Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje spoke with journalists on the occasion marking his 67th birthday on Saturday. ROYAL NEWS chronicled the event. Excerpts :
How do you feel at 67?
By the grace of God, I feel very strong, much younger than the figures of my age. Everything, I regard as blessings of God. So, I feel very much more closer to God more than before because I feel strong, I feel healthy and I think I’m even sharper mentally than I was, so I’m always full of grace to God.
What is your impression about the formation of Coalition for Nigeria Movement championed by Obasanjo?
He called it coalition for Nigeria movement, and I think under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, everybody has a right to form any group, whether it is a political party or not talkless of a person or somebody like President Obasanjo. It is not only a national figure, he is an international figure.
I feel that he must have his own reasons why he put up the coalition. If he is the one who is putting it up, like people are claiming, he must have his own reasons; if it is the people themselves that come up, they have their reason why they came up, and I think it is like people are trying to chart a new political cause for Nigeria, and I always wish them well.
One thing I believe personally is that there is no today without yesterday, and there can never be tomorrow without today. As much as we wish so well for new breed of politicians, they must tread very carefully so that they take examples from the immediate-past and avoid the mistakes of those ahead of them.
Prior to the formation of the coalition, former President Obasanjo had written an open letter to President Muhammadu Buhair. Don’t you think the letter was written in suspicious faith?
I don’t know what you mean by suspicious faith but if you look at the trend of contribution by Chief Obasanjo to the polity in the country, this is not the first time, this is not the second time, even he wrote those letters in the period of 1983 when (Shehu) Shagari was in power; he wrote such letters. I remember very vividly too, he wrote one to former President (Goodluck) Jonathan.
So, if he is coming around with another letter, I think it is his own way of sending some signals to a government in power, negative or positive. If you asked my view about the letter as a politician and somebody, who believes in Obasanjo, what happened during his own time is not what matters.
When you are holding a lamp, you cannot see your immediate environment and that when other people are holding lamps, you see what they cannot see, and I think what Obasanjo has seen, both in the past and now, judging by events, some of the issues he has raised in such letters, have come to pass. So, if anybody is writing that kind of letter by kind personality like Obasanjo, that person must be taken serious. He (President Buhari) should not take the words of sycophants or people, who think they just want to leverage by whatever criticisms they have into consideration.
I mean President Buhari should very vividly into that letter and call Obasanjo into a roundtable, and say look, what have you seen, you supported me before I got here, because I know very much Obasanjo gave him a lot of support, and he should call and discuss with him. That is politics; it is not about segregation. This country belongs to all of us. If anybody has anything to do to contribute to the progress and change, I think he should do. If I have an opportunity to write a letter, may be I will write one.
Giving the political dynamics to the health of the President and the socio-economic challenges, people are feeling that young people should take over, that Buhari should not contest for 2019 as espoused by former President (Obasanjo) in his letter?
He (Buhari) has a right to contest, only the electorate has a right to choose. Nobody can tell him not to contest but the electorate has the right to choose, and I’m happy that the awareness is gaining ground very fast, more than what we think.
When you look at the social media and the news generally, people are now preaching, we are not going to cause, we are not going to fight war, we are not going to use guns, we are not going to use cutlasses like before, we are using our voter card, and that is a weapon. So people can only answer that question by their own choice.
And I believe very sincerely, if Obasanjo himself or Babangida want to come back, we can’t stop them by virtue of our constitution. I can’t tell Buhari’s health, he is the one that can tell. Even his doctors can only give advice. So, he has the right to say he wants to contest but for us as Nigerians, we must learn to choose.
There are threats to impeach the Senate President from the APC. What do you have to say?
Many of us helped to build APC. I’m one of them, he (Saraki) was and still one of them. We are still building the party. I think the party has not made a statement about the so called threat to impeach him. We only learnt from the news that we read and from hearsays. And I think very sincerely, there must be ground before you impeach somebody like him, and they (Senators) have their own rules and regulations and we all have constitutions that guide impeachment.
If the Senate President is seen to have violated such rules, why not. But sincerely as of today and to the best of my knowledge, I don’t think any Senate President in the past, in the immediate-past or long past, has held the Senate like Bukola Saraki has been holding it. He has been seeing to be a team player, he has been seeing to be leader that carries the Senate along and he has been seeing to be somebody, who can endure, give and sacrifice for this nation.
Remember that he got to that position like a war, as if he was fighting a war. Today, even those people, who opposed him, are the most fanatical people, who are his supporters today. So, what reason do you want to say you have to want to impeach such a person.
