Second republic politician, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, has raised the alarm over the fate of the Igbo in the present political arrangement, expressing fears that the Southeast might be shut out of the presidency for the next 20 to 28 years should Muhammadu Buhari win the forthcoming general elections.
The octogenarian, who wants the people of the region to support the PDP presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, warned that the region may have none to blame, but themselves if they vote otherwise.
The elder statesman also cast a view on the forthcoming general elections, saying that the contest between Atiku and Buhari would be close in the North even as he argued that the President Buhari we have in the Aso Rock is the real Buhari and not a double as have been alleged in some quarters.
Ahead of the 2019 elections, what is your assessment of the political activities across the country?
My general assessment of the 2019 general elections is that it would be something like the 1964 elections, where you had two major groupings, namely UPGA comprising the NCNC, Action Group, NEPU and others and NNA made up of Northern Peoples Congress (NPC), Midwest Democratic Front (MDF) led by James Otobo, Niger Delta Peoples Congress (NDPC) led by the late Chief Dappa Biriye, Chief SLA Akintola’s Nigeria National Democratic Party (NNDP) and some others. This kind of divide is what is going to play out in the general elections. APC and their allies in the Southwest already have their candidate in the person of President Muhammadu Buhari. And the other block is the PDP, which has Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi as their candidates. This is a divide with far reaching implications. Now, if Buhari who is now looking for a second term wins the election, he would complete his second term of four years. Since his running mate is from the Southwest, the natural thing is for APC to nominate his running mate from the Southwest. The candidate of the party would then come from the Southwest, who will naturally nominate his running mate among APC supporters from the North. If they succeed in winning the elections after Buhari, whoever wins the election on APC’s platform would likely run for two terms of eight years. If you put the eight years plus Buhari’s four years, it would amount to 12 years. And that is not all. After the man from the Southwest, it is impossible for somebody on the platform of the APC to aspire to be nominated to contest election from the entire South and, therefore, the candidature would now come back to the North after the Southwest. The North, naturally, with the trend started by Obasanjo, would also like to have two terms of eight years. If you put together that eight years, plus the eight years of the Southwest and the remainder of four years for Buhari’s second tenure, that would be a total of 20 years. That would be the time that it would take for anybody from the Southeast to have an opportunity to become the President of Nigeria, if elected. That is not all. The scenario is that by the time APC candidate from the North has competed his two terms, the slot will not automatically go to the Southeast or Igbo land, it will be available for both the Southeast and South-South geopolitical zones. But if, on the other hand, PDP with Atiku and a running mate from the Southeast in the person of Peter Obi, wins the election next year, they would run the government for a maximum of eight years, that is two successful terms. And after that government of eight years, automatically the shift would go to the Southeast and the possibility is that his running mate, who is from Igbo land and from the Southeast would become the candidate for the position of the President on the ticket of the party. In other words, if Buhari wins the coming election, it would take Igbo and the Southeast a minimum of 20 years or more before they can have the possibility of producing the President of Nigeria. Therefore, PDP’s victory in next year’s elections is the surest way of giving the Igbo man the opportunity to have one of their own becoming the President of Nigeria.
The way you talked, you must have been concerned about something. What are your worries and fears? What is pushing you to go public, at this time, with this kind of insightful political calculation?
My observation is this… you know I was a member of the NPN in the Second Republic. We in the NPN then decided to adopt zoning and rotation for the country in order for power to rotate among both the majority and minority ethnic groups both in the Southern and Northern parts of the country. Had President Shagari completed his two-term tenure, the late Dr Alex Ekwueme or somebody from Igbo land would have become the next President of Nigeria in that succession. That did not happen because of the military take over in 1983. So, the idea behind NPN adopting the concept of rotation is to ensure that every region or sub-region of this country has a taste of the Presidency within the quickest possible time. Now, the Yoruba under Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has had the opportunity to run the country for two consecutive terms of eight years. The South-South has had their opportunity under President Jonathan, but unfortunately, he could not make it because of the stiff resistance from the North on power shift because they believed that Jonathan should have allowed the North to complete the two term tenure of Yar ‘Adua. Now, we are back at it again. My sincere concern is that if it would take 20 years or more for an opportunity to present itself to the Southeast to produce the President of Nigeria, and in my judgment, that would be grossly unfair to the people in the Southeast, because all along, apart from Zik who held the position of ceremonial president and the brief stop by Ironsi, the Southeast has never produced a president for Nigeria from Independence to date. That does not and would not in future augur well for the unity and solidarity of the people of this country. This is my point.
You have spoken well. One thing is to perceive a problem, but another and most important is to find the solution to the perceived problem. What, therefore, do you advise the political elements in the Southeast to do at this point in time to avert your fears?
