•Says Buhari has not told the north he will run in 2019
•Lists what will influence the 2019 election
Alhaji Gambo Gujungu is the National President of Arewa Youth Forum, AYF, a powerful and vociferous group of young Northerners which influences policies and decisions in the region.
In this interview, Gujungu examines President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war, the raging restructuring agitation and the 2019 election. As the race for 2019 election begins to gather momentum, Gujungu says Buhari has not told anyone in the North that he will run again in 2019. Excerpts:
By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor
What do you think should be restructured in Nigeria to make it a better, greater country?
The issue of restructuring the Nigerian polity has always been a recurring decimal. For me I believe it has to do with the leadership of the country, not just the present leadership but also the past ones in the country.
The issues of restructuring and marginalisation all stem from leadership failure. If the people are comfortable with the leadership of the country no matter where the president is from this issue of restructuring will be reduced to the barest minimum. So if you ask me I will say we need to restructure the minds of our leaders to begin to do the right thing for the majority of the people.
If after 57 years of independence we are still talking about roads, water, hospital and housing when other countries are going to the moon and selling technology, we should begin to examine ourselves and determine where we went wrong and begin to think seriously what will give us an edge as a nation and stop talking about mundane things that cannot take us to anywhere.
Today, some people hammer on devolution of more powers to states without taking cognisance of the misuse of the little powers at the disposal of our governors. If we may ask those calling for the devolution of more powers to the state, what will happen if they are given more powers?
For me, let us restructure the electoral system that will throw up good leaders, leaders who will be accountable to the people, leaders who will have the interest of the people at heart. With that I believe the issue of marginalisation, the issue of restructuring will be reduced. Restructuring is not going to put food on our table for the common man or increase the status of the average Nigerian.
Is that why the North is opposed to restructuring?
Who said so? It is not true that the North is opposed to restructuring and our leaders have consistently made that point very clear. But this narrative has continued because some people want to paint the north as a region that is opposed to restructuring. Some people are of the view that the only way they can feather their own nest is to always say that the north does not want restructuring.
However one thing is clear, is restructuring the answer to the myriad of problems bedevilling this country? You can answer that. I want to see the advocates of restructuring begin to tell us how it will secure the tomorrow of Nigerian youths, how it will reduce poverty and deprivation in the north, how it will tackle the security challenges and other challenges plaguing this country.
Do not forget that these same elements had caused Nigeria to spend billions of Naira to organise the last National Conference which they knew would produce no binding results but to enable them to line up their pockets. These advocates of restructuring and national conferences just want to sit down and talk again and share money and go home. For example, some people have said that the report of the National Conference that was convened by former President Goodluck Jonathan should be implemented as part of the restructuring of the country.
Jonathan had the report but refused to implement it. The new government was not part of the conference and it is doubtful whether they will want to implement it. But we are watching. Others have talked about the Justice Lawal Uwais Electoral Reform Report and the government does not seem to be keen on touching it even with a pole. Those are issues that we should be talking about because I can tell you sincerely that most of the advocates of restructuring cannot give you a good proposal on how it should be done.
But in Nigeria we like the bandwagon effect. But Northern leaders have been talking about the kind of restructuring that they want. When the time comes, we will bring out our own stand on the matter to the table. However, let it be known that we are not opposed to restructuring. But our main issue is how to better the lot of Nigerians as a whole in a united and prosperous country.
How would the North want the country to be configured if they were to embrace restructuring and why?
Restructuring is not about shape or size. It should be about giving Nigerians better quality of life, equitable and just society and a country where corruption is reduced to the barest minimum, to give the average Nigerian a sense of belonging and sense of inclusion no matter where one chooses to reside and do their business. So, my advice is that Nigeria should be restructured to give all a sense of belonging. Nigeria must be restructured to reduce poverty and make sure that the youths can aspire and see their aspirations come to pass. Nigeria should be restructured to create an enabling environment for people with ideas to thrive, reduce unemployment and make the people secured.
What would you say about the anti corruption war of the Buhari government? Is it working and has it changed the mindset of Nigerians from stealing and looting of public funds?
Many people voted for this government because of the personality of the President and I believe many of them were not disappointed with the way the government started by hitting the ground running in terms of its anti-corruption crusade. In view of that I will say the president is trying. However, the vigour with which the President started the war on corruption seems to be losing steam.
Maybe corruption is fighting back. But President Buhari needs to keep up the steam because the fight is losing steam. Take for example the case of the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, and Director General of the Nigerian Intelligence Agency, Amb Ayo Oke, who were suspended since April this year and investigated by the Acting President and the Attorney General of the Federation and the National Security Adviser.
The report of the probe has since been submitted to Buhari but he has continued to keep mute over it when Nigerians are dying to see action taken against the officials. Unfortunately, as in other high profile corruption cases, he has chosen to keep silence over the matter, which is generating tension in the land. It is unfair and unhelpful to the anti-corruption fight. The attitude of Mr. President gives the impression that he has given up on the fight against corruption and this is quite unfortunate to say the least.
