From Gyang Bere, Jos
Former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Switzerland, Yahaya Kwande has given reasons why a Northerner should succeed President Muhammadu Buhari. In this interview, he spoke on various national issues and concluded that leaders have never been fair to ordinary Nigerians since the country gained independence in 1960.
You witnessed Nigeria’s Independence in 1960, will you say you are happy with where the country is today?
I will not say I am happy nor will I be in a position to place where it is wrong because all Nigerians must accept the fact that we haven’t been fair to the ordinary man in Nigeria. When we took over the government from the colonial masters in the 60s compared with the development that we have now, we should have been placed better than where we are today. This is because we haven’t added much; people will see that there is much in the sense of the numbers of schools. There used to be only one secondary school in the whole of Northern Nigeria; today we have millions, not thousands but the quality of people produced in that millions schools, you cannot compare it with what it used to be. We have been very careless, we misunderstand what is a government, we seem not to understand what is a government. Government is to look after the welfare of the people it is governing, see about their health, see about their security, see about the education of their children so that we can progress. But is it what we are doing. How can you have somebody who is coming from secondary school that cannot spell right and cannot make correct sentence or whatever language he is learning? There are no teachers, we just park children into dilapidated schools under trees. To school under trees would have been 50 or 100 years back now. We should be ashamed about our education and the environment we teach, we are going backward and backward. Therefore, I must tell you that I am not very happy with the stage we are compare to when we took over from the colonial masters.
Where do you think Nigeria got it wrong?
Yes, one of the issues is greediness. We have not been able to differentiate between a civil servant and a businessman. It appears we lump ourselves over and chasing Naira both with the civil servants. I have repeated myself hundred times; you are either a civil servant or you are not, you are either a trader or you are not but interwoven and the perception of Nigeria is so confusing. Those that schooled in England and those that had gone a little higher compared to what they would have been, if you find a Nigerian Doctor overseas, you will be surprise because he excels; if you find a lecturer originating from Nigeria even in England teaching English language, he excels. But why is it that we develop people so that they can develop other people further, where have we left it; greediness. Everybody is just talking about money, money for himself, money for his wife, money for his children and money for relatives. It is a great pity that we are in this situation in the year 2021. Our standard of feeding has fallen; our standard of education has fallen, that is why our standard of health has fallen; there must be reorientation of the leadership.
As an elder statesman in this country, when will you say was the happiest moment for Nigerians?
Well, elite could have been happier knowing what was the difference to have independence because they know what they could get but the ordinary men then will jump and dance. I believe that they didn’t know what was actually the independence of the majority of Nigeria then but now they know and so, their happiest moment, if they think back or if they think of the happening that their elders and forefathers have fought and got independence, they should be happier now knowing the meaning of it. But then, if they examine and analyse what is independent from a dominant government outside Nigeria, they will be unhappy because it is not what is expected; our people are not happy. You can’t sleep well, even if you have food to eat, it wouldn’t stay in your stomach; you are always worried, people are killed and thrown away. The only statement you will hear is that we will investigate and that is the end of investigation. We have read in other countries somebody who killed somebody, has disappeared for 59 years and investigation went on 50 years until they caught the man and he was almost 90 years; he was brought back and he answered for his crime. But here, people will go and massacre everybody and they will only come and display the corpses and they will send one leader with a hundred thousand in an envelope to give the widow whose husband has been killed; disgraceful. That action I don’t like; they definitely, even if they want to help; such action of wanting to give something, should have been secret. What can hundred thousand buy?
Will you say Nigeria has made progress in its political pursuit?
Well, we have but development can be negative or positive; I would have preferred you ask if we have made positive development. In that sense, I will say no because we have gone far away from what is supposed to be a democratic system of government. Democracy is for the people and by the people; I don’t know whether it is now by the people. You know what is happening now in the primaries of political parties in the country; people are being installed into position. There are now committee of two or three people that finish all the primaries and appointment of government; is that the progress? So to me, we haven’t progressed positively in democracy.
Do you think the current government has the political will to address the myriad of challenges, ranging from insecurity, economy and bad education system?
