Hajiya Naja’atu Muhammed, was the Director of the Civil Society Directorate in the All Progressives Congress Presidential Campaign Council (APC-PCC), before she quit the job a fortnight ago on the ground that the party’s presidential candidate, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu did not have what it takes to be President and it would go against her conscience to be part of selling him to Nigerians for the job, being fully aware of his poor physical and mental state of health. In this interview, culled from The PUNCH, the firebrand activist, who had since joined the campaigns of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Atiku Abubakar, gives further reasons of why a Tinubu presidency remained a danger to Nigeria. Excerpts:
At what point did it occur to you to part ways with the APC presidential campaign council, where you oversaw civil society organisations?
Let me tell you what really happened. In the first place, I did not support Tinubu as a presidential aspirant; my support was for Professor Yemi Osinbajo from day one. In fact, I had sent emissaries to Osinbajo to come out and contest, that he is relatively young, well educated, proactive, and brilliant. We noticed that each time Buhari leaves the country; we regain some semblance of sanity, including the value of the Naira.
When Tinubu emerged, he emerged in the most corrupt way. I knew how delegates were given money to go and vote, but it was not just to go and vote; the name Asiwaju was written on each ballot paper. They were only paid to go and drop it in the box. For that reason alone, I had no interest in that primary election. Yes, I was in the APC, but I couldn’t even liberate myself at that point in time. I waited, but I never attended any of the meetings, and I was not interested in anything.
One day, Hon Faleke called me. I didn’t know Faleke from Adam. I was on a flight when he called to introduce himself. And then he said, “Please, ma, we want you to be on the campaign council; we want you to be a director.” I said no, why? I don’t want to be the director of your campaign. He started saying, “Please, ma,” and I said no. “You are embarrassing me,” because it is not good for anybody to be begging you; it is very embarrassing, and if you don’t accept it, you appear to be arrogant. He asked why I didn’t want the appointment. I said because I haven’t sat with Tinubu, I haven’t seen him, he hasn’t told us what he had for us up North, and at this point in time and at my age, I cannot be a zombie. He kept pleading with me, and we agreed half way.
So, he said, “Okay, ma, by the time you see Asiwaju, if you are not satisfied with what he has to say to you, then you can opt out. We agreed on that. After that, I saw a call several times, which I did not answer, and then they sent me a text saying that Asiwaju wanted to talk with me, and I said I would be waiting.”
So, what did Tinubu say to you on the phone?
He said, “Hajiya, please forgive me, but I respect your stance on not accepting my appointment. However, I want you to hear me out. Can you come over to London?” I said yes. That night, I purchased my ticket, and I took a Lufthansa flight the next day to arrive in London the day after. That same evening, I was taken to Asiwaju by one Ibrahim Masari, and we sat down.
You finally met him in London?
Exactly, I said, “Sir, what have you got for us up north? What is your blueprint for our situation? He said he didn’t have a blueprint. I said, “Sir, how can you rule without a blueprint? He said the reason is because he would be stepping on too many toes, and they might kill him. I thought that was silly. I said, sir, if you don’t have a blueprint, then how do you rule? By the time you get power, there will be a lot of distractions. So, he said, if I have anything that I want to include in his manifesto, I should go ahead.
What did you do thereafter?
I sat with my elders; you know that we have been networking for the salvation of the country for quite a while now. We sat down and came up with a brochure on the Almajiri, agriculture, the economy, and out-of-school kids. But I was not allowed to see Asiwaju again. I was still in London, so I called Ibrahim Masari, and he said, “Sorry, your proposal cannot be said because Governor Nasir El-Rufai has already told them that all the North needs is the state police.”
I came back to Nigeria, and it took an eternity to even inaugurate the campaign council. The person that was helping the campaign council is the secretary, Senator Mohammed Hassan. Meetings are held in his house. He sponsors the meetings, buys the refreshments, and gives everything, but nobody has received anything.
