Former governor of Kano state and current Chairman, Senate Committee on Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), Senator Kabiru Gaya has expressed his desire for the Southern region of the country to produce the next President of Nigeria. The Kano South Senator said that with the completion of President Buhari’s eighth year tenure in 2023, it would be unfair for the North to vie for the nation’s number one position again.
In this exclusive interview with Saturday Sun, the former governor of Kano State who is spending his 14th year in the red chamber of the National Assembly disclosed the reasons he engineered the de-registering of over 70 political parties, even as he disclosed further that more out of the current 18 political parties will still be de-registered. He answered questions from KENNETH UDEH on these issues and more at his office in Abuja.
This is your 14th year in the Nigerian Senate , can you describe how the journey has been so far?
First of all I thank Almighty God for giving me the opportunity, ability, life, and the strength to contest the senatorial seat four times and come back into the senate, I thank God for the opportunity and the ability. I really appreciate being here since 1999, there have been requests from my people since I didn’t get the governorship seat I should come back to the senate and I did . Initially, I rejected twice to join the senate, later on, I decided to join , I was able to win the election and then come into senate.
I don’t lie, it is a blessing to come into senate because, after being a governor of a state you come to senate, you learn more about the national politics and also the national problems and you as a senator or a legislator has to entertain and be able to solve those problems. Since my foray into the Senate we went through many things and I have made some contributions that affect the nation not only my senatorial zone or my state.
For example I had a bill on North East Development Commission and that is part of the things we do to improve the lives of the people but apart from that I have been chairman of many committees. I was the Chairman, Senate committee on States and Local Governments, where I was physically involved in trying to resolve the issues of the crisis in Rivers State House of Assembly in 2013.
During the crisis, my committee was sent by Senate to intervene in the fracas in the State Assembly where the National Assembly decided to send the senate committee on States and Local Governments to go and investigate and we were there and from our investigation, we were shocked to discover that only five state assembly members were able to impeach a speaker out of 32 members of the assembly and which was totally wrong.
We therefore intervened, we solved the impeachment and we closed the state assembly and from all the records we had, there was a lot of external influence, the party of the governor at that time was in conflict with the governor and the governor was in conflict with the state assembly members and the fracas started. Therefore we invited all the stakeholders and we held a meeting with them in Rivers State, which means in Port Harcourt and we were able to get the views of everybody.
We came out with a report to the National Assembly with about 19 video tapes and so many tendered documents and presentations and report from other stakeholders who were involved. The police also issued their report and the decision of the senate and our committee was to make sure that the assembly was closed and we took over the state assembly. We also took a resolution that there must be peace before we restore the assembly to open. Furthermore, we also indicted the commissioner of police at that time, Mr. Joseph Mbu and we told him he must be transferred.
Despite his indictment, he refused to agree. Even the report of our findings proved that his office was very close to the state assembly and from the first floor of the building you can clearly view what’s happening in the state house of assembly but he insisted he did not know what happened with all those fracas and with the trouble in the state assembly. Moreover, during the course of our investigation we discovered a strong evidence that he was partially involved and therefore he must be indicted and also the leadership of People’s Democratic Party also indicted including their national headquarters, which was fully involved in the fracas. A lot of issues were unearthed, and as a result of our report, I think I saved the state from further crisis.
As Chairman of the Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), what efforts have you made to improve our nation’s electoral system?
