…rather than waiting for Jonathan’s defeat
By Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North
Professor Ango Abdullahi is the face of the Northern Elders Forum, NEF. In this interview, he warns of the consequences of some unguarded staements of a few individuals close to the presidency and insists that President Goodluck Jonathan would not be president in 2015: Excerpts
How do you feel about the release of elder statesman, Ali Monguno, by his captors?
Well, speaking on behalf of the Northern Elders Forum, it gladdens our hearts that the 92-year-old elder statesman has rejoined his family and his community after his abduction by some unknown persons. I think this is the most heart-warming of the tragic incident. But there are still some unanswered questions as to who did it and why. It is necessary for the administration to investigate who masterminded the kidnapping of the man and why. I think from the statement issued by Boko Haram, they had no involvement in the abduction..
So, if you take Boko Haram out, the next question is, who and why? So there are circumstantial questions and factors which must be understood before a final position could be taken as to who and why. Some of the circumstantial issues were, in the first place when this man was abducted, it was done in broad daylight after coming out of the mosque. The place should have been well protected as is the case with most places of worship. But there was no such protection in the mosque where the old man was taken. Shortly after taking the man away, the abductors called the family to say, ‘we have the man here, he is fine and then demanded that ransom be paid to them as a condition for releasing him.
The demand for ransom suggests that it was purely for economic reason. And the other question is, why they should abduct a poor man. For many reasons, I don’t see how the Boko Haram members could touch Monguno because of the many social roles he had played since this crisis started. In fact, he was most sympathetic to them and had even asked that the Joint Task Force should leave Borno alone. He had even pleaded with the president to see reasons to relax the grip of the soldiers on the city. So it could not be them.
But don’t also forget that before the abduction, the JTF had made an announcement that they had intelligence report that Boko Haram members were planning to embark on kidnapping, which they claimed was more lucrative but less hazardous. And this kidnapping came a week later. So, you see, there has always been this suspicion that there are the original Boko Haram, the criminal Boko Haram and the financial or economic Boko Haram. So, as time goes on, we would be able to find out why the man was taken. Is it harassment of an elder and by extension other northern elders? Or is it intimidation to make us shut up and, by implication, silence us. But the end of it is that we are happy that our elder is back home and we look forward to seeing him shortly.
What does the kidnap of Mungono tell you about the setting up of the committee on Boko Haram by the Federal Government? Do you think the committee can achieve anything given the rejection of amnesty by the sect?
I believe the committee can still achieve a lot. You see, initially, their argument was that there was no contact or dialogue with the sect but the mere fact that they are talking means that dialogue has begun. For me, that is the starting point. They pick up their case and start from there. There is exchange of information between government and the group. So, both will find a way to reconcile. It something that should be vigorously pursued.
Is this the kind of approach that the NEF put to the president?
Exactly, we had always believed that a point must be reached where contact is made and some form of dialogue started. This has always been our demand and, when we met with the president, we told him so in very clear terms. We even gave him a document on that and suggested the way forward. So, it is quite in the direction we believe we should go.
But the Arewa youths came out the other day condemning the president for setting up the committee, saying that he was doing so to win the support of the North towards his re-election in 2015.
How could the membership of this committee be turned into politics?. The only reason one can say so is that the chairman of the amnesty panel is a minister and the secretary is to come from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. But, looking at the members that I know, they could not be errand boys to anyone including the president. So, you will soon discover that if they are allowed to do their work, they would do their work well, otherwise they would resign.
What do you think President Jonathan should do in order to win the support of Nigerians and be re-elected in 2015?
Well, I am not President Jonathan’s Political adviser and, in fact, I don’t want him to be re-elected.
Because he has done nothing for this country since he became president. In fact, things in this country are worse than they have ever been. So far, in terms of the performance of this president, I don’t see how he can stand and win an election if you judge him in terms of the social, economic and political indices in the Nigerian environment where we are now. Things have gone from bad to worse since his coming. In the first place, he should not be sitting as the president of Nigeria going by the zoning formula of his party, the PDP.
The president should have come from the North based on the zoning policy of the PDP. Under the PDP zoning policy, the North allowed the South to produce the president for eight years, which ex-President Obasanjo took and, by their own signature, including Jonathan himself, when he was deputy governor on behalf of his governor, that the North will then run for eight years and we agreed. Umaru Yar’Ádua started but died after two and a half years. Of course, the constitution allows that his Vice should serve out the remaining term of the joint ticket and we did not complain. Common sense should have dictated to Jonathan that he should honourable enough to respect the zoning agreement which he was a party to.
He should have been gentlemanly enough to say to his party, ‘look, I’m not qualified to put up myself for election beyond 2011′ and that a northerner should run for the post as agreed. He did not do so, but came out to say that he did not know about the zoning. So, how do you deal with this kind of a person who cannot honour a simple gentleman’s agreement? So, from all these perspectives, I don’t see how one can support the president or his ability to be able to lead this country.
