BY THE SUN NEWSPAPER ON MAY 2, 2015
Frontline nationalist, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai is not exactly comfortable with the dynamics of the just concluded general elections. The elder statesman, in his characteristic bluntness, laments on the role of religion and ethnicity in the defeat of President Goodluck Jonathan. He is deeply worried that the fallout of the 2015 presidential election might result in negative consequences for the unity of Nigeria. In this interview with DESMOND MGBOH in Kano, he also spoke on the expectations of Nigerians from the in-coming administration of General Muhammadu Buhari and the place of President Jonathan in the nation’s history books. Excerpts:
In less than a month from now, Nigerians will usher in a new government. As an elder statesman, what is your advice to the incoming administration?
As everybody knows, the main agenda of the new administration is to fight corruption, to deal with the security situation, particularly the Boko Haram insurgency, rescue the Chibok girls and deal with unemployment. These are the priority areas in terms of their policy objectives. It is, therefore, the expectation of every Nigerian that these three issues would be the main areas of their attention. I think that after taking over power, these areas would be the yardstick by which the people would pass judgment on them. I think that after the first six months or thereabouts, Nigerians would be in a position to judge whether the new administration would be in a position to fulfill the promises they made to the public or not.
In the face of the dwindling global economy and the fall in Nigeria’s oil revenue, do you see the new administration realising the promises it made during electioneering?
Well, I can see the problems posed by the fall in the national wealth. But I think somebody raised this same question to one of the leading figures of the APC and the answer he got was that the money they are going to save from fighting corruption in the system would be enough for them to kickstart their programmes. He said that they would reduce spending; they would reduce waste; that this waste would be diverted to the implementation of their programmes.
But considering that some of the people associated with the incoming government are themselves accused of corruption or have corruption charges hanging on them, how much faith should we commit in their pledges to fight and stand against corruption?
Certainly, I can tell you that there are many people who are skeptical about the ability of the new government to tackle the problems of corruption in this country, precisely because of the number of individuals that are instrumental in the bringing about of the new administration into place who themselves are super rich without any justification. The worry of Nigerians is that, how is the administration going to handle the cases of such personalities?
Again, the electoral promises of the new party apparently sounded so lofty. It appears to disregard the current recession that is sweeping across the globe. Do you share the same fears?
Everybody familiar with the global political economy would have the feeling that the global economic situation today is not ideal for any government to embark on costly projects. But I believe that they must have done their homework before coming out with their promises. I believe that they must have done their homework.
Despite the efforts of President Jonathan to seek the friendship of the core North by extending a reasonable size of projects to them, he was hated, hunted and turned down by these same people during the presidential election. What exactly happened?
Well, the people (core North) have been incited against Jonathan a long time ago. Even the educated ones were not fair in relating to his achievements in the region. They had made up their minds that Jonathan is anti-North. And whatever he has done, he remained anti-North. The fact that he sited nine of 12 new universities in the North in order to assist in bridging the educational gap that exists between the North and the rest of the country did not matter. The fact that he introduced the Almajiri schools which would reduce the number of young people who go about doing nothing but begging also never counted to them.
In fact, somebody this morning, as we were discussing Jonathan, insisted that Jonathan was only busy sacking Northerners from federal establishments. But when I looked at the number of ministers and northerners in key positions, I realised that this very influential individual, who should know better, had made up his mind not to be objective about the issue. He was not prepared to listen to anybody. So, some people had made up their minds. The fact remains that there was this high level conspiracy against Jonathan, such that whatever he does, it would have been very difficult to convince people to abandon their already concluded opinion about him.
For instance, I was made to understand that a number of the members of the traditional institution and influential clerics and university people, they all ganged up to spread one form of propaganda or the other against him (Jonathan). And this propaganda has already gone down deep into the minds of the people. The Friday before the presidential election, virtually all the imams in the North made a simple appeal to their congregations that when they go out the following day to cast their votes, they should make sure that they did not cast their votes in favor of an infidel. Just in one or two words, the campaign was finished. So, the following day everybody was charged to go and vote against an infidel. Who was that infidel? Jonathan. Even the Friday after the election, I attended a mosque where the imam was offering thanksgiving prayers to God for getting rid of an infidel.
