Senator Mahmud Kanti Bello represented Katsina North from 2003 to 2011. He lost his bid to return to the parliament in the April 2011 elections. In this interview, he speaks on why President Jonathan might contest the 2015 election. He also touches on the need for a tougher president of northern extraction to bring the desired development to the northern part of the country; and presents a refreshing perspective to the call for the review of derivation formula.
What are the issues that will likely come up?
I can recall when we were doing the last caucus meeting before the last presidential primary election, the order of primaries and general elections were put into the Electoral Act. We had the meeting at the PDP headquarters.
There President Jonathan was trying to garner support. The president, governors, some lawmakers, party chieftains and I were there. I supported IBB because I felt he was a better candidate, but when he lost, I was duty bound as a party-man to support Jonathan.
But then, before supporting him, I wanted to take something to my people who were agitating for a northern president.
That is the fact because, after the death of Umaru (Yar-Adua), our people felt that the presidency should remain in the north to compensate for the death of Umaru. I was one of those who believed in that arrangement too. But we have a constitution in the party which has been jettisoned by the president because his coming in altered the constitution. He has redefined zoning. So, once he picked the ticket, I had no alternative than to support him, within my limits because I knew my people were not in support.
On Jonathan and Promise not Contest 2015 election.
So, in order to take something to our people, I asked the president, “can we have his words that in 2015, he will not run?” To be fair to Jonathan, he did not answer the question. But I can remember some people went ahead and issued a communique that President Jonathan was going to do only one term.
But the president did not say so.
They issued the communique as if they had discussed with him deceiving our people. Now, there is a strong indication coming out that Jonathan wants to contest in 2015. If you can read the type of dance that the he is doing, then, you will know he is interested in 2015. Again, he has never said he is not interested.
There is support from the South-south for him to continue in 2015. If that should happen, I think that is where Bamanga Tukur will have problem. I consider Tukur as my senior brother and he should consider Jonathan as his son. I have nothing against Jonathan but I know my people and what they want. They are not likely to accept that. Tukur should be very careful so that people in the North will see him as a true nationalist and not somebody who has been put in place to enhance the chance of another. If that happens, people will say he was not there because he deserved it, but he was planted there to do a job.
It might appear a bit early to insinuate but what is the northern position regarding 2015?
This is politics, no matter what anybody says, last time it was northerners in PDP that allowed Jonathan to pick the ticket because some of us believed he was a better party-man than (former Vice President) Atiku for the simple fact that Atiku at one time left the party. When Atiku returned to the party, I can remember his own local government in Adamawa said they were not accepting him and the same thing happened at the state level.
It was Jonathan who insisted at the national level as the party leader that the party must accept him back and should be given way to contest. You don’t give waiver to somebody who will defeat you in a contest. If he was sure that Atiku will defeat him, he would not have given him waiver as an African man.
When Atiku returned, most of the senators and governors contested without him. So, technically he was not a member of the party, he was a member of the party in 2003-2007. He lost at that time when he joined Action Congress. Till date, there are some members who went to AC with him who did not return because they are principled. But he (Atiku) is chasing presidency not principle. So, if tomorrow they say he should go to APGA to get the presidency, he will go.
Because whatever that made him to go to AC, he should not have returned to the PDP. He came back thinking there was an opportunity. He is an opportunist. To me, at that point, I think it was better to support Jonathan, and I did. I have no apology to anyone because I believe he was better than Atiku. But if IBB had been there, he would have been a better candidate than Jonathan. So, I do my things on principle.
But was it not the decision of northern elders to pick Atiku over IBB; why lamenting now?
One of the mistakes the elders in the north made was to have nominated Atiku ahead of IBB. With that action, they threw away the presidency from the north. I believe they now know that nomination was faulty. They must have done it deliberately or for whatever reason nominating for the north somebody who could not win. They came back later to create problem for everybody including me; saying they were going to support Buhari. They did not even come in the open to say it; they were doing it underground using religious, sectional and other kinds of sentiments. I lost my election because of that. If they had insisted from day one that this is where we were going, that the north would have voted for Buhari, it would have been a different matter but they did not do it. Some of the northern governors were even told to let Buhari win in their states while also retaining their seats. Buhari cleared Katsina.
In Kano, they were politically wise, they voted for the PDP and when it came to the presidency, they voted Buhari. Jonathan could not get 25 per cent of the votes in Kano. So, the campaign was not done with sincerity.
If they were sincere with Buhari, they would have insisted he get the right running mate. When Abiola decided to take Babagana Kingibe, he did not do it because he loved Kingibe. He did it because the northern governors would support Kingibe.
If Buhari had been reasonable enough and had sat down with Bola Tinubu, it would have been a different thing, but they allowed Jonathan to discuss with Tinubu and you could see the voting pattern in the South-West. Ribadu was put in the AC deliberately to fill a space. If you look at it critically, you will see that there were a lot of mistakes and insincerity. But I can assure you of one thing, we are not going to wait till 2015 to start manoeuvrings. We should try to create a proper scenario, if we are sure and convinced about the interest of our people.