Buhari must know that many Nigerians are not happy with his government’s response and handling of the controversial issue. Nigerians need to be assured that the President is not shielding his own people, those around him. They want to see him fight corruption no matter whose ox is gored so as to win their support. That is the only way to go. But we are happy because he is trying but he needs to do more.
For the first time in a long time, the North rose in unison to vote massively for President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, making him the first Nigerian leader to defeat a sitting president. Why did that happen?
No, it is not correct to say that the North rose in unison to elect Buhari in 2015. It was the whole country that voted for him to defeat President Goodluck Jonathan. So, don’t attribute the victory of Buhari to the North alone because it would not be fair to those who saw some unique qualities in him and voted for him from all parts of the country. Having said that I believe the overwhelming support that President Buhari got in 2015 was because of the state of affairs in the country then. I think there was an unwritten agreement among majority of Nigerians that after 16 years of the Peoples Democratic Party, power should be given to another party to lead Nigeria.
I think Nigerians were somewhat fed up with the PDP and that was why they elected the APC Government under Buhari. Indeed, the change of power was like a movement across the whole country not only in the north.
Beyond that I think President Muhammadu Buhari just capped up the whole issue on ground then because people saw in him as an incorruptible leader, someone who could rally the country and take it to the next level. To be honest, I believe that was what happened. President Muhammadu Buhari was a major factor in what happened in the last election, but it was not all about him. So many other factors played out and culminated in what transpired. So if at any point in time again majority of Nigerians feel bad about any government they will likely repeat the same feat and drive out an uncomfortable government from power through the ballot box.
Given this understanding of Buhari, will the North repeat the same feat in 2019 by voting enmass for Buhari since it is clear he will seek re-election?
That is your own opinion and I am just hearing that from you for the first time and not the president or his minders. You are informing me about his seeking re election, because am not aware that he has said anywhere that he is seeking re-election. We are not aware of his desire to seek re-election. What I believe is that when the time comes and if he actually decides to run again then we can look at the situation on ground with other stakeholders. But like I said the president has not said anything about the next elections.
However, one thing I can say is that the north will appraise its situation about the performance of the President. You know he came in based on certain promises which he must fulfil in order to convince the electorate to go for him or not. I suspect strongly that the 2019 presidential election would be based on performance and not on promises because Nigerians are very enlightened and expectant.
How far the President and his party are able to fulfil their manifesto to the people and tackle hunger in the land will be a deciding factor in the next poll. Do not forget that government is supposed to add value to people’s lives and Buhari’s government would be judged along that line when the time comes.
Buhari is being accused of having asked the World Bank President to pay special attention to the North in its development programmes, thereby making some Nigerians to accuse him of promoting sectional interest. What do you make of this claim?
I believe the presidency has explained the stand of Mr. President on the issue and I believe it suffices. The north east is part of this country and all of us are aware of what is happening there. The crisis in the North east presents a rather very unfortunate situation that I believe all well-meaning Nigerians should genuinely be concerned about. So it is a normal situation for the preference for the north east. I believe there was something like that immediately after the civil war and it was meant to tackle the devastating effect of war and its attendant suffering by the people.
Also you know the north east is one of the least developed zones in the country. So there is nothing wrong with government trying to make it catch up with other zones in the country. The problem is that some critics will not see anything good in whatever people do. If government had said for instance that the World Bank should focus attention on the South West for instance, the same critics would be the ones to lampoon the government for not focussing on the troubled North East that is suffocating from the effects of the Boko Haram. But for us, when government takes action that is good we commend, when it is bad we tell them and I believe that is the way it should be.
As someone from the north where open grazing is promoted as part of daily living, do you consider that Nigeria is ripe for ranching of livestock to prevent incessant clashes between herdsmen and farmers across the country?
Open grazing has been around for a long time now but the truth must be told by all that the time and dynamics have since changed and we need to adjust accordingly to avoid being caught up by climate change and other challenges of the time. The situation in the country is quite different from what it was in 1960s and 1970s. The herdsmen are used to the way they move their animals around and it has become a way of life. Also nobody is happy with these clashes between herdsmen and farmers.
My take on this is that government should take all these interests that I mentioned into consideration and come out with a way out. In view of the rising population and the effect of climate change, land, water and grass are in short supply and we need to devise new methods of feeding livestock using technology as other countries have done so that we are not left behind.
Government should begin to work towards a permanent solution because we need the land to farm and the animals to eat, too. Ranching can be a way out but it should be done in a way that those involved will understand. That is where sensitization is key. Let government make the herdsmen understand that things have changed and are still changing. They must be told to change with the tide so as to continue to remain in the business of raising cattle for living. Am concerned about the clashes and they don’t portray us as a nation that is developing and is concerned about the welfare of its people. Government needs to stop the bloodshed.