Still, on this topic, what about the PDP members who also failed to rise up to defend their own and their party?
That is not my problem today. My problem is that we in the far North have acted out the script of Gideon Orkar. We have opted out of the mainstream of Nigerian politics and I am waiting for the time to come when we would realise the consequences of our action.
When you say that you people have acted out the script of Gideon Orkar, what exactly do you mean?
Let me put it this way. This country is a country which is equally divided between Christians and Muslims. Where a Muslim would not vote for somebody because he is a Christian, then there is a problem. It may not appear immediately but there is a long time predicament that would one day appear because when someday it is the turn of a Christian to vote for a Muslim, surely this thing happening today would boomerang.
So, you foresee a future where the country would naturally be torn between Christians and Muslims…?
(cuts in) This is my fear. It is not only a divide between Christians and Muslims, but also a divide between the North and the South, and that would not augur well for the political future of this country.
There is this funny outcome that has played out so far. Some PDP leaders who declined to campaign for Jonathan have been losing their states or losing their strongholds like what we have seen in Kano, Jigawa and a number of the North West States. What is your take?
Well, the bandwagon effect was so monumental that little campaign here and there would not make much difference. The campaign against Jonathan has gone far before most people understood that it was beyond the capacity of a few individuals to change the direction of the mind of the people. I hope you understand.
But some of the members of his political group played games with him?
Yes, there is this feeling that quite a number of PDP members and leaders here did not work hard enough for Jonathan. But what they did not understand is that in politics, if you ask your supporters to vote for your opponent for whatever reason; when they go to vote for your opponent, if you are not careful, they are gone forever. And this is what happened to all of them.
Looking at the future, do you think the PDP would survive this defeat and return to a position of reckoning in the country again?
Well, you are in Nigeria, when the local government elections took place in 1999. At that time, APP and PDP were neck to neck. And the moment, the military government decided to back the PDP to win the local government elections, people from APP started to troop out of the party into the PDP. And this is what happened. At the end, when the state elections took place, APP was only able to get nine governors in addition to the six governors of the AD. This is about the same scenario that is repeating itself. So, it depends on those who are going to run the affairs of the PDP from now till 2019. What would be their strategy? The tendency in Nigeria is that if you are in government and people are not getting what they wanted from you, then tomorrow they would start conspiring against you. Let us wait and see how the new administration would be able to meet the aspirations of the generality of Nigerians. That would dictate the survival or resurgence of the PDP in the future.
It is speculated that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo is already lobbying to nominate some ministers into the Buhari administration. Is Buhari politically safe working with people like Obasanjo?
If people report that Obasanjo is having his eyes on some particular ministries, I will not be surprised. Because this is exactly why he quarreled with the late Yar Adua. It is also the reason he quarreled with President Jonathan. By his own mantra, he would like to dictate to whoever emerges as the president through his own facilitation. And he would like to see that whatever he wanted is what is done. The moment you fail to do what he wants, then he would start a fight with you. I would like to believe the speculation that Obasanjo has already earmarked some ministerial positions that he would want to be reserved for his nominees. If that is true and his candidates were not picked; then that would surely be the beginning of his quarrel with General Buhari.
What is the place of President Jonathan in history? Where do you think he would find himself at the end of all this?
From the point of view of his service to the nation, I think that one remarkable thing is that even though he was defeated by the smallest margin in the history of presidential elections in Nigeria, he accepted the defeat and he did not go to court. In other cases of presidential election results, the margin was in the region of 10 million and yet people went to court to challenge the outcome. In this case, the margin was just 2.5 million and he accepted defeat. He will go down in history as the president, who accepted defeat as a result of which so many lives were saved in this country, and in fact, a president who saved the nation. Because, if he had not accepted defeat at the time he did, and people had started killing one another, by now we will not be having this interview in my house, today.
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