A former Nigerian Ambassador to Switzerland and member, Board of Trustees of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Yahaya Shagayya Kwande has recommended death penalty for corrupt judges including those arrested recently by the Department of State Service (DSS), on allegations of corruption, if found quilty.
In an exclusive interview with the duo of MURPHY GANAGANA and GYANG BERE at his residence in Jos, Plateau State, the 87-year-old northern leader said the affected judges should be executed for allegedly indulging in graft, an act he compared to killing the poor masses.
The maverick politician also spoke on other national issues, including the crises in the APC, former vice president Atiku Abubakar’s presidential ambition, and revealed that contrary to a widely held view, Atiku spoke the minds of northern leaders when he recently called for restructuring of the nation.
You are a member of the Board of Trustees of the APC and your party is in deep crisis. How worried are you?
I am not worried because the description does not fit the situation I know. If my party does not have crisis within, I wouldn’t have seen it as a political party and wouldn’t have believed that we have a democracy since there is no disagreement. When you have a group of people working together and people are allowed to express their views, there must be disagreement. I don’t call it crisis; it is Journalists and other people that called it crisis and describe it as a deep one. As far as I am concerned, my party is on track and since it has a history of bringing different people from different backgrounds to form the association and we are in the second or third year, then the assimilation may not have been completed.
People feel what is happening is a manifestation of the clash between Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu and President Buhari. The speculation is that Tinubu’s target is Buhari, but he wants to get at him through Oyegun. Is that the true situation?
I would have loved to train as a journalist so that I can cook up stories and put it in the minds of other people; what you have said is your opinion. Tinubu had assisted Buhari to be where he is today, but no matter how big Tinubu is, he couldn’t have done it alone. There are other people who helped in getting Buhari to where he is and if Tinubu think that he was the only one who made Buhari, he is making a very big mistake. If he had made some demands as a result of his contribution to making Buhari president, that is legitimate, but other people may also have gone the same way and they might have clashed; that doesn’t make it a crisis.
The reason for wanting to be in government should be to serve the masses. Where people now have parochial interests they pursue leading to a conflict of interest, does that justify their being in government?
Well, you must have been knowledgeable enough to know that we are a developing country and we are in a developing democracy and you cannot equate us with what is happening today in the United States or any other developed country. It is true that this is what politics should have been; even the independence we achieved, Aminu Kano, Sarduna, Tafawa Balewa, Awolowo and Azikiwe, these were the people that were doing what you think we should be doing. It is not happening today but we are developing; things are changing, we haven’t reached the point where father and son, one should be president and the other, vice president and nobody queried it; or you are a President and your brother is vice president or Minister of Finance. The motive for going into politics should be to assist in developing your country; don’t forget it is said Nigeria is 52 different countries in one, but we have not assimilated to an extent that your neighbour wouldn’t care about what you are doing. Presently, people feel they can only excel if they play to the gallery of their tribe or of their state; they think of their tribe first, their state first before thinking of Nigeria and that is what is happening; you can’t get away from it until we move forward slowly, we will get there one day and this is what Buhari is doing.
The northern leaders clamoured vigorously for a return of the presidency to the region during the administration of Goodluck Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari was eventually elected. Are you satisfied with what is going on in the country?
More than satisfied my brother; Buhari is about change, I was not his admirer…
(Cuts in) Are you his admirer now?
I was not also his follower but believe me sincerely, I am today, because I didn’t know he would be so courageous to try to correct my beloved country Nigeria. In the past, I saw him as a military dictator, but Nigerians generally are democrats. The fact is that the stage of development we have reached politically is such that people should take it easy.
There is glaring hunger and frustrations in the land and some persons have reportedly committed suicide as a result of the situation. Some people in the APC believe that Atiku Abubakar would have made a better President; they feel fielding Buhari was a mistake. Do you share that view?
I wouldn’t share that view. I am a die-hard supporter of Atiku yesterday, today and tomorrow, but believe me sincerely, I have no regret that Buhari emerged; today, he is preparing the ground for Nigeria to become a Dubai of the world. Curing the ills of Nigeria is what Buhari is doing and he is doing it with very strong commitment.
When Atiku lost the APC presidential primaries, how did you feel?
