By NBF News
Click for Full Image Size
Listen to article

Maitama Sule
Alhaji Yusuf Maitama Sule, Danmasanin Kano, really needs no introduction. He was Nigeria's Permanent Representative to the United Nations. He was also Nigeria's first Minister of Mines and Power and a presidential aspirant in the Second Republic, on the platform of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN).

In this interview, one of the few he has granted in recent times, the elder statesman spoke on several national issues, including the zoning and rotation arrangement of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the consequences if it is not well-handled by the party as well as, setting an agenda for the Jonathan administration.

He also spoke on the presidential ambition of former Heads of State, such as General Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) and General Muhammadu Buhari, advising the duo not to contest the presidency, but rather offer advice to the younger ones.

Alhaji Sule also made suggestions on how to ensure credible polls in 2011. He gave insight into what the late President Yar'Adua told him when former President Olusegun Obasanjo made the offer of the presidency to him. He spoke to Desmond Mgboh in his home in Kano.

There seems to be much pressure in the polity. What is your fatherly advice to Nigerians?

Under the present political dispensation, my advice to all Nigerians, the politicians in particular, is that we should stop pointing fingers at one another. We should start discussing issues not personalities. Issues should be our main concern. We should at this time consider what is good for Nigeria. The question today is not who is wrong but what is wrong, so that we may correct the mistakes made in the past.

My advice is that we should start addressing issues. We should consider the interest of the country and not our personal interest. You see, our founding fathers, the Azikiwes, the Tafawa Balewas, the Aminu Kanos went into politics to serve the nation and not to serve themselves. They went into politics to give and not to take. They were prepared at all times to make sacrifices, to sacrifice even their personal interests in the greater interest of the country. As a result of this, all of them in spite of their political differences respected one another and accommodated one another and thought of Nigeria first. That is what we should be thinking. Nigeria first before our interest. Nigeria before anything else.

The new administration, I mean that of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan is just weeks old. We will like you to set an agenda as a way of advice. Again, issues not personalities. They should focus on issues and not personalities. Nigeria is the most difficult country to rule and that is why whoever rules Nigeria should be pitied than envied. The late Sultan of Sokoto, Sir Abubakar 111, once said that Nigeria is like a silk gown. As you fold one sleeve, the other sleeve unfolds itself. So, whoever happens to be in that position, the position of leadership in Nigeria, deserves our prayers.

I pray for the success of the new administration and I pray that the new president may be guided on the right path by the Almighty Allah, and I pray that he may have the sense of justice and fairplay. May God instill into him, justice and fair play. These are the pillars upon which any successful administration rests.

The world can never be governed by force, never by fear, even never by power. In the end, what governs is the mind, what conquers is the spirit. And the weapons of governing the mind and conquering the spirit are justice and fairplay. Sultan Mohammed Bello, in the 10 Principles of Politics he enunciated, said that power can remain in the hands of an infidel if he is just and fair but it will not remain in the hands of a believer if he is unfair and unjust. Justice means that you should put a square peg in a square hole.

And Sultan Mohammed Bello, in the same 10 Principles of Politics, went further to say that whoever becomes inordinately ambitious for power should not be given it. He is not deserving of it. Whoever takes it by force, without any justification, has committed an act of injustice for he has placed it where it should not be. Let us think of today. If we make the present good, the future will be.

Let us look at the issue of rotation and zoning of the Presidency. Would you ascribe to the recent calls that it should be abrogated, that it is not in the best interest of the country after all?

As far as I am concerned, they told me- I am not a member of the party- that it was a gentleman's agreement. They met and agreed within themselves and they signed the gentleman's agreement. A gentleman does not go back on his words. But zoning is not in our Constitution nor is it in the Constitution of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), I am told. But it is a gentleman's agreement. They should respect that agreement. But personally, way back in 1983, I opposed this rotation. To me, I said then that it is undemocratic. But since the party accepted to adopt it, they should observe it. They should respect it. Period. If they want to undo it, they should seat together and decide to undo it as they met and decided to do it.

You were talking about the superiority of the Nigerian interest a while ago. Would you recommend zoning for future use, giving all the stress it is causing?

You see the whole thing is confused. The people in the middle of the matter agreed between and upon themselves to do this. They are the activists, they are the politicians, and they are the active politicians. Yes, I am very much interested in the country but I am not an active participant in the politics of this country. I, at the appropriate time, if they decide to sit together and undo what they have done, will be quite willing to give my piece of advice.

