Chairman of the Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF) Professor Ango Abdullahi has lashed the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), describing the group’s members as touts and job seekers, who have not led the organisation to achieve anything thing in its 25 years of existence. In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the former vice chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, maintained his position that President Muhammadu Buhari has failed and should not be re-elected in 2019.
But in a swift reaction to NEF leader’s verbal attack, spokesman of ACF, Anthony N. Z. Sani said the allegation is a figment of Prof. Abdullahi’s imagination. If what you have said is what Professor Ango said, it would be his opinion which may not necessarily be the opinion of majority of Nigerians. Everybody is entitled to have an opinion of himself, which anybody can do.”
The Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) has countered your assertion that the North shouldn’t vote for President Buhari in the 2019 presidential election. The group said you can’t speak for the region. How do you react to that?
You always find people who hold different opinions, of course, this is human nature; this is also the beauty of democracy. Our rival, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) that has not been able to do anything in the last 25 years of its existence is now talking that we are usurping the power of the people in the north. ACF for 25 years has done nothing.
Do you know why the group reacted to a political statement you made?
They are usually contractors and job seekers. When they talk like the one they did yesterday (Tuesday), I’m sure they will pump into government houses to pick the crumbs.
Why will they do that?
They are touts; touts don’t feel this way, touts are supposed to do their masters game anytime, but people are reading them from what they really are; people have known them that for the last 25 years they have been ineffective.
We, Northern Elders Forum (NEF) came out clearly right from the beginning to say we are politically activist group, we are not a social organisation where we do drumming, culture and so on, but we discuss politics as it comes. I’m in Zaria, I will be in Abuja on Monday, where I will be addressing Igbo intellectual group in Abuja.
You supported Buhari in 2015, at what point did you part ways?
I was in the forefront fighting former President Goodluck Jonathan; we were not fighting him because he is Ijaw and comes from the South or he is a Christian, no. What we said that time, which the PDP has acknowledged that they made a mistake. I was a signatory to the formation of PDP, and we inscribed in our constitution and manifesto that there would be rotation of power between the North and the South, that was the basis of our fight with Jonathan.
When Umaru Yar’Adua died, the North was still short of the eight years, Obasanjo did eight years, and by that agreement a northern person who takes over from him will do eight years. Umaru did three years and died, and the nation’s constitution says, the remaining one year will be completed by his deputy, which was quite correct. What we expected the party to do at the end of the year, was to say, northerners, you still have four years and who are you going to recommend for the next four years, that is from 2011 to 2015, but they refused. Those who refused included major players in the north. That was the beginning of the quarrel, added to the fact that Jonathan himself said he was not aware of any rotational arrangement. This sounded like an insult to us, and that is the only reason we fought him.
In 2015, they added fuel to the fire. First, Jonathan was sworn in as president after Umaru’s death that was his first swearing in, even if it was for one year as president. He did another swearing in after he was elected in 2011, that is five years, and then he still came back to say that he would do another four years from 2015. If that had happened, he would have been president for nine years. Go and read the constitution, which says, nobody will be president of Nigeria, one day more than eight years, continuously, and we drew attention to this, but they ignored it, that was when we put our gloves and fought back.
There was nothing to insinuate tribal or religious motive; it was just a matter of principle and legality within the party itself. We are vindicated as the party came out to admit that they made a mistake and that was why they lost the election in 2015, and that is why they said that their candidate for 2019 must come from the North.
Whenever you see some of us standing, you can rest assured that there are principled reasons why we are doing that. If you look at my own record, I was the one who sat with Obasanjo when he declared for presidency and all other people sat behind us. It was in my house that Abiola’s election in the north was organised to defeat Tofa. You see, we do most of these things as a matter of principle, and it seems that Nigeria’s politics is so difficult to understand; those of us doing it as a matter of principle keep running into storms from time to time, but as long as you are working on the basis of truth you don’t need to worry.
Part of what you wanted Buhari to do was to address the insecurity in the North…
(Cuts in) The insecurity today that everybody is talking about has to do with the level of poverty in the country generally, particularly, the level of poverty in different parts of the north, virtually in all parts of the north.
