Hon Aminu Bello Masari was former Speaker of the House of Representatives between 2003 and 2007. In this interview with GBENGA OKE, he responds to issues of insecurity in the North and assertions of ambivalence by northern leaders, the preparedness of the All Progressives Congress, APC for the political battle ahead and the crisis that has recently enveloped the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF. Excerpts:
It is alleged that majority of Northern leaders are ambivalent on the Boko Haram insurgency. Why?
If you want to exploit people, deny them education. And in the North education is being denied to the public because public schools there have collapsed.
The only schools functioning are private schools but how many parents can afford it? Secondly, the public health system has also collapsed. So now people have to provide water, security, education, health care system and every other thing for themselves.
Today, the North is known for its agriculture business and over 80 per cent of northerners rely on agriculture and agriculture today cannot thrive without the input of government, which includes supply of fertilizers, good quality seeds.
All these things have disappeared. As I am talking to you today, a 50 kg bag of fertilizer costs about N5,000. How many people can afford it? And some state governments like the state where I come from, for the last 30 days or more, people have planted and up till now government has not distributed fertilizer, when will they distribute it?
The type of people that we put in office is not reflective of the reality on ground and my belief is that for you to provide responsible leadership there must be good, free and fair election.
In Nigeria, people who won election were denied and leadership was given to those who did not win. How do you expect those who did not win to have respect for ordinary the person when they know at the end of the day it was not ordinary people that put them in power and it is not ordinary people that will put them in power again?
So unless we address these fundamental issues of justice and fairness, we will know no peace because there is no peace without justice.
Do you foresee anything like the Arab Spring happening here?
Do you think that was not going to happen if the fuel subsidy protest was not discontinued? You can see people all over Lagos, Abuja, Port-Harcourt, Kano and Kaduna rose up to the occasion and if they had not rescinded their decision and the rally in Lagos and other places were allowed to continue, it could have developed into something. So for anybody to think it cannot happen in Nigeria, such person is deceiving himself and it is a huge joke. It can happen if certain decisions taken by government are not favourable to people.
This Arab spring is not only limited to Arabian nations, bad governance and bad election can lead to such uprising.
It will happen here except certain things are done and we are moving towards that because the alienation and deprivation are growing and when they grow to certain level, surely something must give way.
In Nigeria today, there is no justice and fairness. So, no man can control what is happening unless we address the fundamentals and provide leadership at state and local government levels that are truly elected by the people and which will be held accountable by the people.
Really, the attitude of leaders here in the North will have to change and our lifestyle will have to reflect the reality on ground.
Governors and local government chairmen today behave like emperors, doing whatever they like with the wealth of the people because they depend on Federation Account and not Internally Generated Revenue (IGR).
This issue is not about religion, sectionalism and hostility it is about leaders short-changing their people. It is happening all over the country but worse in the North because we have denied our people education.
Can you imagine a governor that has not provided basic requirement of primary education, but was going to spend billions in feeding people during Ramadan?
This is a contradiction. Give them good education and they will find their level. How can we stop this insecurity when a local government chairman with his appointees is patronising private institutions? So, they have no confidence in what they are supposed to be doing.
There is no responsibility in leadership and it is a failure for governors, local government chairmen, councilors and other political appointees to send their children to private schools, when they refuse to send their children to public institutions, it means those schools are bad.
For me, this is an indictment on them to provide good and quality service to the people they govern and that is why there is no accountability.
We can overcome this insecurity situation but if we do not lay a sustainable foundation, it will recur and maybe this time, it may not be on religion but between the rich and the poor and the rich will be determined by the type of clothes he wears, house he lives, car he drives and the area he lives.
There is this argument by some Nigerians that APC interim leadership is being dominated by Muslims. What is your reaction to it?
This is the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) campaign and let me tell you, we Nigerians start looking for good a leader, let it be a Christian or Muslim. If we allow ourselves to be divided along religious lines, this country will not move forward. If there is bad governance by a bad Muslim, is it only Christians that will be worse for it? No, it is all Nigerians that will be worse for it.
President Jonathan is the President today and a Christian, the bad policies, bad governance and the insecurity taking place, are they only affecting Muslims?
Bad governance is bad governance and it affects everybody irrespective who is at the helm of affairs.
So I think we better start thinking of how we are going to produce a good leader for our country irrespective of the religion they proffer. As a Muslim, my Quran taught me God will support a just leader be it a Christian or Muslim but God is not with an unjust leader even if he lives in Saudi Arabia.
