•‘No evidence I lost June 12, 1993 election to Abiola’
•Asks FG not to give impression Saraki is being punished
•His life in ‘retirement’
•Says Ganduje and Kwankwaso haven’t disclosed cause of fight
By Lekan Bilesanmi
Remember Alhaji Bashir Tofa?
He was the man who contested the June 12, 1993 presidential election against the late Chief MKO Abiola. Abiola was generally believed to have won that historic election which was unfortunately annulled by the military. In this interview, Tofa wonders whether anybody said Abiola won the election and he lost. Now a member of the Board of Trustees of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the elder statesman also speaks on the Buhari, Jonathan and Obasanjo administrations as well as other issues in the polity including the on-going war against corruption
It is about one year since the Buhari-led APC took over the leadership of this country. What is your assessment of the government vis-a-vis the promises made during its campaign?
The last 16 or more years had seen Nigeria tumbling to the abyss, made bankrupt and almost destroyed. The majority of Nigerians became desperate for a saviour, and they saw that in President Muhammadu Buhari. They voted for him in the hope that he will usher in a new era of stability and prosperity. Hope skyrocketed. Buhari became the President in this atmosphere of uncertainty, but he was determined and confident that solutions will be immediately available. But to his dismay, he discovered that the country was virtually bankrupt. The waste and destruction were beyond his wildest imaginations. No one outside government had any idea that we were on the precipice, on the edge of the cliff, about to be pushed off by the slightest blow of the wind.
Fortunately, it was a wind of change that blew. But the Nigerian engine had, first of all, to be pulled back from the brink before the shift to the “drive” gear. It has taken all these 10 months to do that and set the country in the right direction. I am confident that these 10 months were not wasted, but were used to the fullest benefit of this country. Credibility and respect for Nigeria by other countries and leaders have returned. Investors now know the direction of the country and it’s up to them to make informed decisions. The security of citizens has been restored, even if some remnants of problems still remain to be sorted out. Nigerians are coming back to their senses and are beginning to be proud of whatever they do again. Probity is now the watchword, even though there are still criminals and thieves in government and in the system, doing what they know best, since the President is yet to equip himself with the rear sight.
I am sure 2016 will be a very busy year, a year of serious economic activities. It is the year that will really kick off the agenda for change for progress. So, my assessment is that, although many people are eager to see the sort of changes and results they expect, President Buhari has done well in laying the ground upon which he will pursue his agenda without too many of the problems of the past.
Some of the chieftains of APC have expressed openly their concerns regarding the current situation in the country. A former PDP acting Chairman, Alhaji Baraje, said, last week, that this was not what he bargained for when he joined the party and that, if it continues like this, he might just leave the party – this expression is similar to the sentiments of many other chieftains, even though they have not come out openly.
It is natural, as I hinted earlier, that some people are eager to see the changes and results they expect. It is not just Alhaji Baraje and the others you mentioned, whoever they are. There are thousands, may be even millions of Nigerians from all walks of life, not just politicians, who are disappointed either genuinely or because their personal agendas and wishes have hit the rocks. The only thing I will advise and even urge is patience and a patriotic effort to help the government in its efforts to make Nigeria, not necessarily particular individuals, better. What Nigeria went through in the past 16 years cannot be remedied in 10 months.
Most politicians and people of any substance should know what manner of person President Buhari is. If you are with him, you just have to help Nigeria for Nigeria’s sake and not for what you expect to personally gain.
The President, at the height of the budget defense crisis, said he was hearing the word ‘padding’ for the first time. He then said those responsible for the ‘padding’ would be dealt with. The only thing we heard about the suspects was that they have been transferred. Would you agree that the punishment is okay for such an offence?
I am not an insider in this government and so I do not know what the President plans to do with these people after their transfer. I just hope he acts fast because, for some people, old habits die hard. There are many, I am sure, still in this government and in the public service who continue to sabotage the efforts being made, either because they need to protect or cover themselves and others; or simply because they are politically disposed to sabotaging the government by whatever means at their disposal. It is instructive that the President wakes up to this reality. Many snakes still lurk in his government.
On the other side, there are those who may be his supporters, some he may even have appointed by himself, but are utterly incompetent. Their incompetence does the same harm, may be even more than that inflicted by the sort of people I mentioned earlier – the saboteurs. The President needs to urgently purge his administration of these incompetent people around him, if he truly wants his agenda to succeed. And I know he truly and desperately needs his agenda for change and prosperity to succeed.
The tempo of the arms deal scandal appears to be slowing down. Is there any guarantee that some of these cases will be pursued to their logical conclusion?
