Dr Umar Ardo was a former governorship aspirant in Adamawa State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party but chose to work for the election of Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. Today, he accuses the president of creating bitterness among his ardent supporters in the north. He spoke with Segun James. Excerpts:
Now that President. Muhammadu Buhari has formally declared to re-contest next year. What is your take on that?
Well, first I'll say it is within the president's constitutional right to contest again. But it's also within the rights of Nigerians to either elect or reject him. And in my reading of the national politics, I cannot see the president being reelected for two reasons. First, he has not made any appreciable impact in improving the standard of living of Nigerians; if anything, things have actually deteriorated. Second, it is apparent the president cannot effectively utilize power for the benefit of society. In addition, he has breached the trust of those who helped him come to power and created bitterness amongst his ardent supporters mainly in the North. Such conducts are against the basic tenets of interpersonal/political relationship. And, speaking as a Fulani man, such actions fall against Fulbe code of conduct, Pulaku. In Fulfulde we call it "Soide Pulaku". Besides, talking about Fulanis, there has never been a time when the Fulanis ever faced existential challenges they face today. They've practically become endangered species on account of misplaced government policies. Things cannot just continue like that. So where will his votes come from? The country has long gone past the president.
How does your organization, the Northern Leaders Stakeholders. Assembly (NLSA) view the declaration of the president to re-contest?
As far as the NLSA is concerned the declaration of Buhari is a non-issue. We neither have animosity against him nor sympathy for him. What NLSA is interested in is a leadership that will help attain for the North our vision, mission and objectives as articulated in our mission statement. If Buhari can attain that for the North then NLSA as a body can support him, even though he's above 70 and has poor health record. But if he cannot then NLSA will continue its search for a civilian IBB.
What do you mean by civilian IBB?
What I mean is that when Buhari's military regime was drifting and plunging the country into chaos and human rights abuses, IBB came in within the military to rescue the country. Not that IBB was perfect, but at least he saved the country from the human right abuses of the Buhari regime. And now as a democracy the country is drifting under Buhari again, we need someone who would democratically defeat him at the polls and rescue the country. That person would be our civilian IBB; rescuer of the country from this government's pillage.
The president's former colleagues in the army, OBJ, IBB and TY Danjuma advised him against contesting again. What is your opinion on this?
I believe those who advised him not to run are being kind to him and are lovers of this country because they know he has lost the support of majority of Nigerians and if he re-contests; and if he wants to use incumbency to force himself back to office, he will only plunge the country into unfathomable crises that will not be in the interest of anyone. But since he discountenanced their advice we will meet at the polls.
Should Nigerians pay attention to the criticisms of the president's style of leadership?
For me personally, it appears Buhari lacks the fundamentals of leadership qualities to continue leading this country. One of such is empathy; and Buhari has no empathy. He never puts himself in the position of the other person. He has already rubbed silver at the back of his glass; he ceases seeing anybody else but himself. I have my own personal experience with him, but I'll not bring that one yet. For now I'll narrate what I read in a book written by a former justice of the Supreme Court. It was during Shehu Shagari's presidency that Army Council recommended Buhari for promotion and posting as a General Officer Commanding (GOC) in the Nigerian Army. But the Minister of Defence then changed that recommendation and sent someone else's name to President Shagari for approval. Somehow Buhari got to know of this change and so he ran to his friend, Dr. Mahmud Tukur, from Adamawa State, and together they approached the Supreme Court Justice who was a very close friend of President Shagari and begged him to intervene with the president. The justice gave them a listening ear, and assured them that he'd take the matter up with the president and asked them to come back same time the next day. True to his word, the justice went and put the issue before the president. Shagari confirmed to his friend that what Buhari and Dr. Tukur told him was indeed true, but he (the president) had already overruled the Defence Minister, reversed his recommendation and approved Buhari's promotion and posting as GOC. So the president told his justice friend to go back and tell Buhari that his promotion and posting have been approved and he should wait the announcement shortly. The justice went back with the good news.
The next day, at the appointed time, Buhari and Tukur returned to see the justice and he told them what the president had done and asked them to await the formal announcement. And in a matter of a day or two the announcement was made. Now, this is the one side of the story; the other side is like this:
On 31 December, 1983 President Shagari was overthrown in a military coup and Maj. General Buhari became the new Head of State. Former President Shagari was arrested and put under detention. Now Shagari had an elder brother, Alhaji Bello Magajin Shagari, who was at the time of the coup seriously sick and was lying at the State House Sick Bay. When Buhari took over, the new government removed Alhaji Bello from his sick bed and took him back to Sokoto and to Shagari village. Sadly, Bello Magajin died the next day. The justice friend of the deposed president rushed to Shagari village for the condolence. After all the rites were concluded, the justice was delegated by the family to go to Lagos and beg the new regime to allow him see the condition of the detained former president and inform him of the demise of his brother. Banking on the divine doctrine of one good turn deserves another, the justice left for Lagos and headed straight to Dr. Mahmud Tukur's place, who was then Buhari's Minister for Commerce. He told the minister of his mission and requested him to intervene with the Head of State. The minister went and saw Buhari and returned, and the answer was negative - Buhari disapproved the request. The justice then begged Umaru Shinkafi who went and saw Buhari and made the request for the justice to be allowed to see Shagari and inform him of the death of his brother. Shinkafi saw the Head of State and put forth the request but it was again denied. The long and short story of it is that he never saw Shagari till Buhari was overthrown. It was Babangida who allowed him to see Shagari and in fact allowed him daily visits till Shagari was finally released.
