As Nigeria marks its 62nd Independence anniversary, former Head of State and Chairman of the National Peace Committee for 2023 general election, General Abdusalami Abubakarplayed host to a team of journalists, including ADELOWO OLADIPO, where he spoke on issues affecting the country.
Your Excellency, we have come to felicitate you on the occasion of Nigeria’s 62nd independence anniversary and to seek your view as Chairman of the National Peace Committee on the forthcoming general election in the country.
Well, thank you very much for coming and let me congratulate all of us Nigerians on the 62nd anniversary of our independence. I would say Nigeria has come a long way since the attainment of our independence 62 years ago when we [look at] where our democracy is at today. Nation building is a continuous process and I am happy to say that since 1999, the politicians and, indeed, Nigerians have been strengthening democracy in our country. Of course, there are pitfalls as we went along, we made mistakes and, gradually, our politicians are correcting these mistakes and also the electorate are learning by the day. The younger generations are also getting involved in nation-building in that they are showing interests and they are coming into politics in all fields. We could see even a young man of about 30, 35, and 40 years old trying to get himself involved as a presidential candidate of a political party. Yes, I think we have come a long way in our nation-building. However, one of the setbacks we are having is that some electorate are still selling their votes and politicians are also encouraging the selling and buying of votes. I think this is a negative part of what we are experiencing in our efforts. Indeed as Nigerians, all of us have to ensure that we put our hands on the deck so that this phenomenon can be brought to an end.
Looking back, Your Excellency, what do you think we should have done correctly from independence that could have helped us to avoid the current challenges we are facing?
Well that is a very difficult question or, if put differently, what should have been done? Well, I would rather say that what we should be doing more on the political front. If you look at Nigeria today, or what we have about 50 years ago, you would see that there are many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are coming up and all for the sake of Nigeria. And each one of these NGOs is working for the betterment of the country. I say, again, the younger generation like you [journalists and other professional bodies] should be more interested in politics, especially [by engendering] politics of substance unlike in the past where politicians were chasing shadows in practice. That is what I have to say.
Sir, there is no doubting the fact that we are still recycling the challenges facing us in this country. Looking at politics, for instance, we talk about young people participating, but the youth who have been coming out to participate are being shut out of the conversation. What is the way out of this?
Well, thank you very much. Indeed I think we should be doing better than what we are doing today. We have come to realize that politics, especially in the developing countries and indeed the world over, is becoming a matter of resources. But, unfortunately, the younger generations have not got as much resources as the older generations that would have made them to be in politics, because this is one of the challenges the younger generations are facing. But, hopefully, with the advent of social media and technology, I think a lot can be done in all that we do to disabuse the minds of the people who are entrenching and depending on their pockets in order to play poor politics. I think the politics of [current time] should be of ideas. So, gradually it is a big challenge, but like you people say, the struggle continues and I hope, one day, we will overcome this phenomenon.
Sir, when you were handing over power to a democratically elected government in 1999, you also handed over the constitution. But many people are of the opinion that the constitution you handed over is more of military and that it does not put into perspective many of the issues that are bedeviling the country today. Though there had been many attempts to amend that constitution, up till today nothing satisfactory has come out of it. What do you advise should be done?
Well, no matter who writes the constitution, it is how it is being practised that matters. There is no constitution that is 100 per cent correct. And it is unfortunate that people who participated to draw the 1999 constitution are not being appreciated for what they did. If you look at the 1979 Constitution and 1999 Constitution, there isn’t too much difference. When we were trying to draw the 1999 constitution the juries led by the late Justice Nicky Toby went round the country to sample the opinions on the way forward for the constitution and, thankfully, we were able to give a constitution that has been in operation for the past 22 years. And happily, the National Assembly and indeed Nigerians have found the need to fine-tune some of the parts of the constitution and it is still going on at the National Assembly. So, no matter the constitution you write, it is the way you implement it. Happily, since 1999, though there have been quite some challenges, it is the 1999 constitution that is in operation up till today and that is what our National Assembly are working on to clear some of the grey areas that they find in the constitution.
Nigeria will mark 62 years of independence in a few days. What are your desires for Nigerians even in the midst of these challenges?