I’m aware there are lot of gimmicks, but the worst one that would boomerang against anybody who is planning anything, is to say they want to impeach Bukola Saraki. That Senate is solid as I have never seen. I believe it would keep bouncing. There are other ways that the gimmicks are going, let us all keep watching. We can only wish Nigeria well.
But I only hope and pray that Nigerians will not be destroyers of their hope. Bukola Saraki is young, that is what I mean by hope; he has age in his support; he is brilliant; he knows Nigeria; he has dream for Nigeria. If today, we now stand to say we want to destroy such people, then that is why I said I hope and pray that Nigeria will not destroy its own future.
As 2019 election is around the corner, what is your ambition and advice to aspirants for elective offices?
We have a very solid system that other states are jealous and I have been enjoining my colleagues in Kwara State, whatever aspiration that they have, they should not destroy that system; we should follow that system. As far as we are concerned here in Kwara State, whenever you want to throw up anybody or people for elective positions, we have ways, we have tradition and such tradition is very peaceful and it metamorphosis into the solid result that keeps Kwara united, knitted and interwoven.
We should not destroy that system by our ambition and by getting too excited that some of us have some wherewithal. Yesterday, those of us, who didn’t have the wherewithal and today we think we have the wherewithal, we should the wherewithal to better the lot of the masses and not to destroy the system. That is my appeal.
Do you think people would still entrust the APC with power beyond 2019 given the scenario in the country?
I’m aware that people are not comfortable. If I say I’m not aware, I’m being insincere. Disenchantment, I cannot tell. But when people are not comfortable, definitely, they look for alternatives. It is left for the APC as a party to accept that one, people are not comfortable. If APC accepts that people are not comfortable, then they must look for solution, if they don’t look for solution, whatever result they get, will be there own responsibility.
As to whether they would be in power or not, I have answered this question indirectly before; people are the ones that decide, they would choose. APC is just barely four or five years old. If they think that there is a need for a change of political party, let them go to the ballot papers. There is no question about whether they would be in power or not.
The PDP was here for 16 years, I was part of them. We had earlier forecast that time that we were going to be in power for 60 years but people decided and said, No. So, if people decide that the five years of APC are not comfortable, so be it. If they decide it is very fine, so be it. You and I cannot change it.
You were in Benue State recently on a sympathy visit to Governor Samuel Ortom over the new year killings by suspected Fulani herdsmen. What prompted your visit?
It is very unfortunate incident, because Fulani herdsmen have been with us for ages even before I was born, and I know by the history of this country, there are cattle routes, and both farmers and Fulani herdsmen have been living peacefully together, observing these routes.
However, so many factors had caused a lot of dynamics such as population explosion, not only in Benue State but all over the country. So, the time I’m referring to now, may be population of Nigeria was under 50million. Today, we are almost 180 (million). So, all the lands that were mapped out as cattle routes, have to give way for people to exist. Talk of cattle routes now, is no longer feasible.
Then, even where that is no longer feasible, we should not resort into carnage the way we have resorted to. However, there are two ways that I have seen the issue. Sometime in 2012 when PDP was in power, I presented a view when this situation started in Plateau State. I presented a paper to the then executive council with my observation that this is beyond cattle men killing farmers. The kind of sophisticated weapon being used by these people was beyond the reach of an ordinary Fulani herdsman.
Two, I also observed that the ways and methods these people used to kill people, maiming people first, cutting their heads, opening the stomachs of pregnant women, it is similar to that of Boko Haram, who later on said they have joined the ISIS; that is the pattern of killing of ISIS.
I made a suggestion that the security should look at that direction, and I’m happy I’m telling the whole world now, it was a secret, may be government still keep it as secret. The security came back to me about a month later to say I was right. Why the security are not looking at that direction today, I don’t know. That is number one. Number two, even where the killings are taking place, I believe, we are human beings. There must be empathy, there must be sympathy, there must be sense of fury.
And I remember very vividly (former President Barrack) Obama was to pay a visit to India and there was a school shooting, only two pupils were killed and several pupils were wounded. Obama cut short his visit to India and came back home to visit that spot. That alone is enough to placate the situation, and that is why I went to Benue. Ortom was my officer when I was National Chairman of PDP. He was my National Auditor. I engineered him to join APC, and gladly enough he did not only join, he won as a Governor.
So, for us to have another Governor in another state in Nigeria as APC, is an achievement. I cannot see that friend, that brother undergoing that torture and then I stay away. So, I had to go and empathise with him, and I appealed to the government that it is trying but they have not done enough. So, to me, there is a lot of rooms for improvement from government in that direction.