Tanko Yakasai was the adviser to President Shehu Shagari (1979-1983) on National Assembly matters.
A prominent politician and elder statesman from Kano, Mr. Yakasai has been in politics since 1946 when he was just 20 years old. Since venturing into politics over 60 years ago, Mr. Yakasai has never been quiet and has never failed to speak up on any crucial political issue.
The octogenarian sought out leading Hausa newspaper, RARIYA, after reading the interview (also published by PREMIUM TIMES) granted to it by former Vice President Alex Ekwueme, to, in his words, set the records straight on some issues raised by the former vice president.
Q. Seeing that the 2015 general election is fast approaching, how do you view the seeming crisis engulfing the ruling PDP and even opposition parties?
Actually, I am not surprised for two main reasons; firstly, since the pre-independence election of 1956 to date, I have observed that the country experiences some form of political turmoil preparatory to every presidential election. In fact, whoever is not used to it will assume that the country will go into flames, but the election always comes and goes, and the country remains intact.
That is why I always refer to Nigeria as a canoe which doesn’t normally move in a straight line, but is always swerving in all directions to reach its destination.
In my opinion, the presidential system of government which we have adopted from the Americans is good, but on the other hand also a bad one especially for a country like Nigeria. It is good because of the diversified nature of Nigeria. We need to have a leader that would look at all Nigerians as his own irrespective of region.
Our constitution has been made in such a way that you must get substantial votes across all the regions before you become the president. In spite of that provision, it has not stopped all the squabbles, because every region prefers its son to be the president; the reason being the privileges attached to the office.
The politics of Nigeria has changed from serving the country, to serving self. Both the one seeking for vote and the one voting are all looking for what to get out of it.
During the elections of 1959, the Action Group made some calculations to the effect that if they can get Yoruba votes, the minorities in the north and some part of the east, they would be the biggest party at the time. And because the country was practicing a parliamentary system at the time, the party with the highest number of parliamentarians forms the government.
NPC on the other hand, also made its own calculations and realise that more than half the people of Nigeria were in the north. So it did not field even a single candidate in the South; they just stayed in the north and worked hard to have full control of the region.
After election, the NPC got the highest number of members of parliament and it formed the government with Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as the Prime Minister.
That was when Action Group officials realised that as long as the north continued to hold that numerical advantage, no Southerner would ever become successful. Upon realising that they cannot form the government through election, they began to scheme on how to topple the government, which led to the arrest of the leader of the Action Group and his lieutenants. They were prosecuted and imprisoned.
Since then, if you observe, that is how it has been, and that is why I am not surprised about the ongoing political crisis. The only surprise I do have is the internal crisis rocking the PDP. That too, I have done my own investigations, and I have not found out the reason for it. I am not convinced by the reasons being peddled in newspapers, that it is because Bamanga Tukur’s leadership style which people found autocratic and that it was also because of Jonathan.
Why hasn’t the crisis commenced when Bamanga was first elected until now when election is approaching? Even Jonathan, had been in office for two years now; why did they not revolt against him until now? That is why I told you, the reasons for the crisis as being reported is not convincing for me.
Q. Five of the governors fighting Jonathan, were at the fore-front of those who worked for his election. Have you ever thought that they would withdraw their support for him so soon?
In politics, there is neither permanent friend nor permanent enemy, everything is guided by interest. I have never thought of that, but when it happened, honestly, I was not surprised. If I had the power to advise these governors, I would have advised them not to leave the PDP. My reason being the PDP at the moment has 23 Governors, 15 of them from the north, and PDP is in control in their states. If the North’s strength is reduced in the PDP, it means we will not be strong in the party in the next election; the South would be stronger, especially if Jonathan wins. Disunity is the major undoing.
Q: I recall that even when you were agitating that Yar’Adua should not hand over power to Jonathan from his sick bed in Saudi Arabia; you were very few and did not get the support of northern leaders?
We were very few indeed; we were just about three or four. I was doing that because I saw what happened in Cameroun between Paul Biya and his predecessor, Ahmadu Ahidjo, when Ahidjo travelled for medical treatment. I was also doing it for posterity.
Ahidjo’s advisers and medical staff advised him to abdicate and go for treatment, and then come back to reclaim his mandate when he returns. Ahidjo sought the advice of his mother and she told him that since the doctor said he has no medicine against death, he can’t stop you from dying, and if that is the case, you should rather die as a leader, instead of an ordinary person. That was what his mother reportedly told him.
But Ahidjo chose to relinquish power to the person he felt he trusted the most. But what happened afterwards, even the French President on a visit to Cameroun informed Ahidjo that he has kept a scorpion in his pocket. In fact Ahidjo was shoved aside even during the farewell ceremony for the French President and it was made clear to him that he was a nobody.
