3 April 2010

Nigeria: Uwais Report Will Make Elections Worse - Balarabe Musa

interview

Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa, Second Republic civilian governor of the old Kaduna State - he was the first that tasted impeachment in the annals of Nigeria's politics - and national chairman of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), has been known as the arrowhead of the radicals in the North, since the demise of Mallam Aminu Kano. In this interview with Kaduna Bureau Chief, SUKUJI BAKOJI, he bares his mind on the current political logjam, his relationship with Save Nigeria Group (SNG), his fears for 2011 polls, formation of Mega Party, why he was impeached as governor and sundry issues. Excerpts...

When a pressure group called Save Nigeria Group (SNG) was formed, it was stated that you were one of the arrowheads because of your position as a national chairman of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP). Ironically, you never surfaced in any of their rallies in Abuja in relation to the political logjam. So what's really the problem?

I think right from the beginning, when the Save Nigeria Group came on board, I got to know from my own sources that the said group might have been formed by a faction of the PDP. That faction of the PDP, which seems to be supported by Nigerian exiles with some foreign influence, is being manipulated by Obasanjo in particular and the aim is to oppose Umaru Yar'Adua and support Jonathan as Acting President. And their reason is that Yar'Adua has allowed the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) to mess up in particular (Nasir) el-Rufai, (Nuhu) Ribadu and some governors who are Obasanjo's boys. The support for Jonathan, for them, is not really genuine. They have to support Jonathan because that conforms to the mood throughout the country. But while others are campaigning for Jonathan to be the President, with full power and not just Acting President, they want Jonathan to be just Acting President, so that it will give Obasanjo the opportunity to manipulate the situation and control Jonathan. They see the possibility of Jonathan being his own man. And if he does that, he might turn against Obasanjo and his boys. So, this is what we understand from the Save Nigeria Group. I refused to attend their meetings which they called directly, because as I told you I have doubt about their objectives right from the beginning. They talk like us, they seem to have the same objectives with us; but really our objectives are not the same. Our own objective is constitutionally and a President that can perform. But their objective is to manipulate the situation in favour of the Nigerian exiles and Obasanjo. This is our understanding and I think recent developments have proved it, because of the quarrels among them. For instance, some of them are now beginning to know that they are in the wrong position or may be there is a power game. Remember, there was a time some controversy brewed between Prof. Wole Soyinka and I, which was reported by Nigerian Compass newspapers. And in the course of Soyinka's reaction to my statement, he said he was not a member of the Save Nigeria Group; that he joined their rally because he believed in what they were doing. But he turned out to be even the chairman of Save Nigeria Group. Since then, apparently, the table turned against him and back in favour of the person who originally brought about the idea of Save Nigeria Group, i.e. Pastor Bakare. So it now appears that a fight occurred and Soyinka lost in favour of Bakare and therefore Soyinka is quiet. You hardly now hear him on matters concerning Save Nigeria Group.

But whether we like it or not, the Save Nigeria Group has created awareness in relation to the way and manner the ill-health of President Yar'Adua is being handled, thereby creating political logjam. What is the way out of the woods?

First of all, what is the latest development? The latest development is that Yar'Adua will return to his work as President of the country in few days. This is the latest announcement as reported by the Daily Trust which, of course, will complicate matters, which may prove me right that all this drama about the ill-health of the President was a set up by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to gain time or to identify their enemies, because if he actually returns as reported, we will really be in a mess. He will reverse everything that Jonathan has done, and he has the constitutional right to do this, as Jonathan did not become Acting President constitutionally. He dissolved the Federal Executive Council (FEC) with the problem of the PDP, and PDP has made sure he cannot appoint his own. He still must have regards to the PDP, both as a party and PDP in the National Assembly. He must have regard for the so-called Yar'Adua group throughout the country, in the PDP, in the National Assembly, etc. It is a confused situation. So, this is a new thing that is happening. But as far as Nigerians are concerned, what they should be asking for is what we in Nigerians United for Democracy and even Mega Summit Movement have been asking for: Jonathan should be the President, because this will be constitutional and this will also produce a capable President which Acting President cannot be, even if the position is legitimised, legalised. Acting President presumes that somebody is there. Some media organisations say the Acting President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, the President is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. This is the ridiculous thing that has arisen from this situation. Because of this, we really want Jonathan to be the President. First, it is constitutional. Second, we don't think Yar'Adua can be an effective President again, even if his health has improved. Even the story reported by the Daily Trust gave the indication that even after he has resumed duty, Yar'Adua would not really be healthy enough to be a capable President, so why all this suffering, simply because of one man? I mean this is not a monarchy. This is not a military dictatorship. This supposed to be either a democracy or an aspiring democracy.

