Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa was the candidate of the National Republican Convention (NRC) in the June 12, 1993, presidential election which result was annulled. In this exclusive interview, the elder statesman bared his mind on many topical issues in Nigeria: from insecurity to permutations for the 2023 presidential election, especially zoning and joint ticket for candidates from the same religion to how President Muhammadu Buhari has fared in delivering on his promises. He also spoke on the victimisation of the Fulani, especially in the Southern part of the country, and the response of the federal government to Asari Dokubo’s declaration of a Biafran government, among others. Excerpts:
Insecurity issues seem to have increased exponentially with Boko Haram still ravaging the North East and the activities of bandits and kidnappers in the North West becoming more pronounced, aside the activities of several other criminal elements in other regions. What should be done to address this?
We are certainly in very difficult and uncertain times in our country. Some years back, if you were to hint something slightly similar to these will happen, the SSS will not find it funny.
But there is a reason for everything. One of our shortcomings as a people, even as a government, is that we seldom dig deep enough to find the reason(s) people do what they do. And, without knowing the real reasons, the correct line of action will be missing.
We just call people terrorists or drug addicts or thieves and so on without bothering to find out why they are doing those things. It is doubtful if we yet know exactly why Boko Haram or even the bandits are terrorising us, and who are exactly behind them and for what purpose? We need to go back to the drawing board and find out. Only with that certain knowledge can we decide on the best course of action to deal with their situation and bring peace to the land.
Going back to your question, I would say, one: school children are the softest targets and are most effective in drawing sympathy for them. There is also the demand for urgent action as a result of pressure mounted by their parents and the general public. And, since most parents are poor and the schools are under the government education authorities, it follows that the government will have to bear the responsibility for the payment of the ransom demanded.
Again, since there is so much corruption in almost everything in Nigeria, one cannot rule out the attraction to some officials that the payment of ransom presents an opportunity for them to get their cut, hence the speed of payment is assured. It is just like when a bank was robbed of N10m and some senior staff reported that it was N30m that was robbed.
Now the closure of almost 450 schools is a victory for Boko Haram’s “No to Western Education”; even though they may not be directly responsible for the kidnappings. The danger in this situation where both the bandits and the Boko Haram claim some success may draw them closer. They will begin to feel the need to work together. If this is allowed to happen, we are done.
The call for restructuring has recently gained momentum. What is your view and how do you think we can solve the issues around it?
I am the Chairman of Friends of Democracy; a small group of Northern patriots who try to see and weigh all matters with our national interest utmost in our mind. Our submission on restructuring is well publicised and advertised, and is now with the National Assembly. Those interested should look for it. I have no other view which is now different.
I will only add that many ideas that I read are written with some sinister objectives, not the national interest.
What two major things do you think should be amended in the 1999 constitution for better governance?
The cost of governance and the three lists.
The fight against corruption, insecurity and revamping the economy are the cardinal objectives of this administration. How will you score President Buhari on these?
I will repeat what I have been saying for a long time. The president lacks the team he needs to do those things he promised he would. And, without good helpers, he has to continue to bear the blame.
My impression is if he signs on something he believes is good for the country, he just trusts that it will be implemented in accordance with his instructions. There, probably, is no effective system of checking or follow up; or he is always told things are going according to plan and he accepts that as the truth.
Personally, I now pray for him, seeking the Almighty Allah to help him with good health and a clear mind to see and act on the truth. His time is running out. By this time next year, he is a lame duck.
Permutations have begun in earnest for the 2023 presidential election. What is your take on Nigeria’s future come 2023?
Let us first make sure our country survives; not just intact, but with the relative peace we need to enable the elections to take place successfully in 2023. The country is too polarized now with a lot of stupid ideas and unnecessary bigotry.
Secondly, I have never supported zoning of anything. Not only is it utterly undemocratic, but it will never allow us to be Nigerians and to elect “a Nigerian president”. For how long shall we continue to see ourselves as Northerners and Southerners? I do not know. It is even doubtful if Southerners, for example, will
meet and agree to leave it to one of the three zones. They should try that to demonstrate that the South is one. Their candidate will then have a run with how many candidates the North presents in one or more political parties.
I truly think zoning is detrimental to the unity of this country. It is a sign of backwardness to continue propagating a divisive presidency, rather than the one that will serve all Nigerians equally and justly. The PDP started this foolish idea. They have damaged the political climate of this country while thinking it was for the best. Now it has become what may destroy this country if care is not taken. May Allah forbid!
