Alhaji Adamu Song, former National Chairman of the defunct Alliance for Democracy, AD, former National Vice-Chairman of the defunct National Democratic Party, NDP, former acting National Chairman of Progressive People’s Alliance, PPA, and former General Secretary of NUPENG in this interview explains why it would be difficult for the electorate in the North to vote for an Igbo candidate during the 2023 presidential election and sundry state and national issues. Excerpts:
Let’s start from your home state, Adamawa. It would appear as if there is a particular trait associated with your state, which is that one rarely can predict the outcome of politics. Some people believe this is because the politics of Adamawa State is always controlled by forces outside the state. Why is this so? And from your study of the present government in the state, what can you say? Fintiri, the governor is 100 days in office now.
But let me tell you that Adamawa State politics is not being controlled by forces from outside the state. The Adamawa electorate are one of the most sophisticated in Nigeria. Adamawa State is a cosmopolitan state with a concentration of divergent ethnic groups. You will agree with me that despite the crises we have had in Nigeria, Adamawa is the most peaceful state in the country. You will never hear of religious crisis or parochial sentiments in the state. This is owed largely to the level of sophistication of the people. The Adamawa people judge by performance. Bindow was our governor for four years. He is loved by the people alright. Bindow came to the governorship politics by the circumstance that was prevalent in the nation then – the wind of change.
Are you trying to say that he won then not through the forces from outside?
Yes, not through forces from outside.
And he defeated the PDP candidate, the party, a strong politician like Atiku, former vice president, belongs?
That is another area of problem. People keep saying Atiku is a strong man in politics. Atiku may be strong man in Nigerian politics, but he is not a strong man in Adamawa State politics because Atiku’s candidate has never won election in Adamawa State.
But he has been winning his state.
He won and became governor before he was made vice president by President Olusegun Obasanjo and he again trounced Buhari in the last presidential election in the state.
That’s what I am saying. You only see the results. Do you know the circumstances? Did Atiku get 25 per cent of the votes cast in Katsina State during the last election? What then do you call trouncing when he defeated Buhari with only a few thousands. Is that trouncing? Ordinarily, Buhari is not supposed to get beyond 25 per cent of the votes cast in Adamawa, the minimum required in a state. But Buhari got as many votes as much as Atiku got. So, Atiku is politically strong in Nigerian politics, but he is not politically strong in Adamawa State.
Why? What is the problem?
Very well; the reasons are numerous. One; among the supporters of Atiku in Adamawa State, there is no one who can spend as much as N10 million for the cause of Atiku without sending the bill to him.
What is that supposed to mean?
It means that those who are supporting him have…
You mean Atiku has not made anybody?
No. What it means is that they do not believe in his cause. They believe in making money out of him. It is not their fault. That is the principles of Atiku. He believes that money can buy anything. That is where the problem lies. If Bola Tinubu who was a governor for only eight years can control the whole difficult Southwest…in the history of Nigeria there is no region that is as politically difficult as the Southwest… if Tinubu can commandeer 75 per cent to 85 per cent of the Southwest as a former governor, I wonder why Atiku as the vice president for eight years cannot commandeer even Adamawa State. During the ACN days in Adamawa State he fielded the Secretary to the State Government of Adamawa State under Boni Haruna, Ibrahim Bapetel; he was defeated woefully at the primary level. Again, during APC with Bindow, the former governor of Adamawa State, he fielded one Yayaji against Bindow, Yayaji lost even at the primary level, the primary election they repeated twice. He was even present and seated inside the Lamido Cinema Hall. His candidate lost and you describe this man as politically strong? How is he politically strong? How? Ordinarily, if Atiku cannot control northern Nigeria, he should at least control the Northeast. He made his boys to believe that money can buy anything and as a result his boys don’t believe in whatever he is doing. They are just there to make money from him. That is my assessment of Atiku.
If you are asked to offer him advice, what would you say?
Is he advisable?
Why is he not advisable?