But, are you and the northern elders not worried that Asari Dokubo, one of Jonathan’s kinsmen, has threatened that there would be no peace if Jonathan is not re-elected in 2015?
The choice is theirs. The choice for peace or no peace is that of all Nigerians. No individual or group of individuals has monopoly for peace or lack of it. My reaction is that, but for the fact that I am aware that Dokubo is a spokesperson for the corridor of power. I would have ignored him. But my reaction now is directed to their leaders, elders, including the president, that if it is their feeling that this is the way things should go, I am saying on behalf of the NEF that they should start the crisis now because I’m putting them on notice that Jonathan will not be president in 2015. So they can start now and we in the North are waiting.
The president is believed to have initiated moves again of those he suspects do not support or will not support his re-election. Are you not worried?
All these actions tell you the quality of leadership of the president himself and the quality of advice he gets from those who are advising him. It is absolutely clear that either he is totally incompetent or that he has incompetent or inept advisers around him or, on the whole, they are totally desperate that power should be retained by him or by some people. But I would not know whether it is personal or whether it is tribal or regional or zonal. It is not very clear to me who these people are representing. Are they representing Jonathan as a person or representing Ijaw as a tribe or the South-South as a zone?
But do you think that the North will be able to agree on a candidate in order to defeat Jonathan, who has the support of many governors across the country?
What do you mean by being capable? Look, what I want to see is democracy in practice, so that as many candidates who want to contest the next presidential election, including Jonathan himself, can do so freely, without being witch-hunted or harassed by anyone. In fact, I would prefer that Jonathan should contest and I can assure you that he will lose. And as far as the North is concerned, there are many credible and qualified candidates and once a free and fair election is guaranteed, the people would choose who they want to be their president come 2015.
What do you make of the frosty relationship between the president and governors including those from his party? Some accuse the governors of using the NGF to prevent the president from performing his duties to the nation.
I think the president created the confrontation which is totally needless. I have not seen any governor who has come to interfere with the activities of the Presidency. I have not seen one and those who are criticising the governors for forming themselves into a forum to plan for their own meetings should come forward and tell Nigerians how they are disturbing Jonathan. What seems to be happening is that the president wants to exert himself everywhere as the leader of the party and the country. That is the problem. But that is totally wrong and inconsistent with the democratic principles of the party because when we drafted the PDP constitution, there was nothing like the president also serving as the leader of the party. It is not done even in the United States of America from where we borrowed our mode, of democracy. But the president is trying to copy what Obasanjo did when he anointed himself and forced the party to appoint him as the leader of the party and the President of Nigeria.
I am saying so because when we drafted the constitution of the PDP, there was no provision for party leader. What we had was the Chairman of the PDP. But, before we knew it, Obasanjo had concocted something which is applicable in the parliamentary system of government where the leader of the party becomes the prime minister as we have in Britain. In the US, the party is totally different from the president. Once the election is over, the president gets on with his job and the governors go to their respective states to do their job of providing services for the people. But, because in Nigeria, the President wants to exercise excessive control over the governors and all other party members and organs, the president wants to take everything and that is what is responsible for the conflict between the president and the governors individually or as a group.
Creation of conflict
So, the creation of this conflict needs to be there. What is wrong with the governors getting together under a forum to discuss common problems and issues that can help them to serve their people and Nigerians better? What is wrong with that? How does that affect or prevent the president from doing his own work for Nigerians? Of course, we have been having the Northern Governors Forum because of the history of the North. There has always been the South-West Governors Forum where they meet to discuss problems confronting them.
The same thing has been going on in the eastern region and so on. So you can see that the meeting of the governors in this country is not a new thing and has never been a setback to any government either at the national or local level. So, how can the president now begin to worry governors simply because of their regular meetings? Is this not a democratic government that we are practising?
I would advise the president to do away with the isolationist approach to governance in this country. If I were him, I would rather go for regional cooperation with the governors in order to fast track the development of Nigeria. So, to me, the NGF is a vital platform for enhancing the development and progress of Nigeria and should be encouraged by well-meaning Nigerians. But the Presidency looks at the NGF as a political manoeuvre where the governors are exercising too much influence either on the party or on their states, but the question is, what is wrong with that? The governors were elected just like the president. The NGF embraces governors from all the parties and they have the right to sit down and discuss issues of common interest. But I think the Presidency fears that the control of the governors is slipping out of his hands especially now that it is clear to him that he is ready to contest election. He is going about it the wrong way and I hope he will continue to go the wrong way so that it becomes easy for the North to get him out in 2015.
Are you worried about the way things are going in Nigeria?
