Some northerners made it difficult for Jonathan to defeat Boko Haram – Babangida Aliyu
Former governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu, shares his thoughts with AISHA WAKASO on the zoning of the presidency, insecurity in the country and other issues
As a former governor, what will you say were some of your legacies in Niger State?
I have set a standard for any governor to be judged in terms of what he has done or what he has not done. We mobilised the people to appreciate what governance is all about particularly by creating that fourth tier of government which is the ward level, where we went to make them feel like there is also a government at the ward level. When I see people tell me they would not have been in school if not for my coming as a governor, believe me it’s a relief from the other noise that comes from people. I see a retired person telling me thank you very much, you have paid us everything that was due to us.
When I became Niger State governor, I discovered that there were some of them who after 12 years of retirement had not even collected a kobo and many of them really died but we paid their families or their next of kin. I am happy that after we left, people were able to judge, they have been judging in our favour. After you leave office, you hear a lot of things but on the average, you find that people are even calling you to come back. I am happy that God has given me the opportunity to serve Niger State at that level.
You once described Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo as the best candidate for the APC. Some think as a PDP chieftain, you were unduly meddling into the ruling party’s affairs, what would you say about this?
I am a Nigerian and every Nigerian should be interested in who leads Nigeria. We have seen where in a situation of coup-d’etat we had no much to say in such situations but now that we are in a democracy, every Nigerian should be able to know the kind of people that lead us. More so, when it is said that people get the kind of government they deserve, meaning if you are a bad people, there is no way you can produce good government or good leaders. Therefore, my interest is that whether it is PDP or APC, let good people be recognised and be the ones elected into offices. A situation where our system has made it almost impossible for good people to present themselves for election and only those who have declared for party are entitled is not good. There is no room for independent candidate because of the nature of the people in the party. We don’t sit to say look, what kind of qualities are we looking for in governance? We need to appreciate, why is it that today, over 50 years after the assassinations of our leaders, we still remember them more? Why is that so? It is simply because they have shown some credible integrity; they have shown the qualities of good governance we require today.
For me, it is not a question of you are in the party, you must not talk about the other party, and in a situation where everyone thinks he must be the president of the country, it is not right.
There must be a yardstick where you will know that that office is not for you because of this and that, but when everybody wakes up and wants to be president, then you know that they want to be president for the wrong reasons. If you look at today, amongst all those who have indicated interest either publicly or privately, I’ll have Osinbajo because we have seen what he has done so far as the Vice President and the few times he has acted, what has transpired. Then I have my friend in Ekiti, Kayode Fayemi in the same APC. For me, I think there is a limit as to who and who should be where and at a given time but the presidency of this country should not be seen as a position where people would say they must be president. I don’t think that’s right and I will advise Nigerians that whether they are in the party system or not, to be very much interested in who governs us.
You also said recently that the PDP had zoned the presidency to the North, only for your party to deny your claim. What is your take on this?
As far as I know, there was never a meeting to say this has been zoned to this particular place. If some people felt that by zoning the chairmanship to the North will automatically mean that the presidential candidate must automatically come from the South, this has now been blunted by saying anyone from any corner of the country can now contest. We can’t have a situation where every little thing is looked at in the prism of “we must breakup, we must do this, and we must do that.” I know that some people don’t know how to argue their own case; they always go to the extreme but we can’t afford that at every moment. We question the sovereignty and that is why I believe that we agreed that every person can contest. That may not stop the PDP later on, maybe when we see that the whole purpose of a party is to win election, to articulate its position and sell it to the people and win election. You don’t have a party simply for having a party. A party is supposed to articulate, aggregate the interest of the people and really win elections and if you can’t win elections after a given time, you better change your tactics.
Insecurity has been a major challenge in the North. Some local government areas in Niger State have been taken over by terrorists. How do you think this challenge can become a thing of the past?
It is really unfortunate that we have allowed the situation to reach this level, and let me say again, I don’t want to be misconstrued as being in that group- this is a cumulative issue. When Boko Haram started and Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan’s government started doing something about it, it fell on former President Jonathan to carry on. Many northerners misconstrued his (Jonathan) position at that time and for political purposes, they threw many arguments that made it impossible for the proper articulation and proper implementation of policies that would have got rid of Boko Haram and now, we still have them till today. The banditry that many of us thought was impossible to happen, I am yet to hear from anybody about the statement credited to Kawu Baraje, our former PDP national chairman in Kwara State, when he stated that they brought the bandits or Fulani from other places. I think based on the thinking that probably former President Jonathan wouldn’t have handed over power even if they had won, but he handed over.
