Mr. Anthony Sani is the Secretary-General of the umbrella Northern socio-political group, Arewa Consultative Forum. Sani, in this exclusive interview with The Point, speaks on why the region will back President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election in 2019. The ACF chieftain also bares his mind on the presidential ambition of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, as well as the position of the North on the demands for the restructuring of the country. Excerpts:
What is the ACF doing to resolve the current face-off between the supporters of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and President Muhammadu Buhari over the 2019 elections?
We see what the Minister of Women Affairs has talked about who she will support for president come 2019 as her democratic right. The same with what former VP Atiku has said. It is all democracy in action. President Buhari knows what President Clinton once said that politics is one occupation where those one works with are the ones busy looking for how they can replace their leader. Nigerians should, therefore, not be surprised at what is happening between Atiku and the President.
But the ACF does not get involved in matters of internal democracy of political parties precisely because ACF comprises members of different political parties. The only thing disagreeable in the whole scenario is the fact that it is too early to talk about politics of 2019.This is because such is capable of distracting the attention of the government from concentrating on the very important task of purposeful governance needed for overcoming socio-economic challenges in the polity.
To the extent of talking about next elections, midterm, one can say the former vice president is unduly eager to be president. But that is the nature of politics. All that politics demands of Atiku is for him to be patient and wait for the time to come for party primaries
Will the North back President Buhari’s second term ambition in 2019?
If the administration delivers on its campaign promises at the end of its tenure, the North will support Buhari. But we are midterm into the tenure and many things can change in the next two years. You would note that the administration had promised three things, namely, to fight terrorism, to fight corruption and to diversify the economy away from oil. So far, so good because Boko Haram has been weakened and localised to the fringes of Borno State as against the past when the attacks transcended the northern states. The fight against corruption has stigmatised it. As a result, the practice of cash-for-peerage in the polity is giving way to order, justice and common decency. The priority on these two evils is informed by the fact that no economy can thrive in the atmosphere of untamed terrorism and unbridled corruption.
The administration has arrested the inherited downward movement of the economy. What remains is to reverse the direction upward for the growth needed for making Nigerians experience change. If at the end of the tenure, Nigerians agree that the regime has delivered on its campaign promises, then ACF will pander and support Buhari. But I think it is too early for ACF to make such decision. More so that other political parties have yet to present their candidates for 2019.
How would you react to speculations that the North is already shopping for President Buhari’s replacement after finishing his first term in office?
I am not aware that the North is already shopping for a replacement for President Buhari. This is an odd thing to say, especially when regard is paid to the fact that the term is only half way through and a lot can change in the next two years, including his health status, which can improve and he becomes as fit as fiddle.
As a major stakeholder in the North, do you really think President Buhari deserves a second term, despite his shortcomings and challenges?
I have said that if President Buhari delivers on his campaign promises by the end of his present tenure, people will support him. So far, he has done creditably well in the fight against terrorism and in the fight against corruption in order to clear the way for the economy to take root and thrive. He has been able to exit the recession and striving to diversify the economy, which is not a day’s job. And since this is midterm, it would be too early to make an informed decision right now. We still have about two years to make informed decision in that regard. More so that we have not seen the candidates by other opposition political parties.
What is the take of the ACF on comments by Prof. Wole Soyinka, who condemned Northern governors for supporting Buhari’s second term in office?
I want to believe Prof. Wole Soyinka meant a lot could change in two years’ time; at the end of the tenure. So, it is too early to endorse a candidate, midterm. I guess that was what the Prof. meant.
How would you describe former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar’s comment that Buhari’s Administration had sidelined him?
I am not part of the government. As a result, I am not in a position to know whether President Buhari is carrying him along or not. But as a General, President Buhari is expected to know that the task of a purposeful leader is to multiply his strength through others, and motivation is the instrument while social skill is the requirement. As I have said, I am not in a position to make an informed comment on this issue because I do not have the facts.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has said that he’s better than President Muhmmadu Buhari at governance, especially when it comes to the fight against corruption. How would you react to this?
If Atiku believes he can fight corruption better than President Buhari, he is in position to advise the President on how best the campaigns against corruption can be managed for performance. This is more so that he is a seminal figure of the ruling party. This is no time for primaries of political parties. So, for Atiku to campaign in that manner, midterm into the tenure, is both illegal and morally preposterous. Let him be patient until the time comes for party primaries.
