Tunde Omolehin, Sokoto
Mukhtar Shehu Shagari, a lawyer, is a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and twice Minister of Water Resources under President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government.
He was also appointed president of the African Ministerial Council on Water (AMCOW), as well as served as Deputy Governor of Sokoto State for eight years.
In this interview with Sunday Sun, the nephew of the Second Republic President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari spoke on the just concluded general elections, why he supported the incumbent governor of Sokoto State and his relationship with former Governors Wamakko and Bafarawa, among other issues in Sokoto politics.
What is your take on the just concluded general elections?
In my own view, I initially believe this year’s general elections would be better than that of 2015 bearing in mind that in 2015, the elections was adjudged free, credible, fair and peaceful which made it possible for the then opposition party to win and formed the government at the federal level. So, my expectation was that we will build on the success in order to make our democracy better. Unfortunately, if you look at what happened this time, for me it was disappointing. The elections was seriously militarised in nature; seriously monetised and a lot of intimidation and so on. Killings of innocent voters and violence all over the place, which to my mind was not what an average Nigerian expected. It was not also what the international community expected from Nigeria. I believe that the election was not properly managed and it was also schooled to favour a particular party, especially in some states of interest.
Was this reflected in Sokoto State also?
Yes. What happened in Sokoto State was really unprecedented. There were security apparatus all over the place, voters’ intimidation and so many other things that reflected electoral malpractice. In my view, I thought we really need to do better than what we have done. We ought to have learnt from our past experiences. We also should have learnt from the way 2015 general elections was conducted in a very peaceful atmosphere, and transparently done because even the international community commended the elections. But this time, it was condemnations all over the places. I hope and pray that the mistakes that have characterised the 2019 general elections will be looked into thoroughly, so that we can do better in 2023.
There were outcries of the level of military involvement in the elections. As to what extent did you observe their presence during the elections?
Constitutionally, the military has no responsibility in any elections. Even where serious security is needed, it should have been provided by the police because the presence of military in any exercise creates some sort of anxieties within civilian population. But because of the presence of military in this year’s elections, some voters did not come out because they were so scared. It was as if we are at war and we are not. It was supposed to be an election that is democratically conducted and the people should have been democratically elected. Don’t forget that election is an avenue for the people to use their voting rights and elect their representatives. For me, the presence of military in any election is an anathema. It should not be encouraged again in future elections. I think we should have voters’ education towards this so that people can understand that their votes are not for sale, but right for them to exercise power by electing the right people they believed in.
Can we say their presence might have forestalled spate of violence beyond what we experienced in some states?
But violence was recorded even in those areas these military were presence. What of Rivers State? What of Kano and so many other places we have recorded violence? The truth of the matter is that the constitution of Nigeria does not recognise the presence of military personnel at polling units or in an election. That is not their duty. Their duty is to protect the territorial integrity of this country and to defend Nigeria as a nation.
During the presidential and national assembly election, your party performance was rated low. Can you recount any force(s) that worked against your party’s success?
Well, you see Sokoto State is purely a PDP state. If you can recall in 1999 before the general elections, PDP won 15 local government councils against an opposition party that had only eight LGAs. Now, during the campaigns, you saw the number of people that trooped out to attend our political rallies. That gave us some sense of confidence that we are going to win this election. So, I believe that part of the problems we had was over-confidence. Again, there were so many irregularities that worked against us which we did not really thought will happened because we though elections in the state will be exactly the way it was conducted in 2015. Unfortunately, we made a very big mistake. But then, all the same, if you look at the total votes of the PDP presidential candidate received in Sokoto State, it was an unprecedented figure against the APC candidate. In the past, it used to be 20 per cent for PDP and the rest for APC. This time, it was 41 per cent win. Again, before the supplementary election we learnt our lessons and we said look, it our duty and responsibility to ensure that we defend our votes and we did that and you saw what happened. PDP is now fully in-charge of Sokoto State.
APC in the state has vowed to challenge the victory of your party in court, especially the governorship election won by the incumbent governor. Was their decision not raising concern?
Well, that is their own right if they so wish. We as a party have also said that we are unfairly treated because we won the governorship election on the first ballot. The constitution of this country talks about who has the majority of the votes, and that belongs to our party. But INEC said there must be supplementary election. They claimed that their mandate has been stolen, but I want to tell you that they do not have any mandate that has been stolen. The mandate was ours which was planned to be stolen my the opposition, but God helped us and we defended it. Was their candidate even elected in the first place? No. We beat them in first and rerun elections. If they want to go to the tribunal that is their right to do so, just the way our presidential candidate has taken his opponent to court. I want to assure you that we will defend our victory.
Last year, yourself alongside former Governor Bafarawa joined forces with Tambuwal to fight Wamakko whom you worked with as deputy governor for eight years. Was your decision to desert Wamakko political camp a fight back?
