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Bafarawa: We’re Building an Opposition Merger Devoid of Selfish Ambition

24 Feb 2013

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Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa

Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa was governor of Sokoto State from 1999 to 2007. He was a member of the House of Representatives in the Second Republic under the Great Nigerian Peoples Party and member of the constitutional conference organised by the General Sani Abacha military regime in 1994. Bafarawa was a founding member of the United Nigeria Congress Party during the botched Third Republic as well as the All Peoples Party – which later became All Nigeria Peoples Party – at the inception of the Fourth Republic. Bafarawa, who contested the 2007 presidential election on the platform of Democratic Peoples Party, is currently a key member of the recently-formed opposition merger party, All Progressives Congress. He bares his mind to Vincent Obia on the philosophy behind the merger and also speaks on other national issues. Excerpts:   

You have been in the vanguard of efforts to bring the opposition together to present a united front in elections. Would you say the opposition has arrived with the coming of All Progressives Congress?
In 2011, we, the opposition groups, agreed to have a political party. We told the whole country this was what we were going to do. Unfortunately, we failed to deliver what we had promised them. Now I don’t think Nigerians would take us serious in whatever we are doing unless they see the real thing. And it can never be real unless we remove selfish interest from our minds, we remove fear from our minds, we remove greed from our minds. These are the only things that would help us build a formidable political party that will help democracy grow in Nigeria.
In Nigeria, everybody is talking about the Peoples Democratic Party. But my own perception is different. My own perception is the country. The mistake politicians make when they are going to form a political party is to assume that they are fighting the government. As far as I am concerned, all right-thinking citizens want this country to grow. If PDP is going to deliver the wish of the people, everybody can join PDP.

Are you saying APC is not necessarily out to fight PDP but to be an enduring democratic institution?
As far as I am concerned, we are not quarrelling with PDP; we are not quarrelling with the government. All we are saying is that we need a formidable political party that would bring change. And the mistake we make is to ignore the fact that without opposition there is no democracy. If any ruling party feels there is an opposition party at their back trying to snatch political power, they will strive to do what the masses want. But if there is no opposition, then there is no democracy.

I salute the national chairman of PDP, who congratulated the opposition on the formation of a merger – whether he is serious or not. At least he has shown the character of a great politician by congratulating the opposition. This is how it should be. We are not to start fighting each other. Our entire motive – both the ruling party and the opposition parties – should be to bring dividends of democracy to the people.

At what point did the hitch that caused the crumbling of the earlier opposition merger arrangement appear?
It was at the point of selfish interest. (Abubakar) Atiku quit from the merger move and went back to PDP, when he realised, perhaps, he was not going to realise what he wanted; (Muhammadu) Buhari decided to quit and go ahead with Congress for Progressive Change. That was what grounded the whole arrangement. I believe now, we have seen our mistakes and we are not going to repeat them, because everybody is trying to be a member of the party without any ambition.
The crux of the matter is ambition. You join a political party with a certain ambition and if you don’t get it, to heal with it. Then, you are not a politician, you are not for the masses; you are for yourself. I believe this time around, anybody who opts out should better go and resign and leave politics.

PDP has called APC a party of strange bedfellows that would soon crumble. You seem confident that the prediction will not come to pass this time.
That statement is unfortunate. But I don’t reckon with it. I follow the statement of the PDP national chairman, who has saluted the courage of the opposition. Any other member of PDP can say anything, but what I believe and take serious is the comment of the national chairman, who congratulated us.
We must realise that if the opposition fails, then there is no democracy. If there is no democracy there is no development. Before anybody can talk of democracy in this country, we must have a formidable opposition party that would watch the activities of the ruling party.

How would you define the ideology of APC?
The basic philosophy of APC is to bring development and change for the betterment of the country. To bring peace, security, etc. That is our ideology and hope.

