… Says Nigeria sliding into dictatorship
Desmond Mgboh, Kano
Alhaji Tanko Yakasai is one of Nigeria’s oldest politicians. He thinks that the revival of the June 12 presidential election is a worthy exploit, but advises President Muhammadu Buhari to complete the process by declaring the results of the controversial 1993 polls.
The elder statesman who is not a great fan of Buhari’s style of administration, insists that the country is tilting towards a dictatorship in the face of recent undemocratic happenings – the faceoff between the Senate President and the police high command, as well as the alarm raised by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. He also advanced reasons many Northerners, who supported the emergence of Buhari in 2015 would vote against him in 2019. Excerpts:
Sir, may we know your response to the proclamation by President Buhari that henceforth June 12 is Democracy Day?
In the first place, I think it is a good and welcome development in the sense that since the annulment of June 12 elections, Buhari has never spoken on the issue. So, it is generally believed that silence means consent. Since he has never spoken against it, it indicated that he was in full support even though he was not in government at the time of the annulment. But now that he has come out to speak in such a manner as to indicate that he thinks that the annulment or the arrest of the declaration of the winner of the election was not a proper thing, I will repeat that it is a good development. The only thing I would say is that it is very little and it came too late. But the English people would say that it is better late than never. Now, let us analyze the content, I mean the significance of the announcement. As you know, there is a Democracy Day before now, which was celebrated as a public holiday since the time of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Therefore, technically speaking, what has happened is not really a new thing. What Buhari did is just to change the date from the previous date to a new date, from May 20th to June 12th. What he did on the face of it looks big, but it is very insignificant to the issue of value. So, in addition to the declaration, I will like President Buhari to instruct INEC to collate the results of June 12, 1993 and declare the winner of that election because this is what is missing. That election was complete and the votes had been counted and the only thing missing was to count them and declare the winner of the polls.
Have you considered the implications of declaring the winner of the elections in terms of the commitment it would impose on the Nigerian state to the beneficiaries?
What is the significance of the announcement if it would not be supported by the actualization of June 12? It has no value. So many Nigerians have been awarded with national honours. I too was awarded with a national honour. So, what value would it add to Abiola? So, in order to make Abiola and the people who worked for him feel that their efforts have not gone in vain, INEC should be directed to collate the results and declare the winner. Now, we know that Abiola is no longer alive. But luckily, our Constitution has taken care of that by stating that even where the president, for one reason or the other dies, his running mate should be the beneficiary of the declaration. If Kingibe is alive, he can be recognized as the beneficiary in the absence of Abiola.
But have you thought of the legal implication? Some of these proposals that you have outlined, beautiful as they stand, are unknown to the constitution?
Did the constitution talk of June 12? Can you find anywhere in the constitution where the issue of June 12 was addressed? Crack your brain…. What the military usually do is that the decrees they promulgated prior to their handing over of power to the elected government would be incorporated into the new constitution, so that it should be part of the Acts handed over to the nation. Nothing like that was done. So, there is no serious legal implication.
Agreed that there is no legal implication, but in the light of the contentious nature of the declaration, wouldn’t you have recommended that the Buhari administration take it to the legislative arm for their input before making it public?
No! It is not my business…. I did not ask Buhari to revive the issue of June 12. I am sure that he must have considered all the implications – legal, political and otherwise. Because by this pronouncement, he has now revived the issue and he has given life to the June 12 issue. The logical conclusion is for him to complete the process that has been started.
Some see this exercise by President Buhari as a “settlement” to the likes of Tinubu, the South-west and the Yoruba in the light of the politics of 2019. Do you share in their view?
There is no doubt about that the action of Buhari in this regard, whether he admits it or not, it’s that of political jobbery and political opportunism. It is certainly designed to use his power of incumbency to canvass for votes from the people who are sympathetic to the Abiola’s issue, both from the South-west and from the rest of the country. In fact, it can be seen as an abuse of office.
But be that as it may, what is of concern to me is that to what extent has the declaration been of any quality value? This is my problem. It has no substantive value, it is merely cosmetic. For him, therefore, to get any credit for his action, he needs to take the correct action which is to ask INEC to complete the process which has been started. I share the view of the Senate on this matter. I think it is a worthy thing to do.
Some people in the North are uncomfortable with the revival of June 12. As a major player in the region and beyond, give us an insight about the mood of this category of Northerners?
Roughly out of 200 million Nigerians, about 110 million are in the North. There is nowhere in the world where 110 million people would think alike. So, whether some people are happy with it or not, is immaterial. The important thing is that Buhari has ignited this issue – which has been dormant for a very long time and what we are saying is that let him take the issue to its logical conclusion. Whatever you do, any way, there would be some people who would hold a different position and who may not be comfortable with it.
Should this matter be presented to the House of Representatives – where Northerners are predominant, do you think the president can fly?
As I said before, the matter is not legal… because there is no law that refers to June 12 annulment in our constitution. It was an executive action taken by the military in that capacity and now Buhari has all the powers to also take an executive action. By his position as the Chief Executive Officer of the Federation, he has all the powers to ask INEC to complete the process and there is no law that would stop him.
A former Chief Justice was quoted as insisting that President Buhari did not have the powers in law to undertake all this action?
Well, I didn’t get to read or hear his comment on the matter, but I would say that a former Chief Justice is only one out of millions of Nigerians. We are not talking of law here, we are talking of politics and he is an expert in his field – law – and I am an expert in my field – politics. And I have been in politics long enough to….
We have been treated to a recent drama by the police high command and the Senate President. May we know your position on the allegation against Senator Bukola Saraki?