When I was nominated to be the chairman of INEC by the current Senate President (Ahmad Lawan) of this ninth senate, initially I felt it was a big challenge, because I was the former chairman Senate committee on works, I did the best that I could and I was brought to INEC. Well, I said I will contribute so much and the reason they asked me to head the INEC committee was because I am an elderly person and I am more ranked in the senate and I was a former governor. So they believe with that experience that I would be able to make an impact. As the chairman, on the first day we had the meeting, at the inaugural meeting with the chairman of INEC, that is Prof. Mahmud, I told him that he must de-register some political parties, because these parties were too many. We had 91 parties and there was another one being registered, that was 92 parties, so we said no, that we must de-register because there is no way we can keep on registering political parties like anyhow. A major reason we had these numerous political parties was because of the conditions for registering political parties, which is all you need to have is an office in Abuja, if you, your wife and children and two of your friends in Nyanya or any village around Nyanya area, you pay N200 for annual rent of office and you will write to INEC that you have an office in Abuja and you want to register a political party. Two, we also decided that we must enhance the position or welfare of the staff of INEC because there is no basis, if you can increase the salaries of policeman who also oversees election and oversees a lot of people and because you don’t want him to be corrupt then I do not see any reason why you should not increase the salaries of workers of INEC. INEC staffs are the ones that supervise and control elections of all legislators including the President, the Governors, the Senators, the House of Representatives and State Assembly members and even the voters including Councilors and Local Government Chairman of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Based on that, I insisted that we must do that , the chairman gave me assurances that he will get back to me like in about a month and within the period of one month, they de-registered the political parties and reduced their number to eighteen from ninety two. I think that is good enough and we still need to cut more because we want to save tax payers money, there’s no basis for giving any money or support to a party when they don’t even have a Councilor in Nigeria. In that case, we need to have a guideline for which we can now say this political party should be registered based on their strength. We are also considering to review the electoral act such that political parties should have at least offices in at least two third of the states of the federation and they should try to have to have at least two House of Representatives members and one Senator if possible, otherwise we may end up having the same long list taking the tax payers money and producing a large paper. I remember during my last election, an old lady called me and said “Kabiru, come here I want you to show me Buhari’s picture”, because she could not recognize Buhari’s picture and if I had to show her, of course it’s wrong because it’s against the law to show someone where to vote. Imagine if the ballot paper is smaller in size, the picture will be bigger and if the number of the parties is smaller, then the pictures of the candidates will be bigger and bolder and people will be able to recognize them.
Another issue is having numerous litigations; this emanates from many political parties, once there is any slight mistake they look for the smallest loophole and then you have a party that does not even have a councilor will cause the state of the federation to conduct a fresh election.
Sadly, I told them we have to trim down, which they did and I am happy with that. Thirdly, we are not only reviewing the electoral act but also reenacting too, which means all the amended acts will be considered, now we have a fresh new electoral act, which we call electoral act 2020. Though we expect that it will be 2021, because when the president signs in 2021 it will bear the title “2021”, that will be the act that will be referred to in the courts. There are many coming up with the experiences we have had during the election. The problem that occurs during the primaries and during election, just like the issue of the former governor of Kogi state, Prince Audu, when he died, so what happens when a candidate dies during the election process? It was not clearly stated in the electoral act what happens in such circumstance.
However, we now have to state it clearly, because we never expected that a governorship candidate will die in the process of the election, when the whole result was announced and a lot of things like that. Among issues we have considered in the electoral act is the issue of primaries where the INEC must supervise the process properly and all those related items are what we really are working on.
The issue of using electronic voting is an area we were also thinking of, because initially people complained about technicalities when card readers were introduced and the people are not happy, however at the end of the day the card reader helps and people now understand how to use the card readers. On that basis, we are taking a step further by introducing electronic voting and we are working on that. The only issue where we might have crisis is the electronic transfer of votes. Even in United States of America, they had problem with the last election which led to series of accusations that another country interfered in their elections; now imagine a country like ours, Nigeria, somebody can go somewhere, insert a chip in the computer system and manipulate our election results and that will not be in the interest of the peace of this country.
Why did the Senate step down the nomination of a serving appointee of President Buhari in person of Lauretta Onochie as Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) of INEC?
Well, let me use this opportunity to clarify that the Senate has not stepped down the nomination of Lauretta as commissioner or as resident electoral commissioner. The fact is that the President has forwarded her name to the Senate but it didn’t come to the Senate committee on INEC because once it is read on the floor, then that report will be submitted or be referred to the committee on INEC, that’s the following day in the order paper.
It had not come to the floor of the senate, therefore no decision has been taken about Lauretta, her name did not come to the committee, it is when her name is sent, that is the time we will take the decision so she has never been disqualified or thrown out of the Senate or the committee on INEC.
