Why I'm opposed to powershift — Ango Abdullahi

•We don’t need leadership based on religion or tribe

•Those agitating for Biafra & Yoruba nations should be given a chance via referendum

Professor Ango Abdullahi is the convener of the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, and a former vice-chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, Zaria.


In this interview, he answers questions on the current issues bedeviling the country and the political parties, advising that Nigerians should tread with caution as 2023 approaches if we still want to remain one country.

With the way the country is going, what should Nigerians do to rescue it?


The way the country is going, we all would agree that it is not good, the country requires to be rescued, but it can only be rescued by good leaders Nigerians would elect. This is the fact before Nigeria today.

Things are bad and you have an opportunity in 2023 to elect new leaders. This time, we should elect new leaders and not recycled leaders that would come and do exactly what the previous leaders have done and this is the crisis we have.

All the people coming out to be president are only making noise. We know them, we know what they did before, whether they are governors or senators before, they are of the same character that have ruled the country before and now they are coming to us to be president.

That is the trouble and the trouble is with both the leader and Nigerians. Instead of Nigerians concentrating on finding someone with good character to come and solve our problems, they are talking about which ethnic group would produce the president.

Nigeria seems to be disintegrating and Emir Sanusi said Nigeria is living on extra time; what do you think?

Sanusi was right. If you do not want Nigeria to break, then do something that would put us together. The only way to put the country together is to do something that would put the country together.

If you are doing something that would break the country, then the country would break. Who told you that the country cannot break? Countries that are bigger than Nigeria have broken before, so why can’t Nigeria break? Soviet Union, a super power, not too long ago broke into about 11 countries; India broke into two countries initially, and later on, Pakistan broke into Pakistan and Bangladesh and Sudan recently broke into Sudan and South Sudan so, why should Nigeria be special?

If people don’t want to live in one country, then they should sit down and agree that they want to live in separate countries and then they should go their separate ways.

If they want to go their separate ways, then they should go in peace at least…
I’m not in disagreement with that. People say they are tired of being in Nigeria, they are saying we want Yoruba nation, we want Biafra, among others, why not? They should be given a chance to lead that area; that is what the UN protocol has agreed.

There is a process and procedure, not the way some are going about it..
What procedure? The procedure is simple, the United Nations has set out the procedure for self-determination, they should organise a referendum where the majority would agree to separate. The rest is details, it should be peaceful, who says we have to fight before we separate?

The mentality of an average Nigerian is that, this thing is a do-or- die affair.
What is do-or-die? The do-or-die is the Nigerian elite politician who is manipulating the ordinary person. They think it is very simple. If it is true certain sections of Nigeria genuinely do not want to remain in Nigeria, they should be allowed the option of staying or leaving through the recognised protocol.

You visited General Olusegun Obasanjo recently?
Yes, I did, he is my friend or is that another crime?

Was the visit about Nigeria?
I visited him because we have been together for 27 years. I went to him to exchange friendly greetings. I know how busy he is with the affairs of the world and the affairs of Nigeria and I went to ask him, ‘how are things in Nigeria?’ And he asked me also ‘how are things in Nigeria?’ Our position is that things are not good enough in Nigeria. So, something should be done to correct those things that are not good in Nigeria, this is what we agreed.

What do you think should be done?
The people should decide. They should come together and talk.

Are you talking about conference?
We have had too many conferences. Since independence, I have attended about four national conferences and they have produced no results because the leadership that came after the conference had not worked hard enough for a lot of things to be corrected.

Don’t you think the elders who are experienced fathers should have something to do or say?
We have been doing something, what more do you want us to say? Recently, we had elders forum on the way to improve the election process and inclusive participation of Nigerians. It is an electoral law which allows for direct primaries, but they said they didn’t want it, they didn’t allow the president to sign that law. They didn’t want direct primaries, so you want the elders to do magic?


You saw the debate that has been on direct primaries and the argument for or against the president signing or not signing. You ought to have seen all these, you read all the arguments.

There are aspects that would have been very good, like electronic transmission of election result, that would solve a whole lot of problem.

No no! It would not. First, the way to select the political leadership is the most critical. From the grassroots, we have a system that makes people to truly select their leader or councillor in the ward, their House of Reps member, senator, among others.

That is not what is being done now. What is being done is that people sit in their comfortable houses and write down names of people who would participate in election.

Delegate system would never throw up good materials for political leadership because it is self-serving. We tried direct primaries before, thanks to Babangida when he introduced the SDP and said people should come out and queue behind their chosen candidates but we abandoned it because of wuruwuru (manipulation) and that is why you are in trouble today.

Of course they will never want to go for direct primaries if there is an option for consensus or delegate system. Basically, they can’t allow a consensus individual to contest election. Sometimes, I wish there are independent candidates.

Why are they not doing it now?
I should ask you, you are the journalist. We used to have that. People had participated as independent candidates in the First Republic and won. They defeated party candidates, they defeated candidates from NCNC and NPC as well. With that, people are free to make their choices, they can leave the party that is on ground and go for a person who offers himself for election but that is not obtainable now.

