By Chidi Obineche
Alhaji Mohammed Kabir has been a keen player in politics for many years and a veteran in civil society movement in Nigeria. He was the national chairman of the defunct Republican Party of Nigeria (RPN). He was also the former chairman of Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC). He was also the Chairman of the Advanced Peoples Democratic Alliance (APDA).
He is currently the Secretary of a leading Non-Governmental Organization, NGO, based in Kano, the Arewa Positive Thinking, APT.
In this interview, he spoke on the growing tension in the country, convocation of a constitutional conference to sort out lingering political issues, as well as the forgiveness of the Igbo, who, he said, should be allowed to rule in 2023.
He also spoke on Tinubu, el-Rufai and Adams Oshiomhole’s 2023 political ambitions, the judiciary, and zoning formulae for the presidency. Excerpts:
There appears to be growing tension in the country arising from insecurity and post-election tribunal judgments. How can this country stave off this tension and move ahead in order to make a better place for every one?
Well, one of the safest things to do is to respect one another’s feelings, one another’s position on issues and one another’s interests. When you don’t respect people’s opinions, ethnicity, religion and other peculiarities like feelings, you are stoking the embers of tension. You don’t necessarily go on challenging people based on their colour, religion, views or even societal status. We need to get over these mundane issues that have the natural potentials to bring about acrimonies, tension and sometimes war. In a multi-ethnic, multi- religious society, these ingredients for peace must be respected and conformed to. It is discomforting when people go about trampling on others’ rights, issuing threats and rebuffing peace moves. People’s views must be understood before even responding to it. You notice that sometimes, people don’t really understand views from others well and they proceed to attack them. These kinds of belligerence do not help at all. By doing this, you hamper peace and peaceful coexistence. I think that the best way to forge peace and understanding in a heterogeneous setting like ours is to foster peace, avoid unhelpful language in discourses, create conducive atmosphere for peace and understanding. After all, we are all Nigerians. Uncouth and bellicose language in response to issues is like a land mine, no matter the level of provocations. Also actions that undermine peaceful coexistence must be avoided especially by those who hold the levers of power. Our religious beliefs must be respected. Religion is a very sensitive issue. It has caused more wars in the world than any other thing else.
Talking about peaceful co-existence, let me ask you this. Just a few months after the last elections and with several petitions still at the election petitions tribunals, various geo-political zones are already jostling and positioning for 2023. The North says ‘it is still our turn;’ Buhari’s associates insist he deserves a third term, the Southwest says ‘it can’t happen, it must be our turn’; the Southeast sends signals saying, ‘you think we are here to be just clapping and cheering others’. How do you really want this to pan out in 2023?
You see, political issues are big and we should understand where we are coming from, and why we have been put together in a particular place as an entity. All those issues that bring about harmony and peace in our setting must not be thrown overboard. For example, the zoning formula. Did we adopt the zoning formula in 1999 just to please a certain interest or people? If it worked in strengthening the bonds of amity, and peaceful political transitions, why should we throw it away now? Having used it then to placate the Southwest who felt wronged over the Abiola or June 12 brouhaha, do we now think that there are no more delicate issues or groups to be placated? To make Nigeria greater and reduce tension in the land, we have to look at all those types of arrangements. For example, it is too premature to say we have to do away with the issue of zoning formula. We should expect to do a proper review and ask, ‘how did we have 20 years of democracy in Nigeria without interruptions?’ Our sincere answer to this question will then compel us to adopt whatever systems or models that have made it possible. This zoning formula or rotational presidency that we adopted, we should continue with it. This is the first time in our history that we had interrupted democracy for almost 20 years, despite our differences. This is important for the survival of this nation. I think that those who are beginning to suggest that zoning formula has no place in their party or in the country are wallowing in self-delusion. It is imperative that we allow Nigeria to remain a solid country. We cannot just jump out of an arrangement that is working because of selfishness, greed and irredentism. One zone will not continue to rule and other people will just keep quiet and allow them to have a smooth sail. It can’t happen. We must always look back on our journey so far. We used zoning formula to appease a certain tense situation in 1999 and it worked for the benefit of all. Why must we now jettison it? Is there no more tense situation in the country today? Are all the entities in Nigeria happy with each other? When we did it to appease the aggrieved in 1999, they came and had their turn and left. Another group came and had their time and also left. You that are now having your turn, you have to also go when you complete your tenure and allow another group to take their turn. When we have achieved this stability through this arrangement and are mature, we can then come up with a National Conference or whatever. We can then sit down and examine our progress and the way forward in our political journey. That way, there will be no bickering, no bellyaching, and no tension. This is the way to go.
