Third Republic Senator and erstwhile Minister , Prof. Iyorwuese Hagher is known for his bluntness on issues concerning the nation. A former diplomat, the politician who is the leader of Middle Belt Forum declared that killings, kidnappings and rise in other criminal activities going on in the country have combined to strengthen feelings that Nigeria is gradually wearing the garb of a failed state. He urged the international community to intervene and help the country out of the situation. He spoke on other issues including his presidential ambition , the new coalition by the opposition and what Nigerians must do between now and next year. IHEANACHO NWOSU conducted the interview in Abuja.
Are you still in the race for president in 2019 or have recent developments in the polity made you to change your mind?
I am running to be president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria . I have no doubt that when the alliance to which my party has now belonged, comes to consider all the presidential candidates, they will find in me presidential candidate like no other; they will find in me a person who loves Nigeria more than any other of the contenders. They will find in me someone who has benefited from Nigeria tremendously and who is willing to give back everything Nigeria has given to me. Nigeria has given me a sound education, a sound mind. She has taken me through critical, cognate political experience.
I have legislative experience as a Senator, I have executive experience as a federal Minister, I have experience as an Ambassador, a diplomatic experience. In addition to this I participated in fashioning out a new constitution for the country. For one year we sat in 1994 and 1995 to craft a new constitution. After the collapse of June 12, we looked at every single aspect of our national problem . I understood the pain, and heard from every nook and cranny of this nation that participated in the national dialogue that has framed the present existence of the country.
You were part of the recent deal by a coalition of political parties to support a candidate for the presidential election, how much of faith do you have in the alliance? Do you see announcement by some parties that they are not part of the movement as a threat to the alliance?
The alliance is like a federation that different people are asking for and requiring some satisfaction of the other.
On whether the alliance is as omelet or a salad is the issue . You can see a distinct make up of a salad, it is very distinct that you can feel it. If the alliance has one mind and the purpose is to remind this incumbent that the time is up for him , that he should leave , members of the coalition can do it . If they find a presidential candidate like me ,who has inspired many it will be good. Nigerians have seen that every single promise Buhari made in his manifesto had been broken, compromised and betrayed.
People will see a new horizon of a Nigeria that is better, more united and greater if the right candidate is chosen. It will make the alliance to succeed. The alliance will depend on the acceptance and the process and rotational alignment we adopt . When Nigerians came together and say they were sick and tired of playing ethnic and religious politics they were united and MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe, a Muslim ticket won. The election is still said to be the best that ever held in Nigeria.
The same Nigerians also came together in 2015 when they saw that the country had gone so bad . They didn’t think about religion when they voted for Buhari . They voted for him despite reservations some had about him.
Nigerians I believe have a national mind, and that national mind is compassionate, united. That national mind, if you like you call it a unifying consciousness of Nigerians which is what made them to decide that if Abiola was denied President, the next President should come from Abiola’s race. President Obasanjo did not campaign to be president, he was brought up to be beneficiary of the June 12 struggle .In the same way when the national conscious identity, which is the national mind woke up again it looked at some injustices against the people of Niger Delta, the oil region. That was how Jonathan emerged President of Nigeria.
He contested and won. Today the conscious mind, that Nigeria unifying mentality is once again challenged. The attention is in the Middle Belt, where major genocide has been taking place . There has never been an elected President from the region, there has never been an elected Vice-President from there. Middle Belt has suffered for this country, it has laboured under gross injustice . It is from the Middle Belt that the bulk of slave trade took our young men to Europe and America.
Out of the 400 ethnic groups of the North, the Middle Belt has over 340 tribes. The Middle Belt is the most backward, it is the most disorganised because it is structurally made to be so. May be the time has come for that Nigerians conscious mind to look into the Middle Belt ,find a Middle Belter who can become president and unite this country. Our ethnic groups are small and they cannot threaten national stability. No ethnic group in Middle Belt will be strong enough to make demands from every aspect of the country . The region requires and needs the rest of the country.
You said the alliance should look in the direction of the Middle Belt, in a situation where the coalition picks someone from another region, will that threaten the alliance?
Talking about the alliance, I don’t think we are thinking about failure . We know that we will succeed. Nigerians want to make a direct input into who should be the president. I have been a candidate who has mastered and created a base for the youths of Nigeria. I am known as a youth mentor. I have mentored young people to develop their capacity, to develop them as human resources, to give them degrees, to give them feet for running for the service of the country. You will recall that it was the youths of Nigeria,15 organised youth groups that wrote to me to contest this election. They put up a rigorous criteria for this election. Not many people fit into this criteria of vision, of integrity, of a track record, experience, of excessive hard work. I am not here to stop or blind their ambitions , I am here to enthrone real change .
Balarabe Musa and some Nigerians have argued that the coalition is made up old and spent politicians who have little to offer, what is your take?
The alliance is made up of people of diverse background and age. You see young , middle and old people there . The future of the country is not for one age group to determine, it is for everybody.
But former President Olusegun Obasanjo specifically said he is backing the youth to take over power
There is major misunderstanding about the youth and not too young to run, and old and old mentality. This is not what Nigerians are saying, Nigerians are saying that they are sick and tired of the old corrupt ways, old corrupt politics, the politics of people who are self centred , people who are blind, who are unable to see clearer picture of Nigeria. That is what I understood them to be saying.
