Fred Itua, Abuja
David Babachir Lawal is the immediate-past Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF).
The Adamawa-born politician in this exclusive interview with Sunday Sun revealed why the 2023 presidency may elude Southeast.
The former SGF who was allegedly involved in the 2016 N500 million Grass-cutting scandal also said that former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has lost political relevance in Adamawa State.
He also spoke on the crisis rocking the APC, insecurity in the country, among other.
For a while, you have been out of the political scene after serving as SGF. Is it deliberate?
I am on sabbatical from politics. Beside, we just finished an election less than one year ago. Majority of the states have barely settled down, so I feel it is too early to do any form of politicking. We still have over three years to go.
So, while you are on sabbatical, what keeps you busy?
I am a farmer and an IT consultant. That is what I do.
Do you still climb the pulpit?
If I am invited to preach, I do that and attend church services, revivals as a normal routine and as a Christian. But preaching sermon is at the invitation of a given church.
You are a member of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC). Although you are not in active politics as you say. There are those who believe that the government may not have performed well despite the huge goodwill it once enjoyed. Could it be the fault of the President or those he empowered to work on his behalf whom you think are not doing well?
Before you arrive at those conclusions you must have the basis. You cannot conclude that the whole political system is not working well. Some things must be working and some might not be. However, in order to arrive at a very objective analysis and conclusion of this government, you must know where they are coming from. You must know what was on the ground before they came in. Usually in life you do not make progress on a faulty foundation. You need to rebuild that foundation first and then proceed. I think this government found itself in a very bad shape on account of what it inherited from past governments and that is what is needed to be fixed.
But that has taken over five years. And if that is the argument, people say when Olusegun Obasanjo came on board in 1999, when the military was leaving power, most of the institutions we have today were created by him. And that you cannot use five years to complain that you inherited a bad system?
You cannot compare Obasanjo and Buhari. They are two completely different people in their approaches to life and their approaches to governance. Inasmuch as I have high regards for Obasanjo, he was practically running a militarised system.
Is it different from what we have now?
It is different from what we have now.
But, don’t we still have most of those things we had during Obasanjo government in the present government?
Like which one?
If you look at current releases from the international community, you will see lack of freedom of the press; lack of tolerance for opposition and others?
Let me tell you. In Nigeria, in terms of opinion moulding, good or bad, the Southern press has a monopoly. In fact, there is no other press aside the Southern press. By nature, they are adversarial to government by nature, historically. They build up the narrative. And as it is said that a lie repeated over and over becomes a resemblance of truth. And, so, I do not think that if you cannot see anything positive at all in a whole system.
If you say the government has done well, why are Nigerians complaining?
There are over 200 million Nigerians. How many are journalists and how many read their write ups? Majority of Nigerians do not read those newspapers, magazine, or watch television. And their views are not carried along. Statistically, those samples are very low. You cannot carry a sample of 200,000 people and make their views national views of 200 million people. For people like us, that is how we see it. But in a democracy, you are free to say this government is oppressing the press. But you are saying the government is doing and nobody touches you. You can call Buhari any unprintable names like some of the pressmen do. You can write that he is no longer president, or he is a Major General and you get away with it. This is a democracy and you are free to do whatever you like. But you must also concede to the other side the right to also say their own.
If you look at the calibre of ministers and given the duration of four years which is short, do you think they are the right people…?
I must interrupt you here because you have come to the conclusion that the government has not delivered in four years. I do not share your views. The government has delivered.
I am talking of the next four years. What do you think?
We are not prophets or gods to tell what will happen in four years. All we can say is that on the basis of the policies and the methodology being employed, we see a better future. We can project what is happening now, but we cannot say with certainty that in four years’ time things will not be better. If you talk about Obasanjo did this and that, you need to know that government is a continuum. If Buhari’s government had decided to discontinue with projects initiated by past governments and start afresh, Nigerians will be a graveyard of abandoned projects. Therefore, in very descending and intelligent community they will know like the Bible says that some plant, some water and everybody shares the result. Take the issue of railway, for example, that Goodluck Jonathan started. Supposing this government did not complete it, what would have happened? It would have become a graveyard. So, you must evaluate the performance of government not purely on the basis of initiation, but also on the basis of completion of projects.
If you look at the entire country, there is this air of insecurity. Although, the government has tried in the area of Boko Haram unlike what we had in 2015. But people are saying that in place of Boko Haram, we now have banditry. What’s your take?
