The presidential candidate of the Action Democratic Party and Chairman, Inter-Party Advisory Committee, Yabagi Sani, shares his views with GIFT HABIB on what Nigerians should do ahead of the 2023 general elections
You are holding roles as your party’s presidential candidate, its national chairman and the Chairman of the Inter-Party Advisory Committee. How will you be able to function properly as a presidential candidate with two more roles attached to you?
Have you forgot that when the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), was vying for office for his second term, did he leave his office as President? When senators are running for extra terms, do they vacate their offices? That is how I am as well.
The Independent National Electoral Commission says nobody will be able to rig the 2023 elections. Do you have confidence in this pledge?
Of course, I have confidence in INEC because they are the ones handling the elections. From my interaction with them, they are quite organised and focused. I have no reason to doubt them.
Are you concerned that most presidential candidates have not unfolded their manifestoes?
Not at all; you have to understand that this period is like a marathon race. The INEC programme is different from the previous ones. From the previous programmes, they had only about three months to campaign and this one, you have like about six months. You know the times are hard for Nigerians. If you look at it from the perspective of the political party of the candidate, logistics is quite heavy. I believe that those who have not unfolded their manifestoes are equally more than ready. It is just that there are phases of campaigns, but I can assure you that in a matter of a month or two, the manifestoes will be unfolded.
What is your take on the refusal of the Senate to acknowledge complaints that some of the nominees for Resident Electoral Commissioners are party members?
It is in the wisdom of the Senate not to stop anybody from the appointment, but I think if you look at it critically, we are all political animals. It is always difficult to see a Nigerian that is non-partisan. Yes, there are people who are card-carrying members of parties, but those who are not card-carrying members of parties are even more partisan. Perhaps, that is the thinking of the Senate, but I am sure that the Senate has its reasons. By their own assessment, if the lawmakers discover that the person is credible, equitable and trustworthy; they will be able to ensure that he or she does not in any way become partisan or favour any individual against another. I think they believe that there is no 100 per cent perfect way you can assess an individual mindset, whether card carrying member or not.
Which areas do you think the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), could have done better?
I am sure he could have done better in the area of security more than any other area. If you look at him, his background; being a military officer, which was why he was supported across the board. Like he promised, he should not have allowed the issue of insecurity to escalate. But I am sure that Buhari would have loved to see that the issue of insecurity is taken care of as no one would like to come to a situation and then leave it worse than he or she met it. This is the scenario that is playing out now. Moreover, for the North that suffers more than any section of the country in terms of insecurity, Buhari will not be happy with himself. It only tells us that leadership is a collective responsibility and unfortunately for him, he appointed those that do not share in his passion of what he believes in. He has to rely on others for support and those that he is relying on refuse to live up to expectation.
Are you impressed by the President’s anti-corruption campaign?
This is not so because there are many things that would have been addressed more frontally. It would have served as a warning to others who perhaps are doing what they are doing today. Look at the case of the Attorney-General of the Federation; look at the case of what is going on in the oil and gas region etc. and not much has been done to demonstrate that the administration is very serious in fighting corruption. I am sure too that the President is not happy in this area. What he needed to do was to show example by punishing those who went against the law.
You were a party to the recent peace accord signed by presidential candidates and others. What impact does the signing of a peace accord have for the general elections?
The peace accord has a moral sword, which will of course influence the attitude, action and even utterances of the people picking the number one office irrespective of the calibre and the personality of the people behind the peace accord itself.
The INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, recently raised concern about the level of insecurity and its possible consequences. Does this not bother you?
Insecurity is not peculiar to Nigeria alone, there are also some countries battling with the issue of insecurity such as Syria, Afghanistan etc. But they still conduct elections because the belief is that once an election is conducted and perhaps a new leadership emerges, that may be the solution to insecurity. That is why whatever it takes, the security agencies have not come out to say that they cannot contain the situation. If you ask them, they will tell you they are prepared to ensure that an election takes place.
Do you agree that insecurity may impact the eventual outcome of the elections?
Well, the outcome of an election is supposed to be a reflection of what the people of that country are saying or what they want; if they are satisfied with the status quo and if they are not satisfied, the only way they can change it is through an election. To me, the way insecurity will affect the election will be a referendum on this administration as far as insecurity and the economy are concerned. The way security will affect the election will tell the world that Nigerians have either resolved to fight insecurity or perhaps change the government. Whatever Nigerians have been talking about the All Progressives Congress, we will see it manifest on Election Day.
Electioneering campaigns have kicked off. From your view, what should be the major issues dominating the campaigns?
The campaigns must be different and issue-based. They must touch on issues affecting Nigerians. People who are parading themselves as candidates, especially those from the major parties, lack the knowledge of how to move the economy of this nation forward. You cannot vote for someone who does not know anything about the economy, especially the key sectors of the economy because today, if you look at it, the most devastating drawback that Nigeria is facing is corruption in the oil and gas sector. This set of people does not know how that sector operates. If you do not have the knowledge of how the oil and gas sector operates, how do you stop crude oil theft? How do you tackle the issue of fuel subsidy?
These are the issues the economy is dealing with now. I have worked in that sector and know how to move the economy forward through the introduction of international best practices that are available, which is something we can do. So, unless we have a leader, who understands the workings of that sector, which contributes about 90 per cent of our revenue and it has dominant backward and forward linkages with other sectors of the economy. The only reason why we cannot make enough revenue is because what we make is being stolen. The little that is left is being stolen by international communities and the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited in the name of fuel subsidy. The country is being burnt at both ends. We must have a person who can handle Nigeria’s issues and set the economy the way it ought to be.
