You were the governor of Kano State for eight years. What would you say was your biggest legacy?
You know those of us in Kwankwasiyya, our priority has been education. We now have a challenge of insecurity which could easily overshadow education because without security, students can hardly go to school and teachers find it difficult to go to the classroom. So, we had education as our number one priority and that is why on the issue of education at all levels; primary, secondary and even tertiary education, we worked so hard to give opportunities to our young men and women. I believe that our efforts yielded a lot of results to the extent that everyone conversant with Kano from 1999 to 2003 and 2011 to 2015 knows that our results captured some of our achievements. It was also a big success not just for the state but for us, politicians because that is our biggest strength. The young men and women that we sponsored and gave two sets of uniforms in 1999 are now doctors, engineers and so on. They are the ones now campaigning for us locally and internationally. So, education was our biggest achievement but the current state of security now means something needs to be done to bring peace.
Speaking of security, as a former defence minister, how will you advise this government to tackle the insecurity that has spread from the North-East to the North-West?
Many people view security as just what we see on the streets or just in terms of military, equipment and others. But security includes a total package. There is also the angle of economy, job opportunities, education and so on. This current government in 2015 should have brought everybody, including members of the opposition into their fold by consulting them. However, there were cases where even those who helped the government were not accommodated in the government. Therefore, they had to either leave the party to join other parties or keep a distance. So, they could not contribute their quota to the development of the government and the party in particular and the country by extension. So, that is the political side which in my opinion, this government did not handle well. But it is not only the Federal Government, even the state government too. We were the ones who worked so hard in Kano to bring in the Abdullahi Ganduje administration in 2015, but as you are aware, he started fighting us to the extent that he kicked us out and it was not good for him, for us and the state. By extension, that is what happened to us at the federal level as well.
There is also the issue of governance itself. I am sure you remember that the government could not put its cabinet in place on time. So much time was wasted and from the look of things, there was no justifiable reason for that. When you leave a vacuum in government, even if it is for a day, it will show let alone leaving things for months which prevented MDAs from functioning effectively. That may explain why we slipped into a recession in 2015. Also, the government needs to initiate projects that will stimulate the government. For instance, in Kano, we built three cities at the cost of over N30bn. The government invested in building houses, drainages and other infrastructure. We also gave the private sector the opportunity to invest. So, we had many construction sites. Artisans, people selling building materials and others were kept busy. We built two universities, 26 institutes and all roads leading to Kano which were dualised with drainages and walkways. So, we deliberately created opportunities for people to work.
You spoke earlier on how you were marginalised and pushed out by Ganduje. He was your deputy for eight years and also your aide when you were Minister of Defence. Recently, he described you as a selfish person. How did this friendship degenerate to this level?
Many people ask this question but I always ask the same people another question. It is difficult to see anytime, anywhere in this country where a governor handed over to another person either deputy governor, friend, commissioner or somebody from the private sector and not have issues with his predecessor. I have not seen a good example. Mine could be extreme because I had been carrying him along for almost two decades. For me, first and foremost, it is human nature, especially those who don’t understand. There are people who think they can never go high unless they destroy the ladder they used to climb. And there is nothing you can do about it, even though we try to manage them because nobody would like to go into an unnecessary fight especially with a government you helped built both at the state and national levels.
In any case, God is wonderful. I am sure those who are in positions now must be regretting what they have done, especially in Kano. This country is fully aware that Ganduje lost the election in 2019 in Kano, but the powers that be ensured that they imposed him on the majority. They imposed the will of the minority on the majority which is the worst crime in a democracy. I think everybody is paying the price now. I think some of them are trying to correct their mistakes now after the maximum damage made to the state. It is very unfortunate that many people could not see what the masses were seeing. There were reasons he would not have been allowed to contest in 2019, but the powers that be at the time insisted that he should continue. The masses decided to do what the leaders couldn’t do. They still came out to use power that time and those of us who believe in peace didn’t want to start a crisis in Kano.
We had the capacity to stop them and make sure that they were not allowed to perpetrate injustice, but we told our young men and women to cool down. We went through the courts. Unfortunately, everyone in this country knows what happened which was not good for the people. Courts are the last hope of the weak, but what we saw was really shocking. In any case, the eight years is almost gone with a year and some months remaining which would be dedicated to campaigns, and for him (Ganduje), court cases. And God is wonderful. Instead of us being weak, they are the ones getting weaker. Every day, we have people, the masses crossing to our side. Many of them who were below 18 years of age during the last elections, but are now of age, are coming to register with us. People are now asking how to get out of this mess. All the parties should understand that this time round, people will want to vote for their own and not for the leaders’ friends at the top. Anyone who is not accepted by the people is just wasting his time. All those who think they can use INEC and the police in 2023 again to get power are fools because the people are now really ready for change
What is your view about the debate on direct and indirect primaries?
