We need to build more bridges connecting all regions, not walls, says Abiola’s son
‘Buhari’s will formulate impactful policies in second term’
Jamiu Abiola, son of the late Chief MKO Abiola, the acclaimed winner of June 12, 1993 presidential election, is also a translator and author of many books. In this interview with Emeka Nwachukwu, the multilingual Shettima Rasheed of Borno speaks on Nigeria’s 20 years of democracy, especially the transitioning of June 12 as democracy day among other issues. Excerpts:
What could you recall about fight for June 12?
The fight for June 12 was vicious in an unprecedented way. It was unexpected but what made matters worse was not just the callous way my parents were killed during the struggle but the betrayals they suffered before and after their demise. The second part of the battle was to ensure that they were officially recognised. To this end, I wrote two books entitled “The President Who Never Ruled” and “The Stolen Presidency” while my sister, Hafsat Abiola, set up the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy in order to promote democracy through the ideals my mother stood for.
So is this the picture of democratic culture your parent sacrificed their lives for?
Yes, because there is now a separation of power between the judiciary, the legislative and executive arms of government. This separation did not quite exist in the democratic dispensation that came on board in 1999. Then, there were constant interferences in the affairs of state governors who, in some cases, were illegally removed from office by the then president. Even the allocations of some states were withheld then.
Has the Buhari administration been able to address the lingering issues of unemployment, job loss, escalating poverty and economic degradation?
Addressing multiple problems that emerged over a long period of time cannot take place overnight. This administration has surpassed my expectations because I know the level of decadence it inherited. The country had collapsed and the possibility of a revival, in the short or long run, was well below average. Despite these challenges and dwindling crude oil revenues, the Buhari government was still miraculously able to provide bailouts to state governments and tackle poverty ferociously via schemes like N-Power where currently over half a million youths are employed from each local government not as labourers, but as agricultural consultants, teachers and health personnel. The government is also tackling job losses by rolling out the most ambitious infrastructural development programme in Nigeria’s history, focusing on railway systems and road networks, which will further boost trade and transportation.
How would you react to the security situation in the country, which has been described by former president Obasanjo as a plot to Fulanise Nigeria?
The state of insecurity, dubbed by the former president as a plan to Fulanise Nigeria, is actually a creation of the failed policies of his administration and those of some leaders before him. We must always remember that persistent corruption is what has created the poverty that has made Nigeria a haven for militants. The Obasanjo administration, exporting crude at the cost of over 100 dollars following the Iraq war, failed to fulfill its promise to diversify the Nigerian economy. This would have provided jobs for the youths that have now embraced militancy.
In those days, that administration spoke of cassava and bitumen as products to supplement oil but none of those plans ever saw the light of day. President Buhari thus inherited a looted and battered economy that is still dependent on oil as a single largest source of income. This reality is the genesis of the current insurgency but with the social schemes and military plans in place, the current government will soon defeat the insurgency.
But critics maintain that president Buhari under-performed in his first tenure?
Critics saying that President Buhari underperformed are doing so because they have failed to properly assess the state of the nation as at May 28, 2015. To me, some of them are mere alarmists who, in a desperate bid to remain relevant, have resorted to painting bogus doomsday scenarios existing only within the figment of their imaginations. Do you know, for example, that according to United Nations’ figures, there were around three million rifles in Nigeria in the possession of non-state individuals at the time this administration came into power, and that those weapons, in many cases, were even more sophisticated than the arms in the army’s possession? Without security there can be no development.
So, the government had to deploy very scarce resources to equip our armed forces whose weapons had become obsolete. This was at a time that the Avengers (in Niger Delta) caused a sharp drop in oil exports and, as a result, oil revenue. As this was ongoing, more capital was miraculously sourced and eventually used to bail out collapsing state governments and to provide badly needed infrastructure to a very rapidly rising population. Looking at these facts and many others, it would be foolhardy for anyone to suggest that the Buhari/Osinbajo administration has underperformed.
So, what do you expect from president Buhari in his second term?
I expect President Buhari to keep honouring his promises to Nigerians, because he is one of the few African leaders known to never break his promises. In line with his declaration of June 12 as Democracy Day, I also expect him to continue to abide by the principles of June 12, as he has done in his first term, particularly as regards his resolve to crush poverty since my father’s campaign was entitled ‘Farewell to Poverty’. Already, this administration is feeding almost 10 million pupils daily, transferring cash to the poorest households and providing loans to the poorest traders. I hope to see more of that in this next tenure. I also hope to continue to see a cordial working relationship between him and Osinbajo because the VP has not only played a critical role in this administration’s accomplishments, but over a span of decades, he has proven himself to be a man of sound integrity and competence just like the president.
What sets president Buhari apart from other presidents in the past 20 years of democracy that your father paved the way for?
It is his determination to ensure that democracy touches the lives of the poorest in our society, regardless of tribe or region. His N-Power programme does not only target beneficiaries from each local government but it places particular emphasis on the youths within the 18 and 35 years age bracket, which are the most restless and volatile segment of any society. This is a welcome development because that is the only way unrest will be reduced and that democracy will flourish. If democracy fails to take care of the many poor and continues to cater for the few rich as was done in the past, democracy will perish. So our president is on the right track and thus deserves our collective support.
Your late father, MKO Abiola, made his name in business and philanthropy. Do you think President Buhari’s second term would make better the lives of Nigeria?
I agree, but that was at the middle stage of his adult life. At the later stage, he was known for sacrifice and patriotism. It is only through patriotism that leaders can make any desirable impact. President Buhari has demonstrated such rare patriotism by not only contesting for elections over and over again but by also never for once deciding to take the law into his own hands even when there was ample evidence that he had been cheated. This attitude and patriotic zeal will no doubt continue to help him formulate policies that would make more direct positive impact in the lives of Nigerians. However, Nigerians too have a major role to play because no tree, no matter how tall, will ever make a forest.
Despite president Buhari’s commemoration of June 12, do you think the Southwest would produce the president come 2023?
We are all Nigerians. The most important thing now is for us, in line with the ideals of Moshood and Kudirat Abiola, to build more bridges connecting all the regions of this country and not walls dividing it. That should be our priority now and not where the next president of the country comes from.
After 20 of democracy, what would you see needs to be changed?
In order to improve our democracy, we should continue to honour those who possess or possessed strong democratic ideals. I was delighted to hear that the Federal Government, on the 10th of June, would be putting my mother in the Nigerian Hall of Fame as the Heroine of Nigeria’s Democracy. Such actions will go a long way in strengthening our democracy and will let Nigerians realise that behind every heroic act lays a reward that will surely come even if it comes after your demise.
What special thing do you miss you miss about your father?
I miss his presence, not just in my life, but also in this country as a whole. The vacuum created by his demise and that of my beautiful mother can never be filled, but as a Muslim it means I have to double my efforts in order to catch up with them in heaven. Wish me luck!