Looking at your analysis of political events in the country, among all those groups that are jostling for 2023, who does the cap fit most, going by our political history, equity and social justice?
I think the Igbo, no matter their problems, no matter their perceived profiles, no matter the conceptions about them, or what you think of them, we should allow them to rule, because they have suffered. The Igbo have suffered in this country. They have learnt very difficult lessons and I believe they have mellowed down and accepted their fate somehow and have agreed to continue in this journey. I think this time around, we should allow them. If we allow them and see that they have not changed; that the same things people think about them have not changed, we can use the same ballot box to remove them and bring people that cannot alter our unity. They are Nigerians and we should give them that chance. They are the only ones who have not tasted power in the country and we have not seen what they can do and what they cannot do. So, we should just allow them to rule. They are Nigerians just like the rest of us. They have the political and birth rights to vote and be voted for and to participate in every political process, so that there will be equity and justice. Many people may have complained about them, but we should not allow it to be eternal. We should allow them to assume political power so that we can arrive at a long lasting peace and checks and balance.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has been having it rough recently. Whose toe did he step on? We thought there was amity between him and the president until the bubble burst a few weeks ago. Are you surprised at the development and what are your views on it? Again, when you look at it, it is not new. Oladipo Diya who served under Abacha suffered the same fate, Ebitu Ukiwe was unceremoniously kicked out by Ibrahim Babangida, Atiku had a rough time under Obasanjo.
I think the vice president has refused to join issues with anybody. Don’t forget he has said it is the work of fifth columnists. He has been staving off insinuations on the likely reasons for the problems he is having. On the issue of missing money in his office he has said there is no missing money in his office. On the issue of his being sidelined in the economic team, he said that the president has the power to appoint whoever he deems fit to work with him. Only the other day, you saw that the vice president presided over the meeting of the National Economic Council, NEC. That scenario should have dispelled whatever rumours therein. What I think is that we should not try to blow the situation out of proportion. Nigerians have a way of reading meaning into any government action or inaction. Some people are just looking at where there is a problem so that they can join. Some people thrive on problems. They live of problems. They get a kick and enjoy when there are problems as if that is their source of livelihood. We are very political. We should allow him be. He is a very fine gentleman, an intellectual of repute. I like Osinbajo. He is a very quiet gentleman, very brilliant, somebody who has been helping the country. Don’t forget that when Buhari was away, he held the ship of state firmly and returned it to him when he returned. People clapped for him then. I think they should allow him to have a smooth sail without all these distractions. The government will achieve more when there is an absence of politicking of the type we are seeing now. The impressions being created now between him and the president will not augur well for the country at the end.
Do you think there should be a constitutional amendment to create a role for the vice president and deputy governors, some of whom are suffering under their bosses?
I don’t think that can happen. You see, the vice president, whether you like him or not, he is the deputy to the president. Deputy governors, whether you like them or not, they are there to assist the governors. They are appropriately spare tyres. Amending the constitution to give them roles is going to create confusion. Who is going to be the boss? Just like the issue of junior minister or senior ministers, minister of state and minister, who is the boss? All those nomenclatures, to me, cannot work well for the country. There should be mutual respect by them to each other for things to work out well. The office does not belong to anybody’s father. It is not an inheritance. You will only have your time and bow out. Even at the moment, the vice president has a role. The constitution says he is the head of the National Economic Council, NEC. Should we now amend the constitution for him to take charge the entire governing process where there is a sitting president? That will cause anarchy.
Yes, that is as far as it goes. That is the only constitutional role for the vice president. Even at that, you can see that the government is circumventing it by putting together an Advisory Economic Council.
Yes, it is true. But the vice president has said he has no misgivings about that. He said the president has the right to appoint his own advisory team on any area, including the economy because he is the head of government.
