Reported From Kano by Desmond Mgboh
Ambassador Aminu Wali, one of Kano’s most respected politicians, was a Foreign Affairs Minister during the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.
Wali, a founding father of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in this interview expressed strong concerns about the approaching general elections, cautioning President Muhammadu Buhari and others against proclaiming themselves winners in a poll that is yet to be conducted.
He was also optimistic that the PDP and Alhaji Atiku would win the presidential election, though he admitted that the poll would be tough on both sides.
Wali also commented on the neutrality of INEC in the light of the recent appointment of Hajia Amina Zakari in the commission.
He also spoke on the politics of Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, Kano’s former governor, who recently defected to the APC, saying that the party’s national headquarters should not have created the kind of environment that encouraged him to leave the PDP.
He spoke to Sunday Sun on these and other issues in his home in Kano. Excerpt:
Sir, next month’s general election is simply a straight fight between your party, PDP, and the ruling APC. What are your expectations? What do you think the elections would look like?
First of all, what we are all praying for is to have a peaceful time between now and the elections and even after the elections because the signs that are coming up now is ominous. But, of course, the APC as a party in government should approach the elections in the same manner that we the PDP had approached the elections of 2015. It was not a matter of life and death or a do- or- die affairs. That is the first caveat or the first thing that I should say because without peace prevailing in the country, you can never have good elections and anything can happen. Right now, there is a very keen competition between the two major parties – including the smaller parties that have come into contention now. You see the government or any party that is in government would be judged by its own performance and record in government, because basically, that is what kicked us out of power because by the peoples estimation, we did not do well as a government….
When you said that there are ominous signs, what are these signs you are seeing that are troubling you?
What is troubling me is number one: the seeming persecution of the opposition, the seeming selective “cleansing” of people, at the same time persecuting people who are innocent or people who, by our standards in this country, have not committed any offence. I am also sure that you are a journalist of some long experience and a respected political scientist. You have been watching what is happening in the country and, therefore, when you see what is happening in terms of how we are approaching this election, the kind of rhetoric that is coming from the government side, it is a bit scary, particularly here in Kano and, of course, at the national level, where there are those that let their mouth carry them to wherever by making so many statements that do not portend a peaceful engagement in February. So, that is why I said, I am seeing ominous sign because there are certain statements that are coming from the governing party such as, “we have already won our elections and so forth”. Now, if anything happens and they ended up not winning the elections, you can better imagine what will happen!
We have Atiku and Buhari, both of who are all Hausa-Fulani and have led the country in the past. In your estimation, what is the struggle in the North going to look like?
Well, I think it is going to be fairly even for both candidates. You have the incumbency factor in a lot of states in the Northern parts of the country, where the APC is running the affairs and, therefore, that incumbency factor will be translated into some measure of advantage. But on the other hand, what happened back in 2015 … the thinking and the calculations of every Northerner, Northeast and Northwest is this. For 12 years, he (Buhari) has been saying the same thing over and over again, and the people believed him because his campaign was Mr Integrity, Mr Transparency and, of course, the people bought into whatever he has been saying for 12 years. And that is why the result of the last election was what it was, not only in the North, but all over the country – only maybe in the Southeast and the South-south that this reasoning did not resonate. This time around, there is no ethnic advantage. There is also no religious advantage. So, the candidates are quite even. Therefore, it is going to be even. Certainly, what the APC got in terms of electoral votes in the North in 2015 would be a far cry from what it is going to get in 2019. That is a fact. Because you see, like I always say when I make speeches at rallies. I used to say that“your body tells you better”, that “this time around, you have seen what you have seen and, therefore, I don’t need to tell you what to do; whatever you want me to tell you in terms of how you will vote, your body must have told you better on what to do”. For me, the PDP has a lot of advantage over the present administration when it comes to the question of record. Every single project or programme that the present administration is talking about is a project that was started and almost completed by the PDP and they came and just finished the rest. Today, I want to see one capital project that was initiated and completed by the APC government. People talk about railway (laughs). Luckily, I happened to be the Ambassador to China at that time and I cannot remember how many times I was going in and out of NEXIM Bank, discussing about the financing of all these projects, I got to the Chinese government through the NEXIM Bank. The railway, I tell you the whole aspect of financing the project was totally completed by our administration. What about the airports? What about the road constructions and so many capital projects?
Coming back to where we were, you are saying the elections would be tough on both sides?
Absolutely, I don’t expect these elections to be easy for either us winning or for them wanting to retain. We will fight to win this election and they will also have to fight to retain power. And I have a positive feeling that all things being equal, if there is peace and there is free and fair elections, I believe that the PDP and Atiku will emerge the winners of the 2019 elections.
You talked about free and fair elections. But is this possible when we have officer(s) who are known relatives or who are close to Buhari at the helm of affairs at INEC? Are you not worried about this development?
