From Noah Ebije, Kaduna
Senator Abubakar Girei represented Adamawa Central Senatorial Zone from 1999 to 2003. In this interview, he recalled his experience as first timer lawmaker, at the time, the kind of politician former President Obasanjo is, efforts made by a group of Senators to truncate Obasanjo’s third term ambition, and why he (Obasanjo) would never accept that he was behind such an ambition.
You appear to have been very quiet on the political scene, what is happening?
I know I have been avoiding you, and the reason is simply because, even though there are a lot of things to talk about, I simply decided to keep away from the press. Even now, it is only you that I have decided to grant this audience; otherwise I have been keeping away from the press. I am surprised that you are beginning with the issue of 2019 election. But as far as I am concerned, 2019 is still very far away, and to me all those talking about 2019 now are either mischievous or are simply not sensitive to the reality of the situation in this country.
What is the reality of the situation in the country as you just pointed out?
We are talking about a government that is just about 21 months old, a government that has 4-year tenure for a start, with the hope of another four years term. And people are already talking about 2019 election. To my mind, we should stop talking about 2019 election for now, and concentrate our attention on supporting the present government in place, so that at least, they will be able to deliver dividends of democracy to our country and our various states. Be that as it may, I will quickly tell you that I have no further political ambition anymore. I have no intention whatsoever of contesting election anymore, and I have many reasons for that.
What are the reasons?
I will keep those reasons to myself for now, except one simple reason that I will not hesitate to say at anytime, and that is, the way and manner the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has bastardised internal democracy and the democratic space in Nigeria, generally. This has schemed out a good number of politicians; it has destroyed quite a number of us to the point that we have completely lost interest in politics. So for now I have no intention of contesting any election.
But you’re part of the mega party, ADP?
I thought that I have already addressed this issue. I read it just like you read it in the newspapers, and I quickly issued a press statement to that effect, and I disassociated myself completely from that insinuation.
You blamed PDP for discouraging you from playing active politics, do you regret joining APC, considering the hunger in the land?
(Laughter) I don’t think you people (Journalists) are being realistic. What we are experiencing today, as far as I am concerned, as far as any rational thinking politician in this country is concerned, what we are going through today was as a result of the misdeeds of the past, of bad governance of PDP in the last 16 years. APC has nothing to do with it, APC simply inherited these things. Everything that is happening today was prophesised by the likes of the present Emir of Kano; Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, when he was governor of the Central Bank, Okonjo Iweala, and several Nigerians have already told us as far back as 2013/2014 that unless something drastic happened, Nigeria by 2015, 2016, 2017 was going to be in a very terrible economic situation. And that is exactly what we are going through today. APC is only trying its very best to minimise the effect of the 16 years of misrule by PDP. So we are privileged that at this point in time we have the likes of President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC as a ruling political party in government, otherwise things would have been terrible in this country.
But you were a Senator on the platform of PDP, are you not part of the rot?
If it is simply because I am part of PDP, I am part of the problem, yes. I cannot run away from that because I had been in PDP all these years. But you also know that in PDP, there are a thousand and one PDP founding fathers like me who have tried their very best to change the situation, but failed to do so. So will you hold me responsible when I have made several attempts to draw the attention of the people responsible, to do things right but they failed to do so? As far back as 2002, I, Abubakar Girei granted an interview focusing on this nation that from the way and manner I saw governance was been handled then, that if care was not taken, President Olusegun Obasanjo was very likely to be the greatest threat to our democracy, I said it in 2002, and I was quoted. He was the greatest threat to our democracy. And by 2006/2007 it was very obvious, when he tried to remove every other obstacle on his path, to make himself a life President in this country. That was the threat that we foresaw as far back as 2002. The 24 of us that were identified as Chuba Okadigbo group in the Senate as far back as in 2002 were all marked, not to return to the Senate or get any other elective office in this country. It happened to us. None of us neither came back to the Senate nor got the party’s ticket for any election.
How did other PDP stakeholders react to the development then?
