By Bashir Bello, Katsina
Alhaji Ahmadu Kurfi, a former Executive Secretary of the second republic Federal Electoral Commission, FEDECO, which conducted the 1979 elections, is the District Head of Kurfi and Maradin Katsina. In this interview, Kurfi speaks on his time as a member of an electoral body, the June 12, 1993 election, Democracy Day and the problem of insecurity in the country. Excerpts:
Insecurity in your state and across the country has become a major issue. What is your take on this?
Recently, I was watching an international television station which reported that Colombia had similar problem of insecurity, insurgency for 50 years. The people (insurgents) there were so organized; they had so much money and even occupied parts of the country. They had their own airport. That happened for 50 years. It was only a year ago or so that the insurgents sat with government in that country to resolve the issues at stake. At the end of discussion, the insurgents agreed to lay down their arms but said the nation must also guarantee that they were not going to be punished for whatever they did during the insurgency. The government said ‘yes’ but explained that they had to ask the people of the country in a referendum.
When the referendum was done, the people disagreed: “How can we pardon criminals? You have to punish them”. So there was a stalemate. And, recently, I think they have come to an understanding. The President of Colombia and the insurgents seem now to have agreed to stop the insurgency and also guarantee that they are not going to punish them for the wrongs they did during the insurgency period. Our own insurgency in Nigeria is only 10 years old. Boko Haram started 10 years ago. But before then, we had all sorts of insurgency particularly in the Niger-Delta and areas like Benue at some point. But most of the problem now is up North: Kidnapping, cattle rustling and unnecessary killings in Zamfara. Only last Monday, some criminals went to Shinkafi and killed almost 40 people. Some time ago, we had over 300 internally displaced persons who ran from trouble over there in Zamfara to Kurfi LGA in Katsina State but they have all gone back home.
As a nation, what do we do to address the menace?
This is mainly the responsibility of government but it is also the responsibility of every Nigerian. Government is doing its best to curtail insurgency but they need the support of the people to give information to security forces. But what they (insurgents) are doing, even some traditional rulers are involved. The new governor of Zamfara just removed a traditional ruler because people complained that he is dealing with insurgents.
There must be support from Nigerians to curtail insurgency; we have been made to understand that some business people supply them petrol, food and all sorts of things. So it is not just youths that are involved, they also have the backing of some influential members of the society, including traditional chiefs.
And there are some people who do not mean well for the government of the day. Such people want insecurity to continue so that they can tell Nigerians that this government is incapable of ruling Nigeria. There are people who did not want President Buhari to come to power in 2015 and there are people who don’t want him to have second term. All these are influential people; they have their supporters all over the country. But I have just finished reading the speech President Buhari delivered on Democracy Day where he said his administration was going to tackle this problem of insurgency headlong, and that he was going to be strong to fish out those people that support them. So we wish him well. No country is free from this kind of problem. See what is happening in Europe, Asia and Middle East. You can never have a country without trouble, especially a big country like Nigeria with over 200 million people.
What do you make of a traditional ruler who has the responsibility of protecting his people but is aiding the activities of unscrupulous elements?
Well, I am also a traditional ruler; I am the District Head of Kurfi. I cannot say jail another district head or deal with him. Only the governor and Emir of Katsina, if you interview them, that can tell you that any of his district heads including myself, if involved, will be removed. But in Zamfara, they have a small Emirs. They have about 17 Emirs in Zamfara State, so they are not as organized as the Emirs in Katsina. So these are the type of chiefs that are being removed by the governor. I am a traditional ruler but I make sure that my village heads are not involved. If they are, I will report them to the Emir and they can be removed by the Emir and not by me. I have no power to remove a village head.
Let me take you back to the statement you credited to the President that he will tackle insecurity headlong. Do you support the use of force or we must employ dialogue?
We must have both. We have to have the stick and carrot approach. The President will not tell the security forces to go and kill people; he will only tell them to go and stop crime. “If you see anybody committing crime, arrest him and take him to court”. No President can say “go and kill people”.
As a former Executive Secretary of the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO), would you say the June 12, 1993 election was free and fair?
Well, how can I say…? I remember that during the period, the Nigeria Television Authority, NTA, Lagos invited me and other people who were involved in the election. Before the election was held, I told them problem always comes with presidential election. Other elections before the presidential segment, there was no problem. You know when it comes to President, everybody wants to be President of Nigeria. Whatever you do as election management bodies – Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, our own was called Federal Electoral Commission, FEDECO which conducted the elections of 1979 – you always had problems but we were given free hand in 1979. Then-President Obasanjo did not interfere. We were not called INEC but we were independent. They allowed us to do our job and we did it to the best of our ability. I cannot say this is the best election ever because I participated. No, it is other people who will judge. And also, whenever I am asked about other election bodies, I don’t criticise them by saying ‘election conducted in so and so year was bad”. I know how difficult it is to conduct election in Nigeria. Because a Nigerian politician adjudges election free and fair if he wins but if he loses he will say it is rigged.