Yes, I am his die-hard supporter yesterday, today and tomorrow; I was very disappointed with political hypocrites in Nigeria, I was disappointed in the sense that the people that cheated and misled other people to project Atiku as an evil, are those now benefitting and they know very well that it is Nigeria that is being cheated.
Can you expatiate on that?
What I am trying to say is that Turaki Adamawa, Atiku is a different pot of soup; he is a politician. He is calm, he’s not a military man, he is a man of ideas to develop; he is the type that will go along with opinions. He is comfortable; therefore, getting him to the position of power as you said, I believe he is not the type that is going in to make material gain because he is comfortable. Nigerians make a lot of mistake by feeing that every rich man in Nigeria; every comfortable man in Nigeria is a thief, particularly if your opponent wants to blackmail you. Atiku is one person that was investigated from his hair to toe by an opponent that was very powerful, with everything at his disposal…
(Cuts in) Was it Obasanjo?
You are the one saying it. But they still did not find him with anything; they could have done anything to get at him, but because he is comfortable, it is easy for his opponents to say he is corrupt.
Was the APC presidential primary in which Atiku contested, free and fair?
Well, our group, the followers of Atiku were deceived. If you say it was a fair primary, I will say yes, but free, no, because it was not intended. A primary can only be fair when every Ward should have an opportunity to cast votes for a presidential candidate, not delegate because a delegate can be manipulated. If I am a Governor, 200 delegates is easy for me to appoint; I will start from my house, my wife will be a delegate, all my six children will be delegates, my driver will be delegate, all my friends and their wives will be delegates; so it is enough for me to have delegates of 200 that I can dictate to, and this is what happened as far as I am concern. Let me emphasize this; a proper primary that will bring out that best of candidate will be a direct primary; they did that during Shehu Yar’adua, Jakande, Falae and others. To show you that things worked correctly, you can’t imagine Shehu Yar’adua defeating Jakande in Lagos because they have their minds and the leadership there could talk to them. Any election by delegates is a lie; it is a crooked way of doing things.
You are a self-confessed die-hard supporter of Atiku; you have seen the other side of Buhari because you said before he came, you thought he was going to be a dictator. Comparatively, do you think Buhari is a better administrator than Atiku?
No, I can’t say so. I cannot say so because I have no right, I haven’t got the knowledge of both of them in such a way that I can compare their character; but I also know that one is coming from a political background and the other has a military orientation and their actions and behaviours differ. I believe the courage Buhari has by taking his own loved child that has malaria and pulling his bottom for a doctor to put a needle is different; he wants the child to be cured. He may do it crudely, but he knows that at the end of the day he will gain. Atiku’s orientation as a political leader is also different, but the question you should ask is, why is it that these people have been contesting and re-contesting? They have ideas. Atiku shed tears when he saw development in Dubai, because it was a place that looked upon Nigeria as a develop country; now, everybody goes to Dubai to see things done by only one courageous man of ideas. So the two of them could make Nigeria; it doesn’t have to be one person’s doing.
But does Atiku have Buhari’s courage?
The courage of a military man to kill is different from the courage of a civilian to apply justice…
(Cuts in) Atiku was a paramilitary officer
Para-military is a different orientation; in those days, they don’t even carry guns. That is the difference.
There is a possibility that Buhari will re-contest in 2019 and if he does, do you think Atiku can still make the presidency?
Does he have to?
But he is ambitious?
Is ambition a sin?
It is not sir.
He might be, he might not be; I believe this is what he has in mind; this is what Buhari had in mind when he contested four times.
Looking at the scenario, Atiku has the ambition and he may likely re-contest. If he does, is there a possibility he would actualize his ambition?
Is he God? Only God can answer your question. In the Islamic faith, we think it is only God that gives and God takes; he can give you the power and he can take the power as he likes. Atiku has an ambition, his ambition could materialize by God’s wish, and may not materialize by God’s wish; so the question that he must, are you sure he will live his life up to the time?
There is this speculation that Atiku and Tinubu are teaming up to form a new party. What is your take on that?
No, my take is that I have spoilt my case already before you because I said, I am a die-hard follower of Atiku; so being a die-hard follower of a person, you must have believed his actions, his behaviour and his focus. So, if a party is to be formed and Atiku is there, I will be number one to queue behind him; I don’t have to do my own thinking because I believe in his thoughts.