Why are Nigerians finding it rather difficult to build strong political parties?
The problem is lack of discipline. What is killing democracy in Nigeria is lack of discipline in the political arena. Few people want to be leaders of political parties; everybody wants to be the president, governor, senator, member of the House of Representatives, etc. But the truth is that for democracy to grow, you must have a disciplined political party whose rules are obeyed by members. Unfortunately, about 80 per cent of politicians in the country are not politicians in the real sense of the word. They take politics as their small scale company where they can get money. In advanced democracies, before you can join politics, you must have money so that you can sustain yourself to be able to serve the people. But in Nigeria, you would see someone who doesn’t even have a house in his home state running for governorship. If he wins, before long or before the end of his tenure, he would have one of the best houses in town. This is the same with all the elective positions – local government chairmen, senators, House of Representatives members.

The party is used as a platform to struggle for wealth. Immediately he becomes president or governor, he assumes the sole authority of the party in the country or state. The president becomes the owner of the party in the federation, which is not supposed to be.

But the party leaders themselves do not seem to even make effort to assert their authority. Don’t you think it is the problem of incompetence on the part of the party leaders?
The party is supposed to supervise the implementation of its manifesto. If, for instance, Mr. President veers off the manifesto, the party would call his attention and remind him that he is not following what they had agreed with the people.

Today, every president of Nigeria comes with his own agenda. What kind of agenda when the party has its own manifesto? It is the duty of the national chairman and his working committee to supervise the activities of its members in the National Assembly as well as the activities of the president, governors, and whoever won election on the party’s platform. Whoever misbehaves is disciplined.
Unfortunately, there is no such discipline in our parties and that is what is bringing their weakness and collapse. The parties lack powers to discipline their members. The president, immediately after his election, assumes the authorities of both president and chairman of the party. Immediately he wins election, the next thing is to begin to look for who would be his chairman. This is the problem facing us.

But not everybody in the position of party chairman can be that malleable. For instance, if somebody like former President Olusegun Obasanjo becomes a party chairman, there must be discipline, I’m sure. The same if somebody like General Buhari becomes a party chairman. These are elderly people who would be respected and would not be pushed around. They will be there to guide whoever is in power. But when you bring a party chairman like a “yes sir” man, democracy and party development will not flourish.

Some have also attributed the problem with Nigerian political parties to the disappearance of membership levies. While at independence parties survived on members’ levies, nowadays political parties survive on moneybags. Do you agree with this?
I agree, and that was why I told you that most Nigerian politicians see the party as their small scale industry where they invest their money and when they come to office they begin to think of how to reap returns on their investment. That is also why there is so much corruption in the system. Strong political parties will help to curb such corruption, as the party can courageously tell anybody, we don’t want your money, we want this thing to be done like this.

As a member of an opposition party during your eight years tenure as governor, how would you describe your relationship with then President Olusegun Obasanjo?
To be honest, President Obasanjo was a good friend of mine. Even though he is a military man, he is a democrat. Throughout my eight years as governor, we used to quarrel, but we were friends. I was the only state governor whose state Obasanjo visited 14 times within that eight years to inspect my projects, despite my being a members of an opposition party. Anytime I had a project I wanted him to come and launch, he never said no. I believe there were some states even governed by PDP that he visited only about two times. My state was the only one he visited 14 times.

When it came to the national interest, he got my input and advice. That was how we related. The only place we collided was on his third term agenda. But throughout the eight years, we quarrelled, but we remained friends. He saw me as a partner in progress. We helped and encouraged each other.

There were several federal projects he would say we should go and do, that he would pay. We did and he paid, and he came to commission them.
I can say that Obasanjo is a democrat because he relates with everybody, especially if he discovers that you know what you are doing. He will give you encouragement. So despite the third term thing, which was a personal interest, politically, Obasanjo is a leader.

What is your position on the calls for a sovereign national conference or a conference, sort of, to discuss the way forward for the country?

We have the National Assembly and the constitution. Whatever we want, let us put it before the National Assembly. We are not serious and that is why the National Assembly is not serious. How many conferences are we going to have in this country? Are we going to tell the government to go away and bring some people to come and tell us what to do, in a country where we have the National Assembly and an elected president? 

