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‘Unless Nigerians press for true democracy, it might never evolve’

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Elder statesman and former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Abdukadir Balarabe Musa, in this interview, speaks on the leadership style of President Muhammadu Buhari, the recently conducted governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states, the threats to free, fair and credible polls and other issues of national significance.

As elder statesman and political leader in the country who has participated and observed Nigeria’s democratic journey since 1999 to date, how will you describe the state governance in the country today?
First of all, I will say that I don’t know the relevance of 1999 with regards to the state of the nation. Secondly, I don’t know your understanding of democracy. But I can tell you that my understanding of democracy is the supremacy of the will of the people as demonstrated in a free, fair and transparent election leading to a legitimate government at every level, particularly the power of the electorate, the voters, to decide the fate of a political party, election candidate and the government in power. That is democracy.

But I have problems with you and others, particularly in the media, who simply regard democracy as change from military to civilian
leadership. Well, it is a progress. But that doesn’t amount to democracy. It is just transfer of power from military to civilian.

Another point is that you talked about 1999. What is the relevance of 1999 in the state of Nigeria? In 1999, the military leaders surrendered power to Obasanjo, that is to civilians. But in real terms, does that amount to democracy? I think this is understatement of the real definition of democracy. Democracy is the supremacy of the will of the people.

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Nigerians had expected that the nation would have risen above the present level of governance. However, the reality is that security challenges and socio-economic threats are undermining development. Can the nation survive the problems in the near future?
We over estimated the relevance and significance of the mere transfer of power from military to civilian. It was definitely a step forward but not sufficient enough to bring about a qualitative future for Nigeria. Secondly, we made the mistake of realising that the process of the transfer of power from military to civilian took place under a condition where we didn’t understand both the military and civilians that were ready to take over power. And the military and civilians eventually became one major factor in the social class distinction in Nigeria. In other words, the rich and powerful civilians and the rich and powerful military leaders have come together under one social class of the rich and powerful in the country. By the time the transfer of power between the military and the civilian took place, we now began to deceive ourselves, such that without doing anything we will achieve true democracy in Nigeria. Just like in the days of colonial powers when we depended on the British colonialism, we thought we would have progress without fighting for it like others did. Even in Britain, France, United States of America, Russia and China, they didn’t just sit down and hope for the best as we have been doing. No, they regarded what happened to them as a transformation, as a step forward and beginning of the liberation of the people. And they made up their minds to advance to a situation whereby there would be peace, national unity, democracy and all round development.

But here in Nigeria, we just sit down and hope for that and that is the reason we are now where we are today. We are now in a situation whereby first, nobody has respect for the laws. There is no law that is respected again, both electoral and civil laws. People exist on the basis of balance of terror. People would not do a thing because of fear of the other person, thinking that the party or the person in authority will have the greater power against them. Where we only have respect for balance of terror, how can we proceed successfully in the country?

I will tell you that we are now in a situation that historian call bureaucratic anarchy. That is, where law and order does not exist but power game takes place. That is where we are today. And if we don’t do anything now to redress this ugly problem, we would like other nations reach a situation whereby social revolution will be the solution.

Elections are seen in democratic climes as a channel for legitimising leadership. People believe that the mode of conducting elections in Nigeria is suspect, hence the complaints trailing the recent governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states. What is your own assessment of the process?
Well, there is clear evidence as regards what has been going on in the country with respect to the electoral process in Nigeria and what we are now experiencing in Kogi and Bayelsa states. It is clear evidence that there is no qualitative electoral process and this is clear from reading of our constitution. Even in the formation of political parties in our own constitution, you will see that there is no desire to have a qualitative electoral process.

The constitution and the electoral laws, and the constitutions of the political parties show only power game between factions of the reactionary ruling class, the rich and powerful ruling class. This is quite clear. So, what we have been experiencing recently came to a crystallisation in Bayelsa and Kogi states; and are just the consequences of the type of constitution and electoral laws we have.

For instance, does the constitution of Nigeria and the electoral laws aim at ensuring free, fair and transparent elections leading to legitimate governance at all levels and the supremacy of the voters to decide the fate of political parties, candidates and the government in power? No! They are all aimed at maintaining the status quo, the supremacy of the reactionary rich and powerful ruling social class.

But the advent of the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari as a democratic President gave hope to the nation in 2015…
(Cuts in) It gave hope to those who do not understand and did not understand governance and the rights of the people. Yes, things were so bad that they were deceived by the emergence. But it is now quite clear that it is the hope against hope. The qualitative right choice has not been done and the condition for it did not exist and our task is to make it exist at any cost. I will give you an example of what happened and was reported by the media between Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

The President alleged that the National Assembly squandered N1 trillion in the last 10 years. Now, what did he do by the time he became the President when this was happening? The legislature does not control funding in the country; the executive does that. The legislature cannot go to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) or any other bank and take the money. It is the executive that makes the approval for release of the money. So, why did he give the money to the legislature in the name of constituency allowance when he knew they were squandering it and he has the responsibility to stop it? Why did he not stop it until when he knew it was beyond him? How can you now recover that amount of money you approved that was squandered from the National Assembly? What can he do about the damage that had happened now? Why should the President fail to correct things while they were happening until when they have happened; when his power of control is limited and when he is overwhelmed by the reality?

