Former Minister of Education Alhaji Birma Dauda has said the presidential contest between President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will be a tough election. He concluded that Buhari will however emerge victorious. In this interview conducted by VINCENT KALU, the former minister stressed that it is wrong for people to say Atiku is corrupt, “because, I have never seen anything he has done, which I would call corrupt.”
What are your expectations for 2019 elections?
By the grace of God, it is going to be peaceful, even though there are a large number of political parties jostling for various elective offices, all activities are on the presidential election.
The presidential election will to a large extent determine the outcome of other elections. In this direction, people will stay with Buhari, they will vote for the president irrespective of the smear campaigns going on and agitations from various quarters.
People have seen him to be reasonably conservative, and he is already an incumbent and not many people will like to go adventurous and start shifting ground from the realities of today to uncertainties. The election is going to be peaceful, and with that, I believe Buhari will be returned as the president.
But many people are of the opinion that he has not performed well?
Nigeria is a country of more than 180 million people, with a substantial number of them holding individual and iconoclastic opinions, therefore our diversity implies that people will express themselves depending on their view points; depending on what they expect, and if your expectation is extravagant, you are likely to be disappointed if these extravagant expectations are not met, and therefore, a large number of people will feel disappointed; a large number of people will feel that what they wanted to see happen has not happened. Every time there is an election, there will be a sharp polarisation, which at the end of it is not going to materialise because people will coalesce around and settle a lot of issues about certain personalities, and I believe, irrespective of the views of certain people whose expectations Buhari has not met, the end result is that he is going to be reelected as the president.
Buhari is your friend while Atiku is your brother, one would think that you stick with your brother?
Yes, Buhari is my friend, while Atiku is my younger brother, but if my friend, whom I have worked with previously, is pitted against my younger brother for an election, I will stick with my friend.
Both of them mean much to me, but sincerely speaking, I will stick with my friend because it will be unethical to drop my friend and stay with my younger brother, especially when I’m in APC, and Buhari is the APC flag bearer, while Atiku, my younger brother is in PDP, and I’m not in PDP, therefore, you will expect me to follow the party, which I belong and vote Buhari.
People are talking about equity, fairness and rotation of political offices. Coming to the North, the Northwest has produced, Murtala Mohammed, Shehu Shagari, Buhari, Abacha, Yar’Adua and Buhari again, while North Central has produced Gowon, Babangida and Abdulsalami, but in the Northeast, it’s only Tafawa Balewa, as the prime minister, don’t you think the Northeast should produce the president this time around?
If it were new people who are going to contest the election, I would say that the Northeast deserves to produce the president, but already, Buhari being a North westerner, and incumbent, I would say let him continue and finish the eight years due to the north.
I don’t want a truncation of the presidency because it would create problems. Today, if you shift the presidency from Buhari to someone else, my bet is that person will want to spend eight years. Anybody coming now to say that he is going to spend eight years, therefore means that the North has occupied the place for 12 years. I’m one of those people who believe in the rotation of the presidency between the North and the South. Now is the turn of the North and Buhari has done four years, I want him to have another four years so that we can put paid to the incumbency of the North, then we can look for somebody from the South who deserves the slot, and has convinced other people of his suitability to occupy the place for another eight years and then it comes back to the North.
The fate of Nigeria is very dependent on the fairness of the rotation of the presidency between the North and the South. I don’t want us to tinker with anything; let Buhari finish his eight years slot for the North.
You are talking of the Northeast; we are not all that rigid about the separation between the Northwest, North Central and the Northeast. The North has gone very far beyond the primordial sentiments to be talking about it. There is a difference between the South and the North. For instance, the Southeast and the Southwest do not sit around the table and agree on common agenda in 30 minutes, and it is even a blessing if the South-south and the Southeast will sit and agree on a common agenda in six hours, but in the North, the Northwest, the North central and the Northeast can sit and in less than ten minutes reach an agreement, and send it to the grassroots immediately.
Therefore, we do not have rigidity that this is Northwest, North central and Northeast, we have a common language all over the place and we have a common culture; in the North we do not have less than 400 languages, therefore, tribe doesn’t matter; in the north, where you come from doesn’t matter, so long as you are a northerner and you have been privileged to occupy a position, the other northerner will fall in line and support you.
That the Northeast has not occupied the presidency is not so much a pressing issue. Look at it, during the First Republic, Tafawa Balewa was prime minister, which was the highest post because the presidency was ceremonial, today Yakubu Dogara is the speaker of House of Representatives, we are proud of him, though he is PDP, you find us queuing behind him, waving the flag that he is from Northeast. The people of Northeast and North Central are also proud of him because he is a Northerner. To us, it is enough, but we will not buy into the idea that Buhari is from Northwest and so we should push him aside. If Buhari is not there, we shall endeavour to get a person from Northeast, but since he is there, that is enough for us.
If Atiku says he is going to run for one term so as not to truncate the rotation agreement between the North and the South, what will be your position?
