Desmond Mgboh, Kano
Former governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido, is reputed for his bluntness. A very strong power broker during the reigning days of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and one-time Minister of Foreign Affairs believes that the play-out in Bayelsa State, in which his party, the PDP was surprisingly defeated, could not have happened if former President Goodluck Jonathan was not held by the balls by the Muhammadu Buhari administration, saying that he traded his party for his freedom.
Lamido also spoke on the clamour by some people for a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2023, saying that he would rather subscribe to the emergence of a quality political leader for the country than allocating the Presidency to any particular zone, tribe or region.
He equally condemned the hate speech bill that is currently before the Senate, describing the members of the All Progressive Congress as the inventors of hate speech and its politics in Nigeria. Excerpts:
May we have your impression on the recent elections in Bayelsa State. What in your view was responsible for your party, PDP, losing such a vital state to your rival?
I think that before I answer or make my opinion about the Bayelsa election, there is need to reflect and ask ourselves, what are we as Nigerians? What are we as a nation and as a people? I am saying this because if we know who we are as a people or as Nigerians and as brothers and sisters… then some of our actions as individuals, to me, are a little bit weird. As a people, we must have character, which we claim is a Nigerian character. And from there, we will begin to have what I call a benchmark for our people, below which we should not tolerate. And if we have benchmark that would guide us as a people, if we have a national character, we wouldn’t have been doing what we did in these elections, not only in Bayelsa State, but in Nigeria. Because in every elections in Nigeria, there are complaints and invariably the complainants, who claim that they have been cheated, end up being worse than what we were before. And the key players in the country, the Nigerian actors, don’t always in their action begin to see the bigger picture of the country. If you take a big cycle and call it Nigerian space, and if you take the radius, you will find that if the radius is about maybe 50 meters, you find that from the centre to about five meters in length within the radius is where the entire activities – interests, anger, vengeance, deceit, fraud…you know, anything which takes away our character is there in that small cycle within that radius. And we fail to know that our interest collectively, whether they are selfish or otherwise, is within the bigger picture, within the larger radius, because if the larger radius is safe, it means that in the small space we are operating, there can then be a space. But if we destroy the smaller arena that we are operating from, then the larger cycle caves in. This is what I think defines Nigeria’s elections, including that of Bayelsa and Kogi states.
Now, what about the conduct of these elections?
The conduct of the elections were held under the custody of the Federal Government headed by Buhari. At one time, he had been through elections and he lost at about three times or so. Some of the excuses he made for the loss were very, very weird. For instance, when he first entered politics in 2003, he ran under the umbrella of APP – we talk about party primary like in Zamfara State, when we talk about transparency in the process, Buhari was never in ANPP. He simply from nowhere walked into the arena on the day of their convention and displaced Liman Jibril, displaced Rochas Okorocha, Birmah, displaced Yerima and all those who have been the core members of the ANPP, who had made so much sacrifice with the ANPP, who were the crux of the ANPP as at that time, they are the ones who are running, but Buhari came from nowhere like a pirate and sacked them all and picked the ticket. When the election came between him and Obasanjo, the PDP had about 27 states or there about while ANPP had about, I think, nine. With the history of the PDP in 1998 formation where Buhari was absent, with the history of party formation… where Buhari was absent, yet he claimed that he won the election, expecting those he displaced to be eager to work for him…in their convention because he displaced Yerima, Liman Jibril and all other key players of the party. When he lost he didn’t blame the entry into politics and the way he came in rather he was blaming PDP that the elections were rigged. He went to court, up to the Supreme Court. In all fairness, in all sincerity, could he have defeated the PDP in 2003? To be honest! But then he said he defeated PDP. In 2007 again, in the same party, the ANPP, when Yar’Adua was running – Yar’Adua, a thorough bred politician with a very solid history and tradition of politics in their own family, a core Northerner, a core Fulani man; everything Buhari can claim to have, Yar’Adua had them better. And he said he rigged over him. And the same political parties, ANPP was shrinking. He ran against Yar’Adua and Atiku ran against Yar’Adua in ACN. And Buhari ran against Yar’Adua. Atiku claimed to have won the election and also Buhari claimed