Mukhtar Shehu Shagari is a former deputy governor of Sokoto State and two-time federal minister. In this interview with CHIBUZO UKAIBE and ANDREW ESSIEN, he speaks on some salient issues on the polity, including the insecurity in the country, clamour for power rotation and the place of former president Goodluck Jonathan ahead of the 2023. Excerpts:
There is so much happening within the country and it does appear as if the politics of 2023 is setting the pace of engagements. What is your reading of the situation in the country today?
I actually have a different perspective and different opinion about where we are today. I am much more concerned about the security of lives and property in the country today. You will agree with me that in Nigeria today there is nowhere that is very safe. For example, if you travel by road to Kaduna, Sokoto, Enugu, Port Harcourt or anywhere in the country, your family members will not have ease of mind until you call to tell them you have arrived safely. This is because of banditry, kidnapping and Boko Haram and all sorts of insecurity which abound within Nigeria today. So, for me, the federal and state governments as well as the security institutions in the country and the citizens should for the next one year concentrate on ensuring that the country is a safe for everybody; we must ensure that people can travel safely and ensure that Nigerians can feel safe in their homes. Now, if you look at a state like Sokoto where I was a deputy governor for eight years, we never had a situation where a single individual was kidnapped for ransom or whatever, it was very safe. Today Gudu, Sabon Birini and Raba areas of the state are not safe because of rampant kidnapping. Same applies in Katsina, Zamfara and other states in the North West. Look at what is happening in the North East. The government of APC was elected into power because Nigerians believed that they would be able to ensure security in the country. So, I think the government should take this issue of security very seriously and do whatever it can to make sure Nigerians are safe because it is their responsibility to do so.
There are two issues that have dominated public debate over the security issue, one is whether or not mercenaries should be hired while the other one is on engaging the traditional rulers more in tackling the problem. What are your thoughts on these?
As I said earlier, security is so important that it is the responsibility of everybody. If engaging the traditional institutions effectively will help us to bring this to an end, I think we should and whatever resources should be given to them must be given to them. The issue of bringing in mercenaries is left for the government to decide, it is not for any individual to tell the government what to do because they have experts who can advise on whether it okay for us to bring in mercenaries or not. You actually have to look at the cost and that can be done only by experts. I think there are many of them in their thousands within the military, DSS, NIA, and all other security institutions. So I will not say whether they should bring mercenaries or not, but I believe that if there is any way we can seek help, we should.
People in the grassroots argue that APC’s mantra of change seem to have turned for the worse. What do you think is the way out as the momentum for 2023 builds?
Let me put this in perspective. The APC was created by people who wanted to get power by whatever means democratically. There was no proper programme on ground which was to be implemented when they got power. The only thing they did was to attack the government at that time which was the PDP government. But they forgot the fact that when you are opposition it is much easier to criticize but when you come into power, if you are not prepared and you do not have programmes that you want to implement, it will become a problem because they did not study the situation so well. They did not realise the enormity of the problems that we had on ground. It was an amalgamation of different interests from different political parties including disgruntled members of the PDP and they insisted on using whatever means to make sure PDP got out of power without any proper plan for governance. But as soon as they got into power, they realised it was already 2020. So they had the mindset of ‘let us take over power and then things will work out on their own’. So they promised change but like you said, the people of this country have not seen the positive change they were expecting. The people of this country expected that within a short time, as promised, Boko Haram would be history, they never thought that banditry and kidnapping would escalate to the level they are today. They thought that within a short time it would go away, but it has not. So in that case or in this case, even the members of the PDP will tell you that we have not done that. On the economic front some people will say the price of oil fell. But when you are coming into power you have to plan for anything that could come along your way, especially since you know that the price of crude oil is very volatile because it can go up or down, you must have a proper plan. In the area of economy, security, infrastructure, employment and fighting poverty, if we are honest with ourselves, and if the present government and APC are honest to themselves, I do not think that they have anything to tell Nigerians again in 2023.
Do you subscribe to the much talked about restructuring?
If restructuring will keep Nigeria as one, bring positive development and make us love one another and there are no ulterior motives, then yes, restructuring is good. Let us be honest with ourselves, we cannot do restructuring just by issuing press statements, press interviews and so on and so forth. We have to come together, sit down and discuss what we really want to restructure. If you talk to people from the South East, South West, North and South South, they would say different things. To some people, restructuring means they must control their resources. So what I’m saying is since there are divided opinions and views about what restructuring is, let us come together and understand one another, by doing that, we can understand exactly what we want. The way it is now, how do you restructure? We have the National Assembly, state Houses of Assembly, they have their responsibilities. We also have 36 states in this country including the FCT and each has its own administration. But some people will say there is so much concentration of power at the centre. So let us simply take some of the powers from the centre and give them to the states but how are you going to do that. So all these are issues we have to sit together, discuss and understand and it is the federal government that will lead that.
What is your take on power rotation and do you agree it will help better make our union stable?
