June 17, 2024

Former governor of Sokoto State, Attahiru Bafarawa, shares his thoughts with CHUKWUDI AKASIKE on why the immediate past administration should be probed, local government funds and the political crisis in Rivers State, among other issues

Nigerians are facing tough times currently because of the country’s economic downturn. How can things turn around for the people in 2024?

The most important thing Mr President should know is that he inherited a problem, and he should not ignore it. President Bola Tinubu is not the cause of what Nigerians are currently facing now.

If you say he (President Tinubu) is not the cause, who do Nigerians blame for their country’s plight?

Former President (Muhammadu) Buhari should be blamed.

But many have called on President Tinubu to probe the immediate past administration. How will you react to this?

I think the government is continuous. If President Tinubu is going to continue with the good work that he is doing, especially the reviving of some of the projects that have been abandoned in Abuja and other areas, I don’t see any reason why the Tinubu administration should not probe Buhari.

In fact, Buhari is the first person to be probed because when Nigerians voted for him (Buhari), they voted for integrity. Buhari told Nigerians that he was the most sincere and honest person. When he (Buhari) was campaigning, he said he was the sincerest, the cleanest among others. Now, he has spent eight years, and he is out.

So, it will be a disaster and it will not help the nation if Tinubu fails to probe Buhari’s administration. If he wants to get off the blame, he should probe the past administration. If Buhari is found clean, then people will be happy with him. But if he is found wanting, he should answer for his wrongdoing.

But it will not augur well for Nigerians to allow Buhari to go just like that. If President Tinubu allows Buhari to go scot-free, he (Tinubu) should know that all that Buhari did while he was in government, Tinubu would be seen as the person who did it.

Do you think probing former President Buhari will solve some of the economic problems, or do you think some money stolen by some officials of his administration will be returned?

If Buhari investigated some persons in (Goodluck) Jonathan’s administration, what stops Tinubu from investigating Buhari’s government? I say this because Buhari investigated Jonathan’s administration and a lot of money was recovered. What some of the officials in Jonathan’s administration stole is meagre compared to what Buhari’s government has done. The Buhari administration borrowed money and then they embezzled the money they borrowed. After they borrowed money, we couldn’t see what they spent the money on.

So, what is President Tinubu going to tell us? Is it because they (Tinubu and Buhari) belong to the same political party? So, President Tinubu should try not to take the blame that doesn’t belong to him. Take a look at the fuel subsidy; it was not Tinubu that removed fuel subsidy, it was Buhari that did so. President Tinubu only read it out.

Former President Buhari removed fuel subsidy six months before he left office. What happened was that he didn’t add fuel subsidy to the budget. But Tinubu only came and announced the removal, even when it had been removed by the immediate past administration.

If anybody accuses Tinubu now, that person will not be fair to the President. So, the President should try and be independent because people will judge him after he leaves office. But for now, he cannot take the blame for all that the Buhari administration did. If he dares to do it, he is going to kill himself politically.

Nobody will blame Tinubu for probing Buhari’s administration. If Buhari is not found guilty, at least, he will continue to say that he is a clean man. Truth be told, Nigerians will never forgive Tinubu if he fails to probe the Buhari administration.

The judiciary has come under serious criticism as a result of some judgments that appear to be controversial. Do you think the third arm of government has come under pressure lately by Nigerian politicians?

You know that I am not a lawyer. So, in whatever judgment they delivered, I don’t know the pattern that the judges followed before delivering their judgment. I am not capable of saying anything about the judiciary. Whatever I talk about is based on my knowledge as a former governor, and a politician. As a former governor and a politician, I can comment on government, but I cannot comment on the judiciary.

How will you describe the conduct of the 2023 elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission?

The 2023 election is something that many people are not happy with. We have to accept whatever happened; we have to accept it in order to move the country forward. But how would somebody be an umpire and tell the people who contested an election to go to court after declaring a particular person winner?

Why are you telling people to go to court? Why don’t you do the right thing before asking people to go to court? From the day he announced that people should go to court, he became the cause of the problem.