Of course, one has to be worried. Look my friend, we are a Third World country; we are a developing country. Things do happen which would be alien to a developed country, but for us, it is something to worry about. In the countries of the West, a father may be contesting for an election, maybe his son or brother may be a member of the electoral body or Commission. But that does not matter, because the culture and tradition of these countries has taken hundreds of years to develop and, therefore, you are not scared of anything. But in our situation, the environment and the way things are going, there is a cause of concern over this issue, honestly.
Assuming you are the Chairman of INEC, how would you have addressed this situation to achieve fairness for the accused woman and for Nigerians, who are crying foul about her position in the elections?
You see traditionally, it is not law, it is a precedent of our political history. Where the president comes from do not produce the Chairman of INEC. But for the first time it is happening. That is number one. Number two, if we go back to history, Jonathan appointed a lot of the members of the electoral commission. But when Jonathan came, he reached out to some known organizations and some persons of integrity and said please recommend people that I can appoint to this position. And he has not met a lot of them from Adam. For instance, he appointed Jega as Chairman of the Commission, he has never known him and they have never met before then. But he was recommended as a good man and Jonathan said “okay”, let him go and do it. And he has never interfered in what INEC was doing. For intent and purposes, that election in 2015 was free and fair. You can say whatever you want to say, I was part of the government and if there was any attempt to manipulate the process, I am sure I would have known. But INEC went and did the job and it was free and fair. But at the same time, people were accusing us that we used the security agencies… you were in Kano, there was never a point where the security agencies were used against the opposition in that election. If Jonathan or the last administration had wanted to do that, I am sure that it was within their powers to do that. Some of the fears that we or the people are expressing is that the umpires should ensure a free and fair election. Two, that the security agencies should be totally neutral during the elections.
But can we trust IGP Idris (he was removed as IGP a day after this interview was conducted). He is one person that is quite passionate about pleasing Buhari as a person?
Well, from what I gathered, his tenure is done and I think to give some confidence to the process, the president now has the opportunity not to renew his tenure. I think that it is only fair for the president to use this opportunity which he has to appoint a new Inspector General of Police. Over a long period of time, Buhari is being dubbed as Mr Integrity. That was one of the selling points that were used before. But the circumstance around him and also around his government today is eroding that perception or has eroded a lot of that perception. That is why I say that there is every possibility that PDP would win the next election.
Are you expecting the forthcoming presidential elections to graduate into a run off? Have you had such a thought?
No, I have never had such thought. I think that by the nature of our people, voters in this country, once it is a free and fair election, they are fairly straight forward. They would go and vote for whoever they believe in. In most cases, you will see that a majority of the people will go in the same direction. There has always been a clear majority. The only time I knew that there was no clear majority was that Second Republic election between the NPN and the UPN when we had the 12 2/3 mathematical saga or whatever- the Shagari Awolowo era. And that was largely because of the nature of the formation of the parties. Apart from the NPN, the rest were more or less localized parties. That created a problem. And even today, the PDP is the only pan-Nigerian party. APC is a contraption of warlords having their own personal domain. They have deeply entrenched interests in some parts of the country.
A leading chieftain of your party, the second in command in the North, recently defected and landed in the hands of President Buhari. What happened?
Sometimes, you cannot say we are all saints in the PDP. Politics is a market place and you have to go along with the good, the bad and the ugly. And sometimes, the problem may not be from the individual party member. It may just be as a result of the party’s own miscalculations and errors. For example, we have lots of problems that emanated out of the party which resulted that a lot of people are aggrieved over one aviodable omission or commission. That is what creates the type of environment in which a senior person in the party would say I quit.
Number two, what I said about the PDP. The principle ideas of the founding fathers are not properly adhered to and carpet beggars that came in simply because they have one reason or the other, and if they don’t get what they went in for, they would quit. And this is a problem. It is not only in the PDP, but it is also so with other parties. You see the only party that was founded along the lines of sound principles is the PDP, but unfortunately, over time, a lot of those undesirable elements have come into the PDP. As I said , it is a market place and you cannot say that one cannot come into the market place.
But were you shocked by his action? How come the PDP didn’t see it coming?
I read somewhere that that person was suspended (cuts).
But he was suspended a night before he appeared in Aso Rock, smiling like he has won a trophy?
I believe that the party may have some evidence of the fact that he was about to defect before making that announcement. I wouldn’t know exactly because I am not in the National Working Committee and these things come to NEC after thorough investigation. The National Working Committee is the one that is running the affairs of the party. They may have their reasons and funny enough, we were on the same flight to Sokoto with this same National Vice Chairman last week. And he was complaining about what is happening in the PDP. I had no idea what was to come. It was the day after I returned, that was when I heard of his defection.
