“These retired Military Generals always think they own Nigeria, but the country is for all of us and we have to work towards our common wealth”
Gyang Bere, Jos
Ambassador Ibrahim Kasai is the former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Ukraine and a Board of Trustee member of the Buhari Campaign Organisation. He believes that Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) cannot stop the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019.
You are part of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, how has it been in mobilizing Nigerians for the re-election of the president?
You know that this journey can never be very easy particularly now that there is a seeming gang up against the president by retired Military Generals. These retired Military Generals always think they own Nigeria, but the country is for all of us and we have to work towards our common wealth, so the campaign has not been easy. The president appears to be the only one at the top fighting corruption, instead of his military colleagues supporting him, they are fighting him and this is what has made the journey very tough. But we are happy that the masses are with him.
Why do you think these Generals are fighting the president?
I have said it, most of them are into oil business and Buhari is likely not going to renew their licenses, he is taking on policies that will better the masses in the country and those in oil business are just few; they are mostly retired Generals. So, if you are trying to spread the resources to a particularly group, they will fight it. In politics, there is class and class struggle, if you observe very well you will see that people in a particularly class fight to remain in that class and always fight to move up to the upper class, and this is what is playing out ahead of the 2019 election.
Are you saying that Generals Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida and Theophilus Danjuma are fighting for themselves and not in the interest of Nigerians?
If they notice that you intend to take what they have, they will fight it.
But it appears the President has not taken any step to stop what they are getting?
He is not saying they are doing illegal business, he is simply suggesting that this resources belong to all of us and it should go round, he is not saying that they have done anything wrong.
You said the masses in Nigeria are solidly behind Buhari and the same Nigerians are complaining bitterly of hardship, how can you blend the two scenarios?
Yes, there is a simple analogy, when you want some medication and the doctor noticed that the fastest way of taking this medication is through injection, of course, you are going to incur some pains, and if you insist that you are going to swallow some pills, then the digestive system and the stomach content can’t interact with the pills, but the one that goes straight to the blood stream gives you better treatment, that is the same thing with repositioning Nigeria. You cannot do this without incurring some pains, even those countries that have gone from third world to the first world class, spent so many years, the citizens incurred some pains, it is not just over night. The problem with Nigeria is that we want to copy America over night, we want to copy the western world over night, but they went through processes, look at what America has gone through over the years, they suffered, but they gave in their best and they have stabilized, we don’t want to suffer, we just want to jump from where we are to compare ourselves to those people that have gone through processes, people have to sacrifice.
The president has been accused of coming up with some unfriendly policies that are not good for Nigeria, particularly his refusal to sign into law the Electoral Bill because it will give him the opportunity to rig the 2019 election, do you share the same opinion with this school of thought?
One of the problems that we Nigerians have is that we are very lazy at reading, we don’t want to read, we just want to hear. Let’s make effort to read the content of the bill, there are aspects that are not good for now. For instance, the bill says there should be electronic voting and if there is electronic voting now and you exclude Nigerians in the Diaspora, do you think it’s good. Nigerians in the Diaspora have been talking about this, they have been willing to participate in our electoral system, but all along, the Nigeria government keeps saying that they should wait. When I was ambassador of Nigeria to Ukraine, they invited me to attend Diaspora meeting in Belgium, I was the only ambassador that attended and they asked me a question that the National Assembly has refused to include them in the electoral process. I look at them and said yes, I am not to talk for the National Assembly, but I am talking for the Nigeria government as a whole. I said that the truth was that you in Europe, do you think you are the only Diasporans? That time there was a problem in Egypt, problem in Libya, problem in everywhere in Africa, Nigerians that are in those countries are not getting it easy, the Diasporans that are in these country have not generated data enough to say this is the number of Nigerians in each country. You want to participate in electoral process, it is good, but it has to cut across the entire Diaspora, all over the world and not only Europe, some of them were not looking at things from that direction. If the Electoral Bill says that in 2019, there should be electronic voting and you have not taken into consideration how to take care of Nigerians outside the country, what do you do?
Does the present law take care of Nigerians outside the country?
No, they can’t vote now because there is no provision for that in the Constitution.
So, what is wrong in signing the bill and then including them into voting process subsequently?
No, if the bill is signed, it means you cannot deny them voting, they have not generated data, as we speak now, how many Nigerians do we have in England, Europe and other countries? We don’t have the answer.
But as it is now, can’t that bill be signed into law and we conduct the 2019 elections within the country and after the law can be amended to capture all Nigerians outside the shores of the country?
What if you are sued for exclusion, you make law in Nigeria and you are excluding others, is that fair, that is the problem. I don’t know what stops Nigeria from taking care of this problem, we have Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, that should be their work, INEC should have for long perfected the system where Nigerians outside the country can participate in our electoral process. If you are a Nigerian outside the country, you report to the embassy. When I was an ambassador in Ukraine, I did my best to gather all Nigerians in all my countries of jurisdiction, I made sure that they meet at least once in a year during independence. I will hold meetings with them to encourage them while those who don’t have passports, I made sure that I got passports for them.
