Comrade Eliot Afiyo, a senior pastor with Redeemed Christian Church of God, is the national chairman, Northern Youth Leaders Forum (NYLF), President, Arewa Youths Congress of Nigeria and the Secretary General, Association of West Africa Monarchs. The outspoken clergyman in this no-holds-barred interview with BILLY GRAHAM ABEL in Yola, berates the proponents of the Ruga project, describing them as corrupt politicians bent on destabilising Nigeria. He gives fresh insights into the mystery surrounding the Abacha loot, insisting it is all hoax, just as he speaks on June 12 and why he thinks All Progressives Congress (APC) National Leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, can never be Nigeria’s president.
As a Bwatiye person from Adamawa, what is your take on the proposed Ruga settlement?
Ruga settlement is a product and scheme of corrupt politicians. Anybody supporting the Ruga settlement is a corrupt politician. There is no doubt about it and I owe nobody any apology. They cut across all the geopolitical zones of the country. These are corrupt politicians who vehemently opposed Buhari’s anti-corruption war. They could no longer keep their looted funds in soak-away or tanks or buy properties or keep such looted funds in the banks. They decided to invest in cattle business where there will be no traces or links. These are the people that are pushing for Ruga in all the states that have valleys or fertile grounds for grazing.To be candid with you, these are the politicians that brought the herders from Mali, Senegal and other West African countries to Nigeria. An ordinary Fulani herder would never remain in one particular place for long. I have over 500 cows and I have three Fulani that are looking after these cows. Even when I built houses for them to stay, they use to leave the house during dry season and move down to Nasarawa. These corrupt politicians––Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Ijaw and the rest––connived and collaborated to frustrate the nomadic education of Prof. Jubril Aminu, murdered the Almajirai programme of Jonathan and are sponsoring the farmers/herders’ clashes. If the Ruga initiative is genuinely conceived and meant to bring peace and mutual benefits for the farmers and herders, why is it that the genuine and recognised Fulani leaders were not involved or carried along? President Buhari promised us a week to the election, that his next level will witness massive arrest and prosecution of corrupt elite regardless of political party. I know he must have confided in one or two of them. That is why they are creating all sorts of crisis to unsettle him. We need to pray for Buhari for God to deliver him from the shackles of spiritual captivity. As the National Chairman of NYLF, I sincerely wish to call upon all the southerners living in the North to disregard the ultimatum and go about doing their legal businesses. I assure them of their safety. The ultimatum is purely political and should be regarded as such. All herdsmen should also remain in any state of their choice in the South regardless of the unfortunate pronouncement by the Northern Elders Forum.
Since 2003, NYLF has been endorsing and ensuring the victory of presidents and governors, but it seems that role was not played in 2019, what really happened?
You cannot say for sure that the NYLF did not play the role for the emergence of President Buhari in 2019. Yes, to an extent, we were not visible as we used to be in the past. But actually, we played a major role in 12 of the 19 states in the North. During the governorship elections, all the national executive committee members were directed to ensure the victories of certain governorship candidates in six states only. While the state executives were allowed to support any candidate of their choice, we decided to downplay our involvement because of the divisions among our elders, especially our patrons.
Talking about divisions, there appears to be one again ahead of 2023. Which zone should produce the next president in 2023?
Any northerner is free to contest as well as the southerners. There is nothing as power rotation again. This so-called power shift was discarded by the Jonathan regime in 2011. There were political agreements for power rotation in January1999, February 2007 and December 2011. Jonathan knew about these agreements. In fact, he knows that the original copy of the most recent one was with a former governor of Delta State, but went ahead to challenge anybody to present the original copy of the agreement. I have all the photocopies of the agreements that can be tendered at any time. Nobody should dare say that power must go to the South in 2023. When we were pointing out to the southerners in 2015 of the dangers and consequences of Jonathan’s actions, we were called names. Now the reality has come to play. The North will definitely present a candidate in 2023.
When former president, Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to enforce it in 2015, people did not understand. They believed he did not want Jonathan to rule for another four years. They did not know that Obasanjo was fighting Jonathan for national interest. Obasanjo begged northerners to allow Jonathan to serve for one term in 2011. That was the agreement. But when Jonathan reneged on the agreement, Obasanjo as a patriot had to work against Jonathan.