Well, first and foremost, I wish us peace and peace and peace again, because without peace, there wouldn’t be a country. Without peace, all of us would not be here talking today. So, I want to wish us well over the celebration of the 62nd independence anniversary of Nigeria and I appeal to all Nigerians to put hands on deck to ensure that we have a peaceful country and as we go into 2023 election campaigns, that there shouldn’t be campaign of calumny; there shouldn’t be abusive words and as much as possible, there should be campaign of tolerance. Each politician is trying to sell his manifesto or that of his party, so we cannot all belong to one party. Of course, even if we do, we have our differences and we have our sets of ideas. So, it is important that we should get together and try to ensure that we have a country. So, I want to wish us well and I hope the electorate will all bear in mind that it is their franchise and toensure that they vote people of caliber and of their choice. But nobody should go and sell his vote. Unfortunately, I was listening to one radio programme this morning, where somebody was saying that he is ready to sell his vote because he is poor and it is like there is no money in the country. Fortunately, somebody countered him and said, ‘look, you said you are going to sell your votes, how long is the money you are going to get last you? How long would it take you to spend the money? Don’t sell your franchise!’ So, I am happy that people are realizing and also are fighting and educating people not to sell their votes
Your Excellency, against the backdrop of the discontents in certain quarters in parts of the country who claim they are marginalized by the government, following some actions or inaction of the government in power over the deteriorating security situations and the call for the restructuring of the country to correct what they called the anomalies in the system as a way forward, what is your take on the matter?
Well, I don’t know what they are restructuring. Even in your house, there is always the idea of people crying for marginalisation. It is a matter of how you managed the system and so on and so forth. As I said about the constitution, there is no constitution that is perfect. Of course, when you look at things that you perceived as unfair treatment, there are always ways to make amends. There are the states houses of assembly; there is a National Assembly and these are people whom you have elected [to make laws] for us and to make some corrections in some of the grey areas. Let them work for us with passion, but not for us to pursue selfish ideas. Let us think about Nigeria, but not of my state or not of my village and so on. If we really have the right calibre of people who are thinking about the people, let us call their attention to one problem or the other and let us sit down realistically and let us look into it and let us make sure that there is equity, justice and fairness. I think that is what we need in the country.
There is a saying, sir, that agitation and peaceful resolution is part of national development. For almost eight months now, members of Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) have been on strike over their welfare package and revitalization of the nation’s public universities, while teachers in public primary and secondary schools in Niger State have had cause to complain about the percentage payment of their salaries by the state government, including the ongoing protests by pensioners in Niger State over non-payment of the gratuities. What is the way out of these problems, as well as others that are brewing in the different sectors of the economy?
Well, like I said, in every society, you can find some problems here and there and the only way out is to sit down. And I said, again, look at the problem and try as much as possible to find out how you will resolve it. Of course, at any point in time, you find people protesting one way or the other; it is left with the authorities to look at it and try to see how it can be resolved. It is, however, unfortunate that our children have been at home because of the problems between ASUU and government. I thought that by now, the points made by both sides, the government can look into them. And I think that before now, it should have been sorted out. Hopefully, we are learning and all these issues will become a matter of history. I think about 10 years ago, in the whole of West Africa, we had problems. We had moved round the countries in the sub- Region and we found out that there were problems in the education sector and I don’t know if any one of you will know that during that period, most of our educational systems went down. They were grounded because they had misunderstanding. Some countries have been able to find a solution and I am also very sure that Nigeria will find a solution to all this crisis.
Some people are of the opinion that traditional institution should have a role to play in the [affairs of the country]. Sir, do you subscribe to this idea?
Well, unfortunately, in the 1999 constitution, the roles of traditional institution were removed from the constitution. On hindsight, we feel they can do quite a lot to make sure that they work or cooperate with the government. However, I think if the society feels or our members of the National Assembly feels that they can bring them on board to work with the system, so be it.
I have every hope the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and indeed with the support of every patriotic Nigerians can curb insurgency before the 2023 elections. Sir what is your advice on how to achieve this?
Well, security is everybody’s business. Unfortunately, among the citizenry, there are people who are aiding and abetting the criminals in the polity. Unfortunately, these are monsters, unpatriotic Nigerians who have become informants to the people perpetrating the insecurity in this country. I pray and I hope that these people will retrace their steps and desist from the unwholesome practice. Now, when we are talking of insecurity, we know that our security outfits are overstretched. So we need to recruit more security personnel, equip them and, as much as possible, try to give them information that will help them to overcome the challenges we are having in the country. So, my advice is that people, as much as possible, should try to assist the security agencies with information that will assist our security personnel in securing our country. So, with this I want to wish Nigerians well as we celebrate the 62nd independence anniversary and I pray that have a peaceful environment that will culminate in peaceful elections. I will also say that when we have elections, the contestants, once they feel that the election is free and fair, will see the reason to concede defeat. I found out that in developing countries, contestants are afraid of defeat; they will always start to complain that they won the election, but that they have been rigged out. So, I hope that very soon, we will come to realize that there is always going to be a winner and loser. And when you become a winner, everybody becomes your own; you should do justice and fairness to all and sundry. I wish us well. I wish us peace and may God continue to bless Nigeria, protect us and help us in the nation.