Not at all, let me put it this way. In 1999, Wamakko was with Bafarawa during APP era and I was in PDP until 2007 when Wamakko joined PDP and we came together after I had won the party governorship ticket, but the party persuaded me to allow him to take the ticket and I did. We spent good eight years working together. We respected each other and there was no quarrel working in the same political party until the end of 2014 when he decamped to APC. PDP was my party, I and others brought the party to Sokoto State and I decided that look, this is my party. There is no need leaving it to any political parties. From that point we parted ways politically, though we had good relationship. We talk and meet each other and so on, but politically we are not together. So, last year, Tambuwal parted ways with Wamakko and came back into PDP- his original party. I and Bafarawa are already in the party. So, Wamakko stayed in his own party- APC and fielded his choice of candidate. On the other hand, Tambuwal became the candidate of our party. So, what did you expect us to do, you mean to go and join Wamakko in his political party and fight against PDP or our candidate which is Tambuwal? That is not possible. We said look, we have to support Tambuwal to make sure that PDP form the government in Sokoto State. So, there is nothing like a gang up against anybody. It is politics. If Wamakko had moved into PDP and left Tambuwal in APC, we would still work with Wamakko to make sure that our party form the government. I have trust and confidence in Tambuwal that made me support him. He is peaceful. He wants peace for the state and wants to end the issue of political thuggery among our youths. Apart from the fact that he is in my party, he had also convinced me that he had good programmes that will bring political stability and economic development to our state. So, what did you expect us to do in this case? We have to support him ahead of other interests. We supported him and now that he had succeeded we are happy. This is never a political gang up against anybody. We only played the real politics.
As one of the founding members of PDP, you haven’t dumped the party for any reason? What informed your decision for this staying long in PDP?
I do not believe in opportunism because I just want to do the right thing always. Before I joined PDP in 1998, there were other political parties and I looked at their manifestoes. I convinced myself that PDP is a political party that has what it takes to bring about unity and peace in this country. So, I decided to join the PDP and until this moment nothing has happened that would change my mind. I also believe that as a politician we must have principles. We must not do things because of personal interest. My own style of politics is about development, bringing peace and stability to our country. So, any platform that has what it takes on these aforementioned I will always be with that party. And for me, PDP is the right party. Don’t forget that under this political party called PDP, I had the opportunity to be a minister twice. I also had the opportunity to be a deputy governor for good eight years. So, whatever someone can get in another political party, I have gotten it in the PDP. So, why should I leave the party that has brought me into prominence and get me the opportunity to serve this country. It has also made it possible for me to be awarded with third highest national honour in the country. Besides, if all of us move to a ruling party then its means there is no democracy. It means we are moving toward one part system, which is dangerous for our democracy. I believe in politics of win today and maybe loss tomorrow. My own politics is of principle, although I have nothing against those who move from one party to another.
Are you now satisfied with your party reward for your loyalty?
You see, my style of politics is not about reward for position, rather it is all about the country. It’s about my state and community, it is also about my people and their development. As a Nigerian, I need to ask myself what I can do to make the country better. And politics is the best platform to do so. If the party once again say look, this is an opportunity that you fit into the capacity come and do it, fine. So, it was not about me. If no opportunity comes again, I am satisfied. In Sokoto now, my party has won election and I am happy about that. I am satisfied that my party has formed the government in many states and won many National Assembly seats. These are the people who are working to shape the destiny of this country for better.
In 2008, you won your party’s governorship ticket, but later relinquished it to another person who later became the governor. Will you oblige if the party calls you again to vie for the governorship ticket in 2023?
I have said consistently that I am a core party man. I so much believe in the party supremacy. I am always loyal to the decision taken by my party. So, if the party decides by saying look you are the best man for this job in 2023 that is okay. Just the way I told you that party members met me in my house. Some even called me on phone to say look come out and contest in 2019. So, I am a party loyalist
You once declared your intention to contest governorship seat in the just concluded elections, but you suddenly backslide. What informed your decision to drop the ambition?
It was the member of the executives and other stakeholders of my party that met in Abuja and asked me to contest because at that time, they have made their research and felt that there was no candidate in Sokoto State that has better credentials in PDP like me. So, they called upon me and I decided to show my interest, but at that time, there was very strong rumour that Tambuwal will join the party. I told some of the stakeholders that look, if Tambuwal moves to PDP with his government, we need to reconsider our position because one of my objectives in politics is about winning elections and provide service to the people. Not just to be a governor. So, when Tambuwal eventually came into the party, I said to myself as a realist that look, if at the end Tambuwal was not able to get presidential ticket and comes back for the governorship ticket, it will be a disservice to the party for me to challenge him for the ticket. Unfortunately, he didn’t get it and he came back home. Immediately the result was announced I went back to my hotel room and pondered over it within myself that I should just support him. Before I left Port Harcourt, I even attempted to see him to tell him about my conviction to support his re-election bid, but couldn’t see him. That is why I did not buy a form though I had planned to do so. I also had little discussion with former Governor Bafarawa about that and we both agreed that we should support Tambuwal. If I had bought a governorship form, the party could have divided between me and Tambuwal.
Was your support for Tambuwal based on conditions that could be withdrawn if he fails to fulfill them?
No, we went into a campaign as a party and told the people of Sokoto State what we are going to do. The people have given us the mandate through him. And he has consistently told Sokoto State that promises he made to them would be fulfilled. What we are going to do is to advise him whenever he needs our advice to make sure that the right things are done. I had no doubt in my mind that he would do whatever he can to fulfill the promises he made to the people of Sokoto State. So, the issue of withdrawing any support does not arise as far as I am concerned.
What did you think will be Tambuwal’s priority in the next four years?
Tambuwal has promised to look into the education sector. He is going to improve on the infrastructure, good healthcare delivery and so on. He also said security will be another priority, as well as economic development of the state. All these will be attended to with the limited resource the state has. So, I believe him and we are ready to support him to achieve success.