By IBRAHEEM MUSA
You have always criticized General Muhammadu Buhari whether as a presidential candidate or president. Two years down the road, you are still opposed to him. Why?
In the name of Allah, the most Beneficent the Most merciful. I have never been against his candidature per se. I have known the General and I have worked for his candidature in the 2003 and 2007 because I felt he was the most suitable leader that will put the nation back on track, after what I saw of the deviation that befell the nation. I was among the 40 scholars that wrote him a letter, that he should come out and contest because of his pedigree and uprightness. So, I supported him. But this last election was different. I foresaw that if we want a united, stable and peaceful nation, that same person that we recommended in 2003 and 2007, may not be the best person for the job.
Who did you prefer for the presidency in 2015?
I wasn’t proposing a particular person. In PDP, they were able to produce a third generation politician, he was not part of the first republic, or Shagari’s second republic. So, I was envisaging a situation whereby the other party should produce another third generation politician; a young, active, energetic and an acceptable candidate on both sides of the divide, so that Nigerian will move forward. But if we insist on bringing somebody who will revenge the past, who will attack, who will be confrontational, Nigeria does not need that kind of person at that time. So, things will not work because his presidency will divide the nation. Take for example the war against corruption. What is defined as corruption, almost 50% of Nigerians were benefitting from it. So, when you make it the centerpiece of your campaign, definitely, the nation will be divided. So, any politician that inherits a divided nation will surfer. You can cure maladies in society without necessarily being confrontational, without dividing the polity. This is the kind of leadership that I envisaged that can hold Nigeria. So, whenever a candidate comes with a political propaganda which will divide the nation, such politics is not good. That was why when I said that there should be an alternative to Buhari, I said it publicly that even if my own father will by chance have that ambition of wanting to become president of Nigeria, I would have opposed him. Because the moment he declares, he will polarize the nation. We need peace and unity more than anything in the country. And you know, nobody likes anybody like his father.
This modern economy is a coward; it depends on absolute peace to grow. The strength of a nation’s economy is quantified by political stability. When Britain exited the European Union, its currency was in turmoil. So, political stability determines the strength of a country’s economy. So, why should you bring a political configuration that is going to steer the murky waters of politics? I am not surprised that we are in this economic situation. So, for the good of the nation, Buhari should have been a defender like a football game; a conscience of the nation who will protect the system. He should have put the young ones in front as strikers. That was my vision.
But between 2003 and 2007 when you supported Buhari, nothing had changed fundamentally about him or the country that will warrant you to withdraw your support for his aspiration in 2015.
Things had changed. Actually, I had a theory in my head and I foresaw its actualization. In Egypt, there was a revolution, Mohammed Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood came to power with a majority. It was a free and fair election that ushered in a popular president. For so many years, the military had been ruling and they had a hold on the economy, the media and almost everything. Morsi was ready to put all his efforts towards governing Egypt; he wanted to work for Egypt, die for Egypt and he had a popular support. But within one year, because he was a polarizing figure, 45% of Egyptians opposed him. And this 45% were in strategic positions so they thwarted his government. He was toppled and now he has become the criminal. So, what I realized was that the only politics that survives is the one that does not polarize a nation. Also, a slogan that will not polarize a nation is not good for the polity. So, the slogan of fighting corruption shouldn’t have even arisen. But any candidate that preaches unity, progress and forgiveness, such person can rule Nigeria well. But if you come with a drastic and radical idea, you will only stir the waters and polarize the people and in the end, you will achieve little or nothing. That is why this government is being sabotaged; there is sabotage even within the government itself. Pipelines were vandalized; even the troops that were sent to protect them are not doing it whole heartedly. They are doing it just to make money. That was what I feared for Buhari. Otherwise, he is our brother.
What is the truth of the allegation that you were campaigning for a particular northern candidate?
No, no, no I was not campaigning for any person. I wanted a president that had little or no political baggage. A president that will not stir animosity. So, I was not only opposed to General Buhari but I was also opposed to President Goodluck Jonathan. In case of Jonathan, I spoke with also all PDP big wigs of northern origin against fielding him. I don’t want to mention them. I told them one-on-one that if they fielded Jonathan, they will break their party. I also wrote an open letter to him, telling him that the North will reject him if he decides to run for the presidency in 2015 because of the security situation in the north. Later, I came to realize that he didn’t have a hand in the bombings that were occurring the north but it was just that the security outfits were tilted towards a section of the country. The killings in the north all in the name of Boko Haram had soiled Jonathan’s image in the eyes of Northerners. So, I told him that Northerners will reject him in a free and fair election. All the Northern PDP big wigs that I spoke to, agreed with what I said but they said that they couldn’t face the president with such a suggestion. So, I told them that collectively they can face him even if they cannot do so individually. So, you can see, it was not only against the candidature of Buhari alone that I spoke about; I also spoke against that of Jonathan. The contest between Jonathan and Buhari, like I said that time, will divide Nigeria and the result of the election showed that.
