Interview: Igbo deserves 2023 Presidency, but no alternative to Buhari in 2019 — Balarabe Musa
A former civilian Governor of the old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa says that the Igbo should take a shot at the 2023 Presidency
What is your assessment of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration in the last two years?
The performance of President Muhammadu Buhari since he came on board in 2015 has fallen short of the expectations of Nigerians. In other words, he has been unable to fulfil promises he made before he got the votes of Nigerians. I can reasonably say without fear that his government has failed.
Is it correct to accuse him of nepotism?
I wouldn’t say so because any Nigerian, especially in that position, can be accused of nepotism. This is because so many things are wrong in Nigeria. No matter who is ruling this country, that allegation is inevitable due to certain circumstances that may be beyond the immediate control of the occupant of the position.
So, what is your impression about his choice of aides and cabinet members?
His choice of aides has not been good enough and that is why we are having the problems confronting us at the moment. The situations we are facing now would have been avoided if there had been proper selection of aides through extensive, broad-based consultation.
Buhari’s handling of the herdsmen menace has earned him hard knocks from many Nigerians. How do you think he should have handled the situation?
I think he is doing it well. He has just announced, in the case of Benue, that the criminals would be dealt with.
What is your idea of cattle colony?
I think the idea is completely wrong and it is impracticable because every Nigerian has the right of movement. Cattle colony, as I understand it, is to put the cattle in a reserved area where they can feed. That is not practicable. What is practicable and even necessary is to control free movement of cattle but that is not the same as cattle colony. The position now is that the herdsmen are carefree and they should not be allowed to be carefree because they are infringing on the rights of other people.
How did you ensure peaceful coexistence between the herdsmen and the farmers when you were governor?
The problem was there but it was not as it is today because there was still enough land for grazing. What is happening today is that there is no land for grazing because all the lands that were reserved for grazing in the past, especially after the colonial era, had been taken over by rich farmers. The herdsmen therefore have no land for grazing. That is why they now encroach on other people’s farms and this often leads to friction.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo is leading a coalition to counter the APC and the PDP. Were you consulted by the former president on the coalition issue or are you playing any role?
I was not consulted. But what I can say is that I have listened to some people talking about the coalition. When did Obasanjo come onto the political scene? We were there long before he came onto the political scene. Some of us have been dealing with the idea of a political coalition since the colonial period, but it never succeeded because of the reactionary attitude of those people who were calling for it, particularly after the Second Republic. We found out that those who called for coalitions so far are those who have personal grudges or those who are secessionists. In the end, after participation in this coalition (and we have participated in so many of them), we discovered that the coalition amounts to regional rivalry and secessionism. I am not saying that it will continue to be so negative. No. There may be changes and we are waiting to see the real changes before we get involved. One of the coalition movements mentioned my name without contacting me at all, but when I looked at the list, I found that it was only one person, whom I have not associated myself with since the coalition thing started. He is, however, one person that I have great respect for and who I know won’t be involved in something that will end up in either ethnic politics or regional agenda because this is how all these movements usually end up.
Do you think Obasanjo has the support of the North?
I don’t want to talk about the North. As far as I am concerned, we are involved in Nigerian politics. That’s all for that question.
Would you have supported the Obasanjo coalition if you were contacted?
No. I won’t support it because I know the antecedents of Obasanjo. He is a former president of Nigeria and he was not able to solve the problem that his coalition is proposing to solve. What has he learnt better? It (the coalition) will fizzle out just like its predecessor.
Should Buhari dare the coalition and run for a second term?
Nothing stops him (Buhari) from contesting. After all, every elected public office holder in Nigeria has the right to seek a second term. Did Obasanjo himself not defy public opinion and even seek an illegal third term because it was not provided for in the constitution? He sought a third term and he failed. In the case of Buhari, he is entitled to a second term by law. Whether the issue of a second term will work in President Buhari’s favour is another matter altogether.
But judging from the hardship Nigerians are going through today, would you advise Buhari to go for a second term?
