He is very knowledgeable about Nigeria. He shoots from the hips and always speaks his mind fearlessly. The cerebral nonagenarian, founding member of the Arewa Consultative Forum and Chairman, Northern Elders Council, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai in a no-holds -barred with our reporter insists that the problem with Nigeria’s development is that leaders go for power without programmes while others are so intellectually deficit that they spread misery, often making progress by mistake. He dismissed the anti-corruption fight of President Muhammadu Buhari who he said lacked ideas about governance and development. He also ventured his views about the socio-political challenges of Nigeria, his grouse with President Muhammadu Buhari, the All Progressives Congress government, and ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s inconsistency and clashes between herdsmen and farmers…excerpts At 92 and considering your involvement in active politics, you must feel bad that the country’s economic and socio-political situation appears to be going from bad to worse?
Yes, really. It’s very disappointing.
The North once had a glorious past in terms of economy and peace, today, education, healthcare, and security are in shambles in many northern states despite many of the country’s leaders have come from the North. What went wrong?
If you don’t mind, I’ll go back to history briefly. Before now, the contact between the North and the South was very minimal –even the contact between the Yoruba and the Igbo was also very minimal –until the arrival of the British. The British conquered the South first and then they moved to the North and completed their conquest. They brought us together. After sometime, the urge all over the country –in fact, all over the world where the British had their colonial footprints was for freedom. The emerging leadership of the country was agitation for independence from the colonial masters –by that; I meant political leadership and political parties. The agitation for independence started with Herbert Macaulay and the rest of them. That agitation for independence was concretised by the 1957 conference –constitutional conference. If you look through the history of Nigeria for political independence, the main goal was independence. By 1957 the British promised us independence and by 1960, there was a serious new challenge that confronted the political leadership. Specifically, there was the challenge of dealing with three distinct administrative units in the country –North, West, and East. Unfortunately for Nigeria, the leaders were by and large regional leaders. Some of them claimed national outlook but they were basically regional in their approach. Therefore, since 1957 to 1960 when we gained independence, the idea of what’s next after independence started to dawn on them (the leaders): ‘Now that we’re going to get independence, what’s next? What are we going to do?’ They had no already conceived ideas as to what to do after independence. None of them had a typical national programme. There was no concrete programme for the nation as a whole by Zik, Awolowo, Tafawa Balewa, and the Sardauna –Ahmadu Bello. Their focus was on regional programmes. Awolowo’s focus was free education and health care; Zik’s focus was on tertiary education because they had a tradition of collecting money and sending their children abroad.
So, he felt that instead of sending children abroad to pursue higher education why couldn’t money be collected and used to build universities in the country. What confronted Sardauna was that ‘after the independence who is going to run my administration?’ He focused on the policy of modernisation. He organised crash programmes in the administration where he could get people to rise after independence. Even with that, the Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa conceived the idea for the development of agriculture and power. His idea was for the industrialisation of the country and development of agriculture to have food sustainability and cash crops to sustain our industries. That was the concept. The programmes of the political parties in the country after independence were largely regional; not national. The only person with a national programme was the Prime Minister –he conceived the Niger Delta development plan; extension of railways, road networks, even the construction of the trans-Sahara road to facilitate export and import; and through the Mediterranean. Go and look for that programme. It is a comprehensive programme. Then, the military took over. Unfortunately for Nigeria and for everybody in Nigeria, the military were only interested in taking over power. People who staged the coup in 1966 did not have any idea about how to run the country –killing largely people from the North. In fact, (Aguiyi) Ironsi who took over from them also had no programme on how to run the nation. That was the beginning of our undoing. We endured a long period of time under the military. Our attempt to reconnect with facet of leadership and political parties in Nigeria was at the Second Republic. But the Second Republic came out with a different kind of constitution –not what we used to know. We were formerly operating a parliamentary system of government. But all of a sudden, we were confronted with the challenge to operate a new system of government –the American presidential system. So, we were confronted with the problem of creating a structure and operating it at the same time. The over-ambitious young men in the military didn’t allow us to continue. Lately, the remnants of the disciples of the facet of political leaders like (Shehu) Shagari, Bisi Onabanjo, Adamu Attah, and a host of them came into the picture as governor or President. They tried to see how they could transform the parliamentary system of government into a presidential system. We were making that effort when the military overthrew the government.
Are you saying the military played a role in the political mess the country is contending with today?