We have seen in this country people based on biological age, taking position yet they could not deliver. They were morally bankrupt, corrupt, self seeking, they were almost brutal against the people of Nigeria. This is what we have suffered, it is the old consciousness. I want to tell you clearly that I am the person they have been waiting for, am bringing in a revolution of consciousness. My campaign is a new revolution of hope. I don’t really know how old I am because am extremely young in my mind. I am strong, agile and work 18 hours a day, my brain is great and I exercise it everyday. I know many young people who are claiming that they should run on the basis of youth but who are dead in their brains. They are unconscious of the sordid reality of this country, they are ignorant of the ramifications of the political process we have inherited. I love Balarabe Musa ,people may look at him as an old man without ideas but anybody doing so is wrong. What the country needs is not to bring in ageism. Ageism is a denial of human rights. We don’t need that. What we need is to bring in experience and energetic people who are willing to learn. I am bringing knowledge, experience, knowledge about leadership and constitute youth cabinet.
We have heard of people who rule over this country at age 32. I personally became a Senator at the age of 34. I know the difference between what I have then and what I have now. If I can combine my youthfulness in the political process and my experience at this level, it will help improve our dear nation. That is what Nigeria needs. Nigeria needs committed and experienced leader and I fit into that very well.
Recently you wrote a memo where you asked President Buhari to step down, you alleged that a genocide was being waged on your people and the Middle Belt generally, among other issues you raised. Are you not going too far?
I am not. The first time in this country by all standard , globally what we have is an agenda against the Middle Belt . There is nothing like herdsmen/farmers clashes over lands. There is genocide against farmers in the Middle Belt and in one instance or two there is a counter attack against the Fulani ethnic group. If genocide is bad, we should not accept it. There has been genocide in our country. This is not the first time people are killing themselves. But with the speed that this one came, it’s a clear indication that we have a government that cannot defend its people.
I have watched video clips made possible by the media, some of which has doubtful origin. Even if those videos are not true, Nigeria is a failed state, or a failing state. We have the highest number of IDP camps in the world apart from Syria which is in a full blown war. I have been to IDP camps and some of the people have been there over a year. We have ethnic genocide and the President, who is to rein the killer herdsmen in, is unable to categorise them as terrorists and all he says is that “there is nothing I can do, only pray”.
We didn’t elect an Imam as President ,we are not in a theocracy, we elected the President of a federal republic and not a kingdom. No matter the pretence of anyone in power to become a king, this is not a kingdom, it is not theocracy it is democracy. Therefore , if it is failing it is expected that the leader surrenders and say there is nothing I can do about it, I am wrong.
We need to rebuild this country and rebuilding this country means he has to step down because campaigning now as a candidate versus the other candidates, it’s for him to enforce apparatus of state institution. And when that is done and he wins the election, he will create more conditions that will lead to more death. I am sorry I love the country more than my personal ambition. Far far too many lives have gone and we are at war. The condition to determining when a country has reached war status is 1000 . We have surpassed 1000.
What do you make of the position of former Head of State, Gen Gowon that the President should not be blamed for the killings?
I have never said that President Buhari has carried a gun and he is killing. Buhari has said in his words that he should not be blamed even though he looks like some of the Fulani that are killing. I support the former Head of State, Gowon in his statement that Buhari is not the killer. But the question is, has his policies enabled their killings to be coming through over and over again? If Fulani who are not Nigerians are coming into Nigeria because they felt others are not entitled to their land, so they will kill them and settle in their land. Genocide is the targeting of a group of people on the basis of their ethnicity, their religion, location.
The President accused politicians of being behind the killings in a desperate bid to give him and his administration a bad name, do you agree with him?
He is the one playing politics with it. He is the President, he is the number one citizen, he has investigating powers , he has the authority to fish out the bad eggs. In almost every state there is lawlessness, banditry, armed robbery, kidnappings going on in a massive scale. I cannot even go to my local government because of bombing that takes place in communities.
In your proposal you did ask that the international community should intervene, what exactly are you asking for?
I asked that the international community should help us. The government cannot stop the genocide, they don’t even understand the dynamics or may be they are using public propaganda to cover what they are doing.
Have you formally written to UN and other international organizations?
Have I? Who do I represent? I am only airing my view, I am expecting President Buhari to own up. I am expecting the international community to come and help me to set a full blown enquiry into these things and find out who are the brains behind these things and then those guilty must be taken to the ICC. My suggestions are not in anyway rancorous or vindictive, I am a scholar, an intellectual, I have great respect for the President of Nigeria, he has served this country in amazing capacity but he has failed the people in protecting lives and properties, he should be humble enough to say “no I don’t want my legacy to be that of a genocide king or a genocidal president.”
Do you believe that with the present atmosphere, the opposition can defeat President Buhari in 2019?
It depends on INEC and it also depends on the desperation of President Buhari. The person I see and according to reports analysis, Buhari does not believe in democracy. He talks about the electoral democracy, it’s an election where you win election with whatever means at your disposal. People have taken position against the President, I am his friend I love him I am just offering him an advice to step aside instead of contesting again.