Tafida also passed a damning verdict on ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, describing him as a sectional leader who ruled the country out of inexperience. The former Senate Leader and immediate past Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, also said Jonathan gave him only 10,000pounds as compensation for delivering the 2011 election for him.
The Kaduna State-born Tafida now in his 70s, said President Buhari confirmed he is aware insecurity and poverty have gone worse under his government. He dwelt extensively on this and more in this interview with AIDOGHIE PAULINUS, in Abuja.
As an elder statesman, can you feel the pulse of the nation, that is, what Nigerians are saying about the socio-economic and political life of the nation?
Of course, I am a human being, I am a Nigerian; I hear what people say everywhere, but being somebody who has been around for a long time, this has always been the song we hear. We hear all these things whenever there is a change of government. Whenever there is a change of government, naturally, you have complaints here and there. But they are not new complaints.
In Nigeria’s democratic journey, every vice president appears to be having problems with their president like in the current dispensation. What do you think is responsible?
Jonathan didn’t have problem with Namadi Sambo. They worked very well together. Although you hear some rumours, but they worked very well together and there was nothing that he was not involved. You would not hear any rumour at the other side; that is the side of the presidency about the vice president. So, that worked well for them. And even now, I think the issue of the President, Buhari, and Vice President Osinbajo, I think it is being exaggerated. What they said is that when the President was away to London on sick bed, the Vice President or people around him, made sure that he had retinue of security and advisers around him as much as a president, if not more. So, the president, maybe thought, I don’t know. I am just saying; thought that this thing was going to be reduced naturally when he came back, but it was not reduced and that was why he felt they should be formally reduced. But some people talked of his mentor, the mentor of the vice president who brought him into the…
Is it Tinubu?
Yeah. Tinubu. They said he was the one responsible. I am not too sure. It is a foolish thing. How will he gain? What way will he gain from the removal of the vice president for him to come in? I don’t think so. But if it is so, it is stupid. It is a foolish approach to power wrestling.
Some say 2023 succession struggle is at the root of it. The north wants to keep power beyond Buhari. Can this be possible?
You know this issue of rotation is something that came on board; maybe it was brought in by PDP and so on. APC or those parties that came together to form APC were not interested in zoning. You could see that Buhari contested three times and he comes from the north. He never bothered about what PDP was doing. So, for people to start accusing the north, well after all, the north can do whatever they like. Politics, according to the famous politicians, they say politics is a game of number. If you think you have the number and you can win, why not? But certainly, you have a disadvantage, a disadvantage of law in education, poorer in whatever sense you look at it. If you want to have power again and again, there is nothing wrong. To me, there is nothing wrong with that if we were playing politics. But if we were playing appointments, yes we can go the way. The north should go at the end of this tenure.
And the north has the largest number?
We have the number. The only thing is that we never made use of the number when we are in office. For instance, now, Buhari is in office. What has the north got? If you are from the north, I appoint you, what will you add to the north? We want to see some projects like we are seeing in the southwest and in the southeast and so on.
Are you saying the south is benefitting more under the current dispensation?
By far! You check. It is only that you see northerners appointed, but what does that mean? They have no powers to approve projects or something. They have power to fill in their pockets. That is all.
There seems to be myriad of voices supporting the southeast for the presidency in 2023. Do you think the presidency should remain in the north or go to the south, particularly the southeast?
(He laughs) That is a difficult question. I don’t think I am one of those who believe in giving it to a state as I said earlier on. It is not an appointment, more so when the southeast has not been with the mainstream politics. How can you think of taking it to the southeast? So, it is always going to oppose something and keep crying that you are marginalised and in the end, you will be given. The southeast has not been in the mainstream of politics in spite of the efforts made by Senator Rochas Okorocha. He made efforts to make sure that that the southeast come into the mainstream of politics. It is the only part of the country where the president, that is Buhari, got 10,000 votes in a state in the last election in 2019. I thought it is a zone that is not ready to work with anybody except to work with itself. Only when it is there that it will work with people there. That is my candid truth.
Some northern leaders argue that former President Jonathan destroyed rotational presidency and as such, the principle is dead. Do you agree?
If you look at it, if you are talking of zoning and so on, when Umar Yar’Adua died in 2010, ideally if we thought it was the turn of the north in a civilised world, Jonathan should just spend one year to complete the office he was in because the constitution gave him the right to do so and step aside. But it wasn’t so. So, it is true.
But northern leaders like you supported him.
I supported him because also, I had my own reason for supporting him.
And what was the reason?
My reason is simple: during the first republic, the west was on its own, most parts of the east were on their own, some parts of the southeast were those that were joining with the north to wrestle power in the federation. And I thought it was time to show appreciation for what happened, that singular action that happened in those days during the first republic and I can still defend myself for my action along that line.