Some people still believe that the refusal of the president to sign the Electoral Bill was a strategy for him to rig the 2019 elections, are you not viewing it from that perspective?
How can the president rig the election? The president is a leader who believes in the rule of law, he believes that this country belongs to all of us, if you look at his way of doing things, he talks much about Nigeria, he doesn’t talk much about himself, so the question of rigging the 2019 election is very far from it.
You were appointed ambassador during President Yar’Adua/Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure and Yar’Adua is late now and Jonathan should be seen to be your political boss, at what point did you part ways with him?
Well, I parted way with him when I completed my national assignment, I didn’t part with the party when I was still an ambassador. It was local politics in Plateau that pushed me out of the PDP, there wasn’t internal democracy. When you abuse your office and abuse the electoral process definitely people of honour will leave you, when that was going on I told them, they are alive today, that this thing you are doing will not take you anywhere, I told them.
I believe that was a state issue, why did you abandon him?
Yes, Jonathan was my boss.
But he is now in PDP and working for Atiku Abubakar, why can’t you join him to work for the PDP at the national level to still show your loyalty to him?
No, you see this thing is not a personal friendship, if you have grown up in politics, then you will know that it is a national phenomenon, the choice of the nation first and then your personal relationship with somebody is secondary because somebody was my boss and I discovered that he was wrong and I should keep on following him, no. It means I am playing to the gallery.
You mean PDP has no national interest at heart?
I told them that PDP was collapsing, look at former President Olusegun Obasanjo that tore his PDP card is now coming to support PDP presidential candidate, after writing nasty stories about Atiku. So, do we believe what he is saying now or what he wrote in his book? He should write another book, a second edition of his book about Nigeria to condemn what he had said about Atiku, to say he had made a mistake about what he said; that Atiku is not a good leader.
But they have mended broken fences and reconciled to move Nigeria forward?
That is why I am saying that for Nigerians to believe him, he should put it in writing through another book to apologize, then we will believe him.
You are from the North, Buhari and Atiku are from the North also, don’t you think Atiku will win the election due to his human relationship with the masses?
Let me tell you that General Buhari is more popular in the Northeast than Atiku. Go to Adamawa State today, you will discover that he is more popular than Atiku and if you go to the Northwest, you will see that Buhari is still very popular and command strong followership.
Are you saying that Buhari will win election in Adamawa State, the home state of Atiku in 2019?
Yes, he will win in Adamawa, no doubt about that.
What gives you the courage?
Look at the Northeast, there is going to be bandwagon effects, in political analysis you should look at states, look at Borno, look at Yobe, Bauchi and look at Adamawa, don’t forget that the president’s wife is from Adamawa and look at the big shots that are rooting for him.
But the candidate of the president’s wife lost the governorship primaries in Adamawa?
That was the dynamic of politics as an individual. Have you heard of him in politics before, maybe he was relatively new and the incumbent governor is also an APC governor, so there was no need fighting a sitting governor within the party, there was no reason to fight him, this was what dictated what happened.
You said that the president has strong support in the Northeast, which has been ravaged by Boko Haram and he had made a pronouncement in 2015 that Boko Haram will end in December, but hundreds of Nigerian soldiers were killed by insurgents few weeks ago, have we made progress?
Let me give a general answer to this, the people of Northeast believe that Buhari is a leader that is truly fighting insurgency because of his singular action by directing all the military to relocate to the Northeast to fight these people squarely and he has acquired more aircraft to fight the insurgents and the general step he has taken shows that he is determined to flush out Boko Haram. There is relative peace there, children are going to school, people are doing business. We are not saying that Boko Haram has been eliminated totally, but for sure, they are no longer as strong as they used to be.
In the history of fighting insurgency in the Northeast, the Nigerian Army has not recorded the level of casualty they recorded recently, are we making progress?
Yes, we are still making progress because fighting terrorism is a difficult warfare. This is because the people don’t care about uniform, in conventional warfare, you know your enemies, but these people are found in houses, in friendly communities and everywhere. It is difficult to identify them, so the war should be more of intelligence gathering, this village heads in the village are very important, these local vigilante groups, they are very important in complementing the military, the focus should be geared towards that direction, the military and Mr President have done very well, but that is not to say that there is no problem. There are problems, we hear stories of collusion, we cannot deny that, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation was even removed because of certain contracts in line with that, so we know that there are problems.
In Plateau State, insecurity is one of the factors that would shape the 2019 election in the state, do you think Lalong’s government has treated Plateau people fairly when it comes to security issues?
I have a divergent opinion, Governor Lalong is going to win his re-election squarely, we are not shaking about that. This insecurity you are talking about is not new, instead Lalong brought peace to Plateau State, it was sometimes last year that political activities were gearing up, but some herdsmen were triggered from somewhere and they started killing people in the villages, Buhari was not happy over that development. Did you notice that when the presidential and governorship primaries were going on in the country even Boko Haram kept mute, there wasn’t incidents of herdsmen/farmers clashes at a point. People started making a comment that so these killings are political?
