Professor Ango Abdullahi is the convener and leader of the Northern Elders Forum, (NEF). He stated in this interview with BABA NEGEDU that the presumed winner of the June 12 elections Chief MKO Abiola does not deserve all the accolades he is getting as there are other Nigerians who were more pivotal to the enthronement of civilian rule in Nigeria. The former Vice Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, also stated that Nigeria is presently practicing a unitary system of government where the states are now beggars, among other issues. Excerpts…
The Almajiri situation in the recent past has being in the news, are you comfortable with the way Northern governors are handing the situation?
For me it really depends on how far they are ready to go. I will like to see every child back in their parents’ house; that is my interpretation of what is expected of them. Every child must be in their parents’ house. When you are repatriating kids from Kano, who are from Kaduna state, the first step is to bring them back to Kaduna, local government by local government, then the Governor will call in chairmen of the local government areas and hand them to the chairmen according to their local government areas, with instructions that he should go and hand them over to their parents. The parents must also acknowledge through a document that they have taken their children back; that is the only way out because the kids are their parents’ responsibilities. I believe that is exactly what the Kaduna State government is doing. That is why I support what he is doing, by bringing Kaduna State kids from where ever they are in Nigeria. That is the first step then the other steps should follow.
But what guarantees are there that the children will stay with their parents?
That is why the nitty-gritty of the whole arrangements has to be spelt out before the handing over. For me you cannot have a child and throw him into the world without properly catering for him, this is certainly unacceptable and also un-Islamic, it is not Islamic at all. People see it as if it is Islamic, it is not at all. A child can learn his religion in his parents’ home, that is the starting point and if it is a village they should be able to organise a learning centre for their children, whether it is purely Quranic or a full-fledged Islamic school as the case may be. But that is parental responsibility and I don’t think anybody should assume responsibility for any parent, not even government.
Is it that the Almajiri system is not Islamic or the way it is practiced in the north?
It is the way and manner a parent would give birth to the child and fail to look after him; it is un-Islamic, Islam does accept begging.
June 12, just passed and five years in the life of this administration, what is your take?
Like I said before, if really there should be a day that Nigerians should set aside as a democracy day, it should be that day that Nigeria attained independence from the British colonial power, that is all and that is October 1. That should be our democracy day. All these other ones are just jokes, all these talk about June 12 is just pure politics; our democracy day is the day we achieved independence. So let us begin to count our progress, our development and so on based on what we were able to do from that day that we were free and became responsible for our own actions. So for me, I don’t see any other day apart from October 1.
Then how would you react to those who argue that Chief MKO Abiola should be declared as a former President of the country?
But, he was not, he was not a president. Just take a look at the constitution and the electoral law, I was very much involved in all these things, what they are doing is what Nigerians call “Shakara.” The election was not concluded, if it was concluded and the paraphernalia of office and protocol were concluded and Abiola became president that would have been okay. But these things were not there, so why should someone say because you were leading in an election, it should be automatically concluded that you won the election? This is all political gimmick and the one that President Muhammed Buhari did was just aimed at allowing him to win his re-election in 2019 by moving away from May 29, the one that my friend and former President Olusegun Obasanjo declared. People were looking for a position, between a military and civilian government, our firsts democracy day was when Shehu Shagari was sworn in as president, after taking over from the military. In fact his election was more credible than the one people are shouting at us about. The issue is that people are not honest. We are playing too much politics with power sharing arrangement in the country. Tribal politics, regional politics and so on this is what we are doing. So democracy day is the day Nigeria achieved independence; that is the day that a substantial event took place in the country and Nigerians wish to set aside, we are waiting.
So Buhari was not sincere in his declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day?
It was purely for the 2019 presidential election and also it was illegal, unconstitutional. It is illegal because there was no election that was concluded under our electoral law and no presidential swearing ceremony after the election to show that MKO Abiola became president, that he got so many votes in an election and someone else got another number of votes, there was nothing like that. All that happened was just to appeal to some sentiments which we know exist concerning the election. To me the father of democracy in driving the military out of power is General Shehu Yar’adua and not anybody else. He was the father of Democracy Day, but it is such a shame that people are not mentioning such people, his name is not even being mentioned.