The military during the interregnum of democracy made a lot of money and introduced money into the polity –into politics. If you don’t have money you cannot be considered for any elective office in the country. You cannot achieve anything, politically, without having plenty of money or having a moneybag to back your political aspiration –it doesn’t matter whether it’s at the local, state or federal level. That can only be achieved unless you have the blessing of the governor or the president. When (Olusegun) Obasanjo took over (in 1999 as a civilian president) and turned himself into the party leader (of the Peoples Democratic Party) and granted the governors the opportunity to become leaders of the party in their states, we woke up one day and discovered that 37 people decide the fate of Nigeria as a whole. So, what I’m saying, in response to your earlier question, is that the problem is not peculiar to the North. The problem affects all parts of the country. So, why is the North so backward compared with other regions and some say President Muhammadu Buhari has brought shame to the country particularly to the North? Is that what you think too?
Let me answer the first question, then I will come back to respond to the second question. I will answer the question in the two sequences that you asked them. The first is about the deterioration in the North. I told you that this deterioration is taking place all over the country. But I’m saying that the peculiar situation in the North should be taken into consideration: that the North is not the same as the West and the East. The West is made up of one single ethnic group –with same culture and traditions –and they are most educated set of Nigerians. Then, the East, by and large with the exclusion of minority elements shares a similar outlook as the West –being made up of one ethnic group –the Igbo. The South-South has its own challenges but they are not as pronounced as those of the North because the North has so many ethnic groups. In Nigeria, it is estimated that we have over 500 different ethnic groups. Over 350 ethnic groups are located in the North. This is the reason the problem of the North is more complicated. But unfortunately for the North, most of the leaders who have ruled Nigeria came from the region. And, I dare say that if you find them performing, it is not by the programme that they conceived before coming to power. It is by sheer accident. Most of them who do not bring in anything –who are by and large empty-headed – will not be able to perform. This is the tragedy. If they had any idea they could not apply it to the development of the North. But they have no idea; they’re empty-headed. Only some of them conceived ideas before getting into power. Some get ideas by sheer accident. Some don’t have ideas at all
–either before getting into power or when they’re in power.
Will you categorise President Muhammadu as one of such leaders with no idea as his administration has been criticised like the previous regime of President Goodluck Jonathan to be clueless?
I said that before the 2015 (presidential) election that both the All Progressives Congress and Muhammadu Buhari have no programme for Nigeria. I said it –that statement is in the public domain and for anyone to access all over the country. This is the fact: you cannot rule without a programme. If you rule without a programme, you’re bound to fail. APC and Buhari have no programme for Nigeria. Unfortunately, three years after taking over the reins of the country they are not able to evolve a comprehensive programme, define the priorities that will affect the life of ordinary Nigerians. If you ask me three areas of priority, I will tell you right away: develop agriculture, develop power, and develop education. If three years have been spent in laying the foundation for these three areas, we will know that we have a trajectory. Even if Buhari did not win a second term bid, whoever takes over will have no alternative to go back to the same trajectory –even if it is with some modifications.
So, do you agree with people who say the president has brought shame to the country, particularly to the North, both to the masses and the elites?
That language is not a language of maturity. At 92-plus, I wouldn’t buy this language; I will not respect any Nigerian or any citizen who talks of his own head of state as a shame. I will not call a leader a shame to his country. No, I won’t do that. I can tell you that he has not performed the way the country expected him to perform. There’s no doubt about that.
What do you think about the alleged corruption in President Buhari’s government?
Even the (former) Secretary to the Government of the Federation was dismissed on the basis of corrupt practices –that’s the height of lack of commitment to fighting corruption. How could such action of his take place under the full glare of his principal only for the National Assembly to expose him? Otherwise, he would have remained in office. There are allegations that many of the government functionaries are now really engaged in corrupt practices. I don’t think there’s a fight against corruption; it’s illogical. Fighting corruption isn’t going about arresting people; you need to tackle the root causes. In Nigeria today, I don’t know who will go to Paradise. Buhari is not prepared to fight corruption; he’s not fighting corruption at all. He’s only fighting corruption as far as his opponents are concerned.
What is your relationship with Jonathan and do you think Jonathan performed better president than Buhari?
You’re overloading the question. I didn’t know Jonathan from Adam. I supported him but I had never met him one-on-one until two weeks before the election. When I was told of something that would bring the country into a crisis that would be worse than what happened in Rwanda. I sent a message to him. I didn’t do that to him as a person. Because of the coup of 1966 that resulted in the death of more northerners the relationship between the North and the East was severed. Then, a similar case presented itself during the Second Republic when Shagari was humiliated by the NPN; those who made it possible for Shagari to be the president of Nigeria were from the South-South. So, my support for Jonathan was to reconnect. I talked to many northerners but unfortunately at that time they were not prepared to listen to me. I said, ‘Look, let us reconnect with the people in the South-South.’ We cannot do that in the South-West because most of the antagonists of the North are from the South-West. The South-East because of the civil war –saw the civil war as a fight between the Igbo and the northerners and not between Nigeria and the secessionist movement in the South-East. But the only people who have never had any quarrel between them were the northerners and the South-South people. I wanted national unity to be promoted; because without a country you can’t have a good president. I don’t think it’s a question of who is a better president. I think it’s a question of who promotes national unity and develop the country. I think somebody from the South-South with the support of the North will bring about national unity and development.