I don’t know because the guys surrounding him will never allow him to see you even if he wants to see you. Atiku as the vice president had, on two occasions, wanted to see me, but they blocked me. They blocked me. The politics of Adamawa is a very sophisticated one. The moment they realized that the change they expected from Bindow was not forthcoming they immediately changed loyalty. The pattern of voting in Adamawa State during the last gubernatorial election showed that there are certain traditional places this guy lost that he ought not to have lost. Again, Bindow didn’t play his politics well. He had too many forces to contend with. He doesn’t keep his promises. All of a sudden, Senator Nyako, the son of the former governor, Admiral Murtala Nyako pulled out of the APC. Senator Nyako and Governor Bindow are from the same senatorial district and by implication, both had the same areas of hope, electorally. While Bindow would have got 100 per cent victory in the senatorial district, the vote there was split between him and the son of Murtala Nyako. If you look at it critically, you will discover that without the emergence of Murtala Nyako’s son as the governorship candidate of ADC, Bindow would have returned. But the Bindow camp underestimated the capacity of Murtala Nyako. This is what I call the immaturity of the Bindow’s political camp. There are a lot of good grassroots politicians in Adamawa State, but they are not utilizing them. There are very wonderful mobilisers at the grassroots that were not happy with Bindow. They didn’t work against him per se, but they didn’t work for him either. Again, Bindow didn’t start the plans for his re-election in good time because he was over confident that everything will fall in place. That again, is the immaturity on the part of the Bindow political camp. It was a political blunder that he assumed that in a state of over seven million people everything would fall in place. He shouldn’t have allowed the former governor, Murtala Nyako to leave the APC. Murtala Nyako left the APC because of the way he was treated in the party. He had no problem with APC at the upper level. He didn’t join any other party, but he pushed his son to seek his governorship ambition under ADC and he personally went to the field to campaign for his son. How could you have allowed such a thing to happen? Whatever is the cost it is something you can sit down and negotiate.
Alright, let us talk…
(Cuts in) I am not through. After the primary election in APC with the younger brother of Nene, he thought that winning the ticket without pacifying the Modi camp is not an issue. As a politician how would you allow such a thing; somebody you struggled to defeat in the primary.
Who is Modi?
Modi is the younger brother of Nene.
And who is Nene?
The wife of the president, Aisha is Nene. Nene is a name given to a respected woman. Her younger brother contested the APC ticket for the governorship election in Adamawa State. So, Bindow thought that winning the APC ticket by defeating Aisha’s junior brother automatically means that everybody will work with APC. Why, for God’s sake, will you not ensure that you mend fences with Modi? He ignored him. Even within the APC people were calling them names. And these are all big people who can make things happen. Bindow shouldn’t have looked at Modi as a new entrant and a young man. He should have considered his sister’s influence. Without going into the field to campaign she can direct people on what to do and it will happen. Now the local government election is coming, they said they have mended fences. Even then it is the SSG that is initiating it. They met; but how many camps? Modi was there, Ribadu was there and Bindow was there and many others. But have they transcended it to the whole state? What has happened is that the state has been polluted the more. Take, for example, I have been in Adamawa since December; nobody from APC has made moves, but PDP has made their moves. They want me. All my life I have been an organizer. By the grace of God I can still work. I am kicking and I can organize. I don’t have money, but I have the capacity to organize, to broach strategies. That is what I have been doing as a unionist for the past 30 years in NUPENG. I organized Petroleum Tanker Drivers from nowhere. Today, it is most powerful organization in Nigeria. I started as an Organising Secretary of NUPENG. My task was to organize tanker drivers in Kaduna. It was a condition given to me before the confirmation of my appointment. I organized the Petroleum Tanker Drivers, PTD arm of the Chanchangi Company. I can still organize. But if, for example, I decide to join other parties in Adamawa State other than the APC and PDP nobody will blame me because I cannot as a politician sit down and be looking. I do not believe in the principle of siddon look.
For the past eight or nine months you spent in Adamawa, what did you observe?
