Senator Rufai Hanga is one of the notable political figures in the North. Until the last general elections, he had been a long political ally of President Muhammadu Buhari since the days of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), acting as the protem chairman. In this interview, he tasks the Igbo leaders to act in time and move out the Southeast enclave to form alliance with the relevant sections of the country to actualize their dream for 2023.
Before you came back from your Hajj trip, Governor El-Rufai made a statement suggesting that zoning arrangement should be jettisoned in favour of competence. Is Nigeria ripe for such arrangement?
We have to start from somewhere. We may not be ripe for it now, but we have to start from somewhere. If you are talking of competence, competent people are all over the country. Even though I believe zoning is better because if we base it on competence, you will find one section of the country than the other. You can get competent people elsewhere than other parts of the country. If we have to go by competence, you will find one section of the country dominating the other. All the same, I think we must begin to give consideration to competence like America is doing. Let us look for competence, let us experiment.
But coming from el-Rufai, who is known to be nursing presidential ambition, many observers are quick to interpret the statement as part of the scheming for his presidential ambition. Should power still remain in the North beyond 2023?
To me, I wouldn’t want to say that power should remain in the North or rotate to the South. But I will answer the first part of your question; I think el-Rufai is entitled to have an ambition. And I think he is competent. Maybe we can easily get people who are more competent than him in others part of the country. Even at that, he has the right to say it; he has the right to have an ambition. Since he became the governor, I have never seen him and he has never spoken to me about it. I am only being frank and open. He has the right to aspire to anything because it is his entitlement. But whether the power should remain in the North or rotate to the North is another thing. To me, if I were to be candid, I will rather say power should to go to the South because it is safer and more dignifying for Nigerian politicians. At the beginning of the present democratic dispensation, we promised zoning. The South had it, the North had it, the South should have it next. That one I am comfortable with. Whether it is suitable or not, that is a different question. For me, I will rather want it to go round.
Ethnic politics is evidently at play. Nobody is talking about himself, no one is talking about Nigeria…
That is why I felt we should start from somewhere and begin to search for competence. We should give it a trial so that everything will not boil down to ethnic politics. Left for me, I will support the Southwest. But if I do that, people will begin to say it is selfishness because I am close to this man or that man. For me, based on competence, I will want someone from that zone to be the next man because I know they will turn things around. If given to them, I know they will turn things around. I am doing this for myself or anybody, but for Nigeria. If you want to change things in Nigeria, give it to them. With those I have in mind, I am sure they will turn things around. Nigeria will be better for it. I believe so. But if another person has it, so be it.
Are you saying this as a reward for political loyalty of the region to the North?
It is not because of their loyalty to the North, it is because they are Nigerians. Two, they have done it and we have seen it. Tell me anywhere else in this country that is transformed to the best place in Africa other than Southwest. No other section of this country did it than the Southwest. We started together, and each region was ruling itself. Which region can boast of the best performer other than the Southwest? That is why I believe if you get a South westerner, he will do for Nigeria what they did for Southwest. I am not saying this because of their loyalty to the North, I am saying because of their competence. This man is competent, he can do it is different from this man is competent he has done it before.
You should also be aware that Southeast is seriously agitated about their perceived marginalization. In fact, one of the notable leaders in the region unequivocally declared; ‘it is either Igbo have it or Nigeria loses their citizenship. Will it not amount to injustice if the presidency eludes the region in 2023?
That I have heard from the section 15 to 20 years. And like I said, we just cannot do things in a particular way because someone has threatened this or that. If some applicants come to you for interview and one of them says, if you don’t employ me, your company will crash down, another person says to you, employ me, I will do what I did for the other company to grow and the third one says, try me, I will do my best and you will certainly be happy that you have tried me, who among the three would you employ? The most assuring is that applicant than that says, ‘I have done it, and I can do it again.’ That I will do it is different from I have done it before. The one threatening to scatter everything already had his fate sealed. One man cannot come and say it is either me or never. It is impossible. This is 21st Century; nobody can threaten anybody that rain will fall. Nothing will happen.
Judging from the current distribution of voters’ register, no part of the country can on its own win an election without an alliance with other region. If zoning is retained and power shifts to the South, what nature of alliance with the North would you be looking at?
With Southwest alliance with the Northwest, it is a sure banker the Southwest will get it. Whether they score 2/3 majority or not, they will still get it because when there is no clear winner, there will be a rerun. When there is a rerun, what they need to win is simple majority. And where is the majority coming from? Northwest and Southwest. Volume of votes from Kano alone is almost equivalent of votes for about seven or eight states from Southeast or South-south. The voting strength from Southwest alone is equivalent of the votes from eight states in the Southeast and South-south. With Southwest and Northwest, I don’t think there is anything that will stop them from getting the president.
What form of alliance will work for the Southeast in this instance?
They will have total grip of the Northwest. If they form a strong alliance with the Northwest, I think they may make it. But how do you think they can make it with that alliance? Who and who from Southeast will penetrate the North to come and make such alliance? I think the Southwest came early to the Northwest even though they still have some areas they have not touched and which they need to touch. If the Southeast is smart enough to go and tap into these areas, I am sure they will make it.