We knew Buhari’s second term’ll spell doom for Nigeria –NEF

Activities towards the forthcoming general elections are already gathering momentum with many stakeholders angling for power using all manner of subterfuge to push their agenda and interest. One of the numerous region-political groups whose support remains key to determining where the pendulum would swing is the Northern Elders Forum (NEF). In a chat with OLAOLU OLADIPO, the Director of Public Affairs, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, appraises the Mohammadu Buhari-led government and giving a damning verdict. He insists Nigeria needs a visionary leadership to solve the numerous problems plaguing it. While faulting the call for power shift, he however shares tips on how the South East can produce a president next year. Excerpts…

What’s your appraisal of the state of the country under the Muhammadu Buhari-led government?

As everyone knows, we have very serious challenges across the whole country with the biggest one being the security of the citizens, security of communities and the general security of the entire country. These threats to our corporate existence as a country, threat to lives of the Nigerian people are getting worse under this administration unfortunately. Regrettably, this is the same government that promised to deal with the issues of security. This (insecurity) is compounding a lot of other problems. The level of poverty is unprecedented. The relationship between the citizens and the state are severely damaged. Relationships between communities that make up this country are damaged. There is no elite consensus on any issue. Non-political elites have virtually retreated to serving the interest of the political elites which means that the process of leadership during elections has been severely damaged. On the whole, it is sad to say that the country is facing unprecedented threats to its corporate existence and the citizens are extremely unhappy. This is the state of Nigeria today. It is sad that this is the verdict that one should give. It is not an unfounded critique of the current government; this is the general assessment of everybody except for the very tiny cycle around the president who believes that a lot of things are going well and that only the critics of the administration say there are problems.

Who do we blame for all these?

Well! You have to start with the leadership in any situation when you have to ask questions when anything is going wrong, you have to ask the leaders. Don’t forget that the democratic process gives the citizens the opportunity and power, rights as well as obligations to ask questions. It also gives our leaders the burden to serve us. That’s why our leaders are elected because if we give them the mandate to govern, they will first identify what is important and rank them in terms of priorities and then deploy the right resources that are needed to deal with these problems. Thirdly, they (the leaders) will have to submit themselves to our judgement and our assessment. So, to answer your question, the first port of call is the leadership. We have a very weak leadership; we have a leadership that has resigned itself to counting days to the end of its tenure. We have a leadership that is not willing to explore options to address our deteriorating security and economic circumstances. We have a leadership that is likely going to leave a huge liability for the next administration. That’s where the problem is. There are opportunistic issues that have arisen from this weak leadership, like organized crime, corruption as well as separatist agitations. These are opportunistic issues that have arisen from incompetent and inept leadership.

You are a prominent member of a pan-Northern group, incidentally, the current president is from your side of the country, has there been any occasion or platform created to engage him on these various issues that you have highlighted?

I am a member of the Northern Elders Forum; I can say that we were very active in convincing Nigerians in 2013, 2014, and 2015 that President Buhari represented a better option than President (Goodluck) Jonathan. We have very good reasons for that. We saw Jonathan as weak in terms of dealing with corruption and insecurity, particularly in the North. We are happy that we were part of the movement to replace President Jonathan for the current president. We followed through by once in a while giving him advice and opinion as well as perspectives that we believe will help him to realise the promise that he made to Nigerians but after a while the doors to the president began to close in part I guess because he doesn’t like being told that he was slow, he was indecisive with regards to his ideas on how to deal with rising insecurity and growing poverty in the country. We told him that his ideas were the wrong ones. We told him that he didn’t have the right team around him. Unfortunately, he is unwilling to change that team, he wasn’t adventurous. We discovered that Buhari just wanted to be president and not to govern a country that desperately needed a strong visionary and committed president. So, our relationship with him drifted apart. We haven’t explored other ways of getting to him. To be perfectly honest, this is not a listening government. But we speak to Nigerians; we speak to other similar groups too on the state of the country.

With the way you’ve spoken, would it be right to conclude that you regret voting for the current president?

