INTERVIEW: By Sam Onimisi
Following General Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration of intention to seek for APP’s nomination to contest the presidential election of 2003, Our VISION (magazine) spoke with the National Chairman of the Middle-Belt Progressive Movement, retired Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Potter Latir Dabup. We also sought the views of some leaders of the Niger Delta region, Dr Ambrose Akpanika and Mr Francis Akpabio, both of the Movement for National Reformation, and here, are EXCERPTS from the interview conducted by our editor-in-chief, SAM ONIMISI, in Kaduna, Calabar and Uyo, respectively. Kindly read on.
DIG Dabup, you may have heard of Buhari’s entry into partisan politics and intention to contest the 2003 presidential elections through the APP. What is the reaction of your Movement, in view of Buhari’s religious views and recent developments in Nigeria?
Well, I wish Buhari the best of luck; but I think he is just wasting his time. I would have thought that he had made his contributions to national development, while he was military head of state. And a man of that status should now be an adviser to subsequent governments as an elder statesman.
But if he now wants to embark on a nude dance in partisan political contest, he is welcome, and must be prepared for public scrutiny associated with political or electoral process.
There is the fear, that if Buhari becomes President and, given his Sharia credentials, this country might become something else. Do you share this fear?
I am not unaware of Buhari’s views, position and utterances on religion, on Sharia and other issues, but I entertain no fear at all. Why should I fear Buhari or his view son Sharia?
If Sharia is his meal, why not let him have a double ration of it? If, in spite of the millions of beggars in Buhari’s Northwest; in spite of the problems of educational backwardness of his people and regardless of their poor economic base, all that interests him is the Taliban-type of government, then I can only feel sorry for him.
Honestly, I think General Buhari has had the best of Nigeria. How many people have had the opportunities Buhari had as Governor, Minister, Head of State, Petroleum Special Trust Fund Chairman, Member, National Council of State, etc.?
Despite all that Nigerians did for him, and if his payback is to enthrone a mono-theocratic government to oppress the very people whose resources he was privileged to distribute for a period, then he is not serious.
The other fear is his recent call on Muslims to vote along religious line in the forthcoming elections and his vow to ensure that Sharia law is applied throughout Nigeria …
You talk of fear of this, fear of that. I don’t talk or like to talk of fears. Buhari is only one individual among many seeking to rule this country; which means, that we have the opportunity of choice, and that opportunity will be prudently utilized by voters during elections.
Muslims are free to vote for candidates of their choice just as Christians have the liberty to vote for their choice of candidates. The Nigerian Constitution expressly forbids religious political parties, and Buhari should be aware of this.
If, despite his knowledge or out of ignorance, Buhari is encouraging religious parties in flagrant violation of the constitution, I think he would have failed even before the commencement of elections. Based on his recent sectarian statements, therefore, Buhari has shot himself in the leg. He is a political non-starter because he has failed before he started.
What advise do you have for Buhari or for Nigerians on party registration, religious politics, etc?
I have already advised Buhari to remain in and enjoy his retirement as Major-General and former head of state. He should forget about partisan politics or else, he will kiss his waterloo.
As to party registration, INEC should have no business going beyond collation of names, symbols and addresses of political parties, but those, who created INEC saddled it with stringent rules to regulate political parties, thereby making the parties government parastatals.
Ours is a guided or remote controlled democracy. Nigerians will need to struggle to attain the right to be themselves and not what some people want them to be. With Buhari’s call on Muslims to vote only for Muslims, Christians need not be told to come out en masse to register as voters and contest as candidates in the full exercise of their democratic rights as citizens of Nigeria.
This country is for all of us. We must not give in to religious terrorists. Let brothers not terrorise brothers. After all, we are all Nigerians with equal rights to rule if given the mandate by the people.
What do you think of Buhari’s intention to run for the Presidency of this country, given his antecedents as an anti-democrat?
If I may start from his recent statement that Muslims should vote only for Muslims, it shows that the man does not understand himself. And anyone, who does not understand himself, cannot understand the people he is aspiring to lead.
This nation is not a nation that should be led by known dictators, who only want change from Khaki to Agbada to continue his dictatorship, in the name of democracy.
Buhari is a military man, who had nothing to offer this country, while he was military leader, except that his regime correctly diagonized indiscipline as one of the country’s problems. Even then, the credit for this was more of General Tunde Idiagbon than Muhammad Buhari.
