Prof. Rufai Alkali is the National Chairman of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) and a former spokesperson of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party. In this interview with JOHNCHUKS ONUANYIM, Alkali speaks about the problems in the country, asserting that Nigeria needs a leader that can jump start the economy
When are we expecting your party, the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) to conduct its presidential primaries?
Thank you very much. In line with the guidelines of INEC and the Electoral Act and our own Constitution, the NNPP is doing everything and it is following everything systematically.
We have done the House of Assembly primaries as well as the House of Representatives primaries and we are now getting set for the senate, governorship and presidential primaries which is going to take place on June 8, 2022. We, as a party are guided by the law, the constitution and all the essential ingredients required in the issue of primaries.
We are aware that Nigerians are not happy. We are aware that Nigerians are disenchanted, and within most of the political parties, there is indeed a consensus that things should not be allowed to continue this way. There is also a consensus that the country is drifting and we should do everything humanly possible to bring back our country, rescue the nation and defend our people.
Therefore, we are methodical in what we are doing; we are not flippant and we are not taking Nigerians for granted. Even during the sales of forms, we were mindful of the situation on ground in the country and we did not come out openly to tell Nigerians that leadership of the nation was for sale to the highest bidder.
Whenever we talk about providing level playing field for political actors, we believe that the best way is to give everybody in the country the opportunity to participate, to be counted and to be relevant. This is our country and all of us will benefit if the country is in peace and stability and of course, we will lose if the politics in it is recklessness, selfishness, divisiveness and that is what has put us where we are today.
So, I can tell you that we are mindful of the pain the people are going through. That is why for a long time ago, we anticipated that a time will come and some of the leading political parties at that time because of their fixation on power alone will keep on making series of mistakes.
Some of them have made several mistakes, errors of judgement and definitely, we need a new direction. The NNPP as you know is a national movement. It is not a regional party. It’s not an ethnic party and you cannot bring religious sentiments here. Nobody will listen to you because we believe that this country deserves the best leadership
and every part of this country can produce good leaders. Every part of this country can produce people who can run the country. But it is only when you come out to lead that people will begin to analyze and assess you.
So, for us, we are comfortable with the situation we have on ground now because we have a leader in the person of Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, who has served as a two-time governor of Kano State, former minister of defence, a senator and former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives.
He has served in various capacities. He was one of the people who galvanized this movement and today, he, along with other colleagues of his and associates nationwide, including myself, have become the rallying point to salvage our nation.
Okay, it is obvious you followed the primaries of the PDP and its outcome. How do you assess that convention and how would the outcome affect the NNPP?
I don’t think it is within my schedule to comment on the convention of another political party because I was not invited to the convention. So, I don’t know what issues that played at the background to arrive at the outcome.
What is important is that they have produced a person whom they say is their flag bearer. We also are going to produce our own flagbearer so that Nigerians can make their decisions. In fact, Nigerians have made up their minds, it’s a question of time for them to make that all important statement.
The leader of your party is possibly going to emerge as the flagbearer of your party because as it were, you have only one presidential aspirant in the party. Now, it’s very important to know that he comes from the North West. Where is the next place that your party will be looking at to galvanize support for the party?
I am surprised at that question. Why do you keep talking of someone coming from the North or the East or the West?
If you look at the person coming, he is a Nigerian first and foremost and look at his antecedents; look at his background and that is also why we are making mistakes because we keep on looking at people at this regionalist and ethnic perspective. We keep on missing it because as I said earlier, any part of this country, every community can produce leaders.
If you look at the history of Nigerian leaders, there are those who emerged from very small communities and they made impact in this country. So, what is important is that the NNPP is an all inclusive and open to everybody and in whatever thing we are doing, we ensure that everything is going to be balanced; everybody would be carried along but certain strategic decisions we are going to take about who comes and who becomes what, when and how, is not a matter for now and not a matter for the media.
But what we know for sure is that part of the reason people are angry is the sense of exclusiveness. This is what we are talking about. Why should people be excluded from the process?
Anybody who feels he should stand for an election, should be allowed but ultimately, it is the collective will of the people that will decide who is going to be the leader of this country.
But ours is to offer our best; someone who is going to be a unifying force for the country; somebody who will sustain the momentum for this national movement, to reinvent our country, so that we cannot only, move forward but leap forward because sometimes when you have a big gully in front of you, you need to leap, so that you pass what has become a huge threat to the system.
This particular danger that is before us, may be some know of it while others don’t know, but any section of this country that feels excluded from the political process will always have reasons to be angry, which could manifest in different forms and that is why we said that from the name of our party, we need a new Nigeria.