If he didn’t create the problem, the judiciary would not be where they found themselves. So, the problem is from INEC and not from the judiciary. INEC is already giving so much work to the judiciary by telling contestants to go to court.

Why can’t he use his position as the Chairman of the commission (INEC) to do the right thing? Why is he dodging from saving the people, but telling them to go to another person to be saved? By his position, he is the judge. Why didn’t he judge very well before asking people to go to court?

Nigerians currently find it difficult to get cash in the bank. What can the Central Bank of Nigeria do to save the situation so that the people can celebrate the Yuletide without hitch?

That is why Tinubu to probe Buhari. The CBN is in this situation because the immediate past administration printed trillions of naira just like that. So, the new administration does not know the quantity and value of the naira that is in circulation. They (the Tinubu administration) have to take their time to control the cash to know what is outside and what is inside. The past administration printed naira without following due process. If we continue in that way, the economy will continue to be in shambles.

Nigeria still imports refined oil, and this is affecting the price of fuel and even the economy. While the refineries in Port Harcourt will hopefully begin operation after Christmas, what should be done to ensure that other refineries are working?
This question should go to the NNPCL and the Minister of Petroleum. I don’t much about that sector.

What do you make of the political crisis in Rivers State where a former governor and his political godson have disagreed on some issues? You know we are talking about democracy. So, for anybody to comment on Rivers State or any other state that is not his, he would be seen as an intruder. So, let them solve their problems by themselves.

Some people have said that the disagreement may affect the country if nothing is done to resolve it. What will you say about this?

I believe that people involved in the crisis will take care of everything. Again, when justice is done for everybody, then there is going to be peace. Let them try and do justice to everybody and there will be peace. When there is justice, then the problem is solved, but when there is injustice, the problem will persist. So, my appeal to the people of Rivers State is that they should ensure justice prevails.

What is your view about godfatherism in Nigerian politics?

What is happening in Rivers State is an opportunity for politicians who are godfathers to start having a rethink. When God gives you an opportunity, before you become godfather to anybody, God has made the god by His mercy, and when you are no longer there, you can allow those who are there to do their job.

Now, the people who voted for the governor say they are ready to die for him. That will give encouragement to others. As I told you earlier, all we need in life is justice. So, when there is justice in everything, there will be no cause for alarm.

In Edo State, the relationship between the governor, Godwin Obaseki, and the state Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu, is not what it used to be after Shaibu expressed his readiness to run for the governorship position in the state. How will you react to this as a former governor?

I don’t belong to Edo State. Whatever I am going to say is always for the benefit of the people so that they can learn from experience. So, I am not speaking on anything other issue about states, but I can talk about anything concerning Sokoto State.

What is your view about the continuous borrowing by the Federal Government?

You can see the amount of money being borrowed by the Buhari administration and we have not seen anything on the ground. There is nothing Tinubu can achieve without probing Buhari. He must do this for himself to be satisfied and for Nigerians to be satisfied.

When some governors leave office, their people are not happy with them maybe because of their past deeds. How were you able to manage the affairs of your state as a governor and still retain the closeness you currently enjoy with your people?

I think you should ask the people why they are happy with me even when I have left office as the governor of Sokoto State. I think the only reason is because they put their trust in me, and I prove to them that I am trustworthy. While I was the Sokoto State governor, I did a lot to the people’s satisfaction. That is why they still respect me; they still love me; I also believe the answer should still come from them.

I stay in Sokoto after leaving office as the governor about 17 years ago. This is why when God gives you the opportunity to be the Number One citizen of your state, you have to do your best. You know you will be in that state, even after you leave office; that is why you have to do your best as a leader and provide for your people.

Are you still in the PDP, or have you moved to the APC?

Though we are talking about national issues, I am a member of the PDP. I am not in the APC; I am still in the PDP. But now, the election is over; whether you are in the PDP or the APC, it is our collective responsibility to see how we can move this country forward. So, it is not a question of the political party that I belong to, it is a question of the nation and how to move it forward.