Can PDP ever regain power again? And how do you think it can be done?
Well, I don’t know. I am not a PDP man.
Where are you now?
I am just a free man.
You are not in the PDP and not in the APC?
No, no, no, no. I am just an onlooker.
Does it mean that you are sympathetic to President Buhari?
No, no, no, no. Let me explain this. I gave the reason why I left the PDP. PDP lost bearing. PDP became a party for people with money. However young, however crude, however criminally you may be, when you come in and you have money, you are a big man. And people like us, even though we served the country for nearly 46 years, we didn’t have that money to go into a party that believe in that.
Now, Buhari, why I am a bit sympathetic with him is because we know each other since we were both young. I know him as a very young officer, a second lieutenant and we were mates and I am a bit older, at least, by two years and we come from the same state then, Kaduna State that included Katsina. So, we knew each other very well.
Did you feel bad when his government overthrew a government where you were the personal physician to late President Shagari?
I felt bad. That was why Buhari asked me to continue to work in his government. When Buhari came in as the head of state on the 31st December, 1983, we met. Of course, we knew each other very well, he was very friendly with me and he met me in the State House, I went to see him. He wasn’t bothered for me to stay, but when I said I felt I should leave, I should be given another job, he gave me another job and I got him another doctor to work in my place. So, you can see we knew each other for a long time. So, I felt bad of course because I was very close to Buhari and up till now, even though Shagari is dead, Shagari was one of the most honest Nigerians that lived. He died a poor man. He didn’t have much money. He was just managing himself.
Between younger and older generation of politicians, who should Nigerians look forward to in 2023?
I don’t know them until when they come out. You know I can mention you and you might not have the courage or the size of the pocket to come out that time. So, until when I see those people who come out, then I know who to choose.
If you meet President Buhari today, what will you want to tell him?
I will tell him what I hear people say. I will say Mr President, people are complaining that you are making your chief of staff very powerful . Although, as a president, you can make anybody powerful, you can make a labourer the most powerful person in your government. But I think a minister, however small his ministry is, should not be under the control of the chief of staff, just an appointed person. To me, I don’t believe what he has done there. And of course, I will tell him also because sometimes, when you are in office, you don’t so much hear what people say. I will say people are still complaining about insecurity, that the military people you put there, the heads of the military, are there for too long. It has never happened in any government of Nigeria. Not that they are doing anything new. They have been there and they are being kept there and some military people complained at one time that they are retarding the progress of our military people that include the Air Force, Navy; that no promotion for those people and those who were to be promoted last year are just being promoted this year. All these things just because of poor people, I think it is not fair to retard the progress of the younger generation of the military.
Would you say Nigerians made the wrong choice in electing President Buhari in 2015, going by their complaints now?
No, they didn’t because when Jonathan came on board first in 2011, we thought he was going to do well. And he started very well. Along the way, somehow, he derailed. And he also told us to tell people, including Obasanjo at a meeting, that we could say he was going to spend only one term, which means with the one he completed for Umaru Yar’Adua, he was going to add another four to complete Yar’Adua’s term. That was what we carried to everywhere we went, north and south and throughout. There was no state we didn’t visit, and we spent at least one day in that state and we reported what people said and we were full of confidence that Jonathan was going to win. First, he won the primary against Atiku, and the election against Buhari. We thought he was going to do well and he started very well, to be candid, but somehow, he went astray, he was being advised by people that whether or not he does well, he in short will win again because he was already a president; it is difficult for a sitting president to lose an election.
And then, of course, some people were alerting him about the north. And I was told, not that I was sure, but I was told that Jonathan was told that for the north, just bring money out, they will follow you. And for the south, we also told them that he was going to earn only one term to the time he already spent. But his people, I mean the Ijaws, told him that first, you must never think of leaving that office after one term, that some people were threatening to kill him and so on, if at all he should leave after one term. So, more or less, as I heard, he was a reluctant candidate in 2015.
So, that was why he lost?
Well, I don’t know. I was away. I was not involved in the 2015 election; nowhere near the election. I was not invited to come for any meeting for the election after 2011. I didn’t know why.
At what point did former President Jonathan go astray?
Well, we knew there were some of his ministers that were doing anything they liked. As I always say, the Minister of Petroleum had gone astray; she was taking money here and there, doing whatever she liked. There were complaints about the missing 20 billion dollars in the Central Bank. She knew some money was missing, so they got one of the senators in charge of finance to go and make sure that that report of the missing 20 billion dollars is wrong, that he got his figures wrong. So, I was just surprised how the Central Bank Governor could be wrong, somebody who was keeping the money, was told that he was wrong. Somehow, that is how the government went astray to the extent that even the Governor himself, the Governor of Central Bank, was about to be sacked when he ran away. He left the office, he abandoned his office and left. They were about to seize his passport and so on.