So with this political logjam, what are your fears in 2011?

Well, 2011, exactly, I remain in doubt. In fact, there is a doubt whether there will be a 2011 election at all. But I think there will be a 2011 election, because this has always happened in Nigeria. There would not be a credible electoral process. But there will be some elections, and Nigerians would be manipulated to the extent that they accept this. This is what had been happening throughout the history of elections in Nigeria, from 1960 to date, but particularly in 2003 and 2007 when we saw the worst. Nigerians were not combatant enough to insist on their rights. So you can see the state of the electoral process. First of all, the Uwais Committee was a set up to manipulate Nigerians, so that they make such a demand for electoral process that the PDP can tolerate. And the Uwais committee came up with a report which certainly couldn't be opposed by a credible government. But the PDP opposed it. Now the worse part of the whole thing is that the political gate-keepers in Nigeria are also apolitically calling for this set-up to be accepted and saying that Uwais Committee should be implemented, which is very apolitical. What is this Uwais Committee report? When you read it clearly, you will find that accepting it will not produce a better electoral process as we have here. In fact, it will make things even worse. I will give you examples. Every Nigerian knows the deciding role of money power in politics and elections in Nigeria. And the Uwais report has not done anything about it, which means that even if Uwais Report's recommendation is accepted, the election will not be free and fair, because election is being rigged in this country with money power. And there is a lot of loose money in the country, money which was not in the hands of people. Secondly, there are people, political leaders in Nigeria whose stole massive amount of money and even those of them who have been convicted have not forfeited this money to the state. The money is in their hands and they can use it to rig election. The implication is that even if you have the best electoral process, as long as you don't deal with the deciding role of money power in politics, particularly stolen money, PDP can win freely, and there's nothing you can do.

Thirdly, there is this issue of local government election. Of course, I think Uwais Committee recommended that all elections should be conducted by INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission). The PDP government has refused this. They are saying that the States Electoral Commission should continue, and most disappointingly, the political gate-keepers, the political parties, civil society organisations and so on are all ignoring the relevance of free, fair and transparent government elections. Another issue where the failing of the Uwais Committee is quite glaring is over the issue of independent candidature. The Uwais committee pretended that they were providing Nigerians with a democratic atmosphere by bringing independent candidature. But this is political deception, because even during the colonial times and the First Republic, we had independent candidature. They say that for an independent candidate to contest an election, he must deposit one-tenth of the allowed election expenses of the office. Now who are those who contest House of Assembly election? They are secondary school-leavers, pensioners, petty traders. So what the Uwais committee is saying, and very contemptuous of Nigerian politicians, is that, yes, you can contest as an independent candidate in law but in reality you will not be able to. And Nigerians, including so-called informed Nigerians, have accepted this. They do not see that it is a stupid thing to provide for an independent candidate and refuse the candidate the freedom to contest. And there are many other things. In fact, in the PRP, immediately after the coming out of the Uwais Report, we analysed it and we found that Uwais committee made tolerable recommendations in about eight respects. But in about in 11 respects, they undermined everything positive that they provided for. So the Uwais Committee and its report constitute a set-up by the PDP government to get away with the least that is required in terms of credible electoral process. Unfortunately, all the Nigerian political gate-keepers are allowing this.

INEC chairman, Prof, Maurice Iwu, recently announced the timetable for the 2011 elections which will take place either in January 2010 or April 2010. Has your association agreed with the timetable?

