A close ally of President Muhammadu Buhari and leader of Buhari Support Group, Senator Abu Ibrahim, has described former Vice President Atiku Abubajar as a “spent force” who cannot win any election.
In an interview with Saturday Sun, Ibrahim, who is a serving senator from Katsina State, said he has been a close ally of Buhari for over 40 years, and that the President’s plan to seek another term in 2019 is for real. He did not also spare other potential rivals of the President. Senator Ibrahim said though Buhari’s popularity has dwindled, it will not affect his chances in 2019.
“Let me take them one by one. They are not more than one state candidate. Even Kwankwaso has more influence than Atiku. Atiku is a spent force. People do not just like Atiku. It’s just like that. They do not like him.
“Imagine what happened during the last APC primaries. Kwankwaso came second, ahead of Atiku. And this man is a former Vice President. He just keeps spending his money. He cannot win elections. People will eat the money. Political jobbers will always be there to help him eat the money.
“Atiku is not a threat to Buhari in 2019. Kano is an important state. But does Kwankwaso have absolute control over Kano State? The answer is no. As a journalist, you have better information than me. I know that the Governor of Kano State is for Buhari. That is a factor,” he said.
Speaking with FRED ITUA in Abuja, the senator spoke on other salient issues, ranging from the economy, anti-corruption war, insurgency, among others.
It appears that there is a crack in the Buhari support group, which you head. Can you confirm this sir?
First, I think there is a misconception. I have known Buhari for almost 40 years. That is since my secondary school days. I have known him since he started playing politics. So, I know him personally. I know his political platform very well. After the 2015 elections, I went to the President and told him something. I told him that he is the only most popular Nigerian to have won elections since the formation of Nigeria. Buhari won in almost every part of Nigeria. From my understanding, there are thousands of support groups that aided his election. I told him that we should not allow them to dissipate. I am giving you a brief history of a meeting I had with Buhari almost two years or over I think. So, he thought it was a good idea. We decided to determine those who are around. He agreed. We went to all the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
I first went to someone, but I will not mention his name. He gave me two people to work with. I told the two people that I needed them to go all over the states and determine these groups. They took the names of all the existing Buhari support groups. Even some in Hausa were also compiled. When we finished, I took the list to Buhari. That was how we agreed that we should set up something like a committee to always talk to these support groups. That was how we came up with the name National Committee for Buhari Support Group.
When we started collating the names, the President fell sick. But we continued. We went to almost all the geopolitical zones. We also did something to showcase Buhari’s achievements and promises he has made during the campaign which he has fulfilled. We did something on anti-corruption, insurgency and economy. This documentary was aired on television and radio stations. The essence of reactivating this group was because we felt we could use them to showcase the achievements of the government. It was this report that we went to submit to President Buhari recently. He appreciated it. We did not create anything new. We are helping the APC and not in contradiction with the party.
Does it mean there is no crack like it’s being rumoured?
There is nothing at all. The group condemning us is affiliated to the party. But we are not.
But Buhari is a member of APC…
What about Kwankwaso? Is he not a member of APC? He is planning to be a President. What about Atiku? Is he not also running for the same office? Let me finish please. We are looking out for Buhari’s groups that ensured he won. We want to appreciate them. We want to utilise them and use them for government campaigns if need be. We have not discussed the issue of 2019 yet.
But the issue of 2019 is what comes to mind easily. Are you claiming that these groups are not reactivated ahead of 2019?
They are not. I have told you that these groups did not just start today. They worked for us in 2015 and we are only appreciating them now.
When you visited the president, your group spoke about 2019…
Were you there? Who spoke to the media? I was the one who spoke with the President and I presented the report to him. The leaders of these groups are those that should be given board appointments because they worked. You cannot just throw them away. When you do that, you will be destroying the party, APC. Up till today, we cannot say that we have any contradiction with anybody.
There are still doubts that the groups were merely activated so that the President can appreciate them. If the need arises, are you saying these groups will not be used in 2019?
I want you to correct your assertion. At the beginning of the administration, we thought it will be wise to appreciate the people who worked for us. There are over 198 groups. About 23 had national spread, while the rest were local. There is a misconception that this was done because of 2019. That assertion is wrong. As I have said, we ought to have done this earlier, but the President took ill and was down for about six months. That slowed it down, but we did not stop.
You said you ran documentaries and placed advertorials? How did you fund it since President Buhari did not release money?
It is insulting to claim that I went out to collect money. I am a fourth time Senator and I am too big to go around and be asking for money. It was only one governor who assisted us and that is, Bello Masari of Katsina State. When he saw what we were doing, he assisted us. That is the only person I know who gave us donation. If there is any governor who gave us money, let him speak up. People are going round to collect money and they think we are like them. How can one retired ambassador tell me who has won elections four times that he is a better politician than me? That is a bloody lie. These people are political jobbers. They are the ones going round and collecting money. They think we are doing the same thing and going into their market. We are not.
Since you have been around the President for over 40 years, is the reactivation of these groups part of moves to urge the President to run for office again in 2019?