I can say that we will need to do the direct primaries even though it may not be supported by the governors and the powerful moneybags that are always procuring votes. I have gone through many elections, including the direct primaries or Option A4 which was practised during the Third Republic. I was a product of that. After that, even when I went to the constitutional conference, it was direct primary. And of course in 1999, I was elected as the candidate of the PDP through direct primary. But along the line, we realised there were issues with the direct primary. It is very cumbersome with some weaknesses here and there. But after practising the indirect primary, I can easily compare and say the direct one is more democratic and better than the indirect. But one thing that I believe is that the governors and other powerful people will never want to approve a direct primary because the power will get out of the government houses and land in the hands of the voters and members of the party. So, they will never want it.
As a former senator and ex-deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, do you think the National Assembly has the courage to override the President’s veto?
I don’t think so. You see, I think the National Assembly, especially the Senate shot itself in the foot by believing that whatever the President brings is good. In that case, why are they there? They would have saved the country of trillions of naira. Even the President is capable of making mistakes despite having the best of intentions. And it is the responsibility of the National Assembly to say this place shouldn’t be like this and it should be like that. And a good President will take it kindly and correct it. And that is why in this type of democracy, the National Assembly is there for checks and balances. When you say whatever he (the President) brings is good, then there is a problem. I think that is what I see. Nobody is perfect. That is what is manifesting now in terms of bad economy, insecurity and so many vices that are going on. The National Assembly is there to put the President on its toes just like the state assemblies are there to put the governors in check. They should not just approve.
The current crisis in the APC in Kano State has continued to deepen. Recently, a court ruled that the Senator Ibrahim Shekarau faction was authentic. Is it true that you are planning to return to the APC now that Ganduje has been pushed aside?
You see, wherever leaders have decided to be unjust, the consequences are huge. I was one of them in the APC. I played a very significant role in putting the structure in Kano and even in the country. I also participated actively in the primary elections and the national election in Kano. I participated actively in mobilising people to vote. In 2015, Kano produced over 1.9 million votes for the APC. All our elected officials were in the APC; the 40 members of the House of Assembly, 24 House of Reps members, three senators, governor and every position. But instead of everyone appreciating, they all started fighting unnecessarily to the extent that they decided to kick me out of Kano for three and a half years for no reason. They worked so hard against us believing that they were better without us, believing that they were strong enough. Many of them will tell you it is the seat. It is not true. The person on the seat is also critical. The personality is critical. Some governors go into the Government House for eight years and disappear after.
You see their portraits and you can’t remember them. But some would leave and be remembered for decade; people are learning close to nothing. The same mistake Mr A did in 1999 and in 2003 and 2007, people keep making worse mistakes. People are supposed to learn from history and avoid mistakes of the past. If not that they fought me, I would have remained in the APC, I would have advised them because many people see this game of politics as dirty but that is incorrect. Politics is a very clean game. You cannot go out and start cheating and destroying people when you are being paid to make their lives better and you think you will be a happy man. It will not work. It has never worked anywhere. So, yes, they have the power, they pushed us out and we said we will not fight, even though we have the capacity to create trouble. But it wasn’t in the interest of the state. What is happening now is not different from what we believe would happen. You cannot destroy people and think you will be fine. Unless they change and begin to do the right thing, I think this is just a starter.
Is there any possibility of you going back to the APC once Ganduje’s leadership has been removed?
In politics, everything is possible in this game. We don’t want any permanent enemy. What we want are permanent friends. It is very important. We work for friendship. It will amaze you that some of my friends who we started working with 30 years ago, many of them are still alive and we are together. Even those who died from 30 years ago to date are in our record and every year, we do one thing or the other for their families. So, in 2023, I believe many things are likely to happen. The PDP had its convention. Of course the former national chairman (of the PDP), Uche Secondus, is in court and very soon, we will have a verdict at the Supreme Court. The judgment will determine the future of the party. And what the executives decide to do is also important. The leadership may say the 13 governors are strong, they have the numbers and everybody should go to hell. That is one way. The other thing is to say everyone should come and let us think together because you see, people, individuals, groups, parties and leaders should try to be humble and not arrogant. Don’t think you can always win elections no matter what you do. It doesn’t work that way. People should be democratic and should try to play politics properly. If you are going into elections, put all facts and figures on the ground; ask yourself, who is the best person? That person may not be your friend but what is important in politics first and foremost is to win elections.
