READ Don’t break Nigeria over Jonathan, Buhari, Gov. Sule Lamido warns HERE
In this concluding part of the interview with Gov. Sule Lamido of Jigawa State, he says his fellow governors who defected from the PDP ought to have followed the honourable path by quitting office. He also speaks on what he calls `the healing process’ for Nigeria.
You can see the difference between those days and today, when a governor will leave the party that sponsored him to office and join another party while still maintaining the office he got from the old party.
When we were fighting in the PDP, I told my colleagues that the issues we were fighting for were fundamental. We were fighting for justice, we were fighting against impunity and we were fighting for due process. The people we were fighting were dangerous. It was like by the time they fight back, our offices, our personal lives and families and relationships could be on the line. Therefore we should stay in the party and fight. If we were going to join the APC, then we must be prepared to resign our offices. There is something called honour around leaders, especially elected leaders. I don’t wear your gown and use it to make shakara for you. It is not fair and it is not right.
And then, soon the military intervened, and all of you were witnesses to, and victims of, military justice. Some are saying the way the military handled the persecution of the political class, sometimes sending people to 200 years jail terms, sometimes on trumped up charges, was meant to decimate the political class. How did it affect you personally?
When the military took over in 1983/1984, the people holding power were part of the first generation of leaders. The people who came in were the third generation of the military. The first generation were the Ironsis, the Maimalaris, the Gowons, the Ojukwu’s and so on. Those who came in 1984, the people they displaced from power were part of the old order, the leaders who took over from the colonialists.
Because the new leaders were part of military leaders, the difficulty they had in asserting their authority, their attempt to replace first grade leadership with third grade meant they had to literally destroy the old order, because there was no way they were going to share space with the Ziks, the Awolowos, the Mbadiwes, the Aminu Kanos, the Joe Tarkas. It was necessary, or so they thought, to first destroy what was standing before they could find the ground to stand. They set out to disgrace us, remove our moral authority and make it sound as if we were thieves, crooks and corrupt people, and they made themselves look like saviours and revolutionaries, blah, blah, blah. They deployed lack of due process, lack of law, lack of human rights and even lack of cultural background.
And you can see the effect of these. They ended up taking away our history and truncated our political track records. How many young Nigerians know the story of Nigeria today? They don’t know and they don’t want to know because there is no running story. There is no continuity in our political evolution. What you have is a patchwork of eras. These boys were not able to replace what they destroyed with anything worth keeping. They were marauding the landscape with their military laws and decrees with immediate effect but we ended up having no effect because these laws and their system of rule was hanging. It had nothing to stand on. Even when they started their political transitions, they made things worse by disqualifying everybody who was in politics between 1960 and 1983. You can see the consequences. We are paying very dearly for it.
You played prominent roles during the military transitions to democracy. In particular, what did you see as your mission when the movement towards the formation of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party was going on? Did you see it as an opportunity to continue from where you stopped in 1983?
Our mission was informed by the coup of 1983 and the aftermath of it. Between 1983 and 1998, the military did incalculable harm to the polity. By 1998 we had no sense of our history. We did not know where we were coming from. We lost track of the contributions of our founding fathers, what was their vision and mission. The past was shut out. In its place was the culture of nepotism, brute force, abuse of power, mindless corruption and political greed that was not governed by any sense of restraint.
That is why today, governance has lost meaning. Government can become the property of the governor and the state his estate. Thank God we are able to maintain definite tenures. If we had no tenure limits, we would be having 36 state emperors and a king at the centre, each with the power to extend its dynasty. We have no philosophy that guides the way we do things and run a system in order to deliver good governance and use public resources to serve the people. It is everybody doing just as he likes. You can only get anything if you know Mr A or Mr B; citizens have lost their rights.
So, in 1999, after Babangida tried to continue and failed, he set up an interim government and left. General Abacha allowed the interim government to operate for only 82 days and he took over. He too tried to transform into a civilian president after five years in power. Generals Buhari, Babangida and Abacha had transformed politicians into praise singers and sycophants. People like us felt very offended and worried. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC) founded by Babangida were government inventions.
