Brigadier-General Lawal Jafaru Isa, a former Military Administrator of Kaduna State between 1993 and 1996, is currently a member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). He speaks on [...]
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Brigadier-General Lawal Jafaru Isa, a former Military Administrator of Kaduna State between 1993 and 1996, is currently a member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). He speaks on the good work the government of President Muhammadu Buhari is doing to lay a solid foundation for a stable economy, the Southern Kaduna crisis and other national issues with Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA. Excerpts:
WHAT do you make of the calls by some that it is time President Muhammadu Buhari told Nigerians the nature of his illness?
I think there are certain basic things we really have to agree upon. First and foremost, this president is a human being like us all. And we also have to admit that human beings do fall sick from time to time and hopefully they get well after that. And we also agree that once one he is sick, we wish him or her quick recovery. In some other climes, flowers and cards are taken to the hospital and we visit the patient who is in bed. And also we also have to agree that, sometimes voluntarily, we submit ourselves to our doctors to really re-evaluate our health status, for us to know where we stand so that if there is a likely ailment, it can be taken care of, before it takes care of us.
I got to know the president when I was posted to Kaduna in November 1993, that’s when I came close to him. Before then, I only knew him from afar. Throughout this period, I’ve had several interactions with him and I know from time to time every year he had travelled to London in particular for medical check-up.
If I can recall clearly, when he wrote to the Senate that he was leaving for his annual leave and also take care of his medical check-up, it was stated in the letter. I also recall that after I left Kaduna and was posted to the UN, at least on two occasions, I entered the same aircraft from Amsterdam to Kano with the president; he was coming in from England and I was coming in from New York. We travelled together and landed in Kano. So this leave is just a part of the check-up. I’m also glad to say that some days ago, I saw a clip of him taking a stroll in a street in London, smiling and quite himself.
Now talking about the country standing still, I do not see the country standing still at all. Whatever is to be done is being done. Of course we would like to have the number one to be on the seat but don’t forget, Nigeria is developing in democratisation. What the president used to do are being handled by his vice in acting capacity. This is not the first time. Before he travelled , he wrote to the Senate and transferred power to his vice . This is normal. We have to also recall where we started from. We started deepening democracy in the country when APC ousted the ruling party in the country. There was no qualm; everything went smoothly. So what we are seeing is the actual democratisation of the country and the respect for the constitutional provision. And everybody that knows President Buhari knows that he is an institutional person. He is a person that observes the law, the provisions of the constitution and the laws of the land.
The problem you talked about is not about anyone not falling sick; everybody falls sick, particularly at old age, but the handling of the situation by his aides appears to be the issue. Are you satisfied with the way those around him have handled the demand that the president’s ailment should be in the public domain?
Recall what I said before, I said he is going for his vacation, and he is using part of his vacation to do his medical check-up. If you submit yourself to your doctor for medical check, he will be the one to tell you what you need to know and what needs to be taken care of. So there is no way he would have said from here that I’m going to go and do this and that. It is not like he went as a sick person; he went and then submitted himself, and what they said when the second letter was given, his doctors advised him to wait, to hold back until the results of certain tests done on him were out. So I don’t see anything confusing here.
On the issue of handlers, some of them are here in Nigeria; some of them are there, but it is the communication between him and his doctors that is central. We all have done medical checks before.
There is no way you can know exactly what your situation is until when your doctor comes back with the report and tells you to sit down let us discuss this. The doctors will tell you A is that, B is that, C is like this, and so on and so forth. That is the way I look at it. So I don’t think there is anything wrong in the handling of the issue by his aides. Perhaps, what we really have is part of the democratisation. The zeal and agitation of some of us who wanted to have or hear what is not there are all part of democracy.
How would you rate the vice-president who is acting in his absence?
