Former Nigeria Ambassador to Switzerland and one of the founding members of All Progressives Congress (APC), Ambassador Yahaya Kwande in this interview with ISAAC SHOBAYO speaks on 2019 ambition of the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, restructuring, unity of the North, the health of President Muhammadu Buhari among other topical issues. Excerpt:
AS a political associate of the former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, there is insinuation that he might run for 2019 presidential election on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Is there any inkling to this effect?
I have read similar stories in the media, but it is too early to say he is going to the left or right. Atiku Abubakar is a leader of all. A majority of people in APC are with him and would not like him to leave, likewise some in PDP are also rooting for him. I believe when the time comes, he will decide. The people of Adamawa State that tried very hard to pull him down have submitted to him. Based on this, he was bestowed with the title of Waziri of Adamawa. So, as far as I am concerned, I cannot tell you directly that he is going left or right. But I am sure that he will contest in 2019.
There is a clamour for youth to take over the leadership of the country in 2019 and by that time the former vice president will be above 70 years of age. Don’t you think this might count against him?
He is now more mature. This is the right time, right age to rule a country like Nigeria, because we have seen what the young firebrand did and we have also seen what the old people did. I strongly believe that age 60 to 80 is the right and mature age to rule Nigeria. I am not saying the youth cannot do it, but these youths called firebrand might not be the best for the country right now, because we have seen them before and as well seen the elderly ones. But the most important thing is good governance and not who is old or young. Ronald Reagan was about 70 years when he was the president of United States. You can’t say the people were fools.
The former vice president has been advocating restructuring of Nigeria and people see this as a political gimmick towards 2019 elections (cuts in)…
It is not a gimmick because things need to be put right for the country to move forward. We need a re-orientation. This country was once operating under a regional government and now it is 36 states of the federation. This has fractured our country in such a way that we are not running presidential system anymore, not even a confederation. So, we have to restructure so that [as one] Nigeria we can attain normal growth and development. Before this time, Northern Nigeria had a coat of arm with Federal Government coat of arm superimposed on it to show that we have a federation. We were independent and we were countries within the confines of a federation. Because of military intervention, we were running the country in a unitary system now. What Atiku and others mean is that as soon as you restructure, the rush to Abuja will be lessen because power will not be concentrated there anymore.
What does restructuring of the country mean to you?
It doesn’t mean secession at all because the country will still be run by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; it is indivisible country. The impression in certain quarters is that the minority will suffer, but if we go back to the six geopolitical zones, there will be no question of being looked down upon by the major tribes. Everybody will run according to his capacity. Today, no governor is sitting in his state anymore. They are always in Abuja doing nothing. I don’t believe that the Federal Government should have a say in education and agriculture because it has no land. The land in the country is vested in state governments. So, the Federal Government has no right in administering land.
The North at initial stage was against restructuring, why the sudden change of position?
When we had the constitutional conference, delegates advanced the idea of restructuring. Government is a continuous thing. We have to move; we just have to keep developing as a country. Even now, there are people in the North that don’t believe in restructuring. The most important is to examine critically if there is any good thing about restructuring or consider the advantage. Like Nnamdi Kanu said he wants Biafra, are you telling me it is everybody in the South-East that wants Biafra? Certainly not.
Many Nigerians see the position of Northern Elders Forum concerning the quit notice issued by Arewa Youths as too critical and capable of escalating the issue on ground. As member of the forum, don’t you think the outburst of your organisation, especially the spokesperson, Professor Ango Abdullahi, could further deepen the disaffection?
The Northern Elders Forum will soon meet to discuss restructuring, whether to support it or not. But the expression of one of us should not be generalised; personal opinion or idea should not be taken as that of the Northern Elders Forum. Members of the forum meet regularly to analyse and come up with position that will be of help to the North and the entire country.
Can Northern Elders Forum speak for the entire North when groups in the Middle Belt are disassociating themselves from the North?
Forget about what some people are saying that there is nothing like one North anymore. Following the death of Maitama Sule, who was the former chairman of the forum, a new chairman has been appointed in person of Paul Unongo who is from the Middle Belt. So, what are you saying? I can categorical tell you that we are one in the North. If I may ask, have you ever seen any office of these Middle Belt groups anywhere in places they refer to as Middle Belt?
Recently, various Middle Belt groups met in Abuja and came up with a position that they were not part of the North. What do you make of statements like this when your forum and others in the North are claiming one North?
Then what are you going to say about three or four pressure groups in the South-West? They have different groups and we also have different groups in the North. But the Middle Belt is part of the North. Some of the advocates of Middle Belt went as far as claiming that places like Zuru in Kebbi State, Gwoza in Adamawa State, among others, are part of the Middle Belt. The core Middle Belt states are Plateau, Nasarawa, Benue, Kogi, and Kwara. Go and ask these people called leaders of these Middle Belt groups where is the boundary of Middle Belt? You see them referring to places in Kebbi, Adamawa and other places in the North-East and North-West as Middle Belt. So, there is the need for a clear definition of Middle Belt. But you can see the sign of Northern unity in the appointment of Paul Unongo as chairman of Northern Elders Forum.
The ultimatum given to the Igbo to vacate the north is still reverberating, despite interventions. What do you think should be done to assuage the fears occasioned by the threats and–counter-threats by the Igbo?
Nigeria is a nice country. I remember the statement made by the former Secretary General of United Nation, Boutros Ghali when a journalist asked him where he would like to settle after his tenure. To the surprise of many, he mentioned Nigeria and they asked him why Nigeria? He said Nigeria is a country that whenever there is a conflagration or crisis, people still find time to exchange banters. Meaning, despite any situation, if you go to public places like airport, you will see leaders of warring groups holding each other, rolling on one another smiling. All this nonsense you are hearing will not come to reality. Already, they have started pacifying each other. Those who gave the notice are already talking to the easterners and the easterners too have opened up discussion with the North. So, why should I bother myself about people that are just saying something for saying sake?
Don’t you see this as a threat to the unity of Nigeria?
It may be, but that is what democracy is all about.
What is your view on the politicisation of the health of President Muhammadu Buhari, especially by the All Progressives Congress?
I don’t want to talk about this. But sickness is sickness. The man is sick. There is nowhere in the constitution of Nigeria that says if you are contesting for presidency you should be examined. The health of everybody is in the hands of God and because he is sick, people should be patient. The constitution is clear on this issue. When the president is sick, he should inform the parliament. He has done that and handed over to his vice. The vice-president is doing well. APC is not the one crying, it is the opposition that wants to take over by all means. They are the ones playing politics with the health of the president. I can assure you, he will soon be back to finish his tenure.
The opposition in Plateau State alleged that your party has not been able to complete a single project in the past two years. Don’t you think APC-led government in Plateau might find it difficult to win 2019 election?
They are making mistakes. In my last interview with you, I said former Governor Jonah Jang was so clever and planned to have his name remain forever in Plateau State. He started so many projects and left them half way. If the present administration did not make efforts to complete them, they will remain a problem to the people. Governor Simon Lalong has completed some of them and others are still ongoing.
If projects are not completed, what will form the basis of his campaign in 2019?
Plateau people are intelligent and can see what the governor is doing. What would you tell me that Jang left behind as a legacy? Half done jobs?