From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
Since coming into politics, one factor that perhaps launched Senator Ahmad Sani Yerima into prominence was his adoption of the Sharia legal system as governor of Zamfara State.
Declaring his interest to contest the 2023 presidential ticket, he doused the fears and apprehensions of many Nigerians that Islamising the country will not be his mission if elected.
In this interview, he spoke on various national issues.
Don’t you think that APC zoning agreement pre-merger will affect your aspiration and interest in the Presidency in 2023?
I don’t think there is anything like agreement. You can ask Mr President; he led the group, Asiwaju was there, I was part of it, there was no meeting I didn’t attend or any meeting that I attended that there was such agreement. Agreement can’t be verbal, it has to be written. In any case, any agreement that is contrary to laws of this country is not an agreement.
The Constitution is very clear, the party Constitution, the Electoral Act, we are in a democracy governed by processes and procedures and by laws. So, the Constitution of Nigeria doesn’t recognize anything called zoning and likewise APC Constitution. If there is that agreement, why didn’t we put it in the Constitution?
So, nobody will just come and say that there is an agreement, take your Constitution and amend it, put that agreement and if there, then nobody will come from another side and work against the Constitution. As a democrat, as a citizen of Nigeria, I can aspire based on the laws of Nigeria.
The Nigerian Constitution has given rights and privilege to every citizen which believes he has something to offer to aspire for any office, irrespective of his state of origin, his tribe, ethnicity, religion; you have right, the Constitution has given us guarantee to participate in the political process.
We all know that there is no provision for zoning in the Nigerian Constitution but the President is from Katsina, North-West zone, you are from Zamfara, North-West zone; will it be proper for a North-West person to also succeed President Buhari?
Can I give you an example of America, George Bush (snr) was President, and George Bush (jnr) became President. They are from the same family not from the same state, not from the same zone. This is democracy, if Nigerians decide to vote for Yerima, so be it.
The governors in the North-West states have been accused of unduly romancing insurgents and bandits by way of granting amnesty to them. What is your take on this?
Initially, I was in support of negotiations having seen that it worked in the Niger Delta issue. We got an amnesty programme and that is why we have peace in the Niger Delta. So, anything that will bring peace and stability, I think it should be considered. However, the governors should employ a carrot and stick approach, talking to them where necessary and using military and police power to ensure that all those erring members of the insurgents who refused to accept the agreement reached between them and the government are brought to book. So, that is what they need to do.
Can you confirm the rumour that you have been receiving 1999 governors in the quest for this your presidential ambition as well as reviving your own faction of the merger team of ANPP stock that formed the APC?
We have one APC and the merger is consummated and we are operating a political party. ANPP is gone, Nigerian Governors Forum 1999 to 2011 is an Association of people that have shared interest. In politics, you will not be surprised; James Ibori who is in PDP is a very close friend of mine who can support me.
So, once you are contesting, you reach out to all shades of opinion and people from all walks of life in Nigeria; explain to them your ambition, programmes and what you want to achieve; what do you want to offer Nigeria; if they share the same opinion with you, they can be in another party and they can vote for you.
When I started this mobilization, I developed an application which is being downloaded in android or iPhone and I have forms that are printed carrying the same information that we need to upload to the system. My objective is to see that before I officially declare, I will have at least 30 – 40 million supporters and I assure you I have the capacity to achieve that. I already have very close to two million people all over the country.
I have more than 4000 supporters in Imo, I have more than 7000 supporters who have declared their interest to support me in Enugu State, I have over 400,0000 supporters in Katsina State, different states, PDP, APC. That is why I said it depends on your ability to mobilise Nigerians across party lines to vote for you. It’s not your party members that support you. You will see some people who are senior leaders of a political party coming to support a candidate that they believe have something to offer.
Having made Zamfara a Sharia State, the fears of every Nigerian is whether you will Islamise Nigeria if you come to the National stage?
Nigerians are sometimes very illiterate of their own Constitution and that is why this kind of question will come. Section 38 of the Nigerian Constitution specifically stipulates that every Nigerian has freedom of religion, either to practise his religion alone or in community with others, in private or in public, even including to change his religion if he wishes.
They also don’t see the content of the Constitution. The constitution has provisions for Common Law for Christians, Sharia law for Muslims and Customary law for non-believers of the two faiths. Those provisions are very clear; I didn’t do anything outside the provisions of the Constitution. Under democracy, you have to prepare a law, send it to the State House of Assembly if you are Governor, or send it to the two Chambers of the National Assembly, if you are the President.
They will pass this law after deliberation and in the course of discussion, there is what we call public hearing where you give opportunity to people outside the Assembly to come and contribute, debate this matter, once it is passed by the State or National Assembly, then the governor or President can sign it and it becomes law. I didn’t do anything outside the Nigerian constitution; otherwise, the Federal Government then under President Olusegun Obasanjo would have taken me to the Supreme Court.
