Elder-statesman Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, was a frontline leader of the Northern Elements Progressive Union, NEPU during the First Republic and played an active part in the politics of the Second Republic having been a member of the National Party of Nigeria, NPN and was Special Adviser to President Shehu Shagari on National Assembly Matters.
Yakasai was the brain behind the Northern Elders’ Council, NEC, a strongly partisan group that favoured the re-election of former President Goodluck Jonathan. In this interview, Yakasai bares his mind on why he supported Jonathan, reasons the former president failed and his scepticisms on the capacity of President Muhammadu Buhari among other issues. Excerpts:
You were really involved in the election and your party lost. How does it feel?
You misunderstood me. I don’t belong to any party. I left party politics since 2001 and today I have never joined any party. I did that purposely so that I can be free to say what is on my mind so that I don’t have party encumbrance.
In that case, President Goodluck Jonathan, the candidate you supported lost.
He conceded. If he conceded, what about those of us that supported him? We conceded along with him. That is the end of the matter and this is the first time in the history of Nigeria; it is not an easy thing either in the local government, state or presidential election, state assembly, National Assembly, this is the first time a candidate has voluntarily conceded defeat even before a formal announcement of a winner was made.
It is not an easy thing, but if the man you are supporting conceded defeat during election, then what is your concern? We supported him to win and he didn’t win that is the end of the matter. He will wait for another day if he is alive and we are still alive and if he is interested he will contest and if we still feel we should support him, we will support him.
In your own view, did the PDP really work?
They didn’t work. They took things for granted. There were two things that happened apart from their opponent’s efforts. First, PDP members believed that work or no work, they will win the election because they were controlling the federal and state government, so, they did not work. Secondly, PDP as a party and the Presidential Campaign Organisation didn’t start serious activities for the election until just a few weeks to the election.
I understand that few weeks to the election, they started sending out funds for the campaign. All the time they were going around the country, they were just sending funds only for the purpose of the rallies and no funds were taken to the wards and grassroots for campaigns.
They were only sending money for the rallies and when the rallies finished that was the end of it until two weeks before the election that they started sending the money and you see, my experience is that if you are going to keep money for campaign, don’t give it to an individual, give it to a community, a group of people, if you give it to an individual, he will pocket it or pocket half and release half no matter how honest he is, but if you give it to a group even if they will connive to pocket the money to share it amongst themselves, they will work to ensure that the money which you gave them that the work is done and I don’t know why PDP didn’t give money to groups and decided to give money to individuals.
They had a party structure yes you always set up a campaign committee or organisation to help and the work of the campaign organisation is to support the effort of the party and not to sideline the party. The party was complaining that they were not involved in the campaign, that the money for the campaign wasn’t given to them, it was given to the campaign organisation, you don’t do that! If you are going to do that, give some to the party, give some to the campaigners because the campaign organisation has no structure at the ward level where the grassroots people live.
The party has structures at the national level, zonal level, local government level, ward level, even village level. If you give the money to the party, the money will go down to the grassroots level, but if you give it to the campaign organisation which has no structure even if they want to distribute the money, they don’t have the structure down to the ward level or village level and therefore can’t distribute the money effectively at the party.
There are certain areas of activities that you will confine to the campaign organisation; posters, vehicles, public address system, but when it comes to the question of looking for votes, the party is more effective because they know individual members of the society who are going to be voters. These are the shortcomings I observed.
But the APC didn’t spend money like PDP?
No they spent money.
But there was this issue of change?
In the north, there was a clamour for power shift and that campaign was effectively conducted. Some traditional rulers were involved, some academics were involved, virtually all the universities were turned into campaign outfits for the APC, the religious leaders were also involved.
On Friday, which was the eve of the election, in most of the wards all over the north, the Imams preached that tomorrow when you go out to vote that there were two principal candidates in the race; Buhari and Jonathan.
But when the Imam said if you go to vote tomorrow, don’t vote for an infidel and to a Muslim anyone that is not a Muslim is an infidel, you are a Christian, you are a Jew, you don’t belong to any religion you are an infidel. So if the Imam says don’t vote for an infidel and the candidates are two; one a Christian and the other a Muslim, he doesn’t need to mention anybody’s name before the message was sent and people got that message.
I have been informed that INEC in some cases became a winning tool for the APC campaign. I was told of a state where the governor hosted INEC officials to a dinner where they decided how many votes to be allocated to PDP and how many to APC. They went to secret locations and thumb printed the ballot papers and dumped them into the boxes. The plan was that they had extra boxes and thumb printed the ballot papers and dumped them there when the actual ones from polling units were brought in they were exchanged with the fake ones and PDP didn’t know.
A campaign organisation can’t know this, but the party will know because they have branches everywhere. If you don’t empower them them…I know they didn’t work hard as a party, but to sideline your party and give resources to a temporary outfit, was not helpful.
Also, everyone know that PDP ministers did not work for the party in their respective states. Where they were in the position to make money, they made for only themselves, they didn’t dedicate any part of the money they made for the party in their respective states to spread its campaign. Now all these are shortcomings that will tell on any party at the end of any election.
I will say in spite of that Jonathan was lucky in the sense that this is the lowest margin where a candidate was defeated in spite of all the problems, he was defeated by the smallest margin in the history of Nigeria. If you go through the records of previous elections, the margin was within 10 million votes, but this time it was 2.5 million. It has happened and the rest is history.
