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Tofa: Parties Should Allow Open Contests for Presidential Tickets to Test Aspirants’ Acceptability

Alhaji Bashir Tofa, a chieftain of All Progressives Congress, was presidential candidate of the defunct National Republican Convention at the famous June 12, 1993 presidential election. He was a member of the now nonoperational All Nigeria Peoples Party, which had joined other parties to form the APC merger. Despite the myriad problems of the country, Tofa believes all would be well with Nigeria if the right solutions are applied. He discusses some of these solutions with Ibrahim Shuaibu in Kano. Excerpts:

As a member of All Nigeria Peoples Party in 2012, you said President Goodluck Jonathan had the right to seek re-election in 2015 if he so desired, and stressed that the best anybody could do was to mobilise and wait for him at the polls. Now as a member of All Progressives Congress, do you think your party has mobilised enough to effectively challenge – or perhaps – defeat the president in 2015?

I talked not in support of his ambition, but his right as a Nigerian to contest any election he desires, provided that his party honuored him with the ticket to do so. Zoning is not a legal matter, as it is not enshrined in any constitution or law, but just an understanding or a gentlemen’s agreement between members of a political party, in this case the Peoples Democratic Party. If it is true PDP leaders violated that agreement in 2011 for whatever reason, then, that is their internal palaver. Some people tend to erroneously regard this arrangement of the PDP as though it applies to all political parties. It does not. It is just a PDP affair. In the ANPP, we did not zone the presidency to anywhere. We decided that all those interested should do their thing and then go to the national convention for the contest. But as soon as a presidential candidate emerges, the party takes it up from there and decides where the vice presidential candidate slot should go, and so on.

Don’t you think leaving the race open can make it unwieldy and engender more divisions?
I have always believed this is more democratic and more inclusive. No one should be denied his/her ambition to contest in the hope of winning his party’s ticket to lead this country. The longer we continue to see ourselves as northerners and southerners, the longer we will be divided. I have said it so many times that what Nigeria needs is not a southern or northern president, but a Nigerian president, who will treat all Nigerians fairly and with dignity, and all sections with justice and equity; and work for the general peace, unity and prosperity of all Nigerians.

My suggestion to both PDP and APC is to allow any aspirant from wherever to test his/her acceptability at the convention, and let the delegates from all parts of the country choose the one they prefer. Political parties must seriously find ways to reduce to the barest minimum the incidents of corruption in their conventions and congresses; to disqualify and later penalise aspirants who are proven to have bribed delegates during these events. The 2011 conventions were a disgrace.

But do you think an APC candidate can defeat the president in 2015?
As regards whether the APC has mobilised enough to win the election in 2015, I will say this, a party that is very popular, like the APC, can easily lose the election in two prominent ways: a bad and unpopular candidate, imposed or not; and internal sabotage. The first happens when delegates elect an aspirant based on the amount of money he bribed them with, rather than on his qualities and acceptability to the relevant electorate. This also means that the few nairas in their pockets today are more important to them than winning the election tomorrow. The second reason is internal sabotage, because the other aspirants felt cheated, or have completely lost out due to whatever reasons, or the candidate is imposed on them. They become angry, disillusioned and, therefore, destructive to the success of the party. These are some of the most common reasons why popular parties lose elections.
If APC does not play its card right, one of these, or even both, will happen. May Allah forbid!

How would you evaluate the last APC national convention?
We must remember and always keep in mind that the APC is a brand new party, and with powerful and varied interests forming its topmost leadership. And because this is the first convention to elect the national leadership, and because this is a party Nigerians have waited for quite a long time, the hope of winning the 2015 presidential election is very high, there was bound to be serious competition, as indeed there was, during the last convention.
First, I will have to commend the organisers of the convention and the outgoing leaders of the party for doing all they could to ensure a peaceful and generally successful convention.

The competition was intense and so were the manoeuvres and the horse-trading. In the end, we have succeeded in getting a new leadership that is capable of guiding the party through to 2015 and beyond. But not everyone is happy with the outcomes of the elections, and the consensus in a few cases was shaky. This is to be expected after any election and selection. Some of our leaders are very angry; some are even making threats of leaving the party. These, to me, are natural results of disappointment. But the leadership must not ignore their anger and their threats. We must do whatever we reasonably can to reassure these leaders and bring them back to the fold. If we do not do that, or even delay it for whatever reason, then our chances of success in the future will be diminished.

What would you consider the greatest internal challenge confronting APC ahead of 2015?
Finding the right candidate, an honest, enlightened, modern, modestly educated candidate, with national name recognition and appeal. A pleasant, but serious person, who Nigerians will immediately recognise as capable, untarnished and untainted by any kind of scandal or even bigotry. Someone people can relate to and have confidence that he/she can bring about the much needed positive changes in our body politic and in our economic and social lives.