Issues of governance are diverse and the president has the prerogative of looking for ways to achieve results, because at the end of the day he is accountable to the people who elected him into office. The emphasis for any democratically elected president is result and how to bring about democratic dividends to the people. Some people have launched some campaigns for Osinbajo to be president in 2023. I do not think that those people mean well for him. If that thing gets into his head, there will be a clash of interests between his duties and the ambition they are trying to build for him and ultimately one of them will suffer. I think there should be respect for our leaders and care should be taken not to go into issues that will bring about bad blood in the system.
There is a resurgence of the clamour for the break-up of Nigeria. Do you believe in it? How do you see Nigeria in post 2023 when power is expected to have shifted to another geo-political zone?
I think the clamour for the break-up of Nigeria is just the desire of those who do not want anything good for the country and those who are not patriotic. You cannot wish away this clamour. Sometimes when people lose out in any game they want to spoil everything. I believe that what is appropriate is to have a constitutional conference. We need to sit down with each other and ventilate our feelings, know and dissect our grievances and be able to proffer solutions to all the nagging issues of our co-existence. It requires the participation of everybody and all zones and interest groups to agree on how to go about this country called Nigeria. How do we accommodate our differences? How do we partner in the growth and development of the country? Do we go back to regionalism, which the independent nation was built on in the early years? What are the things we need to agree on? That is the honest way to go about it and stop the unnecessary ethnic tensions and mistrust. We need to be sincere with ourselves.
From what you have just said now, our politicians and leaders also contribute to this problem. The 2023 campaign posters of Ahmed Bola Tinubu, Governor el-Rufai, and Adams Oshiomhole are said to have flooded the streets of Abuja. What do you think that this development portends for the future and the constitutional order in the country?
As I said earlier, some people don’t have jobs to do. They live on trouble. They hide under this kind of thing to survive. They are always seeking out areas where conflicts are, so that they can enter and create more problems. Where they don’t see any problem they create one. They clamour for it, especially where there is political brouhaha, so that something can go into their accounts. Don’t forget, Tinubu has not said that he wants to be president of this country. Buhari is still in office. He has never come out to say he wants to be president. Yes, he may want to be president, but will Nigerians allow him to be president? That is the real issue. Forget about el-Rufai. Those ones are charlatans to me. Forget about them. But talking about Tinubu, he knows that even in the South they will not support him to be president, talk less of the North. Look, 2023 is going to be an interesting terrain for all Nigerians. Anybody that is coming out now to open his mouth that he wants to be president should not be taken seriously. It is foolhardy for one to be campaigning for an office whose occupant has not even settled down into his term. This is not time for politicking. We have had our 2019 elections and we should allow the elected office holders to settle down and not be distracted by those who are talking about 2023. Let those who believe they have what it takes to rule the country wait. This is the time for governance and those elected should face up to it. Those who lost out in the last elections are already at the tribunals expecting to get good verdicts there.
You just said that the judiciary is working and expectations from it are very high. How do you see the judiciary in Nigeria as currently constituted?
It is in two ways. If you look at it from one angle, you will see that the judiciary is working. In another way, you will say it is not doing well. However, allegations that it is dancing to the tune of somebody is neither here nor there. What I want to say is that the judiciary in Nigeria is about 50 per cent an independent body. If you look at some cases you will say that the judiciary is fair and working. But if you look at some other cases especially some EFCC cases, you will say the judiciary is biased. So, it goes in different ways. We have to ask for a good and independent judiciary right through. After all, if you don’t have a judiciary, you don’t have a nation. We must have a judiciary that is fair and independent so that whoever that is aggrieved will have a place to run to. As it is often said, it is the last hope of the common man. Whatever that are the problems that is obstructing them from posting good performance must be removed. If we don’t have an independent judiciary, we will be roaming about and drifting. We will not have an institution to anchor our problems on, and the result sometimes is a resort to self-help. The disastrous consequences of self-help are too scary to be contemplated. Settling grievances of people and any form of arbitration is usually a controversial venture, which should be handled with tact, and wisdom. The judiciary should be encouraged to do more.
•Source: Sunday Sun