At the end of the day, words got to Ahidjo on a visit to his mother that plans have been concluded to arrest him there and he fled the country. He never went back till he died.
It is the fear of such for Yar’Adua that we insisted that he should not transmit power to Jonathan, since the Constitution did not make it mandatory for him to hand over power. After all there was nothing Jonathan could not do in the absence of his boss.
However, most northern governors and elders insisted that he should handover. A judge even said since Yar’Aua’s deputy is already running the government, there was no need for any documented transfer of power. Our fear was that once he transferred his power, they would never have allowed him to return to this country.
That was why his ADC and CSO arranged with the Chief of Army Staff for him to be returned secretly at night without anybody’s knowledge. The fear was that if those in government or Jonathan knew about the return, he might order soldiers to go to the airport and prevent him from landing.
That incident also gave the impression to the Southerners that we are not united. The value of a broom is to sweep. But when it is disorganised, it cannot sweep anything, and it is useless if it is not tied together. Population might is useless unless if the people decide to come together and act in unison to achieve their goal.
So if we willingly push ourselves into becoming a minority in the PDP, we would end up neither here, nor there. Because whether people like it or not, APC is a Yoruba party.
The Yoruba have foresight, in the last election, they supported Ribadu, but they honestly knew he could not win. You also knew he could not win, I knew he could not win, in fact even Ribadu knew he could not win, and because they knew he could not win, they did not even bother to vote for him.
Ribadu came to see me, because I was his father’s friend, and he told me he was going to run for election. I told him I support his decision because his coming in, would mean that all opposition elements are coming together, because as long as they are always divided, they would never achieve their aim. I said if you all come together, then the people will know that you are serious, and they would support you to form the government. How can ACN be in Yoruba land, CPC in the north and APGA in Igbo land and one of them would dislodge the PDP in 2011?
I have been in politics for over sixty one years. Even if I was just watching something for 61 years, you know very well that I would know much more than the one who began to watch two or three years ago, besides, I was actively involved.
Q. When you were trying to convince Yar’Adua not to hand over power, did you let him know what you feared would happen if he did?
Well, I never saw him since he assumed office. I only saw him before his inauguration when we visited him under the auspices of Northern Unity Forum. I never saw him since then. It is just a matter of common sense, foresight and experience.
You know, up to now, they have been trying to return Ahidjo’s corpse to Cameroon, but the president has refused. He feared that if the corpse is returned it might be more popular than him who is in power.
Yar’Adua too may not be allowed to return if he had communicated his decision to return, at least that was what his security details assumed. That was why he was returned secretly at night without anybody’s knowledge except the Army Chief, and I am not surprised.
Q. Let’s go back to the Yoruba and their politics; you were talking about Ribadu, right?
Yes, what I want you to understand is that they were just using us. They supported Ribadu because they knew he would not win, and they would not even vote for him. And now, they would still support another northern candidate, whether he wins or not, they don’t care. In fact they already knew it cannot be won.
But in the election that would follow the next one, it may be their turn to produce the candidate, do you think there is a northerner that would not support a Yoruba candidate? And by then, the Yoruba folk would come out en masse to vote for one of their own.
Q. In our last edition of Rariya newspaper, former Vice President Alex Ekwueme has denied the allegation made by Buhari’s government against that of Shagari saying it was toppled because of widespread corruption. He said it was the Southern papers which were mainly owned by top UPN stalwarts that were spreading the false rumours. Since you were in that government; what do you have to say?
What he said is true. There is widespread corruption even now, but the newspapers only focus their attention wherever they want, not necessarily where the corruption is taking place. You see newspaper looking the other way, even if they knew something wrong is happening in a particular place because of certain interests.
During Shagari’s tenure, only two or three ministers were accused. One of them fled to England after the coup, but don’t forget that while he was there, he was being fed, but the rumour then was that he had amassed lots of dollars.
Another one had to sell his property to feed his family after he returned. That is proof enough that the allegations of corruption against them were not true.
After the military coup, we had soldiers who stole so much that up to now, no one has stolen as much as they did. I don’t have to mention names. Just check critically yourself, from the time of Gowon to date, between the military guys and civilians like Shagari whom we were in government together with, and whom we have been in politics with for over 60 years, who stole the most?
Shagari began politics with the Sokoto youth party, and I with Kano youth party in 1946, and Shagari began before me by one year, and he is older than me with one year.
Go and see at least three people who started politics in that era, people such as Shagari, Ali Monguno and Maitama Sule; they have held all sorts of positions, but go and meet people close to them and let them tell you how much each has in his bank account. I swear to you none of them has more than three million naira in his account, except may be one person, and even you see it there, may be someone gave it to them. They were just engaged in politics and not stealing.