We, CNPP, are going to meet in Abuja soon, either the whole conference or the secretariat of the conference, which is broad enough to take even decisions - because it is made up of six staff of the secretariat, including the national secretary, the chairman of the CNPP - and every party chairman who is resident in Abuja. We are going to meet to discuss issues including the INEC timetable.

Sometime ago, the Northern triumvirate - Buhari, Atiku and Bafarawa - formed a political alliance with the intention of forming a mega party to wrest power from the PDP come 2011. But it appears the alliance has been stalled following the formation of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) which Buhari joined recently. You were part of the move to form the political front to tackle PDP. With the present dispensation, do you think the formation of a mega party is feasible?

Well, that's another process of bringing about mega party. Remember, now there is a second process whereby the Mega Summit Movement, Labour Party, workers organisations and some others are also considering the formation of a mega party. In the case of the one you mentioned involving Buhari, Atiku and Bafarawa, in their own case, they are saying that they will go into discussion with the other side, that is the Mega Summit Movement, Labour and other civil society organisations, with the aim of forming one mega party, instead of forming two mega parties. So, what you can now say is that there are two mega parties that may appear. The first one, made up of a faction of Action Congress (AC) and CPC. Another mega party, which is made up of the Mega Summit and others in the form of NLC, TUC, NUT, and other workers organisations, may appear. Now the implication of this is that if the two mega parties do not come together, it means that the 2011 poll will be fought by three parties - the PDP and these two mega parties, which eventually may lead to inconclusive 2011 elections that will lead to run-off election which obviously PDP will manipulate. But I think in the case of the two mega parties, there may eventually be the realisation that whatever mega party they produce, if it is not based on one of the five existing political parties that have strategic advantages, then it will definitely favour PDP. You can't have any new mega party or any new party as the basis of a formidable opposition to the PDP. So the most realistic thing is for each of the mega parties to be based on an existing political party that has a major advantage.

But even with that, it will not help. What will ultimately help really is to bring on board as many the five political parties that have strategic advantages; that is All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Labour Party, AC and Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA). Bring as many as possible in one group, go into patriotic and electoral alliance with one of them, and you have a better chance. For example, if the five political parties agree - and that is the ideal thing - they will contest the presidential election under one of them. I am quite sure the other political parties that don't have the strategic advantage will agree to go into democratic alliance with that one. The only thing that may be a mistake is if any party is obliged to dissolve into that one, it will not happen. Now, again, I realised that it may not be possible to get all the five to agree, particularly because ANPP and PPA are already in a kind of alliance with the PDP. In that case, if we have Labour Party and AC, even with AC being only a faction, and rally behind Labour in a patriotic and democratic electoral alliance without forcing anyone to dissolve and be in the Labour Party, I think there is a good chance of success.

A lot of Nigerians have always cited you as a paragon of an ideal leader, incorruptible and patriotic citizen. If given the opportunity to lead this nation, will you take up the challenge?

Well, in the case of my party, the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), the issue of a person saying he wants to be something is out of the question. In fact, our own rule is that if anybody sponsors himself for any election, he should be ignored, because he is saying that he is more important than the party and the nation. In the case of PRP, despite what the Constitution provides, it is the leadership at the various levels which decides who contests which election. And in our own case, it works because none of us is rich enough to finance his own election. Whoever you are, the election will be fought for you by the party members. Secondly, thinking of me as a presidential candidate is not ideal, because neither my party nor I can even afford the posters for the election. So, what the PRP is concerned with is the country and proper governance for the country. If we are not able to sponsor successfully a candidate, we are prepared to support any candidate sponsored by any political party, if that political party will accept a minimum programme for the advancement of Nigeria. That was why in 2007 we didn't sponsor a presidential candidate. We did in 2003. I was nominated as the presidential candidate but I didn't even have the money for poster. So we decided in 2007 that we would not sponsor a presidential candidate, but would support a presidential candidate who happens to be the least risk and a candidate who is credible, courageous and who has a record of performance. And that's how we arrived at Buhari. So for 2011, we will find out if we have a candidate that can make it. If we don't have a candidate that can make it, instead of ego or showmanship, we will support a candidate who can defeat the PDP in 2011. Because the most important political strategy is to get off our back peacefully in the 2011 election.

