Chairman of the Northern Elders Council, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, tells LEKE BAIYEWU why the North voted against President Goodluck Jonathan in the March 28 presidential election
What is your reaction to the claim that the Peoples Democratic Party lost the last general elections due to some actions and inactions of the leadership of the party?
When I was an active member of the All Peoples Party, the procedure then was for the party to investigate the causes of the failure to be able to establish who is at fault and who is not. Until a party does that, it will remain a mere speculation to say some people did not do what they were supposed to do. If you will look at the number of the people professed to be leaders, they are so many. And if the party fails, it is the collective responsibility of everybody. You cannot single out some individuals to say they are responsible unless you can establish that with concrete evidence.
Your support for President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election gave the impression that you have joined the PDP. Is this true?
I am not in the PDP. I have been supporting the Federal Government and the President’s second term bid but I made it clear all the time that I was not doing so as a member of the PDP. I left my former party, the APP, in 2001 and I wrote the secretary of the party then in March of the same year. In April 2002, I formally announced my withdrawal from partisan politics; that I will no longer be a partisan politician but I will continue to express my opinion on emerging national issues and will continue to relate with Nigerians regardless of their political inclination.
Is it true that the Northern Elders Council you are leading was set up to tackle the Northern Elders Forum over Jonathan’s re-election bid?
The Northern Elders Council is an organisation made up of northerners who believe in a new Nigeria. We were opposed to the stand of the Northern Elders Forum because they were fighting for only the North; they were not fighting for Nigeria. We felt that the way they were dealing with the issue of Jonathan was so sectional that if they were left unchecked, they would harm the unity of this great nation. We do not oppose somebody because we hate him. The fact that they are opposing somebody just because he comes from a particular area or a particular religion is what we do not like.
We have our history. I was a member of the Northern Elements Progressive Union in the First Republic; even before then, during the colonial era I was active. In the Second Republic, I was a member of the National Party of Nigeria, whose motto was ‘One nation one destiny.’ My political history is related to the cause of national unity, and I believe that the unity and the future depend on the people of the country working together in harmony. We are interrelated; we are to complement one another.
While the NEF was opposed to Jonathan’s re-election, the NEC supported him.
Was the support also about national unity?
Jonathan was not contesting as a southerner; he was contesting as a Nigerian. They (NEF) were opposed to him because they were northerners and they did not want him to contest. They did not say why they did not want him to contest except that they were northerners and they would not vote for him. In their interviews, they stated clearly that the North would not vote for Jonathan and clearly the North did not vote for Jonathan. It was clear that it was a premeditated action, it was not natural. It was a collaboration between various actors, including some officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission, some traditional rulers, some religious leaders and some politicians that incited the people.
While openly the election was not fought based on religion, the voting was guided by and was largely on the basis on religion. People were asked not to vote for people who were non-Muslims. If you go to a mosque and you have an imam asking his congregation not to vote for somebody except somebody of the same religion, then he (the imam) is asking people to vote based on religious sentiment, which should not be the basis of elections. The basis for an election should be on the programmes of the party of the individual contesting; what they promise to do for the people in the country, not about religion. In a country that has roughly 50 per cent Muslims and 50 per cent Christians, it will not augur well for people to vote for a candidate based on his religion. It is not in the interest of the country.
What efforts did NEC make to counter the mobilisation efforts of the opposition in the North?
It is for you to find out. Certainly we supported him (Jonathan) on the national programmes not because he was a Christian.
Now that General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), your brother from the North, has won the presidential election, what will your relationship with him look like?
I do not know him very closely; hence, it will be very difficult for me to judge him as much as possible. I will wait for his actions to enable me assess what he is doing and to be able to have valid judgement.
Do you have any faith in him as the next president of the country?
It depends on his activity. I will wait for his activities. All I know is that he was a military man who overthrew a government duly elected by the people of Nigeria. Now he says he is a born democrat; let us see him in action.
Beyond Buhari, do you see his party, the All Progressives Congress, bringing about the change it promised the electorate?
I do not want to predict anything but I can tell you that the majority of the people who make up the elected public officials of the APC were by this time last year in the PDP. They were not created anew. I want to see what they are going to do that will be different from what they have been doing before. I know they left the party as a result of quarrels, not as a result of any ideological difference between them and others who remained in the PDP.
What efforts are the northern leaders making to come together again after the electioneering seemed to have polarised them?
We are not making any efforts.
Does it mean the NEC will remain in opposition to the NEF even after the elections?
We are not a political party. The political parties will do what they think is right for them to do but we are not a political party.
Will the interest groups in the North also remain divided?
Interest groups are interest groups; they will remain what they are, election or no election.
Would you agree that the North is no more unified as it used to be?
There has never been a unified North. In the North, people are free to pursue whichever opinion they believe in. This was what happened in the First Republic when there were no fewer than 10 political parties. The majority of northerners contested elections on these various platforms and won. So was the Second Republic; there was the NPN, the Great Nigeria Peoples Party, the Peoples Republican Party and the Nigeria’s Peoples Party. Each of them won elections in the North. Therefore, the North has never been one political entity or a political party group. We belong to different political persuasions. And so we will continue to be.