So, anything can happen in 2023. This is the what happened to the PDP, the other is the APC. The APC is still doing all sorts of manoeuvres. They are playing the game the way they understand it and they can make mistakes. And once they make mistakes, the result may even be worse than what happened to the PDP. And that is another factor. For us, we are very flexible. We are looking at the situation as it is and we are looking at history and projecting into the future and ensure that this country gets the best leadership
Do you think Secondus’ matter could have been handled better instead of him being kicked out?
Of course, the issue could have been handled much better. But in any case, this is where we find ourselves and I think leaders should try as much as possible to do the right thing especially after the verdict. The verdict could go either way but what the leadership decides to do could go a long way in ensuring that the party succeeds or takes this course.
You came second in the APC presidential primary in 2014 and the PDP primary of 2018. Are we expecting you to contest this year?
You see, we always advise our friends that if you go into politics, be a politician first and not be a habitual contestant. What is important is to look at the entire landscape and then together with your friends, you sit down and look at the situation and decide on what to do. This year, we will sit down and decide. We are watching what is happening and we don’t want to make any mistake. We want to ensure that we win elections and it is by doing so that all these good things that we have done elsewhere can be replicated across the country. I am happy that with all the equations on the ground, you cannot complete it without factoring in the Kwankwasiyya movement. Even the APC has issues and they are looking at how to solve it and win elections. I think the time is right for people who have invested and I think our case is special and people will try to look at and see what they can learn from it. We are not going around saying we are Hausa, Muslims or from this zone, but we are working hard. And that is what we have seen from our past leaders. MKO Abiola worked hard and built bridges, President Olusegun Obasanjo built bridges to the extent that it was those of us in the North that voted for him while his own people in the South-West in 1999 did not vote for him as we did. So, if somebody comes from a zone in the South and says this tribe or religion must get it, it doesn’t work that way.
Are you saying after Buhari’s eight years, there should not be zoning?
The people are only asking where they can get a leader with the capacity that has the people at heart; someone that can sort out the issues of economy and security. I don’t think people are bothered about the person being Hausa or Muslim or from the North. In any case, those of us in the North believe in dialogue. If somebody wants to become President or Vice-President, it shouldn’t just be based on his religion or tribe.
But some would argue that for the sake of fairness, it would be good for power to return to the South as has been the practised since 1999
In the 30 years I have been in politics, if you look at the South-West, in 1993, we supported MKO. When Shonekan came, I was in the House of Representatives. We supported him. Obasanjo came and we supported him. All these people are from the same state. We never asked why Ogun State is producing all these people because we looked beyond this. I worked with them directly. So, you don’t just sit there and say South-West. People are looking for quality leadership who were the best at that time to tackle Nigeria’s problems. So, we supported them all from Ogun State. Now, the Vice-President is also from the South-West. The President or Vice-President may also come from there, but it is not just based on zone. You have to distinguish yourself. You cannot sit somewhere while people like us are working everyday of the week and another person says because he is from one region, he should run. No. Let us sit down and talk. It is not an appointment.
Recently, elder statesman, Edwin Clark, said the next President must be from the South-East for the sake of Nigeria’s unity. You don’t share this view?
In politics, people have their own opinion. You have activists who make their own demands. You have the clergy who will say it has to be a Christian or a Muslim. That is their opinion. But what I am saying is the reality on the ground, practical things. I was governor of Kano twice, contested elections 16 times, I lost three. All these things were not based on where I come from. I would have done the same if I was from Enugu or Ogun. People should just come out and work hard. You don’t go out and say because you are from Kano, you must be given this or that. Former President Goodluck Jonathan is from the South, a Christian. We worked for him in 2011 and even in 2007, we worked with him and Umaru Yar’Adua.
In Kano State, the Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi, was deposed by Ganduje. We remember the role you played in Sanusi’s emergence in 2014. How did you feel when Sanusi was removed?
I believe all of us were not happy when he was deposed, especially the manner in which he was removed and forced to Nasarawa State. I am happy the court ruled it as illegal and has asked Ganduje’s government to pay him damages. You see, what Ganduje did was one of the mistakes others must learn from. If you are a governor, you must be above so many things. You don’t come out in full force fighting and causing unnecessary enmity. You have your time as governor. Play your role and go. As a governor you are supposed to bring your people together. You don’t go into Government House just to destroy traditional institutions.