This Boko Haram thing, we wrote almost a book and presented it to Jonathan, about the background to Boko Haram, and the way to deal with it. We gave the book to Jonathan formally with our late leader, Maitama Sule, but people played a lot of dangerous politics into it by saying that Northerners were behind Boko Haram because they wanted to make the country ungovernable for a Southerner. That was a stupid thing to say because there is Boko Haram now, which is more violent, is it a Southerner that is the president?
Each time something happens, people should look at the root and reason properly to be able to find solutions to them. I hope you are following what is happening in France? France for the past four weeks, the young president that was elected barely a year ago with huge support, but the support has now come down to 20 per cent, and his people are saying that they are not done with him yet until he leaves office because they cannot make ends meet, which means they are poor. France, poverty? If you see major crisis in Nigeria, take it from me, the root is poverty, unemployment and underemployment. Once there is no peace, there will be no development in the country because everybody will be hiding, and running; you can’t relax and do business.
If Buhari assures that in his second term he would address this issue, would you do a rethink and support him?
No, no, no. I’m a teacher; I have been a teacher, and if my student fails, I should be able to assess that if he is given another chance he will pass the exam. As a former university vice chancellor, we judge students on the basis of their academic performance, but this is a political performance.
I have not met him person to person. He was a head of state. You are a journalist, could you tell me why the military that brought him kicked him out?
They accused him of being highhanded.
Is that all they accused him of? Of course there is a lot they have not said. To those who brought him, he failed them and they kicked him out.
We also tried this time, we didn’t point Buhari to APC, and we have no business with APC; we are not members of APC.
We just said that since Jonathan has failed to respect the constitution, as well as reneged on the agreement, any person of Northern extraction given to us by any other political party, we would work for him. That was our position, we didn’t just point at anybody’s name. When they did their primaries and Buhari emerged in Lagos that was the only candidate available for us to work for. This is why we went to work for Buhari, not that he was Buhari, but we worked for him because that was our pledge. Having done that, we also said that we hope he would do well, and if he doesn’t, our first step is to tell him that he doesn’t do well, and that we have done since the days of our leader, Maitama Sule.
Things were not improving and we complained and Maitama said, ok, write him a memo with all the points that we were making, this we did. Maitama led about 15 other elders to present to him, and we waited, there was no news, no reply.
Of course, many other northern groups told Maitama that they wanted to hold a meeting to assess the performance of the president, and 18 other groups including NEF met in Kaduna and reviewed the government and its performance, and issued a communiqué signed by 18 different groups, pointing out that the government was not doing well, and particularly northerners who see their areas impoverished and nothing is happening, except poverty; 13 million children out of school, etc. All these were pointed out in the communiqué, and at the end, we said they should take a warning that if these things continue they should not expect votes when the time comes, and that was the communiqué about seven or eight months ago.
Later on, we also linked up with the elders of the South – Afenifere, Ohanaeze, Niger Delta leaders, Edwin Clark and others; the Middle Belt group etc, we also reviewed the situation, especially on security, poverty, unemployment, failures in the economy etc, the conclusion was the same. I don’t know other criteria we should use to say that there is success or failure, if we are honest and able to tell the truth. This is what we have been doing. It is not out of any consideration, personal or whatever that we are saying that Buhari has failed. If one can say so, the closest person to the president is his wife. You are a journalist, what did she say, answer me?
She said that two people are behind the slow progress of the government.
Did we elect those two people? Answer me
Why should they hijack the government? Hijacking for good or for worse? So, what do you want someone else to say? Two people just hijacked the government and that is why I blame journalists for not helping to correct things in this country. You people are not trying. However, I know the problem of journalists in this country, and I appreciate their difficulty because they are all employees and their proprietors have editorial policies and once a journalist deviates from the policy he is kicked out, which is why many of you cannot talk on some issues. We understand that you are not as a free as other journalists in other parts of the world, you people should be bold enough to do things that are helpful to the society.
I was in the University College Ibadan in 1961, and we saw our past leaders, they did very well, from then on we started to fall back. Our first generation leaders did extremely well when you compare them with what we have on ground now. Count them – Zik, Awolowo, Sardauna, Aminu Kano and others, they sacrificed, and left nothing behind materially, but can you see what is happening now, the leaders are working for themselves first, for themselves second, for themselves third and for the rest of us fourth.