They were owned by the military government, who gave politicians offices, houses, cars and even allowances. They also felt free to ban, disqualify any candidate and annul concluded elections. It was very obvious that he who paid the piper dictated the tunes. So, the party system the military set up was just a fraud, because the military was also using these associations of praise singers and political conmen to sabotage the parties and transition programmes they were running. We felt there was danger.
We felt pained that Nigeria, the leader of the black race, can be so trivialised. So, myself, Abubakar Rimi, Solomon Lar, Alex Ekwueme, Iorchia Ayu, Solomon Ellah, Bola Ige, and two others, formed the G.9. We met at Ekwueme’s office in Raymond Njoku Street, Ikoyi and discussed Nigeria extensively.
It was agreed that for some of us from the North who had worked with the military to prove that we were not part of the Abacha agenda for the North, we should go and form a group and challenge Abacha. ‘Go and challenge Abacha if you want those of us in the South to believe you’ . We agreed. We formed the G.18, which was purely a northern formation.
We challenged Abacha on a number of issues and gave it to Solomon Lar to go and read it out in the media. After that, the security agents came and picked me and Rimi and we were incarcerated. When the news came out the following day, the South became convinced of our commitment and therefore more people joined us and we formed the G.34, which was a national movement. We became interested in forming a party that will protect democracy, attract and unite all Nigerians, a party that will consolidate democracy, develop the country and make Nigeria a showpiece in the comity of nations.
Eventually, a man who did not play a role in the formation of the PDP became the president of Nigeria under the PDP banner. Somehow, the two of you clicked and have worked together ever since. So, how would you portray Gen Olusegun Obasanjo’s role in our democracy since 1999. Is Obasanjo a saint or sinner?
Before we go there, let us discuss how he emerged. There was a coup in 1983 and Buhari, a northerner was head of state, who took over from Shagari, a northerner. Then, Babangida, a northerner overthrew Buhari and ruled Nigeria for eight years. After that, Abacha, another northerner, took over and was in power for five years. And there was an election won by Chief Abiola, which was annulled.
This had a very profound effect because the elections of June 12 were very transparent and credible. The North was seen as a power monger. When Abacha died and we formed the PDP, we were looking for a Nigerian symbol. The issues in 1998 were not about development. The main issue was giving the Nigerian nation, which was like a ship adrift in the ocean, a chance to find a steady course once again.
We needed someone who will take the country out of bickering and bring about unity. We decided that the Yoruba had been wrongly treated and must be appeased because of their son, Abiola. Obasanjo was in prison, and we were looking for a Yoruba Nigerian president, not president of Nigeria for the Yorubas. If we had asked the Yorubas to give us a president, they would have given us Bola Ige, Abraham Adesanya or Olu Falae. These people may not solve the problem of uniting the nation because we feared they might be pursuing ethnic agenda. Our leaders reflected and decided to bring out Obasanjo, a man whom we knew was very sound and a nationalist.
What did Obasanjo do with the opportunity given to him?
Leave your personal opinion about Obasanjo. I know you hate him like nobody else. I have seen your writings. That is your own business. How did we click? you asked. When he made me foreign affairs minister, it was a time when Nigeria was a pariah nation in the world. I never knew him from Adam before he became the elected president. To me, Obasanjo was either crazy or a genius for him to place the heavy burden of that huge ministry on someone he never knew from Adam.
I knew that as a foreign affairs minister, what you say or do, or do not say or do not do can make or unmake the image of a nation, and this was a time when Nigeria’s image was already in the worst of shapes. I was touched, and I swore to myself that I will stand by this man for as long as he continued to be active in politics. And within three years of Obasanjo’s ascension to power, Nigeria’s unity was fully restored, and her image abroad was also restored. By 2001, Nigeria was stable and very, very reconciled. And when he started preparing for his second term, the very people who put him there wanted him out. I did not go along with that. I asked why they should use him and dump him.
