Mukhtar Shehu Shagari is a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and was twice Minister of Water Resources under President Obasanjo’s government. He also served as Deputy Governor of Sokoto State between 2007 and 2015. In this interview with TUNDE OMOLEHIN, he speaks on how the South-East can produce Nigeria’s president in 2023. He also shares his thoughts on the inability of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government to fulfil his campaign promises and what could be done to overcome Nigeria’s security challenges, among a wide range of issues.
Some have argued that your party, PDP, should zone the presidency to the South-East in 2023. What is your take?
The South-East zone, like any other zone, has the right to demand the presidential slot from PDP. But you see, the presidency cannot be got on a platter of gold. You have to work for it. Despite the fact they have the right to agitate for it because majority of the electorate are core PDP members, they still have to work for it. Zoning is very good for mutual respect and unity of the party but I also said in the past that there is no provision for zoning in our constitution. It is a political party arrangement. So, let the South-East convince the PDP or another political party to see that all their candidates come from the zone. That is the easiest way the presidency can be there. But in a situation where you have two major political parties, you cannot tell all of them to fill your candidates. If both leading parties can zone their presidency to the South-East, automatically they will get it but if that does not happen, there is no guarantee that they will get their agitation. It will definitely become a contest which will not give the South-East zone a guarantee. But in all, whether zoning or not, we must always go for a presidential candidate that is credible, that has the integrity and capacity to perform.
The security crisis seems to be affecting Nigeria’s unity, with some strong voices suggesting secession as the only way out. What is your take?
Well, addressing insecurity is one of the big promises this present government has assured Nigerians of. In fact, they gave assurances that they will tackle it outright. But you and I can attest that they have failed to address the security issue. Every Nigerian, irrespective of region, tribe or religion, will certainly tell you that insecurity in this country has worsened. Instead of getting the solution, it’s even becoming problematic. Let’s take a state like Sokoto, based on my experience as deputy governor for eight years. We have never had a situation where armed bandits, armed robbers or any criminals went to any village or community to kidnap or kill people or even ask for ransom. We saw that scores of people have been killed and given a mass burial. It’s happening in almost every local government of the state, which was unusual in the past. We have now reached where people cannot even sleep in their homes because of fear of attack by armed groups. Take the issue of travelling far from your residual state or place. Your mind and that of your family will never be at rest, until you arrive at your destination. My call to the APC-led government is to ensure total security of lives and property. They must restore the confidence of the people in government that it has the capacity and capability to protect the people of this country. I would like to say categorically that security should not be politicised because these bandits and criminals will never differentiate their victims while carrying out their criminal act. Whether you are Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Ijaw or Fulani by tribe, they deal with anyone that crosses their way.
In addition to what the Federal Government is doing, we must come together to ensure that we play our role in ensuring that peace and security reign again. But I must also emphasise this: the responsibility to secure this country is squarely the responsibility of the Federal Government. They must do this by fulfilling the promises they made to Nigerians in 2015.
Do you think the issue of insecurity has been politicised by the elite or opposition figures which is making it difficult for President Buhari’s government to do the needful?
What I am saying is that we should see it as a national issue. There is a need for us as good citizens to see these present security challenges as a national issue and not through a one-sided view, irrespective of our political differences.
Do you see the creation of regional security outfits by some groups as the best way to secure Nigeria?
That is not the best. That actually showed the failure of the Federal Government to raise the security challenges and give adequate protection to vulnerable citizens. This is a case of resorting to self help. That is not the way it should be, because that was not the way it was before now. So, we should work in harmony and jointly defeat these challenges. In the past, the Federal, State, Local Government and community are stakeholders in this cause. For instance, communities were helping in providing needed information; state provides logistics and the Federal Government does what is saddled to do constitutionally. I do not subscribe to this self-help by some tribal groups. That is not the way forward.
What’s your view on State Police?
Yes, I think that is very imperative at the moment. We should all look in this direction. Let us simply go for it. I support it.