You had before the advent of the government warned Nigerians to beware of President Buhari’s anti-people tendencies. Do you still stand by this assertion today?
Well, you can see today that people talk about what damage has been done and he has not done anything about it. Why is it so? People see the use of political power rather than the law in solving problems. For instance, in the case of treating those opposed to the government, instead of using reason and law you use political power. Is that not fascism? Say for instance, the cases of El-Zakyzaky, Dasuki, Kanu, Sowore and others. As the president, you are the father of all and should rely more on reason and law than on power. You
should rely on the law where reason doesn’t work. But that is not happening.

Again courts had given El-Zakyzaky, Dasuki, Kanu, Sowore and even others the right to be freed while their cases to find out if they are guilty or otherwise continue. In other words, they were given bail but the government has refused the bail.

Let us examine another ridiculous situation. I was reading the reaction of the DSS on why people are complaining that the Service is still detaining Dasuki, El-Zakyzay and others. The DSS is now coming with an excuse that ‘we are doing this from the request of these people because they are saying that they are safer in the hands of DSS than in the hands of prison authorities.’ So, the situation in Nigeria is such that you are freer in detention than having freedom?

Now, who should you blame for all this? Is it not the leader of the country? Things cannot correct themselves; it will happen through the leader. The leader is not prepared to make sacrifice on law and order, democracy, dignity of the human person and progressive development of the country.

What is your take on the use of arms against voters by political thugs as witnessed in the Kogi and Bayelsa elections?
There is no credible electoral process. All we had is opportunism and power game. Pure and simple! An electoral process that does not have any quality, is it really worth being called an electoral process?

What does this behaviour (use of arms against voters) potend for the 2023 general elections?
I will tell you a rumour that I was told four days ago by someone whom I respect, who would not tell me a lie. And I will say something about it. He said there was debate on security in the Senate. And that debate led to the Senate asking one of the senators who was a state governor how he came about possessing 1,000 AK47 guns and ammunitions. And he said that in fact, every governor has an armoury. In other words, what he had, 1,000 AK47 and ammunition, all the 36 governors have the same. He said that in his own case, when he seized to be governor, he didn’t trust the person who took over from him. So, he returned the guns and ammunition to the police. This is a dangerous situation in the country.

The debate took place in the Senate. But suddenly the media no longer covered the debate or rather there was a blackout. I am saying this to you because I trust the person and the person is very close to me. Now, with all these, who can maintain law and order in the country? How can you prevent violence in a situation where the state governors have armoury in their possession. Even the president himself, constitutionally, cannot have an armoury. It is the constitution that empowers the head of the Army to oversee the armoury of the nation and decides which military units should have it. They cannot give it to the state governors or even the president. But I don’t know how far this is true.

But the most surprising thing is that this reportedly happened in the Senate and the media gave it a blackout. And those who are concerned about security of the country and legitimacy of governance are also doing nothing about it.

But under the prevailing situation in Nigeria today, do you think either the APC or PDP can deliver Nigeria from challenges bedeviling the country and its electoral process?
How can they? They are both the problems of our country and part and parcel of the same reactionary rich and powerful ruling class. How can they? They can only make things worse for the country. In fact, the continuation of the challenges in the country will eventually eliminate both the APC and PDP as political parties in Nigeria in the near future. You wait and see. They will be the first victims in the
country. Already, they are incapable of resolving the nation’s challenges because of internal squabbles among themselves and lack of capacity to deliver.

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What is the way forward for the country?
The way forward for the country is to respect the supremacy of the will of the people to decide their fate and respect the supremacy of the electoral process to produce leaders. We have to take into account the experiences of other democratically sound countries. If we take these into consideration, I think the alternative is to change the socio-economic and political system controlling all developments in Nigeria and the political leadership inadvertently produced by the system. Now, the system and leadership exist really and have always existed to manage all development needs of the country; and the system and leadership in Nigeria is based on self-interest first, public interest second or even none existing. If this system is not changed in favour of a system based on public interest first, and enlightened self-interest second (and this in reality cannot come about without free, fair and transparent elections leading to legitimate government at every level with the power of the electorate to decide the fate of the political parties, election candidates and government in power), then we cannot make progress.

This can be best achieved, in the case of Nigerian experience, by a socialist reconstruction of the country, starting with the leading role of the state and the economy to ensure peace, equality, justice, dignity of the human persons and development of the country.

In the case of your preference for socialist intervention in the reconstruction of the nation, do you think that the Buhari administration, which is seen as an anti-corruption crusader by the admirers, can drive your preferences for the reconstruction of the country?
No! He is not relevant in this discourse. We are talking about the nation and its future. Let us have free, fair and transparent elections by any means under his leadership. If we can have free, fair and transparent elections leading to legitimate government at every level, then you can find out whether you, myself or he are relevant. But now, without qualitative basis, nothing can be
done.

But as the situation in the country is today, do you think that your expectation can be realised?
Yes. It can be realised. They did it in Britain, America, Russia and even China before they became what these countries are today.

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