that he won the election. They went to court. If you look at the family of bond between these three characters – Umaru Yar’Adua, Buhari and Atiku, if you look at the strong family bond among these three, yet they went to court, they went to tribunal and lost. They went to Supreme Court and lost and Buhari said that it was an unfair judgment. I am saying this just to give you the background. And all along Nigerians are watching because the action of the leader defines the behaviour of the followers. In 2015, all the key players in Nigerian politics, who defined politics by their personal interests or by what they want to be or who feel a kind of vengeance and are angry, came together and defeated PDP and Jonathan. And all the PDP senior members were part of this conspiracy. So, Buhari came to power. And if you look at history of not conceding to elections, of his anger and vengeance at any loss…and his commitment to the integrity of the process, even saying that anybody who had not been paying salaries should not be voted. He said so. The elections in Kogi and Bayelsa, look at the violence, look at the treachery in Bayelsa. I can’t imagine Sylva and Jonathan being on the same frequency. It is something that I have never ever dreamt of in my life. Sylva and Jonathan being on the same frequency with the wife against Dickson, because I know Dickson’s role under Jonathan’s government. I know what we all did together. But then, you see I have come to a conclusion that as far as Nigeria is concerned, we want to have a great nation, but then we have no benchmark. We want to have a bigger future, but we have no character. And, therefore, our personal prejudices and personal anger against each other determine how we support or oppose a candidate. And so, in Bayelsa obviously we couldn’t have lost. But because Jonathan is very, very angry with Dickson, very, very angry with him, he was at ease to have aligned with Sylva , the very person he said would not run – there is something also. They are holding him by the balls. Because he (Jonathan) sure knows his problem with Buhari and with this government. And the issue of Malabo, I think, played a key role, I said so. So, the election were won and lost by PDP. PDP history, PDP tradition and Jonathan were behind him. That I can say anywhere because the issue of Malabo is an issue I know very well. I had cause to discuss it with him. While he was the president and I was in office, I went and told him about it. I told him and I also gave a radio interview to an FM in Abuja, which Daily Triumph picked, where they said a minister under Jonathan got almost 150 million dollars Malabo scan – Governor Lamido. And when Reuben Abati came to debunk it or to abuse me, I went to Reuben Abati, I know what I am saying, can we go to the Villa, I discussed this with Jonathan. I told him about it. Let us go. What I am saying is that obviously because the leadership of the APC and the government are blackmailing Jonathan and I think I can say it anywhere that he traded this for his own freedom.
Because I can’t imagine a former president selling his own state to the opposition – to the very party which called him names, which demonized him, which evilized him, called him anything unprintable and even called his wife names because we as leaders have no character, have no benchmarks, personal pains, personal anger prevent us from seeing the bigger picture. That was how Buhari came in and those who voted for him are screaming. All of them who voted him, what do they fear, EFCC.
So, what do you make out of the violence in our elections? In the two elections we are talking about, we saw pictures of gunshots, pictures that look like a replay of the Nigerian civil war – gunshots everywhere. What is your take?
You see Desmond, you are missing the point. The action and behaviour of leaders impact on their followers. If we allow anger to determine how we act, ignoring the bigger picture, in the process to appease our anger, we do things wrong, the followers will also learn. They can then vent the anger through violence. If on an account of our ambition of trying to be leader, I will tell lies just to get votes – on the economy, on subsidy, on dollar equivalent, just to get power. The younger generations are also learning that kind of thing. So, it means that in trying to attain political power, anybody can say anything. In trying to avenge the personal grudges of somebody, so, the behaviour of the followers – the gunshots, the violence – they reflect the character of Nigerians. You cannot have leaders who have nothing, but vengeance and selfishness defined in their character and you think the followers will not go their way.
There are calls that Jonathan should be suspended following his alleged roles in the Bayelsa elections, do you see Jonathan likely being called to account for his alleged actions?
To me, when you say PDP, 80 per cent of the stronghold of APC is PDP; you know it. Anybody who was anything in the National Assembly between 1999 to 2015 was PDP. Anybody who was anything today in Government House was PDP. So, to me, betrayal is part of the hallmark of the party. Tell me anybody who has not betrayed PDP? Anybody you can think who PDP had honoured and dignified and made, who PDP invented that has not come to hurt PDP.
