Alhaji Bashir Othman Tofa was the candidate of the National Republican Convention (NRC) in the June 12, 1993, presidential election which result was annulled. In this exclusive interview, the elder statesman bared his mind on many topical issues in Nigeria: from insecurity to permutations for the 2023 presidential election, especially zoning and joint ticket for candidates from the same religion to how President Muhammadu Buhari has fared in delivering on his promises. He also spoke on the victimisation of the Fulani, especially in the Southern part of the country, and the response of the federal government to Asari Dokubo’s declaration of a Biafran government, among others. Excerpts:
Insecurity issues seem to have increased exponentially with Boko Haram still ravaging the North East and the activities of bandits and kidnappers in the North West becoming more pronounced, aside the activities of several other criminal elements in other regions. What should be done to address this?
We are certainly in very difficult and uncertain times in our country. Some years back, if you were to hint something slightly similar to these will happen, the SSS will not find it funny.
But there is a reason for everything. One of our shortcomings as a people, even as a government, is that we seldom dig deep enough to find the reason(s) people do what they do. And, without knowing the real reasons, the correct line of action will be missing.
We just call people terrorists or drug addicts or thieves and so on without bothering to find out why they are doing those things. It is doubtful if we yet know exactly why Boko Haram or even the bandits are terrorising us, and who are exactly behind them and for what purpose? We need to go back to the drawing board and find out. Only with that certain knowledge can we decide on the best course of action to deal with their situation and bring peace to the land.
Going back to your question, I would say, one: school children are the softest targets and are most effective in drawing sympathy for them. There is also the demand for urgent action as a result of pressure mounted by their parents and the general public. And, since most parents are poor and the schools are under the government education authorities, it follows that the government will have to bear the responsibility for the payment of the ransom demanded.
Again, since there is so much corruption in almost everything in Nigeria, one cannot rule out the attraction to some officials that the payment of ransom presents an opportunity for them to get their cut, hence the speed of payment is assured. It is just like when a bank was robbed of N10m and some senior staff reported that it was N30m that was robbed.
Now the closure of almost 450 schools is a victory for Boko Haram’s “No to Western Education”; even though they may not be directly responsible for the kidnappings. The danger in this situation where both the bandits and the Boko Haram claim some success may draw them closer. They will begin to feel the need to work together. If this is allowed to happen, we are done.
The call for restructuring has recently gained momentum. What is your view and how do you think we can solve the issues around it?
I am the Chairman of Friends of Democracy; a small group of Northern patriots who try to see and weigh all matters with our national interest utmost in our mind. Our submission on restructuring is well publicised and advertised, and is now with the National Assembly. Those interested should look for it. I have no other view which is now different.
I will only add that many ideas that I read are written with some sinister objectives, not the national interest.
What two major things do you think should be amended in the 1999 constitution for better governance?
The cost of governance and the three lists.
The fight against corruption, insecurity and revamping the economy are the cardinal objectives of this administration. How will you score President Buhari on these?
I will repeat what I have been saying for a long time. The president lacks the team he needs to do those things he promised he would. And, without good helpers, he has to continue to bear the blame.
My impression is if he signs on something he believes is good for the country, he just trusts that it will be implemented in accordance with his instructions. There, probably, is no effective system of checking or follow up; or he is always told things are going according to plan and he accepts that as the truth.
Personally, I now pray for him, seeking the Almighty Allah to help him with good health and a clear mind to see and act on the truth. His time is running out. By this time next year, he is a lame duck.
Permutations have begun in earnest for the 2023 presidential election. What is your take on Nigeria’s future come 2023?
Let us first make sure our country survives; not just intact, but with the relative peace we need to enable the elections to take place successfully in 2023. The country is too polarized now with a lot of stupid ideas and unnecessary bigotry.
Secondly, I have never supported zoning of anything. Not only is it utterly undemocratic, but it will never allow us to be Nigerians and to elect “a Nigerian president”. For how long shall we continue to see ourselves as Northerners and Southerners? I do not know. It is even doubtful if Southerners, for example, will meet and agree to leave it to one of the three zones. They should try that to demonstrate that the South is one. Their candidate will then have a run with how many candidates the North presents in one or more political parties.
I truly think zoning is detrimental to the unity of this country. It is a sign of backwardness to continue propagating a divisive presidency, rather than the one that will serve all Nigerians equally and justly. The PDP started this foolish idea. They have damaged the political climate of this country while thinking it was for the best. Now it has become what may destroy this country if care is not taken. May Allah forbid!
Towards 2023, some are already mooting the idea of a Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian ticket similar to what SDP did in 1993. This they said will help address the divisions across board. Do you think this kind of ticket can still garner popular vote in Nigeria?
The country is now too polarised for the Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian ticket to be dared by any party. I hope one day we will see religion and ethnicity out of our body politics.
The Kano Concerned Citizens Initiative (KCCI), which you lead, is seen as a political precursor of things to come. It was thought you would make a move in 2019, but it was said in some quarters that you were not ready. Is it 2023 now, seeing that the old guard who are older than you are on their way out?
KCCI was formed to ensure that the interest of all the people of Kano and those who reside in it is protected, by whatever peaceful, intelligent and constructive means. We are not a political body, but we care who will govern us. KCCI has nothing to do with my political ambition; if any. If I have any, I have never mentioned it to anyone; and if I will have it someday, it certainly will be beyond Kano. But, for now, I do not have even that. I leave everything with Allah, for He only knows what is best for me. So, I have no worries in that area at all in that regard.
Whatever I do politically, I do with utmost sincerity; with only the best interest of Nigeria and all its peoples in mind. I even struggle to understand what inordinate ambition and bigotry are all about, and they help anyone or any society.
Kano in the past year has lost some of its eminent sons and daughters with some saying they are irreplaceable, what do we need to do to replace some of them?
There is nothing that cannot be replaced. We still have true elders and we revere those that are older than us. That is a key part of our culture.
We are well aware that times are changing and different cultures have settled here and may continue to do so. But we are trying very hard to learn from their best, avoiding their bad; as we try to teach them our best as well.