Why Obasanjo remains the best President ever – Yerima

Alhaji Sani Yerima, former governor of Zamfara state, was also a Senator and one of the vocal chieftains of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview, he speaks on why he wants to govern Nigeria, his reaction to zoning and why former President Olusegun Obasanjo remains the best President the country has ever had, and sundry issues. BODE OLAGOKE, reports.

We have less than two years for 2023 general elections. Are you still nursing presidential ambition?
Yes, I want to confirm to you that by the Special grace of God, if I’m alive, I Senator Ahmed Sani, intend to vie for presidential office.

Don’t you think, national interest should supersede personal interest considering the of zoning?

Well, I don’t see any body language either as a law or as a that guides in politics and in politicking. As far as I am concerned, democracy is guided by constitution; by rule of law. It is not personal interest of people, selfish interest of individuals or the projections by other people statements that will guide our democracy. If you look at all other parts of the world, from America that is the leader of democracy of the world, citizens are guided by the document called constitution to aspire for any office. As far as I am concerned, the Nigerian Constitution and that of APC as of today, unless there is any amendment in the future has declared that every Nigerian who is qualified  based on the qualification that is enshrined in the constitution should aspire for any office in the land; Governor, State Assembly, National Assembly. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, my constitution both party and national, has not barred me from contesting for presidency. So no statement of any group can stop me. But, you see, if tomorrow my party comes up and say we have zoned Presidency to the South, I Yerima will follow it. I will then know that it is a decision, legally and lawful that is binding on all members of the party. But so long as the constitution is still saying citizens of Nigeria and APC Constitution is saying citizens of Nigeria, I am a citizen of Nigeria I am going to contest.

You said if APC decides to zone it outside the North, you will abide by the decision of the party, what then happens to your ambition? 

You see, I am a very religious person as a Muslim, I know that power comes from God first and if God destined that I’m going to be the President that will not happen. I have never left my party. I started with APP (All Peoples Party) we merged and become ANPP (All Nigerian Peoples Party) and later merged and become APC (All Progressives Congress). So I am a member of APC and I am not in any way thinking of moving from my party to another party. So once there is zoning, I know that my time is off but am sure that God Himself will decide not people.

Would you for the of peace and unity of this country advise your party to adopt zoning?
You see, we are Nigerians and I believe citizenship is very important. I pray that one day we will become like America, UK, France where citizenship overrides all other considerations; ethnic, religious, tribal. All these things are because we don’t take that citizenship as we are supposed to take it. Voters are supposed to determine not me, not you, not any regional governor. Voters will determine who they want to elect. Every aspirant should come out with something that he is going to offer to the people, sell himself. This is what I have for education, housing,  infrastructural provision and so on, human development and then they will compare and see between Mr. A and B who is supposed to be our President. It’s not regional. Let me ask you one question: let’s say now we zone to Rivers state, even within Rivers, you will  see people saying it’s Ijaw, that is this and that. Is it politics? Constitution is very clear, people are politically illiterate because they don’t read the constitution, even if they read, because of personal and selfish interests, they want to acquire power by allocation. It is not done in politics. People should be allowed to go and contest, present themselves, offer what they want to offer to the nation and Nigerians will decide and see who is going to be our best President. So it’s not by allocation, zoning or no zoning that is not an issue. As far as I am concerned, it is democracy and democracy has some principles and practices that have to followed. Nobody will sit in Lagos and say, these governors were elected. Were they elected based on zoning from their states? No! Go to Benue state, tell them that it is now the turn of Idomas will you forcce the Tivs to vote for that Idoma? But if they have an Idoma candidate that is very good, credible, I am sure the Tivs will not say he is an Idoma. That’s what we should aspire as Nigerians to make sure that citizenship is more important to us than any other. 

What is your advice to President Buhari on how to solve the problem of banditry and kidnapping?

First of all, I will say he (President Buhari) is doing, he ought to have done. He has started with the change in the leadership of the military and the arrangements they’re making. You see, initially the President was very soft, some governors will come and tell him we should negotiate, we are negotiating, some people are saying no, let’s use action but I think now he has resolved by his statement that anybody seen with AK47 should be shot. 
Now with this change in the administration of the military you will go and find out in Zamfara, they have  started action just last week and I am sure very soon they will root out all these bandits that are in the bush and the forest and it is going to be history. I knew that this will happen. So I am sure the action he is taking now. One; government has procured a lot of equipment for the military, they have organised the military hierarchy and I think they are now given a lot of support by government both at the national and the state levels. So I am sure they (federal government) are doing well. 
What I will do as a follow-up to your question is that; one, I believe in restructuring of the Police. That is going to take care of all the local problems. I will prefer a situation whereby those people in the state should be made to concentrate in their localities, they know everybody there and they know the new comers, they know their forests, they know their terrain and if you have State Police, all these things will be managed and well handled.

