A former member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Council, Hajia Najaatu Mohammed, in this no-holds-barred interview with THISDAY, dives deeper into the alleged bothersome reign of President Muhammadu Buhari and the crippling ill health of the ruling party’s presidential candidate, Bola Tinubu. She was daring and unrelenting in her unsparing criticisms of the duo. Mohammed also censured APC governors and some northern top dogs acting as Tinubu’s lapdogs. Despite being poisoned, resulting in a reconstructed colon after several surgeries, along with several threats for going against Tinubu, Mohammed has more to tell the public. Excerpts:
When did you begin to observe that your former party’s presidential candidate is not who they portrayed him to be to the public?
It started the day he made that declaration in Ogun when he said it’s his turn. By saying that, it means that Nigeria has become the personal property of some people. It is like a pie: you have the knife now, you cut your own, you eat you own, now it is time to cut my own. That was what he said and that is what he meant. I excused that because in life you have to be patient. You have to use your wisdom. I didn’t partake in any of their activities and then they called me; they asked me to be a director in the civil society organisations, which I rejected. Having rejected it, they started to plead with me: ‘Please, in the name of God, please take it!’ I said no. I don’t want to take it because I haven’t sat with Asiwaju to actually tell me what he has for us — particularly up North — and I don’t want to be arrogant. To cut a long story short, we agreed that I will meet with Asiwaju as soon as possible and if I am not satisfied with what he tells me, then, I can opt out. And that is why if you noticed when they put my name, there was another name added. I was made a co-director, and rightly so, in case I rejected the offer, they still have a director. I wouldn’t have embarrassed them.
I went to London the next day to see Aswaju on his invitation because he called me that night to say ‘Naja, I appreciate your stand that you rejected the appointment.’ I said ‘yes sir’. Because I can’t be a zombie at this point in time. I have to know what you have for us. Then, he said if I could come to London, and I took a flight the next day and went to see him in London and we sat down for two hours. The first question I asked him was what he has for us up North. He told me point-blank that he didn’t have anything. I asked him, I said, ‘Sir, you mean you don’t have a blueprint?’ He said, ‘No! I cannot have a blueprint until I win the election’. I said, ‘Sir, if we wait for you to win the election, there will be a lot of distraction, you have to have a blueprint. You have to be able to tell us what you intend to do.’
I said we have so many problems: aren’t you aware of the insecurity? Aren’t you aware of the out-of-school kids? Aren’t you aware of the hunger? That people cannot go to the farms? He said, ‘Look Naja, if you can, please, write out what you want so that I can put it in my manifesto’. I was angry, but I remained patient. I left him, stayed back in London and mobilised our people and we came out with some demands, so to say. To date, they have refused to let me see Asiwaju and give him the document. I did everything possible, I haven’t seen Asiwaju. I haven’t sat with Asiwaju since then. They didn’t allow me to see him. The man is caged
Were you shocked that the presidential the Presidential candidate of the APC who knows about the insecurity in the land would say that he doesn’t have anything for the North?
Of course, I was shocked. I was extremely angry. But I still have to go with wisdom. I still have to be patient because I don’t want a situation where—you know, sometimes when you think something is bad, it turns out to be good and you think something is good like we did with Buhari, it turns out to be the worst of the worst. I continued to be patient. When they couldn’t allow me to see Asiwaju and give him what we have thrashed out, I decided to go another way. The other way was that I tried to sit with who and who from the North in APC and opinion moulders. In the past three months, I’ve been trying for us to see (him) and come out with the request, they did not let us see him. They are all just about themselves.
Who are these people that prevented you from seeing him?