If any governor passes any law that is contrary to the Constitution, the Federal Government can go to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court will now pronounce that law as unconstitutional and that Governor will have some sanctions.
You see, this is my friend, Prof. Ojunbe from Imo State, he is a Christian, and he has been with me for a very long time. Going to Zamfara, I was the only governor, in fact, the first governor in Northern Nigeria to sign a Certificate of Occupancy for a Church. It was one Church called Ladies of Fatima whose C of O expired 25 years before Zamfara was created and this 25 years they have been pursuing the renewal of the Certificate since North Western States – Sokoto, Niger, Kebbi, Zamfara, were one State.
Niger was taken away, Sokoto became Sokoto and Zamfara then Kebbi was created and it remained Sokoto and Zamfara and later Zamfara was created. It was only then when I became the first Director-General, Land, Housing and Survey that they met me and said they have been suffering for 25 years just to get C of O renewed.
I quickly got their file, processed it through the Land Use and Allocation Committee of the State and we recommended it to the Military Governor then. Of course, the governor didn’t sign it. When they heard that I resigned my appointment to contest for governorship, they came to me and said they will support me if I promise them that I will sign their Certificate of Occupancy. I laughed and said, if I can recommend your Certificate for signing to the governor, what will stop me from signing if I become governor.
“They took me to their congregation in the Church, I made the same promise. They took me round to every Church in Zamfara at that time, in fact, at the end of the day, there was meeting I had with the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), in Zamfara State at that time and they told me that they have three problems in the North not only in Zamfara.
One, they were able to get land to build Churches and even if they buy land with their money, the government does not give them building approval and when they build, they don’t get a certificate and sometimes because of lack of certificate, they demolish their Churches. I now promised them that I was going to stop that in Zamfara as a governor, not in the North and that’s what I did. I fulfilled my campaign promises.
On the Sharia law, people didn’t go to find out what Sharia that Yarima did. Of course, there was Sharia and for Muslims. The Sharia law clearly stipulated that Christians are exempted. You know in the North, some Igbo traders, Yoruba, Christians use to take their cases to Sharia Court not Muslims. So, I said for me, the government of Zamfara to be protected from allegation that a Christian is forced when he takes his case to Sharia Court, I made provision in that law that if there is case between Muslim and Christian, the Christian has the right to choose which court he wants to go.
In case he chooses to go to the Sharia Court with the Muslim, he has to put it in writing and CAN to witness. Till date, they are still doing that. If you as a Christian living in Zamfara has a problem with a Muslim and you want to take your case to Sharia Court, you have to put in writing to CAN; Chairman CAN will have to endorse that you voluntarily want to go to Sharia Court so that in the end, if you lose you will not complain.
So, Sharia has always been here with us before Independence and after Independence since the 1963 Constitution. Every constitution of Nigeria has ample provision for Sharia law and the rights of Christians are effectively protected by the Constitution.
The herdsmen/farmers clash has been a very serious issue in Nigeria. If elected, how do you intend to handle this?
Justice and fairness. Once there is equity, justice and fairness, you will not have any clash between any group; tribal or ethnic clashes. Government has to be firm in implementing laws, rules and regulations. Once there is no implementation of the laws, rules and regulations, you have these clashes but if everybody knows that this is prohibited and this is what you can do as a farmer or as herdsman, there will be no problem.
Grazing areas in the North are clearly demarcated but some farmers used to encroach the grazing area which used to cause crises because people are not observing the rules and regulations of the states. So, once laws are properly enacted and implemented, there will be no crisis, so every leader has to be just and fair to all just as we always swear by the Constitution.
You see in this country, it is amazing for people, like I said, not to read their Constitution; they don’t even know. I think there has to be part of the political system of Nigeria from secondary school level for people to know their Constitution. If you know your Constitution, you will know that what Yerima did in Zamfara was constitutional.
How can you from a state not governed by APC be looking for a ticket in the party to run for presidency?
Have you forgotten that when I left office, I was the only governor that handed over to his Deputy and that my deputy defected to PDP and we recovered that state through election. I must not have a state to be in politics and to contest. I contested for Senate when my deputy defected to PDP and I won my seat; the Federal Government was PDP, the State Governor was PDP, the Local Government Chairmen were PDP and we sponsored the former Governor Yari and he defeated him.
So, I don’t need to have a state government to be able to win election in Nigeria. What I need is to mobilise Nigerians. Now I have almost two million supporters, so if I come and tell you by 2022 that I have 30 or 40 million, that can be proven.
The crisis in APC is another thing. In Zamfara, everybody knows that it is the Supreme Court. It is just because of internal wrangling between two factions and we couldn’t have a candidate and that was why the Supreme Court gave it to PDP. It was not through an election. Crisis is always part of politics not only in Nigeria even in America. Today, Trump is having problems with elections that have been conducted in America. So, it is part of politics, you will always have disagreements, the most important thing is that you will come back one day before the election to have agreement.