You earlier asked me about my concern? Didn’t you? My concern is that I have seen some elements in position of influence in Igbo land thinking of their immediate interest rather than the overall interests of the Igbo as a people in Nigeria. Those of them who are complaining that the PDP candidate did not consult them and all that stuff are complaining so that they could draw the attention of the PDP candidate – probably to settle them, failure of which they would support the other side or they would remain aloof, which is the same thing as supporting the other side. This is the reason I am concerned and I feel that Igbo people and their leaders should not sacrifice their overall interests on the altar of their narrow personal ambition or interest.
The EFCC was recently alleged to have frozen some accounts belonging to the vice presidential candidate of the PDP, Peter Obi. What is your reaction to that development?
Although there are speculation that they (EFCC) have denied the report, when I first heard the story, my immediate reaction was that this combination of Atiku and Peter Obi is now making the APC and its presidential candidate quite jittery to the extent that they can see themselves losing the coming election and, therefore, they are becoming more and more desperate. I have held the view all along that the security forces and INEC, whether anybody likes it or not, would like to dance to the tune of the APC and to the tune of President Buhari because to my mind, Buhari has carefully chosen the people who would definitely not go against his interest and put them in positions of authority in our country, including in INEC. I don’t want to deal with individuals, but I know that some of the key figures at INEC are very close to President Buhari; some of them owe a favour to him because he had favoured them before – either by working under him in the PTF or by getting contracts from him under that organization. So, there is a natural feeling on their part to return this favour to Buhari. So, INEC and the some individuals in the security in the country are intentionally or otherwise skewed to support the candidature of President Buhari. If you look at this fact, some of them who have completed their time in the service, have had their tenure of service virtually extended, despite reaching the stipulated retirement age of service as provided by our law. I cannot expect such individuals to become unconcerned on a possibility of their benefactor losing power. They can hardly be neutral in such a situation. The possibility of that type of people becoming neutral in the forthcoming elections is very difficult to imagine.
But do you think that there is anything that can be done to address the issue of neutrality that you have just highlighted? The election is just weeks away?
I don’t know… I don’t know. But the question is why must we not allow the law to take their natural course? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to retire like any other public servant and enjoy the rest of their lives like their likes as stipulated by the law? The aspiration of any employee is to reach the age of retirement so that he can join his loved ones to live in peace and harmony with them without let or hindrance from any unnecessary incumbency.
Of late, your friend, Ango Abdullahi is singing a different tune about Buhari, indicating that himself and his group are not with him anymore. What do you think could have led to the sudden face-off? Is it that Ango didn’t get what he wanted from the administration or he is crusading for the Nigerian people?
Well, Ango has never been my friend. He has been my junior brother. We maintain a very cordial relationship. I don’t know what happened, but I know that Ango Abdullahi and his friend, Sani Zango Daura had been together politically for many, many years. They are age mates and I don’t know whether they went to school together. I don’t know. They came from two different old provinces – Ango from the old Zaria Province while Sani Zango Daura from the old Katsina Province. But they were very intimate friends all along. I have been reading the discordant views that are being expressed by Ango and I take note of it and I feel that even the organization that they formed and are running together from the onset, Northern Elders Forum, is now virtually divided between a group led by Ango, who is the overall chairman and a group led by his deputy, Sani Zango Daura. My belief is that either Ango has genuinely realized the mistake they made in supporting Buhari in 2015 and he is now trying to amend or the way things happened in the administration did not match his expectation. Whichever is the case, I’m not sure, but I know it is one of the two, and things are not the same.
We are faced with one interesting drama, a very funny one indeed. Is there one Buhari? Does Buhari have a double as alleged? What is your reaction?
The way people are doubled in the past is that it is not done permanently. It is only done for an occasion. You find your look-alike, and you keep him for a purpose. When the need arises, you bring him to appear on your behalf. You don’t do it permanently. You do that only occasionally.
I know that the late Fuhrer Adolf Hitler was said to be doing that. So, also the late Saddam Hussain of Iraq was also alleged to have had a double. But such doubles are only used momentarily and only appear for a moment and disappear as soon as the occasion was over. If it is done for a long time someone clever enough would discover the trick. But it is not done continuously. The double doesn’t appear all the time. He only comes out at a particular time when he is needed. The moment he serves that purpose, he goes back to where he belongs. But he cannot be on a permanent basis.
In the light of this background, how do you see this claim of a Buhari’s double?
It was just an academic exercise, a mere academic exercise. The Buhari we have is the real Buhari. I have not seen anything to convince me otherwise. This is not his replica. It is him.