No. I won’t bother myself too much thinking about that because if today Buhari decides he won’t run for a second term, do you have a better person now in Nigeria who can perform better than Buhari? Up to the end of the Second Republic, when (the late Chief Obafemi) Awolowo, Zik (the late Nnamdi Azikiwe), Aminu Kano and so on were there, you could say ‘if not Awolowo, Zik is competent’ and so on. There was, at that time, a clear alternative available for Nigerians; whether you liked it or not, it was a distinctive alternative. But today, where is the alternative? We are now in a situation where there is no alternative or it is difficult for the alternative to emerge because this is politics and election in which ‘money power’ plays a leading role. So, it is not possible to find a qualitative and relevant alternative to Buhari at the moment.
Do you think that the APC will be strong enough to defeat the PDP and Obasanjo’s Third Force in 2019?
The APC can’t defeat them (the PDP and the third force) but they will rig the election. There is no doubt about that because even some APC members, at the beginning of the Buhari administration, said and warned their party’s leadership that they would be chased out the way they chased out the PDP and we are in that situation now. They are not doing the right thing. That is why there is the possibility of them being chased out the way they chased out the PDP in 2015.
So, what’s happening to the Peoples Redemption Party where you are the National Chairman?
We are at the stage of renewing our resolve to be relevant and capture power, if not in 2019, then later. We have established three committees: they are membership, convention and review committees (which we called a ‘holistic’ review of the PRP past, present and the future). The committees have completed their works because last (penultimate) Wednesday, the Review Committee submitted its reports, which we are currently considering.
You mentioned earlier that there is no alternative to President Muhammadu Buhari. You mean, you don’t have an alternative in your party that can challenge the President in terms of integrity, credibility and so on?
We are trying to do that now through the holistic review of the PRP past, present and the future with particular reference to 2019. In other words, there will be new leadership under the circumstances. We will also have a new membership drive based on manual registration of members and online registration of members.
Do you believe this will afford you the opportunity to produce a credible candidate to challenge Buhari if he decides to contest the presidency again in 2019?
Whether he attempts to run or not, it is our decision and right to produce someone that can defeat him. We will try to do this through the renewal which we are now embarking upon at the moment. So, by 2019, during the primaries, you will see us producing the candidate who can make the difference.
What is your impression about an Igbo presidency?
I support it. In the first instance, this is democracy and every Nigerian has the right to aspire to any position. Secondly, there is a zoning system. It’s a PDP policy but it is a right policy even though it was initiated and promoted by the PDP. Now, it has been accepted by every political party and every organisation now sees zoning as a means of giving everybody a sense of belonging. Now, the North has had their opportunity to have the Presidency on many occasions. The West had it through Obasanjo and even the South-South had it. Only the South-East has not had it. Why not? Are they not Nigerians? Do they not have the right to a sense of belonging? If you deny them this right, would you honestly say that Nigeria is one? No. We have to be critical this time. The right person from the Igbo part must come. We see what we have landed ourselves in by insisting that ‘any northerner or any southerner’. We see what it has led us to now. So, I support an Igbo presidency that will be elected by Nigerians. We are not going to leave it for the Igbo to just bring ‘any Igbo’. No! We have made that mistake in the past by saying ‘any northerner or southerner’. This time, we will be critical by choosing the Igbo man who will help us. If every Nigerian feels he has a sense of belonging, there will be no need for zoning.
Did that form any part of your current party’s review?
No. It will be an aspect of our party. There will be a situation where every part of Nigeria has a sense of belonging. No part of Nigeria should be left out. Why was Obasanjo, who did not enjoy the support of Nigerians, particularly in the South-West, given the chance to be president? How did he become the president in 1999? It was considered by most reasonable Nigerians that the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential was unfair to the South-West and Nigeria; and the South-West adopted a feeling of ‘we don’t care’ but those who felt that that annulment was unfair felt that the South-West should be consoled. That is why they brought in Obasanjo, otherwise, Obasanjo wouldn’t have been brought in at all. Even left for the South-West alone, Obasanjo wouldn’t have been brought in because he was so unpopular there. In fact, he was alleged to be part of the annulment of the June 12 but because of this feeling of giving the South-West a sense of belonging, the whole Nigeria, particularly the North, supported the Obasanjo presidency. So, why not now that the Igbo don’t have a sense of belonging? There is this feeling that it is because of the 1967 Nigerian Civil War, which took place several years ago that some reactionary elements have refused to forget. In the early ’70s, one could understand but we can’t continue to punish the Igbo forever because they are part of Nigeria. So, this time, just as we say, ‘let us console the Yoruba because of June 12; let us also say that the Igbo have been punished for so long because of the Nigerian Civil War; so, let us give them the presidency this time around. You know the Igbo are republican by nature. So, it is the northern and southern elite that don’t like an Igbo presidency because the Igbo man is republican. He is more competitive than both the Hausa and Yoruba elite. That is one of the reasons for the fear but should we continue with this fear?