If I see Buhari doing well, why won’t I tell him to contest again? If I have my way, I will tell him to contest again. Anybody in power will always want to contest. Even if Buhari is not going to re-contest, he should be interested in who takes over from him. We can make the platform to assist whoever will take over from him.
From the body language of the President, it appears that he wants to run. He is rejigging his cabinet to accommodate more people...
Are you suggesting that Buhari should just hand over and go without having a hand on who succeeds him? A politician will not do that. Even if he does not contest, he will get a successor.
We are aware of people like Atiku, Kwankwaso, Lamido and others. Do you think these people will pose any threat to Buhari’s re-election?
Let me take them one by one. They are not more than one state’s candidates. Even Kwankwaso has more influence than Atiku. Atiku is a spent force. People do not just like Atiku. It’s just like that. They do not like him. Imagine what happened during the last APC primaries. Kwankwaso came second, ahead of Atiku. And this man is a former Vice President. He just keeps spending his money. He cannot win elections. People will eat the money. Political jobbers will always be there to help him eat the money. Atiku is not a threat to Buhari in 2019. Kano is an important state. But does Kwankwaso have absolute control over Kano State? The answer is no. As a journalist, you have better information than me. I know that the Governor of Kano State is for Buhari. That is a factor.
Buhari ran on three planks in 2015, namely, anti-corruption, insurgency and economy. Maybe he has done well in the area of insurgency. But the economy is still in a bad shape, while the anti-corruption war is shaking. Are you worried?
I am not worried. Thank God you said the insurgency war is going well. Corruption is the most heinous sickness that can eat any society. We cannot stop that in two years. When you fight it, it fights back. Who created Maina? I was in the committee that probed Maina in the 7th Senate. We know how difficult it was for us to bring him to appear before our committee. It was David Mark who spoke to Jonathan and told him to choose between Abdulrasheed Maina and the Senate. It was then that he released him. The next day, Maina was out of the country. He disappeared. Some officials in this government bungled the return of Maina. We are not saying that there is no corruption in this government or in Nigeria. There is corruption. It has not been wiped out. Do not expect that to happen in two years. It was so deep. It will take years. Apart from the psychological aspect, we have to retrain civil servants. We have to accept our responsibilities.
The EFCC is doing its own bid to sanitize the civil service. Its something that will take more than two years. Within the period we have taken over, I think we have done well. We have BVN and TSA. All the revenues cannot be tampered with anymore. People used to steal these monies. But it is no longer so now. Stealing has been made difficult. We have the whistle blower policy. Outside the country, they are pursuing monies stolen. Because these thieves can no longer take their monies abroad, they are going into properties. That is why rents are costly in Abuja. Abuja houses are vacant. I think government needs to verify who owns these empty houses in Abuja.
You have not addressed the scandals rocking this administration…
Those scandals are expected in a nation desperately fighting to stop corruption. This is what is happening. I have not seen the Maina report, but I agree with you that it is a huge embarrassment. I think the President did well by terminating the appointment of Maina.
What about the economy?
In 2015, the barrel of crude oil was selling for over $100. By April and May when we took over, it was less than $40 per barrel. That reduced our earnings by 60 percent. The President ensured that states could pay salaries by giving them bailout funds. Today, we are out of recession. The budget has improved. We now have more funds voted for capital projects. These are the things you consider. All the monies we made when prices of oil was high, we did not save. We misused all the resources we should have invested. When Buhari came, he tried to give the solid minerals over N40 billion. Look at the difference now. The money we got then and now is not the same. Despite all these, our foreign reserve is increasing. Sovereign Wealth Fund is going up too. We should be fair.
Do you think if Buhari runs for election today he will win?
Look at the time Buhari was sick; the first time he landed in Kaduna, see how people were jubilating. When he returned the last time, it was the same thing. As a Senator, I go out a lot. The name of Buhari still rings a bell in Nigeria. People still love him. He is the most popular leader in Nigeria. With small amendment and small work, Buhari will still be popular. There are problems. But with improvements in certain areas, he will defeat Atiku and the rest of them. I can even challenge Atiku. If I have the resources, I can challenge and defeat Atiku if I contest against him in 2019.
What about the relationship between Buhari and the National Assembly? Do you think the President has handled it well?
The issue of anti-corruption was a problem at the beginning. You remember that the Senate President was taken to court. You know that it can strain relationships. But we are all becoming wiser. Buhari was a military President before he ran and won. To adjust needs a period of learning. When he was head of state, there was no parliament. He was head of government and even the judiciary. There were no checks and balances. But it’s different today. He needs to be checked by the judiciary and the legislature. These are some of the adjustments he needed to make. I can imagine.
Olusegun Obasanjo faced the same period of adjustment. It was when he wanted to go for a third term that he became a politician. Buhari is a man who follows the law. Bukola Saraki was a new Senate President too. The euphoria of winning against the position of the party, may have contributed to what happened too. When he started realising the checks and balances, he started changing. He started seeing himself as a Senator first before being a Senate President. We elected him as Senate President. Nigerians did not elect him. He adjusted. Both sides are learning. You can see the difference. You remember when National Assembly principal officers went for that dinner? Buhari apologised when they were turned back. We are all learning. The Senate is peaceful now and everybody is okay.
The Sun News
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