Northern Elders Forum Should Not Heat Up The Polity – Galadima

Former Secretary General of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Alhaji Buba Galadima is one of the chieftains of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and one of the staunch supporters of the present government. Galadima was one of the delegates of the North East geo-political zone during the 2014 National Conference. In this interview with ONWUKA NZESHI, the opinion leader from Yobe State speaks on a number of issues including the recent coup scare and the role of the cabal in the governance of Nigeria

About a week ago, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai shocked Nigerians when he raised an alarm on an unholy alliance between some civilians and some military officers. What do you make of a coup alert at this time?

Well, I am equally shocked to hear that people are talking of unconstitutional way of changing government. I thought democracy has come to stay and that whatever imperfections we have we will use the constitutional channel to remedy the situation. The constitution provides that every four years, there is an election to every electable seat in Nigeria.

So we expect the people to exercise some patience whether in or out of uniform to allow the people decide because at the end of the day, the people are the ultimate in taking such decisions. Some of us felt very bad that such a news could even practically surface.

I for one, thought that even if they were such moves, the military ought to have dealt with the situation silently within their structure and system; they should have dealt with that issue by apprehending those who are being suspected of nursing such an ambition because making it public has alarmed the nation, and people are no more feeling secure and comfortable even if it is found to be false.

It is to this extent that I feel the public announcement was uncalled for and that even if this involves civilians, there are better ways of dealing with the matter because those of us, who don’t know, were now made to know that something wrong is going on and we will be apprehensive in whatever we do.

So this psychological torture on the nation in itself is uncalled for especially when we have some anxiety over the health of the President in our hands.

Things can be misinterpreted by mischievous people, and that is why I felt some caution should have been exercised in passing that message. Now, I can see why a respected elder statesman like Chief Bisi Akande, made the statement that he made the other day. I thought it was just out of the ordinary that he did that but now with the statement from the Chief of Army Staff, the man appears to have been vindicated.

Yes, Akande was talking about the health of the President at that time and the possibility that some might want to exploit the situation. How does that fit into the coup story?

I don’t want to go deep in to that now but there is a nexus between what he said and what has practically been announced by the Chief of Army Staff.

There are speculations that the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari has created an opportunity for some persons who are now trying to see how they can seize power?

Personally I wouldn’t want to go deep into that but one would say that good health and death are in the hands of God. There are people who have been sick for many years and God in his infinite wisdom, mercy and power sustained and healed them.

Whatever is the circumstance, the public statement on coup at this time is uncalled for.

Do you also see a nexus between what Buratai has said and what the Northern Elders Forum said a few days ago that in the event that General Buhari is unable to make it health wise that the North will produce another candidate in 2019?

I want the public to know that the Northern Elders Forum is an interest group and it is entitled to its views as contained in their constitution as far as it is within the purview of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

That is their opinion, but what the constitution says is what matters and I still I don’t want people to speculate on situations. Of course if they said this I am sure their minds went back to Goodluck Jonathan’s era when such a situation arose.

But still, I believe that they should not over heat the polity at all. What the Constitution of Nigeria says is what is important and not what an interest group including the Northern Elders Forum thinks or wants. They can think anything they can want anything they have the right to say what they want but at the end of the day, it is constitution that will prevail.

There are insinuations around the country that the Northern Elders Forum spoke the mind of the so-called cabal who are believed to be pulling the strings of politics and governance from behind the scene. What do you think?

If the cabal does not speak and we don’t know them and we can’t identify their faces how can we ascribe actions of government to them if they are not holding government offices?

Some Nigerians have attempted to identify members of the cabal, some of them might be people you know and some hold positions in government. Have you not heard of them?

Those who have tried to identify the so-called cabal are entitled to their opinions and views but as far as it is not libelous. Irrespective of what anybody does, anybody working with the executive speaks, acts on behalf of the president because the buck stops on the president’s desk.

I don’t want to innocently accuse other people because even if they do things out of the ordinary, if it is within the executive, or within the legislature, or it is within the judiciary, it is still the responsibility of that arm of government. The head of the judiciary is the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the head of the legislature is the Senate President and the head of the executive is the President.

