Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, elderstatesman and Second Republic presidential liaison officer in this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, shares his thoughts on alleged coup plot, fears over Nigeria’s breakup and the 2023 general election. Excerpts:
The Presidency last week said there are alleged plot by some Nigerians, working with foreign elements, to overthrow President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. What was your reaction when you heard the statement?
I read the news where they said they are aware of a conspiracy to overthrow the president. This is a very serious issue. What I expect from the presidency is not a statement of this nature because there are so many statements like this in the past. I think it is time for the presidency to act. If they continue making statements without acting, people will tend not to believe them in the future and it will be disastrous for the country if the citizens cannot trust their leadership. This time, I think the government should let actions speak louder than words. Let them arrest those who are scheming to overthrow the government and arraign them before the court of law. That is more credible and helpful for the country than making these statements which may make people brand their statements as ridiculous in the future.
Some Nigerians are calling on the president to convene a national conference where all the myriads of problems confronting Nigeria will be addressed. Do you subscribe to that?
There are many national conferences that we have had even before the one of 2014. I wasn’t happy that former President Jonathan who initiated the 2014 national conference did not find it necessary to issue a White Paper and accept which part of the conference that the government accepted and which part they will reject. If we had done that, we would have gone far by now. There is no need for another conference when the recommendations of the previous conferences are not implemented. You can’t keep on holding conferences and making recommendations which are not implemented. I will prefer the government to take the report of the previous conferences, pick each one they consider appropriate and implement them rather than holding another conference. It will be a waste of time and resources holding a new conference and we don’t have that time. If we are going to hold a national conference, the minimum time required is one year. One year from now will be May 2022 just a few months to the next general elections. There is no registration of voters yet and so many things are yet to be done. The less than two years that we have now should be dedicated to the next election not for national conference.
Meanwhile before the next election, the government should look into the report of previous conferences and pick the ones they consider implementable and implement them before the next election. The country will really praise them for that rather than holding another conference. Nobody is interested in holding another conference for now.
In any way , a conference is the surest way of creating problems in the country because how are you sure that everybody who is invited to that conference will not eventually walk out and plunge the conference into crisis? I am not for that. I am for the implementation of the more than enough recommendations of past conferences to change this country for the better. Let them implement the ones they feel they can implement. They can leave the rest for future governments to implement.
INEC have announced the date for the 2023 general elections but there are fears that Nigeria might break up before that time. Do you also nurse this fear?
People are only saying what is on their minds. There are thousands of markets in Nigeria, they are all conducting their affairs. No single market in the whole of Nigeria is closed because of any crisis in the country. We have 774 local governments, they are all functioning with their chairmen, councilors, civil servants and they are getting their revenues regularly from the federation account. No single local government in Nigeria is now closed. We have universities, tertiary institutions, secondary schools, they are all functioning. We have so many things in this country that are still going well despite our challenges. In America, everyday people are gunned down by gun-wielding fellow Americans and terrorists. Before a country can begin to think of crisis of that magnitude which leads to shutdown, there must be a serious crisis in the country. All the courts be it native, magistrates, state high courts, court of appeal , supreme court are all functioning. None of them is closed down because of any crisis in Nigeria. Most of these crises are only seen on the pages of newspapers and are not reality. Yes, we have problems but it is not peculiar to Nigeria alone.
So, are you saying fears that Nigeria might break up is unreal?
I know there are people who want this country to breakup. These are the people who control the media in Nigeria. They are using the media to put this idea of break-up into the minds of Nigerians. I listened to Jerry Gana yesterday and he said we have millions of Igbos in northern Nigeria, not to talk of those in Lagos. We also have so many northerners in the South in millions going about their businesses. There is no place where Igbos are driven away from Northern Nigeria and there is no place where Kanuris and Nupes are driven away from Southern Nigeria. It is the people who want this country to break-up that are trying to sell the idea through the media. But fortunately or unfortunately for Nigeria, many people don’t read the newspapers . I don’t think all the newspapers published in Nigeria is up to one million, yet we have over 200 million people. The truth is, Nigerians like this country because they are benefiting from it. There are three bridges in Lagos today- Third Mainland Bridge, Carter Bridge and Eko Bridge. I can assure you, if the three are not functioning, in the next three months, Lagos will not operate. It is the same situation with Nigeria. If the six bridges in the country fail to work, there will be problems because it will be difficult for people to move about. So, right now, I can say that Nigeria will not break-up. Yes, we have problems but it is the same situation in other countries too and they are not talking of breaking up.
Ahead of the 2023 elections, there has been controversy over zoning and power rotation. What is your position on this?
I don’t care who rules Nigeria from 2023 as long as the person is competent to govern clearly and develop the country. This is one of the reasons I did not support Buhari right from beginning. Check your records and you would see that when Obasanjo was in power, I was talking in his favour and I was never and will never be in PDP. It was only when he wanted to do a third term that I ended my support for him. I don’t support people based on their tribes or religions. I support people because of what they can do for Nigeria. In 2023, we are looking for somebody who will rule Nigeria very well, irrespective of where the person comes from.
In the First Republic, I was the publicity secretary for the defunct Northern Elements Progressives Union (NEPU) for almost 10 years. We were in alliance with the NCNC and I was supporting Nnamdi Azikiwe. I did not support Sardauna. I respected him, but did not support his party. I believed in the NCNC which believed in one Nigeria, which was why NEPU joined the NCNC in an alliance. This was the situation until all the political parties were banned in 1966. We were committed to this country. We believe once the country is united, we would be great. This is why the United States is a great country today. This is why China came far from behind to become the number two country in the world today. If China had disintegrated, it would not have become the second biggest economy in the world today.