But with the present political impasse or uncertainty of the conduct of the 2011 polls, do you foresee a military takeover?

Well, first of all, the possibility of the military coming up and taking over power has been a reality throughout our history, from 1960 to date. And it has actually happened on various occasions. So question of military coup is not a speculation. It's a reality that can happen, and the best way to avoid it is by the political establishments to discipline themselves. And they are not disciplining themselves. Look at the ridiculous thing that PDP is doing with the ill-health of the President. So it is even apolitical to think that the military cannot come. We can say and we do say that military regime is not alternative. Military regime can even make things worse. This is our own experience. Military regime has not helped us. Civilian regime has not helped and therefore what we look forward to now is the sovereignty of the people which can be demonstrated first through sustained, prolonged street demonstration. And, of course, that can lead to social revolution. There is no two ways about it as long as the situation continues like this. Again, the blame now with this situation should not be on the PDP alone, but should be also on the opposition because the opposition is not united, not focused, and even at individual level, the credibility of many of the leaders of the opposition is not better than that of the leaders of the PDP. So we are in a revolutionary situation.

When you were civilian governor of the old Kaduna State, there was this speculation that the Kaduna mafia frustrated your administration, which led to your impeachment. Was it true?

I had problem with the Kaduna mafia in two respects: we had a policy of establishing small scale and medium sized industries throughout old Kaduna State. They were opposed to this on ideological ground, because they felt if we could do that, what opportunity did they have to establish these industries? But they knew they could not. Because they had already been stealing; getting something for nothing, they were not going to be industrialists like the ones that emerged in Europe as a result of hardwork, even with some manipulation of the system. When they raised the issue, I tried to make them understand they could also participate if they were concerned about the opportunity for them to invest. I said, for instance, we wanted to have a bridge across Kaduna River here. We got foreign technical experts; we were not going to rise for that. We said if you like, you can bring foreign experts, build a bridge across Kaduna River, we would give you all the facilities you want. You build a bridge; you establish a new town there; that is what they are calling Kaduna Millennium City. You build a new town there, for a number of years we would allow you to collect tolls. We would demarcate the area, take water there, take electricity there, and construct access roads and so on. Your own is just to build houses. You will build the houses, sell them as you like. Secondly, there were a lot of by-products of the Kaduna Refinery which could be useful. You could build that road, we establish an industrial area, relying on the by-products of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). We got the support of the NNPC. But they rejected all these. All they wanted was to get rid of the PRP government because the PRP government was intent on changing the socio-economic system and the leadership produced by the system.

Because we were interested in complying with the 1967 Max Lock Master Plan for Kaduna, we realised at that time there were a number of undeveloped plots in Kaduna that remained undeveloped for 20, 30 years. Each time, the owner of the plot was only using it to raise loan, not even to invest. So what we did was to say that all plots of land that had not been developed over a certain period of which I cannot remember now, we seized the plots and we were going to allocate them to anybody who could immediately develop them within two years. Those from whom we seized the plots, whenever they were ready to build, we would give them replacement plots. It happened that my deputy and I also had plots which we could not develop. And our names were the first on the list. So also the names of so many retired army officers. And that is what annoyed them. We revoked their plots of land. You know the army had always been trying to stab us, the civilians, at the back. They were seriously annoyed when we did this. So when the NPN was preparing to impeach me, these retired army officers joined them. In fact, they arranged things in such a way that while the controversy about the impeachment lasted, the military was exercising around my official residence. Every morning, they were exercising around my official residence. They connived with the NPN and used the police to intimidate us. What they did was to appoint a Commissioner of Police for Kaduna State, the direct brother of my opponent, the NPN governorship candidate. And he (CP) joined the campaign against me. They are both alive; the NPN governorship candidate who contested against me and his brother, the then CP.

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