So whenever you serve or speak on behalf of any arm of the government if not challenged, it means it is approved by that arm. I want us to clearly look at things through constitutional means. All the problems we are having in Nigeria are there because we don’t even know or believe in what the constitution says we should do. If we are doing constitutionalism, we wouldn’t have any problem at all.

Like you people in the media, when there is a communal crisis you attribute it to Fulani herdsmen; I think the media must be restrained from causing hate against a particular tribe. The other day on my way from Keffi in Nasarawa State, I heard that Fulani herdsmen blocked the road and robbed people.

I was telling the people in my car as we were coming that I didn’t see cattle on the road, so how did they identify those people as Fulani herdsmen? When anything happens you call a par-ticular tribe or call a particular people, all these are suspicions which have not been proven.

So there might be a cabal, I might not be able to deny that or there might be some powerful people within government that may not hold the public office and they do as they please and their wishes are honored but until those people come out to say we do this and own up’ if you accuse them without proof, it can be libelous. We need to be careful about what we say, what we read and even what we write.

Two weeks ago, the Senate received a letter from the President which was in line with Section 145 of the Constitution but the letter generated some controversy because of the suspicion around the wordings. Do you think the uproar was justified?

No, the President transmits a letter to the Senate according to the constitution whenever he is absent. Forget about ill health, absence can mean even death. When the President is absent from duty or he is unable to carry out the duties of the office of the President, it doesn’t matter how he couches the letter, the issue is the President is not around and when he is not around what does the constitution say?

The Senate arrived at the right conclusion as contained in Section 145 that when the President is not available, the Vice President acts. What I didn’t like on the whole thing is that people were over exposing their interest.

The issue is not about interest, whether I like you or I don’t like you; the issue is what did the constitution say? As a democrat, I will always fight for constitutionalism, as somebody who attended three conferences to fashion out a constitution for Nigeria; I should be bound by my actions in those conferences.

I was part of the process in 1988, 1994, 2014 and I had not been a bench warmer, I had been an active participant in those conferences and we were promulgating the supreme law of how our country should work and I should never do anything contrary to what I stood for in those conferences, that is constitutionalism or else, it will be jungle justice. It doesn’t matter whether what is happening is in consonance with my wish, whether I like it or not doesn’t matter.

What did the constitution says and I want to advise Nigerians, that whatever situations we find ourselves, the correct attitude is patience because everything is transient; a passing phase in our lives. Tomorrow I may not be here let alone people who are elected for a specific term whether he is in the legislature or in the executive.

So the key word is patience and persevere, that is what will keep Nigeria one, that is how we can build a family. Even in developed democracies like Europe such development came out of patience. If everybody thinks that democracy is to work according to his wish, then there will be chaos.

You just mentioned being a veteran of three Constitutional Conferences, which of these exercises did you successfully bring a constitution into being?

All the three have their roots in the 1979 Constitution; all the conferences are only an improvement or alterations, versions or editions of the 1979 constitution so there is nothing sacrosanct in all these. We are all still in one basket, the 1979 constitution.

That is the basis, it doesn’t matter what you call it, amended constitution, improved constitution, new version constitution, revised constitution, the principle is executive presidency which was different from the parliamentary constitution at independence.

Recently your colleagues, delegates who attended the 2014 National Conference reconvened to demand for the implementation of the report of that conference. You were not there. Don’t you share their view on the implementation?

No I don’t for several reasons. What was it that led to the convening of the 2014 Conference? Why did somebody suddenly want a new constitution and for what purpose? What was the composition of the delegates’ conference? Was it sectional, religious, regional, group or individual interest? A lot of people cried out that it was a lopsided arrangement meant to achieve a particular purpose.

Secondly, the decisions arrived at that conference were they done according to the rules established by the conference itself and by the government? The answer is no.

Thirdly, when we finished, under what circumstance did we conclude; was it an agreed document that was taken to government? Fourthly, when those questionable decisions were taken to government, what did the government do? There are certain processes that are to be taken for any committee work done for government before it becomes actual let alone implemented.

In it there are things that ought to have needed legislative action, there are some that needed executive action and there are even some that need the people themselves to say something on them. Did government set up any group to produce a white paper on this?