Towards 2023, some are already mooting the idea of a Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian ticket similar to what SDP did in 1993. This they said will help address the divisions across board. Do you think this kind of ticket can still garner popular vote in Nigeria?
The country is now too polarised for the Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian ticket to be dared by any party. I hope one day we will see religion and ethnicity out of our body politics.
The Kano Concerned Citizens Initiative (KCCI), which you lead, is seen as a political precursor of things to come. It was thought you would make a move in 2019, but it was said in some quarters that you were not ready. Is it 2023 now, seeing that the old guard who are older than you are on their way out?
KCCI was formed to ensure that the interest of all the people of Kano and those who reside in it is protected, by whatever peaceful, intelligent and constructive means. We are not a political body, but we care who will govern us. KCCI has nothing to do with my political ambition; if any. If I have any, I have never mentioned it to anyone; and if I will have it someday, it certainly will be beyond Kano. But, for now, I do not have even that. I leave everything with Allah, for He only knows what is best for me. So, I have no worries in that area at all in that regard.
Whatever I do politically, I do with utmost sincerity; with only the best interest of Nigeria and all its peoples in mind. I even struggle to understand what inordinate ambition and bigotry are all about, and they help anyone or any society.
Kano in the past year has lost some of its eminent sons and daughters with some saying they are irreplaceable, what do we need to do to replace some of them?
There is nothing that cannot be replaced. We still have true elders and we revere those that are older than us. That is a key part of our culture.
We are well aware that times are changing and different cultures have settled here and may continue to do so. But we are trying very hard to learn from their best, avoiding their bad; as we try to teach them our best as well.
It appears nobody is being listened to in Kano; take the Kano Emirate crisis and other related issues that elders failed to resolve. Are Kano elders not relevant anymore?
It is not the failure of elders who gave their utmost to bring some sense into the sinister affair of dislodging the traditional institution of Kano State, but the failure of an obnoxious political leadership that was all out to destroy what was built and inherited a thousand or more years ago. But what politics destroys, politics will rebuild, by Allah’s special permission.
As the leader of the so-called Kano Elite, you seem to at present be the leading “opposition” figure to Gov Ganduje, especially after his dismantling of the Kano Emirate; suing him several times. Again, the state government is in the eye of the storm over its handling of historical and monumental property in the state, the zoological and botanical garden is said to be about to be sold off. What is your opinion?
I am not an enemy of Gov Ganduje. He needs no enemy. I am trying hard to use the little time I have to do some good. I, therefore, have no time for enmity or of some evil hatchet jobs against anyone or the state. We continue to pray for Ganduje that Allah shall guide him before the end of his term, for neither him nor anyone knows what is to come.
In the South West, the Fulani are being victimised for the wrongs of a few criminal elements among them. Have the federal and state governments handled the situation aptly?
It is utterly disgraceful what is happening in this country. It is even more disappointing that a tiny few of the Southern governors have not been able, for reasons we cannot comprehend, to stop the deliberate murders; that in Nigeria of today, such inhumane cruelty will be visited on people who seek to live their lives in those states. If there are criminals, whoever they are, the law should take care of them, not a lynching party of thugs.
However, we must not confuse good people with bad ones. The overwhelming majority of the Fulani are good people, as are the overwhelming majority of Southerners, even in those few states. That was why we called for restraint here in the North, and people heard and agreed with us. We must not allow a few ruffians, evil men, to plunge our country into some conflagration that may lead to unknown consequences. Nonetheless, videos continue to come out of the South of new killings of people and animals and burning of property.
The federal government remains almost inert to this mayhem; so are many of the eminent leaders we know and have become almost family with them in the South. It certainly pains us to contemplate the thought that they support what is being done, or are just too weak to call these evil people to order.
When things quieten somewhat, a discussion of compensation of lives, human and animal, as well as property destroyed will be held somewhere. We hope this will be taken very seriously and done efficiently and justly. Otherwise, another problem dimension will be created.
Asari Dokubo earlier this week declared a government of Biafra but the federal government has made a mockery of the move. Should Nigerians be worried about this latest development?
Alhaji Asari Dokubo may be considered as a joker by the unwise. What if his utterance is only an early stage in a larger plan? Threats to this country should not be taken as a joke. The joke is if it were someone from the North who said a fraction of what Alhaji Dokubo said he will have already been taken in by the security agents because Northerners to them are easy prey. I wonder why that is so. Maybe, it is because we do not haul, we do not shake the ground as if the country will break. That we accept to be ill-treated even without just cause.