By KENNY ASHAKA
Alhaji Lawal Kaita. Remember him? The man, who set the nerves of Nigerians on edge in 2011 when former President Goodluck Jonathan was warming up for the 2011 presidential contest. “Anything short of a Northern President is tantamount to stealing our presidency. Jonathan has to go and he will go. Even if he uses his incumbency power to get his nomination on the platform of the PDP, he will be frustrated out…the North should not be blamed for the calamity that would befall Nigeria if Jonathan emerged as President.” Those were his words then
Kaita is an influential politician in Nigeria and remains so. A founding member of the Action Congress, AC in September 2006, he was a member of the Constituent Assembly between 1977 and 1978, Special Assistant to President Shehu Shagari, 1980-82, who was narrowly defeated by Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa of the People’s Redemption Party, PRP in June 1979. In 1981, Kaita braced up and helped his party, the National Party of Nigeria, NPN in the process that led to the impeachment of Governor Balarabe Musa, after which he contested for the Emirship of Katsina following the death of Usman Nagogo in 1982. He lost, but picked up and was appointed leader of the Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM after late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha jailed Shehu Musa Yar’Adua.
A member of the Constitutional Conference of 1994-95 and founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP in 1998, Kaita got involved in the struggle for the control of the PDM with Tony Anenih in 2001 and left PDP in 2006 for the AC in order to help former Vice-President, Atiku Abubakar launch his bid for Nigeria’s presidency. He was arrested on charges that he had recruited and trained hooligans by the SSS.
Currently, a sober and reflective Kaita returned to the PDP in 2010 and was received by former Governor Ibrahim Shema in an event attended by over 50,000 decampees from AC in Ingawa, Kankia and Kusada Local Councils.
In a way, Kaita, former governor of Old Kaduna State between October and December 1983 but was overthrown by Muhammadu Buhari-led coup, is frank to a fault. His statements on national issues always pack a punch. But having helped Buhari to come to power through his campaign for a Nigerian president of northern extraction, Kaita is now sad that the expected change is becoming elusive. “The change we expected, we haven’t got. I am part of it. I am one of those who feel bad. The good changes we expected, we are not getting. We are getting bad changes,” he said.
Now 84 years old, Kaita still shows intense emotion in speech. He regales you with his answers to questions. But Kaita remains his parochial self. Listen to this: “Why do they live in fear? Who killed them? Who goes after them? If it is government, that government was Jonathan’s government. He was the president. The one before that was Obasanjo. Now, a Northerner is president, they are talking of negotiation. Why didn’t they talk about that when Jonathan was president? Boko Haram was going on, why didn’t they talk then? Now a Northerner is president, you are talking about splitting. This country will not split,” he submitted, in reaction to statements by some Nigerians that Nigeria’s sovereignty can be negotiated.
To him, the statement on the sovereignty of Nigeria by Professor Wole Soyinka and others is nonsensical and idiotic. Kaita spoke on this and other issues of national interest in a recent telephone interview with Saturday Sun. The reporter had early in June been to Kaita’s home in Katsina for an interview which he turned down in spite of all entreaties from his Public Relations Officer, Mallam Ahmed Kabir, to speak. However, the quest for a strong northern voice on the issue of restructuring Nigeria and the negotiability of Nigeria’s sovereignty as espoused by Professor Soyinka was what inspired this reporter to put a call through to the former governor. The interview went thus:
We want to get your opinion on the statement by Professor Wole Soyinka and other Nigerians about the need to negotiate Nigeria’s sovereignty?
What kind of negotiation? What kind of negotiation? In what direction? In what way?
That’s what Professor Wole Soyinka said, that Nigeria’s sovereignty can be negotiated?
How? To be what? She should be sold or what? I don’t understand what is meant by negotiation of Nigeria’s sovereignty.
That we can negotiate how to be together?
You mean Nigeria itself? Whether Nigeria can be split or what?
That the decentralisation of Nigeria would make for healthy rivalry?
Oh no. That is not an option. You cannot live for 100 years and start talking about negotiation simply because some people have oil. It’s nonsense. It is ridiculous. Why do they want negotiation, in fact?
It is not the issue of oil…?
What is the issue?