We will get into a party and make sure that it is acceptable. We will come out straight and clear about our position and get the right coalition either from the South-West or South-East or where-ever, because politics is all about interest.
On which platform are you going to achieve this?
If you study the PDP carefully, you will see that Jonathan could not have taken that ticket in 2010 because the delegates from the northern states were more than delegates from the south. The problem was that the North did not field the right candidate to win.
They fielded a candidate that Jonathan approved because it was Jonathan who cleared Atiku. You can see clearly, even if naively, he was given a candidate to beat. Did we not have people in the National Assembly and governors who could defend our people? We should start to do things that will fast-track development in Nigeria. Enough is enough, this country should develop. Unfortunately, no country develops where you have Boko Haram, Almajiris there, we need somebody who will look at these problems and proffer permanent solutions; somebody who will look at the whole country as his own constituency and solve our unemployment, education, security, power problems. We have spent billions of naira over the last ten years, they keep telling us stories on power.
There was a time the then minister, Governor Liyel Imoke, said, by 2007, we will get 10,000 megawatts. Obasanjo also did his bit and yet we are not generating up to 3,000 megawatts and nobody is going to jail. I believe it is possible to generate over 10,000 megawatts and distribute it with the amount of money we have spent.
It means somebody is not sincere or not serious. The buck stops on the table of Mr. President. It is unfortunate, if Yar’Adua had been alive we both talked about power problem and we would have solved it. With all the money spent, we cannot boast of 3,000 megawatts. We are having what I called dynamic inactivity. We are just dancing in one place, billions have been spent, our leaders are taking us for a ride. We need a president who can change that. This is the president we hope for from the North. We will do our best to get it if possible within PDP, and I repeat if possible within the party, so be it. But I have my doubts.
Who are others in this struggle with you? Does this idea have the support of the majority of the northern elders?
I don’t have to be mentioning names. You can see very clearly that the North has been having series of meetings. Some are being done quietly; there are some that were done in the open. I’m very impressed with the meeting convened by Dr. Junaid Mahmud. I did not go, but I agree with the meeting; although there are some holes in his own committees.
When you start having committees and courting the governors, then it is not good. Come to think of it, who are the brains behind some of these problems? Forget about the revenue allocation to states and others; the little we are getting, what are we doing with it? Why are we not generating more revenue, why are we not doing anything? We just fold our arms, we are not improving on agriculture, our education is in shambles; and who are responsible? – the governors. The local governments were created for more development, but they corner their resources.
They have killed the local governments. Is it the fault of the South? Dr. Mahmud invited them to the meeting and going further to make them members of committees. I’ve seen vibrant people in his committees, at the same time there people who should not be there. There are certain things you should do seriously. It is time we should look for people who can solve the problem of Nigeria, not only the North. It is not a northern problem, it is that of Nigeria. If you have people who have no job and people who are doing Boko Haram, it is Nigeria’s problem. If Kano that is the commercial centre is rumbling, millions of people will be affected and that is Nigeria’s problem. It will affect Bayelsa and other states. So, we need somebody who will have that focus and not just about the North alone.
It means you don’t agree with the call for the review of the derivation formula in favour of the North.
We are just being funny. Why is it that the North is not thinking of how best to improve on the one they have? There are over 70 industries in Kano, with over 270 small and medium scale industries there, how many of them are working today? It is only in Kaduna that some known ones are still working. All the textiles are not working. A country of over 140million people cannot clothe its people. No country develops that way. In Kano, we are not producing anything, even bread, the Chinese companies are taking over, running our bakeries, and there are governors. Fertiliser issues have been politicised, our productivity is going down while population is going up.
We have refused to modernise just because we have useless leaders. Petrol someday will dry off and you are complaining you need more money from it. Even the ones given to local governments, you are stealing it. You’ll now tell me that you need more money from derivation. What nonsense! Even if they give them the entire money, these people are not going to do anything. We just need a change. It is not a question of revenue, once we have honest people and right people in right places, everything will sort itself out.
Boko Haram issue has become so problematic. If you were the President, what will you do to stem the tide?
Boko Haram is no threat to the corporate existence of Nigeria as being speculated. It is no doubt a problem. In which way would it divide Nigeria? It is a blackmail against the North. How did it start? It started in Borno and the police went out of their way to kill their leader. There are speculations that it started with politicians. Now, it has escalated to so many areas in the North.
Why will somebody go to kill another person? The government ought to know the reason for these killings. What do they want? I can remember when I was in the Senate when this problem started, I told my colleagues, ‘we should please try and find out what they want’. The whole issue about Boko Haram is as a result of leadership failure.
All I know is that they have been offended, their leader was extra-judicially killed. I was made to understand that they compensated the family. But the truth is that there is leadership failure. If you have a job, will you think of Boko Haram? This is what I call economic problem because the people haven’t got jobs to do. Patriotic Nigerians still have faith in one Nigeria. This country has been made indivisible under God. We fought a civil war before. When the war was over, everybody was saying ‘One Nigeria’.