By Olalekan Bilesanmi
Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa is a name many Nigerians are familiar with, especially those who witnessed the annulled 1993 presidential election in which he participated as the candidate of the defunct National Republican Convention. Now an elder statesman, Tofa, in this interview, says Nigeria’s greatness lies in the unity of purpose of the leadership and followership.
Would you, with all sense of sincerity, say that the Federal Government, as controlled by the All Progressives Congress, APC, has lived up to the expectations of the masses in the last two years?
When you say, ‘with all sense of sincerity’, it is like asking me to swear that whatever I say is the absolute truth. Well, the modest truth is that one cannot completely judge a government just two years into its tenure. Nonetheless, one can safely say, ‘thank God for this government that, at least, it has slowed down the decay, the wanton and senseless looting of our commonwealth and so on and so forth’. This government has been able to decapitate Boko Haram and brought some semblance of peace to the North-East.
Many of the kidnapped Chibok girls and others have been rescued Boko Haram. On the economic side, the government has not fared badly; we are out of recession and well on our way to economic growth, albeit slowly. A lot of progress has been made in the agricultural sector as we are now able to grow not just sufficient for our domestic consumption, but for export as well, thus reducing our foreign exchange wastage. One can go on, with less biased and negative mind, to point to other achievements of this government. Of course, there are areas of criticism, some even serious ones. But no one is perfect.
Corruption was a major campaign issue ahead of the 2015 election. Opinions are divided as to whether the Buhari government has lived up to its promise on fighting corruption to a standstill. Many cite the cases of the suspended SGF and the NIA scandal as where sincerity in the fight appears to be lacking. Where do you stand?
Clearly, it is always very difficult to have a government that is populated by only good and honest people. Many of the bad eggs are remnants of the old regimes; and some of them are among the recruits of the new regime. Delays in justice, as people hoped, are often a result of lack of institutions and, or corruption in them. Even due process has been contaminated in Nigeria, and corruption resides everywhere. In fact, even among ordinary Nigerians, you find far too many that are corrupt, and they now see it just as a way of life.
There is a desperate need to restructure the attitude of Nigerians so that their thinking and actions are directed towards the right things. With particular regard to the persons you mentioned, I am sure the report of the VP Committee will be implemented at the right time. Do not forget that decision on some of these matters require presidential approval. We thank God that President Buhari has returned in much better health. He needs to get his bearing and comprehend all the matters that require his attention before he acts on them. This adjustment will take a little time. We also thank God that we have the right VP at this point in time.
Different separatist groups have emerged to say the interests of their ethnic nationalities are not being taken care of. Are these agitations not legitimate?
Nigeria is a difficult country as it is funny. My drift is that everybody has a complaint, and this will be the fact of life forever. Living together, even by a husband and wife who contracted marriage on the basis of love, are precipitators of complains. If you have never quarrelled with your new wife, go home and anchor your hands together and see what happens within a few minutes.
I think the important thing is that we have all consciously or unconsciously consented to being together as one country, and this has more benefits than being in different but smaller countries and on each other’s neck. If Nigeria breaks into two or three or more countries, each new country would demand that everybody moves to his own new country. Even before the sad event (God forbid), some people have begun demanding that. Now, don’t you see a huge problem in that situation? The solution is to sit down and listen to everybody’s complaint so that we can make adjustments. We will continue to make adjustments as long as we live together.
The problems of wider Nigeria also exist in all the states of the federation. There are small IPoBs everywhere, and while we plan to deal decidedly with Nnamdi Kanu’s IPoB, we also need to think into the future and have a plan for the resolution of the problems of this kind whenever they arise. However, all sensible people, throughout the country and beyond, must condemn, in absolute terms, the killing of innocent people in the South-East and the South-South, while making sure that reprisal attacks do not have a place in the North. Patriotic southern leaders must come out of their cocoons and call these hooligans to order before the situation gets out of hand. Security agencies know what to do.
What, in your view, is the best way to handle the IPoB issue by the Buhari government?
What I have just said is part of the solution. While I am very angry that some myopic and idle young people, as well as the hirelings of some dirty politicians, are pushing and promoting chaos in the land, the Federal Government, through its secret service, must find who exactly are the brains and financiers of these hooligans and deal with them decidedly. I hope that is well in the process, as I am sure some corrupt people, who are being investigated by the EFCC, have a hand in these agitations. At the same time, a way needs to be found to quietly talk to some respectful elders wherever these agitations occur, so that they can talk to the agitators in ways that may lead to lasting solution. Talk, talk and talk, before using force or taking actions that may be counter-productive.
We need to have a National Peace and Conflict Resolution Conference to discuss all these issues and all the complaints people have about their lives and situations in Nigeria. Some of these issues may take time to resolve but, at least, discussing them, with sincere determination, will give us the space and the confidence to settle down and face them gradually. However, only people with credibility, not misdirected fanatics and bigots, or publicity seeking ‘leaders’ with ego, carrying bags of corruption or past misdeeds should be called upon to serve.