So Abiola does not deserve any recognition?
If he deserves any recognition, he does not deserve anything more than General Shehu Yar’adua who started the struggle. Abiola was not an Awoist, he was not in the progressive politics of Western Nigeria, he was in National Party of Nigeria (NPN). He created a newspaper to fight Obafemi Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria and to fight Awolowo’s election as President of Nigeria against Shehu Shagari. So I do not really see him as fitting into the progressive politics of Nigeria at all. He was not in Social Democratic Party until the last minute when Shehu Yar’adua was disqualified and we were trying to find somebody who will replace him and that somebody should come from the South West that was how it happened. So, it’s all political gimmick, and those who said they were progressives, this and that, all found themselves in Sani Abacha’s government, they were there. So why the ceremony that they are Awoists? That is why I feel very sorry about this. I liked Abiola as a person, very nice man, he could have made a good president, but for him to have been used by those who did not mean well for democracy… Many of them participated in the primary election and Shehu Yar’adua defeated them and then they connived with the military to disband the primary election won by Shehu Yar’adua, that was the beginning of the crisis that eventually brought Abiola into the picture. Otherwise he was not even in the picture at all. I have talked about this before. The initiator, the precursor of the struggle for power to transmute from the military to civilian was Shehu Yar’adua. Also we have transmitted power from military to civilian, but we have not transmitted to any other form of administration, because Nigeria has not achieved democracy yet.
How would you describe the present system in the country?
What we have is transmission from military to civil rule. There is a difference between civil rule and democracy as it is properly defined and practiced around the world. Election by itself is not a true definition of the concept of democracy particularly if election is rigged like we have being rigging election in Nigeria. You know it.
What are the indicators that should be on ground for a true democracy in Nigeria?
Let us go back to the original definition of democracy; democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people. Let us just take this three items, when you rig elections is it government by the people? Or is it government of the people, especially when you see where good democratic practices are not been carried out by those who called themselves democrats. Even some of you people are guilty of some of the things that have happened in the country. For example, we have been talking about restructuring, restructuring in a democracy, this is what we have to be doing; how do we restructure in a democracy for democracy to take its proper meaning and application in Nigeria? We are just going round doing more talking and actually doing little. So I made a recommendation recently when I spoke with some people. I said I want us to go back to the point where we made our first mistake, when we threw away parliamentary system of government, without debating it, looking at the merit and demerits viz a viz other forms of government. Then it was decreed that only presidential system of government whether French, American or whatever should be adopted. This was our first mistake and we have not recovered since the last 40 years. After all, parliamentary system was used for only six years and our first generation leaders did very well with it in the regions and in the country.
What is the way forward now?
Now, those who believe that Nigeria needs to restructure should agree that there should be a general debate on merits and demerits of parliamentary versus presidential systems of government. We should give ourselves two to three months for serious discussion and engagement on this. Then the issue will be taken to Nigerians in a referendum. Then we can decide whether to keep the presidential system or go back to parliamentary system of government. This is my recommendation.
Do you see those in power presently agreeing to toe this path?
Then there would be no end to this talking and not doing anything, if we are not prepared to sit down and look at it, and we have a lot that we can learn from our past political system, after all we were colonized by the British and Britain is a democracy and doing parliamentary system of government. We inherited it from them and our fathers did well with it. The regions were doing very well. Each region has its own constitution and this is the kind of independence we are talking about with the restructuring. Today we have a unitary system of government where the states have no power at all. They are just beggars, because they have no revenue to take care of their primary responsibilities. They are just political units without any resource base to run an effective government.
What is your take on the arrest of the leaders of the protesters in Katsina?
Our constitution demands that people are free to express themselves; it is their fundamental rights, free association, free speech. We want to know what aspect of the constitution they violated.