Buhari lost three times before he won in 2015. He would not give one kobo to anybody. He would not interfere. I was an electoral officer way back in 1959 in charge of a federal constituency. 20 years later, I became the electoral officer for the whole federation. I know the problem of doing election especially in Nigeria.
What’s your take on President Buhari recognizing the late Chief MKO Abiola and declaring June 12 as Democracy Day?
In the first place, President Buhari never declared Abiola as President but elections were held and partial results announced. How can you declare somebody winner when he had only partial results? We cannot declare him winner. In Nigeria, whenever certain things are done, people would ascribe them to religion or tribe or region. So when the June 12, 1993 election was annulled, most Nigerians did not like it but it was the affair of the military. Some notable Nigerians, including the late Adamu Ciroma, said publicly said they should allow the election to continue and declare the winner whoever it may be. But the declaration of Democracy Day has been done for the sake of reconciliation of some groups in Nigeria. Some Yoruba people did not want Abiola while some voted for him at that time but the moment the election was cancelled, they said it was cancelled because he was a Yoruba man and a southerner. They destroyed the case instead of mobilizing the North, the East and the whole of Nigeria at that time to say “we don’t agree with this cancelation”. But they said no, because then-military President Ibrahim Babangida was a northern officer, he was doing it because this man was a southerner. So the Yoruba destroyed their case. At that time, if they had mobilized the whole of Nigeria, probably a democracy day may have been declared. But they never did. So this was done as part of reconciliation between our groups in Nigeria. Because if we followed it, there was even a court case which stopped the election but the National Electoral Commission continued. On that ground, you can fault the election. Then-military government should have allowed the court to do their job instead of cancelling the election. If the court says no election, the result is cancelled because it cannot stand. Then you hold another election. We wouldn’t have been in trouble if things had happened that way. But what they are doing now is politics. They want to appease the Yoruba of the South-West, the family of Abiola, friends and so on by declaring this day a public holiday.
Do you think the Babangida administration made a mistake by annulling the election?
No, I wouldn’t say that. I don’t know the situation of the said time. A court stopped the election, another said continue. General Babangida was not the only one there; there also was the Armed Forces Ruling Council. Then-President must have been under pressure from his military colleagues. They could have removed him if majority of the members of the AFRC wanted the election annulled and he refused to do so. They could have removed him.
You made a statement that during your time, you were called FEDECO but you were independent. Do you mean to say that the current INEC is not independent as such?
No. In 2015, I know Prof. Attahiru Jega was the Chairman, and INEC was free and independent. The present Chairman too, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, I know him; he was a professor at the Nigerian Defence Academy, NDA. We both write books. I used to meet him. He is somebody you cannot twist. So, he too is independent. I think at that level they are independent but whatever you do at the headquarters, what about what happens at the grassroots level? Things may be different at the grassroots level and that is where they elect and that is the place this election is taking place. So, I think the immediate past INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, and the incumbent, Prof. Yakubu, I know them, they are very strong-willed people, nobody can dictate to them. At that level, it is free and fair. And I have written quite a number of books on free and fair elections. I have been following them.
There are calls from some quarters for the adoption of e-voting system by 2023 in Nigeria. Do you agree?
After we conducted our elections in 1979 and in some of my writings, I recommended electronic voting (e-voting) or by machine. You will just go and the machine will record your vote. I recommended this for so many years and I still believe it is still good for Nigeria to conduct election using electronic voting machine. But at one time the National Assembly in the Electoral Law said this one is prohibited. But I think later on, it was amended so that INEC can use it. But so far they have not. So many political parties, 91, and 71 presidential candidates; during our time, there were only five. But it is good if INEC can manage the large number. The problem will be power failure or some people will sell the machine or vandalize it. Even the card reader, some people said it will not work. Whatever you do, people who lose election would say it is rigged. If Abiola had been elected President, the same Nigerians that are supporting him would have said SDP (Abiola and Vice Presidential Candidate Kingibe) rigged the election especially when both of them were Muslims. They would say how can Muslim-Muslim ticket win election? But Abiola did not win and that’s why they are saying it was the best election. But that is their view and not my view.