A sister newspaper carried a story, “Jonathan to be suspended,” do you see this as a possibility?
To me Jonathan is a creation of an accident hoisted by Obasanjo on Nigeria. I don’t think in terms of looking at the Nigerian landscape, outside the office he occupied, I don think you can rate him as a leader outside the office he occupied. I really don’t talk about him as somebody who should be punished for what he did. It doesn’t make sense. What I am saying is that people have done worse than Jonathan. People who are senior to him, people who are more elderly than Jonathan and who offer bigger option than Jonathan. Naturally, it is his home state, otherwise he is simply copying from his political elders and leaders.
What is the way forward now because I have heard APC members saying that this issue would resonate in the 2023 elections- you hurt me today, I hurt you tomorrow? How do you see it?
This is the same thing that is happening in APC – “hurt me today, I hurt you tomorrow”. I mean the former governor of Zamfara State is there. Comrade Adams Oshiomhole is there. Buhari is there. They are hurting each and one another. Today, it is between Adams Oshiomhole and his governor in Edo State, it is the same thing. So, it is the Nigerian character of simply being consumed by the present pains that we are going through. On account of my own personal disappointment, pain or anger or ambition, I can do anything. We should not on account of anything, either personal ambition or because we are hurt by someone’s action, do something which would destroy the bigger, which means that we need to have national benchmark of behaviour, a national character so that as a people, there are things which we know we would not do, no matter the level of pains or disappointment or ambition.
There is this bill on hate speech that is right before the Senate. Some are linking it up with shutting up the voices of Nigerians towards the next election…the third tier stuff. Hate speech plus death penalty, what’s your take?
Before the advent of APC, hate speech is not in our vocabulary as a country. These are part of the APC legacies, which they are now bequeathing to Nigeria because they invented hate speech. They incite, they malign and they blackmail. I mean if you come to Jigawa State or to the North and call me (Sule Lamido), a Christian. That is hate speech. Because in Islam, for anybody to be seen to have renounced Islam, the punishment is death. In Islam, if you say I renounce Islam, even though there is no court, which may likely try me, you are asking people to kill me. And when you say Sule is a Christian, it is like saying that when you find him, kill Sule Lamido. That is hate speech. I was called anti-North. You know that Buhari during his campaign asked his supporters openly to cast your votes, stay there, defend it and if you are touched…it is there. When you say that there is a bill about hate speech, whatever punishment you are calling for, let it have a retroactive effect, like the very decree Buhari made in 1983 about that issue of drugs which was given a retroactive effect or which roped in previous offenders on drugs and they were killed. You remember that. So, if this bill comes into force, it should be with retroactive effect so that those who introduced hate speech in Nigeria should also be punished for the same thing. It is because they are now being consumed by their own conduct, by their own style, by their own character of politics, that is why they are now thinking of punishment. Today, if you see the rate of hate speech in social media, that is what they copied from their leaders – insults, abuse, blackmail, printing falsehood, pure lies just to get political advantage.
The judgment of the Supreme Court on the 2019 Presidential election elicited mixed feelings among Nigerians. What’s your response to the judgment?
I am not trying to be evasive in answering your question. To me, the kind of country we have and the people running the country determine the character. All of us, given the chance, I think would do things for our interests. The Supreme Court is made up of Nigerian members, the Nigerian family, Nigerian people. They are not angels from heaven. They are not! They have their own places, they have their own shortcomings and they have their own misdemeanors. They are human beings and they can make some mistakes. But then when authorities specifically begin to blackmail you on your normal human shortcomings, demanding perfection in character from you, otherwise you are in trouble….They are human beings. What I am saying is that if you think that they were afraid, if you think that they are cowards, how many people have joined APC simply because they are afraid! How many people? How many businessmen have kept quiet because they are afraid, how many Mallams have kept quiet because they are afraid? So, these things should not be isolated. They are part of the Nigerians family, they are human beings. How many pressmen have kept quiet because they are afraid? If you don’t keep quiet , then you are in trouble. It is simply an issue of survival. I think that the first instinct of a human being is safety.