You are free to say that insecurity has worsened. When I was a young man, I worked in Delta State and I can tell you that when we went to parties in the night, we ran into armed robbers when coming home. You couldn’t sleep with your eyes closed. You dare not move from Warri to Patani. The place was so fearful. It was like we were caged. When I resumed for my NYSC after camp in Auchi in Edo State, on my way to Warri, I encountered about four dead bodies and heads severed in those days to the extent that when my relations heard that I was posted to Warri, the only thing they did not do was to dig a grave and buy a coffin. They did not think I will come back alive. Life has always been like that. I am not saying there is a certain category of insurgency. It has spread. But someone like me who is from Adamawa State, I lived almost all my life with herdsmen problems. But one thing I can tell you as a northerner is that I was a refugee. Boko Haram over ran my local government in Mubi North, Mubi South, Gombi. And for six months, I could not access my village, including the state capital. Now, I can drive to my village, sleep and do whatever I want. We have forgotten the history that there was something like that. In the border local governments with Borno, Cameron, that is were Madagali and Michika fall in. There is a big mountain range to the East under suspicion of the Sambisa forest. Our understanding as a community is that Boko Haram people have their bases there. So when they run out of food, they come down and raid the community. In the process they kill. They are not normal human beings. Essentially, they do not occupy any land in Adamawa.
What is the way forward in mitigating this? Is it to restructure the security architecture?
When I was a young man, because I am over 65 years, we used to know that government had the final responsibility for the security of a nature and the system as a whole. But every citizen has a greater responsibility to ensure that security is maintained. In those days, any visitor that comes to our village, first of all, we report to the village head then all the community members will know so that in the process of trouble you might know who has shady character. And there is a saying that if somebody leaves his place for years and comes to settle in your place, find out whether he has killed somebody. Now, we have abandoned those traditions. More so, if you enter a hotel as you fill the form, hotel owners would copy it and send to the Divisional Police Officer. Then they will follow up to confirm those visitors. Then if you have a son who is behaving irrationally, it is your duty to report him or her to the police. When I was growing up in police barracks with my uncle, there was this constable who came home with a brand new radio when other police knew that his income cannot purchase a radio. He was reported and the man was dismissed. So, this type of individual participation in the security of the system as a whole is no more there. I mean you will find armed robbers lodging in hotels for days, including yahoo boys mostly at the reception and just stay there without anybody asking them what they are doing. So, the society must first of all be the source of intelligence for society. Still in the police barracks, we used to have CIDs. And some of them would be everywhere, including the beer parlour disguising as shoe cobblers and bar tenders. That means the system was better. You do not expect me now as a police officer to go spend the whole of money in the night drinking beer and trying to get information. I will not afford it. Now the system has changed. So, how then do we get the intelligence that we need for preventing security problems? We don’t have. So, it is we the citizens that failed.
So, should the government be absorbed?
No, you can’t absorb the government, but we must provide information. It is the information you supply to the government that it acts upon.
In the absence of information, what can the three tiers of government do?
Without the information, government would be handicapped.
Is it safe to say that the inability of citizens to provide intelligence information is largely responsible for the insecurity we have?
That is my view, absolutely. Because if my son leaves the house and does not come back I should ask where he went to? If he kills somebody, it is going to be clear in his behaviour. The parents, brothers, sisters and neighbours would know that you are into something that is not normal. In those days, they will be the one to report you.
Recently in your state, Adamawa, a pastor was killed by Boko Haram insurgents despite promises or plans to pay the ransom. As a pastor, what is your view?
As a human being, first, you will begin to put yourself in his shoes at the time of captivity. It is a condition that you empathise with because it is terrible. Last week, I was reading Leviticus, where God said that anybody that kidnaps or kills, the penalty is death. Because God himself understands the implication of forcefully taking someone and the trauma it causes the family, friends and society as a whole, you cannot begin to imagine. If your friend or your father travels to Kaduna State and you expect the journey to be an hour and half and the time you phone and you are told that he has not arrived, you can imagine the instant worry of his wife and children. But we cannot begin to talk about Boko Haram because we do not understand why they do what they do. In fact, all terrorist groups. Even as I sit here, I can tell you that the girls amongst the Chibok girls, two of them are children of my cousin. A friend of mine, who is late now, an air Vice Marshal, his son was a Wing Commander Pilot. He was one of the first to be beheaded publicly on television. It took a long time for the family to accept it. Even as we speak, we have not seen the dead body yet. Then Leah Sharibu is from my local government. So, the whole society is traumatised on a personal level. All we can do is to pray like the Bible admonishes us to do. Only God can console the families of those involved.