Two major issues, zoning and religion, have played up in the build-up to the forthcoming polls. How do you see the issue of zoning and religion determining the outcome of the general elections?
The problem of this country can easily be solved if as a nation we are able to distance ourselves from these dichotomies that have nothing to do with leadership. What has religion, ethnicity or zoning got to do with the capacity, competence or qualification of a person leading the country? So long as we cage ourselves in this sentiment, we can never make any progress, and that is why we are where we are today. It deprives us the opportunity of getting quality, informed and capable hands to run the affairs of this country. That is why my candidature is different from others. If you look at it, Nigeria today is being divided along ethnic lines. The Igbo have Peter Obi, Yoruba have Bola Tinubu; and the Hausa/Fulani have Atiku Abubakar and Rabiu Kwankwaso. If any of them wins, the other two ethnic groups will feel they have lost, which is why we cannot have a stable government going forward, because it is a competition among these three major tribes. This is why we are where we are today. If a Yoruba man wins, an Igbo man will be restless and vice versa. I am from the North-Central and I have the experience, purpose, qualification and knowledge, and I think for us to unite this country, the candidature in other zones should be given a trial and not to be sentimental such as judging the kinds of clothes the candidate is putting on, his faith, belief etc.
What is your advice to Nigerians ahead of the 2023 polls?
Nigerians should understand that they cannot be doing the same thing the same way and expect different results. They should vote for people like me who are in the contest, and we have what it takes. We keep recycling people who have failed woefully. One of the biggest problems in Nigeria is that people who have put themselves up for elections are people who represent the failed establishment. We are now looking at how we can make the country work again. This cannot be done with people that have nothing to offer. What they know is that they are People Democratic Party, Labour Party, All Progressives Congress, or New Nigeria Peoples Party. Nigerians should break from that path that has not helped us in any way at all. With the coming of the ADP in 2023, the international communities will begin to take us seriously, because they will know that Nigerians have woken up from their slumber and they want to do things like the way other countries that are progressing are doing it.
Crude oil theft has reduced the revenue accruing to the country. Do you support the Federal Government’s appointment of a non-state actor to secure the oil pipelines in the Niger Delta?
Well, that is not the solution, but where you have extraordinary problems, you apply extraordinary measures. The solution that other developing countries use to address oil theft should be adopted. The government should adopt a scientific solution where you have an online monitoring system to tell the government what is happening, how much the oil is producing and how much is being spent. The moment you have accountability and good governance, it goes a long way to track oil theft.
https://googleads.g.doubleclick.net/pagead/ads?he Labour Party has been growing in popularity since Peter Obi emerged as its presidential candidate. Do you think the LP is the third force that is expected by Nigerians to take over in 2023?
I am not in the Labour Party and I will not like to talk about another political party as far as that issue is concerned. All I know is that Nigeria needs a change and the change we are looking for is not from establishment politicians such as Peter Obi, Bola Tinubu and others, who are making so much noise. They played key roles in putting us where we are today. That is not what Nigerians are looking for.
Is there any plan by the ADP to collaborate with the LP to achieve a common goal, which is winning the presidential and other elections?
As the Chairman of IPAC, we are trying to see how we can bring, not only the Labour Party, but all other parties to the table whereby we can discuss the requirements for national or unity government regardless of who wins; other political parties will also be carried along in governance using certain parameters. That is what we are working on. It is about all the political parties together. That is what we are trying to achieve as IPAC.
Recently, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Atiku Abubaker, urged northerners to avoid voting for Yoruba and Igbo, and this remark has attracted criticisms. What is your response to it?
You can also ask me why Tinubu is saying it is the turn of the Yoruba or you can ask me why Obi is saying it is time for the church to take back the government. These sets of people are ethnic champions and establishment politicians. They cannot solve our problems for us. They cannot grow out of that little space they are in as Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa. Nigeria is about everybody. Nigeria needs politicians like me who view the country as our world and not take tribe as our world.
What are the things you will do within your first six months in office if you are elected the President of Nigeria?
I will take decisive action on the issue of fuel subsidies that will improve the economy of the country. I will make sure that we do not borrow beyond whatever this government must have accumulated irresponsibly. I will also make sure that our naira exchange rate is a single rate and not multiple rates. I will make sure we have properly aligned monetary and fiscal policies. We will not have a central bank governor going to become agricultural, health or industry minister. The central bank governor, who is supposed to effectively supervise our monetary policy is now dabbling in fiscal policy. That is why things are upside down. My administration will not do that.
My administration will ensure that corruption is fought, especially in the oil and gas sector. We will ensure that the essence of the sector is achieved. The essence of the oil and gas sector in Nigeria’s economy today is to provide the resources we require to develop our educational, health, infrastructure and other key areas of the economy, which need development. We cannot keep borrowing when we have so much money and resources being stolen. We cannot be losing 80 per cent from our major source of revenue and somebody will say ‘nobody is caught’. You cannot have the Accountant-General of the Federation stealing billions of naira and nothing has happened.
I will not print money; that is why we are having inflation today at 22 per cent for God’s sake. Nigerians are being taxed 22 per cent of their incomes indirectly by the government that does not see the money itself. I will make sure that the standard of living in Nigeria is appreciably increased. We will be on the same path with the so-called developing countries by reducing the cost of living, tackling inflation and ensuring that we have employment at its best level by growing the sectors that will grow our economy. Believe me, Nigeria is like a ripe fruit waiting to be plucked. It is just that if you have people at the helm of affairs that do not have the knowledge of what to do with power, it is a disaster.
Interview conducted by PUNCH Newspapers