His handlers. Who are his handlers? Ibrahim Masari. They are his handlers. Look at the calibre of people around him. I saw one of our ministers. I told him, ‘Look sir, those around Asiwaju are not the face of the North, they are not even people respected up North. The problem is this: it appears that the South generally and the South-West in particular see the North through a prism of their own viewpoint. In the North, if you remember, we had only one governor before 2015 but PDP had 23 governors. But why all these things? Because people in the North have the ace. In the South, you need the governors. You need the ministers. It is not the same in the North. I tried to make them understand this, but they don’t believe me. I have tried to see some people that I respect. For instance, Fashola is somebody that I have a lot of respect for. I love Fashola because I felt he did a great job in Lagos. I sat with him. I tried to advise: ‘sir, this is not the way to go about it’. But nobody believes me.
So, they are relying on the governors to carry them through..?
They are relying on the governors. Their calculation is Asiwaju being Egbe Omo Oduduwa will get all the votes from Egbe Omo Oduduwa within and outside Nigeria—all he needs is 25 per cent from the governors of APC, and that he doesn’t really need us. He doesn’t. No matter how bad or how silly Nigerians are, they have a right to know. Even if you are going to lie to them, they have a right to hear your voice.
Who do you blame for Tinubu’s emergence because you said somewhere recently that Osinbajo would have been better?
There is nothing like democracy in this democratic system. The whole thing is a hoax. I will tell you, for instance, what happened in their primary election. People were given ballot papers with Asiwaju written on it. That was what happened. And we saw a clip in which governors were collecting money. It’s so shameful. What a disgrace! Governors collecting money; sharing money given to them by Asiwaju. It is such a disgrace. It is the first time that I have heard or seen such. At least in this dispensation. I have been in politics for decades, I was born into politics. But this is the first time that a presidential candidate will be sponsoring governors to support him. This is what is happening. Asiwaju is synonymous with money. For God’s sake, if all it takes is money, then what else will he do when he takes over power? It’s for him to retrieve his money.
Look, this is not even about Egbe Omo Oduduwa. Osinbajo is even more Egbe Omo Oduduwa than Tinubu. He’s a professor. He’s brilliant. He knows what he’s doing. For the few weeks that he was given this country to run, he did a great job. But the Lagos-Ibadan press villainised him. They said all sorts of things against him because Tinubu controls the strongest propaganda machine in this country, which is the Lagos–Ibadan press.
Going by what you said about giving governors money, does that mean he practically purchased his victory in the APC presidential primary?
He did, of course! It was purchased from the governors. There’s no doubt about that.
There are so many important people, educated people, who are watching the daily gaffes of Tinubu, yet they are backing him from the North to the South, every part of the country. What do you think is the problem?
The problem is this: it’s extreme selfishness. All these people that you are talking about are thinking of themselves as individuals. They are thinking of their personal interests. They don’t have the country at heart. That is why I said I have to follow my conscience because I cannot afford to continue to pretend and remain silent. In fact, to be silent is criminal. This is my position: anyone who refuses to talk when they are supposed to talk is either a hypocrite or a coward or both. So, that is why I took the position I took. These people that you are talking about, in Hausa, we say they are the plugs, from North to South. But they are an insignificant minority. And the fault of the generality of Nigerians is that they have allowed themselves to be pulled by the nose, most out of ignorance, some out of tribal or religious sentiments.
Let me tell you what our Prophet said— when they said Muslim-Muslim ticket, I stated it’s a hoax because Islam is explicit on the question of leadership. What it says is a chosen atheist is better than an unjust Muslim, which is the injunction. The first law given by God, according to the Quran, is the law which Allah put on himself. The first law was he had denied himself the right to oppress. That is the law given to God to himself. And then he went on to say that he had denied injustice within ‘my creation’. So, what are we talking about? What the hell about Muslim-Muslim? Who cares about that?
The APC presidential campaign council, in a statement, claimed you were fired, but you said you resigned from the council, which is the correct position?