That takes me back to the earlier question. Do you think government has done enough to put an end to these senseless killings, kidnappings because we still have girls in captivity who are yet to be released?
In this matter, I do not want to be involved in defending the government because it is going to be hurtful to the victims. The government has a role because the role it has been playing so far does not appear to have yielded the needed results in the sense that safety of an individual is paramount and when liberty is not guaranteed, all grammar would be in vain. I think government can still redouble its efforts. I am sure the security experts will look at the strategies if they’re working. But if this is the best we can have, then we have no choice than to pursue it. The problem could be other methods. But fundamentally, the security chiefs must look at the strategies because at the time they overrun our local government, we studied their modus operandi. Usually, three or five Boko Haram operatives will drive in on motorcycles. As they come, they enter a community and suddenly they will multiply into hundreds, which means they have sleeper cells in those communities. The implication is that they have sympathisers within the community. Before they recruit, they start with sympathisers. So, part of the ways we should manage ourselves was to look at everybody. The society should study everybody that they suspect or they know could be one of the sniffers and report them to the security personnel. Now, we are free from such people.
Do you think the new outfit being introduced by Southwest governors will be a solution to some of the problems that have defied common sense?
I do not know what the Southwest has in mind or do with their security outfit, so I cannot begin to tell whether it will succeed or not. I do not know the objectives.
At least, from recent discussions, some people are saying it poses a security threat and over time it would snowball into a militia group. What is your take?
I have to object when you say discussion. There has never been any discussion. There has been acrimony across the country. My own personal view about Amotekun is that, either there is more that meets the eye or the six governors have not managed the issue very well. When you are going to do this kind of security outfit, you must have a universal view. Security outfit in the Southwest is not only for the them. I used to go to Osun State to visit Rauf Aregbeshola by road because there is no other way I can go. I used to visit Kayode in Ekiti. So, it would be in my interest if I am sure that I will arrive safely and return safely. So, any security outfit that guarantees that, to me it does not have to be tribal or religious. So, these are part of the stakeholders management that the system has failed to see. To the extent that in the North and in the Southwest, the majority think that this outfit is targeted at them and they protest. I cannot understand when the Attorney General of the Federation, Malami say it is unconstitutional. What baffles me is Rotimi Akeredolu, who is governor of Ondo State and Chairman, Southwest Governors Forum. He’s Senior Advocate of Nigeria and he could not advise his colleagues on how to go about it. That is why I say there is something in it more than we see.
From the way it has been handled, does it pose any threat to the national security that those who are not from that region are suspecting?
We cannot predict. Let us see how they will perform and if they will perform. If the sense is to keep outsiders out of Southwest, then it is not a smart move because there are more Southwest people outside the region than there are other zones in the Southwest.
Aside that, there is the fear that politicians would cash in on it to eventually use them against their opponents. Do you share that view?
That is what is going to happen. Some of us that really oppose local police is because of that. The native authority police were principally used by the Emirs and Chiefs to oppress their subjects. So, we are afraid that such institutions in the hands of politicians might be something else.
But people have compared them with Hisbah; that there no major difference and that if they can exist in the North, why can’t it happen in the West?
Hisbah, in my understanding is a group set up by states to enforce religious laws. Hisbah applies in Kano State. I am a Christian. I am not subject to Sharia Court. It does not affect me, which has been made very clear. And essentially, because of the stakeholders management planning stage where everybody would be involved. When you use those kinds of terminologies, it means it is exclusive to the Yoruba. They are career troublemakers in Nigeria. They do not like to live with any other person. They cannot share with any other person. So, when they get into such narrative they give it a connotation that is not what the founders intended. And these are the ones dominating the narratives and discussions of such group. And consequently, other people are reacting to ways that are funny which will affect the social cohesion of the country. The other day, I read in the papers that North-central state governors were attending North-central zonal security summit. It was a rational reaction to an irrational issue.
But the governor of Katsina State, Bello Masari has said they may subscribe to the Amotekun ideology?
So, you can see that everybody is now going to have a security outfit.
Is it not good for the country?
