“There are many of them that I have high respect for. But in terms of general assessment, I categorize their ambitions into two or three categories…”
Hon Aminu Sulaiman Garo (Fagge Federal Constituency) is the House Standing Committee Chairman on Tertiary Education and Tetfund in the House of Representatives. He is a leading member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the country. He is also a strong believer in the ideals of President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
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In this interview with Sunday Sun in Abuja, the one-time labour leader speaks of the intrigues that shadowed the defection of some Reps members from Kano State to the PDP, the resolve of the APC national legislators to check any phoney move by the defectors to truncate Buhari’s policies, the politics of direct primary in APC, the altercation between the Senate President, Olusola Saraki and the APC leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and the uncommon performance of Governor Abudullahi Umar Ganduje of Kano State. Excerpts:
Recently, there were defections in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. As a principal officer of the House, how have these migrations affected the House and to what extent are they likely to affect the quality of governance ahead of 2019?
I will want to approach your question from two perspectives. The perspective from the House of Representatives as a body and the perspective of what the movement would do to the polity as a whole. For the House, of course, what happened, although not new, has the potential to spring some surprises, has the capacity to unsettle the hitherto peace and harmony that the house has been enjoying. By this I mean that those who left from the ruling party would want to impact on the new party that they have joined in order to achieve two things. One in order for the new party to appreciate that they are relevant and two, to cause some pains and discomfort in the party that they had left. And in trying to achieve these aims, those of us that are in the ruling party would have to put up a resistance. And in the process of managing this situation, the leadership of the house is likely to face a challenging situation. However, defection and movement at least from the tradition of African politics is not a new or a strange phenomenon. It has always been there in our politics. Although I will say that it is not neat, it is not decent enough … because a political party is supposed to be an association of people who share the same belief and principles. The defections simply highlight the present absence of ideology in our party system in Nigeria.
Many of you, National Assembly members from Kano State, were appointed, supported and funded to the present House by Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso while he was the state governor. The last time he defected from the PDP, you all went along with him. But this time, some of you opted out. What was the politics that made you guys to dump him in his defection?
I concede to the fact that distinguished Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso used to be the leader of all us and I think the first question that could have shed light as the reasons we did not follow him would have been: “What was our conviction at the time we were following him?” We were convinced at the time he asked us to move out of PDP that there was actually a reason for us to move with him. Then, there was general maladministration; there was general air of uncertainty in the country. The PDP then had divided this country into very precarious lines. Services were not rendered. PDP was ruling with impunity. There was a general state of insecurity and as a matter of fact, Nigeria was sliding into a banana republic. There were so many reasons that inspired us to stand behind Kwankwaso’s flight from the PDP. But you do not expect, truly speaking and with all humility, somebody who is above the age of 40 and who is fortunate and privileged to be a member of the Nigerian parliament, not state, not local government parliament, to just be following instruction from anywhere and anybody like a Dundee. And, therefore, if yesterday there was reason convincing enough for us to follow him, there is no such reason today. It should not be a tradition that once the leader is disenchanted, he blows the whistle and everybody jumps into the field like a footballer. And, therefore, this time around, very many of us did not follow him. We are 15 legislators from Kano that stayed. Originally, they had these three members in their camp. When the defection was announced, these guys said no, no, that they had thought it was going to be a family affairs.
What exactly is your relation with these defectors? We know that in Kano today, there is this strong gulf separating followers of Kwankwaso and Ganduje. Is your relationship in the house set on this page? Is it in anyway strained?
We still maintain a very cordial relationship. They are our colleagues, don’t forget. We share together family and personal intimacies. But when it comes to politics and politicking, then everybody answers his or her family name.
You just had your party’s national meeting in Abuja a few hours ago. What is your take on some of the key issues that were reached at the meeting?
I think that what we resolved at the NEC meeting was the method of conducting primaries in our party. The president and some key national officers were of the opinion that we should go for direct primaries, according to them, this would deepen democracy and return the party back to the owners – the members of the party – to decide who represents them and who governs them. Excellent and beautiful idea. And truly speaking, the majority almost bought into this idea. But you see, a party structure such as NEC is a combination of so many sophisticated minds. Some of the members, however, argued that though direct primary would deepen democracy, our society has not yet developed to the level that it can successfully absorb the heat of the conduct of direct primary of that nature without rancor. And they were quick to remind us of the era of SDP and NRC. If you could remember, the use of direct primary conducted for local government elections alone led to loss of several lives in several parts of the country. So, on insistent of the president that on his own elections, that he preferred direct primary, the NEC resolved that on principle, APC would adopt direct primary. But any state with a clear problem, which feels that direct primary would result in unrest, is at liberty to write to the national secretariat of the party and defend why they preferred an indirect system and then the party would give a waiver to such a state.