Shagari and Alex Ekwueme were investigated for more than twenty months, at the end of the day, Justice Ayo Irekefe said Alex Ekwueme went into politics a rich man, and left as a poor man. They investigated Shagari extensively, but could not establish a case of stealing a dime on him before they let him be. But we saw what the person investigating him did afterwards, he is still extremely rich.
If you read the history of Shagari, I have a copy, I can give you; in chapter 17, the writers used about 70 pages discussing what they did to Shagari.
I read the interview you had with Alex Ekwueme, and he was saying he was the one toppled not Shagari. Everyone knows he is a lawyer, but I am not. I studied substantial part of Sharia law; and the two branches of law had agreed on a number of subjects.
In Sharia you need at least two witnesses to prove your case. Since he said it was Umaru Dikko who stated this in London, he needed to get a witness to this assertion for it to hold. And as an 80-year-old, he should have used his common sense.
Between the one waiting for the next four years to run and there is no guarantee he would win, and the one in power who has four more years, who was the one toppled?
There is something that Alex would not consider, because in Jos, some northerners turned their backs on him, and elected Obasanjo in the primary election in 1999; but we saw Alex’s attitude to the north during the constitutional conference set up by Abacha. Even before then, he had begun to show his hatred to the north after Buhari’s coup; we were jailed together at KiriKiri prison in Lagos.
We were all gathered in one place, those from PRP, NPN, UPN, GNPP and NPP.
We all used to come out and mix freely with each other, but he was always staying alone in the room, he doesn’t come out. One day, Lawal keita and myself went to his room and begged him in the name of God to be coming out because he is the leader among us, he should feel free and accept his fate. We told him that if God wills that we would all die in Prison, we would die there, and if he wills we would die outside, then definitely we will get out. We advised him not to allow his stay in prison to affect his health.
We continued that way gradually until he became relaxed and even asked me to teach him Hausa language, and he begun to understand the language a bit. After a short while, some of us were released.
Q. How come he doesn’t understand Hausa, even after staying in Kano?
He understands just very little. In the prison, he had the belief that every northerner, whether Muslim or Christian, was part of the coup.
During the constitutional conference of Obasanjo’s government, he went there as leader of the South East with a bias that Shagari was toppled just to stop him from becoming president in 1987.
I swear that was an error on his part, he just picked up hatred for every northerner, including the Tiv, Birom and the rest. But he hated the Hausa, Fulani Muslims the more.
His mistake was that he went to the conference in which every part of this country will be represented, with a pathological hatred for the north. We spent one year in the conference, with Alex as the leader of the Igbo coalition, he meets with them each Monday, meets with all Igbo and other minority tribes’ delegates on Tuesday, meets with Yoruba on Wednesday, and then meets with everyone on Thursdays. He never met with anyone from the north separately.
Chris Abashiya, the Hausa man from Zaria who equally hates us was the one very close to Ekwueme during the constitutional conference; and in spite of being a Christian, but because he was a Hausa Christian, he was never invited. All the schemes to hate the north were formulated in that conference, which was the reason why the north was divided into three in that conference, to divide the country into six regions.
The issue of state control of resources also emanated from that conference. Before then, they were asking for derivation, that is some part of the proceeds from sale of resources.
Because Alex saw that the north was bigger and has higher population, that was why he wanted the country fragmented into six regions. In the entire census carried out in this country in the past, if you check, you will notice that the north has higher population with about 54%.
In 1921, we had 55% and the South had 45%. The same thing happened in 1931, we had 57%. So his suggestion was simply based on hatred and nothing more.
That was the reason why the north refused to support him at the primary election in Jos in 1999. Because he did not isolate any tribe, he combined the entire north, so both Muslim and Christian delegates from the north refused to support him.
That was even the reason why even those NPN leaders from the north did not support him. His actions surprised everyone at the constitutional conference. That was why he was complaining of people like Jerry Gana and Solomon Lar, and the rest. It appears he doesn’t know this.
His statement that he did it because he wanted each region to integrate is not true, because that policy already exists; it was even NPN that put it in place. I was part of the people who put it in place, and Alex did not even join the NPN then.
Q. Let’s go back to the issue of coup, we were on it before we diverted to your stay in prison. Where were we?
In the book I was telling you about, they said Obasanjo told Umaru Shinkafi, that shortly after the election of 1979, some military officers went to him and informed him not to hand over to Shagari. Obasanjo told them that he had already told the world he was going to hand over power, and that he inherited the office, after a coup attempt that was not successful. He stated that his predecessor promised to hand over, and it means he must hand over.