There is a feeling that 2019 presidential election would be mainly a contest between Buhari and Atiku in the North. How do you size the strength of the two leading contestants in the North?
You know that this is an era of hired crowd and all that. So, I do not judge one’s political popularity based on the gatherings that appear at rallies and political occasions. Having said that, let me begin by saying that there are three important factors that helped Buhari in 2015 to win elections that year which would not be the same next year. One is the fact that he was a Moslem and his opponent was a Christian. That played a very important role particular here in the North. This is so when some Imams in their various Mosques, the Friday before the elections, had urged their respective congregations to vote for somebody who would promote interest of their religion. In other words, they were urging the people to vote for Buhari. That is factor number one. Factor number two, Buhari was a Northerner and Jonathan was a Southerner and as I said at the beginning of this interview, Northerners were itching for the North to complete the eight-year tenure of President Umaru Yar’Adua. There were a lot of people in the North who felt the region had been short-changed by Jonathan, and it was a genuine feeling. Number three, there is the factor that the Hausa-Fulani are largest ethnic group in Northern Nigeria and they have their cousins who always think and act together with them on matters of politics and other aspects of life. For instance, the Nupe people, the Igbira people, the Igala people, the Jukum people, the Camba people, Gbagi and many others. They have been together with Hausa-Fulani for 100 years, they intermarry and do things together. These three factors contributed to the success of Buhari in the North in 2015. They are not there anymore. Today, Buhari is Hausa/Fulani, his rival Atiku is Hausa/Fulani. Buhari is from the North, his rival Atiku is from the North. Buhari is a Moslem, his rival, Atiku, is a Moslem. So, the tendency is for the two of them to share the votes cast in the North, maybe somebody would get 55 per cent of these votes while the other would get 45 per cent. But the scenario would certainly not be the same as what happened in 2015. That I am very sure would happen.
Some Northern states with huge population like Kano are more favourably disposed to Buhari. Don’t you think Buhari would take advantage of this, especially when we are already hearing of claims of five million votes and 2.9 million primary election votes in favour of Buhari?
Well, I am basing my political calculation on genuine votes that would be cast by Nigerians, not on rigging or votes that would come from rigging the polls. Honestly, I fear that an attempt at rigging these would be made particularly by those who control power and resources in order win power in the coming elections. But things will not be the same as before.
But do you, like many, smell the possibility of rigging in this election?
What makes you think this election could be rigged?
Buhari could not have ensured that he has influence in INEC and in the security establishments all for nothing. I don’t know and I am not in his mind to know why he felt the need to retain some people in that area at all costs? But as a human being, I don’t think he was doing all that for nothing.
A few days ago, a number of political parties formed an alliance with the PDP ahead of the polls. Looking at this development, do you expect their alliance to be as successful as the alliance, which was formed against Jonathan in 2015?
I think that most of the parties in Nigeria have no alternative than to support Atiku and the PDP. And this is for two reasons. One, Nigeria has tested Buhari twice and Buhari has nothing to show for it. In his first coming, you cannot remember Buhari for anything apart from his notorious War Against Indiscipline (WAI). Now, he has spent more than three and half years since his election as a civilian president and there is nothing he can show for it except for some developments in dealing with Boko Haram insurgency. Even in that, the general belief is that Boko Haram has only changed their tactics by now turning their guns against the security forces instead of against the civilian population. This can be seen from the casualties inflicted by Boko Haram against the military and the police. He talks of fighting corruption, but ask yourself: How many people have been convicted? How many important personalities? I can only remember just two, Jolly Nyame and Dariye and if you remember well enough, their cases started with Obasanjo and Jonathan administrations. Their cases did not start with Buhari and if Buhari is claiming credit for these cases, he is not being fair.
But since he came to power, yes, he arrested people through EFCC, ICPC and so on, but none of them is convicted. Majority of those arrested are members of opposition parties. And interestingly, if an opposition party member is arrested the day he decamps to the APC, his case would go into limbo. The case of former Senate minority leader is a classical example. He is now a beautiful bride as Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe once said after the 1959 general elections in this country. Apart from that, Buhari administration did not suffer the kind of sabotage, which the Jonathan administration experienced.
Everybody can remember the case of diversion of huge funds approved by President Jonathan for the prosecution of the war against Boko Haram as we now know that was done by some leading members of the military high command like the former Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshall Alex Badey and many others and the purchase of unserviceable military equipment which retarded progress in the prosecution of the war against the Boko Haram insurgency. Well, we have only two months to the elections and let us see if some miracles would happen to change the narrative in the management of this country and if any physical change will happen between now and then. But I doubt.