This is more so that he is a seminal figure of the ruling party. This is no time for primaries of political parties. So, for Atiku to campaign in that manner, midterm into the tenure, is both illegal and morally preposterous. Let him be patient until the time comes for party primaries
Do you see Atiku as being desperate for power?
To the extent of talking about next elections, midterm, one can say the former vice president is unduly eager to be president. But that is the nature of politics. All that politics demands of Atiku is for him to be patient and wait for the time to come for party primaries.
What is ACF’s stand on the comment made by the Minister of Women Affairs that Buhari promised one term in office?
ACF cannot take any stand because the forum does not have any facts to that effect.
Is the North not worried over the current spat between Atiku and Buhari’s over 2019?
Only to the extent that the duo are seminal northern leaders, who are expected to play the politics with decorum devoid of any unhealthy altercations, especially when it is no time. Besides that, there is nothing strange. It is democracy in action.
How would you describe the North under President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration?
The North’s support for Buhari is for the interest of the entire country and not of the North alone. If President Buhari is able to deliver on his campaign promises, the North would be very happy.
Some stakeholders in the country believe that the North is afraid of the restructuring of the country. Why is the North not disposed to restructuring?
Let them make no mistake. The North is not afraid of restructuring. What the North has said is that there is nothing wrong with the current structure of the country or form of government. The North believes our problems are due to failure of leadership that comes with poor governance. There is also the problem of collapse of national ideals and moral values, which have contributed in no small measure to our national malaise. We believe in republic of ideals and ideas spurred by relative pluralism and not of insular, primordial particularism that goes with cloistered communities with strong historical ties to places.
We do not believe there is something like true Federalism that is universally accepted. This is because all Federal systems depend on the circumstance of their emergence. Take for example, 13 American colonies came together and formed a confederate United States of America with a weak centre that predisposed the Union to disintegration. That made them to supplant it with a Federal structure, where the centre is balanced by appropriate state level power.
And if you look at the case of Nigeria, there were regions with weak center, which General Aguiyi Ironsi felt predisposed the country to disintegration. As a result, he abolished it in favour of unitary system that did not go down well with General Gowon, who replaced it with a Federation of 12 states. That looked like a compromise between the confederation and the unitary system. The states grew to 19, 30 and now 36 states, which are at liberty to develop at their own pace.
The 52 per cent allocation to the Federal Government does not constitute sandbags on the path of development of the states with their 48 per cent, especially given the trite that if one is unable to increase its resources, it is at liberty to use his management practices and increase the yield.
Are you saying there is nothing wrong with the current constitution?
Those who hanker for the new constitution feign ignorance of the fact that the 1999 Constitution is self-same with that of 1979, which emergence is reminiscent of how America produced their own. There was a draft of the constitution by selected wise men. The draft was debated by an elected constituent assembly. Many of those ascribing it to a military constitution participated in the process, which brought it about. Even Chief Awolowo never condemned the 1979 constitution as a military document. This was because the military had no input into the constitution. In fact, the sage contested for the Presidency under the 1979 constitution that became that of 1999.
It is against this backdrop that one is tempted to conclude that those who submit that the 1999 is a military constitution, which should be replaced with a new one that contains restructured constitution, are those who lost out in the last elections and are finding ways to spawn challenges for the current regime.
However, if there are good reasons to restructure the country, then it should be done democratically and not at the instance of a few elite, who do not represent majority of Nigerians. More so that those who agitate for restructuring of the country are those who profess to be jaunty face of democratic values, yet want the restructuring to take place undemocratically. That is also why I do not see the wisdom of public hearing by APC on restructuring of the country. If APC has any plan to restructure the country, it should include it in its manifesto with clear thought and morality. Public hearing cannot confer any electoral mandate for far reaching reforms of the polity.
We all know that there is often national consensus on problems of a nation. But because there is no such national consensus on methods of solution, multiparty democracy allows each political party to have its own distinct methods of solution reflected in its manifesto, which it uses to canvass for electoral mandate needed for its implementation. So, why not allow political parties which wish to restructure the country, whether “true Federalism”, “fiscal Federalism”, “resource control” or “resource ownership” to include them in their manifesto and campaign for the needed electoral mandate? It is undemocratic and morally preposterous of any elite group to bludgeon a country into making far reaching reforms of the polity without electoral mandate. That is not how democracy works, please.
There are speculations that ACF has gone silent under the ongoing administration. Why?
ACF does not talk for the sake of talking. It comments when there are issues of national importance deserving comments. I have not been long as Secretary General of the ACF and I have granted many interviews to papers. Is that silence by your definition?