But mark my word: Tinubu will never rule Nigeria as the president. I repeat never! It is easier for a southern Christian to be president of Nigeria than a Muslim because Nigeria as it is now cannot accommodate Muslim-Muslim ticket anymore and you cannot rule out the North-West.
It is easier for people like Osinbajo, Fayemi or Ambode to be the president than Tinubu. Fayemi may be more acceptable to the northerners in 2023 because of his antecedents. We may not be too comfortable with Osinbajo because of his loyalty to Tinubu. But the North has a lot of presidential materials in 2023. We have people like Kingibe, El-Rufai, Mohammed Babandede, Senator Ahmed Lawan, Boss Mustapha, Bala Mohammed etc. that can pilot the affairs of this country successfully. Any of these people may get the support of the NYLF.
Which party do you think will win the 2023 presidential election?
There is no doubt that whichever candidate that Buhari backs will definitely win the election by the grace of God. For the first time in the history of our country, we have a president that won the election without the so-called godfathers. This implies that President Buhari will have a free hand to do anything that he so wished without any interference from anybody. APC will win the 2023 presidential elections with ease. President Buhari promised us three days to the presidential elections that he will deal with corrupt leaders in his next level irrespective of political or religious differences. He promised to drop two powerful ministers. And today, to the glory of God, these ministers will never be part of the next level. I am telling you; quote me anywhere, Nigeria will be better by the end of Buhari’s second term. Nigerians will be praying for the type of Buhari after his tenure because all these corrupt politicians defecting from other parties to APC will be jailed whether they are ministers, senators or House of Representatives members. We will keep on praying for Buhari even after his tenure.
You were one of those who rooted for Abacha to be Nigeria’s president back then, how do you feel today that stories about his looting is everywhere?
I am proud to say without any fear of contradiction that Abacha is a detribalised person, he loves this country from his heart, and he made sacrifices for Nigeria. When Abacha came on board, there was crisis everywhere.
He initiated the process of reconciliation, forgiveness and restoration. He identified areas of our weakness as a nation and gave us hope. Abacha ruled under severe sanctions, yet he did not borrow a dime, he did not fail to pay salaries, even when the Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC) approved fuel pump price increase to N14 per litre, he reduced it to N11 and set up Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF). Till date, the Nigerian public is still benefiting from PTF projects such as roads, hospitals (essential drugs) etc. In the area of killings, I dare to tell you that most of the killings that took place during his tenure, he wasn’t aware. He did not know or order the killings because till date, nobody has evidence to link him with any incident. I challenge anybody to come up with any evidence.
You see, if you want to make a change in any society, especially blocking some people from benefitting in their own traditional way, you will be resisted and called all sort of names and that is what is happening now with Buhari. Most especially, when you are dead, people will crop up so many things against you knowing that you cannot have any chance to defend yourself.
I would like to tell you without any fear of contradiction that there are many Nigerians today that are ten times more corrupt than Abacha. Reno Omokri said that Abacha stole $5 billion, how much had Diezani Alison-Madueke stole and how much billions of dollars were stolen under Jonathan?
On the so-called Abacha loot, I want to tell you that it is a paradox. The more you look, the less you see. In the heat of sanctions placed on Nigeria, Abacha selected some notable Nigerians which cut across economic, political and traditional classes and held a meeting with them on the way forward in order to curtail the effects of the sanctions on the masses. Fifty-eight of them were invited but 47 honoured the invitation. A decision was then taken to save for the rainy day.
Thirteen countries were recommended including some African countries. Some people including two present serving governors and six former governors, who served from 1999 to 2015, were recruited to open these accounts. Nineteen accounts were approved. Some of these accounts were opened in Credit Suisse Plus, Credit Agricole Indosuez, Union Bancaire and M.M. Warburg, all in Switzerland.
Despite putting part of our foreign earnings into these accounts, our external reserve was still increasing. It was after the death of Abacha that these people went and changed the names of the accounts to Abacha and other family members and came to meet Abacha’s family to share the monies 50-50.
The refusal of Abacha’s family to this arrangement unfortunately turned the funds into looted funds that the so-called whistle blowers are talking about since 1999 till date. I challenge anybody to meet these financial institutions to make the details of these accounts public. I was mesmerised and devastated when these people started saying that these accounts contain looted funds by Abacha. The monies that were legally transferred into these accounts have turned to be looted funds and only Abacha is being fingered.
