Recently, the Chairman of Northern Elders’ Forum(NEF), Professor Ango Abdullahi, has been fraternising with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Ohanaeze Ndigbo and Afenifere in what analysts regard as an alliance of strange bedfellows.
In this interview with IBRAHEEM MUSA, the former vicechancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, told Blueprint Weekend what they have been discussing at the meeting and why NEF will not support President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019.
You’re the new chairman of Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF).
What happened to the former chairman, Alhaji Sani Zangon Daura? Alhaji Sani Zangon Daura was never elected chairman.
What happened is that when Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule died, we resolved that we will support his deputy, Wanteregh Paul Unongo, to take over the leadership of the Forum.
Unfortunately, a few things cropped up and after consultations and discussions, Unongo stepped down.
That made us to look for a new convener or leader.
And we tried to replace him with another elder, retired General Paul Tarfa.
This is to demonstrate our commitment that we are northerners and anyone can lead our group.
But for reasons that have to do with family considerations, he declined.
So, we gave ourselves a little time to find someone to replace him.
So, we appointed Alhaji Sani Zangon Daura, the Danmasanin Daura, to serve as acting convener.
And he was on this acting position when the elders decided that a permanent convener or chairman should be appointed.
And by their decision, I have replaced Zangon Daura as the convener now.
Is it true that Sani Zangon Daura was removed because he was too pro-government as NEF chairman as a result of his relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari? No, no, no that’s not true! That’s not true! We didn’t at anytime, insinuate that Sani Zangon Daura was surreptitiously pro-government.
He is from Daura and one will expect that he maintains friendship, comradeship and so on with the president.
But we saw him like all of us, as a committed member of the Northern Elders’ Forum.
And the thing that drives the forum is principles.
We agreed on certain minimum principles that will guide the activities of Northern Elders Forum.
say that much as credit is due to this government over the last three years or so, by and large, it has failed to meet the expectations of northern Nigerian interest.
Because it was northern interest that drove us to come out in strong support for a change of government in 2015.
So, when that communiqué was issued, one of those who were not pleased with it was Sani Zangon Daura.
He came out openly to say that the communiqué wasn’t fair to President Buhari and the government because in any case, even if that was the case, there is no need going about saying so.
This seems to have given the impression that all along, he has been supporting the government or president, irrespective of whether or not performance was the factor or just sentiment was the driver.
Eventually, people who decided that I should be the convener, a decision which was taken before the communiqué was issued, said that they have been vindicated by their decision to change the leadership of NEF.
Of course, I sympathise with the sentiment of brotherhood, comradeship, Dan garinmu, Dan state dinmu.
But at the same time we can’t run-away from the hard facts of life.
It seems that Forum under your leadership is entering into an alliance of strange bedfellows.
Recently, you were at Abeokuta to meet with former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
What did you discuss? Well, for those who have forgotten, l first met Obasanjo when he was Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters in 1975.
We remained fairly close friends, up till the time he retired as Head of State, when he completed the Murtala/Obasanjo administration.
Even afterwards, we were relating fairly well.
We were the intellectuals that formed his famous African Leadership Forum.
After that, so many things had happened.
He remained very close to the late Shehu Yar’Adua, his Chief of Staff, up till the time we started politics.
I became very close to Yar’Adua and in fact, we formed the first political association during the botched Third Republic, the Peoples Front of Nigeria (PFN).
And I was its first national chairman and Titi Ajanaku was national secretary.
All this while, Obasanjo was very close to Shehu, monitoring his political activities and so on, until the point that both of them were accused of plotting to overthrow the Abacha regime and I think the story is known about what eventually
What happened that appeared that Zangon Daura was pro-government was sheer coincidence.
A meeting was convened and several pan northern groups attended in Kaduna, including NEF.
Eighteen groups met to review the state of the nation.
And after an extensive review at Arewa House, a communiqué was issued.
And that communiqué came out to transpired.
Shehu eventually died in the course of that struggle and Obasanjo went to prison.
He was in prison when his former junior colleagues in the military decided to release him and he should run for office as civilian president.
There again, I was involved.
On the day that he declared for president, a lot of his juniors in the military were there, but I was the one who was asked to sit close to him and his wife when he made the declaration at Ottah.
So, this story is necessary to make you understand that Obasanjo is not a stranger to me, we have been close.
We have never been tight friends but we have known each other for a long time.
And when he became a civilian President, he said he wanted me to be his Special Adviser and not a minister because we are friends.
He said that we will be talking as friends.
I said fair enough and I worked with him and after a little while, I didn’t like the way things were going, and I eventually left his government.
We disagreed further over his alleged third term bid because it violated the constitution.
We fought him to a standstill and he gave up.
So, there is nothing strange about my relationship with Obasanjo’s views rather than Obasanjo.
His views are the issue and not Obasanjo, likewise the views of Afenifere and Ohanaeze.
Recently, I had a head-on collision with Ohanaeze over the quit notice that our youth gave Igbo to leave the North.
But now there is a basis on which I can talk to them.
It’s a matter of principles.
This is why we are talking to each other now in terms of what is wrong with what is going on in the Nigerian state today.
And we have a lot of common ground that many things are not right and we have every reason to ask why they are not right.
And how they need to be corrected and perhaps even if it means that the government should give way to another government in 2019.
Specifically, was that what you discussed with Obasanjo, especially on how to change the government democratically? Obasanjo has already written on this subject on why Buhari shouldn’t recontest.
Babangida has also written why Buhari should not contest.
And substantially you agree with them? Yes, I do!
Tell us more about this handshake across the Niger that the Forum is currently doing, under your chairmanship…
(Cuts in) No, no, no.
The hand shake across the Niger arose from what happened in Benue state.