When people said ‘corruption is fighting back’, I laughed. But now I know better. It is not a laughing matter. It is a serious impediment to attaining justice in these cases. The people who are alleged to have stolen unimaginably huge sums from our commonwealth have enormous amounts of money at their disposal and have no scruples. Now with corrupt lawyers and judges willing to take part of the loot, is it any wonder that success is not achieved at the rate it should? I think it is high time the judiciary itself is thoroughly purged and reorganised. I heard that the current CJN is desperate that this is done. This is a responsibility that I believe should be assigned to the Vice President, a man of God, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, a fine, most capable and honest gentleman. I am confident that, with his experience and integrity, he will do a good job. Secondly, the office of the Attorney General, the EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies should be strengthened and given sufficient resources to hire the best prosecutors in the land. Maybe special courts should be created to try corruption matters. A time frame must be set within which a case must be heard.
All current and pending cases of corruption and theft in the courts and their status should be published in national dailies for the public to know exactly where we are. This should be done at least twice a year.
Now, let me remind that the Dasuki case is not the only case. It is probably even less serious than some other cases, where ten times the amount is mentioned. I cannot understand the fixation on the Dasuki case alone. Is it a deliberate diversion of public attention from other equally or even more serious cases? Maybe, maybe not.
What do you make of the on-going prosecution of Senate President Bukola Saraki before the Code of Conduct Bureau as some have said it was more of political persecution?
A: If all that which we read about our President of the Senate is true, then he has a serious case to answer. But what worries me about this case is the impression we get that Bukola is the only culprit in asset declaration. Unless the CCB goes back and investigates others like him or even bigger than him, the impression people may have is that it is either personal or he is being punished because of his ‘deception’ against the ruling party in the election of the Senate President.
However, if I were Bukola, I will honourably resign as Senate President and concentrate on hiring the best lawyers to plead my case as a private citizen, or just as an ordinary senator. That way, the issue will be less interesting to the public, and attention to it may gradually wane. But trying the President of the Senate is a big deal and is an interest-arouser at home and abroad.
The National Assembly has asked the Minister of Transport to apologise to Nigerians for allegedly deceiving them that the Lagos Calabar rail contract was in the 2016 Budget. They said there was nothing of such in the original budget. What do you make of it this?
I know next to nothing of this unimportant matter.
The Chibok girls’ abduction was two years old last week. President Buhari gave an impression then while he was being sworn-in that he would get the girls, but during a parley with the media, late last year, he said he didn’t have credible information about the whereabouts of the girls.
First and most important difference is that the Chibok girls were not abducted under the nose of President Buhari. Second, it was not Buhari who denied for weeks that these girls were actually abducted. The third, it was not under Buhari’s supreme command the military deceit and flagrant theft in the name of fighting terror, happened. This again resulted in the deaths of many people, including many ill-equipped service men and women who were deliberately sent to their certain deaths. I can go on and on. During the parley, last year that you mentioned, President Buhari, characteristically, told the truth. Those who would have given him credible information, like the US and the British, left during GEJ’S administration, having realised that the government was totally unserious about either finding the girls, or winning the war. Civilian intelligence was neither seriously sought, nor was the help of the Civilian JTF and others who wanted to work with the military, requested.
It is now that we see real seriousness in the area of intelligence gathering and the resulting successes of our gallant military who have redeemed their good image, and whom we are proud of. I recently watched a video clip of some of the Chibok girls who have been rescued. That was a good beginning.
In all these corruption cases being tried, especially the way funds were just taken out of the cbn, does it surprise you or does it not surprise you that former President Goodluck Jonathan has not been mentioned?
It is a matter of strategy in my opinion. I am sure we can all agree that former President Jonathan is being indirectly investigated through his subordinates. It is through them that all the evidence will be gathered. By his nature and the way he was set up and managed, I believe that there are so many things he does not know or cannot remember, which if you ask him now, his answer may be, “I do not know (or I cannot recall) that, and I have not authorised it”. But a prosecutor needs to know the follow up questions to ask. And these can only come from knowledge gathered from the subordinates who committed the acts. That is why I think EFCC investigators decided that President Jonathan will be the last they will dock.
Why did you say so?
Well, it is obvious, isn’t it? Why waste their time, invite controversy and undue criticisms by rushing to ask the former President questions he may deny knowledge of. But, when they have the full information and they show him what they have already got, with proof, he can hardly deny. Patience (not his wife) in everything is a virtue. By leaving him last, they will kill many birds with one stone. For now, they may even say it is because they do respect the office and the person of the former President, and they have no intention of tormenting him. But the law is the law. No one should be above it; and no one should be below it.
Looking back to 1993, wouldn’t you have been a hero today had you accepted the impending presidential election result which showed that your rival, MKO Abiola, was likely to win?
You said, ‘was likely to win’. Did anybody say he (Abiola) won? Did anyone say I lost? It was all conjecture and publicity. I am not cut for that kind of thing.