Abacha did not travel out to these countries to open the accounts. Where are the people that were used? The so-called looted funds are the monies that are being used to empower the masses. President Buhari is absolutely right when he said Abacha did not steal Nigeria’s common wealth. I challenge anyone to tell us how much was realised from Abacha’s loot since 1999 till date and how these funds were used? It is dangerous to tell lies of any form whether in government or out of government. It is more dangerous to tell lies about the dead. We should remember that after death, comes judgment.
You were one of those who since 1995 have been standing against the validation of June 12, what is your position now that President Buhari has given recognition to it?
I am totally opposed to the validation of June 12 because of the behaviour of the Yoruba elite before, during and after June 12. Let me take you to the events that led to the June 12 annulment. After the disqualification of Yar’Adua and others and subsequent banning from participation in politics, the political space was cleared for the emergence of Babangida’s friends, Abiola and Tofa. Initially, Babangida wanted to succeed himself but decided to change his mind when he observed that his military boys were divided. Officers such as Abacha, Gwadabe, Umar, Inienger and Magashi were opposed to self-succession while the rest were in support of Babangida’s self-succession. This posed a serious and dangerous threat to even the life of Babangida. He therefore decided to install either of his friends as his successor. Even at that, the military did not envisage a hitch-free and successful conventions especially that of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). They planned to cause chaos so as to disqualify even his friends in order to elongate the transition period. Some politicians such as Chief Falae, Kingibe and others were brainwashed to consider Chief Abiola as a stranger, so also in the National Republican Convention (NRC).
Glory be to God and credit goes to Yar’Adua, Lamido, Rimi, Adedibu and Atiku who against all odds, ensured that the convention was free of crisis or chaos. Because of these lobbying and scheming, Kingibe insisted that he must be the running mate to Abiola. By so doing, a Muslim-Muslim ticket will be presented to Nigerians which will bring divisions and crisis that eventually, will give reasons for the military to disqualify Abiola, while Tofa’s statement on Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and Nigerian Christians should be re-echoed to give rise to hate by the Christians to an extent that, when the military eventually disqualifies him, the decision will be supported by the Nigerian Christians. These were the two plans by the loyal IBB boys.
Governors were mobilised and some were threatened by Babangida’s boys to support Kingibe or else they will be removed. Yar’Adua and Chief Adedibu preferred Atiku but because of their desire to ease the military out, they settled for Kingibe to please the military boys. Abiola received a threat through a phone call to announce Atiku as his running mate during his maiden speech after his election as the presidential candidate of SDP or be killed in Jos.
When Kingibe confided in some people that he will never betray Yar’Adua and the information reached the IBB loyal boys, they decided to bring Bafyau but it was very late. From that time, the decision to stop the election or annul it was taken. Twenty-seven hours to the election, at about 4 pm, Nzeribe was summoned and commissioned to carry out the already planned strategy to stop or annul the election through law courts. Chief Nzeribe, in collaboration with some notable Yoruba politicians, who felt Abiola was a stooge and extension of the northern oligarchy, hurriedly formed the inglorious Association of Better Nigeria and went to court to stop the election. A court order was obtained by 9 pm delivered by Late Justice Bassey Ikpeme. But on June 11, Prof. Nwosu went ahead to announce his readiness to conduct the election. There were series of court orders from Abuja, Ibadan, Benin etc. for and against the announcement of the final results. There were confusions here and there which the military and some prominent politicians, mostly Yoruba, capitalised on and finally annulled the election. This decision brought real division amongst the IBB boys and members of the Supreme Military Council.
Note that because of the initial plan of self-succession, for the first time in the history of Nigerian Military, officers of the rank of colonels and their equivalent in Air force and Navy were made GOCs, AOCs and FOCs and all of them were IBB loyal boys, which are those that supported self-succession. The IBB boys that were opposed to the idea though were assigned brigade commanders but were placed under watch list.
For me, the June 12 heroes were Kingibe, Yar’Adua, Adedibu, Babatope, Abraham Adesanya, and Lamido and of course Prof. Humphery Nwosu who went against the court order to conduct the election and against threats to his life. He was also determined to announce the final results until he was removed and the electoral body dissolved.