It’s a lie. You know, Asiwaju himself wanted to come to my house. They met my mentor Wamako, and they spoke with a lot of people for me to ceasefire. Then, last (Monday) night, I decided that we would ceasefire. But then I saw this (APC’s PCC’s statement alleging she was sacked from the council). Asiwaju himself wanted to come to my house to plead with me—I swear to God almighty! They were already running helter-skelter—going from pole to pillar—for certain people that I respect to prevail on me to ceasefire. As of last night, I agreed to ceasefire. But when I saw their statement this morning (Tuesday), I sent it to Farouk, and I sent it to Omar Farouk. I also sent it to a few other people that were pleading with me. I told them: ‘Ceasefire gone!’ The conversation continues. Everything about them is paralysed. When did they sack me? Could they have written a backdated letter? When you base everything on lies—I swear: yesterday (Monday), I was feeling so bad as so many of them were pleading with me. It’s not good to be arrogant. We must always be humble.
Recently, Governor Ayade said Asiwaju is the best that can fix Nigeria and that he’s generous. But does Tinubu being generous qualify him to be Nigeria’s president?
Let me tell you why they are following Asiwaju. They know that he’s incapable. They know that he can’t decipher. They know that there is something seriously wrong with his brain. It is like they say in Hausa: somebody will hold the horns of a cow, and you will be milking it. So, all of these people talking all this nonsense know that he’s incapable. They know that he’s handicapped. But they also know that there’s already a cabal that they can depend on for the piece of a pie. No more, no less. And let me tell you, I have not spoken to anyone, both in or outside APC from up North, that I know that has told me or that believes Asiwaju is capable. But all they are saying is that you know we have to get something out of it—that’s all.
President Buhari, from his vantage position, gets reports from all security agencies, he knows so much more about every other person who is running for office, and he knows the qualities these individuals have. Are the security agents not briefing him about the dangers of a Tinubu presidency, given the health challenges you described?
In the first place, Buhari does not care about anything. He had never cared. He doesn’t care about the country, nor is he really in charge. He has thrown the country to the dogs. He has a prime minister in the name of his nephew—grandnephew Tunde. Whether we want to believe it or not, Tunde is the de facto president. I know that even the service chiefs report to him. Tunde is Sabiu. Do you know him? He’s called Tunde because he was named after Tunde Idiagbon.
Let me tell you, there are times, on a few occasions when I had cause to see the president, that I had given him in black and white some of the atrocities that are taking place in terms of corruption, theft of billions of naira. All he does is to frown and that’s the end of it. He doesn’t care. Sometimes, he tells you, ‘I don’t know’. But how do you know? How do you know if you don’t want to know? He doesn’t want to know. He doesn’t care. There was a time in early 2015 that Buhari said, when he came into office, he said, ‘I’m relying on the newspapers to guide me’. He said that. And the newspapers—a lot of them—have been consistent in speaking out. Even if the service chiefs or others don’t tell him the truth, the newspapers are there. Is he not reading the papers? Why is he not reading the papers? And there was also a time when Buhari first came in, and he locked up Sambo Dasuki for a couple of years. What was the offence of Sambo Dasuki? According to Buhari, Sambo Dasuki had spent billions of security money.
Are you not afraid for your own security for coming out forcefully to talk about Tinubu being unfit to be president of Nigeria?
I have been threatened several times. From the time I left APC, I have received a lot of threats. I want you to know that I was not just tried by Obasanjo. In 2013, I was poisoned in the office of the DSS. As I am talking to you, I have had seven surgeries. I have had a reconstruction of my colon. I spent seven months in Germany due to the poisoning, but by God’s grace, I am still alive. They had come into my house at least on two occasions, and God did not allow them to see me. Even this time around, I still feel extremely threatened because I have been threatened already. I am still being threatened, you understand?
What precautions are you taking (cuts in)?
