What I’ll do, if Buhari gets APC’s presidential ticket —Atiku

atiku-abubakar_500Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, who recently declared his presidential ambition on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), was in Lagos few days, where he fielded questions from newsmen on the state of affairs in the country and why he wants to become Nigeria’s next president on the platform. BOLA BADMUS brings the excerpts: HOW would you describe Nigeria of today? Today, our country is facing quite a number of challenges and it may not be possible for us to exhaust all the challenges this evening at this session, but let me quickly say that we could attempt to discuss these challenges as they help relate to the media and we believe in partnership. We can make our democracy work better and if, in partnership, we have to make our democracy work better, I think the media has a duty to be concerned about the impunity of electoral process as well as governance. In my life in this country, I have never seen the level of impunity go as high as we have today. Our country today is what it is, not because of those who are doing wrong, but because those who can do something about it but have decided to keep quite. Like last night, at an interactive session, I said if I were the president, and the National Assembly summons a minister for investigation and that minister fails to appear, I would fire him, because the constitution gives the National Assembly the responsibility of checks and balances, and they are in our constitution. Imagine the Congress calling on a secretary of a department to come in the United States, if he fails to appear, they would not approve money for his department and there is nothing the president can do. But that is not what we see in this country and I believe working together, both of us can check that impunity that pervades. This is just a challenge. There are quite a number of challenges we will need to face. But primarily today, the issue of insecurity in the country is pervasive and it is not isolated in any one part of the country. In the North, we are trying to cope with internal insurgency; in the South, it is a combination of kidnapping, robbery and oil bunkering. It was said that if we had a president from Niger Delta that oil bunkering would stop, today; we lose more than 300,000 barrels of crude per day due to bunkering, worse than any other time in our nation’s history. Three hundred thousand (300,000) barrels per day is what Equatorial Guinea produces per day, which Ghana does not even produce. Ghana produces 100,000 barrels per day. So imagine the kind of loss that we have. There are insecurity challenges across the country and we really need to bring about a change that can decisively deal with this situation, otherwise we may be heading for a bigger trouble. One other important thing is the unity of this country. I have never seen this nation so divided as it is today; we have the responsibility to arrest that situation. We are divided in a number of ways, whether it is North or South, and politicians in power are exploiting these divides to further divide us and we need the leadership that can truly unite this country and further develop us into a nation. When in 1990, I decided to join active politics; I was then impressed by the argument of the late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. At that time, we were young and he captivated our imagination and he said look, we have seen this country governed along original ethnic divides, it is time we built bridges of understanding so that we would even forget the origin or the ethnic group we belonged to. He said it was going to take a long time and he said it to us. He said it might take us 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 more years. He said those who are in a hurry could go but those who are not could stay with him, but it is not going to be an easy task, I am quoting him. And, of course, those who were in a hurry left and we stayed. Along the way, he died and we carried on because it is not a task we can accomplish in a short time. That was why we conceived the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre. We built uncompleted bridges; we are looking for those who will complete that bridge. You are running for the presidency of this country and you were once reported to have said that if we have a country, you would run for presidency. How do you see things now? Thank you for bringing that, you have still returned to my concluding remarks. There does not appear to be somebody who is genuinely interested in fixing this country and I have very, very strong belief in this country, because this country has done so much for me. Even if I were to lay my life for this country, I don’t think I will have repaid what this country did for me. This country provided me with free education from the primary to the university levels. Not only that, I was even paid to go to school and I think, I went to school in one of the best environments and at the university, I had a room to myself and I was not sharing a room with anybody. The room I occupied then, now has 10 students occupying it. I am what I am today because this country gave me free education, not only free education but free qualitative education and I was even paid to look after my mother as the only child. So, it is a very strong sense of giving back that is driving me, because I don’t see anybody fixing this country. That is why I am again taking it up and it is not that I also did not consult