Can you confirm that such plans are underway?
I hear that from you because you are the one writing it in the newspapers and I read newspapers.
Do you think Buhari is performing to an average expectation?
The average expectation is that Buhari has attained a position that the ordinary Nigerian believe in him. I was talking to a Nigerian on telephone; I asked him how are you and how is our country? I thought he was going to abuse Buhari, so I started with what he would want to hear; I said how is Buharism? He said that man is doing a very good job despite the fact that we are suffering; we have faith in him and the future will be good. That was the answer.
Have you spoken to a common man on the street?
It was with a common man on the street I had this conversation.
If so, why did Aisha Buhari received loud applause from the people when she said if the husband continued the way he is going, she would not campaign for him in 2019?
Well, I will say that statement was stage-managed.
They stage-manage that talk?
Who stage-managed it? Is it possible for somebody to stage-manage the wife of the President, for a woman who has been married to him for over 30 years to go and cause that kind of monumental damage?
Now, who are accusing him of lopsided appointment? Many people were beginning to accuse him, that he was only appointing people of his own side and if your wife is accusing you of not doing something, she is correcting you in the minds of Nigerians; that it is not so. Do you understand me?
I don’t sir, can you explain?
People were accusing Buhari that he was only favouring his people; that he is lopsided in his appointments; that he is favouring the North and the whole thing was expanding. The only time it stopped was when his wife said you are not appointing the other side; you are only appointing your people as if she was supporting his critics.
She didn’t say the other side; she said you’re not appointing people who started this movement with us?
Yes, that is the other side…her brothers and sisters.
Would the President’s wife allow herself to be stage-managed?
As far as I am concerned, that is my opinion; there is no reason for her action. Look, are we not going to develop in this country? Have you heard somebody accusing Hilary Clinton of contesting after her husband was President?
What I am saying is that, what could be used to induce Aisha Buhari, wife of the President, because what you are saying implied she was induced?
Her statement, you said was stage-managed?
No, what I meant was that she has her mind and she might have said that to save her husband that he is actually an independent-minded person. She might have felt the only way to correct him was that outburst.
But that had done a monumental damage to his image?
No, some of the people that were saying that he was lopsided in his appointments will now have a second thought given the fact that he is in his second year. I am one of those people that criticised him when he appointed our minister.
There is this feeling that the North is opposed to restructuring. Are northern leaders correct in taking that position?
You see, that is the problem because you are from the South, that is why your mind is following that line of thought…
(Cuts in) No, no…
Atiku has come out very clearly and called for restructuring of the country.
Atiku is not the North.
And who is the North?
Is Atiku the North?
I’m talking of northern elders such as you, Adamu Ciroma, Ango Abdullahi, and others?
But have we opposed him (Atiku)? Do you know whether he consulted us and we held a meeting and he knew the minds of the northerners and that was why he made the statement?
Did Atiku speak the minds of northern elders?
Of course, have anybody opposed him? Have you heard anybody saying that Atiku was wrong? Is that not enough for you to presume that, that is the mind of the northerners?
On Buhari’s anti-corruption war, people feel he is crude and vindictive. Even though the laws stipulates that anybody who committed an offence should be arrested, was the manner of arrest of those judges proper?
Have you read a Code of Conduct, or Police or anybody investigating you, telling you that you can only arrest in the night, in the day or in the morning, have you heard that before?
Was there need for the DSS operative to invade their houses and pull down doors as alleged; was it wrong to be civil?
What do you mean by civil? You mean I should go and kill somebody and come into this my house and lock it, nobody should arrest me?
But that wasn’t a case of stealing; it was a case of suspected corruption?
Corruption is killing; it is killing the whole country, its effect is more serious than killing a human being.
Are you now saying that if Buhari says those judges should be executed, you will support it?
I will. It is a deterrent. It will help us now to think as good citizens of this country because after God, it is a judge, because a judge can send you to your grave. So a judge should not only be just, but he should be seen to be just.
So, you are recommending execution of corrupt judges?
Believe me sincerely. What is happening is that in the anti-graft battle, they seem to be concentrating on those who have stolen billions and forgetting about the ordinary people, the messengers, taxi drivers, the police on the road that are stealing every minute; it should start from there. That is reorientation of the citizens of this country before you can stop corruption.