Of course, he has signed several bills, I think about 10 bills. Others that were presented to him, which he didn’t sign he explained why he could not sign them. So everything is going on fine. He is doing his bit. And as usual the rest of the senators are doing their best in the interest of the country. At this time in Nigeria there is a lot of synergy, being on the same side or the same page between the legislators and the executive. Every arm must do what it is expected to do in the interest of the country. So, I think there is nothing the acting president is not doing. He is up and doing and he is in full control. With the improved communication in the world today, there has been contact with many people.
The crack in the APC fold has continued to widen. PDP members who joined in 2014 are still kicking that they are yet to get what they deserved. Are you not afraid that with the way APC is since currently and that having strange bed fellows defecting to it will further worsen the situation of the party?
I don’t think so. Firstly, I am a member of the board of trustees of the APC. I want you to understand that there is no way any kind of discrimination was meted to the incoming members from PDP or from other parties. Secondly, if you recall, it was in APC of that time that all incoming governors from PDP were given 6o per cent of leadership positions in their states. That was how it happened. I’ll also like to remind you that in my state Kano, for instance, I led CPC members to welcome the then governor who came into APC. We went to the government house to welcome him, and we did that so that they could feel at home. So if they tell me they’ve been isolated, I do not think so. If there is anyone that is crying, it’s from the legacy party members. That is, ANPP members, ACN members, and the CPC members that are not in the centre of activities right now, and that is what is happening. What we’re hoping is that before the next election, by the next mini convention, this will be corrected so that everybody will feel at home. The new comers and those that they met inside will feel as one.
Well in my own opinion, there is no way you can have any political party or any political movement where there won’t be jostling for positions and cries here and there, because it is all about interest, and people will try to protect their interest and even capitalise on that. That is part of human nature, and that is what democracy is about. As I said, we are actually deepening democracy in our great country.
Is it not strange that political leaders are defecting to APC when a majority of Nigerians are wailing and crying of hard times, accusing APC government of doing little to address economic challenges facing Nigeria?
You see, what we need to understand is, in every political setting, we have to make sure that we remove sentiments from realities. What you hear in social media and read about the difficulties of living in the country have some truth in them. There is no doubt about that. But also because of the political difference, this could be made by an organisational group or two to make it look that way. But if you sit down and you really look at what is happening deeply, in your sober moments, you will understand that what APC is doing is laying foundation for the future Nigeria. This foundation is what will make Nigeria a greater country in years to come. So those who are joining the party actually have the capacity to look into the future in terms of projections of what is happening. They have realised that this is the correct party to be. It is painful to introduce changes in everything in life; it is painful to say we have to be responsible; it is painful to say now we have to conserve our resources. It is painful to say we need to understand that public trust means public trust. It does not mean that there should be no demarcation between your pocket and the treasury of the public. So when you see people coming in, they have read the handwriting on the wall, they have seen that the future is excellent. They have seen that the future is good and bright and that APC through the president is moving the country forward. He is laying the foundation for the future of Nigeria. A majority of Nigerians will thank God that after all these years things are getting better. The country is moving forward. No country in the world has moved forward without going through this phase.
Is it all about the APC government being focused, or the politicians displaying their attitude of clinging on to power, any government in power sort of?
One thing we will all agree with here is that this government is changing things for a better Nigeria. The country is going through very difficult economic situation, there is no doubt about that. Things are hard for everyone. But it is not about mere politics or trying to get something now. Instead it’s about reading the political map correctly and knowing that there is future for the country and that the government is focused. The president is very focused in terms of where he wants to take the country to . There is a plan for it; there is a programme for it. There are difficulties and economic crunch, but there is a sense of direction. So people that have the capacity to read the map correctly, know that we’re now coming to reality. We are now facing the facts and we’re now building a stronger nation. I think I would like to be part of it and those that would build this future Nigeria.
What do you make of many of the staunch supporters of the president during the 2015 elections, now openly criticising his administration’s policies and situation in the country?
