BY CHARLES KUMOLU, Deputy Features Editor
Elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, in this interview, passed a vote of no confidence on President Muhammadu Buhari, saying there is nothing on the ground to convince him that things would be different if re-elected. Yakasai, a former Liaison Officer of ex-President Shehu Shagari to the National Assembly, also explained his earlier claims that the 2015 presidential poll was rigged, warning that using religious sentiments to canvass for votes holds disastrous consequences for Nigeria. He also spoke on other issues of national importance.
Your group, Northern Elders Council recently visited former President Ibrahim Babangida. What were you trying to achieve with the visit?
We are trying to achieve what others were not able to achieve. We want to seek ways to address problems like farmers-herders clashes, because without peace there will be no progress. It has nothing to do with the 2019 elections. We are not fronting for anybody. In fact, we are aiming beyond the elections.
But you are interested in the elections?
We want to watch and if there is anything that could be the basis upon which we would give support to any candidate that would change Nigeria’s narrative, we will consider that.
At the meeting with Babangida, you did say that the North had long been short-changed and that you have not got much benefit. What does that imply?
What we said was that the North supported people to emerge as leaders, but they forget the north once they get to power. The leaders have not been performing the way we expected them to perform. People are living in ignorance and poverty because they are neglected by our leaders.
The composition of the leaders that visited Babangida was mainly people, who are sympathetic to the opposition. Was that not a partisan mission to achieve a particular goal in 2019?
I have never been a member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. And that was the reason I was chosen as a non-partisan person. I can be sympathetic to anybody. I was sympathetic to the re-election of Goodluck Jonathan on a different ground.
Look, I was a member of National Party of Nigeria, NPN, where a synergy developed between the North and the SouthSouth, and that translated into the YarÁdua/Jonathan presidency. Our Northern Union worked with the Edwin Clark-led South South Peoples Assembly to eventually get YarÁdua and Jonathan together. When Jonathan was going for an election when Yar’Adua died, I queried why he would not allow the rotational system to continue. I said that he should allow a northerner continue so that the North will serve its two terms. The idea was to institutionalise rotational presidency. The rest is history.
You are clearly opposed to the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari, and ex-President Banagandia wants a younger person as Nigeria’s next President. Don’t you think that idea will usurp the eight-year term of the North you claim to be pursuing?
I did not start my opposition to Buhari now. I started it in this studio (Channels Television) before his election. I said I was not supporting his candidacy. When I was asked why, I said he was not prepared for leadership. I said I didn’t think his party was also prepared for leadership. Today, I am justified. I didn’t say anything since then. I was convinced that he was not prepared to govern Nigeria. After three years, nothing has happened. It is not now that I am opposing him. I have been doing that since he indicated interest in the race. I was so convinced that he didn’t have a programme. If somebody wants to rule this country, he should have a programme. A country like Nigeria with multifaceted problems should not be governed without a programme. An aspiring leader should come up with a programme to tackle a problem like the massive unemployment rate in the country.
Some members of your group are former northern leaders who are battling corruption cases today, yet you are talking about the impoverishment of the North?
The major image maker of the President today is a former governor, who has corruption cases. We said it in the beginning that our doors were open to every northerner regardless of the person’s political inclination. We have PDP members and non-PDP members in our fold. I have never been a member of the PDP, but I am a Nigerian. Talking about the younger generation, most people in that group are over 70 years. I am 93 years old. We are not young. I can’t be a Commissioner, I can’t be a Local Government Chairman and I cannot be anything. But I was there because I want to secure the future of my children and grandchildren.
Our meeting at a period the election is fast approaching was a coincidence. It came by the will of God. But we can’t ignore the fact that election is approaching and when it comes we will observe the process. Anybody who is coming to look for votes in the north should tell us what he will do for us.
One of the aims of your group is to unite the North. In uniting the North, what areas are you talking about because recently we have seen the North Central saying it is not part of the North, stating that it is Middle Belt?
Middle Belt is a religious connotation because there is no area in the North that has been demarcated, recognised by the constitution or any legal instrument as the Middle Belt. I was the Secretary of the defunct Kano State Movement in the First Republic. In 1967 when the Federal Government wanted to create a state, a 13-member committee was set up by the government of the Northern Region. Shehu Shagari and many others were members of the committee. We went round the provinces and we agreed that we should consider the issue of the Middle Belt. We asked what we should call the areas that should be considered as Middle Belt, they listed Niger, Ilorin Province, Kabba Province, Plateau, and Benue. Surprisingly, every area that was listed with the exception of Benue-Plateau rejected the concept of Middle Belt. That was the reason Benue and Plateau were merged as a state when the 12-state structure was introduced and the name Benue-Plateau emerged. They could not create a different name for them. Others were grouped together. But the first group to break up was Benue-Plateau with a predominantly Christian population.
In the political calculation, some of these states are not accepted as northern states. They are only accepted during electioneering period because of their votes. What do you make of that?