There are allegations of unfair treatment of the Igbo by Buhari, especially in terms of appointments, because they didn’t vote for him in the last election. How do you react to this allegation?
Buhari was wrong. He realised and decided to correct it. I think some people can prove it wrong or right. I have the belief now that in terms of appointments, he has given them their due positions, but it might not be sufficient for them. I think he is now fair compared to the beginning when he claimed that they didn’t vote for him, and therefore, they were not entitled to be part of his government. I believe he has learnt his lessons and he has corrected the mistakes.
What is your take on the appointment of northerners as service chiefs, except the Chief of Naval Staff?
I am not sure but I will have to cross-check. I don’t know. But let me tell you one thing and this is something that a lot of young Nigerians don’t know. During the Second Republic, there was a conspiracy between the Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo elite to keep the military out of Nigerian politics. So, these elite from the North, South and East conspired among themselves to donate the presidency to the North, which President Shehu Shagari benefited from because they believed that only northern elite would have the popular support to stop the military from coming back.
Shagari, at that time, said he didn’t see himself being anything more than a local government chairman. He was honest. But they still forced him to come and be president because he was a distinguished northerner and he had the capacity to get the support of the North.
But do you think that decision was right?
Politically, it was right and if they had not done so, the military would have come back to power almost immediately. They had so much tasted power that they became part of the Nigerian problem which is corruption. Remember that after the General Yakubu Gowon regime, there was a Commission of Inquiry which showed the overbearing power of the military governors and the fact that every military governor at that time was found to be corrupt, except the late Governor Mobolaji Johnson of Lagos State. There was an inquiry to that. So, the military became very powerful and corrupt and were only interested in remaining in power. They were in the position to use any mistake by the civilian to come back. The fear was clear. So, it was left for them to do so.
For instance, if they had handed over power to the West, the antagonistic posture of the Yoruba would have given the military an excuse to return. The same would have happened in the case of the East. So, with the North in power and because of the longer experience, power favoured them against the South-East and West. So, there was the feeling that they could manage power more successfully than an easterner or westerner. That also has been reflected in some other ways. For example, why should all the presidents come from the North? It was not just the power of the North but the calculation of Nigerian politicians that because of their experience in power, they (North) would likely be able to keep the power for the Nigerian elite, which come from all over the country. I think we have to get away from this. It is high time we make every Nigerian have the capacity to exercise power like the Igbo.
Do you think the Igbo should support Buhari for a second term so that they can produce the president in 2023?
I understand right now, there is a small conspiracy between the Igbo and the Hausa-Fulani. I don’t know whether somebody is testing the ground because I am not aware of any meeting between the North and the Igbo elite. But the impression is given now that the Igbo political power alone cannot give them the presidency without the conspiracy of the North and West. The Igbo feel they have to find a way of reaching an agreement with the North or the West to have political power in 2023. I think they can have it. The conspiracy is sensible because no section of Nigeria alone can make it. The northerners were able to achieve or get the presidency because of their numerical value. So, the Igbo think that if they can get the support of the West, they can have the presidency and if they can have the support of the North, they can get the presidency. But they have a better chance with the support of the North because the region is more in terms of voting power. If they can get the voting power of the North and East and what they can get from the other parts, they can make it. So, I understand there is a conspiracy whereby the Igbo will support the North to continue having another chance in 2019 on the understanding that in 2023, the North will support the Igbo. I just hope it will work. But since this conspiracy is an essential part of politics in Nigeria today, it makes sense.
Will an Igbo presidency solve the problem facing the South-East?
Yes, because they will have a sense of belonging; and you know the East is competitive and republican in nature. They will all agree. If they translate the republicanism in the real sense, they can encourage the North and the South-West to support them. If they can produce the equivalent of the late Nnamdi Azikiwe, it will work. But the question now is: can they produce the equivalent of ‘Zik of Africa’ now?Punch