But sir, do you think their judgment on the matter is above board?
I am in PDP. PDP lost the elections. My party appealed to the Supreme Court. So, it means that I am an interested party. APC won judgment and to them, it is a perfect decision because they gained by that. But to me, I am injured. And if you ask me, naturally I am bitter. But then again, since it is in the same Nigerian arena, some are bitter, some are happy.
Let us talk about 2023 Presidency. One of the names that is making the early rounds is Bola Tinubu, the godfather of politics in APC. Do you see his journey as one that would make impact?
I am being guided by the Nigerian Constitution, which confers some rights to Nigerians. As far as I am concerned, any Nigerian, North or South, has the right to aspire for the presidency, I mean any Nigerian has the right to aspire for any position. And you cannot take away this right from Tinubu simply because he is Tinubu. He has the right to. Why not?
But would he make any impact?
That is something else you are asking. Then you are talking of hypothesis; isn’t it? If he wants to run, he has the right to run and he is free to run. And it is for Nigerians to make up their mind who they want. It is not a North or South option. It is for Nigerians.
A related question on Tinubu is the bullion van that drove into his premises shortly before the elections. Some Nigerians have demanded an investigation by the EFCC. But the EFCC has not responded, what is happening?
It is because Nigerians easily forget. They are talking about now, today and now, now. What about yesterday? Nobody gives a damn. If we reflect, when the EFCC was created under Obasanjo, at that time, the cry then was the EFCC was only prosecuting those who are in the opposition. Remember? And I called to make a point saying that once you make a law, ignore the whole thing, look at the intention of the law, what is it trying to establish. If you were saying that Obasanjo is victimizing the opposition, Obasanjo will one day leave office and the same law will be there and those who felt protected under Obasanjo would now be exposed, isn’t it? Look at me now, am I not in EFCC? I am there now. What I am saying is that you should ignore the shorter interest, look at the intention of the law. What is the law trying to preserve? If in its application, you think that it is onesided, tomorrow the side may change. If you think that Tinubu cannot be prosecuted over the bullion van because he is an APC chieftain, by the time this government leaves, the thing will still be there. So, why are you in a hurry? There are people who committed offences in other countries some 20 years ago and they have been tried, some were found guilty, some were discharged. So, let us stand on the principle of the law and ignore now its application. Like during Obasanjo, the law was seen to only favour those in PDP and to harass and punish those in other parties. Today, the equation is being reversed, isn’t it. And, therefore, those who felt protected are now on the receiving end. Let their innocence save them.
The Southeast are very loud in demanding that in the spirit of zoning, which your party represents, they should be given a shot at the Presidency of Nigeria in 2023. How do you see this proposal?
You see, if you look at my political history, right from the days in the PRP, I am more concerned about the quality of Nigerian leadership, to lead Nigeria and Nigerians. So, to me, locating it to a particular tribe or region or zone doesn’t make sense to me. Looking at the past, I will say that we were compelled by the circumstances of June 12 to devise a mechanism to be able to appease those who felt offended by June 12. I mean it was part of the resolution of the June 12 crisis. They were offended, they won the elections and they were denied. So, it was to appease them and to restore the Nigerian confidence in each other, that yes we are a single family. Not a family that is only for the North that would be producing Nigerian presidents. That was why we zoned it to he Southwest. That is all. And the purpose was that particular thing to resolve and cure the injury. The injury is over, but now it is becoming part of us as a culture, holding tight to it for our own whatever reason. And that is why people are saying that it is our own turn. It should only be Nigeria’s turn. I remember an incident with Edwin Clerk when I was having a meeting with the president at the Villa. He was saying that he is our son and I said Sir, he is not your son, he is Nigerians’ son. We have become imprisoned, we have become victims of all these because simply we are more concerned about promoting the ephemeral rather than the altruistic. As far as I am concerned, what I want in Nigeria is quality leadership. A leadership which is responsible, which is accountable, which is humane, which would be there for human development and human beings are both in the North and South, Christians and Moslems…we should look for somebody who is going to be a Nigerian leader for all Nigerians, for all tribes, for all zones and for religions, which means the focus should be on the capacity of such a leader to render service to Nigerians.