What were the high points of his complaints?
He was not very specific. He was saying that a lot of things were going wrong in the party. Some of what he said were going wrong in the party are general statements. I too may believe that I know some of the things. I know that certain things are going wrong in the party like in every human organization. As I said, the primary threw up a lot of issues that came up that made some people to leave. Take the case of Kano.
Talking about Kano, I will like to ask this question. Is the return of Kwankwaso a blessing or otherwise to the PDP family in Kano State? You were one of the leaders of this party?
Well, depending upon which side of the line you are, when the announcement was made that they were coming, I always believe that it is a blessing. They were part and parcel of the PDP. Something made them to leave which they believed that they cannot stomach at that time and they left. The announcement that was made, I said that they were most welcomed and we were looking forward to working with them. And, of course, that did not happen. It is not their mistake. It is the miscalculation of the leadership of the party that brought this whole debacle in Kano State. Anybody who is politically ambitious would take advantage of the miscalculation of his party. And that is exactly what happened in the case of the return of Kwankwaso to the PDP in the state. And, therefore, those of us that have maintained PDP from the time these guys left, you would find out that they have been relegated to the point of irrelevance as far as the National leadership of the party is concerned – which is a big mistake. You know for me, the one person, from my interaction with Shekarau…before I knew the man, I did not believe he had any support. But after I have known him and we had gone round, I realized that he has that kind of support that is like a cult. He has support more than any single individual in Kano. Because for the eight years that he ruled the state, he did what was right. You can say anything about him. But the man was never corrupt. For the eight years that he was governor, he has never retained any kobo belonging to any local government. I found that the man was very popular because any allocation to the local government was allowed to go down to the grassroots. During his time, a local government Chairman can give out contracts worth millions of naira and the only thing remaining is the supervision of Ministry of Works
It was a miscalculation on the part of the national headquarters of the PDP not to have realized the dangers of losing Mallam Shekarau?
I don’t think they did. But I warned them. You know his followers, more or less, worship him and it is only when you go to the rural areas that is when you see how accepted the man is. I told them in Abuja that there is no comparism between Shekarau and Kwankwaso. There is no comparism in terms of their followership. Mallam Shekarau does not engage in red caps and all these kinds of things- where you go and buy red caps, put them in these bags, load motor, go along to any rally, whoever comes you give him red cap and N500. Shekarau does not do gimmicks. So, the biggest loss that the PDP has made in Kano was Mallam Shekarau’s departure. But for me, I cannot see myself going anywhere. It hurts. But I can’t see mmyself going anywhere. I will stay and tough it out.
Do you see the coming of Atiku as the candidate getting victory for the PDP?
Well, it is not only Atiku. Atiku as a person cannot deliver PDP. It is a collective thing. I have worked for four years as a Special Adviser to Mr President on National Assembly and I have been in and around of Aso Rock in these year. And I have known Atiku way back from when he was a Customs officer. I was at his turbaning as Turaki of Adamawa back in 1983. So, I have known him for a very long time. And for me, I know that he was a good leader. He is a politician of repute, he knows his onions as far as politics is concerned, he is properly grounded. And, of course, as a businessman , he knows how to create jobs and this we lacked. Three, he is somebody that is very decisive. And that is what this country needs. Of course, people could attack him for one thing or the other, but this is what the country is. And you cannot stop those that want to bring him down from saying bad things about him.
Are you not concerned that the kind of expectations that ushered in Atiku as a candidate are not being met. People had expected so much to happen by now, but not so much is happening – limited posters, limited billboards in many cities and states?
A lot of people expected a lot from Atiku in terms of funding, but no way. There is no one single individual that is going to say I am going to fund my entire elections, no matter how rich he is. Even if it is Aliko (Dangote) today that is running, he cannot fund his own elections alone. And if he does do that some people would say he is buying the whole country. Number two, your judgment probably is comparing his and what is happening to Buhari’s campaign. That is where the incumbency comes forth. In Kano, we have an APC governor who is promoting himself, his party and the president also. Even for us in 2015, there are more activities for the incumbent than for the opposition. so that is it. And knowing full well what politics is all about, there is no way Atiku alone can fund his elections. He doesn’t have the money to fund the election by himself.
But why not bring other people, do a donation and so on?
Well , this is something I am sure they are trying to work out now. Look, when did the Port Harcourt convention happen? It is just about a month and half ago. And there are mending fences to do and that is what has been going on for sometimes now and it is still going on. Only yesterday, a whole team led by Makarfi came in here and we discussed. When they finished here, they went to visit other people. You can see that some of these processes you are talking about cannot really begin without mending fences. But I think that if you notice of late, if you notice within the last few weeks, a lot of posters and bills boards are coming up everywhere.
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