I believe if we need anything, we should put our heads together and send it to the National Assembly, which has the power to amend the constitution and introduce whatever we want.
When you talk about conference, who is going to supervise it? The financing is another waste of money. Such money if invested in infrastructure will help this country a lot.

How do you see the federal government’s handling of the Boko Haram insurgence?
Security is not the exclusive responsibility of the government. Security is the collective responsibility of everybody. If we say the government is not handling the Boko Haram problem properly, I tell people it is our own collective fault. We elected the government and the government cannot be everywhere. When we sit back, fold our arms and say the government, the government, the problem of security will never be solved. We must put our heads together to collectively solve the problem. Whatever the government deploys in terms of finance and security architecture, the people must cooperate for the issue of security to be resolved. The leader, follower, everybody, we must come together to solve this problem of security.

When you sit down and blame the government, you are not being fair to the government. In those days, the village head was in charge of security in his domain. If someone visited you, for instance, you will go and report to the village head to say, there is a stranger in my house. And they will take note of that. President Jonathan is not going to my village to see what is happening. It is my duty to report to the security agencies when I see anything untoward. We must help the government, helping the government is helping ourselves.

You have faced prosecution for alleged corruption at both the state and federal levels since you left office in 2007. With your experience, how would you assess the country’s anticorruption war?
I don’t want to talk much on the allegations levelled against me because the matter is in court. I am waiting for the court to prove if I have any fault or not. Thank God, if you see the charges, there is nowhere I am charged with taking money. Therefore, I can say my prosecution is persecution.

What are your future political plans?
My future political plans is to contribute to the building of a disciplined political party where we can collective bring development and sanity to my country. That is my hope. To contribute to the building of a strong, disciplined party and advise those in positions of authority.
For now, I don’t have any political ambition. All I want is to see that a united, developed, and peaceful Nigeria, so that our future generations would be grateful to us, as we are grateful to our past leaders. I don’t want our future generations to abuse us. Rather, I want us to take the country further than where our past leaders have taken it.

What is your view on the issue of zoning and rotational presidency?
I don’t believe in zoning. I believe we should allow those who are ready to take responsibility for leadership to emerge as leaders. Anywhere in the country we can get somebody who can deliver for the good of everybody, let him have it. It is not good that because I am from North-west, for instance, the president must come from North-west. What if he cannot perform?
Besides, because it is not his ability that brought him to power but zoning, he does not have any political commitment to the people.
When we base leadership on zoning, we divide the country and cheapen its leadership. Let’s leave it open so that anybody who is qualified can have it.

Take the case of Moshood Abiola, for instance, nobody zoned the presidency to the Yoruba, but because of his influence in the whole country, he was able to get majority of the votes.
It is not good that because I’m good to the North-west and they say I’m their candidate, I have little to do with the other zones in terms of political commitment. Wherever we can get somebody who can deliver, it him come out. That would even encourage friendship across regions, ethnicities, cultures, and religions.

You were in the 1994 constitutional conference where the issue of geopolitical zoning of the country was actually initiated, and now there are calls for the six geopolitical zones to be made the federating units, instead of the current 36 states. Do you support this call?
For me, this is not logical. We would only be moving the government very far from the people. We have states and local governments to bring the government closer to the people.

The only thing we are lacking is good leadership. If we have a good leader, everybody will be comfortable and nobody would talk of zoning.
However we look at it, creation of states has brought development to the people. Even if we have only two federating units or 100 federating units, if we have bad leaders, we will never progress.

What is your advice to Nigerians, particularly, the opposition as the country marches towards 2015?
My advice to Nigerian politicians is that we should not see ourselves as enemies. Let us see ourselves as partners in progress. The government should not take the opposition as its enemy, and the opposition should not see the government as an enemy. Let us work together to build this country.

Tags: Politics, Nigeria, Featured, Opposition Merger

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