Let me say this, for a responsible person, well cultured, well mannered, will it be proper to abuse his leader? If you abuse your leader, then what are you yourself? I’m not saying there are no difficulties, and I’m not saying the country is not going through challenges. Despite this, you must look for a way forward. We are going through difficult situations, but are we the only country going through difficult situations in terms of economy or condition of living? If you’re going to look at what is happening to you, if you’re lucky enough, there are certain things you can compare and contrast with. I think we had better do that instead of just sitting down and imagining things without looking left or to your right, to see if there is any area for comparing to know where exactly you stand. Even as an individual, at the end of the day, I do soul-searching of myself: what I did today was it better than what I did yesterday? Or what I did yesterday was it better than what I did today? And that is how I access myself. Now if you are talking about suffering, yes we are suffering; yes there is a lot of hardship. And I told you before, countries go through this from time to time if they are going to move forward. Things are not easy; things are going to be difficult, but how did we find ourselves here? Simple, we have a mono economy in the country. We depended on oil for everything, now the situation of oil has changed; oil used to be at a price of 120 or 140 dollars per barrel, today it is around 40 to 50 dollars or even less, and what we did when the oil was good was that we expanded our appetite for consumption and expanded in times of population and we have to sustain that with the resources that we are having today.
So now comparison, like I said before, we compare ourselves with countries that are in the same positions as we are. For instance, take Angola, take Brazil, Venezuela , take Saudi-Arabia, are they not going through difficulties? They’re going through difficulties, and they plan to readjust themselves and that’s what we are trying to do. Change is difficult. If you’re used to something, and then you’re asked to do something differently, people will want to say: No I’m used to this; I’ve become an expert of this; I’d rather continue with this because this is where my talent has been; this is where my expertise has been.
But why has the government been unable to get things right? Naira keeps depreciating; things keep getting harder and you’re saying it is all part of it?
You’re right. Recently, I was told that the dollar exchange rate was one dollar to N520. Another day, it was one dollar to N470 it is coming down and I think it will continue to come down. Don’t forget the last National Economic Council meeting that was held, they specifically directed the governor of Central Bank to do something about what is happening on the exchange rate, and they have started doing something. As I said, change is so difficult, it’s not like putting on a switch; you go through certain processes. Yes, maybe there is no strong economic team. There is need for an economic team to be put in place and so on, but those that sat down last week to direct the governor of central bank, what are they? They are an economic team also, and they are called the National Economic Council. So I think it is there. I’ve also suggested that. If you’re looking at issues, it’s good to know what it is and that is the issue of positive criticism, and what is it that is done to malign the system because of opposition tendencies. People can sit down and criticise anything they know. You did it in school, and now we have it as a reality in life. So you cannot be able to now tell people that this is what they’ll be able to do in terms of accepting things or criticising something. What I’m saying is that I agree, the naira is appreciating and we want it to come much lower than that, but we have to start from somewhere, have we started? And my conclusion on that is yes we have started.
In recent times, there have been at least two key Northern leaders like yourself who have criticised the government; do you think people who criticise the government are just making noise?
Don’t forget people are free to air their opinion on any issue. I’ve said this before. Please, when I speak, understand my take on issue of this nature. People are free to hold the position they want to hold. They are talking to you from the perspective they are seeing things. In a democratic setting, you can’t sit down say whatever someone is saying is wrong and should be dismissed. People can’t look at issue from one point of view. They are saying their view; this is what makes democracy to flourish. People are free to comment and speak either for or against. It is natural with human beings. So, as far as I’m concerned, there is nothing I can say about that.
What is the status of your case with them, especially the one that has to do with Dasuki; where is the case now?
The case has been cleared; in fact I was cleared two days after I went to them. There was no case. I have been cleared formally. What they did was that every transaction in that office was investigated. So, if there is any interaction between you and that office, they call you. The case with me had nothing to do with arms deal. The arms deal was from 2015, and that was why I said they have about 8,000 cases; cases that came from appropriated funds by federal legislators to the president then, who had the powers to spend through the office of National security Adviser on security issues. I am aware that other cases have been cleared like I was cleared and others who are being owed will be paid. That’s what I know. So as far as I’m concerned, they are doing their jobs.
