…Calls action treasonable
…‘1966 coup was led by Igbo people under Ironsi and Ojukwu’
…Replies southerners on 2023: Nothing stops a northerner from succeeding Buhari
…‘Second Republic senators got N780 per month’
By Bashir Bello, Katsina
Senator Abba Ali represented Katsina/Dutsinma Senatorial District defunct National Party of Nigeria, NPN, in the Second Republic. Ali is currently a member of the Board of Trustees of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In this interview, he claims that the Yoruba are interested in creating a separate country called Oduduwa Republic for themselves and not the restructuring of Nigeria as they would want the world to believe. Ali also speaks on the 1966 coup, the zoning of the presidency in 2023 and the politics of the Second Republic.
What is the way forward on insecurity?
If we want proper security in this country, we have to change the structure of the police. We are not going back to local authority police but we now have a state structure. The fear people have of state police is maybe they will be misused by governors.
We can take care of that legally. The Commissioner of Police has to be appointed by the state Assembly; if he misbehaves and he is to be disciplined, it is the Assembly that will investigate and, if he is found guilty, punished. But the governor cannot say ‘I sack you’. He has to be protected. And the governor cannot ask him to do something outside the law.
Once that is done, he has the responsibility of working with the people. And recruitment of the police should be within the state because of language barrier, ethnicity, knowledge of the society and the terrain, so that whenever anything happens, they can easily detect it. In the recruitment of the local authority police then, it was important that they know you, your parents and everything about your background before you are recruited into the police. And they were well trained and well paid to enable them do their work effectively.
And the system had plain clothes operatives that mingled with the people to gather information. So, we can have the Nigeria Police at the top, like what is happening in England now where they have the council police like our own local authorities because we borrowed that from them and then the Met Police which operate across the country. If there is anything happening in a state, Met Police can join the people on the ground to investigate.
Under state police, you cannot take a man from Katsina and post him to Akwa Ibom and expect him to work perfectly; he doesn’t know the culture, the people’s language, so it will be difficult for him to operate.
We have to implement state police now to complement the Nigeria Police to curb insecurity. For example, the kidnapping that is rampant now, the locals know who are the perpetrators but because of fear, even if they go to the police and report, it can boomerang on them; so they have to keep quiet. But if it were to be under state police, they know how to go about it.
How do we achieve this?
It is a question of amending our Constitution. What is the use of the Constitution if it does not serve the interest of the people? In essence, we change it to suit our time and the situation we find ourselves.
What is your take on President Muhammadu Buhari’s recognition of the late Chief MKO Abiola and declaring June 12 as Democracy Day?
What President Muhammadu Buhari did was to bring sanity into our political system. On June 12, 1993, the people of Nigeria willingly and voluntarily elected Abiola to be their leader and the majority of the votes were from the North. So, the annulment was not our making, it was the making of then-military government.
After that Chief Ernest Shonekan got the mandate to rule the country. But General Abacha hijacked power. But because we want peace and a sense of belonging for everyone in this country, General Obasanjo who was in prison was brought out and northerners overwhelmingly voted for him to be President.
The Yoruba who are his kinsmen did not even vote for him. We voted for him because we want peace and a sense of belonging for everyone. I am highly disappointed to see that the Yoruba are now clamouring for Oduduwa Republic and they are not for restructuring.
I think this is treasonable felony. It’s like the Igbo asking for Biafra. We have a President from the North, we have a Vice President from the West and everybody is represented in this Federal Government. You see, when it is time for election, whoever wants to be anything politically should contest. And if the people elect him as President or Governor, we accept it. We want peace in this country.
We don’t want anything to bring regionalism or whatever. We have passed that age. We are a nation for about how many years ago now? Over 50 years. So we should look forward for the best for this country. The more united you are, the stronger you are. I don’t see any reason for the Yoruba to agitate for Oduduwa republic. It
is unjustifiable. What are they looking for that they don’t have? I saw a letter by one Adeyinka Adebayo, presumably the late general, who wrote to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu that, as Yoruba leader, he should do this and that. It is unfortunate if people like General Adeyinka could go sectional or tribalistic as such. I think we have passed that age of using religion to divide the country. How many Muslims and Christians hold public office in this country?
I think what we should do is to make sure that we unite the people of this country into one indivisible unit so that we can move forward. There is no country in the world that is blessed as Nigeria. We have mineral resources, oil and vast land to grow everything. Some countries depend only on agriculture, some on minerals while some oil but, in our own case, we are blessed with all.
So, if the people of Nigeria can unite and work towards improving this country, the abundant resources we have will be enough for everybody. And we can emerge as a developed country. Nigeria can feed the whole of Africa if we take agriculture. We have various mineral resources which can generate a lot of money for ourselves.