before taking this decision. I normally do, just like I consulted when moving to APC. We even had votes in every zone, votes were cast. It is this desire to fix this country that is driving me to this place. Do you still share the sentiment that power should move to the North? I don’t share that sentiment anymore, because I realise that people hardly implement or agree on an agreement; that is why when the constitution of APC was being drafted, the issue of zoning was taken out and it was made a free contest. So, in APC, there is no zoning. To that extent, the president can come from any part of this country, but let it be at least among those contestants and the person that people believe has the best ability or capacity to lead. As of today, even in Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), I don’t believe they want to go by zoning anymore because quite a number of things have taken place there to address their own constitution. In 1994 when I participated in the Constitutional Conference that drafted our current constitution, the issue of zoning was raised. I was, in fact, then in the Yar’Adua group that roundly rejected zoning. As politicians, some people even wanted that entrenched in the constitution and we said no. We knew we come from a country that is developing, we come from different regions, different ethnics group and that was something we should sit down as politicians and decide without exposing the country into sections and divisions. Therefore, we expunged the provision for zoning, because then there was a draft constitution, which provided for zoning and power rotation to every zone after one term of five years. We said after every zone has produced a president, which will be 5 years times 6, that will be 30 years; then that provision could be reviewed. At the end of the day, we removed that draft provision from the constitution and said ‘look we know why we were here today; we are here today as a result of the crisis that a president was elected from the South and he was not allowed to govern. Therefore, as politicians in whatever political party you find yourself, make sure the next president come from the South.’ That was why we went and drafted former President Olusegun Obasanjo into the race as a Southerner and he became the president. He finished his term and then he handed over to a Northerner as president and the latter died. Some people, therefore, felt strongly that it was the term of the northern president and that a northerner should be allowed to complete the region’s term and that was what brought about the issue of consensus then in PDP. As far as I am concerned, as of today, I believe the president could come from anywhere. Some people have argued that the North has held the political power for too long, so we should give it to the Southerner. But now we have seen southern president one and we have seen southern president two. So, it is up to Nigerians to put whoever they want; zoning is no longer tenable as far as I am concerned. You are not the only one trying to fix the country as president through the APC; what are you doing to rally the party to give you its ticket? I think the most important elements here is to forge an understanding and unity within the party. You know today, the party is one of the largest and it has quite a number of parties coming together. First and foremost, you must try to unify the party and after trying to unify the party to the best of your ability, then there is also the need to ensure reconciliation within the party. A few months ago, I was appointed the chairman of the reconciliation committee of the party and it is a very painstaking job and up till now, it is ongoing and I believe it will continue for quite some time to come. These are some of the things that you need to even fix the party itself before you go into the issue of primaries, and that is why we have been going round the country talking to party faithful, talking to stakeholders. Yesterday, we were busy talking to the stakeholders of the party in South-West. We are from various political parties, from the PDP, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). All of them were in this hall yesterday to unite and make this party strong and ready for election and to put the APC fairly ahead of other political parties. Do you think your party would survive the fallout of primaries between you and Buhari? The competition between Buhari and I, first of all, is about two or three stages. Since, we have developed a very strong and close political relationship, as far as I am concerned, I said if the ticket goes to Buhari, I will support him. Even when I was in the PDP, after the PDP primaries, I invited General Ibrahim Babangida, General Aliyu Gusau and Alhaji Adamu Ciroma and said ‘come here, let us work to ensure there is an alliance between ACN and CPC.’ In four days, those meetings were hosted in my office in Abuja, even when I was still in the PDP. Buhari knew the role I played to ensure I brought about, you know, that alliance. My belief then was that if that alliance had succeeded, there was no way PDP would have got elected, but unfortunately we didn’t succeed. So, Buhari and I have very, very perfect understanding and I don’t think it would be a problem if any of us gets the party’s ticket, so I don’t see it being a problem. Some people have always said that the central government is too strong and that there is need to divest it of some of its powers as was canvassed at the National Conference. What is your take? As to the powers of the Federal Government, I completely agree. I want you to recall the article I wrote just at the commencement of the National Conference, where I advocated a number of major constitutional amendments. I remember Pastor Tunde Bakare got up and said there was no cause to discuss if the conference discussed those recommendations I made. I advocated major power devolution from centre to the states. It is true that the Federal Government is too strong and it is taking too many resources to the disadvantage of the states. I recently visited a number of states and when I see in the states, the work they do, I feel encouraged to give them more resources. During the Constitution Conference of 1994, there were some of us who strongly advocated by asking: What is the use of Federal Ministry of Education, what is the use of Federal Ministry of Agriculture, what is the use of Federal Ministry of Health? For their duties to be carried out, we said, set up regulatory agencies to regulate what level of integration you want. Set up a regulatory agency at the federal level to determine and inspect healthcare delivery, so also agriculture, but not full blown ministry that takes too much money without doing anything. Tell me what is Federal Ministry of Agriculture doing? The lands are in the states and in the local governments; you give the money to the states. Lastly, I was watching an analysis on a television entitled: ‘Handling of Education in Africa.’ Nigeria came last; we are only spending 10 per cent of our budget on education. Even poorer countries that just came out of civil wars such as Ivory Coast, is spending 27 per cent, South Africa is spending 30 per cent, Ghana is spending 28 per cent or something like that; but we are spending only 10 per cent. So, move the powers back to the states, make the federal level very light and you will really see progress on ground. I believe that there should be devolution of power. Somebody was asking and I said within three months, I can sit down in governance and agree you take this, you take this and we will amend the constitution and it is done. Some people have accused you of jumping from one party to another. If you don’t get the APC ticket, what happens? This question was asked last night by someone and I said that as far as I am concerned, APC is the final bus stop. Precisely, it is the final bus stop. What I have always believed in is merging I have always believed in a two-party system for this country from the day I started my political career, because it will give the people of this country the right choice on who should lead them. Ghana has done it better I believe that in the next 10 years, we would have definitely two clear parties. But for change to occur, Nigerians have never been given that opportunity in terms of democracy other than now. Before now, you could say there was no alternative to the PDP, now there is an alternative to the PDP. It is a state of war in caliphate states where Boko Haram appears to be in charge, what will you be telling government to do to address the problem? The insurgency in the North, you have quoted rightly, is dragging to a state of war, what advice will I give as far as I am concerned? Three days ago, a Reuters correspondent interviewed me in Abuja and asked me what I would do. I said one of the things I will do, ‘you have a Civilian JTF, they were members of Boko Haram who saw that it was wrong to be Boko Haram and decided to help the military. I said look, you have an army of young people, ready to be trained and armed so that they can flush out their own colleagues. Why are you not giving them the opportunity to do that and you let them show you where Boko Haram boys are? And only yesterday, the government announced that they were going to recruit all the Civilian JTF into the military and train them, why did it take them so long? Somebody somewhere doesn’t think; doesn’t even have the capacity. Let’s be sincere, and then if you watch the fight between Boko Haram and our military men, you will see our soldiers with AK47 with 40 rounds of ammunition, whereas you see a Boko Haram with thousands of ammunition. I believe our military outfits should have been well-equipped to deal with this, and apparently I don’t think they are. Why should it take us five years? I just can’t explain this. Nigeria’s civil war lasted 30 months, we concluded and we moved on. This small insurgency has been on for five years simply because you have a government that is insensitive and not capable and doesn’t have the capacity to deal with the situation. What are the chances of the APC in the coming by-election in Adamawa, because it doesn’t appear to have a strong candidate? There are very good chances for APC. There was an event in Bauchi recently, and we were coming to Adamawa and we were to cross about two to three states. I asked them to stop in some villages and ask people who they could talk to, if they were supporting the PDP.tribune.com They were stopping as they were driving from Bauchi to Gombe before getting to Adamawa. It was very, very difficult to get PDP supporters. In one of the villages, the people there said there were no PDP supporters but APC and that we should continue our journey and move forward, and when we got to another village, we said we wanted to talk to PDP supporters, they said ‘oh, we don’t have, move forward.’ This is how popular APC is; this is how eager Nigerians want to effect change or see a change. So the chances are good. *Source tribune.com]]>

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