For us, it is not about religion but about those who will provide good leadership. By the time all necessary registration processes are completed, Nigerians will realise APC will be a different party, it will be a party that will produce credible leaders, we will be a party that will be answerable to the people and serve the people and not the current situation.
We are going to play by the rules, we are going to be a just party, we are going to be an inclusive party and we are going to provide responsible leadership and responsible governance through APC.
To what extent do you think the APC alliance will go given failed past alliances?
What is about to happen will be the first of its kind in Nigeria. This is not an alliance but a merger of three major opposition parties and some sections of APGA and DPP.
What we are seeing is not an alliance but a merger of major political actors to form a strong party to challenge the PDP dominance of government in Nigeria since 1999.
So, this is the first time we are having a merger since 1999 to become one, by the time the certificate comes in, there wont be CPC, ACN, ANPP but APC.
So it is a merger and not alliance and history has been made because this is the first time in Nigeria where parties form a merger and produce only one political party.
We believe with the commitment shown by leaders of each of the parties in the merger, there is a strong resolution that we need alternative governance and the only way to achieve that is through the merger of these parties to become one in order to form one manpower, capacity, resources to challenge the PDP who control the government at the centre.
Given the general clamour for power shift in the North and the recent assertion by Governor Babangida Aliyu that the North will negotiate power shift, does the APC have a position on the issue?
First, whatever they are doing is a PDP arrangement. Let them sort themselves out, I don’t like to comment on what PDP is doing but what I will ask is whether we are still seeing a softening opposition by the Governor of Niger State because once he says they will negotiate, it means they will accept something which was totally opposite to what he was saying some two months ago that they produce another candidate.
I read it but I was a bit confused about what he meant that they will negotiate power come 2015. Is it a softening opposition because they keep saying there was an agreement with President Jonathan to do one term, so are they now saying they will negotiate with Jonathan.
I am a bit confused about what he is trying to say unless he is trying to be like all big men we know that speak from both sides of the mouth. For us, when we are fully registered, we will produce leaders according to the constitution of the party.
So are you saying APC won’t cede the presidential ticket to any particular zone?
We will produce leadership according to the constitution that is submitted to the Independent Electoral Commission, (INEC). We have outlined how to go about producing our leaders, so we will go according to the provisions of the constitution to produce our leaders and candidates in all the elections in Nigeria come 2015.
For us in APC, justice and fairness is the issue and I think the issue of rotating the presidency is because there is no justice and fairness on the part of those ruling us. But in APC, we are going to be just and fair to all Nigerians and at the end of the day, by the time we produce our leaders and Nigerians see their quality, they will know that we have produced leaders who are going to govern irrespective of religious beliefs because Nigerians will be treated justly and fairly.
What is your take the crises rocking Nigerian Governors’ Forum?
First, you will have to ask yourself what the Nigeria Governors’ Forum has added to the quality of lives of an average Nigerian. It was formed to protect the governors themselves and they also use it to influence the Presidency on what they want. It is for themselves not for me and you or other ordinary Nigerians. So before you even delve into the fight of the NGF, what does the forum represent?
It is a club and they are doing it for the aim of protecting themselves from prosecution, protection to be part of government, they are not talking about how to better the lives of ordinary Nigerians. All these are not part of their agenda. It shows they are neither here nor there.
Secondly, when they had an election and there was somebody who won and they refused to recognize who won, you want to recognize the person that lost. Why?
Because you felt the person that has won come 2015 will not support you to get elected. What is your business with that because not all governors in the forum are members of your party? When you have a leader of the PDP governors’ forum, you should be contented with that. What is his business with governors’ forum, which involves all governors irrespective of their parties? What is the business of the President and the PDP?
I don’t even care even if they dissolve the forum because I know the body does not add value to the polity or the lives of the people. If you could remember when I was in PDP, when I led the PDP reform, we fought the governors’ forum because we want the party to stand with the people and those PDP governors made sure the reform was killed and we were squeezed out. We told President Jonathan that time that this elephant called governors forum will grow to the extent that nobody will be able to control them. I think it is bad that 36 governors will conduct an election and they cannot uphold the election.
So what does that portend for the country?
The outcome of the NGF election has shown clearly what the PDP is planning for 2015 elections and we are ready for them. These are the reflections of 2015 and these governors are the ones to lead elections in their various states. Look at them and hear them talk.
One of them said he will not attend another regional meeting. Look at him who got elected on the platform of another party, he won and decamped to another party and he is talking about morality, this can only happen in Nigeria.
Governor Yuguda was elected on the platform of All Nigeria’s Peoples Party, (ANPP), he left there and joined the PDP and this is somebody talking about morality.