Let me say this: from my study of events in Adamawa State today, I can confidently say that there has been tremendous change from the way things were done in the past. I am now speaking as an observer from outside. I am not speaking as somebody in government and I was not in the previous government. But from what is happening outside it seems the new person wants to do things the right way, orderly and sustain things beyond him. He is not doing things that can be dismantled after him. He is trying to create enduring institutions in Adamawa State, the institutions that will service Adamawa requirements. It is not going to be one day or two days affairs.
I am sure you are getting a sense of the political temperature of Nigeria as regards the state of the nation, talking about the people, insecurity, political advocacy for the 2023 presidency and all the rest. What are your fears?
I don’t have any fear. What is happening politically has been happening before now. We are familiar with them. But my concern is the security situation. What is baffling me with the present government is that in as much as they are working hard to arm the military, this thing (insecurity) is not abating and I think we have a country that so much believes in God. I am surprised that the government didn’t deem it fit to invite all the religious leaders to embark on prayers for God to intercede…
(Cuts in) We have been told by the Chief of Army Staff, Buratai to go spiritual.
I don’t know, but I am very surprised that it beats my imagination hollow that this government everybody knows and the opposition knows that the president is trying very much to provide for the armed forces the equipment they may need and paying their allowances on time. But this thing is not abating. Why don’t we revert to God? Nobody is thinking about it even when we have a vice president as a pastor and a president who is an Alfa. What else do they want before reverting to God? Is it until when the country is disintegrated? Is it until they kidnap the president or the wife of the president or the vice president? Who have we not heard of being kidnapped? They kidnapped a title holder in Katsina. Is this not enough signal to tell the people to change the game? What have they not done in Kaduna-Abuja road?
In all these, who should take the blame?
I blame the president. The buck stops on his desk. This thing is now beyond the Chief of Army Staff. We have seen a situation where a kidnapper who has been arrested by the police was freed. Who freed him? An Army Captain. How many of these Captains do you know are doing this business for them? Recently, there was a situation in Yola where some weapon wielding guys came and killed one prominent indigene and left. They spent over 45 minutes shooting in that suburb. There was no response from any of the security agencies. While the prayer I called for is going on he should overhaul the security system because arresting an Army Captain who freed a kidnapper sends a signal that the ranks of the Army have been infiltrated. If the current Chief of Army Staff doesn’t have the capacity to overhaul the Army and flush out the bad eggs then there is the need to change the Chief of Army Staff and bring another person who will be able to do it. The Army has been given all they asked for. But the Boko Haram fight is still on. The whole thing is assuming a frightening dimension. Inside Yola, kidnappers went into somebody’s house, inside his bedroom and kidnapped him. Look at, in a school hostel kidnappers went there and kidnapped girls and two of their teachers in Kakau Daji along Abuja-Kaduna road. What does the president require again to take action?
Some people believe in negotiation and now some state governments are negotiating with bandits in order to get peace…
(Cuts in) The fact of the matter is: how many groups of bandits are you going to negotiate with? Do they all belong to one camp? As far as I am concerned, negotiating with any bandit is nonsensical. It does not make sense. Somebody will go and start killing people, kidnapping them and collecting money from them and you say you will negotiate with them and set them free? Has Nigeria now become a banana republic? Even after the negotiation in Zamfara, the other day bandits killed some soldiers. Truly and sincerely, I believe in the quality of the president, but this calls for caution. He needs to wake up from his slumber.
While the Southwest is said to be warming up for the 2023 presidency, the North says it is interested in retaining the slot, just as some prominent Nigerians and groups are saying it is the time for Igbo presidency. Where do you stand?