Election of these members may be a good filter, as people are already beginning to know and sift between people who are genuine and who are fraudulent. Only genuine people will be able to solve the genuine problems of Nigeria. God has blessed Nigeria with everything she needs to be a great country, except leaders and people who are genuine. We need to restructure our attitudes, not our physical boundaries, if we want to make a better and just country, in which our main focus is justice and equity for all. The President should form a small committee of patriotic Nigerians, not cohorts, to formulate how this can be done, with clear objectives and terms of reference.
The PDP appears to be getting its bearing, thus opening the space for a more formidable opposition. With many unfulfilled campaign promises, it does appear that the APC is in for a Herculean task of returning to power in 2019.
Any democracy without genuine and strong opposition is just a farce. Unfortunately, PDP’s record from 1999 to 2015 is what has put us is this mess today. Again, PDP lacks credible leaders. Getting a candidate that Nigerians will accept as replacement for the APC will be virtually impossible. But, who knows, a person with the right credentials may change their fortune, just as Buhari did for the APC in 2015. Again, many of the big PDP politicians, especially from the South-East, have decamped to the APC, and whether this is good or bad for the APC or the PDP is anybody’s guess. But the fact remains; it is a loss of some kind to the PDP. On the other hand, the APC desperately needs to do serious soul searching, purge itself, deal decidedly with the various internecine wars raging in some of the state branches like Kano, and, at the same time, reorganize itself. All these must be done within the next six months; otherwise they are in for shocking surprises. APC may not lose the presidency in 2019, but may lose some states, as well as suffer unnecessary defeat inthe legislative elections.
The Minister of Women Affairs, Aisha Alhassan, told Nigerians that President Buhari promised to serve only one term but it does appear that supporters are already preparing the ground for the President to contest in 2019.
To be honest, I do not know that President Buhari promised to serve only one term. I was not a party to that discussion.The people who should know will certainly include my dear friend, Alhaji Ahmed Bola Tinubu; my senior brothers, Chief Oyegun and Chief Bisi Akande; probably (former) VP Atiku himself. If he made that promise, I am sure President Buhari, being an honourable person, will honour it. When the time comes, all will be known.
Now, with regard to the statement the Hon. Minister of Women Affairs made, although I am not happy she made it at this particular point in time, she is entitled to make any statement she wishes to make, so long as it is factual and not insulting to anybody. She is a grown up, responsible person, with a definite political ambition. She must have calculated that her future political career will be best served if she leans towards (former) VP Atiku. She has not been disrespectful to the President or to anyone for that matter.
It will be unwise for the party (APC) to even suggest anything about disciplining her. For one, we do not know how many big wigs in the party are entertaining similar ideas or even some more damaging ideas. I, therefore, suggest that we all keep calm and wait and see what next year (2018) will bring. The position of Mama Taraba may turn out to be a lesser shock to our party. What the APC needs to do immediately is to sit and intelligently predict several possible 2018 and beyond scenarios, note them and plot clear strategies to deal with them. Or, may be, it is even better to take the right measures right now to sort all things out before it is too late.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar said the government he supported and financed to come to power has completely neglected him. What does that tell us ahead of 2019?
With regards to my brother and friend, (former) VP Atiku, one thing I admire about him is that he never hides his presidential ambition. President Buhari is another tenacious person on issues he believes in. there is nothing wrong with tenacity and determination to realise an ambition. The important thing is to always be aware that God is always present and all knowing. He does what He likes and Has power over all things.
From your vantage position, can you tell us what we can do as a nation to be great again?
Nigeria is always great, despite these solvable problems. We can still do a lot that other nations cannot. We need to seek lasting peace and trust among all our peoples in our country. We can only achieve that through justice, equity and fair play. We must listen to ourselves ardently without resentment, and patiently do the right things. But all that depends on having the right leadership, not the right leader.
The first major responsibility is for the electorate to elect the right people; not those with bags of stolen money, but those they believe have the integrity and determination to serve them well. And when we elect the Ishtar President, as we did in 2015, his first responsibility is to surround himself with the right people, very qualified and resourceful and knowledgeable in the tasks that will be assigned to them.
The progress made by the ministers and all key appointees must be periodically measured, say twice a year, by a committee inaugurated by the President. Those who fall below expectations or are found wanting in any way must be asked to leave. Again, do not always appoint people who need the job. Appoint only those who deserve the job, even if you have to beg them.
What do you want to see in terms of impactful projects before the next election by the federal government?
Projects must be based on the needs of the people and the economy. The two needs are mutual and we all know them.
You once said that the President should rejig his cabinet after two years for maximum performance. Which of the ministries would you say should be looked into?
I am sure this is foremost in the mind of the President. First, he needs to establish his legacy, and second, the 2019 elections will be even more difficult than the 2015 elections. These are matters that are top in the mind of the President from what I can deduce. Let us all keep praying for his good health and the wisdom and the courage to do the right things. These two years are very crucial indeed.
Which Nigerians would you say inspire you and why?
Those who inspire me in Nigeria? They are all dead. But my life’s inspiration comes from Prophet Muhammad. Why? Because I am a Muslim, and I do my best to be a good one as the Prophet admonished. That is, to ensure my peace with God, be good to all, be honest, keep the trust, do not hate or attack those who have done nothing to you, protect the weak and love your neighbor. And, “to you, your religion; to me, mine”. That is what the Almighty Allah instructs in the Holy Qur’an.