Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa was presidential candidate of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) in the June 12 1993 presidential election. A respected politician, he was one of the founders of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), one of the parties that merged to become the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In an interview with ABDUL HASSAN, Tofa regretted that Nigeria is fast becoming a lawless country, noting that the next stage would be total anarchy. While blaming President Muhammadu Buhari for making the wrong appointments, Tofa told Saturday Sun that the agitation for Biafra or Oduduwa Republics by some South East and South West people is being fuelled by frustration with the system. He said though that such agitations could end up in a civil war. He also insisted that zoning is undemocratic, adding that any patriotic Nigeria from any part of the country should be able to run for president in a democracy.
Nigerian polity is heated by a series of crises such as ill governance, insecurity and threats of disintegration. Do you see these as failures of the Buhari administration?
Not completely. But since he is the President, he has to take the major part of the blame. That is part of the cost of leadership. Unfortunately, some of our elites in public service are insincere, corrupt, selfish and negatively envious. They are utterly unpatriotic. Many are even hypocrites. These are the worst of the worst. They are very corrupt, and still shamelessly talk about dealing with corruption. People who have read so many books but remain uneducated.
Then, there is a collective of poor, illiterate and know-not-what-to-do population who, because of that, are easily and cheaply manipulated, especially by the corrupt elite. Those with little or no alternatives join the gangs, as they see billions being stolen from our common- wealth without consequences. There are tens of millions of our youths without education, without jobs and without a bright future they could perceive.
Businessmen and contractors who believe the only or best way to be successful is to collaborate with the powers that be to deplete our commonwealth and commit other illegalities against the people. And a political system that is based on eligibility and money, rather than on suitability and integrity, is certainly a disaster for our country.
Buhari thought it was easy. He saw the problems, but he did not see the right people to help him solve them. He did not look far and deep, and he appointed many of those who are part of the problems, and even reappointed them. That is where, to me, his problem was planted right from the beginning. We hope and pray that his return in the next few days will see the beginning of a remarkable turnaround in our situation. I am sure he is reflecting on this. President Buhari can still do one or more remarkable things to brighten his legacy.
What do you think is responsible for the deteriorating state of our security situation in the country, especially in the North?
Well, there are many factors, some of which I mentioned them above. A country in which the vast majority are wallowing in poverty and illiteracy amidst plenty; a few politicians stealing billions and shipping them abroad; security forces that are themselves insecure, illequipped, ill-trained, ill-motivated, who may be killed without compensation; a government that lost the monopoly of violence against ragtag terrorists and secessionists; a population that is disillusioned and have resigned their fate to God. What do you expect? This country is fast becoming a lawless country where every- one does what he/she likes. The next stage is anarchy.
We are getting more groups agitating for a break up from Nigerian state. How do you view this scenario, vis-à-vis efforts to sustain democracy?
It is all part of the general frustration and anomy. Nothing works for a lot of people. We once made progress in the Second Republic and even during the few military rules that followed. But, now we have drifted back to the era just before the civil war. Some in the South East are agitating for Biafra, while others are for South East President and so on. In the South West, there are those who think Oduduwa Republic is the answer. Yet, some want to be President. In the North, some copy- cats have begun their Arewa Republic, while some are eying the presidency. And, killings by all sorts of gangs everywhere in the country! There is so much confusion as to what all these people really want. But, what we do really need is a group of sensible, recognised and patriotic Nigerians from all these parts to join hands together to tell everyone the truth: That we are better off together. Let everyone bring their grievances to the table and let us have a compromise.
Everybody has grievances, maybe on the way the country is being run, on the structure of our politics or even about how we relate to each other, welcome each other, or not, to our spaces, share opportunities and so on. I can tell you that no matter how many small parts we break into, each part will have to contend with the same problems, maybe even harsher. However, if we have to go our separate ways (God forbid), we should still do it in a polite and civilised way. It is utterly senseless to resort to violence, as some parts are doing. If reprisals begun, we will all be sorry that we did not stop it right now. Remember, we did that before, and see where it got us. The hatred and suspicions that kindled are yet to be completely doused. In fact, the current violence is only rekindling them.