Few years to the expiration of the present government, do you think insecurity can be tackled?
I think it is up to Mr. President, his government and APC. They made these promises to Nigeria. Better economy, infrastructure, security, education, health care delivery and so forth. It is better they reorganise themselves before the end of their tenure and give Nigerians what they promised them.
Can Nigerians still welcome the PDP back as the ruling party at the federal level considering its last two outings at the general elections?
Well, when you speak to other Nigerians today, they will tell you that PDP is still far better than APC. When you look back, PDP was able to manage our economy well in terms of provision of infrastructures water supply, healthcare demand, education and so on. Don’t forget that PDP, during President Goodluck Jonathan, provided universities for every state that did not have one. Most of the capital projects undertaken by this present government were initiated and even started by the PDP led government under President Jonathan. So, that is no basis for comparison between PDP and APC. In fact, I believe ordinary Nigerians will be glad if the APC government can just take them back to 2015.
Recently, the APC interim National Chairman, Mai Mala Buni said his party is projecting to be in power in 40 years. What is your take?
Well such a comment can be described as a political statement. And I think he has taken Nigerians for granted with what his party, APC has ploughed Nigeria into, with what is happening in Borno, Yobe, and in the North-East as well as in the North-West. It means he is telling Nigerians that whether they like it or not, APC will still form another government that will rule them. The APC government should be apologising to Nigerians by now for their failure not to fulfil those promises they have made prior to the 2015 general elections and not boasting of forming another government come 2023. But he is entitled to his opinion and also has the right to defend his party ahead of 2023. But God through Nigerians will decide that.
Unlike APC, PDP is yet to roll out activities to work for 2023.
I disagree with you on that note. We currently have two important committees now. One is the reconciliation committee headed by former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki. His committee has been going across the country to reconcile any aggrieved persons or groups. The committee has been achieving a lot. We also had another committee to review the last presidential election on why we as a political party lost the election at the presidential level. The committee is under Governor of Bauchi State, Senator Bala Mohammed. The report has been submitted to the national executive committee of the party who is reviewing and examining it. The Saraki’s committee is also doing the same thing. I think PDP is still putting its house in order before rolling out any activity.
You cannot go into an election in a divided house. I think the formation of these two committees is an indication that PDP is preparing to take over power in 2023. Besides that, we have a very vibrant National Publicity Secretary in the person of Kola Ologbondiyan, who has taken on the APC government on every issue as it demands. Hardly would a day pass without the party issuing strong-wording press statements telling Nigerians the damage the APC is doing to our dear country. So, I think we are okay. You can bear me witness that PDP is solid and united in Sokoto today. We had the governorship election in the state, you saw how much we fought and won the battle in unity despite that we are not in control of the Federal Government and security agencies.
Sokoto State just conducted her local government council election, where PDP won all the seats. What does the victory signify?
It signifies that there is no more APC in Sokoto State because of their refusal to participate in the election. But they gave two reasons. One; they said it would not be fair, and that they did not want to empower PDP members who might be pretending to be for APC. For me, that is very funny. To me, the reason is that they know that Sokoto people will massively vote against them. Also, they have forgotten that they no longer have the capacity of winning an election in Sokoto State. That is just the reason. I’m so happy that the election was held and went peacefully. PDP is now in total control of Sokoto State.
You are one of the political allies of Governor Aminu Tambuwal. How would you rate his performance?
First of all, in the run-up to 2019 general elections. we went round Sokoto State with our candidate, Rt. Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal who was our party governorship candidate at that time. And during the campaign, Tambuwal promised Sokoto people infrastructural development and other essential amenities.
Now, I can tell you that there is no local government council in Sokoto that you will not see infrastructural projects executed or ongoing – new schools, new flyovers, new healthcare facilities, just name them. In Sokoto town, you can see construction ongoing. When these projects are completed, many will see Sokoto in a different outlook.