And when we talk of a new Nigeria, I am talking of the country where you can travel from any part of the country even in the night without any fear. I am sure that in the 70s, you can drive from Maiduguri up to Lagos day and night, from Yola to Sokoto, from Kano to Enugu. Who can take that risk today? Is it a country for instance where universities cannot function, and can be closed down for months running and nobody is talking?
Is it the country we inherited where a pregnant woman in labour does not have where to go for assistance, where somebody can graduate with a good degree but nobody can guarantee him any job? Is it the country where the media is not even free to practice, media practitioners now censor themselves. Is it a country where people are printing flags, printing currencies and setting up militias, creating republics in a Republic, where people are living in fear of their fellow countrymen?
This is not the country we inherited from our forefathers. Our problems are peculiar because they are self-imposed. They are not coming from any foreign army but we are not at peace with ourselves. Who will want to invest his money in a place that is crisis prone? Nobody will ever do that. So, we are dealing with critical issues and not to apportion blames of who is at fault or not. Whatever happened, something has gone wrong and it is our duty to fix it.
When the former governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, resigned from the PDP, there were pictures in the social media about his relationship with the NNPP and the National Leader of the party. I want to know; was there communication with Peter Obi and what went wrong with that arrangement?
Well, I don’t know but first and foremost, I have a great respect for Peter Obi. I have had the opportunity to work with him very closely, and I believe he is a man of substance but people make their choices, and I don’t challenge anybody for making any choice, especially a political choice. If you look at the sequence of events, it was not as if he was looking for a place to go to.
Look at it, after about five days he left the PDP, we heard of his membership of the Labour Party. Even when we didn’t hear about purchase of forms and screening, he is now the candidate, which means already he had a plan and that plan didn’t happen overnight. In any case, every political party is always in talks with other political leaders. No political party worth its salt will close its doors to others.
You can’t! Without demeaning anybody, even the fisherman and the potato farmer in the village, they are very important to us. They are leaders; they make choices and we cannot blame him because he must have his reasons.
Even when I left the PDP in 2018 with the likes of Prof. Jerry Gana, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, Shehu Gaban and may others, we went to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and that time, the SDP was somehow and some people were asking why we did so but we moved. We had our reasons of leaving the PDP for the SDP and when I did my little assessment of the SDP and realized again that it was just a bus stop and not the terminus, I then moved on.
A follow up to that is that you said no political party closes its doors to people. The presidential candidates are just emerging. Is NNPP thinking of collaborating with other political parties outside the APC and the PDP, coming together with the view of taking Nigeria back to the people. Or do you think that standing alone, any of these parties can win the presidential election?
I think it is common in the history of this country that alliances are formed either before or after elections. It is even more common under a parliamentary system of government, where parties join hands to form governments. So, the political parties may require a kind of alliances either before or immediately after the elections.
What I know for sure is that Nigerians have made up their minds; they want to move away from where we are, and I want to repeat myself- anybody who says he is happy with what is happening today is either he is not a Nigerian, may not have been living on the surface of earth or a major beneficiary of the crisis. This is not about politics but stating it the way it is.
Therefore, talking to groups, individuals are all part of the political process. Everybody is important because this is a national project. When there is fire in the house, you don’t say somebody should not bring a bucket of water to quench it because you don’t like his face. After putting off the fire, you can then decide on what to do with them.
I want to take you back to the question you answered earlier. You mentioned that Nigeria is so endowed that any community can produce a quality leader. You also said that it doesn’t matter where somebody comes from. But considering the agitations in the country, the marginalisation and exclusion we all know, don’t you think that it’s safer to say Peter Obi come, give us direction since you said you can give us direction. Secondly, your Party’s National Leader in 2015 was among those that left PDP and joined APC because they said power must return to the North. The PDP Candidate now, Atiku Abubakar also left PDP and joined APC for same reason. How do we reconcile that we shouldn’t talk about the zoning
We didn’t bring the word zoning. It’s your own word. None of us talked about zoning. First and foremost, like I said, there are only three ways to get power. One is the inherited power. It’s the traditional way, the monarchy, the aristocracy, where people inherit power. The other one is by force through conquest, through war or through Coup, which is an aberration. The third one is people confer onto you their power.
You didn’t inherit it. You didn’t get it by force or war. People themselves willingly conferred it on you. When you get that power, which people willingly conferred on you, it is legitimate authority given to you and they will accept your leadership. But people will not confer authority on you except you show them you have potential for leadership that when they give you this authority, they will be safe; they will be accommodated.
Some of their wishes will be fulfilled, and they will not regret giving you this opportunity. So people have to come forward to show that yes, they have quality for this leadership and in doing that, you have to also go through diplomacy, through negotiations, through compromises, through accommodations, through reconciliation, you find out that it will be done even without raising the voices.