He congratulated them even before the conclusion proper counting of votes which then took away whatever purposes of bringing those people would have served and I would have thought that if that is true, then those who brought them in would compensated them to go back to where they came from.
I believe if the governors had really done a lot from 2015 to date, we would have got rid of the banditry but today, it’s so unfortunate that you probably have to be praying when you leave Abuja for Kaduna or Kaduna to Abuja or indeed, particularly in the northern states. Any road that you follow, you probably need a lot of prayers and this is contrary to the position before where many of us were driving from one place to the other, used to sleep in the daytime so we can drive at night when there will be less traffic, less noise. Now, even in the day time, you can’t drive freely and comfortably. So, I believe that the first port of call for fighting insecurity is the governors. Maybe you heard me in Kano when I was saying could one be greater than 19 because at one time, even though the circumstances were different, we had one man for 19 states and now, we have 19 governors and still, we have more problems than we did the last time.
We need to look at how our people are really enjoying their lives and unemployment. Before, we used to beg parents to allow them take their wards to school. Now, they have allowed them to go to school. Many of them have been uprooted from their local culture, many of them are farmers and now, they can’t go back to their farms. They have had their degrees or whatever courses they have gone for and now, unemployment is facing them for five years, six years and thereafter, we are not thinking of any innovation to engage them.
Some communities now pay levies to bandits who have now been tagged terrorists. Is this not a sign that government has failed in the area of securing the lives of the people and their freedom?
It is very unfortunate when you hear today that many people were killed, 50 burnt; tomorrow, 40 people killed, bandits are abducting to the extent that villages and other towns are now levied by the bandits. Yes, it is a sign of failure but like I told you, don’t look at only one administration and start talking about it because it is a cumulative thing. We needed to have been building on what others have done. You can’t just come and say nothing has been done. We inherited these problems from the military regimes. Every military coup will look at the one they have toppled as having done nothing good which isn’t so. Governance is about a building block; take the good this person has done and continue with it. The one you consider not too good, you can redesign it but let the people appreciate and you need to also communicate properly with the people.
The level of the noise in our community is more than the actual facts that people need to understand. So, for people to survive, they need to do whatever that is necessary but that’s not their job. Their job is not to pay levies to terrorists. In fact, the principle is to say you won’t negotiate with terrorists and go after them. In many countries, the code is kill a security officer, then it means your whole family may be done with but here you hear that a policeman is killed, a soldier is killed and nothing happens. So, it is a failure of the government as well as the people. Let me expatiate about it being the failure of the people. In the days gone by, when people see something, they report it either directly to the police or through their local traditional ruler and a position is taken at each level.
You recently said in Kano that there would be no room for moneybags in the 2023 presidential election. The stupendously rich Nigerian politicians would not be happy about such statement. Have you considered apologising as a result of this?
I have no problem about the happiness or sadness of these people when I analyse a thing and talk about it. The money politics that has entered our political process will make it very difficult for good people to participate in governance of this country. We have many of them; every village or town or state has excellent, good, tested leaders that could lead this country but because of the process, way and manner that one has to emerge, many of them are finding it difficult. Imagine for you to emerge in a process either as a state governor, or presidential candidate, how much money will be required because many delegates really see it as an exercise to make money and virtually all the political parties have not found a way to ensure that those coming as delegates appreciate what they are supposed to be doing rather than looking at it as a means of making money. After that, when you get the nomination, just on the average, say that every state, you may need to spend not less than N500m per state. Now, multiply that by 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
Anyone with that kind of resources stacked away for that purpose, you know that he’ll have to recoup his resources when he assumes office. My argument in that discussion is to draw attention to the fact that there are other ways also for the communities, for people to get the right people to run for elections. Some people say no to politics, but we know they are good, trained and ready to serve. You go to them and the community will contribute to make them succeed because once they succeed, you will know that the people will succeed in turn. But in a situation where only money bags contribute to your election, you will find it difficult not to pay them back.
The PDP succeeded in conducting its national convention despite the disagreement in the party. Don’t you think the unresolved issues may come back to haunt the PDP very soon?