One of the accusations that have trailed the Buhari administration is the way it has handled the rights of other people. Very recently, Senator Kwankwaso was denied access and use of the venue for his presidential declaration. We have also seen the same Kwankwaso denied entry, by the police, into Kano. How do you react to this?
These are security and governmental issue and since I am not a security officer or a member of the national executive council, I would only speak, but little on these matters. What we were told by the police in Kano was that there was a security report that his coming to Kano would trigger a very, very serious political problem. Politics and governance are all predicated on peace and peaceful co-existent among citizens. If a political gathering has the potential to trigger crisis, it is in the place of the security agents to pacify those people involved to see reasons they should put off their events for another day. That is the reason we were told by the police for asking Distinguished Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso to defer his visit to Kano State at that time. Any other thing, as far as I am concerned, is at the level of speculation. For his presidential declaration, the reason the government spokesman gave was that the day chosen for the event by Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso was a working day, being a Wednesday. And Eagles Square, for those who know Abuja, is in the middle of the Federal Secretariat where the entire Federal work force operates from. By the left, it has all the Federal ministries and on its front, it has the National Assembly. And the management of the Eagles Square asked the Distinguished Senator to choose probably a weekend for his activity. I recalled that PDP itself, not a faction, has severally used the Eagles Square. Truly speaking from the bottom of my heart, I do not think that there are politics in this decision. However, if there are hidden reasons, they must be factors beyond my comprehension and knowledge.
Honorable, the performance of some of lawmakers from the North in the National Assembly has been adjudged as below average by a number of assessments. Some were charged of not coming up with enough bills, some had no bill to their names and many are not attending sessions and plenary and so on. What is your response to these allegations?
I want say that there is no any member from any part of the country that would say that I am less in all the participatory activities of the House than him. The only thing I believe is that in the Northwest, East and South, there are vocal members and there are those you will want to call redundant. And most of the time, I also see members that speak less in the plenary, but dominate committee work. It depends on style and perhaps, in some cases, it depends on the ability or inability of some to overcome the challenges of public speaking. It is not about incapacity, no. There are several lawmakers that I know that do not speak on the floor on the House, but in committees, they are champions. And I tell you the committee work constitutes 60 per cent of the responsibility of a legislature. And that is why some people would say that they “see an empty chambers, the members are not even serious, they are not seated”. This is because most of the time, the members are caused to do committee work even on working days, whereas the convention is that Mondays and Fridays that we don’t sit are usually reserved for committee work. As far as I am concerned they have performed. Although I believe that there should be further reassessment of individuals we elect and send to Abuja, but on a general term, I would be fair to say that members have tried within the individual level of competence to put in and give representation to their people as much as they could.
Let us look at the number and quality of Northerners coming up to challenge President Buhari in the 2019 elections. Do you think that they have the capacity to defeat him in the forthcoming elections?
There are many of them that I have high respect for. Tail or head, I still respect Governor Tambuwal. But in terms of general assessment, I categorize their ambitions into two or three categories. There are some of them that believe that their political career has entered what you people in football call extra-time and if they did not use this opportunity to dance, they would not get another chance. They know they would not win the crown, only to dance in the ring, but winning the crown against Buhari, they know it is impossible, absolutely impossible. Those who are in this category would only exercise their constitutional right of contest, but they would await the constitutional rights of Nigerians to throw them out of the ring. Here, I look at people like Atiku and Sule Lamido. With due respect, they know that after 2019, they would not be able to contest even the presidency of their own house. Because by the end of 2023, all of them would be over 80 and by 2023, by the unwritten consensus among Nigerians, power must go back to the South. And it would stay in the South for eight years. Who among them would be strong enough to come out for the presidency at that age. I pray they are alive and healthy, but, of course, they would have become old for the trouble of presidency. The second generation of contestants that have age on their side, my suspicion is that they only want to register their marks in the national politics, so that after eight years of Southern presidency, when it eventually comes back to the North, people would remember them or they would cause people to remember that they have aspired for the presidency once upon a time.
Coming back home, how would rate the chances of Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje in the light of what appears as a buildup of a formidable opposition in the state? Some still hold the view that his achievements are not comparable to that of Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso?
In the developed country, the media help in dishing out very objective analysis that could guide citizens. I do not know why the African media elect to move in the reverse. Truly speaking, if Ganduje is not performing I would have found another political shade as abode. But the man is performing and he is doing very, very well. I concede to the fact that Kwankwaso had worked, but juxtaposing the fact of what Kwankwaso did in eight years and what Ganduje is doing in just four years – infrastructure, human development, other – I stand firm on the grounds that Ganduje has done better.