In the first place, is there any provision in the Constitution of Nigeria about power rotation? There is none. This issue of power rotation was actually brought about by the PDP. In fact, it started with the NPN and then it was adopted by the PDP to ensure that every zone of this country can say one day power will come to me. It was a way to give people hope and also ensure national unity. So it is purely a political arrangement which has not been enshrined in the Constitution. For the sake of ensuring national unity, it is fine. If you want this country to move forward and progress, you must allow opportunities for people who are competent to contest election and win, it does not matter where they come from. For example, if you say we have zoned the presidency to the South East, it does not matter if the best person is from the South South or the North or South West, he will not have the opportunity to contest because it has to be somebody from the South East and they will insist that we have to allow them to choose who they want. They will insist that since it is our opportunity, give us the chance to choose whoever we want. They will choose somebody they want and bring it for everybody. So power rotation for national unity and understanding is good but if you also want this country to move forward economically, politically, security-wise, you must allow people who are competent to contest so that we will choose the best for Nigeria. Now the South East will tell you it is our turn but we have to understand that you cannot get political power on the platter of gold. You have to work for it. The only way it will be possible for somebody from the South East to get it is for all the political parties in this country to agree and say that they must bring their candidates from the South East. But looking at the way our politics is, if PDP brings its candidate from the South East, APC may decided to go to South West or the North. Can you tell the electorate not to vote for the candidate from the other zone but to vote for the one from South East? So we must be realistic and honest. I believe whoever wants political power in this country must come out and work for it. Let us bring our best and let our best come out and contest for the presidency of this country. We have them in each region of this country. But if people think that it is their turn and so they decide whoever they like to give to the rest of the country, we will continue to have problems. I have no objection to power rotation as long as you can bring out the best of the best who can work for the good of Nigeria. You cannot just give power to one section of the country unless all the other political parties decide to bring their candidates from that particular side of the country. That must be clearly understood. Even within the PDP, when Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was in power, he contested election in 2003 and other people contested against him. In 2007, there were other people who competed against Umaru Musa Yar’Adua. There were people from PDP that came out and contested against Goodluck Jonathan as well. So if that is the case why don’t you allow things to work? If any political party says it wants to have its candidate from the South East that is its own arrangement, let them work for that to make sure that their own candidate come from the South East but that does not mean that the president has come from there. It is only the candidate of a particular political party. To think that APC should give its ticket to your zone because PDP has zoned its ticket to a particular zone is a wrong calculation as far as I’m concerned. However, I have said it consistently said rotational presidency allows everybody to have a shot at the presidency and helps national unity. So I think there is nothing wrong with that but since we have multi-party democracy then it is not sacrosanct. If you want rotational presidency to be consistent, you must amend the constitution of the country to include it such that when it is North West this time, the next time it will go to be South West, South East and so on and so forth. But if you do not have this thing in the Constitution, then what you are doing is political arrangement. That is the way I look at it. So anybody who wants political power must work for it because you cannot get it on a platter of gold.
Are you concerned that the South East will not support the PDP in 2023 if the zoning arrangement does not favour them?
Zoning is an arrangement by political parties. It is not sacrosanct. I do not belong to a political party simply because I want power. I belong to a political party because I believe it is a platform through which I can implement programmes that I feel can make this country better. It’s a personal decision to say you will leave a party because a position has not been zoned to your region. Unless they say PDP has refused to give us the presidential ticket but party A has given it to us, what we do; let’s support our own. Now, you can’t stop that in politics. But I do not think that about the South East because they have benefited from PDP. How many senate presidents? At least three or four, ministers of government ranks and so on and so forth. So you cannot jettison a platform that has given you all these things simply because you cannot get its ticket. Like I said, the South East, South South, North West, North East, North Central, South West in the PDP have the right to say they are contesting for the ticket and to convince people within the party and the delegates for it and there is nothing wrong with that. But to simply say because you do not get what you want you must leave the party then it does not show that you are a real party member, that is my own feeling. But everybody has his or her own right; right to ideas, to stay or move to another party. But I do not think I should move to another party on the account of not being given the ticket. I have absolute confidence in the people of the South East that they know PDP is their party and they will not leave their party.
The APC is making a lot of inroads in the zone. The party retained Imo State while Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State joined it after dumping PDP. In Anambra State, the APC seems more organised compared to the PDP which has been in crisis since it lost the state in 2003. What’s more, the argument is that the second Niger Bridge that was never done under the PDP has started. So, people think that perhaps by 2023, there might be a shift towards the APC if care is not taken.
What do you think?
On Umahi’s move from PDP to APC, if I were him, I would never do that. I don’t even need to say it but everybody in this country now knows the reason. The second thing is that when he left how many high-profile political players in the state left with him. Do not forget he was made by somebody and that person stayed in PDP. So I don’t think his move alone will affect the PDP adversely even in his own state. I don’t want to talk about him but I’m just saying it the way I see it. The governor of Imo State was a member of PDP and he became a senator on that platform. On how he became the governor, I don’t want to talk about that because we all know. In Anambra State, from my understanding, it is because of lack of cohesion within the members of the PDP, that is why APGA has always been winning elections there but in reality, Anambra is a PDP state. The influence of the people from that state who came out and joined other Nigerians to form the PDP, even though they may not be in this world today, their influence is still there. Sometimes we are carried away by propaganda. Who awarded the contract for the second Niger Bridge, was it not Goodluck Jonathan? Jonathan was not president under the platform of APC so if PDP awarded the contract and then there was election and the people of Nigeria voted for another party, what is so important that APC has to complete the project because that’s what it is naturally supposed to be. After all, they promised the people of Nigeria to improve on infrastructure if they voted for them. There is a project that was awarded by PDP which is now in opposition. It is the responsibility of the APC to continue with that project. Anything other than that will be called anti-South East even though it is a project for all Nigerians. So I want to give credit to the PDP for starting the project and also give credit to the APC for completing the project.