Most of the Northerners, who governed this country were from that area. Yakubu Gowon hails from that place, Babangida comes from that area. Tafawa Balewa was also among but they don’t include his name because he is a Muslim. Bauchi is among the areas they are claiming as Middle Belt. In Kebbi State, for instance, how could Zuru be listed as part of the Middle Belt?
Do you think your mission is going to be possible since you have already seen the religious connotations?
In the NPN days, there was a meeting of the Middle Belt but Auwal Ibrahim, who was the governor of Niger State, was not allowed to attend. Olusola Saraki, who was the NPN leader at the Senate, was not allowed to attend. The then governor of Kwara State, Adamu Attah, who was a Muslim, was not invited to the meeting. Northerners can only get what they are looking for if they work together. It is rubbish for any northerner to think of excluding anybody. I have never dreamed of it.
On Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, others
Right from the day the ACF was formed, I was nominated as one of the leaders representing Kano State on the Board of Trustees. Maitama Sule and Magaji Damabatta were also on the board. Long before the last election, the leadership of ACF said that it will not discuss political issues. As a result of that, the Maiatama Sule group formed the Northern Elders Forum and endorsed Buhari’s candidacy. We did not endorse Buhari. But, because of the formation of Northern Elders Forum, we formed the Northern Elders Council. We supported Jonathan on the principle of North/SouthSouth collaboration. Now, we are working to get a pan-Northern organisation. After consolidating the position of the organisation, we will look for like-minds in the South.
You claimed that the 2015 elections were rigged. Can you shed light on that?
Prior to the 2015 election, there was tension in the country, especially in the North. As a result of that, many southerners resident in the North had to relocate to their states of origin. A committee of an organisation which I led had to tour the northern states to meet with traditional leaders, religious leaders, and opinion leaders. We appealed to them to help in calming the situation. We succeeded because we visited 17 states out of 19 states. The states we didn’t visit were Borno and Yobe because of insecurity. Southerners who were not able to relocate, did not come out to vote. It is obvious from the number of votes Jonathan or PDP got in Kano, Kaduna, Plateau, Bauchi, Maiduguri and other places where there is a concentration of Southerners. The result that Jonathan got in those areas came down to one-third of what he got in the previous election. To scare people away from voting is another form of voting. The Card Reader that was introduced was religiously enforced in the south, but it was not religiously enforced in the North.
Do you have any empirical evidence to back that?
Most of the mosques in the North dedicated their sermons on the Friday before the election, to the way people should vote. They did not mention anybody’s name but they told the congregation to vote for people who would protect their religion and culture. When a Muslim and a Christian are contesting in an election, if the people in the Mosque are told to vote for those who will protect their religion, will they vote for a Christian?
But in a book written by a former presidential spokesperson, Segun Adeniyi, it was said that some PDP members from the North betrayed Jonathan. Does that align with your claims of how the election was rigged in the North?
I don’t know because I am not a member of the PDP. I would not like to delve into that. Because of the tension, my children insisted that my wives and I should come to Abuja. We relocated to Abuja when the election took place. After the election I returned to my house in Kano. There is a big Friday Mosque close to my house in Kano. The Imam of the Mosque thanked God, saying that on the previous Friday, they begged God to return power to them, stating they were grateful that He gave power to one of them. He mentioned the name of the President. I was surprised. But as a member of the defunct Northern Elements Progressive Union, NEPU, I knew that it was the tradition. But I didn’t know that it had been revived. When I made my findings across the northern states, I was told that it was the same pattern of preaching. My fear is that if religion is introduced into politics, it becomes a problem that no one can solve. If I heard some pastors urging Christians to get their Permanent Voters’ Cards, PVCs, to avoid being denied certain things, I will condemn it., Whoever started that should be held responsible.
PDP lost Bauchi State in 2015 despite controlling the Police and other security agencies. Can you describe that as a manifestation of rigging?
Where is the former governor of Bauchi State today? Where is Yuguda today? Have they not crossed over to the APC today? I heard the allegation before.
After your meeting with Babangida, it was alleged that you were pushing for the aspiration of Tambuwal, Dankwambo, and Kwakwanso. How true is that?
None of the is a member of our group. Our group is open to anyone but we are not going to operate it for the next election. Every member of the organisation will be free to make his choice when the election comes. The last time I voted was in 1999 because I can’t struggle with my grandchildren. I feel it is not right to struggle with my grandchildren. I didn’t say the current President must go. I said he and his party were not prepared to rule this country and I still insist that they are not prepared. They have been there for three years without serious opposition and they did not perform. How do you convince, me that they have changed? I am not one of those who is asking them to go. Obasanjo, IBB, and Danjuma have asked him to go. I said that he was not even ready for leadership right from the beginning. I have seen some critical ingredients that lead to quality leadership like capacity, vision, competence, planning and integrity. Any where they are not present, I don’t think the individual and the party are serious.
On INEC’s Incidence Forms
I am talking of the enforcement of the use of the Card Reader. Check the records from Port Harcourt, Bayelsa, Bauchi and Kano and see the number of people who used Card Reader. This is not a closed issue. Researchers can make findings and their conclusion will be the same with mine.
*THIS INTERVIEW WAS FIRST AIRED ON CHANNELS TELEVISION