Talking about the nation, the Minister of State for Defence, Bello Matawalle, said recently that insecurity in the country will end in November 2024, though he did not disclose steps the Federal Government will take to end kidnapping and banditry. Do you think this is possible considering the high level of unemployment in the country?

Well, he is the Minister, and he has said so. So, who am I to say he is lying? Let us be patient until November 2024. For now, we cannot say that he is telling lies or saying the truth. We thank God that he made that pronouncement. I believe he cannot make such a pronouncement without getting approval from Mr President.

As a Minister, whatever he is saying, he is saying the mind of the President because he is representing Mr President. So, it is good news for us to hear it from the Minister of Defence, assuring the nation that insecurity will be over by November 2024. Let us give them a chance and watch and see whether what he is saying will happen or not, otherwise, if he fails to fulfil what he has said, the President will deal with him for not being able to achieve what he said.

Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar has expressed the need for the PDP to merge with other political parties to displace the APC in 2027. Do you think such an idea can fetch the main opposition party in the country the presidency in 2027?

The former Vice President is a presidential candidate who contested on the platform of the PDP. I believe that is his personal opinion. It is not officially coming from the party. He did not speak as the spokesman for the party. It was a suggestion and his personal view. I believe he spoke his mind and not the position of the PDP.

But based on your calculation, do you think merging with other political parties in the opposition will do the magic for the PDP to win the 2027 election?

You see, people are getting awareness every day When the PDP was in power and the APC came with their style, and they said the PDP has failed, and that they didn’t perform. Then the APC took over the reins of government.

This is the third time the APC is ruling the country. So, I believe people will still judge the APC and speak on whether the political party is performing. If the APC is performing, then we will see in 2027. If the APC is not performing, I believe it is left for the people to judge it.

So, it is just a question of being patient. From the time they took over to date, what are the changes they have brought to the country? Is there any critical thing that they can boast of that they have done that has changed the country for good? So, people are watching. So, let us exercise patience and see how it goes.

The local government areas are seriously underdeveloped, but the All Local Government of Nigeria has blamed the situation on some governors who take funds meant for the third tier of government. What is your take on this?

If the governors are taking the money from the local government councils’ coffers, it is not good for democracy and the nation. The Federal Government is giving the state governments their allocation; the local governments are getting theirs too.

So, I appeal to the state governments to allow the local governments to use the allocation given to them from the Federation Account. If a local government is crippled, a state is crippled; if a state is crippled, a nation is crippled. If local governments do not get their allocation, there will be poverty, and once there is poverty, there will be insecurity.

I urge the federal and state governments to ensure funds get to the local government chairmen directly and this will bring about holding them responsible for the money being given to them.

Why is it that the local government election is conducted in such a way that the ruling party in any state wins in all the local government areas?

In 1999, we started democracy, some people are getting educated and that is the reason why we cannot continue from where we started. I believe that gradually people will understand their rights. If the state government is ruling and they do not perform, all the chairmen will lose their seats. It is just a matter of time.

In the area of local government coffers, how did you ensure that you do not put your hand in local government funds as a governor?
Everyone has his policies. When you follow the rule of law, all my life, I have been working as a civil servant, and the past office I held was the office of the governor. I knew the business I was into and allowed the local government chairmen to do what they wanted. We sat down together, worked together, and discussed the priorities for the state, and I contributed- like making roads, building, etc.

We achieved a lot together at the state and local government levels because I gave them a free hand. I supervised the money they received because they would have to do budgets, and when we approve their budgets, they will have to follow what is in their budgets. I ensured the funds the state and local governments received were utilised for the good of the masses.

It appears your relationship with Aliu Wamako has not been smooth. How come you people have not reconciled?

If you were in Sokoto State, you would have known if we had reconciled or not. I do not have any issue with Wamako. I am sure that he does not have any issue with me. As far as I am concerned, we are now ageing, and we are elders, and I am sure that we are having the same issue, which is to see how Sokoto State progresses. The only issue we have now is to see how to move our state forward.

 

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