The emergence of the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, as the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), has rekindled the hope of many Nigerians on the clamour for restructuring. In this interview, Col. Tony Nyam (rtd), a South south delegate to the 2014 National Conference, tells ONWUKA NZESHI that Atiku would leave an enduring legacy if he actualises his vision on restructuring
What is your assessment of the state of our nation?
We are in a mess. However, we are still hopeful that things would get better.
What does the emergence of the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar as the presidential candidate of the PDP means to you?
I think the emergence of Atiku Abubakar portends good for Nigeria. I must command the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for conducting a good primary election. It was a classical outing for the party, because to a large extent, the primary was free, fair and transparent. But having chosen a candidate (Atiku) who has been clear about his support for restructuring, the party owes Nigerians a duty to see that the vision is realised when they reclaim power.
Without action, Atiku has endeared himself to those of us who are agitating for restructuring. This is largely responsible for the support he had gathered so far across the various regions.
How would you react to Atiku’s reconciliation with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, his former boss?
I want to commend former President Olusegun Obasanjo for forgiving Atiku for whatever wrong he may have done to him, when the two worked together.
What should the current administration do about this agitation for restructuring?
I think that President Muhammadu Buhari should join the campaign for the restructuring of Nigeria. He should join the leaders of the various socio-cultural organisations, civil society organisations and pressure groups, that have been championing the agitation for several years now. Restructuring is inevitable and I am using this opportunity of Atiku’s emergence to ask Buhari to join the crusade. As a non- partisan politician, I want to appeal to Buhari to see the need to join the agitation for restructuring.
Is it still necessary for Buhari to embrace restructuring? Is it not too late?
It can never be late. In fact, if I were one of his advisers, I would have made him see the essence. He can even kick start the process right away. He can do a turn around and kick start the process in the remaining part of his tenure.
If he could listen to the cries of Nigerians on the need to secure the release of Leah Sharibu and he put a call across to the girl’s mother, he should be able to respond positively to the cries for restructuring. We are all praying that the little girl should be released from Boko Haram’s captivity. As a non- partisan politician, I want to appeal to Buhari, to see the need to join the agitation for restructuring.
You earlier commended the primaries which produced Atiku. What can you say of the controversies trailing that of the APC?
First of all, I must commend the First Lady, Aisha Buhari for her consistency in speaking truth to power. But having said so, I quite appreciate the difficulties and controversies surrounding the APC primaries.
The fact remains that President Buhari, has kept his distance and did not weigh in even when it had to do with his (brother) in-law in Adamawa State or his relation, who was being pushed in Katsina State. In Lagos where there were so much controversies on the governorship ticket, he has also refused to intervene in the manner some persons expected. He simply stayed away from the controversies and allowed the processes to play out the way they did.
What about the speculation that Buhari allowed the Godfather to do what he wanted in Lagos because any intervention that offends the Godfather could spell doom for him in 2019?
If you followed the developments during the primaries in Lagos, you would have noticed that President Buhari tried all his best to be a neutral manager of the affairs, but when he was left with no choice in the sense that things got to a stage, where there could have been chaos in the party in Lagos, I think it was right that he allowed things to go the way they went. He has also used the Ambode case for others in the process of deepening our politics. But I will commend him more if he would consider the inevitable which is restructuring Nigeria.
What do you have to say about the direct primaries in which President Buhari scored 14.8 million votes to become the flagbearer of the APC In next year’s election?
Well, I have no much details about the processes and procedures they followed to arrive at those figures. All I can say is that the primaries that I found very troublesome were those held in Lagos and Imo. As to Buhari’s nomination, it was clear that he was their candidate before all the formalities, so I didn’t pay attention again to the whole process.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has barred the APC from fielding candidates for the governorship and legislative elections in Zamfara. Some Nigerians are of the view that INEC may be playing to the gallery. What is your take on this?
The Chairman of INEC, Prof Mahmoud Yakubu and I were in the Presidential Advisory Committee during the Jonathan era. Later, he became one of the senior officials at the 2014 National Conference. Yakubu is a gentleman, but he should not allow anybody to use him to do anything that could damage his reputation. All eyes are on INEC and he can’t afford to bend the rules in favour of any party.
Are you confident that Atiku will restructure Nigeria if he gets to power?
I want to believe that Atiku would have learnt his lessons all these years. In fact this is also why I said that President Muhammadu Buhari, should also learn the same lesson, that the only legacy any Nigerian leader, can leave at this time of our history, is to build a new Nigeria, which is based on provisions that allow Nigerians to endorse whatever fundamental changes they want to make through a referendum.
Atiku has a lot going for him. If it is money, God has blessed him with wealth and he has garnered a lot of experience to make him know what is right.
Based on what I gathered from his acceptance speech at the party’s convention in Port Harcourt, he now wants to give back to a country that has given him so much in his business and Political careers. He wants to do what is good for the Nigerian state and the Nigerian people. I want to remind him that nothing would last if what is done is not for the future generations of Nigerians.
Today, two leaders are remembered many years after they passed on because their legacies are still alive. They are only two visionary leaders we’ve had in Nigeria’s history. They are Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Alhaji Ahmadu Bello. You can see that the structures that they built in their regions many years ago are still there. So Atiku should learn that it’s only legacies that outlives a man.
One important legacy waiting for him and indeed any leader today is to be the one to restructure Nigeria in a way that there is equity, fairness and justice.
Some Nigerians claim they don’t understand restructuring because it means different things in different places and to different people. What is your definition of a restructured Nigeria?
To those who are giving excuses that they don’t understand what restructuring means, I challenge them to go and look at the structure that allowed the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello to build the then Northern Region to what it was before the military intervened in our politics in 1966. We are also talking about a system that allowed Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Michael Okpara to build the Western and Eastern Regions respectively.
Are you saying restructuring is simply returning to regionalism?
It is not just regionalism, but a return to the fundamental principles of federalism, which were enshrined in the Independence Constitution of 1960 and the Republican Constitution of 1963.
Do you mean fiscal federalism?
You see, we may use all these terminologies, but the fundamental thing is that we want a system whereby the federating units contribute to the centre and not the current arrangement, where they gather every month in Abuja, to share money. Let us tell ourselves the truth, the current system we are operating is not sustainable. We need to turn it around to become one in which, it will not be a question of sharing the national cake, but every federating unit baking its own cake and donating an agreed quantity to the centre. It will bring about wealth creation at the different federating units and prosperity to all.
The political campaigns have started on a rather dirty note and there are concerns that Nigerians might miss another opportunity of getting politicians to focus on issues. What are the key issues political parties should focus on in this election season?
Well, people usually speak the way they think. What you say shows how you think. So the first thing to change is to change our mindset. There isn’t much time between now and the election and there is no time to waste on trivialities. All the name calling that we have witnessed so far are reflections of the state of mind of some of our politicians.
However, the main issue we should compel them to focus on is that we have a choice between remaining stagnated or advancing forward as a people. We have a choice between a requiem or the renaissance of the Nigerian State. These are the choices before us and that is why restructuring is so fundamental. People should know that some of us have rejected political appointments and patronage, because we know that the system we are running today is standing on a faulty foundation. Restructuring is very fundamental to the future of our country.
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