Former Minister of Water Resources, Mukhtar Shehu Shagari, is a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He also served as Sokoto State Deputy Governor between 2007 and 2015. In this interview with TUNDE OMOLEHIN in Sokoto, he warned that the local security outfits springing up across the country in response to some security challenges could constitute grave threat to Nigeria’s unity and federation. “If we are not very careful with different security outfits coming up, it may later cause serious problems to the unity of the country”, he warned. He spoke on other national issues including the race for the 2023 presidency.
Recently, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar called for the reform of PDP ahead of 2023. Which area(s) do you want such reform to focus?
There is no organization that can prosper without undergoing one form of reform or another. The call of former Vice President Atiku is very important and we must yield to that call due to problems in the party. And it is only when we sit down and look inwardly to see which areas we are lagging and need reform. That is how we can move forward as a vibrant political party. We want a more transparent and organized party before the 2023 general elections, and we cannot get there without such reform.
Political groups are canvassing return of presidency to the South in 2023. Is PDP looking towards that direction?
I think PDP is a national party that has interest and supporters spread across Nigeria. Nevertheless, it is too early to talk about who gets the ticket or not. It is more of strategy talk than public talk. When the time comes, we will do the right thing as a party.
Nigerians are concerned about the security situation, which has renewed more calls for community policing. Do you see it as a way forward to solve the country’s security challenge?
Whatever we can do to ensure that the people can be secure, I think we should do it. All the security outfits being put in place in some states are geared to complement the government’s efforts at the federal level because if everyone is secured at all levels, nobody will be thinking of coming out with security outfit that will protect people in a particular area. Federal Government has to do a lot. I still believe that it is important to have a national security conference where the three tiers of government and other stakeholders on security will come together to find ways to ensure security, peace and stability. Our roads are no longer safe for people traveling by road. We have to come together and look at these issues that are making Nigerians to worry. If we are not very careful with different security outfits coming up, it may later cause serious problems to the unity of the country.
Should regional government replace federal system to minimize our local problems?
No matter how we divide this country, it can never stop our local problems. Because most of the communal crises are caused by communities who are so close to each other and share many things in common. I think we need to make sure our National Assembly discuss most of our grievances and find possible solutions to them. I know many conferences done in the past with a view to finding peace and unity but no result. All these issues are constitutional issues that should be channeled to the National Assembly for consideration. Like the issue of federalism or this and that. But the most important thing is to sit together and discuss our problems first, and then come out with reports for solutions. The unity of this country is our strength and we must not allow it to be weak. I believe some of these reports in the past should be sent to the National Assembly and let them look at their merits for constitutional reforms. I want to appeal to those who are clamouring for the country’s division to put a stop to such agitation because it is a dangerous approach. We must remain one and united to be able to confront our problems.
What should be the talking points among Nigerians at the moment rather than 2023 politics?
Nigerians should forget 2023 general elections for now and still be talking how best government at all levels can improve the security. We should also be talking on how to improve our economy, which is very important. National unity is also very important. The government of the day must listen to people’s grievances. There are millions of issues we should be talking rather than talking about 2023. We must also stop talking about things that could divide us.
The Supreme Court affirmed Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal as the winner of the last governorship election in Sokoto State. As a PDP chieftain and his close associate, how do feel?
First of all, let me go back to how it started. There was a gubernatorial election in 2019 in Sokoto State, where the PDP won with a margin of more than 10,000 votes. Thereafter, some polling units were cancelled and INEC called for a rerun. We went for the rerun, which was seriously and strongly contested by the two main political parties. It was a free and fair rerun election in which APC could not and PDP still won. Now, our candidate, Rt. Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal was declared by INEC as the winner. APC not satisfied, used their constitutional rights to go to the tribunal. And the tribunal found that the election was free and fair, and that we won squarely. Not satisfied with the tribunal’s verdict, APC went to the Court of Appeal. The appellate court also agreed with the tribunal judgement. Not also satisfied with that, they went to the Supreme Court and the apex court affirmed both the decision of the tribunal and that of the appeal. We are happy with what has happened, we are happy with the result of the election even though we should have been allowed to clinch victory from the first ballots. But we are democrats and we actually agreed with all the court decisions from the tribunal to the Supreme Court. I believe that anybody who is a bona fide son of Sokoto State should deem it fit and join the government of Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal in order to move the state forward. We need peace, we need economic development. We want to improve the welfare of the people of Sokoto state. I personally will want to call on the opposition to sheathe their swords and accept the verdict of the people of Sokoto state. They should also accept the verdict of the Supreme Court. Let us come together and move the state forward in peace and prosperity.
Recently, His Eminence, Sultan of Sokoto remarked that Sokoto politics has never been as contentious as that of 2019 governorship election. What do you think caused this?
It was not a political crisis as some may view it. It was an election in which two major political parties struggled to emerge as the winner. In my party, PDP, all through our campaigns, we were preaching peace, free and fair elections. I am not sure whether that was the same with the opposition. But, whatever it is, you will agree with me that there was no loss of life throughout the election in the State. So, for me, it was just a struggle for power and at the end of the day, PDP transparently won the gubernatorial election and we are very happy with that. The most important in the aftermath elections is to ensure that both sons and daughters of Sokoto state come together and make sure that we move the State forward in both its infrastructure, health care delivery, education and so on. We need to understand that Sokoto State is bigger than all. Let us do whatever we can to move the State forward, and I believe that is what Rt. Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal is striving to achieve.
What would you say about the governor’s olive branch offered to the opposition in the state?
I think that is what it should be. After the contest, we need to put the greater interest of the people ahead of our personal interest. What the governor has done is simply the right thing to do. Once you are elected, you begin to think what to do for the people. And the governor is not telling the APC that the government is for me and PDP alone. It is for all of us, so, come together with us and enjoy the government. I commend His Excellency for what he has just done by extending hands of friendship to the opposition. Whether we like it or not all of us were in PDP before. It was as a result of personal interest that people broke away to join other political parties. The interest of Sokoto is greater than anyone of us.
With this development, do you see mass defection from opposition to PDP?
That is what we expect because Sokoto is a PDP state. What is important is who holds the government, and it is PDP. It is only in 2015 general elections that APC came on board and not so long most people that moved from PDP to APC defected with the governor back to PDP, his original party.