What would be your reaction if someone links your clearance to your membership of APC?
If that is the way you look at it, then I shouldn’t have been invited in the first instance. The way my case was advertised was shocking. Look at the amount; it was nothing to write home about. Even the money wasn’t with me; it was with the lawyer who was handling the purchase of the property. About two weeks before I was invited, we were still looking for the property. We went to inspect the property. I voluntarily gave them the money because we couldn’t buy.
Your party is accused of contributing to the crisis within the PDP. What do you make of such claim?
Here you go again. I’ve tried to make you understand that what is causing the crisis of PDP is internal rift. Before now, you had asked me question about the internal rift within APC . Why would APC be blamed for crisis in PDP? Why is APC not blaming PDP for its own rift? It has been like this since I ventured into politics. CPC for example in 2011, we were hoping to have about 12 states in the North; we ended up with one state. We didn’t even contemplate it. It was because of crisis. I’ve never been to police station for anything in my life, but because of politics we even went to court with someone who came from PDP. I wouldn’t say it was PDP that did that. Senator Ali Modu Sheriff is a very experienced politician; he has been a two-term governor. He was in APC, and he left and went to PDP. They welcomed him; he went there with a lot of money, goods and they welcomed him. So, now they are having problems with him. Why would they now start pointing fingers at APC that he left? I don’t think it is about APC causing problems in PDP or vice versa. I think it has to with people trying to actualise their interest and capitalise on it. It is human nature. I have said it before.
You have always wanted to be a governor; have you rested that ambition?
I’ve not always wanted to be a governor.
You were military governor, but in this democratic dispensation, you’ve made a couple of attempts to govern Kano. Have you rested that ambition?
Would I say I will not rule because of PDP? No! If you ask everyone in Kano, I would have been their choice, but I didn’t have my party with me. And if you don’t have party backing your position, it is difficult for you to emerge for any kind of election you go into today. We are hoping APC will change that and make people to aspire. People will elect them based on their quality and capacity. But it will take time; it won’t be an overnight issue.
What do you make of the crisis in the Kano APC chapter, especially the disagreement between the governor and his predecessor?
On a serious note, I believe at a certain point, they will come together. They have been partners twice, and they’ve been governors together. They went to the Ministry of Defence together. I want to see it as a thing some of their supporters and followers are causing. You know in politics you cause problems so it can become significant.
You were a military governor in Kaduna State. But of recent there have been fighting and killings in the southern part of the state. Why have you not suggested solutions to the crisis?
I have the privileges to reach the governor either by phone or writing, so I don’t have to come to the public and talk. If I come out and make pronouncement, I think I’m abusing this privilege which I have. It is not every Nigerian that has it. el-Rufai is the sixth governor since I left Kaduna. It has been quite a while. Now things have changed; the situation is different. It will require different handling. What I have noted is that, they have done very well so far. Police have been injected into the area. Whenever you have this kind of situation, communication would help, and he is doing very well. And I’m hoping he will get things done. What I will say to the people in the area is that, we have to live with one another. And I also want to remind us all that, if God had wanted, he would have made us exactly the same, same religion, speaking the same language, doing exactly the same thing. But God in his wisdom made us differently. Our fingerprints are different; even some eyes are different. If I look like you, I will go to your house, take your best dress and go, because your wife will think you are the one. So these differences in us, God has made it so that we can enjoy interacting with each other. With confidence and trust, if they see you, they know you are you. If they see me, they know I am me. None of us sat in any conference to elect where we would come from, who will be our parents. More than 90 per cent of us are practising religion we met our parents practising, 99.01 per cent of us actually speak the same language we find our parents speaking, and we identify with where we find ourselves. I think it’ll be much better for us.
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