About two years ago, I expressed the fear that we are sliding into dictatorship and I saw a situation where EFCC, DSS and the police may develop into something like Gestapo and the SS of Germany. And we are now, little by little, taking steps towards re-enacting that reality in Nigeria.
When you say we are taking steps towards reenacting, what exactly do you mean?
If the police can go and arrest a senator and put him in their wagon like a… isn’t that enough indication that a lot can come thereafter. Now, the Senate President is placed in a situation where he has been implicated by some suspects who are under pressure from the police. I don’t know if you have read a lot of these books on Gestapo and how they became what they were. I personally have read a lot about them. You know the SS of Germany, and Gestapo, they all started as regional police bodies and were eventually transformed by Hitler into national security outfits with enormous power to arrest everybody. The result was that the two bodies, firmly under the control of Nazi, intimidated virtually everybody in Germany – politicians, intellectuals, industrialists, civil society and the rest of them. Many of them were thrown into jail. This was the reason Hitler who had no majority in 1936 was able to take over power in Germany and retained that power for so many years until he was defeated in the Second World War.
I know you are not comparing Buhari …
I am telling you about a situation that is now emerging in Nigeria and I am warning that if care is not taken, it would turn into a Gestapo kind of situation.
Why do you think the president is not coming out to control his lieutenants against some of these acts in a democracy?
Well, if his lieutenants are doing what he wants them to do, why should he control them? It is only if he is in disagreement with them or with what they are doing; that is when he would control them. Didn’t you see when the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Services gathered people – and many Nigerians doubted the creditability of these people – to go and sit together with the president to endorse his candidature? How do you expect the Nigerian Customs to deal with those characters assuming they break the border laws since they have declared their support for the president?
It has been argued that the failure of the legislative arm to come up with a united stand has been responsible for their vulnerability before the president and his lieutenants. Is it true?
Minority would have their say, but the majority would have their way. What is the position of the majority in the National Assembly? It’s what we should see. Everybody must not think alike, but then we have to look at the position of the majority. The joint meeting of the National Assembly has given us an idea of where the pendulum is tilting towards in the coming days.
Do you see the National Assembly being able to invoke their powers on Buhari. We have seen a tradition whereby matters affecting his failings or defaults are quickly excused or masked by his sympathizers in the legislature?
The problem with the National Assembly in this regard is this…the president, by Obasanjo’s declaration, is the leader of the party. And the governors in their respective states are the leaders of the party. Now, we are approaching the primaries of the parties where some of the members would like to be endorsed. So, I will not be surprised if some of them who are looking for support from either the president or the governors are unwilling to partake in any move to check some of these things. However, part of the decision of the joint meeting of the National Assembly has spoken clearly.
Another interesting saga erupted in the week with former President Olusegun Obasanjo alerting Nigerians of a plot by Buhari to jail him?
If his alarm was before the Senate President’s episode, I would have held some reservation regarding it. But you remember that the Senate President on the floor of the Senate indicated that armed robbers arrested in Kwara State were being transferred to Abuja. He also alerted the Senate that he learnt from the governor of Kwara that they were being forced to implicate him. And a few days afterwards, the Senate President was invited by the police and the police said that it was in connection with the armed robbery incident. Ordinarily, I doubt that a man in the person of the Senate president, with amount of privileges and resources at his disposal long even becoming the Senate president and also taking into consideration also the resources he must have inherited from his father, the reputation of his family and his own reputation as a former governor, that he would allow himself to get involved in armed robbery. In addition, you would recall that the Inspector General of Police had recently said that the Senate president did not like him. I read it in the papers. Putting all these together, and I am aware that Obasanjo is openly opposed to the second term of Buhari and I am aware that some of the government functionaries, particularly those who are connected to the next election – the police, the security operatives, INEC, and so on, some of them have blind loyalty to the person of President Buhari…because some of them saw their appointment by him as a special favour because some of them may merit their appointment, but there are quite a few of them who do not merit their appointments. I would not be surprised, therefore, if the alarm raised by Obasanjo becomes true. I now tend to believe him rather than disbelieve him in the light of what has just happened to the Senate President.
A fight between incumbent President Buhari and former President Olusegun Obasanjo, certainly, is going to be a thriller, but on a serious note, do you think it is going to be an easy fight for Buhari?
It is not a question of an easy or a difficult fight. It is a question of who has the powers over the other at the present moment. Let me tell you, if you have not read it you better read it. Dictatorship does not happen overnight. It is a gradual process and all of it is predicated on the desire to control political power. All dictators in this world are driven by desire, by an inordinate ambition to control power.
A lot of people, especially those outside the North, have asked the question whether Buhari can retain the kind of grip he had on the North in 2015 as we go to 2019. What is your response to this question?
It was not grip (that he had on the North). It was a support…. And that support is no more there. Of course, there are some people who would support him because he is doing what they want. There are a lot of the common people who would support him because he is arresting the so- called – big people. As long as he would arrest ministers, former governors and so on, irrespective of the whether the laws have been followed, he would get their support. This group is not looking for better life in the country, they are not looking for any positive change in their community, they just want the big man to suffer. We have people like this among us and you will continue to have them. There are also people in the North who expected Buhari to perform. Now, Buhari has confirmed to everybody that he lacked the capacity to perform as the President of Nigeria. This is because if after three and half years, he has done nothing to show by way of legacy, I don’t think if you give him another 10 years a difference would be made. These people are no longer with him. If you look at Dogonyaro’s announcement when they took over from Buhari in 1985 or so, the complaint then, was that of not consulting his colleagues, he was running a one-man show. And this is what we are having today. Most of the people who are supposed to be consulted are not being consulted. And this is one of the reasons most of those who supported him the last time are not supporting him anymore.