Let me take you back to the point you made that during election, anybody can vie for the President? Where do you place the issue of zoning arrangement because southerners are saying power should return to them after President Buhari?
Well, the party I belong to, that is, the All Progressives Congress, APC, has no zoning arrangement. We agreed on that. There is no zoning arrangement; any Nigerian from any part of the country can vie for any office. It is the PDP which has zoning arrangement. The Constitution of our party has no provision for it.
For President or all political offices?
There is no zoning arrangement in APC, be it President or Governor. This is just like it is in America, they don’t have zoning arrangement. Anyone can vie for President.
So what played out in the election of the leadership of the 9th National Assembly where the Senate President seat was zoned to North-East and the Speaker to South-West?
You see, in writing we don’t have zoning. It was PDP that started zoning. And it is difficult to do away overnight what has been done in the last 16 years. People are used to that sort of thing. But if you read the Constitution of the APC, there is no zoning arrangement because they
feel you can zone a position to an area and you don’t have the best person to hold that office in that area. If the best person who can hold the office is in another area, why should you deny him that position? But for political convenience, for example, the Constitution of the country says the President has to take at least one minister from each state. That is enshrined in the Constitution and we have to abide by it.
So, in 2023, a northerner can succeed President Buhari?
I did not say a northerner. I said anybody in this country who is a member of the APC can contest for the position. He can be a Yoruba man, an Igbo man, Tiv man, Hausa man.
Let’s talk about where Nigeria got it wrong and the coup that aborted the Second Republic under Shehu Shagari…
Not even the Second Republic, if there had been no coup in Nigeria, the sky would have been our limit. The coup we had in this country in 1966 took us about 10 years backward. We had the best government then. But the selfish interest of some sections of the people disrupted the system, they killed some of our politicians and the military took over and brought us down.
There was a political system with foresight, we had development plans and then overnight it was disrupted. And we went through the military regime which had no development plans. We went through that up to 1979 from1966. We spent 13 years under the military. In 1979, we had the
Second Republic and Shagari who was part and parcel of the First Republic as the Private Secretary to Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa and later the Minister of Establishment Economic Development emerged as President. When he came, he reintroduced development plans. And unfortunately, when we took over in 1999, instead of bringing back the development system, we continued under PDP for 16 years without development plan. And we found ourselves in the same trap now.
We don’t have it. So, I think we should start thinking in that line. So that at least, you can plan your future. We have abundant resources such that we can work out how much we can get, how much we can spend, which areas do we want to develop? Education or otherwise? Lack of development plan is responsible for where we are today as a nation?
A group led the coup that cut short the First Republic?
January 1966 coup was led by Igbo people under General Ironsi and Ojukwu. I think they were deceived. Or it was intentional or they wanted to grab power from politicians because there was no reason that coup should have happened? Because the First Republic politicians were not enriching themselves, they were patriotic and concerned about the development of the country.
They sacrificed their lives. They were committed to their regions and everything they did was towards the development of the country. But suddenly, some people came and disrupted all that barely six years of being independent from the colonial masters. And then, the whole thing was destroyed for 13 years.
Later we were told that there was a foreign involvement on the part of people who didn’t want Nigeria to prosper because the colonial masters didn’t want to leave Nigeria but they were forced to leave. We now have a President who is concerned about the country and we hope that his successor will build on the good foundation he is laying. It will be disastrous if we have somebody who is not concerned about the development of the country as President Buhari’s successor. We pray Allah to give us somebody who will build on the foundation Buhari is laying.
As a Second Republic senator, what experience did you have differently from what we have now?
It will shock you to know that then President Shehu Shagari’s take home was N25,000 per annum. At that time, the National Assembly fixed a salary of N1million per annum for Shagari but he rejected it, saying it was too much.
We came down to N500,000, but he still rejected it and said N25,000 per annum was enough for him because everything was being taken care of at Dodan Barracks. So we went back to the drawing board and decided that the Vice President and President of the Senate should earn N20,000 per annum while the Speaker of the House of Representatives would earn N18,000 per annum. Senators got N15,000 each and Reps N12,000 per annum respectively.
We were supposed to be given constituency allowance to open offices and employ members of staff for four years. They only gave us N10,000 to open an office and buy furniture. Out of our salaries, they said we would pay rent if government gave us houses.
We were also given N10,000 car loan and we were supposed to repay within three years. So after deductions we ended up having N780 per month. How much is the package of a senator now? Nowadays, no senator gets less than N30million every month. Can you compare N30m with N780?