Let’s talk economy. What is your take on the free fall of the naira as it is now? 

On naira issue, see we have fiscal and monetary policies that are very faulty and the influence of production. You see a situation whereby even toothpick is being imported by businessmen not to talk of rice and others. So we should have a robust and fiscal monetary policies and development strategies that will encourage development of agriculture so that we can produce all we need locally and once your production level increases, the demand for foreign import will not be there. That is only when you have naira getting its true value. The value is now being determined by import and export which is not good for the economy. So I’m sure by the time we have industrial policy that is very good, agricultural policy and we can produce what we need even the clothes we wear, some people will go for local suits because we have very good fabrics that are compared to international ones that we import, you will not have high level import. We have to export, and before we were exporting cotton to China, America, now we are importing cotton. We were exporting soya beans but now we are importing soya mills to feed our chickens. This kind of thing has to change.

What’s your stand on electronic voting? 
I support electronic voting. I think that when we were queueing to register (accreditation) without the card reader what was happening? People will just sit down and write names and say we have so so number of people. By the mere introduction of card reader the whole thing has changed. You can see that you have your fingerprint and look at what is happening now, registration of voters online. The world is changing, Nigeria has to follow. We need to use technology as much as possible. As far as I am concerned one day we are going to go for electronic voting.

Recently, the governor of Kaduna state was quoted as saying that kidnapping is business. Also, an Islamic cleric Sheik Gumi made the same assertion. What is your take on this

Of course, we have major problems associated with that, poverty and ignorance, illiteracy. The level of poverty in Nigeria today both North and South is so high that people are looking for any other means of making money and so kidnapping and banditry came and then people started joining. There is no good Christian or no good Muslim who is religiously educated and carry gun to kill another person. We are worshipping God through prayers as Muslims and to go to heaven. Christians have been going to Church also to go to heaven. But because of poverty and ignorance of our own religions, people will take gun and kill another person or even somebody will connive and sell his brother. This kind of thing is because of poverty but with robust economic programmes and policies of government, with current allocation of N2.3 trillion in this year’s budget for palliatives, I am sure things will change.

It is widely acclaimed that the APC-led adminstration is plunging the country into a serious debt. Just this week, the Senate approved about $2.4 trillion loan request from government. Are you not worried over this development?

Well, I want to tell you that every country will continue to face challenges over time. We used to have a situation whereby, the President of Nigeria then, Head of State made a statement that: ‘our problem is not money but how to spend it’. But afterwards, Nigeria started having problem to the extent that we even went into very serious debt. Obasanjo came and tried as much as possible to exit Nigeria from debt. He almost achieved that. In fact, that’s why two days ago, I was saying, he is one of the best President. People will not know until history of Nigeria is written. Obasanjo did very well. He almost exited Nigeria from total debts but Yar’Adua came and when he died, Jonathan was there for six years and went back to debt. Why? Not because of Jonathan but because the economy started having problems. The structural changes that we faced, the challenges that the President faced of Boko Haram required a lot of resources. There were so many problems in the Niger Delta until that discussion between the Niger Delta youths and government took place and then government came up with things that resolved that. So this current administration like I said earlier, started with a very bad economic parameters. When the crude oil was $140 to dropped down to $30, what do you expect them to do? They have to go into debt. Covid-19 is also another problem. Like I told you the production system is having very serious problem, not only issue of insecurity. Even UK is going to debt, Europe is printing more currency. So, it is an economic problem that is being faced by Nigeria and the ability of a leader to come up with robust policies and programmes to solve this problem is what is going to make him a good leader. 
I want to assure you that, having seen the history of Nigeria as an Economist, I read Economics at degree and masters levels, I have studied the economic policies and programmes of the past administrations. I have seen what is happening today so we are now preparing to see what economic policy that will take into consideration the challenges that this administration is facing and what new things we can bring to make sure that the economy is getting back to its normal situation, whereby debt relief is not been sought. We will not even go for new debt but it depends on the parameters of the economy. It is not me that will determine what will happen tomorrow, only God knows that. There could be more difficult situations but to face the challenge of difficult situation is what will make you a leader. If Buhari did not come with anti-corruption programmes and corruption was given free hand like it used to happen before, we will not be talking now. We would have been like Rwanda or any other country that is facing crisis all over the world. This banditry is because of poverty. If there is increasing poverty and nothing is done, people will go all out looking for whatever they have to do to make sure that they feed their families. So I’m sure that the government is on track and I we will also follow suit to make sure that we come out with robust policies and programmes that will make sure that we are out of this debt.