You mentioned former president Goodluck Jonathan with whom you have a cordial relationship. What came to your mind when some APC leaders paid him a courtesy visit on his birthday? This question comes against the backdrop of the narrative that he is being wooed over to APC; his seeming sore relationship with the some PDP leaders; and outcome of the Bayelsa election which APC won but was overturned by a Supreme Court verdict.
Nothing came to my mind. You see, politicians have different ways of playing out their propaganda. Goodluck Jonathan is easily the highest-ranking former leader in this country that is still in the PDP. He is a former president who did what no other president has ever done in the history of politics in Africa by taking his phone to call the candidate of the opposition and congratulating him on his electoral victory and starting the process of handing over power. So for doing that alone, APC members should be going to him to pay homage and thanking him for ensuring that there was no bloodshed for handing over when he knew that he was defeated. If they are going to him just for politics then it is wrong. They should allow the man to enjoy his privileges and the respect he garnered for himself internationally because of what he did. Rather than going to Goodluck Jonathan, the APC government should concentrate on developing their states and providing security, fighting poverty, providing infrastructure and good governance. Jonathan is a very intelligent man, he is experienced, he knows what to do. I cannot speak for him but I know that he knows what is right and I believe if it’s the same Jonathan that I know and have interacted with from the time he was vice president up till after he became acting president and then president and now former president, I know that he will not take that risk.
Will you be surprised if he decides to join the race for 2023?
If he is still constitutionally allowed, I won’t be surprised if he says he wants to contest in the 2023 election. There is nothing to be surprised about in politics. If the constitution allows him and he comes out to contest I won’t be surprised. He is a politician. But whether he is contesting or not, I believe it should be his decision and nobody’s decision for him. President Jonathan should not allow anybody rubbish the international reputation and recognition he has now. He is a pride to Nigeria and Africa, he should understand that and not allow anybody rubbish that. But if he wants to take a decision on 2023, he should decide based on what is right for him and the country.
You have been eyeing the governorship of Sokoto State. Do you think 2023 will afford you that opportunity?
Before I answer that question, let me go back to 2003. In 2003, before the primaries my boss, former president Obasanjo called me and asked me if I wanted to contest the governorship of Sokoto State and I said no because he had given me the opportunity to serve Nigeria and we were doing wonderfully well. I told him that going back to Sokoto to contest the governorship election would stop what I was doing for Nigeria. So, he said fine. So you can see that my ambition was not just for me to be governor, like I said, I joined politics is to serve. When his government was winding down in 2007, Obasanjo called me again and said we had done wonderfully well in my ministry, that was ministry of water resources and elections would be coming in 2007 and he wanted me to go back to Sokoto and make use of the experience gathered at national level so that I could make Sokoto State a better place and that he knew I could do it. Then asked him what the instruction was. He said the instruction was that I should resign and contest for the governorship election and I said okay. So it was not me who went to president Obasanjo to say I wanted to resign because I wanted to become governor. I actually want you to understand that. 2023 is around the corner and already there are people whose names are being mentioned in Sokoto. Nobody will say I have told them that I’m contesting. My own position in governorship is not a joke. Governorship of a state is not for people who will want to come and plunder the resources of the state. Government should be for people who are competent, who have the requisite experience; who have the support of the people and who know what to do on day one; whose ambition is not to amass wealth; whose ambition is simply to make life better for the people and improve it. The present governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal amply qualified to be governor of Sokoto at the time he became governor because he is a reputable lawyer, he proved his mantle as a member of the House of Representatives, he presided over the most stable House of Representatives ever within this dispensation. So by the time he became governor of Sokoto State he was well grounded to be the governor and if we were in same political party at that time, I would support him because I knew if I didn’t get it and he got the position, he would do what I wanted to be done. At the moment, he is doing very well. He has raised the bar of good governance to a level that I will think he will not handover the government of Sokoto to anybody who will lower that bar because that will be one of his most important legacies; good governance and infrastructure. If you go to Sokoto today, the roads are being constructed, educational institutions are being put in place and I’m proud and happy that I supported him when he came into PDP and contested the election on the platform of the PDP. So for me, it is up to the people of Sokoto State to decide who they want to support, it is also up to the governor who he wants to support. As for PDP, it has to decide what kind of candidate it wants. Do not forget that in Sokoto State, PDP has a very strong opposition party waiting in the wings. I believe that Governor Tambuwal is highly experienced and level-headed and he when he sits down and thinks about what will happen tomorrow, he will make the right decisions together with the party so that we will win the state.
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