But this division based on election results have been there since 2003, 2007 and 2011.
No, in 2003 it was smaller. The leader then was Olusegun Obasanjo from the South West. In 2007, the contest was between Yar’adua and Buhari and both of them were Muslims and I said that whoever wins, there will be less problem. In 2011, when Jonathan contested against the principle of his party’s rotation of the presidency there was violence. In 2015, Jonathan again insisted that he will contest and he is from the South South where the mainstay of the economy is. So, his insistence on contesting and the fact that his region produces oil, coupled with the fact that the north will reject him, suggested that we will have a very delicate situation on our hands. We in the north, we need to keep the nation one for obvious reasons.
We are land locked; few nations that are land locked prosper. We also need oil. All developing and developed nations need oil. India that is developing has increased its oil consumption, likewise China and the United States which are developed countries. Wherever there is development, oil consumption directly increases. So, if we truly want to develop, not just engaging in mere slogans, our oil consumption has to increase. And there is nowhere that you can get cheaper oil than the one on your shores. So, the Niger Delta should be our strategic political partners. Just like United States President, Mr Donald Trump, after all the anti Islamic rhetoric during campaign, his first port of call when he assumed office was Saudi Arabia where they gave him the sword of Wahabbism and he was dancing!(Laughter). He did all that because of strategic political interest. So, our strategic and political interest is in South South. Any political configuration that will make them our enemies or opponents is not good. And that was what I saw. This is why we are suffering.
But as an Islamic cleric, are you in any way condoning corruption by criticizing the way and manner that this administration is waging its war against corruption?
Yes, there is possibly going to be this misconception. But before they misconceive me as condoning corruption, then they should also misconceive me as fighting against Islam.
When Boko Haram said that it wants to Islamise Nigeria, I said that is not possible and I opposed them. It’s not the purity of your intention that matters but how practicable is it? How are you going to implement it? Fighting corruption is good in theory but how are you going to achieve it? In trying to achieve it, the war has to be subtle and pragmatic. But if you want to face it head on like a bull fight, it will destroy you.
When Buhari was Head of State in 1984, he had a misunderstanding with your late father. People are alleging that you are opposing Buhari now because of the beef he had with the late Sheikh Abubakar Mahmoud Gumi. How correct is this allegation?
No, no, no! As I said in an earlier interview, even when my father was alive, despite the misunderstanding, he was helping the government because he was in Saudi Arabia with General Tunde Idiagbon, who was Buhari’s Second-in-Command on an official visit. So, there was not much of misunderstanding between my father and the government, he merely disagreed with their style of governance and not the government. So, even my father was not anti Buhari; but he was anti radicalism in governance. So, me too, being a disciple of that school of thought, the style of government does not appeal to me up till now.
In fighting corruption for example, you have to obey the law. In Islamic law, fornication by a married person is punishable with stoning to death. But the condition that must be met before establishing the offence is that four witnesses must have seen the act at the same time. If there are just three witnesses that saw it, the condition has not been fulfilled. Definitely, the act had happened in reality but in the court of law, there is no evidence so the culprits go free. This is to show that no matter how big a crime is, government does not look at the magnitude of the crime but the enormity of the law. The law is more powerful than any offence. So, government which is the custodian of the law, should be seen to be upholding the law. So, even if someone steals all the money and there is no evidence to prosecute him, you should let him free and show the people that you respect the law. And everybody will obey the law. People now see where government willfully override the law in areas where it has interest.
So, what I am advocating is to fight corruption through the rule of law no matter how long it takes, educate the people and sensitise them about the evils of corruption, improve the civil service and a time will come when people will see the money and they cannot steal it. So, lets not make the war against corruption a propaganda and political issue. Let government’s mobilization be ‘’Lets live in Peace and Unity.’’ Once there is peace, there will be progress. This is the kind of leader that I am looking for, the one that will say ‘’Come together, lets forgive each other and the past. We can still live and build a nation irrespective of our ethno-religious identities”. This is the kind of message that I want to hear from people who want to lead this country.