There’s nothing you can do about it in Nigeria; when it’s time to go, you go, whether you speak the truth, or you don’t speak the truth. Even mosquitoes will kill you when it’s time. I pray to almighty God to spare my life. I put myself under his protection. But the thing is that at times—look at the life of Jesus. What did he go through? What was he doing? He was fighting corruption. He was fighting against injustice. And they say they’re Christians, but they don’t follow Jesus. Look at Moses; see what he faced, and they say they’re followers of Moses, but they don’t emulate Moses. Look at our Muslims: see what Prophet Mohammed went through, but they kill Muslims. They think they know better than God. Every Nigerian—Christian or Muslim—they will say, ‘We’re praying. We’re praying for God to give us a better leader. But at the same time, they go about lying. Deception; they’re only deceiving themselves. At the same, my Muslim brethren will say, ‘But you know, we have to get something.’ So, where’s the God? You don’t want to speak out; you don’t want to do anything.
Some of Tinubu’s aides said it’s not true that he could not hold a cup of tea. Is it true?
He should hold it in public.
Could you please throw some more light on that? The public deserves to know the truth.
Let me tell you: I was with Tinubu; you know I left the CPC. Each time we go into an alliance since 2007, Buhari will always opt out without any reason. In 2011, we decided on (going on an alliance with) ACN. Buhari opted out and created his CPC, and I said no. Look, I’m not your slave. I will go back and stay with ACN. And I was (with) ACN. I even contested a senatorial seat on the platform of ACN. I followed Nuhu Ribadu all over the place. Since during that time, I mean sometimes, I had to help him hold the cup.
Is it really that bad?
Absolutely! Look at him even when they were handing the APC flag to him. They had to support the hand. So, who’s lying to who? Cameras don’t lie. There’s a proverb in Arabic: The camel is majestically walking while the dog is barking at it. So, let them bark. Let them continue to bark. I am majestically moving on.
You talk to some opinion moulders in the North and across the country. They tell us Tinubu is the best person to be Nigeria’s next president. How come they are not seeing what you’re seeing?
Personal interests. They know. But they put their personal interests (ahead of national interests). That is why the country is where it is today because there is no collective interest. It’s all about personal interests.
It’s disturbing that you also mentioned that he could not decipher blue from red. Is that correct?
That’s true. He can’t. In a discussion with him, you’re saying something, and he doesn’t understand the point you’re making, he drifts off. It’s seen in his campaigns.
You’re the first person to give the public a glimpse of how things are because he has avoided debates. He has avoided granting interviews to the media and successfully avoided scrutiny.
That’s what they don’t want anybody to see. They just want to push him for them to be the president. It’s not even in his interest. Some people from Maiduguri called me today (Monday) asking, ‘Hajia, why did you do this? You have now punctured our interest. Our son is going to be president, and you’re talking like that? After all, look at Tinubu; he cannot do it. We’re all for Kashim. You have not done well for us.’ People from Maiduguri called me and were abusing me: that I’m denying them their chance. So, you begin to see the way people perceive things. If they’re all wrong, we cannot all be wrong. There is always a day of reckoning and this whole thing will consume all of us.
Some people have said Tinubu is the first presidential candidate in Nigeria to have a direct link to agberos on the street. Your thoughts?
Why did he allow them to be agberos in the first place? Why should they be agberos? He has ruled over Lagos and the South-West for some time. And they’re still agberos? Something is seriously wrong with Tinubu. Why should they be agberos?
But why will a deeply flawed man want to be president?
It’s his turn! It’s his turn to hold the knife to cut the pie. That is what he said. If we want a Yoruba man, what’s wrong with the vice president?
What message do you have for the governors?
When people indulge in such a thing, you don’t tell them anything. They know it’s for the money and probably it’s for the positions they think they might get and a lot of them are second-term governors, anyway.
What’s the way forward? What’s your message to Nigerians on this matter?
What I said, the crux of it is for one thing: let him prick his conscience. Let us prick our conscience. Look at what is happening in the South-East today. Why? As we’re talking now, people are being killed in Kaduna, Zamfara, Kebbi, and Niger. As we’re talking, whole communities have been wiped out, and we don’t feel bad about that? What sort of meanness is this that these people want a man who is clearly unfit to be president?