In 2015, there is no way we can say we regret voting for the current leadership because we genuinely believed that President Buhari represented a better option than the continuation of the Goodluck Jonathan regime, so there is no re-gret about that. We are glad to be part of the success story of that time. In 2019, if I should remind you, we campaigned against him. We told Nigerians that President Buhari was not a good choice; we told people that a second term for him would spell doom because we saw what he did in the first term because we couldn’t see any tangible thing that was accomplished in the first term. We have continued to play our roles as responsible Nigerians to come out publicly with similar organisations such Afenifere, PANDEFF and Ohanaeze to tell Nigerians not allow a second term for President Buhari. Apparently, we were not listened to, look at where we are today.

Going forward, what kind of President are you looking forward to in 2023?

We want a president who actually understands that this country requires a huge amount of sacrifice, commitment and hard work to turn it around. We are not just going to have another administration. It is going to be an administration that is going to stop the rot and begin the process of turning the fortunes of the country around. We want a president that appreciates the magnitude of the problems that we have in hand. The country is not just drifting but it is sinking. We want a president that has a clear idea of what needs to be done; he must understand the nature and magnitude of the problems confronting the country and how to tackle the problems headlong. We want a president who is a Nigerian who will believe that all the problems in every part of the country are his problem, not someone who has a tribal or religious tag around him, someone we can all look up to. We want a man who has a good team around him and we want to see the team before his election not like Buhari who waited for six months before choosing his cabinet members.

So far, have you seen any?

We are assessing everybody and we have a template for making such an assessment. The first thing we do is to ask whoever is contesting the president why he wants to. If we can’t answer such basic questions, we won’t even bother to ask him further questions. We want to see ideas; we want to see policies spelt out. We want to see the understanding of all our problems and how they wish to address them.

So, you haven’t seen anyone on the horizon?

There are people who have said they want to be president and we are evaluating them. We are assessing them and when the time comes, we will make our position known. We are friendly with them. Our doors are open and we are engaging with them. Don’t forget that we once told you not to vote for Buhari for a second term, not because we wanted (former Vice President) Atiku Abubakar but because of Buhari’s record of performance.

Will the search be limited to the North or will it be a pan-Nigerian one?

We are looking for a Nigerian president. Wherever he comes from, he must be nominated by a party and he must be freely elected by all Nigerians. We are against a system or process that places obstacles on parties to limit their search to a particular part of the country and say candidates from other parts of the country are not welcome. That’s wrong, it offends the Constitution, it limits the leadership selection process and it won’t work. It won’t be acceptable. We are open, if the best candidate comes from the North we will vote for him. If the best candidate comes from the South, we will still vote for him.

Your assertion suggests that NEF is opposed to zoning and power shifts?

NEF has always maintained that the idea of power shift is very damaging to the growth of democracy. You don’t shift power. It is not a commodity, it is not a gift to give out because implicit in the idea of power shift is that you limit or curb the rights of other people from other parts of the country to compete under the privileges and powers given to them by the Constitution. If people want a power shift, let them campaign for it. There is nothing stopping any part of the country to contest it. The North appreciates the value of voting for people outside of the region. We voted for the late MKO Abiola against a Northerner, we voted for former President Olusegun Obasanjo twice, the same thing for Jonathan. It’s not alien for the North to vote for Southern candidates. We don’t need to be told that we must do something or else, the heavens would fall. We would not be intimidated or blackmailed into doing this kind of thing. Like I said, we do have a template and method of judging people and we would raise our voice regarding who we believe is the best for the country.

What if leaders in the South East come forward to present a list of their candidates to pick from?

They have! The candidates have come; we have been speaking with candidates from the South East. Personally, I have an excellent relationship with two or three of them. These are people who ordinarily possess a lot of good qualities not because they are Igbos or from the South East but because they are good Nigerians. We do say some specific things to the leaders of the South East to please in the name of God if the entire people of the South East feel that they are disadvantaged because they have never had elected president of their extraction they should make the case for it in a way that will make other Nigerians feel that the Igbos want to stay in Nigeria. The problem is that we don’t know if the Igbos want to be in or leave Nigeria. This is causing a very big problem for the Igbos and we tell their leaders. When their leaders come to us, we give them this advice.




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