I am sure many will laugh, and with considerable doubt say, “in Nigeria? Alhaji Tofa is not serious!” Believe me, I am serious. People with adequate and acceptable qualities and character are available in both parties and in the smaller ones too.  We have fine and capable people in this country. The only problem is that we do not search enough for them, or are not even thinking of searching beyond those who are around. That is why we are in this mess.

There is a view in some quarters that the religious insurgency by Boko Haram is proving intractable because the communities are shielding the insurgents, with the tacit support of a section of the elite in northern Nigeria. Do you believe Boko Haram is fighting the cause of the North or Islam?
I have come to believe that the insurgency is not religious, because there is no such word in any religion. Also, no religion will condone what happens. There are so many criminal activities going on all over the country, and many of these criminals falsely claim to be Boko Haram after they committed their crimes.

One thing we never really bother to find out is precisely what are the true motives of the Boko Haram, and who exactly are they, and from where. Unless you know these things and more, you will never be able to deal with them appropriately. These false accusations and counter-accusations, either of the northern leaders, politicians, elders; or of the president and his party, etc., will not ever solve the menace of this insurgency and the many other ills that have befallen this country of ours in recent years.

I do not know what cause the Boko Haram is fighting for. But it is certainly not of the North, nor for Islam. Now, can we say the Niger Delta militants are fighting the cause of the South-south? Certainly not, in my opinion. But at least in their case, we have bothered to know some of their motives and, therefore, found them easier to deal with. Our attitudes to Boko Haram are different. Many, unfortunately, regard it as a northern problem, and therefore, not their business. Some have even begun to regard northerners as terrorists. This is an unfortunate event in our country.

What can be done to end the terrorist onslaught?
First, like I said, find what exactly are their true motives and what do they truthfully want. How are they financed and by whom? And, who exactly are they? The answers to these questions are still elusive. All we hear are just conjectures and blame games. Second, institute an excellent and honest intelligence outfit, specifically for this purpose, spread all over the areas of concern; and infiltrate the organisation of Boko Haram. Third, empower each community to establish its own protection unit, by training an adequate number of known, able and recommended persons in the community, and selected by the community, as a paid vigilante group. Post a number of well-armed and well-paid mixed group of policemen and soldiers to be resident in and work with these vigilante groups. The police and military should be the custodians of the armoury. I am sure anybody planning to attack such a community will think 10 times before he does.

Do you subscribe to the idea of negotiation with Boko Haram?
But government must stretch a hand of genuine talk and, if necessary, negotiation, with the Boko Haram. The phrase, “we do not negotiate…” is the style of the US, UK and others.  But we have seen that the US just recently negotiated with the Taliban and released five hard core Taliban terrorist leaders from the notorious Guantanamo prison, for just one single US soldier. Why can’t we do that for more than 200 innocent girls and others just recently abducted? If we had started the negotiation in good faith, the recent abductions might not have happened.

But equally important is to deal with the economic and social situations in some parts of this country, not just the North. Poverty and hopelessness can be found anywhere in this country. Corruption and impunity have eaten too deep into the fabric of our lives. If we can deal with these negatives in a deliberate manner, we sure will find an easy way to deal with any type of criminal activity in Nigeria.
I have to call on the president to double his effort in getting the girls released by all means possible and as soon as possible. I do not believe those who say he is not concerned.  He is, but he needs to show it in different ways.

You have been severally quoted as denying the significance of the June 12, 1993 presidential election in the political history of Nigeria, contrary to the popular view. Why do you hold such opinion? Besides, your party is peopled by many, especially from the South-west, who have a deep belief in the significance of June 12. Don’t you think you are working with strange bedfellows?
On the issue of June 12, 1993, I have no useful comments to make, 20 years after. I cannot be repeating myself every year.

Will you contest for the presidency again?
I have made two decisions on this matter of contesting for the presidency again. One, I have left everything to will of the Almighty Allah. If it is His decree that I will be the president of Nigeria, He is best in making it happen in His own way, in His own time. One way He may make it happen is to cause some good, eminent and resourceful leaders, that I also respect and believe are working for the best interest of Nigeria and all Nigerians, to summon and say to me, “Bashir, we have searched far and wide for a suitable person who we believe can be trusted to move this country forward in the best interest of all, and we zeroed on you. We want to you to come out, and we will help and be with you in every way you need.”

I will surely seriously consider this invitation. Or He, (Allah), The Most powerful can cause an event in the party or anywhere else that may become the catalyst of my participation. Who knows? On my own, I have no such plans to organise or present myself for the contest to become the nominee of my party or any other. But I will never say “never again.”
pic: Tofa.jpg

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