Are you saying it is impossible to bring back the practice of independent candidacy?
They have not even talked about direct primaries, let alone independent candidacy, they are not talking about it at all because they are protecting themselves.

You know they are talking about power shift to the South or Middle Belt in 2023?

What power shift? What is power shift? In which section do you find power shift in the Nigerian Constitution? Where gentlemen have failed to agree, what do you want us to do? We should fall back on the law or the procedure noted in the law. So what we are saying is that we should fall back to the constitution of Nigeria and the electoral law that would determine who contests, why he contests, when he contests and so on.

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I don’t believe in power shift , rotation or zoning. I believe in a system that allows everybody to vie for a political position and a system that allows everyone to come out and vote for what he wants, that is what I believe.

Not power shift between the North and South?
Not power shift. When PDP had power shift, it betrayed power shift. But there is nothing wrong in the National Assembly if the politicians agree within themselves to train themselves that they will do this as gentlemen. The politicians are the ones who killed power shift in PDP. In fact, the PDP itself killed it, they didn’t follow it.


The first person to benefit from power shift was Obasanjo. He did eight years and after his eight years and much magomago, the power shifted to the North. Umaru Yar’adua became President and he died after only two years. So, if they are thinking of power shift in terms of number of times, the North did it for only two years. It would have made sense if during the election, they said the North has not served their eight years and should bring a candidate.

But they did not. They insisted that the South would carry on, so you can see the beginning of power shift that is in the South.

Many of us thought that it was the doctrine of necessity that threw up Jonathan as President?

Jonathan was vice-president when Yar’adua died. The constitution made it clear that as vice-president, you would complete the remaining two years of that four years. If you are looking for a loss, the North has already lost two years where Jonathan served two years after Umaru’s death. But in 2011, instead of asking the North to present a candidate to balance the eight years that Obasanjo was president, it was refused. So, who killed the power shift arrangement? It wasn’t the North, the North honoured it but the South did not. So now, we are saying power shift under PDP is dead and there would be no power shift anymore.

After Buhari’s eight years, it is fair that power goes to the South
Buhari is not in PDP. He is in APC and he didn’t come under the aegis of power shift defined by PDP and he said his party has no provision for power shift. We only have a provision in the Nigerian Constitution and the Electoral law. If they want to argue on best material, if it comes from the South, why not? It is not good to maintain power shift as an official system in a democracy and the democracy that we profess is one man, one vote.
What about power recycle?


Vote them out. People should be allowed to offer themselves in primaries but they refuse. It is not any particular section or people; but the politicians on ground that held the ground and they don’t want to move. So, vote them out.

Some people wish that when young people come into power, things would turn around..
What is your definition of young people?

People not above 70
If below 70 is young people, then Nigeria at the moment is under the control of young people by 80 to 90 per cent. Local government chairmen, governors, most of them are under 50. Most commissioners are under 55. I have not seen a governor that I know who is over 70 now. So, it is young people that have been running the country, it is young people that are in leadership position and they should not complain that they are not in power.

When it comes to position of the presidency, it is people who are already 70 or more…
That is not true. We shouldn’t start with democratic system. General Gowon was 32 when he became head of state; Murtala was 34 when he became head of state and Obasanjo who became head of state the first time was 48/49 and even later when he became civilian president, he was 60 plus; Shagari was below 60. These people who have ruled in government were way below 50, so what is the problem? People should take time and choose good leaders, good leaders come from young age or old age. Choose good leaders whether they are young or old.

Many have said there is too much corruption in government which is why Nigeria is experiencing crisis today, like the current fuel crisis
I’m not in Abuja or Lagos. I’m in Zaria and there is no fuel problem here. It’s just that we are paying more than what we used to. You as a Nigerian should ask why we are having fuel problems. Should a country like Nigeria have fuel issues? Why are the refineries not working? And why do we have to import refined petroleum products? These are the things you should be asking yourself. Our trouble is plenty. Nigeria requires good leaders and once you have good leaders, our problems would be solved. We need good leaders irrespective of their place of worship or religion; there are good people across religions and tribes, not good tribal people. Find them and put them in positions of leadership and things would change.


When Buhari was coming in, we believed he would change things but the cabal hijacked him…
We didn’t vote for a cabal, we voted for Buhari and we thought that Buhari was a good person who should be able to lead the country well and that he was a leader that would bring about changes. Even if you say he is a good person, he has failed to set up a government that is good and that is why there is problem everywhere.

If there is a good political party, they would show you their manifesto but they show posters, do posters speak?

Young people seem to be losing it, there is rise in banditry, ritual killings, young people are going haywire. What should be done?

That is what we are saying that there should be a procedure where people who feel dissatisfied and are doing things because they are dissatisfied, should be given a chance to make a clear expression of their dissatisfaction and their desire either to correct the dissatisfaction or desire to leave the state called Nigeria.

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