The same way we were treated, that was how other major political stakeholders in this country were treated, including his Vice President, you all know what happened. A number of people died mysteriously, including Chuba Okadigbo himself. I was with him in Kano when he was virtually killed. This thing happened over many years ago, and unfortunately, even if the people on the political scene have changed, the situation continues, it is like anybody that comes, will just continue and even do worse than the previous one. As this was happening, the governors became gods in their respective states, and started playing god. Almost everyone that got an opportunity either as Chairman of local government or governor, or President, were virtually playing god. Now if you as an individual try to correct the situation, and they fail to listen to you, can you be blamed as being part of the problem? I don’t think that will be fair. And I can assure you that there were many of us who were seriously condemning what was happening, but we were never liked. At a point, we set up a group called G21 under the chairmanship of Ken Nnamani with the present governor of Katsina state, Aminu Masari, as the Vice Chairman. I was the Secretary General. That group ended up by demanding for reform of PDP as a political party. We got quite a number of people to join us, including the present governor of Kaduna state, Nasir El-Rufai and others. They joined us. We wanted to reform the PDP in order to make it more democratic, and more people oriented. At the end of the day, most of us were even threatened with sack, while others were sacked from the party. You all know this happened. So under this circumstance, how can you blame those, the few that have tried to correct the situation?
In that case, have you forgiven Obasanjo?
I have nothing personal against Obasanjo, nothing personal. Nigerians rose to the occasion and prevented him from his third term ambition, from being a life President in this country. That was more than enough. Secondly, quite a number of things happened that I am sure also taught him a lesson, for him to know that he is not God, and cannot be God. But in spite of all these, Obasanjo remains a very smart person, today, I can say without fear of contradiction, that apart from President Buhari, Obasanjo is the second most powerful person in Nigeria. He is so, simply because he is smart, and that is why he is still denying the third term bid. One thing about Obasanjo is that he knows this country very well, and you can hardly pin him down as being either supporting one religion or one ethnic group or whatever. All these small primordial issues, you can’t pin him down to any, which is why today, he is still very relevant.
Is that why he is already making moves to support the Igbo race for the 2019 presidency?
I don’t think that is his real plan, but he can try that because he is the kind of person that wants to be seen to be the one producing leaders in this country.
What is your take on Atiku and Sule Lamido’s presidential ambitions?
Yeah, they have every right to do so, and they are immensely qualified to do so. There is no doubt about that. But you see, any person who has been around in the politics of this country, will see that from all indications, the next president of Nigeria after Buhari, even if Buhari is going to spend another 10 years, is likely to be a much younger person. He is like to be a much younger person. He is likely to be somebody who the generality of the youth of this country will trust. It is very unlikely for anybody who is corrupt to become President of Nigeria after Buhari because anybody that has any iota of doubt, any incriminating, not evident, even allegation against him, may not make it. Anyone that is perceived to be corrupt will not be allowed to smell the seat of presidency of this country. The way things are going now, Nigerians have now become very much aware that their leaders in the past have looted this country dry, and they will not want to come close to any looter, they will not give any looter an opportunity to come to any position of power. So it is very unlikely for anybody who has any incriminating record in the past to smell the seat of the presidency.
Tell us those Nigerians that are likely to emerge presidential candidates, those you think are blameless?
The Nigeria of 2019 is going to be very different from the Nigeria of today, talk less of Nigeria of yesterday.
Your support for Buhari appears not to be as strong as the one you gave Jonathan, is that correct?
How do you mean? How do you know my support for Buhari?s
It is because I have not talked since I joined APC till today, maybe that is why you are talking like this. And even during Jonathan’s era, you remember when you, you in particular (reporter) quoted me in your paper that I was ready to die for Jonathan. You remember I attended a conference, over two or three days, and immediately after that I came here for a weekend, and we met and I granted you that interview. It was what happened in particular at that conference that actually endeared me to Jonathan. First of all, he was there throughout the three days workshop, of all the civil society organisations, Non Governmental Organisations, and the professional bodies. And Jonathan was always there prompt at 10 o’clock, and he would stay there till around 5.30 pm when it closes. And also during the contribution, the input that was made in that conference, was without any interference from the government and at the end of the day, the communiqué that was read, had no interference from government. He promised to implement the decision of that workshop. That was what made me to make that statement then. But to my outer disappointment, Jonathan did not implement even one, out of the 12-point communiqué that we arrived at, not even one. One of which at that time was to make sure that Boko Haram was routed out of the north- east before the end of 2013. The central thing was to come out bold and fight corruption, but instead of coming out boldly to fight corruption, he was really supporting corrupt practices in his government. And these were what destroyed him.