After a while, Faleke and Senator Hassan asked us to come up with a budget. We set up a technical committee and got to work. We came up with a document and handed it over to Faleke, but nothing happened.
Asiwaju was not accessible. It is easier to see Prophet Mohammed because, during his time, if he doesn’t see you, he goes looking for you. Buhari was accessible to the lowest of the low when he was contesting. I had never seen anything like that. To see Tinubu, you have to lobby, but I can’t condescend to that level. In all this, however, I persisted, so what did I do? I said, “Okay, let me look for the who’s who of our northern leaders in the APC. For about three months, I was shuttling to get us to sit and give Asiwaju the position of Northern Nigeria, but they refused to sit.
Why did you insist on making demands for the North?
Before the South-West decided to support Buhari in 2015, they gave him a blueprint of demands. That was how Babatunde Fashola got three or four “jumbo” ministries. Go and check; the highest amount Buhari gave to the North-West, his own region, is 12 per cent of his total budget. The biggest beneficiary of Buhari’s government because of their deal with him is the South West.
Meanwhile, I was getting overtures from Peter Obi, Atiku Abubakar, and Rabiu Kwankwaso, and I kept rejecting them because I didn’t want to come across as a hypocrite. Obi and I wanted to meet, but we were both very busy, and I outright refused to meet with Atiku. I am quite close to Kwankwaso, and this is even beyond politics. I knew what he did as governor of Kano State. He prioritised education, provided an enabling environment for businesses to thrive, and rehabilitated drug addicts.
What stopped you from joining the Obi or Kwankwaso’s camps when you decided to leave Asiwaju?
I respect Obi very highly. He has been the rallying point for the youth in this country. However, both Obi and Kwankwaso are handicapped now. They started their parties too close to elections, and they don’t have structures. So, no matter how hard you try, it is difficult to make it.
Our experience is similar to that of Buhari. Nobody has ever been as popular as Buhari in Northern Nigeria, but why does he keep losing? He was getting his 15 million votes consistently, but he never made it until he got a bridge to cross to the other side. Unless and until Obi and Kwankwaso get across that bridge, it is going to be difficult. The Obi and Kwankwaso movements, if properly managed, can outlive them.
You had a personal encounter with Tinubu in London. What’s your assessment of him in terms of preparedness and readiness for the job?
I saw him firsthand in London. He was sleeping most of the time. He cannot stay for ten minutes without dozing off. Sometimes, Pa Bisi Akande supported him like this (shrugs off her right shoulder). It is so frustrating! He didn’t even understand what I was saying. The man is not mentally alert. I asked some of those around him, as well as some of our clerics, who claimed that having a Muslim-Muslim ticket is a Jihad. I asked them, “Can you allow Tinubu to lead you in prayer? Can you allow Tinubu to be your Imam? If you say yes, I will join you. But they said no, so I asked why? They said because he is sick.
APC has a candidate that cannot be deciphered, a man that the chairman of the party helped to be able to hold the party’s flag. Let us not crucify Tinubu because of his ill health, but we should also not sacrifice the lives and properties of over 200 million people because we want to be sympathetic to a sick person.
You once described the APC candidate as an emperor. What makes you see him in that light?
He claims he made Lagos what it is today. He claimed that Lagos and the entire South West revolve around him. How else should I qualify him, if not as an emperor? Who gives him that right? How did he manage to get that right? Over 20 years after he left the governorship, why? Why was Akinwunmi Ambode removed? Ambode was doing a great job. He was removed because of the emperor.
The campaign council dismissed your claims that Tinubu has no plans for the North, stating that in his manifesto, there are specific programmes of action for the region.
These people don’t even know the difference between a manifesto and a blueprint. I can tell you that I have a menu in my house. I want to have rice and I want to have beans; that is the menu. How do I cook the rice and beans? That is the blueprint, and Tinubu does not have that for the North. He’s too superficial because he told me he wouldn’t make a blueprint until after the election. Is that impossible?
Culled from The PUNCH