There was also the case of the wealthy American lady, Mahmet Ben Chembi, who brought in her $17 million from the US to invest in plumbing in the building of Abuja, but was framed of defrauding the Nigerian State and taken to Buhari's Military Tribunal and jailed for 95 years without a shred of evidence adduced against her by the government. On top of it, she was fined N500 million. It was Babangida that set up a Judicial Review Panel that reviewed the case and released her from jail.
There was also the case of a wealthy Nigerian woman resident in Saudi Arabia who returned to the country and was arrested on arrival at Kano airport, taken to tribunal and jailed 10 years for being in possession of N600. She had a 5-year old daughter who was sent to jail along with her.
Having read these, and many, many more of such, I came to the inevitable conclusion that a person like that cannot ever make a good leader. It is natural therefore for reasonable people to oppose such a leadership and look out for an alternative. This is exactly what is going on in Nigeria today. In fact, such frivolous and unfounded accusations inundating Buhari's past leadership has brought to serious question the current accusations against members of the past regime. No one should blame me if I question the truthfulness of the current exercise. After all, it is only after leaving office that the truth of one's tenure is revealed. For as far as I am concerned, the current so-called looters list is nothing more than names of the likes of Ben Chembi. If the man can do it then why can't he do it now? No wonder, with the absence of kangaroo military tribunals in the current democratic setup, the government is unable to successfully prosecute and convict any of the so-called looters three years after coming to power beyond the pages of newspapers. Yes, I know those former leaders have their blames, but the Buhari leadership has the most blame. We in the PDP committed some mistakes and we recognized those mistakes and apologized. But Buhari committed worse atrocities as a military Head of State and so he owes the people of this country and even the international community apologies. But if he refused to apologize then I wish him good luck. At least Nigerians have seen PDP is humble enough to apologize. The world will wait to see if Buhari will be humble enough to do so too or remain defiant to truth.
With the PDP zoning the presidency to the North and with Buhari's declaration, it seems certain the North will produce the next president. Has NLSA pinned down a suitable presidential candidate?
NLSA is still searching. As I said, we are searching for a democratic IBB who we will elect to come and maintain whatever that's good and reverse all that is bad, including the myriad of injustices, of the current Buhari leadership. But we're still to settle on any one person yet.
What kind of candidate are you people looking at?
NLSA will go for whoever meets our expectations, be he/she young or old, but not above 70 years and of good health. But my position is that in searching for the right candidate, Nigerians must incentivize talent while building a merit-based society. We therefore must consider everyone on his or her merit looking out for talent, character and commitment wherever they may be within our society. We must recognize and reward all men and women of excellence.
You are a PDP member. With the party in disarray sort of, do you see the PDP making any impact in the 2019 presidential election?
PDP is not in any disarray. We're solid and will wrestle power from the APC. I assure you that PDP has its joker and we will pull it out at the right time. Buhari is not a threat to us. All PDP needs to do is to mobilize Nigerians of good standing to come together in sincerity to rescue the country under the platform of the PDP, the most feasible opposition party with the best chance to defeat the incumbent Buhari-led APC regime. Any splinter group that hopes to dismantle the PDP structure, supersede its name and logo and come up with a new political movement capable of winning national elections in the next 10 months, it's going to be performing almost a miracle. The best way is for everyone to bury their hatchets and forge under a pan PDP platform and wrestle state power from APC. I am sure PDP men can built this necessary political understanding; the party has already set the base. Anything to the contrary is an obstruction.
What is your take on Obasanjo's Coalition so far and it's romance with the SDP?
Obasanjo's coalition and factions of the SDP and APC will collapse into PDP. Just wait for the Congress of APC. They'll break into three with one faction coming into PDP, one will remain with Buhari and the other will remain independent. That will be the end of APC and the party will suffer a crushing defeat.
Sir, what is your opinion on the president's comment on Nigerian youths at the Commonwealth Summit?
This is what I heard the president say on the youth: "... .. A lot of them have not been to school and they are claiming that Nigeria has been an oil producing country, therefore they should sit and do nothing and get housing, healthcare and education free." Now, if you take 'a lot' from a whole, what will be left is 'a few'. That means, according to the president, only a few of Nigeria's youths have been to school. The president may very well be correct on this; and that is a non-offensive fact, though as a longtime leader in the country is self-indicting. Where the president is wrong and offensive is when he added that "... . they are claiming that Nigeria has been an oil producing country, therefore they should sit and do nothing and get housing, healthcare and education free". What this means is that, according to the president, majority (a lot) of Nigerian youths are simply sitting down idle, expecting their oil-producing country to cater for their needs. This is where the president got it wrong and a proof that he does not even understand the issues confronting this country. Nigerian youths are daily struggling to make ends meet in a country dominated by venal old political and military elites, to which the president is a central figure, who since independence cornered the Nigerian state and its resources to themselves and members of their families. Yet, the fact that the president will have the heart to make such a callous statement against the youth has shown how insensitive he is to the plight of the Nigerian youths.
Secondly, not only the president's comment was insensitive and offensive but the venue of the comment made it even worse. I can understand if the president was sitting in the Villa with our youths and saying this to them directly; but to go behind their back to a foreign land before the second largest international body, next only to the United Nations, and make such a degrading comment against the youths is inconceivable. I think the president needs to apologize to the Nigerian youths and to us their parents.
For me personally, it appears Buhari lacks the fundamentals of leadership qualities to continue leading this country