In 2003, when we went for campaign in Rivers, Obasanjo made another very profound impact on me. At the arena where we were having the campaign, Peter Odili, the governor of Rivers State, stood up on the podium. He said: “We, people of South-South, our chiefs, leaders and the entire people, we met and decided that we want to control our oil, because God, in His infinite mercy, put the oil in our soil. And God does not make mistake. So, Mr President, we want to hear from you what will be the fate of our oil when you come back for a second term. We are going to give you our votes 100%; even if you are dead, we will still vote for you”.
Odili said so, right there at the campaign ground in Port Harcourt. I was cringing inside when I heard this, because it was a public place and a sensitive thing to say in a public place. Here we were, looking for votes. I was wondering what the president’s reply would be. Then, Obasanjo, in his normal character, stood up. He said: “Peter, thank you very much. I agree with you, God does not make mistake. He also made that man, Sule Lamido, a Nigerian, just like you. Therefore, the oil is for all Nigerians, irrespective of where they come from”.
Only someone with moral authority and courage will say so while looking for votes. So it made a serious impact on me. These are the things that define Obasanjo. We do have our own ups and downs, but once it comes to the issue of Nigeria, he and I are on the same page. I think he and I share the same intensity for Nigeria. He says Nigeria gave him everything, and he is ready to give his life for Nigeria. He said so. The same thing applies to me. Nigeria gave me the space to grow, gave me the opportunity to go to the House of Reps, gave the opportunity to be a minister, Nigeria gave me everything. So, I am willing to give back to my country.
You have governed Jigawa State for almost eight years now. We all know where the state was in 2007. It was rated by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics and the Central Bank of Nigeria as the poorest state in the North and Nigeria. We know where it is today, as one of the most rapidly growing in terms of infrastructure and the best in doing business according to international rating agencies. This is why my newspaper gave you an award. What was the template you brought here that brought about the great turnaround?
We are not just talking about developing Dutse into a little beautiful city but creating 27 new towns all over the state.
Every human being has pride. Every human being has a sense of belief in himself, or at least, should have it. These will become obvious when the institutions or the platform he needs are given him to demonstrate it. The first thing was that I knew my people to be very proud, very hard working, very industrious and very humane. I was humbled that they made me their governor.
The first thing I did was to ensure that the government belonged to them. When you are down, it is up to you to decide that you want to pull yourself up. Otherwise there is nothing anyone can do for you. We felt embarrassed and pained when we were being rated so lowly, and we knew that what they were saying was true. We had to unite to save ourselves from ourselves.
So, I decided that I was going to lead, not in terms of being a leader but being part of the people. I do not have any particular training, or qualification, but even when I was foreign minister, I kept my eyes open, and I noticed that there is something called class, and when I became governor, I decided it was an opportunity to prove that what other people now take for granted in other parts of the world we can do it here. I am going to build structure, infrastructure and institutions that will support our collective drive towards achieving human dignity. Our destination is peace and prosperity and a humane decency. We started by having a conference of all Jigawa citizens. We called it the Talakawa Summit.
This summit brought in all artisans, all professionals, from the local midwife in the village to the carpenter, from the woman who makes fura to the vulcaniser and the carpenter. We decided to listen to them first. Then I told them that Jigawa had been a victim of poverty, squalor and destitution. We the elite were here living in comfort and the ordinary people were living in pain. We have switched off from human compassion. We must switch back on and begin to look our people in the face, their clothing, what they eat and how they live.
It was time we listened to their stories of agony, ordeal and pain. It should not be like what we always did, discussing about hunger, poverty, refugees and their kwashiorkor in the comfort of seven-star hotels without even listening to the people who were going through these things. When they had narrated everything, we decided to use what we got from them to form the basis of how to run our government. So, what you are seeing today is the result of the collective will, strength and energies of the people of Jigawa State, not Sule Lamido.