After the annulment of the election, these people mobilised themselves and the likes of Balarabe Musa, Ayo Opadokun, Odumakin, Kokori, Sani, Jerry Gana and many others fully backed by some IBB boys, to oppose the annulment which gave rise to ‘stepping aside’ by IBB and formation of National Interim Government, headed by Chief Shonekan. Of course, you know what happened during the Interim Government when some of them mobilised the South-West governors to boycott all national state functions. This is the background of June 12.
But you have not told us why you were opposed to June 12 validation.
Now back to your question as to why I am totally opposed to validation of June 12.
First and foremost, I will like to tell you that General Abacha was one of the IBB boys who strongly opposed the annulment of June 12 and its consequences. He was practically not happy over the political crisis caused by the June 12 conundrum and the division amongst the IBB boys which posed future danger to the military. He decided to take a step to correct the injustice even though he knew that Abiola wasn’t the best solution as at that time. He went to Minna to brief IBB. He called Abiola and briefed him on the need for the military to takeover to bring sanity and peace in the nation. He called some notable politicians and informed them. It was on the D-day that he briefed some of the military top officers in the morning. This was why when takeover of power was announced, there was no any form of opposition either from the military or from the politicians. Abiola was the first person to pay a courtesy call on Abacha and pledged his support and loyalty.
Abiola and Abacha agreed that some notable politicians should be appointed as ministers and commissioners by Abacha and that IBB boys should not be appointed as sole administrators; instead, some of them should be retired. Abiola nominated ministers and some commissioners and all his nominees were asked to choose their portfolios both at the federal and state levels.
The list was screened by Abiola before Jerry Gana was asked to announce it to the public. Having done that, the stage was set for the nine month transition period leading to the validation of June 12. Some of these people who are parading themselves as June 12 apostles lobbied for ministerial and commissionership appointments. When they failed to get it, they mobilised themselves to confront Abacha not to handover to Abiola. They recruited some obas, emirs and elder statesmen to put pressure on Abacha. Overwhelmed by the pressure, Abacha set up Constitutional Conference in 1995 and announced that he was going to give us a successful transition in which he will not be a participant.
I could remember vividly when 39 Yoruba elders came to Abacha to threaten him if he goes ahead and announce the result of June 12. They claimed that the then Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, has given them assurance that the result will never be announced. That was why when the Sultan decided later to support the validation of June 12, Abacha was upset and decided to depose him. It was after these schemings and political maneuvers that Abacha decided not to validate June 12 and commenced the probing of all parastatals and ministries.
The reports from these probes indicted almost all the notable presidential hopefuls. Nevertheless, Abacha went ahead to investigate and screened some of them that were less indicted. Their responses to national interest were disappointing. Because of their responses, some of us, the youth leaders (I was the National President of Arewa Youth Congress) were selected to meet with Abacha and he briefed us on his decision to handover to somebody who is patriotic and has the national interest at heart. We studied all the reports and concluded that we will mount pressure on Abacha to transform into a civilian president and we decided to form a united platform which led to the formation of Youths Earnestly Ask For Abacha and Who The Cap Fits which were overwhelmingly embraced nationwide. Nothing would have stopped us from making Abacha the sole candidate of all the political parties. But that is history for now.
The formation of NADECO was as a result of the determination of those few people I mentioned earlier, Lamido, Adesanya, Kukori, etc who still felt there is every need to announce the final results of June 12. It was a genuine course by patriotic Nigerians. They were not ready to have an audience with Abacha not to talk of listening to him.
Abiola was hijacked by some political hawks and charlatans who did not know anything about June 12 but came into June 12 because they failed to secure political appointments and also for the fact that Abacha had blocked all the holes they used to milk the country after studying the probe reports coupled with the fear that Abacha will go after them, they hurriedly identified with Abiola so that in any eventuality, they will claim political harassment and get political asylum. Unfortunately, these were the people that had Abiola’s ears who deceived him to declare and pronounce himself the president.
Abiola had started gaining the support of the northern leaders such as President Buhari and Sheikh Gumi when against their advices, he went ahead and declared himself winner. The loyal IBB boys, including Gen. Dogonyaro, Gwadabe, Dangiwa, Mark, etc were secretly supporting Abiola. When it was discovered, they were all frustrated out of office and compulsorily retired by Abacha. It is therefore unfair and deliberately wicked to say that Kingibe, Buhari and others betrayed or did not support Abiola.
No sensible man or woman will continue to support Abiola after declaring himself winner and the president.