Obasanjo also told them that he has initiated an election process which was successful. Shagari won, people went to court and he won there as well. ‘So on what grounds should I tell the world I would not hand over to him? Who do you even want me to hand over to? And they said, ’hand over to Buhari’!’
So even before power was handed over to Shagari, the military attempted to steal it and hand over to Buhari. So it wasn’t about bribery and corruption or not to hand over to Alex Ekwueme. I am not the first person to say this; the boys who published Shagari’s book said it first. But, I have also relayed it in my book. And I will give you a copy to go and read.
And since his assumption of power by Shagari, there were several attempts to topple him until they eventually succeeded. It was revealed in that book that the military had attempted to stage a coup even before the second election in 1983. They sought the advice of one of their senior officer who had retired, he told them he supported the idea of a coup, but if they did it before the election, Awolowo would say it was because he was billed to win the election, and the Yoruba owns the newspapers and most editors at the time were also Yoruba and so they would give it widespread publicity such that the world would reject the coup.
He advised them to let the election take place first, before they do whatever they want to do.
There was also a revelation in the book that General Domkat Bali’s wife thought her husband was having an affair when she noticed that he always came home late, unlike him. When her suspicion became too much, one day he told her that he was not having an affair, but he was always coming back late because they were meeting in Buhari’s house to stage a coup. Buhari was the GOC in Jos at the time, and he told her not to tell anyone.
Incidentally, Domkat Bali’s wife is related to the wife of Solomon Lar, the then Governor of Plateau State. She realised that a coup would affect her relatives’ husband, and she could not take it, because she feared he could be killed. So, she told Lar’s wife, and Lar’s wife also told her husband.
It happened that Shagari was going to open the school in Kuru. Solomon told Shagari that he had something to tell him, but Shagari advised him to wait until after the event.
After the event, Solomon Lar told Shagari what he was told at the Presidential lodge in Jos, he mentioned Domkat Bali’s wife as the source of the information. Lar said he had wanted to bring up the issue at the meeting of the National Security Committee, but when he realised that he is not the Commander in Chief, he thought it best to wait, since Shagari is also coming to Jos.
Shagari now informed Solomon Lar to go and tell Buhari that this is what he heard, that he was planning a coup. But Lar said I can only do that if you let me inform him that the message came from you. Shagari agreed to that.
So when they met with Buhari while they were seeing off President Shagari, Solomon Lar excused Buhari aside and said he wanted to see him, and would come see him at home. But Buhari said how can you a governor come to my house? Lar insisted that he would go. So he went to Buhari’s house and informed him that it was Shagari that sent him to let him know that there was a rumour going round that they were planning a coup.
Buhari said it was not true, there was nothing like that. He asked Lar to go and assure Shagari that it was not true.
After Lar left, Buhari called Umaru Shinkafi because they were friends and asked him to meet as soon as possible in Kaduna. Umaru Shinkafi informed Shagari and he was given an aircraft to take him to Kaduna. When they met, Buhari told Shinkafi that he was going to retire since the Commander in Chief does not trust him anymore. There was a time, the military authorities wanted Buhari transferred to Abeokuta but people like Umaru Dikko kicked against it because they said bringing someone like Buhari closed to the seat of power is dangerous. That was why Shagari asked that Buhari be transferred to Jos.
He was very angry with that decision because he felt, he was not trusted. So the second incident made him tell Shinkafi that he was going to retire, since no one trusted him anymore. Shinkafi, in his capacity as the Security Adviser to Shagari, informed Buhari that he knew the president trusted Buhari, so he should not think of retiring. He went back and informed Shagari that Buhari said he should not worry; there was no cause for alarm.
That was what prompted Buhari’s group; they realised that the issue had begun to leak, so they had to strike early. But even before this incident, they had also planned to topple the government on the day Shagari was sworn-in for his second term.
In fact Umaru Shinkafi even though did not come out to tell the president that he suspects something was wrong, advised the president to wear a bullet proof vest on his way to the inauguration. Shagari asked him why? I will not wear it. It got to a point Umaru Shinkafi was even shedding tears before Shagari agreed to wear it. In the book, they quoted Babangida as saying they were aware of all this, but Shagari’s people did not know that plans had changed.
Before then, all plans had been perfected and a plane had even been dispatched to Jos to fetch Buhari with instruction to wear his full military regalia, and text of his national speech was already given to him for his inputs before 1st October, 1983. Why they changed their minds, no one knows.
This means that they had planned the coup even before the one Solomon Lar got wind of and informed Shagari. So you see it was never about denying Alex Ekwueme the chance to become president. May be he made his statements out of ignorance or just pure hatred for the north.
(The interview was granted in Hausa to Rariya newspaper and PREMIUM TIMES has the former’s permission to publish in English).
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