One, I will never belong to the camp that says the North should retain the presidency. That one is out of the question because that is unfairness. Although the Constitution didn’t bar anybody from contesting the presidency, but the two strong political parties have adopted a system that allows for rotation. The idea of the rotation is to bring about peace and to get every region to have a sense of belonging because most of the complaints from the disgruntled zones are that they are not regarded as Nigerians. They are not, therefore, being considered for the presidency; they are only being considered for vice president or lesser positions. It was this reason that made me to support Goodluck Jonathan because I want every segment of Nigeria to have a sense of belonging. However, the region I am sympathetic to has a serious challenge that I do not know how to surmount it. They refused to play the mainstream politics. That is the Southeast. Ordinarily, if I am to give presidency, I will give it to the Southeast. But this is politics. Unfortunately again, the political elite from the Southeast are making matters worse by keeping quiet when certain things are happening. The only Southeast politician who is vocal and talks like a nationalist is Senator Orji Uzor Kalu. That is the only person I can single out. The others are either mute or are tacitly supporting what is happening. For example, this is Nigeria and we all belong to Nigeria. No doubt there are some inequalities occasioned by certain circumstances. Now, how can you term the country you want to rule as a zoo? Yet no one is coming out to counter them even if they believe Nigeria is a zoo. No one is saying the entire zone does not believe so. There is no concrete condemnation of that from the political elite in the Southeast except the Senator I have just mentioned.
It would be unfair of you to say the Southeast elite have been tacitly supporting those calling Nigeria a zoo because I know they have been speaking out against the activities of the IPOB.
No; me I have not heard. How many of them have spoken?
The Ohanaeze Ndigbo as a body has been speaking and that is the problem between the leader of the group, Nnia Nwodo and the leader of the IPOB.
Who is Kanu? That is what I am saying. He has been promoted to the level of God.
And the government too seems to have increased his popularity by…
(Cuts in) You mean somebody who is advocating treason should not be arrested? Is he above the laws of this country? The fact of the matter is: even if they didn’t support him have you forgotten that the most senior Igbo in the government of Jonathan or the government of Buhari in his first term was Ike Ekweremadu? Ekweremadu was in a convoy to release Kanu from prison. I would have wished to support an Igbo president, but where do we start from?
So, they should not have the presidency because of that?
How would they have it when the people will not vote for an Igbo candidate?
And who are the people?
The people who are where the votes are.
Where are the votes?
The votes are in the North. You know it.
So, people of the North will not vote for an Igbo candidate?
It would be difficult. I am not ruling it out, but it would be difficult. The Igbo need to start work from now to change the narrative; to make the people understand that the Igbo elite are not in support of what Kanu is doing because that is the thinking of the average northerner. They should start working from now. There are Igbo politicians who have ambition for political office at the centre. They should start working now so that people should understand them; that assumption that everybody from the Southeast is supporting Kanu. It takes time. It is not something you will correct in just few weeks during electioneering. But for me, anytime, any day I will support Igbo president for equity and fairness.
Must they be in mainstream politics to get the presidency?
Of course, yes. Have you seen anybody from the minority becoming the president of any nation? I am not saying they are minority. I am talking about mainstream politics. If I say mainstream politics I mean the common political group that all the politicians in the region converge, not a political group where only Hausa people are and say you an Igbo man wants to be president under a Hausa political party. How? Why should a Yoruba man vote for you? Or you are a Hausa man and you go to UPN, who will vote for you? It is the convergence. It is either they start working to make APGA the mainstream political party; that will be fine. But what I am saying now is that it is time for the Southeast, the political Southeast to wake up and start changing the narrative in the South-south, Southeast, Southwest, North-central, Northwest and Northeast. It is not wrong for you to begin to educate people about the feelings you have in the Southeast.
In considering your answer to the question of Igbo presidency, is it fair not to consider the roles played by the Igbo in the past when you think of people like Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ozumba Mbadiwe, Eni Njoku, Ajah Nwachukwu, Nwafor Orizu and the rest of them?
That is what I am saying. That is part of changing the narrative. How many of the electorate know all these people and their contributions to the development of Nigeria? I am not contesting the fact that they contributed to Nigeria’s development and nobody who is enlightened will contest that. You have just hit the nail on its head because there are so many electorate in this country who believe that the Igbo have never done anything for this country other than the civil war. But for me I know it is not the right impression. That is why I am saying the Igbo should not wait until it is time for elections. How many people will be educated then?
As one of Buhari’s sympathizers, would you want to align your thoughts with those of his supporters and appointees that this government is the best since 1999 when a new democratic experience started in Nigeria?
No, I disagree.