I want to confirm to you that by the grace of God, one day you will hear that the governor will come back to APC because he is a member of the APC family. He was my Commissioner and we are still relating very well. So, you will not be surprised to hear one day that he is coming to join the APC.
With mutual suspicion going on in APC and lack of peace with the dissolution of the executive of the party, are you satisfied as a presidential aspirant with the status of your party?
Every step taking place in APC is based on the constitution of the party. That is why if there is any problem, people go to court and the court will look at the party constitution to say this is wrong or right. As far as I am concerned, the Mai-Mala Buni-led structure of the APC came about through the constitutional process of APC.
I support and believe that every well-meaning member of the party is on board in that regard. There is no problem and as I said, disagreements are part of politicking; you always have disagreements but the most important thing is that you come together before the election and agree.
There is clamour for true federalism and state police in view of security challenges in Nigeria, which side of the divide are you?
Talking is part of politics as usual but we have a constitution. Those people who are clamouring for one thing or another, State Police, true federalism should participate in the political process, get elected and go to the National Assembly and sponsor bills for the amendment of the Constitution. Talking will not change the constitution. As far as I am concerned, everything that is in this constitution can change through amendment. These people always talking cannot even win their ward. Some of them can’t win elections in their polling units. The constitution is very clear on how to amend the constitution.
We need community police but we haven’t reached the stage in this political development where governors will be given State Police that can lead to anarchy because some governors can be ruthless. We still have to amend the constitution to reduce powers of State Governors. I was governor for eight years, I know the enormous powers they have. If you give them the control of the Commissioner of Police, you will be in your house, once you are against him, he will just send the police to arrest you.
So, what we need is a community police that you recruit, employ from that community. Each Local Government should have a Community Police Unit. Recruitment should be people who are within that Local Government. Give them enough equipment, welfare, guarantee security of their family, you will see how they will work to protect their communities.
How do you rate APC in fulfilling the tripod promise of security, economy, corruption, considering the insecurity, second recession and rising corruption in the country?
That is your own personal assessment. I don’t know whether corruption is rising or not. All I know is that people are scared to be corrupt openly. Before the Buhari administration, corruption was open. You are supposed to do some investigative journalism to monitor the people in power – the Ministers, the Executives and expose them if you see anything. You can’t just claim rise in corruption when you don’t have data. Give me data then I will answer your question on that.
For insecurity, I believe there are some challenges and I think some of them are political. There are people working very hard to ensure that they smear the image of Mr. President. I saw the challenge as an APC member and somebody who has access to the President, I have something to offer. We need to equip the security agencies with communication gadgets.
We have to look at the intelligence aspect as a government. Intelligence gathering is very weak but this is normal. Every government has some challenges and I am sure we will overcome these challenges. We will give them advice. It is not just to attack, offer solutions.
Government has to provide adequate welfare packages, communication equipment to the police, DSS, military officers to communicate with their people at every point and I am sure their movement will be tracked.
On the economy, you can see what COVID-19 has brought to us. When PDP was in power, the crude oil price rose up to $140pb. At the inception of this administration it came down to below $30pb. With these challenges, I think the president has done very well considering the challenges he has faced as far as COVID-19 and other revenue generation challenges that took place.
What is the force driving you towards believing in this country Nigeria?
I was elected Governor of Zamfara State for eight years and I was later elected as a Senator, representing Zamfara West Senatorial District. But you may recall that in 2006, I declared my interest to contest for presidency after serving my state for eight years.
However, I decided to withdraw from the race at that time and since then I have been to the Senate for three terms. Now that Mr President is completing his second term, I decided to try again to see what God will have for me having voluntarily decided not to go to the Senate again.
Every politician participating in the current democracy knows that the Constitution of Nigeria spelt out what he has to do as President, Governor, member of National or State Assembly. Some people try to say that this Constitution is not a Nigerian Constitution, but I believe that, however, in whatever manner this Constitution came about, whether by military dictatorship or arrangement or by constitutional conferences, we have a Constitution that we operate as a democratic country since 1999.
This Constitution has clearly stipulated two functions of government: security of lives and properties of citizens and the improvement of welfare of Nigerian people. How to go about it now is the issue. Every Nigerian will have his own idea but of course, his idea will not be all of it. He has to bring other people together who share similar aspirations, similar positions and see how they can move the country forward in these two roles of government.
You can see today Nigeria is facing lots of challenges in security but as an APC stalwart, I have an opportunity, always, if I want to meet Mr President and give my own piece of advice. However, I can still say that these challenges can be overcome through concerted efforts. First of all, you need to improve the welfare of the security agencies, the Police, the DSS, the military, Civil Defence and all other people working to bring peace and security to our people.