I am sure you have heard groups like MASSSOB, IPOB saying they want to go their own way. That’s not the issue of oil?
Who wants to go?
The Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB
Go to where?
They want to be on their own
They want to be on their own?
I am sure you have been reading this, Your Excellency?
But we fought a civil war against Biafra. We killed ourselves to keep Nigeria one and now you are saying you want to fight again? Who will allow you to go alone? We’ll fight again to keep Nigeria one. Where are they going? Where? Haba! We fought civil war. We went to war.
Perhaps, it is the National Conference recommendations that have brought up these issues of sovereignty and restructuring. Are you in support of the implementation of the conference recommendations?
Are you still talking of negotiation?
No. There are issues like derivation that were recommended by the people who went to the National Conference and…
(Cuts in) I went to the National Conference…
(Cuts in) Yes. That is why we are seeking your opinion. Do you believe that the recommendations you made should be implemented?
Such as what?
The recommendations you made. Do you want them implemented?
What recommendation is not implemented? Which one?
There are many things the conference you attended recommended. For instance, there is the issue of 30 percent derivation and…
(Laughter) Well, let’s put it this way. I, Lawal Kaita you are talking to now have been part of Nigerian politics all along. I was part of the conference you are talking about. I am not prepared to negotiate anything, whether Independence, sovereignty or anything. I am not prepared to negotiate it.
Why? Your Excellency
If you have a parliament, why can’t you go to the parliament? We have a National Assembly. Why can’t you raise this issue in the National Assembly first? It is when they fail that you can now talk of negotiation. But you have not done this and you are talking of negotiation. Negotiating what? Advice them in the name of God instead of all these problems, let them take this issue to the National Assembly one by one.
But, Your Excellency, more than 40 years after the civil war, some people will say they still live in fear and suspicion with some traces of religious crisis rising. What do you think is the way out?
Why do they live in fear? Who killed them? Who goes after them? If it is government, that government was Jonathan’s government. He was President. The one before that was Obasanjo. Now, a Northerner is a president, they are talking of negotiation. Why didn’t they talk about that when Jonathan was President? Why? When Jonathan was President, Boko Haram was going on. Why didn’t they talk then? Now, a Northerner is a President, you are talking about splitting the country. The country will not be split.
So, what is the way forward?
It is we Nigerians who are nursing this nonsense. All countries in the world are living peacefully. It is we the people.
Still on this issue, you seem to believe seriously in the Nigeria project
What is Nigeria project?
To you, things are working well in Nigeria the way they should
I was born in Nigeria. 84 years ago, I was born in a country called Nigeria. Why would I want Nigeria to be split now? For what reason?
Some people would say because of injustice, manipulations and the rest
Who is doing the injustice? Buhari is just one year now. The last four years was by Jonathan who is a southerner and a minority. Before him was Obasanjo, a Yoruba man. You mean these two leaders committed injustice? How? Where? Haba! As long as we have Nigeria survive up till now, we will continue.
You will continue?
We will continue. We will continue
Some Nigerians are worried that more than one year after this government which some of you helped to come to power, they are yet to taste the expected change. Instead what they are getting is increased poverty, rising cost of living, intra-party squabbles and lots more that would not make us come together. What’s your take on this?
I entirely agree with them. There has been this complaint of extreme poverty. Even now, I have no electricity in my house. I was a former governor. Even now, I cannot afford electricity all the time. I have no electricity in my house now. I agree with what is going on. But splitting the country is not the answer. The change we expected, we haven’t got. I am part of it. I am one of those who feel bad. The good changes we expected we are not getting. We are getting bad changes. But as Buhari said, the damage done by the PDP in the last ten years…
(Cuts in) But Your Excellency, must we continue this blame game? Some people will say government is supposed to fix problems. One year after, do we continue to blame the PDP and past governments?
Well, blaming the PDP will not solve the problem. The problem is supposed to be solved by the present government. I agree. But splitting the country is not the answer.
What really do you think is the problem? Why are we having this rise in the cost of living? Is it that the policies of the government are different?
I don’t know. I am not in government. I am one of you. I am annoyed too why we are getting this increased cost of living. We expected changes for good. We are not getting that. We are having increases in everything, including petrol. I am part of you there. But splitting the country, I am not part of that.