Well, having intention and doing the intention are two different things. Our constitution is well written and the perception of it is good. I give you an example; our fathers, our leaders who drafted the constitution of Nigeria for democracy and particularly for the selection of the President of Nigeria say the President can come from any part of Nigeria but that President cannot win unless he has the majority of votes and win in 2/3 of the country which means, on that they block the question of tribe, religion and ethnicity being an element to win an election. This is because there is no tribe or a religious group in Nigeria that can do it alone, so they had good intention. A Yoruba man cannot just say because of my people I can win election and not can Hausa Fulani or any tribe in Nigeria say I will win election without others using my tribe. It is a very good intention, but what is happening now, people are saying no, it must come to us; come to you on what ground. On the ground of the constitution, so you can see the difference, we are not progressing.
The Southern governors met and decided that the 2023 Presidency must be zoned to the South and the Northern counterparts faulted their decision saying zoning is not constitutional; where do you think the Presidency should be zoned in 2023 in the spirit of fairness?
It will not work. The President should come according to the popularity of the President as a person and his political party and the whole of Nigeria liking him. But different political parties can strategise how they will win election; they can decide to take it to a village because there is a leader there that is popular; our constitution allows it. You can go into a village and select three people of the same mother, the constitution allows it. But whether you will win by that strategy is another matter and that is why the PDP originally plans at a time among themselves that only a Yoruba man can win an election based on what was happening at the period because of the trouble at that time. And the rest of the PDP, I didn’t say of the North, the rest of the followers of the PDP whether they were in the East or in the West decided that Obasanjo was a good candidate. Just retired from the Army, was a President of Nigeria and PDP said he is the one that will win the election; let’s take it to the South but after he has finished 8 years, it should come to the North. He did it and wanted to waggle his way out but it was not allowed by Nigerians. Umar Musa Yar’Adua took over properly and he eventually died and Jonathan took over because there is an item of the constitution that says if you are the Vice President and the President is incapacitated, you take over, so Jonathan was right. But then Jonathan was wrong after fulfilling that constitutional provision, he decided to take that allocation of President to the North; he is not a Northerner. He shouldn’t have contested, he should have allowed a northerner to contest so that they would have stayed only for four years and complete that eight years, then the whole thing would have gone back to the South. But he insisted using his office, which means Obasanjo eight years plus his six years making 14 years and wanted another four years that would have made 18 years of Southerners without the North. This is PDP, I am not talking about other parties; Buhari has won, he is a Northerner but he didn’t win on the platform of the PDP, he won on a different platform. It did not touch on that arrangement. For Southerners to say Obasanjo had 8 years and Buhari 8 years is wrong; that was not the arrangement and people should understand that.
It is because of this calculation that some people are crying of marginalization.
But in the spirit of fairness, South East has not occupied the Presidency, don’t you too think they should be considered?
But when the Presidency was sent to the South, Obasanjo did 8 years, the South-South did 6 years. Then when it comes back to the North and goes back again to the South, then it is up to them because we have three zones in the North and three zones in the South. Now, the Western zone had it, the South-South zone had I and remaining the Eastern zone; it is their arrangement, it has nothing to do with other parts of Nigeria to interfere. If it goes back to the South, it is up to them to say it is the turn of South East. But because Jonathan refused to give way for Northerners to finish their tenure, the whole thing has changed, so the Southerners are still owing the North.
Are you saying it will not be wrong for the PDP to fill in a Northern candidate in 2023?
It will last for 4 years to complete the 8 years if it is PDP.
The issue of 2023 presidency and perceived feeling of marginalisation has triggered agitations in different parts of the country, the Biafra agitators, the South West and the Middle Belt are also agitating, do you think Nigeria should be agitating for a break up at 61?
Well, when they say Northerners are asking for the Presidency, they mean Northerners of North East, North West and North Central. North West has now done its 8 years under Buhari, then the next people are North East and North Central; so they should allow us in the North to fight ourselves. This time, if they allow the North to have it, it should be either North Central or North East; it is up to us. It has nothing to do with anybody from the South, that is all we are saying. So, North Central or North East has not yet been marginalized.