Are you saying President Buhari has not promoted national unity?
Well, he worked with the South-West; if that has promoted national unity, you’re there to tell.
Do you think Buhari has been able to achieve national unity?
I don’t think so because I saw how people from South-West are complaining of marginalisation –even (Bola) Tinubu is marginalised; Tinubu, who made it possible for Buhari to get the support of the South-West.
Do you think President Buhari deserves re-election in 2019?
I didn’t even support him to contest in the last election. If I didn’t support his candidacy the first time, why should I support the call for his re-election? There’s no basis for that. I didn’t support him in the first place; I am not supporting him in his second term bid. I won’t support him for a second term.
What do you think about the role former President Olusegun Obasanjo is playing in the country especially criticising presidents who came after him?
My problem with Obasanjo is that he talks; it is counter-productive. My worry is the way presidents are emerging in the country. Obasanjo was sponsored by some powerful people. He was in the prison and when he was brought out he said he had no money, they gave him money. Upon assuming power, he said in six months he would fix the problem of electricity; in eight years he couldn’t do it. Later, the National Assembly conducted an investigation and people close to him were reported to have collected millions of dollars for electricity projects but had nothing to show for it. After his eight-year rule, Obasanjo brought in (Umaru) Yar’Adua after finding out that the health condition of Yar’Adua would not make it possible for him to complete even his first term –whether that is true or not, the fact remains that Yar’Adua was not able to complete his first term due to ill health. Then, Obasanjo campaigned; it was in the constitution of our country that Jonathan should succeed Yar’Adua. But Yar’Adua came into power under the rotation arrangement which Obasanjo met on the ground by the time he joined the party. Obasanjo was not among those who formed the party (PDP). He joined the party after leaving the prison. Obasanjo campaigned for Jonathan to contest the presidential election after completing the term of Yar’Adua in violation of the zoning/rotation arrangement policy of his party. But half-way through his term, Obasanjo joined the forces against him until he was not able to win the 2015 election. Then, Obasanjo supported Buhari with all the might at his disposal. Now half-way through Buhari’s tenure, changed gear. He’s busy campaigning against him. I don’t like his inconsistency; inconsistency is not good. My problem with Obasanjo is that when situations suit his whims he will support somebody, if not; he will change his mind –that’s inconsistency. You should support somebody on the basis of principle and you stick to it. I don’t believe in inconsistency; Obasanjo is not consistent.
What is view about the farmers-herders conflict?
It has been happening in Nigeria even before the British came. It is happening but it is not a good thing. I think the government is not tackling the issue the right way. What I think about the farmers-herders conflict is that the government should convene a stakeholders’ meeting –national stakeholders’ meeting involving representatives of farmers, herders, political parties, National Assembly, governors, religious and traditional rulers, the academia, and youths. The government needs to do this.
Do you support the practice of open-grazing by the herders?
Did you know that the genesis of the Rwandan genocide started from this issue of grazing? But they developed the idea on how to solve the problem of grazing and they did, and are living in peace. There are ideas generated by others that we should copy.
Are you saying you don’t support open-grazing?
Look, nobody can stop open-grazing by herders in Nigeria. Nobody can stop it. When the British came they found that the Fulani came from Senegal, Mali, Niger, from Mauritania, from Libya, across to reach Lagos, Port Harcourt, Calabar, and at the end of the grazing they would go back to where they came from. They’ve been doing this for hundreds of years. So, the British said, ‘OK, let us demarcate some areas for them’ called routes –cattle routes. So, they gave them from the beginning of Nigeria to the end of it, to the sea. And, they didn’t do one; they did so many –so, whichever angle they take, they pass.
Ironically, you find that the livestock preferred our own type of grass. The government has to provide grazing fields for the herders and where there’s no water the government has to provide such; otherwise they’ll have to do it by themselves.
Do you condemn the killings that have been going on?
Do you think at 90-plus I will condone any killings? I don’t support killing other people. In my religion, in the holy Quran, it says’ ‘Don’t take life.’ It says, ‘Whoever kills a human being not in accordance with the law is acting as if he’s killing the entire human race.’ My religion abhors killing. I don’t support killing people except if it is ordered by the law – by the court.
Do you want to share your view on Boko Haram and the latest abduction of the Dapchi schoolgirls?
Does it make sense that the Boko Haram terrorists just brought back the girls without any prompting? Therefore, whatever the strategy the federal government used to bring back the Dapchi girls, they should use same strategy to bring back the remainder of the Chibok girls.