Why did you give the response you have given now?
It’s a response which is relevant to your question.
Through no fault of yours, between 1993 and 1999, Nigeria did not get her acts together. When you look back, does it evoke a nostalgic feeling or how do you look back because the actions of the politicians forced the military to stay put?
I cannot remember anything that the politicians, at that time, did which compelled the military to stay put. The military, I suspect, had their plans which, I believe, we the politicians did not know, or even had any hint of. The end of the story is the continuation of the military rule through Abacha to Obasanjo. And here we are today much worse off and only just beginning to reverse the decay and the extreme corruption of the last few years. The last 18 years were not entirely positive for this country. How we wish things happened differently!
Yes, Obasanjo was one of those who blew the whistle on Jonathan and the rot that government had become. But Obasanjo, as a former President who served for eight years, cannot say his eight years were so glowing. What blemishes did you observe while Obasanjo was in power?
Former President Obasanjo is someone I have respect for, despite his many shortcomings. He may be corrupt according to one document I read which was published by Col. Dangiwa Umar. But since no one paid any serious attention to it, it may be because it is not that important; or may be the extent of the silent corruption was beyond Obasanjo alone. But one thing I admire Obasanjo for, is his tremendous fashion and love for Nigeria. But his biggest mistake, in my opinion, was his attempt for third term. But, Nigeria proved much bigger than him. And he backed down, even though he still has not apologized. But, what if we had a premonition of what Jonathan would do?
On the issue of his relationship with Jonathan, I think the general belief was that he helped Jonathan to power, because he thought Jonathan was a fool who could be used and led by the nose. But Jonathan proved that he could be anything but a fool. That angered Obasanjo, and Jonathan became the enemy. I believe Obasanjo is that kind of person who may like you if you will do his bidding, but hate you if you will not. What I also noticed about him is that he has to always be very close to the powers-that-be. He must remain relevant all the times. I still like him, however, and hope his relevance is mostly for the best of the country. Someone should study Obasanjo as a subject. He amazes me!
An example was the so-called Abacha loot which Obasanjo’s government did not account for?
That is a very complicated issue. I never understood much about this Abacha’s loot. If subsequent Nigerian leaders were serious about the recovery of that loot after Abacha’s death (may Allah forgive all his trespasses), it would not have been too difficult to recover most of it. Unfortunately, recovery was not the primary objective, but sharing it out. And, when these foreign governments and banks realised that, they withdrew their cooperation.
Nonetheless, some of it was eventually recovered and still being recovered, as we all know now. But the baffling question is, no one ever published what is recovered; how much, when and from where. I wonder whether the Freedom of Information Act can serve some purpose, if some high ranking lawyers and activists will seek to know, on all Nigerians behalf.
You hardly grant interviews. You just soak it in. Why is that?
A: Has anyone asked me and I refused? But, you are right in a way. I only talk when necessary and when asked, if the subject matter is worth talking about. People do not value the words of those who talk too much.
What do you engage yourself in now?
I am virtually retired as far as day-to-day business is concerned. I am a quiet member of the APC and a member of its Board of Trustees which will, hopefully, receive a life-saving injection in the very near future.
President Buhari is not a perfect man. He must have his own issues. What lows can you attribute to Mr. President?
Lows? Why not highs? I rate President Buhari very highly. He is a good man, very well intentioned. His difficulty, as I mentioned earlier may have to do with some of the people around him. But, he is beginning to know them now. I am sure from May/June of this year, will see a very active and fulfilling government.
What sort of counsel would you be willing to give President Buhari so that he does not fail?
I have already done that. I am sure he has considered all my advice to him, and he will use those that will help him achieve his ‘Change’ objectives. All well-meaning Nigerians must pray for him. His success is our profit. His failure is our loss. Only fools will wish a loss.
Governor Ganduje of Kano State is less than one year in office. Some people say he has done well for his people in terms of infrastructure and welfare, but there appears to be a snag – his fight with his predecessor and benefactor. When two elephants fight, the grass (the people), they say, will suffer. You appear close to the two gladiators. How can the fight be contained such that it won’t affect the development of the state.
It is unfortunate that these two great sons of Kano, and hitherto great friends, have serious misunderstanding between them. The national leadership of the APC, as well as the Emir of Kano, HH-MS11, and some governors have intervened to reconcile the two leaders. We, the elders of Kano, are also doing all we can to ensure that peace prevails at all levels of the party in Kano, and between the two gladiators and their supporters. We are still working on this with determination to succeed. Both of them are very responsible leaders who have worked together to bring progress and prosperity to Kano. I am sure they are mindful of that and will not want their legacies to be affected by this unnecessary conflict that most people do not even understand what triggered it.