If you look at Buhari in terms of the services he has had to offer, there is nothing special about him that is valuable to this nation, except that he is a past military leader, who may have made some money and, who feels that his money could buy him the votes of poor electorate.
I think it is all rubbish to think that his past record as head of state is anything to look back to. It is high time Nigerians should start looking for people, who have substance to offer the nation and not ex-charlatans in uniform now out of uniform.
With the recent experience of the Islamic Taliban government in Afghanistan, which barred women from work and schooling, do you have any fear of a Sharia-loving Buhari replaying the Taliban in Nigeria?
Definitely, these extremist religious characters should not be allowed to surface at all in our march towards true democracy. Nigeria is supposed to be a multi-religious state, and people should be allowed to freely practice the religion of their choice.
Religious dichotomy should not be introduced into our polity; and anybody, who does so, is certainly an enemy to this country, and should be treated as such. I think Buhari should go back to school to learn more about politics and leadership. That is the least I will say about him.
Now, INEC is in motion trying to register more political parties. But cynics are saying that with their stringent requirements, they are not really serious or sincere in their intentions. What do you think about INEC’s guidelines?
I don’t think that INEC is sincere, given the impossible conditions they want political associations to fulfill within a very short period of time. Nigeria remains a country in chains.
Our people have been dehumanized and, of course, INEC is not interested in registering more political parties and, in fact, they should have no business regulating political parties; and I think they have a hidden agenda in calling for political groups to come forward for registration. I believe they want to register inconsequential groups that would not pose any threat to the ruling party.
They ought to know that in a true democracy, all that needs to be done by political groups is to keep INEC informed of their names, party symbols and office address and similar guidelines, which are simple to meet. And in this regard, they will contest elections at various levels and, those, who failed to perform, will either fuse with other parties or fizzle away.
Therefore, all the stringent measures by INCE, I believe, are designed to deny groups of registration and, whoever they may register, may not be so registered on the basis of having truly qualified by meeting the impossible INEC guidelines, because I don’t see any group qualifying to be registered.
As a member of the Movement for National Reformation and one of the political groups seeking registration as a party through INEC, what will be the focus of your party, in case your group is registered?
The MNR have some cardinal programmes they have presented to this nation in the last ten years of its existence, all of which will form the kernel of our manifestoes. MNR believes that Nigeria can move forward only when we go for an Ethnic Nationalities Conference to renegotiate the terms of our co-existence as a single, united country.
We also believe that the nation be restructured geo-politically so that the nationalities that existed as autonomous units before colonialism or at amalgamation will be granted their autonomy through Power Devolution. They should be recognized as constituent units of the Nigerian nation, and this should form the basic structure of our unity as an integrated nation.
It is also dear to MNR that there should be welfarism in governance and, in fact, that is an entrenched dividends of democracy in Westminster type of government, which is why MNR is advocating for a return to the Parliamentary system of government or democracy.
So, these four cardinal principles form the cornerstone of a registered MNR party from which Nigerians will immensely benefit.
Another chieftain of MNR from Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Francis Akpabio, has this to say on Buhari’s aspiration to the presidency of Nigeria …
Well, I think Buhari is not a serious person or politician, in the sense that he is not a democrat. I remember when he was a military Head of State during which he messed up this country; and so, to come up again to want to rule this nation, again, is unthinkable.
He had offered what he had to offer and has nothing left, which is useful to this country again. This time around, rulership should not be for the military alone, whether serving or retired.
I don’t believe it is true Buhari wants to be President even though I read it in the newspapers. I want to believe that Buhari is joking and not serious about it. I think he is not sincere and just wants to make noise so that the world will know that he is still alive or existing; otherwise, Buhari is not a good material for the presidency of Nigeria at this point in time.
What do you think of his call for Nigerians to vote on religious lines? If that happens, do you think this country will remain the same again?
That is why I think that the man, Buhari, is not a serious human being. How can a man like that now want to be leader of all Nigerians? Based on his preference, only Muslims may vote for him and, even those, will be from his ethnic group only. Christians will definitely vote against him and, so, Buhari has no chance of making it. With that statement, he has destroyed himself politically, and that’s why I say he is not serious at all.
Culled from Our VISION magazine, June 2002