Is it true that APC is fueling the killings?
How can it be APC, the primaries were not conducted by APC alone, there were different political parties carrying out different political activities and the criminals decided to keep quiet as if they had interest. What interest does these criminals have in politics that they ceased fire so to say at that point and later on, they started again?
Are you confident that Lalong will be re-elected in 2019?
Yes, the governor has done quite well, he is doing roads in all the local government areas, those projects that were abandoned for several years, he has completed them. He has upgraded Plateau State University that had no accreditation when he took over, look at how he has equipped other tertiary institutions in the state, they are running very well now. Do you know that we are producing fertilizer in Plateau and selling it to other states? Comfortable, Plateau farmers enjoy fertilizer through out the year.
Governor Lalong emerged governor in 2015 due to protest votes and those people are no longer with him, how will he win the election this time?
But do you know that many have come back? Just wait and see what will happen in January, we are going to receive them and you will see the faces, they are disenchanted with the PDP. You have not heard about the trouble in PDP, there is general apathy in PDP, nothing is assuring because they are fed up because they are seeing frustration because they know that they will not win. Many of them are coming to APC before the election so that they will be relevant.
Are you saying that PDP is dead?
Right from the beginning, I had said so. That was the reason I left PDP, I told my supporters and other associates that PDP has nothing to offer the people of Plateau State, they have reached the end of the road.
Don’t you think that General Jeremiah Useni (rtd), the PDP candidate can spring surprises?
Which impressive performance? He is tired, the man should go and rest. PDP made a mistake of not handing over to a younger person, when your time has gone, it is good to rest and allow younger people to take over.
Are you saying his age is a barrier to the success of PDP?
Not his age, he has been in government for long and he is also rich. There is a difference between being tired and aged, I received my letter of credence from an 85-year-old president when I was an ambassador, so age was not a barrier.
I was going to ask, don’t you think Buhari’s age is a clog on the wheel of development in Nigeria?
He is just 76, 76 years is not too bad to run a country.
But General Useni is 75, so between him and Buhari who is older to govern?
Running a state is more challenging than running a country. It is just that in Nigeria, the National Assembly refused to devolve power, if they had done so and given local government autonomy, this country would have been powerful. All these noise we are making, all the issues of restructuring that we have been debating about, if that had been done, this country would have been fantastic.
What do you think is the barrier to the re-election of President Buhari and Governor Simon Lalong in 2019?
I don’t foresee any barrier, I foresee success, I see them being sworn in again.
What do you think can stop their re-election?
I have said it before, I said unless if President Buhari is not alive, but once he is alive, he will win the 2019 presidential election in 2019.
Don’t you believe that Atiku can stop Buhari’s re-election?
How, I am just giving you an insight into what will happen, Atiku will not go far. When you are in office, people see what you do, people know who you are. Atiku’s stronghold in the Southwest and in the South-south is all about restructuring and the issue is gradually fading away.
Don’t you think Buhari’s refusal to restructure the country will consume him?
How? It is the National Assembly that will do restructuring or is it the president that will make the pronouncement, you think it’s as easy as that? The Constitution does not provide for a referendum and so how will you do it, when the Constitution did not provide a referendum when there is a need like that. Also, politics is a social contract, if you alter the arrangement you have to go back to the drawing board and say how do we do it and that should be through a referendum and the Constitution did not make that provision. The only way we can effect a meaningful change is through the National Assembly.
Do you think the gang up against the president by the retired Generals will not work?
It is already weak, they will not go anywhere, the way Buhari is fighting corruption is all-inclusive. Also, I want the president to down play the issue of Governor’s Forum because the governors are becoming more powerful, they intimidate the president whenever they want something, that was why I said the failure of devolution of power was not good for this country, people are clamouring that local government should be autonomous. The president has done his best by refusing to be the leader of the party, but when you come to the state, the governors are clearly the leaders of the party, they must stop dipping hands into government money to support political parties, all across the parties. The party chairman should be allowed to handle the party and businessmen fund it, and the government should patronize politicians and Nigeria will be a perfect place, that is what is happening in Nigeria and everywhere. The General Ibrahim Babangida regime gave us a set back when he introduced two parties system and they used government money to fund the parties, this continued during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s time.
Do you mean that IBB set back democracy in Nigeria?
Yes, the mistake of funding political parties was the beginning of official corruption, because when you take government money to support a political party, what happens to other parties? They should be funded too. The chief advisers of IBB regime were professors from the universities, they gave that theoretical perspective, I am not holding IBB personally responsible, but he was the head, he has to take the blame, I don’t hate him as a person, but that was the beginning of problem in Nigeria and we must work hard to reverse it, which Buhari is trying to do by refusing to be the leader of APC.