Senator Sani Yerima , former governor of Zamfara State is one of notable northerners selling their aspiration to run for president in 2023. In this interview with some reporters in Abuja during the weekend, he said that citizenship should remain the basis for presidential aspiration, not zoning. He also spoke on other salient issues. TONY EZIMAKOR brings the excerpts:
With the body language politically and naturally of Nigerians today and the outcome of the meeting in Lagos where the Southern Governors met and solicited and asked for the Presidential ticket to be zoned to the region, don’t you think national interest should supersede personal interest?
Well, I don’t see any body language either as a law or as a document that guides us in politics and in politicking. As far as I am concerned, democracy is guided by constitution; by rule of law. It is not personal interest of people, selfish interest of individuals or the projections by other people statements that will guide our democracy. If you look at all other parts of the world, from America that is the leader of democracy of the world, citizens are guided by the document called constitution to aspire for any office.
As far as I am concerned, the Nigerian Constitution and that of APC as of today, unless there is any amendment in the future has declared that every Nigerian who is qualified based on the qualification that is enshrined in the constitution should aspire for any office in the land; Governor, State Assembly, National Assembly. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, my constitution both party and national, has not barred me from contesting for Presidency. So no statement of any group can stop me.
But, you see, if tomorrow my party comes up and say we have zoned Presidency to the South, I Yerima will follow it. I will then know that it is a decision, legally and lawful that is binding on all members of the party. But so long as the constitution is still saying citizens of Nigeria and APC Constitution is saying citizens of Nigeria, I am a citizen of Nigeria I am going to contest.
You said if APC decides to zone it outside the North, you will abide by the decision of the party, what then happen to your ambition? Some may quit APC to actualize their ambition else . Will you consider that?
You see, I am a very religious person as a Muslim, I know that power comes from God first and if God destined that I’m going to be the President that will not happen. I have never left my party. I started with APP (All Peoples Party) we merged and become ANPP (All Nigerian Peoples Party) and later merged and become APC (All Progressives Congress). So I am a member of APC and I am not in any way thinking of moving from my party to another party. So once there is zoning, I know that my time is off but I’m sure that God Himself will decide not people.
Given the practice pattern with regards to power shifting from South to North, if your party did not recommend zoning to the South, would you for the purpose of peace and unity of this country advice your party to do so?
You see we are Nigerians and I believe citizenship is very important. I pray that one day we will become like America, UK, France where citizenship overrides all other considerations; ethnic, religious, tribal. All these things are because we don’t take citizenship as we are supposed to take it. Voters are supposed to determine not me, not you, not any regional Governor. Voters will determine who they want to elect. Every Nigerian citizen should come out with something that he is going to offer to the people, sell himself. This is what I have for education, housing, infrastructural provision and so on, human development and then they will compare and see between Mr. A and B who is supposed to be our President. It’s not regional.
Let me ask you one question:let’s say now we zone to Rivers State, even within Rivers you see people saying that is Ijaw, that is this and that. Is it politics? Constitution is very clear, people are politically illiterate because they don’t read the constitution, even if they read because of personal and selfish interests, they want to acquire power by allocation. It is not done in politics.
People should be allowed to go and contest, present themselves, offer what they want to offer to the nation and Nigerians will decide and see who is going to be our best President. So it is not by allocation, zoning or no zoning that is not an issue. As far as I am concerned, it is democracy and democracy has some principles and practices that have to be followed.
Nobody will sit in Lagos and say that, these governors were elected. Were they elected based on zoning from their states? No!
Go to Benue State, tell them that it is now the turn of Idomas will you force the Tivs to vote for Idoma? But if they have an Idoma candidate that is very good, credible, I am sure the Tivs will not say he is an Idoma. That’s what we should aspire as Nigerians to make sure that citizenship is more important to us than any other.
The problem of bandits, kidnappers is very rampant in the country if you eventually get the ticket and become President of this country, how do you think this problem can be solved and what do you think President Buhari ought to have done to solve this problem?
First of all I will say he (President Buhari) is doing, not ought to have done. He has started with the change in the leadership of the military and the arrangements they’re making. You see, initially the President was very soft, some Governors will come and tell him we should negotiate, we are negotiating, some people are saying no, let’s use action but I think now he has resolved by his statement that anybody seen with AK47 should be shot.
Now with this change in the administration of the military you will go and find out in Zamfara, they have started action just last week and I am sure very soon they will root out all these bandits that are in the bush and the forest and it is going to be history. I know that this will happen.
So I am sure the action he is taking now. One; government has procured a lot of equipment for the military, they have organised the military hierarchy and I think they are now given a lot of support by government both at the national and the state levels. So I am sure they (federal government) are doing well.
What I will do as a follow-up to your question is that; one, I believe in restructuring of the Police. That is going to take care of all the local problems. I will prefer a situation whereby those people in the state should be made to concentrate in their localities, they know everybody there and they know the new comers, they know their forests, they know their terrain and if you have State Police, all these things will be managed and well handled.
Let’s talk about the economy. What is your take on the free fall of the Naira as it is now? And secondly, the Electoral Act, there are thoughts that we should not have electronic transmission of results. So what is your take?
On Naira issue, see we have fiscal and monetary policies that are very faulty and the influence of production. You see a situation whereby even toothpick is being imported by businessmen not to talk of rice and others. So we should have a robust and fiscal monetary policies and development strategies that will encourage development of agriculture so that we can produce all we need locally and once your production level increases, the demand for foreign import will not be there. That is only when you have Naira getting its true value. The value is now being determined by import and export which is not a good economy.