This is because each of the past governments excelled in certain areas just like this Buhari’s government. Buhari came in when the country was in a precarious situation. He has been able to stabilize the country.
Has he stabilized the country?
Yes, he has.
Of course, we are still one country.
Otherwise, we would have been a different story.
This is because we got everything wrong from our spending spree. If $2.1 billion meant to buy equipment for Boko Haram fight will be shared, would the economy have sustained such? This is one out of the very many reasons he has stabilized Nigeria. I am talking about dollars. It was shared among politicians. So, this kind of pilfering has reduced. Secondly, if we are talking about subsidy what is happening now is not the same kind of subsidy that happened under Goodluck Jonathan’s regime. I was in the oil industry. If anybody tells you that we are spending that much on fuel subsidy now than in the past he is not speaking the truth. I do not have the figures for now, but it keeps on changing. When I was in office at the time I have the privilege of having the figures all the time. I know what we are spending now is far below what we were spending before. And I do not think that things will change much within a period of eight months. Thirdly, we are now reasonably stable in local food production. You can’t argue that. In the state where I come from a bag of rice is N7,000 now in the middle of rainy season. By December, it may drop to N5,000 and N4,000.
Do you go to the market at all? People are complaining that the prices of foodstuffs are going up and here you are talking about…
(Cuts in) Even last Tuesday I was in the market. I bought three bags of rice. A bag of 30 mudu cost me N10,000. In other words, a mudu is about N400 as against N650. You can now barely see foreign rice because they are arresting them all over the place.
Then why are people talking of hunger and suffering?
Those who are suffering and complaining of hunger now are those used to free money.
Even poor Nigerians?
Yes. They are the ones used to the free money. I am sorry to say that, but the truth is that some of the time our problems are being made complex by the masses. People just don’t want to do anything.
Where are the jobs?
Come on, Kenny Ashaka, there are one thousand and one jobs. You can do labourer work. They are many. Some people feel they cannot do it.
You mean a graduate from the university should become a labourer? Is that what you are advocating?
Yes. Are graduates better than that? I was in USA, I saw a PhD holder who is a fisherman. Why would they be fishermen outside their country and come home to refuse similar jobs? Some graduates even work in mortuaries abroad, but return to Nigeria and would not accept the same job. Are our graduates not taxi drivers abroad? This PhD holder would return to the classroom to supplement. What are you talking about? He has large family that his income cannot sustain. The issue here is that it is impossible to rely on government alone for everything. Take, for instance, one local government…I will not mention the name of the local government; over 50 per cent of their workers are not in the local government…
(Cuts in) Wait a minute, the implication of what you have been saying is that those complaining of hunger are lazy. Would that be right?
Yes. I say so without remorse. They are lazy because this country is raw. Whatever you do seriously you will make money. Tell me one thing that you will do seriously that you won’t make money in this country? My nephew is a graduate and I am telling you this without fear of contradiction…
(Cuts in)You are in other words confirming what people claimed Buhari said; that Nigerian youths are lazy?
I do not know whether Buhari said so or not, but as far as I am concerned Nigerian youths are lazy. Let me tell you about that my nephew. He started riding Keke Napep. Do you know what he has done here in Kaduna? Now you can call Keke Napep on your own to carry you anywhere. They call it KekeRide. He is not now willing to work for anybody. Among the 18 riders of his KekeNapep that he owns, two of the riders are HND graduates. On the average he makes N4,000 in a day after all expenses. That is N120,000 a month. Which graduate will get N100,000 a month for a start? They are lazy because they are not ingenious. They rely on employment. This is the same thing I did. I relied on employment and was employed. I rose to the highest position, but I am regretting why I didn’t do business on my own. I wouldn’t have retired. I am still strong. But because I depended on salary I became lazy. Now they have retired me. I do not know how to do anything. I have resorted to farming. Do you know how many bags of rice I cultivated? Let’s leave that for another day. I am now very rich as a farmer. I have plenty animals and chickens. In the next few days, I will harvest over 5,000 fishes from my fishpond. I have employed those who will roast and smoke them.