Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa, former Presidential candidate of the defunct National Republican Convention and a stalwart of the All Nigeria Peoples Party speaks to Ibrahim Shuaibu in kano on issues of national interests
What is your take on amnesty for Boko Haram?
I agree with Boko Haram for rejecting amnesty, because amnesty also encourages criminality. Because people will just say ‘well let me also be a criminal so that I can be called and giving amnesty and be paid.’ There was something I saw on the internet written by a jobless graduate. He posted that Niger Delta militants earn better than graduates and therefore it pays to commit crime. Amnesty in that sense is not a good thing. Paying compensation where it is due to people and releasing those unjustly arrested are what the federal government needs to do. I think that is the thing the amnesty committee recommended and I think that is what will bring about peace in the country.
There is this accusation that the president is becoming dictatorial. What is your view on this?
Like I said before, he doesn’t have good advisers and that is really affecting his image. Take for example what happened in Baga. Pp till now, he has not gone there to see things for himself. In some countries, if such a thing happens and the president is not in the country, he will cut short his trip to visit the place. But this man is at home, sitting down and 200 hundred people were killed over 2,000 houses burnt. The whole world is talking about it yet he didn’t think that he as a President should go and check out what happened. He is giving himself a bad image and that is the extreme side of incompetence. Again, when he went to Borno, he said he did not care about Boko Haram; that they are ghost and that he was not going to listen to them. He has forgotten that he is politician. How can he go back to the same place and campaign? How does he expect to be re-elected? And when people like Asari Dokubu comes and threatens fire and storm if Jonathan is not re- elected, are they going to force people to vote for him? These people are doing more harm to him than good. What he needs to do is to summon all elders in this country to meet him in Abuja and ask them to tell him the truth about his administration. I’m sure it will be good for him and the country.
Do you think the newly formed opposition APC can wrestle power from the PDP 2015?
Well, it depends on many factors. First of all, my advice to the APC is not to zone the presidency. Let everybody especially the Igbos be given the chance to come to the convention and try their luck. Once you zone the presidency and you say only northerners will contest then you have automatically eliminated the south east from that aspiration. And the Igbos have the aspiration to lead this country and for a new party to say ‘no we will not allow you’, I think that is suicidal. The APC should allow all those who have the aspiration to go the convention and when they nominate their presidential candidate, then they can distribute the other positions. But if they zone, I don’t think they can make it because south-south and south-east will not vote for them.
Secondly, they must be very careful about intra-party squabble and injustice by trying to impose candidates or doing things not proper. Democracy has to prevail right from the ward level to the top in the APC. If they do that, it will be a very good party capable of winning elections. There are some things they need to do and I’m sure they are thinking about them and if they do them then they will be successful. You see, if you compare the number of governors in the APC and that of the PDP then you may say APC will not win the election. But it doesn’t work that way. It is the people that will decide not governors. If this party becomes very popular irrespective of the fact that we don’t have a large number of governors; if the people of this country accept the party, they will go and vote for APC presidential candidate and that person will win the election. There is hope that Nigerians who are fed up with PDP and will do the right thing when the time comes.
Do you support the agitation to strip governors of their immunity in the proposed constitution amendment?
I will not support that because of the nature of our society. If that happens, they will not be able to govern properly. When indicted for any crime while in office, they should face trial after their tenure.
What is your take on rotational presidency?
Of course, it is desirable that the presidency in a country like Nigeria should move round all the geo-political zones of the country so that everybody will be opportune to taste power; but the downside of it is that it encourages tribalism, sectionalism or regionalism in such a way that some people will just vie for the position simply because they are from a certain part. And this has entered into the psyche of Nigerians who think that unless one of their own is the president, they will never make it in life.
But it is all a fallacy; we know that as a fact. And Nigerians can attest to the fact for the reason that a particular person from their religion or tribe becomes president doesn’t improve the lives of all those people from his area. What I think Nigerians need is a President who will be fair to all irrespective of whom they are or where they come from, so that we can always feel comfortable that we have a leader who cares for everybody and will do justice and work for this country in the best interest of everybody.
Therefore, zoning has its ups and downs. The up is that it provides opportunity for everybody but is undemocratic, because democracy means that there should be a level playing ground. But to exclude a certain section of the society from aspiring for a particular position is very undemocratic. That is why even in the ANPP, we made sure that we didn’t zone the presidency to anywhere. That is why we said let us start zoning after a presidential candidate must have emerged from wherever. Once a candidate is elected, then you can zone the other positions in the best way possible to allow people to have some participation. But to zone the presidency itself, I think is one of our problems here.
In other words, you are not in support of the return of power to the north
No, no. It is not that I’m not supporting power to return to the north. What I’m saying is that everybody should be given the chance to vie for the position. Democracy is a game of numbers and if people in the north want the presidency, they know how to go about it. What I’m saying is that if today the president is in the north, tomorrow it should be somewhere else. Do we have to be president all the time? What I’m saying is that the fact that the president is from a particular place doesn’t mean that it really benefit the people from that area. The only people it benefits are those around the President because this is a very corrupt society. Like what we have now, the president always want people from his area to have it all. And this is what northern presidents didn’t do when they were at the helm of affairs; they tried to be fair to everybody. That is why we didn’t have all those things that people have now because those who were presidents from the north were fair to everybody and that is the sort of leadership we want; people who are just to all.
Where do you stand on the debate about whether President Jonathan should run in 2015?
Well, constitutionally he is free to contest if his party nominates him at the convention. And the convention shouldn’t disallow other aspirants from contesting just like they did it before. If he emerges as the PDP presidential candidate, that is their business; they know how to campaign for him. I’m not against anybody being a candidate of any party. And if the constitution allows such person why not, but I will vote for those I know are better candidates.
Would you say he has performed well enough to give him another term?
In the beginning of his term, I used to give him the benefit of doubt and advice also that being a President is not a one man job. It is not also a very difficult job provided you can get the right people to assist you? If you can have twenty or thirty people who are really capable, patriotic and who really know what they are doing, all you need to do is to manage those people. Is not really a difficult job but the difficulty is in chosen the right people capable of assisting you. What Jonathan didn’t do is to choose those kinds of people. You will find out that his advisers and ministers are not the sort of people that will give him the right advice. We have seen in his actions that he doesn’t have good advisers. But he may be a good man but unfortunately he doesn’t have good advisers.
There is also the call to scrap state electoral bodies. Do you think this is the right thing to do?
I have recommended that myself. I said the INEC national headquarters should be saddled with the responsibility of conducting council elections. What is happening now is that every party in power in a state will win 99% of the votes in local government elections. They hardly even hold elections in the first place. But another thing I have to add is that it is totally illegal and unconstitutional to appoint anybody to an elective position just like they do in the appointment of local government caretakers. It is illegal because these positions are elective positions. But INEC, the presidency and the court have all kept quiet allowing this illegality to go on and we said that we want to have a society that cares for the rule of law and yet we allow people to illegally occupy positions.
Do you support local government autonomy?
Yes, local government should be a true third tier of government; their allocations should come directly to them from the federation account and not through the state governments. As it is now, the state governors are ruling the local governments. What is the point in electing a chairman that has no power? Instead he is under the commissioner of local government. What kind of system is that? It doesn’t make any sense.
What is your take on the fight against corruption by the Jonathan administration?
They are not fighting any corruption; there is so much corruption in the land. Everybody in the world knows that Nigeria is so corrupt, the impunity we have here is so much, and the senseless corruption here is something else. I don’t think anybody is fighting corruption in Nigeria.