Considering the role you played in former President Jonathan’s election in 2011, did he actually say he was going to do one term because that has been an issue?
That was what we said and he was there at Eagle Square. Obasanjo was there, I was there quite alright, and even Atiku was there. So, that was what we were asked to say and that was what we said.
Do you agree with Nigerians who are now complaining that the nation is worse off in terms of security, economy and corruption?
I cannot go astray and tell the general public that there is security in Nigeria today. There is very little security. For instance, I can’t go to Kaduna as often as I want. I am always in Abuja and all the number of kidnappings taking place and so on, I think there is much more insecurity now than they were during Jonathan’s time. We have to tell the truth.
How can all these issues be addressed effectively?
Well, you know it is not the government itself that is causing all these kidnapping. It is greed.
Greed from our youths! It is the youths and the fact that according to authentic report, even the security personnel are involved in all these kidnapping because it is a profitable venture. Now, it is difficult to make money. So, the easiest way to make money is to kidnap. You can make millions or billions if you are an organised kidnapper.
When you say authentic report, is it coming from the presidency or from the diplomatic circle?
No, no, no, no, no. The president will not say that. He also says he confirms that there is more insecurity now. He also confirms there is more poverty now. There is also more insecurity now; there is no question about that. But it is not the doing or the making of the presidency, or the government. They are not the ones causing the insecurity. The issue of insecurity is caused by greedy people amongst us, the youths in particular as confirmed by the number of kidnappers arrested. You can see that there are many more around. But the security people now are working hard, they are capturing a few.
Considering your political status and efforts in delivering the former president in 2011, would you say retaining you as Nigerian’s High Commissioner in the United Kingdom was the best he could offer you?
Well, I don’t know. Jonathan never discussed with me what he would offer me after the election other than I knew I told him I was going back to my station, which is London. And because he knew he was not the one who gave me London in the first place, it was Yar’Adua, so I said I was going back. He invited me and the vice president then to his office. We sat down, he thanked me again and again and he gave me some money, about 10,000 Pounds or so. And I left for London. No contact again! Nobody ever contacted me about how the cabinet was going to be made, whether or not I was being considered. Nobody! Nobody! The only person who came to tell me something about the decision of Jonathan, but I don’t know whether it was true or not, was Senator David Mark, then Senate President. He used to come to London often. When he came one time, he said ‘ah, ah, Leader’, you know because I was the Majority Leader. He said ‘Leader, I thought it was decided that you were going to be given the position of Minister of Defence?’ I said nobody told me anything about it. But I am not a greedy man, I never looked for an office, I never asked him for an office and I am satisfied with what I have now.
Why were you drafted into the Jonathan’s campaign team? Was it a move to sway the northern electorates who earlier believed that the presidency should remain in the north since the late President Yar’Adua did not complete his tenure?
It is a convention. It is a general situation. You could see General Buhari or President Buhari’s director-general was from the South. Isn’t it? That is in vogue. During Obasanjo’s time, it was Adamu Ciroma who was basically the director-general. During Jonathan, I was made the director-general for the first term. The second term, of course, maybe I didn’t do well, but at least, we won the election. Nobody contacted me. They put some other people there, which was alright.
What is your candid and general assessment of the Jonathan’s presidency?
My candid opinion, my honest opinion, he didn’t do well. He was a bit sectional. That is my own observation. How could he forget somebody from the north who left his job to come and work for him just suddenly like that? There must be somebody from his own kitchen cabinet who said no, ignore him, he already has a job. Otherwise, I am surprised and many other things.
If you notice also, all those who were major ministers, people who could do whatever they liked in their ministries, were from the south. You can see somebody like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, she was more powerful than even the vice president because she was the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance. So, she was everything. In some cases, she would be more powerful than even the president himself. Then of course, the Minister of Petroleum would only remit whatever she wanted to the Central Bank from the sale of our crude and so on. So, you could see how powerful these people had become. You cannot name one person, not one from the north. Think also about the Secretary to the Government who also was from the south again, I’m talking about my colleague, the former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim. He was very powerful. So, anybody who leads a government along sectional lines, I think will not succeed.
So, what this implies is that Jonathan was the architect of his misfortunes in 2015?
I think so. But you know I can’t blame him much because he is a young man, he didn’t have much experience. I remember during my send-forth party, which he attended, one of my comments was that we hoped he wants to be somebody who doesn’t care about his tribe because he comes from a minority tribe in terms of size and therefore, I am sure he was going to do very well. And that was what I said. But that didn’t work the way I expected.