We all travel all over the world and we read about how Hong Kong, Singapore, China, and now Dubai grew and transformed from backwardness to grade one entities. Why can’t we do the same here in Jigawa State? These people started from somewhere, now see where they are. It is up to us to compel ourselves to be what we want to be. It is not Sule Lamido, but the resolve of Jigawa people to put the inglorious past behind them and move from darkness to light. We refused to go by the Nigerian pace but we decided to dictate our own pace. We knew our potentials, and we summoned the discipline and commitment and passion to change our situation.
What do you say about President Jonathan, the Peoples Democratic Party and the future of Nigeria?
If you look at the party from 1999, the way things happened was not the way things were planned. Man proposes, God disposes. It is part of human evolution that things unforeseen can come in and take the centre stage. Nigeria has been traumatised. We began in 1999 with so many injuries and so many difficulties. We had to reconcile and restore Nigeria first before anyone could start aspiring to be governor, president and what have you. Of course, as human beings, we make mistakes.
I think what redefined Nigeria was denying Obasanjo a smooth sail in 2003. He went through a lot of pain to get re-elected, and that eroded confidence and trust among his friends and associates. In a way, all these things influenced his thinking towards 2007. And then, Umaru Yar’ Adua was in office. He was there for only three years and he died.
In 2007, Yar’ Adua, a Fulani, a Northerner; Buhari, a Fulani, a northerner; Atiku, a Fulani, a northerner, all of them northerners, Muslims and Fulanis. There was no southerner in the presidential race in 2007, yet the elections were very acrimonious. The power struggle among these otherwise brothers was very bitter, and when we do these things, it has a way of defining the disposition of the younger generation. By and large, our activities also impact on the environment.
The structure of the PDP made sure that there was no way that Atiku and Buhari could have beaten Yar’ Adua. Buhari had no structure but depended on the All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP). Atiku was a PDP creation. At the end of the election, there was total distortion of realities, due to the amount of propaganda. Even though there was no way the duo could have won the election, they made a lot of people to believe that the election was rigged.
It was pure mischief, but these things stuck. When you tell a lie over and over, it begins to wear the toga of the truth. They went to the tribunal, they lost. They went on appeal, they lost. And the more they lost the more the propaganda. At the Supreme Court, the judges are also under the same influence in the environment. There was a tie. It took the maturity of the Chief Justice of Nigeria then, after examining the implications for the nation, and he broke the tie accordingly.
Buhari never attended the Council of State meetings when Yar’ Adua was president. But when Yar’ Adua died, the very first meeting Jonathan called, Buhari was the first to be there. And they were Muslims. They were Fulanis and northerners. These things also permeated down to the grassroots. By stroke of providence, Jonathan became the president.
By 2011, Jonathan won the election, and some people started saying he is a southerner. Who was there before him? Was it not a northerner? There are certain things in life you cannot avoid. As a Muslim, I intensely believe in God, and there is nothing that man can do to change the course of destiny.
Whatever the shortcomings or strong points of President Jonathan, they are part of the process of national healing, and it is the duty of all of us to come together and be part of the national healing. Nigeria cannot be hinged on a single person or section. So, in 2015, whatever it is, we must be ready to rally around the president.
Even if he makes mistakes, we should be able to pull him back. But when you vilify him, or deride him, or disown him, you will take away his authority from him, and you will strip him of his pride and he will become like any other person. That is not the way to go because, as they say, things that go round will come round. Today, it is Jonathan. Next day it can be anyone else.
You cannot build a strong, united, prosperous nation with that kind of attitude. If you think the leader you elected to office is going wrong, rally around him and stop him from straying. When you abandon and malign him, he is going to be like any other person, and he might begin to get out of hand in a way that does no one any good. And remember, he has his own supporters.
Before you know it, the nation is broken again into factions. So, to me, maybe I am becoming too old and don’t see things from the perspective of the youth of today, but I think our values are being eroded, as a people, as an economy, as a nation and as Africans, and we must not allow that to happen. Nigeria was here before Jonathan and after Jonathan, Nigeria will be here, I am very sure.