People thought that the way to keep dividing the north politically, was to rush to show sympathy that will translate into political friendship between the south and the middle belt.
But they lost out there, in the sense that if they were really sympathetic about killings, killings have been going on for months in various parts of the north.
In fact, killings were even more horrendous in Taraba state just next door.
Seven hundred and forty people were slaughtered in Mambilla Plateau.
This was not news! You journalists didn’t make it news! But when some people of other ethnic groups and not Fulani died, it became news.
Another such incident was in Adamawa state.
When the Fulani were ransacked, their children and daughters were killed in Numan, it was not news.
But when there were reprisals, a day or two later, the following day, the vice president was in Adamawa to sympathize with the victims.
But he didn’t have the courtesy to proceed to the Fulani camps, where 52 Fulani were killed two days earlier.
They were rushing to go to Benue but they never came to Kaduna.
I attended a funeral of 95 Fulani here in Kajuru.
In virtually all these cases, Fulani were acting in self defence but they were seen as the aggressors.
So, this is the unfairness that will not augur well for peace.
So, this hand shake was an opportunity to look at the divisive nature of northern society, mainly along ethnic and to some extent, now religious lines.
I told them that the attempt to divide the north has been going on since the days of our fathers.
There was an effort for an Ilorin-West merger.
There was a UMBC-AG alliance and so on.
But these didn’t divide the north to the extent that they were hoping for.
This will never
If I understand your narration, the meeting between Forum, Afenifere and Ohaneze was about…
(Cuts in) The state of the nation! The fact that the headline read, “Killings in the North” didn’t capture what was really discussed.
It was much more than killings.
You can take general insecurity in the country.
In fact, there are more killings in terms of numbers in Zamfara, Sokoto and Kaduna states than have been in Benue and Plateau states.
Yes, killing is a very serious matter, even if it involves one life, let alone several hundreds of lives are being lost.
And this is a reflection of failure in terms of security apparatus of state.
You cannot have these recurring killings, virtually on a daily basis, and still claim that you have a security umbrella in the country.
It looks like the umbrella is scattered and the rain is falling everywhere.
Did you discuss about change in government by democratic means? When you are dealing with…Of course an indication of failure, whether it’s in the security sector or the economy; it’s obvious that what one expects from political leadership is good governance.
Good governance translates into security and well-being of the people.
The security, like we just discussed, isn’t there.
Even at the family level it’s not there, in the sense that poverty itself is insecurity.
In fact, it’s a more serious form of insecurity than the kind you deal with on the road through armed robbery! There is serious insecurity where the head of the family can’t provide for his family.
And this is what now pushes these young boys, who can’t be catered for in their homes, to engage in one form of delinquency or the other.
And these are the things that you see every day in the form of telephone snatching, knives being used by gangs and so on.
They are all part of it.
So, if you look at it from the perspective of the economy, the Nigerian economy, to my mind, I am not an economist, is in shambles.
As a pedestrian, I know that you cannot destroy your currency and expect your economy to do well.
Only a year or two ago, we were complaining that Nigeria’s currency exchanged N160 to a dollar.
In 1986, l bought $1.40 cents with N1.
With N1.20, I bought 1 pounds sterling.
How could you allow this to happen to your economy within this period of time? Before you see major changes in the value of currency in Europe and United States, it takes ages.
And this country imports virtually everything.
So we have to find this volume of naira in order to get dollars to buy all we need from outside.
But the government has stopped the importation of frivolous items No! If it has, I am buying frivolous items every day; things that we can produce here or we can do without.
Despite the gloomy picture that you have painted of the economy, as a farmer, farmers still smile to the bank because government has stopped the importation of certain food items like rice.
No, no, no! That’s also not true.
Only recently, farmers complained that government was importing maize when they have thousands of tonnes that they have not sold.
That’s irresponsible behavior and I don’t know who advised government to implement the policy.
Until the farmers reacted, they issued a statement saying any more importation of maize will cost government their votes.
Against all that you have said about this government, will the Forum support President Buhari in 2019? No! For now, from all indicators available to us, he does not deserve the support of the Northern Elders’ Forum.
All the indicators that we were hoping for, especially in terms of equity and justice, whether economic, social and political, have not translated by way of what the north has done to support his election.
But southerners are saying that key appointments have been given to northerners in the Buhari administration and here you are virtually accusing the government of marginalising the North.
This is also untrue! It’s because perhaps some people are guilty; that’s why they cannot reply.
There is a constitutional frame of how appointments are made, even where the president scores zero, to all areas of Nigeria.
Let me give you an example; the North-west zone, where I come from, gave Buhari 7.5 million votes in the 2015 elections.
The South-east zone, and this is not a hate speech, gave Buhari a total of 182,000 votes.
Five states gave him half the votes that we gave Buhari in Giwa local government.
Yet, the Southeast has more senior ministers in the cabinet today.
Most of the ministers from the North-west are junior ministers.
And if you look further at the appointments of heads of agencies and parastatal like Central Bank, Ministry of Petroleum Resources and so on are headed by nonNortherners.
So, where are the appointments that are favoring the North that people are talking about? I talked about this initially, I said that Buhari was very lucky, but unfortunately, he has not been able to put together a credible and competent team to help him run the government.
And, of course, I was called names.
As God would save me, Buhari’s wife saved me because she said exactly what I said, that people who are hovering around the corridors of power, some of them didn’t even have voting cards, let alone being members of parties.
But they are the ones running the affairs of government and reaping where perhaps they didn’t sow.
The Government is on a reconciliation mode.
The new chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC) has been meeting with aggrieved party men.
Some government officials are also reaching out to people who have been alienated by the government.
If they come to you, will NEF support Buhari in 2019?