But, if you take your gun and put on a voter and say you must vote for me, he will say, I will not vote for you. There’s no way, for example, you threaten a political group and you want that group
to support you. You must show that when they give you the opportunity, they are safe. Remember, politicians are human beings. Therefore, anybody who is aiming for power, be it at the local level, the community level, must show the people he has the ability, so by the time he emerges as a leader, everybody will say this is a leader.
So what is your view on zoning?
So, what I am saying here is, first and foremost, in the Nigerian Constitution, there is nothing like zoning. The principle of zoning or the idea of zoning came in 1995 during the Abacha era, during the Constitution Conference. There were three agitations. One was about zoning of positions to the point that they wanted to create zonal structures with authorities.
Although this did not succeed but at least, the zonal structures had emerged but they were not given governance status. Today still even though we talk about zones, those zones don’t have governors; they don’t have assemblies. Then, the second one was they said rotations. That, they want power rotation. I have been arguing as a political scientist, that because of selfishness of political elite, each one of them cannot command national acceptance.
Therefore, what people are against at one level is what they are calling for at the national level. They said they don’t want quota system, they don’t want cut off point for admission of students; they don’t want federal character but when it comes to political offices, they want them to be zoned. So, whatever the case may be, the zoning issue came up and it was somehow accepted between north and south.
The next one they brought up in 1995 was the federal character issue because while some political leaders complained they were excluded from power, some other people in some parts of the nation complained their people do not have a place in the civil service; that whatever you want to share, you must share it equally. All these were done in good faith because a number of Nigerian Constitution has gone through this always because you have argument and debates and that is very healthy and we move forward.
So, it is only the political parties that will decide whether they want this zoning in their constitution or not. So, if a political party puts zoning in their constitution, then they should abide by the zoning principle even if not politically or legally but morally. Okay? Now, as in the New Nigeria People’s Party, we are in the processes of reviewing our Constitution. We can look at everything. When we finally approve it, we can apply it but as we are here now, the moving force is not about zoning or not zoning.
Every Nigerian must be part of the national movement, carried along because you may even give somebody the presidency but if the other part do not feel comfortable, the government will not work as much possible as it should be because of this unnecessary issue. Therefore, we must argue that our political elite must sacrifice for the people. You say you want this or that, whatever you want, in other countries people prepare for leadership many years ahead. Not in one year, not in two years, not in 10.
Some prepare for 20 years, 30 years ahead and by the time they emerge, then people will look at them and say these people are prepared for leadership but some people will wait until last minute and by the time they look at their pockets, they see they have N100 million to purchase forms and then, when they are told they have no chances, they say okay, I sacrifice the N100 million and go back home and begin to tell their wives that what they did was the correct thing. I don’t think that is the way to get power in this country.
I listened to Engineer Buba Galadima talking about the man behind the NNPP, the National leader, and the Presidential Aspirant, Senator Kwankwaso and he was comparing him with the leadership of Nigeria presently in terms of fighting corruption. He said Kwankwaso will genuinely fight corruption unlike what is happening now. Do you agree with that?
Every leader, every party after election has his or its own priorities. I think when the time for the leader and the party to come up their priorities, Nigerians will know. We are right now working on our manifesto and I believe when we come with our action plan, things will become clear.
So, what is important is that whatever that is to be done to bring sanity in our country, the Party will do it. The best way is let’s look at the totality of the issues facing our country. When the time comes, the party will come up with our position on most of these things but I don’t want you to force me to give free consultancy to some of the political parties, who do not have clear direction.
Assuming the APC gives the ticket to the North. PDP has given its own to the North and your candidate is from the North and one presidential candidate from the South East. What advantage does your candidate have over others?
I think as an academic, I always avoid speculative conversations. It’s very exciting, very interesting to go on and speculate. Yes! Maybe, philosophically, it’s also right but in this thing, I don’t want you to drag me into speculation of who will emerge as flagbearer of another political party since I am not aware of their plans. I don’t know. That’s one. Secondly, you have mentioned there is a leading politician who has moved into another political party.
Just at the beginning of this our conversation, you said so. There are 18 political parties registered in Nigeria under INEC. So, don’t believe that all these political parties will draw their Presidential candidates from one part of the country. You always say the major one, the big one you have not given us the parameters of adjudging that. What I am saying is that there is consensus in our country.
What we want is credible leadership and of course, it is also good that credible leader should come from a credible platform that you can trust; that seeing the people around that party, the leader and candidate of the party and from the antecedent of that person and from the manifesto of the party, from the governors, Senate, House of Representatives, etc, the picture becomes clearer.
Fortunately, this time around, we are going for eight months of campaign around the country. These eight months will give Nigerians the opportunity to sieve the grains from the chaff, to separate the boys from the men and separate what is good and truthful from what is not good. I believe Nigerians cannot afford to make a mistake in 2023. They cannot afford to make that mistake.