I’m in APC, not in PDP, and belonging to a political party is like belonging to a cult. Example of how cults work is that you find your brother in another cult, but you go about maiming and killing each other and things like. We are in a political party and we want our party to win. Buhari is the flag bearer of APC and I’m a prominent member of the party, even though Atiku is my brother, but he belongs to another political party. There is a filial relationship between brothers, but you know the bond between friends. Buhari is not only my friend, but we also belong to the same party and I worked for the actualisation of his victory.
Why is it that Northern elders are opposed to Buhari’s election?
I don’t agree with you. Northerners are solidly behind him. Maybe, you are talking about particular northerners, whom you know hold contrary views towards Buhari’s reelection. There are people, who are terribly opinionated, and there is nothing you can do about anybody who is opinionated, but the silent majority you don’t hear about are those who are going to vote for Buhari and after February 16, 2019, you will be congratulating me on the victory of my candidate, Buhari.
The PDP and other opposition parties are crying out that INEC will not deliver credible polls, they cited the cases of Ekiti and Osun states elections. What’s your view?
People who are anticipating defeat will try and prepare the ground for justifying the allegation they have prepared themselves to make eventually.
There are people who know that they have lost the election already and they want to see the reasons to justify the basis for rejecting the result.
INEC is not partisan, and to start with, the card reader surmounts everything, and the permanent voters card, which has passport photograph of owners. The card reader is going to verify and result is going to be transmitted in a transparent manner, so, I don’t believe there is anything like partisanship on the part of INEC.
People who are anticipating loss or defeat are preparing the ground for the acceptance of allegations they are going to put forward so that they would say, in retrospect that they were justified; they are only crying wolf.
You are a journalist, and I’m a politician. I have been in politics for over 50 years, and I know the antics of politicians. I have seen people accept results and people reject results.
People are always there if they are declared winner, and they celebrate and go, and if they lose they call to question the result, the validity of the election. That is politics for you. Politics and journalism are two different things. Journalists report facts, but even some journalists lace fact with opinion. A politician is a person who celebrates when he wins and cries foul when he loses.
Some political pundits say those factors that made Buhari to defeat Jonathan in 2015 are no more there. According to them, then, Buhari was a Muslim, Jonathan, a Christian; Buhari, Hausa Fulani, Jonathan, Ijaw; Buhari, a Northerner while Jonathan, a Southerner, but today, both Buhari and Atiku are Muslims, Hausa Fulani and Northerners. How do you react to this?
I have at no point told you that Buhari is going to have an easy ride, but at the end of the day, he will win. I’m particularly happy that you are now comparing an orange for an orange and an apple for an apple. There are no contradictions, Hausa Fulani is contesting against an Hausa Fulani; a Muslim is contesting against a Muslim and a Northerner is contesting against a Northerner, therefore the issue of religion is out, issue of tribe is out and issue of ethnicity is out.
It is now going to be who do you trust, who do you support and who do you want to be the president. I have told you my choice and inclination and knowing fully well the sentiment on the ground, the bulk of Northerners is going to vote Buhari, and I know that the alliances and inter relationship between the North and the South will be such that a large majority of the South will irrespective of what they are saying now vote Buhari.
From what we are hearing, the Middle Belt may not be in full support of Buhari
People are deceiving others in the South on this issue of Middle Belt. To some people, Middle Belt is a religion area. The Christians in the North call themselves Middle Belt. Do you know that some Christians in Borno State tell you that they are from Middle Belt?
Middle Belt to me should be a geographical area, which is called the North central, but mark you, in this North Central; you have Kogi, Kwara, Niger, Nasarawa, Plateau and Benue states, if Christians are going to reject Buhari on religious ground, in that so called Middle Belt, which is the North Central, they are not the majority, a substantial number of people in the area are Hausa Fulani, and if on the ground of ethnicity, they will not look at Buhari as an alien, therefore they will give equal opportunity to Atiku and Buhari, and I believe at the end of the day the myth of the Middle Belt, which people are told will unfold itself during election, and you will find out that the mythical Middle Belt doesn’t exit.
The religious Middle Belt, which they are talking about moves into the Northwest, it moves to the Northeast and then domiciled in the North central, and at the end of it, it will evaporate. We have slightly more than two months into the elections, when the result is out you will see all I have told you will come to pass.
APC says Atiku is carrying heavy baggage of corruption, but he has asked them to prove it. What is view on this?
I have never in my life called Atiku corrupt. I haven’t seen anything he has done in the form of corruption. He belongs to a political party different from mine, I will never tell anybody not to vote Atiku on ground of corruption or anything other than that we belong to different political parties, therefore I will support my party, but if we were in the same party, I would have exercised a choice between him and whoever I’m supporting. I have never called Atiku corrupt and will not support anybody who calls Atiku corrupt because I have never seen anything he has done, which I would call corrupt.
What message for Nigerians ahead of the 2019 polls?
We should tone down this noise we are making; it is not war, but election. At the end of the day, the person who is going to win is a Nigerian and we have to support him. Whether we are voting for him or not, we should make it easy for people to fall in line behind candidates of their choice because the end result will be a person we look up to deliver on good governance for all of us, Nigerians.