So I’m sure by the time we have industrial policy that is very good, agricultural policy and we can produce what we need even the clothes we wear, some people will go for local suits because we have very good fabrics that are compared to international ones that we import, you will not have high level import. We have to export, and before we were exporting cotton to China, America, now we are importing cotton. We were exporting soya beans but now we are importing soya meal to feed our chickens. This kind of thing has to change.
Now your second question, I support electronic voting. I think that when we were queuing to register (accreditation) without the card reader what was happening? People will just sit down and write names and say we have so so number of people. By the mere introduction of card reader the whole thing has changed. You can see that you have your fingerprint and look at what is happening now, registration of voters online. The world is changing, Nigeria has to follow. We need to use technology as much as possible. As far as I am concerned one day we are going to go for electronic voting.
Still on the economy, you have admitted that the economy is too much import dependent but this government has promised us that we are going to diversify. In the last six years, how would you appraise the government in terms of diversification of the economy?
Look at what is happening today, Covid-19 has changed the whole plan of government. When this government came in, I always maintain that the previous administration was selling crude oil at $140 per barrel and suddenly it started blinking and came to below $30 per barrel.
Secondly, as the federal government is struggling to get out of that crisis then Covid-19 came in and has changed the world not only Nigeria. There are so many challenges that affect government policies and programmes. Government will have a good intention but in the end what happens, there are so many factors that would come in.
As far as I am concerned, today, the Vice President has just said it that they are pumping money to agriculture this year so that people will be back to the farm and with the current effort of tackling the armed bandits, people will go to their farms. For the last two years, people in the North cannot go to the farm. Even in the South these herdsmen and farmers conflicts did not allow some people to go to their farms. With the efforts that government is now putting in place, I think the problem of diversification will now be moving towards the right track. It is not yet on the right track because of these challenges.
Recently, the governor of Kaduna was quoted as saying that kidnapping is business. Also Islamic Cleric, Sheikh Gumi made the same remark. What is your take on the views these two notable Nigerians?
Of course, we have major problems associated with that, poverty and ignorance, illiteracy. The level of poverty in Nigeria today both North and South is so high that people are looking for any means of making money, and so kidnapping and banditry came and then people started joining.
There is no good Christian or no good Muslim who is religiously educated and yet carry gun to kill another person. We are worshipping God through prayers as Muslims and to go to heaven. Christians have been going to Church also to go to heaven. But because of poverty and ignorance of our own religions, people will take gun and kill another person or even somebody will connive and sell his brother. This kind of thing is because of poverty but with robust economic programmes and policies of government, with current allocation of N2.3 trillion in this year’s budget for palliatives, I am sure things will change.
Not too long ago the Governor of Zamfara State defected from PDP to APC. There are some members of APC in your State that are still opposed to that defection on whose side are you?. Secondly, the Governor himself said the main reason he left for APC is to see whether insecurity will end because if he remains in PDP, he may not get the support of the Federal Government. How do you feel about this?
For your first question, I am on the side of justice. Those people who are saying that the Governor should not defect, should not be deceived . As I said, may be they are not conversant with our Constitution. One lady asked me two days ago how do we stopped defection? We can’t. It is part of our political history and development and even in America today people defect because they see where they believe that their people are.
Every Nigerian knows the history of Zamfara. In 1998 when we started APP, PDP, AD and so on, APP won election when I became Governor. In 2003, ANPP won election and in 2007 ANPP won election again and the Governor defected to PDP and in 2011 we recovered our State. When APC came, Yari became Governor two times. So Zamfara is an APC-controlled traditional State.
Therefore, the Governor was part of that history. He was in APP in 1998, he contested for local government election. APP won seven local government areas including the State capital and we lost seven, including his own and I made him Commissioner for Local Government and he was supervising the candidate that defeated him and he went to House of Representatives after been Commissioner and when the Governor then, my former Deputy defected to PDP, he followed him and won his election into the House of Representatives. Now he decided to come back home. If you see the picture we have this morning, only two people; Yari and Kabiru Marafa, they will come soon. We are going to be a family as we used to be before. So I’m on the side of justice. The justice is that the Governor has come, we have received him and there will be no problem.
For the issue of security or insecurity, even myself could not go to the Governor and offer constructive advice because as an APC member if I openly go and start talking to him some people will say may be I am trying to cause more problems for him but now we are in the same party. I used to go to his office and give him advice on how to tackle the issue of insecurity but now I can go all out and take him to the President, we will discuss because our party now has the responsibility to make sure that not only we win elections but we satisfy the yearnings and aspirations of our people.
After the defection of Governor Matawalle, he said he is the new leader of APC in Zamfara State and before then there was leadership crisis in the party. Don’t you think that will affect you and who do you recognise as leader?
Do you have the knowledge of APC Constitution? The APC Constitution is very clear, President is leader of APC in Nigeria and every Governor is the leader of APC in his State. So there is no crisis as far as that one is concerned. Nobody will allocate leadership. I was Governor in 1999, I left office my Deputy took over he became leader of the party and after him, Yari came and now Matawalle is there, he is the leader of the party as per APC Constitution. The crisis that happened in 2019 election will not happen again because at that time there was no proper primary election and that is the crisis we found ourselves.
In Zamfara, this is the first time that we have such crisis. We had election in 1999, there was no problem, we had election in 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 because once you are just and fair to all, you make sure that you allow free and fair election, there will be no problem.
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