It is possible but I have confidence in the current National Chairman of the PDP, Dr (Iyorchia) Ayu. He is a veteran in politics and understands the issues on the ground and I have this belief that he will not be used unnecessarily by people that think they own the party and many of us are still alive and aren’t afraid to speak out. I didn’t bring myself to this stage, I have classmates, people of my age group who have died and I can’t run from my destiny. So, I can’t keep quiet because I am afraid that someone can send people to kill me. If that’s the way I will end up, that’s what will happen at the end of the day.
People must be bold enough to really say things the way they are and give credit when it is due and also condemn what they see as bad.
Some of us are both in the National Executive Committee and Board of Trustees of the party and will continue to do what we think is right. On issues that have come up, we have found a way to check them but we must be careful not to allow people, because of the position they occupy and resources they command, wake up and start telling us what to do and not to do.
How should the Federal Government handle various agitations from self-determination groups in the country?
First and foremost, the issue is that of inclusive governance where people see a sense of equity, a sense of togetherness, a sense of saying everybody whether you voted for me or not, you are still a Nigerian and I must find a way to find a place for you to also contribute. But in a situation where there is no inclusion, many people feel marginalised and given the level of development, every Nigerian will feel marginalised, but the moment they know they have been given a chance, they will contribute. I’ll hope that if in 2023 elections, we are able to form a government as the PDP, I’ll suggest that whoever wins the election will first of all form a government of national unity, that will involve other segments of the society, and other political parties. At least for that first two to four years, let the people participate actively and everyone ensure everyone feels that his contribution is important in the development of our nation.
Secondly, where already, agitations have started, it is the responsibility of the government at different levels to really investigate and see how we can ameliorate the situation. It is unfortunate that in the case of the recent issues, you find people speaking from the two sides of their mouths. A governor will call an agitator and support him with some resources but in the daytime, he will condemn it. I think that’s total hypocrisy and must not be condoned and we have intelligence institution that will be able to report this thing properly.
When you talk of Nnamdi Kanu and you see the sort of relationship that had developed, it’s like people using IPOB, people using other institutions to make a point. Their governors are all members of Council of State and national Economic Council. Some of these issues would be discussed and thoroughly diagnosed so that solutions would be found. But for me, a question of treason is quite different; treason is defined in our constitution. So, if the law says yes, you are guilty of treason, you should be treated as such. But then, just because of statements and co, you must not be given the tag of treason unless the court says so.
So, do you think there should be a negotiation with Sunday Igboho and Nnadi Kanu?
I don’t have the details of why they have been detained but I am aware from the news, social media, news on television, newspapers of what has been happening. I don’t want a situation where because you have two passports, dual citizenship, because you have run to America or England, therefore, you can make enough noise for your own personal benefits. Some of us deliberately refused to have this dual citizenship and I hope Nigeria will really look at those issues. I don’t think that somebody with dual citizenship should be president of this country. I don’t think so or even if he has been having dual citizenship, then the day he decides to run for the presidency of this country, he must drop it because we want a Nigerian president not a president who thinks he can always run to another country.
What is your take on the Federal Government’s plan to remove fuel subsidy?
Unfortunately, I remember that in 2014, during the campaign, the current people in government never believed there was even a subsidy and at that time, the amount was just a quarter of what is being dispensed now. So it is very ironical that the government who never believed that there was fuel subsidy only to come and increase it by three or four folds. It behoves them to really remove the subsidy because even at that time, we were able to establish that those who were benefitting from the subsidy were not the common people. If the subsidy was meant for the Nigerian people, now very few Nigerians were enjoying it and I hope they can do a forensic audit to find out where actually that money is going and in terms of policy, because what I see is that the government may not be able to remove that subsidy. So, they will leave it again till the next government coming which may again double what is happening. If you add that to the other subsidies and interventions going on and with the debt burden that is befalling us, it means our budget may become simply useless because even currently, the deficit in the budget is 35-40 per cent. Wherever you see a budget that has a deficit of 50-60 percent, then you know you have a useless budget. I pray that this government will find a way to remove this subsidy.
Back in 2015, you were accused of working against former President Jonathan’s re-election. How would you react to this?
For people who didn’t understand what was happening, yes, they might say so, but who would have worked against him? Is it the people who left the party and joined another party and won elections or those of us, who stayed? Out of my G7, five of the governors left. Only two remained; Sule Lamido and I. If we really didn’t want the then President to win, we would have left too, but we didn’t and maybe many people didn’t understand the role we were playing at the time. We were trying to save the country because we knew what was on the ground rather than those who were ambitious.