It is a failure. And that is why we have a national police. Even in other democratic nations like the United Kingdom and Europe where, there is a London Police and Metropolitan Police. They’re a sought of a decentralised law structure. The only structure we cannot decentralise is the Army. India has it. But then, they must be backed up by the law. The reason we are confident in the Nigerian Police, is that there are extant laws. These laws define their role and the extent of their power over the citizens. The citizens are comfortable that the police cannot exceed its mandate. Now, this kind of zonal or personal police has no laws guiding their conducts. You see vigilante in the night creating roadblocks. Sometimes they torture people mercilessly because of no laws.
It is a failure of government at the centre as the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had claimed?
When PDP was in power, I went to Port Harcourt by road. When I was coming at the motorpark, I was wearing caftan and cap. The driver refused to carry me because they said I am an Hausa man. I had to remove those clothes and put on jeans and T-shirt in this country and for a man like me that lived in Warri for years and even considered myself a Warri boy, around 1991 or so. As we speak, I will think twice to drive by road from here to Benin.
Is PDP wrong to have blamed the creation of security outfit by regional government on the failure of the government at the centre?
It is hypocrisy. It is the Nigerian way of doing things. What today you hear is excellent, tomorrow you will hear a different thing. Anybody in PDP is an unreasonable person. They’re not objective. That’s why they are organising demonstrations. When Zamfara APC lost everything to PDP, did APC demonstrate? In Zamfara, they had finished the election. In Rivers, it was before the process.
Is it that the protest was uncalled for even when the constitution guarantees the right to air your views?
They have the right to protest. But we are right to call them hypocrites at that time they did not protest. They thought the Supreme Court was the best on earth when they won. So, we are right to call them hypocrites and not to take them seriously because what is good for the goose should be good for the gander.
You and Atiku Abubakar are from the same state. In 2015, he did not get it and the same with 2019. And there are rumours that he may likely contest in 2023. If you were to advise him, do you think that would be a smart move?
From inception, I was with Buhari’s political structure. We lost consistently before we eventually won. Well, in those days, we had this story of some Americans who tried five, six times and eventually won. Therefore, power belongs to God and He gives it to whoever He wills. But God did not tell you when your own will manifest. If some native doctors tell you then the devil is lying to you. So, it is not wrong to keep on trying until it is no longer reasonable. And how is it unreasonable? It is when you get to a certain age when you become so sick and weak. As long as you feel so healthy, think rationally, I do not think it is bad or wrong to contest. Meanwhile, Atiku Abubakar is not my friend. He is too senior in age, position in the society to be my friend. He was the vice president. I only managed to become Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) for two years. So, he cannot be my friend. But we get along very well. We relate. In fact, I like the guy. I used to tell people that as an indigene of Adamawa State, and if not because I am committed to other candidates that I feel he will do better, I probably would have worked for him. The guy is okay. He relates very well with people. I have seen people he has helped. I have seen people he has destroyed. I have seen people he has ignored. There is no particular reason to say because I am from Adamawa, he is my friend. In Adamawa, however, I think his political career has fatigued or it is over.
But the PDP under his leadership won in your state even when a sitting and a former SGF are from there. Why?
No. Forget it. Your enemy’s enemy is your friend. That is what happened. The APC mishandled us both at the centre and the state levels. The governor was determined not to have any primaries or congress to start with. I was one of the groups that opposed it. We met the national chairman and we told him. Impose Bindow on us, he will not win. We know the ground very well. They abused us. Some of them were saying that how can a governor lose nomination? We appealed to them to allow us do congress and bring into the party credible leaders who will run the affairs of the party, the APC constitution that says it is the majority of the delegate of congresses that elect the candidates for elections. So every governor wants to have 99.99 per cent from the executive from the local government to state to have his own appointee and that was what was happening. So, they did not listen to us. I cannot, for example, just because I am in APC vote somebody whom I think will be a calamity for my state. No. Politics is not madness. And in any case, the president mandated everybody to vote for whoever they like and who will do the job.
Governor Fayemi of Ekiti State granted an interview and said that the APC may seize to exist after Buhari. With the current crisis, do you share that view?