The APC appears to be gaining more grounds with the influx of new members both at the Senate and House of Representatives and just recently the governor of Ebonyi state, how would you react to this development?
I am happy about it because there is a saying that a good Friday starts on Wednesday, if your Friday won’t be good, then we have seen the signs on Wednesday. I believe that when personalities like the governor of a state, senators, members of house of representatives decamp from their party to the APC shows that there’s more prospect in APC than in another political party. I know we have our internal problems in the APC and we intend to correct those problems to say the least. I believe the APC would take over some state governments, and still continue at the federal government level Insha Allah. That being said, my fear and concern is that a number of people are saying we are putting too many eggs in one basket, but we are equal to the task to handle such.
With the 2023 general elections fast approaching, what are your thoughts on the debate on which region should produce the next President after President Buhari’s tenure?
On the issue of 2023, our party is going to elect or nominate a candidate that is going to be good enough to be the president come 2023 and I must tell you that the issue of zoning is equally important. However, I believe that the North has produced a president in President Buhari for eight years, so now, we need a president from the South, then we can get a vice-president from the North. This is my opinion and this is my thinking and I believe this could be the thinking of the party (APC) because if we now talk about having another president from the North, I believe a lot of people from the South would not be happy. We are talking about one Nigeria and uniting this country and if you feel that the North holds the means to be president, that does not mean you have to be the president all the time, we should let it rotate even to areas where they have minorities, we should give them a chance to lead this country and unite us. The reasons are not far fetched ,that unless Nigeria is united, we will not be able to achieve our collective desire as a nation. We should believe that we are brothers and we should love one another and support one another, I have never believed in this sectional reason, I don’t believe that whether I’m Igbo or Hausa or Yoruba I should think of my own people alone, that’s not the case, we do not know why God brought us together and I am sure God made put us together for one good reason that we should be united and prosperous. Nigeria is one country that is mostly loved by God; we don’t have earthquakes, volcano eruption, landslides, hurricane, desert and bush fire that burns a whole state, we do not have those extreme natural disasters. God loves us, Nigeria, he gave us a good fertile land and good people to withstand the weather and we are working hard and since God loves us , we should work hard and continue praying to God to bless Nigeria and move us forward. Ours is a country that is more religious than any other country in the world, we have excellent Muslims, good Muslims, we have good Christians who always pray to God for forgiveness and support so that’s why we are surviving. God loves Nigeria, we should not take that for granted, we should work as a team , we can not do this without one another and they say if you want to lift a roof you need many hands to lift that roof, so we need many Nigerians from all parts of the country to raise that roof and cover Nigeria for prosperity and better Nigeria. That’s my take on the issue of zoning, if we have the president from the North now, let’s have a president from the South next time and the north should support that.
Another issue which bothers me is the issue of Muslim-Muslim ticket or Christian-Christian ticket, as for me I don’t care if we have Christian-Christian ticket or Muslim-Muslim ticket, all we need is to have a good leader who will lead the country. If we start talking about religion or who gets the ticket, then we are already divided or when you now start saying you must be an Igbo or Hausa or Yoruba or this or that. A good President can come from any part of the country, once that person is good and eligible to be the president of this country. We need a good leader and a good leader does not have to come from one single tribe, he can come from any part of the world or any part of Nigeria; all we need is for Nigerians to agree that we need a president who has Nigerians at heart, who can lead this country in the best interest of everyone.
Would you take a shot at Kano governorship contest in 2023 if you are asked to?
I thank God I served for two years as a governor of Kano before the military came in and booted us out and still, if I want to contest I can still contest for governorship but I have not decided up till today, but a lot of people are calling that I should contest for the governorship, I leave all that to God when the time comes we would decide whether to run but I can’t on my own tell you that I have decided to run. I have a lot of consultation to do with leaders and elders of my state and even outside my state for support, for the position of the governorship of the state, we have not made up our minds yet but a lot of people are pushing for it but I will always pray to God for it to work.