, you may not believe. But now it is happening; the elite created it either knowingly or unknowingly.
The Emir of Kano wept in the public three times because of the activities of these boys. The Emir of Zauzzau is protected by military men in his palace.
What is your group all about?
The agenda is to enlighten the northern population that it is time to tell the elite that what they have taken is enough. We are no longer prepared to be slaves. They have enslaved our grandparents, parents and we are not going to allow them to enslave us and their children enslave our children. As it has been for generations, they are now, seeing a different northern picture.
It is no longer business as usual where you just come out and say we are northerners.
Are you saying that those who claim to be the northern leaders are not representing you?
Categorically we have said it. Maybe they are older than we are; so they call themselves elders. They could be older but they are not statesmen. It is the same people that have brought division in the north.
We have spoken to people who told us about how the late Sir Ahmadu Bello ran the region. He did not bring about division. Every northerner, no matter tribe or religion, was a northerner. He introduced the northernersation policy.
How has the Jonathan presidency benefited the North?
There is no region that has been favoured as far as federal appointments are concerned than the North. For instance, the Vice President, Senate President, Speaker, INEC chairman, NSA, Inspector General of Police, Comptroller of Customs, many ministers are northerners. Even President Jonathan’s region of Niger Delta does not have that.
Our agenda is that we should not allow these people to endanger the northern political future for their personal reasons because it will be disastrous if we allow the North to play the enemy in 2015 and loses as it happened in 2011.
Now, the calculation is that we cannot get it in 2015. The northern Muslims votes will be split between Atiku and Buhari and we are likely to have Lamido, while the northern Christians vote will go to Jonathan who also enjoys bulk vote from other regions.
It is clear that if the North goes for the presidency in 2015, it will not get it, so why not be friends with the person who is likely to win so that the North is not endangered. If we play this bad card again and lose in 2015, in 2019, the region will not have a voice again in this country just like northern Cameroon which used to hold power.