Maybe it is in Ekiti. He cannot talk nationally. I have held different positions in APC so I know the genesis of the trouble in the party. I know why it was formed. We know the objectives. To the extent that I know all the important persons in APC. So for Fayemi to say so, even though later I heard that he was quoted out of context. But I did also hear rumours that he might be one of those interested in a bigger role in government in APC. If truly he said that, it means he has no intention of remaining in APC. There are great men in APC that make it what it is. People have come into APC hoping to use the platform to achieve their ambition. They did not achieve it. They have gone and they come back again. They are great men in APC that understand what is at the heart of party politics. There is no PDP. Uche Secondus is the only person we know in PDP. Some of the governors are busy running their states; they do not play party politics. He calls for meetings, nobody attends. So, APC will remain. Bola Tinubu is a great man. Bisi Akande, Oyegun and members of the merger committee. Unfortunately, Fayemi would have been classified as the core leader of APC. But if he thinks APC will collapse after his governorship, then he is on his own.
2023 is not far and there are arguments that power will remain in the North, while some are saying it should come back to the South. Do you think the Southeast will get a clear shot at the presidency in 2023?
When Nigerians do this argument, I do not join them because my understanding of the dynamics of politics is the ambition of one person. He goes about canvassing for the delegates to nominate him as a candidate for the party as much as that is APC methodology. If somebody from Adamawa wants to be governor or president, it is not as if all of us in Adamawa will get together and support him because it is our turn. The issue is that every corner of the country has an ambition. Some will have while some might not have. These ambitious people that go round canvassing votes, it is the rank and file of the party that will begin to see who will win this election for us, because in politics if you do not win election it is useless. It is expected that if you emerge people from your place will vote for you because the closer you are to power the better for you. And the closer you are to a man who is in power the better for you. But it is over simplifying the issue. If people in Igbo land who want to be president and they are not ready to go round and canvass the nomination through different platforms and region, then they will never get there. Or in the North, for instance, if I decide to become president and I just stay here and do nothing, how will I win? The constitution did not say that in 2023, Adamawa people give us whom you want to be president.
Would it be fair to say that since they are always crying of marginalisation, the position of the president should be zoned to them?
That is not what gives ticket. What wins an election is a candidate that other parts of Nigeria will feel safe and comfortable with. I am not going to vote for a candidate that I know will destroy me. It could be my own person. If the person I know will best serve the interest of the country and he comes from the Southeast, I will vote for him or her. I have followed Buhari since 2003. He is a Fulani from Katsina State and a Muslim. I am a Christian from Adamawa, and because I felt that my interest and those from Adamawa would be well served if he were to be president. As you rightly pointed out, Atiku is against him and I did not feel like at that time Atiku’s presidency will serve my interest. Because when he was Vice President, he did not serve my interest. So, these are the issues that Southwest and Southeast must understand that sitting and crying marginalisation is not what gives the ticket. If you are talking about marginalisation, they were so many Igbo that contested the last election. My sister was one of Kingsley Moghalu’s campaign members. She talks about him as if he is Angel Gabriel. Why did the Igbo not vote him? Why did we not see all the votes from the Southeast go to him? Why did 99 per cent vote from that region go to Atiku, a Fulani man from Adamawa at the expense of their son? The first shock I had was during the 2014 APC convention in Lagos. My analysis, which turned out to be wrong was that Okorocha was the man we feared most because we felt that with five states and all the delegates would vote him as an Igbo man, and at that there was so much anti-Buhari sentiment. Supposing that sentiment remained in the polity of Adamawa people, he would get half and possibly carried the ticket. But Okorocha got all his votes from the North. Why are they (Igbo) saying they are being marginalised when they do not patronise themselves?
We got it from a grapevine that your friend Tinubu is planning to run in 2023. What’s your take?
I have known him very well and not a matter of being a friend. My knowledge of him is that he will make an excellent president. He has demonstrated that he is a good leader. He was a good governor of Lagos State. That is why all his successors are working on his footprint. Even though some of them wanted to claim that they know, they found out that the structure he laid is a solid one. People can insult him, but every governor consistently builds on his structure to the extent that Lagos State has consistently produced the best governors in their dispensation starting from Tinubu, Fashola, Akinwunmi and Sanwo-Olu, who is just starting. Another quality that he has which Nigerians must look at is that there was a time in the Federal Executive Council of 36, I think he had four. If you look at all other governors, the only one that handed over to his deputy was Zamfara and because he had no choice.
So, it is safe to say that you are advocating that power should shift to the Southwest in 2023?
I am not advocating that. I am advocating that the best man should take over from Buhari. And for now that best man is Bola Ahmed Tinubu who is from the Southwest by coincidence.