But now you can see clearly that corruption is being fought, you can see clearly that insecurity is being addressed properly, so those things that made me to say that I was going to die for Jonathan at that time are the same things that President Buhari is now pursuing very vigorously. So if today I say I can die for Buhari, I can say this without fear of contradiction because Buhari is doing exactly what is in my mind, what I very much cherished to see being done in my country because that is what I believe will make the difference in our lives in this country. The welfare and wellbeing of Nigerians is very much dependent on how secured this country is and how corrupt- free we are. There is no way we can make progress without fighting corruption to a standstill. At the rate the government was supporting corrupt practices in the past; there was no way we could have avoided the recession we are in today.
With this your strong support for Buhari now, how did you react to rumours of his death some weeks ago?
I was seriously disappointed, but again, to some extent I was happy because of the belief that I have that anybody that is so rumoured, as being dead, will live long life. So for that I was happy for him. This type of rumour happened to Obasanjo several times in this country. It happened several times even in this Kaduna, you know it, and I will not mention names. But they all turned out to be healthier than those that they were praying for their death. And they all outlived them. So I have no doubt, Buhari will come back much healthier and stronger than before, and he will not only complete his first term, but if it is the Will of Nigerians to go for the second term, he will complete the second term successfully.
We learnt there are Atiku and Nuhu Ribadu factions in Adamawa. Where do you belong?
I am hearing this for the first time from you. I don’t know of any Nuhu Ribadu faction in Adamawa. In fact, there cannot be Nuhu Ribadu faction in Adamawa APC. I told you, one of the things that made PDP to lose Adamawa is the issue of Nuhu Ribadu. This is somebody who was not a PDP man at all, he was in APC, when Jonathan brought him out and forced him down our throats as the candidate of the party without due process, jettisoning almost the democratic tenets of our party, including refusing to do a proper primary in Adamawa. So how can such a person have a faction today in Adamawa? So there is no faction like that in Adamawa. There is one single APC in Adamawa, and our governor, Bindow Jibrila is the leader of the party. Of course, we have many major stakeholders like former Vice President, former governors and so many of them, major stakeholders in APC. But we have no faction in APC.
What is your take on Professor Ango Abdullahi’s position that the North was now ready for Nigeria’s break up?
I am sure he did not speak on behalf of the ACF; he may have spoken on behalf of the elders’ forum or made a personal comment. This definitely is not the stand of the ACF. I think what is the popular opinion in the north today is that if anybody insists on breaking away from this country, we will not fight to prevent him from leaving the country, he is free to do so. Those that are making noise about breaking away from this country are the greatest beneficiaries of this country. In fact, they are the owners of this country. I know the generality of the people from south- east in particular, where the noise about Biafra is coming from, are totally not in support of the breakup of this country because they know they own Nigeria, the bigger, the better for all of us. Go to my village, you will find them there. Go to anywhere in this country, they are there, living comfortably, owning properties. There is no single tribe in this country that can boast of that. The fact that they allowed some miscreants, of course, I call them miscreants or ill informed persons among them, to be peddling this type of story to their detriment is not surprising, it is because they are not very sagacious politicians. This is making them to lose out in many fronts in this country. Unless and until the Igbo come out and identify solely with the Federal Fepublic of Nigeria as one united entity, I don’t see how an Igbo man will aspire and succeed in being President of Nigeria. I don’t see it. You cannot be talking about Biafra, and then be talking about being President of Nigeria
You joined APC at a time some Nigerians are saying that without President Buhari, APC was a dead party. How do you feel hearing this?
It is only in Nigeria that we continue to over blow the importance of party. Party is simply a platform for actualising political expressions. As soon as elections are over, governments are formed; political parties should be played down. The parties will just remain, maybe, as think tank of their governments, to offer advice. They are not the government. So since the present administration is very stable, the party has no problem whatsoever. That is why you will continue to see people trooping in from all the other political parties, to the APC, more so because PDP is dead, PDP died long time ago. In Adamawa, PDP died on 14th March before the presidential election. They took the party away from us and gave it to a non party man. Not only that they went and brought somebody who was never in PDP, not even for a single day, Ali Modu Sheriff, to come and become national chairman, I mean, this is absurd, this is ridiculous, and we said it from day one, as soon as he was brought in, we said oh!, they have appointed an undertaker to take PDP to its final place at the cemetery. Is that not where they are now?