Yes I am in so many ways, as someone who has seen the good and bad times in the country. Nigeria has never had it so bad in its history as a nation. But I don’t think that this country has ever had as bad a time as we are witnessing today, including the time we had the civil war. In the period of our civil war, the issues were well defined. The positions were very clear and the basis for which the war was fought and won by Nigeria was very clear to all. Soon after, General Gowon, a nice man, announced that there was neither a victor nor a vanquished.
And he got on with the task of rebuilding the nation. The Igbo came back to the mainstream politics of the country. Ojukwu was back and Ekwueme became the vice president of Nigeria. It was a feat that was not achievable by war- torn countries before Nigeria. Everything was shared at the national level by government and Nigerians began to live as one again. No part of the country was left out because of the rebellion. Nigerians wanted to live in peace with one another and to be their brother’s keeper. But the sad thing about our present situation is that fronts are being created deliberately to divide the society. Politics based either on region, old and new, tribe and latest addition, religion, which is very dangerous, is being played up. In those days, the issue of religion was not known either in the North or anywhere. The people in the Nigerian Army, side by side fought without considering which faith the man next in the trench was serving. Now, what worries me most is that if they keep pushing the religious front to a point when it becomes clear that the man in uniform is a Muslim and the other one is a Christian or another faith, and that they are looking at themselves purely along that line, then you can be sure that shooting will start from the barracks. And once shooting starts from the barracks and spills over to the community, that is the end of Nigeria. This is the most dangerous threat to this country and I can see quite a few extremist religious leaders trying to push this front beyond what it should be. I am asking them to be cautious not to do it to the point they will divide this country along religious lines. Anything that should reverse this process should be taken seriously by those who are in the position of authority.
But the South insists that the North is actually precipitating problems to weaken Jonathan and make him fail so as to fit into the threat in 2011 that if the North did not take back power, it would make the country ungovernable. The leaders blame Buhari for making that statement when he said that both the baboon and the dog would be soaked in blood if the election was rigged.
I do not remember or read any formal statement by Buhari or his supporter that both the baboon and the dog would be soaked in blood if the election was rigged. But is that more dangerous than what Obasanjo said in Abeokuta that the 2011 election was a do-or-die affair. When he made that threat, it did not amount to any problem but that of Buhari’s quarrel and a dog is now taken as a serious threat. So, which of the two statements is more threatening to national peace. That is why we say that this country is being manipulated by certain persons in positions of authority to castigate certain persons and regions for their selfish interest. Why is it that when Obasanjo threatened the peace and security of the nation, it was not seen as something dangerous, but Buhari’s comparison of a dog and baboon has become a threat to Jonathan’s government? That statement by Buhari was largely reported out of context by the PDP-controlled media deliberately to cast the former head of state in bad light. You can see all these are aimed at canvassing for votes on the basis of religion. But, let me say that we will not be afraid if the canvassing for votes is going to be done on the basis of sentiments. The North will not be afraid of that. But we are not like some of these people. Remember what Chief Anenih did during the primaries for the PDP presidential election in 2011. Anenih had warned the delegates from the South-South that if any of them voted for the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, the party would trace the person and sanction them seriously. What did he mean by that? Yet, we in Adamawa, where Atiku comes from, gave him 33 votes and over 60 votes to Jonathan. So, if they are saying that people should vote their ethnic or religious ties or they are punished, we in the North are also going to do the same in the next election. We can also say if any northerner votes for Jonathan, we will punish the person. If this is what they want to reduce the country to tribal and religious sentiments, we will respond in the same fashion. I can assure you of that.
As a renowned agriculturist, what do you think makes it impossible for Nigeria to have a worthy food chain in about 100 years of nationhood?
Poor leadership, poor economic policies that need to be redesigned and implemented to ensure the development of this country on all the fronts. Not to forget that for the years of Nigeria’s existence, the agriculture sector sustained the nation’s economy and provided food for the country but also provided foreign exchange for the nation. So , it is very clear that as soon as we began to earn big money from oil, we jettisoned agriculture. Yes, oil brought money but go and find out how many billions is being used to import agricultural products and how many billions is being wasted to import things that our farmers can easily produce in this country. How do we explain the profligacy whereby we produce tomatoes in the raw form but there is no place to preserve and process it into the form we import from overseas?
The factories should be set up to checkmate waste. I can tell you that everything that you see being imported as food into this country can be produced by Nigerian farmers and agriculturists if the government is willing to put in place the necessary facilities, policies and programmes to encourage local production. But poor leadership, planning and implementation have led us to the miserable position where we are today in this country.
And mark my words, until we make a deliberate and sustained effort to rehabilitate agriculture, this country will see no development in its multidimensional form-social, economic and political. We have to go back to agriculture in full swing in order to make progress as other countries have done. But now, you hear somebody saying he wants to buy mobile phones for farmers to improve production. Does that make sense? Some of these people do not know anything about the socio-economic challenges of this country and should be stopped from plunging the agricultural sector in to ruin and exacerbating poverty and diseases in Nigeria.