Did the government accept that report? The answer is no. if there was no white paper, is it the entire decision that has been taken by government? The answer is no so what are we implementing? What do we expect this government to implement?

Does it mean as an elder statesman you didn’t see any decision worth implementing in the entire report?

You cannot be calling for wholesale implementation; you should sieve those decisions that you want government to implement so that we know. For example, we are talking about restructuring and that is what every politician will tell you. They say we need restructuring but when you ask them what is restructuring they don’t know.

To the Igbo man restructuring of the country means that they want additional state for the South-East. For somebody from the South-South, as far as he is concerned restructuring is about leaving them to be in control of their resources.

To the South-West restructuring means regionalism, Even while we were in conference, 90 per cent of the delegates from the South- West did not believe in restructuring or regionalism because no Lagos man ever appended his signature that he wanted the former western region to be solidified as one region.

No Oyo man agreed that he wanted everybody to come to Ibadan as regional capital of the area and even between Ekiti and Ondo they will never come back to become one state, let alone for all of them to pay homage to Ibadan.

So we are just talking about contradictions, we are misleading our people, we are one Nigeria, please we should cultivate brotherly relationship and love among ourselves, that is the only way we can develop. When you make one group a weeping child, you are continuously putting a bad egg in the heads of young men to hate them.

So we are not doing justice to our country by making us always divided. To the northerner who is suspicious of the whole thing, he knows that some people don’t want local government autonomy. But who told you that if there is a referendum today, 90 per cent of Nigerians will not go for local government autonomy because people believe that they should be given whatever money is meant for them so that they develop in a manner they want, that they should be allowed to vote chairman who they think can work for them not one nominated by a governor from the state capital. Who told you a professor or a federal permanent secretary cannot become chairman of a local council? We have evidence.

Prof. Shehu Bida in 1976 resigned his position as the Dean of the entire Faculty of Medicine in ABU to become the chairman of Bida Local Government. We have on record that the Deputy Governor of Benue State went to become a councilor in his ward to protect the interest of his small community.

There are certain areas in certain states they will never be governor because of our thinking that they have to come from the majority. The Idoma tribe can never be governor in Benue, all they need is to strengthen the local government system where their money should go directly to them and they manage their own affairs.

They can do scholarships, they can build markets, they can do education with the small resources which is being held at Makurdi and they will have nothing to do. People are just playing to sentiments. The issue of Nigeria should not be on sentiments, let’s look globally on ourselves so that we can become our brother’s keeper.

You gave the perspectives of the South- South, South-West and South-East, what would you say is the position of the North?

There are elements in the North who believe in restructuring; Atiku Abubakar is one of them, I am one of them. How do we define restructuring? Just as some people believe in Biafra, I stood in conferences and said we are brothers and sisters, if the Igbo want to go let them define the territory of the Biafra that they want to take then we as Nigerians should sit on a table to ask then, you want to go, yes, because only few of you are here you have to subject it to a referendum.

If 75 per cent of the ordinary people of the Igbo want Biafra, I should grant them but we have to define all these things. There is no particular definition even those shouting for restructuring don’t know that an Igbo man’s concept of restructuring is additional state.

The South-West its regionalism that we remove all the states and local governments and go back to regions here when they say destroy all local governments and take it to the states. All that the average northerner thinks is because we have more local governments in Kano, (44) they want to take it away but they also forget that Akwa Ibom which is less than one third of Kano in population and landmass has 34 local governments.

The general perception is that the North is afraid of restructuring, why is it so?

We are not. I am a supporter of restructuring, but we must define it.

Do you have any message for Nigerians at this critical stage?

In this critical stage I will call for patience, I will call for prayers and that people should not make inflammatory statement it is an ill wind that does no good to anybody. We have economic challenges and until we maintain our resilience we may not be able to survive it.

Nigerians should be patient with one another and wish the President well. It is in our interest that the President gets well and survives to conclude his term because we have seen this happened before and where it delayed us to. We wouldn’t want a repeat of that experience.

We have had so many experiences; there is the Umaru Yar’ Adua’s experience, the MKO Abiola’s experience it’s all part of it. Let’s pray fervently for him (Buhari) to get well and as a state man his towering image may assist lowering our blood pressure.

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