You talked about State Police and there are those who argue that having State Police is like scratching the issue on the surface. Will you rather advocate for a complete devolution of powers in the country?

On the devolution powers like I told you is already happening. I am sure that there is an agreement reached between the National Assembly, it ought to do with constitution amendment. The constitution has not been amended, the judiciary (state) has been given financial autonomy, State Assembly Members have been given financial autonomy and I hope very soon they will give local government also financial autonomy. Once that is done, the yearnings of the people that are saying that there should be restructuring will be met. Resource control, if you look at the history of Nigeria, during the first republic, our major export earners were cash crops; cotton, groundnut, cocoa and so on. These were the things we were exporting and these were the revenue that developed the oil sector and we didn’t know may be in future also, oil will disappear. The effort of government to also explore oil in the North will reduce this pressure from the south saying that the North is not contributing because they have forgotten that the North has contributed earlier before we get the oil. It was the federal government that financed the exploration of oil through the export of cash crops. 

Not too long ago the governor of Zamfara state defected from PDP to APC. There are some members of APC in your state that are still opposed to that defection on whose side are you.

For your first question, I am on the side of justice. Those people who are saying that the governor should not defect, should not be received as I said may be they are not conversant with our constitution. One lady asked me two days ago how do we stop defection? We can’t. It is part of our political history and development and even in America today people defect because they see where they believe that their people are. 
Every Nigerian knows the history of Zamfara. In 1998 when we started APP, PDP AD and so on, APP won election when I became governor. In 2003, ANPP won election and in 2007 ANPP won election again and the Governor defected to PDP and in 2011 we recovered our State. When APC came, Yari became Governor two times. So Zamfara is an traditionally an APC-controlled state. 
Therefore, the governor was part of that history. He was in APP in 1998, he contested for local government election. APP won seven local government areas including the state capital and we lost seven, including his own and I made him Commissioner for Local Government and he was supervising the candidate that defeated him and he went to House of Representatives after been commissioner and when the governor then, my former deputy defected to PDP, he followed him and won his election into the House of Representatives. Now he decided to come back home. If you see the picture we have this morning, only two people; Yari and Kabiru Marafa, they will come soon. We are going to be a family as we used to be before. So I’m on the side of justice. The justice is that the governor has come, we have received him and there will be no problem.

Secondly, the governor himself said the main reason he left for APC is to see whether insecurity will end because if he remains in PDP, he may not get the support of the federal government. How do you feel about this?

For the issue of security or insecurity, even myself could not go to the governor and offer constructive advice because as an APC member if I openly go and start talking to him some people will say may be I am trying to cause more problems for him but now we are in the same party. I used to go to his office and give him advice on how to tackle the issue of insecurity but now I can go all out and take him to the President, we will discuss because our party now has the responsibility to make sure that not only we win elections but we satisfied the yearnings and aspirations of our people.

After the defection of Governor Matawalle, he said he is the new leader of APC in Zamfara state and before then there was leadership crisis in the party.  Who do you recognise as leader?

Do you have the knowledge of APC constitution? The APC constitution is very clear, President is leader of APC in Nigeria and every governor is the leader of APC in his state. So there is no crisis as far as that one is concerned. Nobody will allocate leadership. I was governor in 1999, I left office my deputy took over he became leader of the party and after him, Yari came and now Matawalle is there, he is the leader of the party as per APC constitution. The crisis that happened in 2019 election will not happen again because at that time there was no proper primary election and that is the crisis we found ourselves. In Zamfara, this is the first time that we have such crisis. We had election in 1999, there was no problem, we had election in 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 because once you are just and fair to all, you make sure that you allow free and fair election, there will be no problem.

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