Why do you think your group, the Northern Elders Council, NEC was seen as confrontational to the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF. Do you have any regret working for Jonathan?
No, you made a mistake. We came to send a different message from what ACF was expressing. Why did we come out? When the Northern Elders’ Forum, NEF was formed, its spokesman, Ango Abdullahi said that if Jonathan is elected, there will be war in Nigeria; a supporter of the group, Dr. Junnaid Mohammed came up and said that there will be bloodshed; Lawan Kaita, another supporter of the group said that if Jonathan is elected, they will make the country ungovernable for him and all were reported in the newspapers and we felt that if we allow these reckless statements to go unchecked, people in Nigeria and outside will think that this is the consensus opinion of the people of the north.
So we decided to send a different message so that people will know that this is not the true reflection of the feeling of the entire people of the north that there are people who will not agree with that and that was the message and we are grateful that we have delivered that message. Till tomorrow, there are people who know that all what they said wasn’t the totality of the opinion of the people of the north and this is our message and we have delivered it.
Do you have any regret supporting Jonathan?
No. I contested election first in 1951 just to be a delegate to an electoral college and I got only 2 votes, my nephew and my childhood friend were the only two votes I got. After that in 1954 elections, I contested again and I didn’t win. When 1956 election came, I contested and won, but I was denied the seat. I contested again when the 1959 elections came to the House of Representatives which I believe I won because there was a group that reported I won, but they didn’t give me, but I wasn’t discouraged. I waited till 1961 to contest again and I didn’t win.
In 1964, I was in prison and yet I contested. I have been contesting elections loosing, but I have never been discouraged because I didn’t go to politics just to win elections and look at Buhari, he contested three times and he didn’t win.
In fact, he announced after he lost that he wasn’t going to contest again, but his supporters said that if he didn’t contest that they can’t win; those who wanted to be governors, House of representatives then persuaded him and said if you don’t contest, we will not win and in the process, God made it possible for him to win, but if he had given up will he be the president today?
They don’t go to politics to win. It is just like when you are going to war you go with two alternatives; either to defeat your enemies or your enemies to defeat you that is why when generals realise that they are losing a battle, they retreat to go and prepare for another time. So I have no regrets. I wasn’t just supporting Jonathan as an individual; I wanted to send a message because the impression given was that the north was against the South. That Jonathan was being castigated and hated because he was a Christian and a Southerner.
I am a northerner and a Muslim. I was born and raised in Kano State and all my children are northerners. In fact the contribution they brought to the north in terms of human power; I had 23 children, four of them died and 19 of them are still alive and all the 19 are graduates, they are on their own, I am not paying for anybody’s school fees now, I am just on my own; that is my contribution.
How many of those who are fighting us have made such a contribution to the development and growth of the north? I am a northerner like any other person but I feel that a wrong message was sent that every northerner is against Jonathan because he happens to be a Christian and a southerner, we can’t leave on our own. Now what happened? By this election we acted the script of Gideon Okar. North West and North East which Gideon Okar said that he decided to excise from Nigeria now by our own action we have excised ourselves from Nigeria.
The Igbo are nursing grudges against us even though the civil war was fought between the federal forces and Biafra forces, but to the average Igbo man, it was a war fought between Igbo and Hausa/Fulani. You can’t erase it. When the 1993 election was contested, northerners voted for Abiola, Tofa was born in Kano and raised in Kano, yet Kano voted for Abiola against Tofa, but when Babangida annulled the election, every northerner whether Fulani, Kanuri, Tiv, Nupe was hinted on the scene of that annulment and till tomorrow Yorubas are nursing grudges with northerners for that annulment.
Now the only people to remain friendly with the north are the South-South people so now by this reckless action by some few northerners South-South people now see us as their enemies.
What agenda will you set for President Buhari?
I wish him well, if he succeeds, I will benefit, if he fails, I will suffer, I will therefore pray for his success. I am not convinced that Buhari who overthrew a democratically elected government in 1983 has changed, there are events that have taken place to convince me that he has not changed, but I pray that he has changed, that he is now a democrat. He should allow people form their own opinion, he should respect people who will disagree with him.
Before the election, Buhari made a number of promises, but the most significant ones were: one, he will provide jobs for the unemployed people in Nigeria; two, he will take on Boko Haram and also ensure the security of lives and property of every Nigerian; the third is that he is going to vigorously fight corruption in the country.
These three things were the major promises he made and he placed them with others like power generation, transportation, and others, but the most cardinal ones are the three. I want him to succeed and praying for him to succeed in those three because these are the areas that all the previous administrations were not able to overcome.
It is alleged in some quarters that Jonathan’s ministers and aides contributed to his failure. Do you agree?
You see, I don’t know whether you were in this country when Buhari was the head of State and late General Tunde Idiagbon was running the show, I hope that this time around, it won’t be the Vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo that will run the show? I hope this time around, Buhari will run the show himself because even at the PTF, one consultant, Salhijo was running the show and Buhari was the head.
Then no Contract would be awarded without the approval of the Consultant and no payment must be made without his approval and two very important members of the board of PTF, highly respected Yahaya Gusau and Air Vice Marshall Usman Jibril resigned from PTF because due process was not followed as they were sidelined. I hope this time around, it will not be the same story again.