More Nigerians are rooting for zoning or power shift to the South, which you kicked against before. Are you still against zoning or power shift?
I am not against any Southerner being President of his/her country. It is an undeniable right that anyone can aspire to become anything in his/ her own country. What I am totally against is this North and South non- sense. Even in ANPP, I stood firm against it. That was why in all our conventions, everyone from wherever has the right to aspire, and let the delegates choose who they want. In the end, all Nigerians will cast their votes for the Nigerian candidate they prefer. When can we be Nigerians, rather than ethnic champions? We need a Nigerian President, not a Northern or Southern President. Let Nigerians begin to think Nigeria again, please!
Nigeria is searching for good leaders. What, in your view, are the criteria for choosing or select- ing leaders at the different levels in Nigeria?
A good leader is not necessary the one with most degrees. But education is very important and so is being a modern person who is well travelled and probably has many connections, both at home and abroad. A person whose patriotism is unquestionable and who is neither an ethnic or religious bigot. Anybody with a record of past corruption or a case of dishonesty of some sort or is unhealthy or too ugly or too short or too tall, or too talkative or with crooked eyes, or whose family history cannot be ascertained, or has dual nationality, should not qualify to be the President of Nigeria. As a friend of mine said a few months back, suitability, not legibility must be the yard stick. Nigerians should begin the search in earnest for the most suitable person, who will treat all Nigerians equally, and all sections equitably. And advisably, even outside these two main parties.
Are you planning to run for president in 2023?
Believe me, I hardly think of this issue. I just would not bother myself. If Allah wills that I will be, I will be. So, it’s up to Him. I am at peace with myself. I have no money to throw around, and I have no plan to sell anything for this, as I have no plan to steal anybody’s money. I am totally happy the way I am. Nigeria is my country, and I love to see it change for the better, under the right leader, from wherever he or she may be.
As s first class politician, what are the specific lapses in the cur- rent political arrangement as well as the likely solutions?
Honestly, I am not a first class politician. In fact, I am not even a typical politician. I adore frankness and truth and I like to say the truth, always, as I see things. I do not like sycophants and there are many of them around our leaders and misleading them. Some of our leaders do employ and train thugs. Some of them are thugs themselves. Our current politics is full of those. These disgraceful behaviours should not be tolerated in our body politics. We need to be a decent people deserving decent leaders.
But change cannot happen unless decent, qualified and suitable people join in and actively participate. I am disappointed when people who think they are better than others stay back and say “politics is for the rascals. We are a decent people.” This is an insult to the good people who are in politics doing what they can to change things. These so-called ‘decent people’, who stay away, are surely part of the problem. But there are many other suitable people who stay away because they see that only those with money will be considered by the parties, their leaders, as well as the electorate. Those are right. We have to do something about what- ever discourage such people from participating.
We certainly need to examine all these issues and more. We probably need another political party that has solutions to most of these problems, and which people will listen to and trust.
What is your view on age limit for those contesting political office as proposed by the National Assembly?
My view is, as long as you are healthy, alert and have fulfilled those conditions of suitability that I mentioned above, age should not even be mentioned. Age has nothing to do with integrity, patriotism, wisdom and intelligence. Look at United States President Joe Biden for ex- ample. And, both himself and Trump might be candidates in 2026 at the ages of 82 and 78 or thereabouts. Do not think age is a problem because you are a bit young now. One day soon, you will also be old!
Are you satisfied with the dominance of PDP and APC on the political scene?
Well, since they are the only two, and in government since 1999, and continue to be the only two, then dominance is just natural for them. It’s a gift by Nigerians. But, PDP is now cleverly possessing APC, and before the next election in 2023, there will only be PDPC parading as two parties. There is therefore a need for a real party of known responsible and decent patriots as soon as possible.