But sir, would you recommend that, if Dr. Jonathan performs well in the remaining months of the Yar'Adua's tenure, he should be supported to take a shot at the presidency in spite of this gentleman's agreement. Or should he just respect the gentleman's agreement?

(Cuts in) That is between themselves. As I said, I am not a member of their party. Within the party, they made this agreement. For whatever reason, they decided on this. And they are gentlemen, they should respect it. If they decide within themselves to undo it, it is left to them. They should sit in the same party- I was not a party to the agreement and I will not be a party to the undoing of the agreement. What I will advise is that let them come together within the party and decide either to continue or discontinue with this zoning and rotation. It is not for us. A gentleman does not go back on his words.

We have just had a new Vice President and coming from this part of the country, how will you assess him as an administrator and what is your advice to him?

As a governor of Kaduna State, he started very well. There is one particular project of his, which really impressed me very well. That is the new Kaduna that he is building. And I hope that both he and the new President would emulate the late President Yar'Adua. This is because whatever anybody might say, the late Yar'Adua was a fine president, he was decent man, he was a man of integrity, so said President Barrack Obama of the United States of America and I entirely agree with him.

Having worked with him, I hope that President Jonathan would emulate some of these fine qualities of Umaru- decency and integrity, justice and fairplay to all. And this justice that I keep emphasizing means that you should do to whoever deserves it, whatever may be his religion, his tribe, his political inclination, if he deserves justice, give it to him. That is justice. Jonathan is the President of Nigeria, and Nigeria is his whole constituency. I pray for the departed soul of Yar'Adua, that Allah may shower His mercies upon him, and so also do I pray that President Jonathan may, during his term, succeed.

We are approaching the 2011 elections and politicians are preparing to go to the polls. What is your advice at this stage?

My advice will not be accepted. That was why at one time I said that I will adopt the policy of sidon look. I keep saying that if you really want free and fair elections, if you want to produce credible leaders, you must in any case, have free and fair elections. In order to have free and fair elections, you must have an interim government composed of not only neutral people, but credible people who will organize and conduct the elections.

All parties will then be at par. No one party will have an edge over the other. That is the only time that we can have free and fair elections. However, if you allow the incumbent government to conduct and run a succession election, it will succeed itself. This is because it has all the fundamentals of winning the elections. It is the government. It has the financial resources. It has the security forces, the judiciary and the electoral commission. So it has the advantage over the other parties that are not in government. I have been advocating that six months before the elections, the incumbent government should resign and allow an interim government, giving space for interim government that will be composed of neutral people who have no political interest and that interim government will then organize and conduct the elections.

That is when you will have a free and fair election.

The debate on the number of political parties is on. Some Nigerians said that the number is too much that we should have two parties. Some people are saying that it should be left the way it is. But what is your take on this?

There are too many political parties in the country, I must say. But at the same time, again my advice here may be something that might not be acceptable. There should be smaller number of parties. 50 or there about is too many. What I am advocating will not be possible now. I will rather personally like to see the Tanzanian formula.

The six months before election is the Bangladeshi formula.

This 'afrocracy' that I have been advocating is the Tanzanian formula. And that is that you have one party and every person in the country is a member of that party. It is like a socialist one party system, but with a difference. The difference being that in the socialist one party system, the executive of the party presents one single list. So you have no choice. Voting in this circumstance becomes a formality.

But in the Tanzanian type, although you have a one-party system, people in the various constituencies have the right to select from any number of candidates. So in a constituency, any number of candidates can contest the election if they are qualified and the people have a wide range of choice. But once you are elected, you are a member of the party and those who have been rejected will form a kind of opposition within the party. They will be watching the performance of those who have been elected.

If he does well, he will be reelected and if he doesn't do well, he will be rejected. Now, this system took care of the two things that have been standing in our way to progress, on our way to national unity. It took care of tribalism and religious bigotry. Since every tribe is represented in the party, every religion is represented in the party, no one interest group will complain of being elbowed out or being eliminated. And all hands will be on deck, and there will be unity and development.

Sir, the number of former Heads of State that are likely to be coming back to aspire for the second time in the Presidency. Is this proper?

Are they the only ones? Let them give others a chance.

Sir, but what about their experiences?
Did they have any experience before they became what they became? Was their experience that was considered before they became what they became? A leader emerges. Did Gowon ever dream that he was going to be a head of state? Did Murtala Muhammed ever imagine he was going to be the head of this country? Obasanjo was his deputy, but did he become the deputy simply that he should become the head some day. A leader emerges.

Circumstances will produce the leader. Yes, agreed they have experience. In other parts of the world, don't they have former heads of state and presidents? Do those former leaders insist that they must come back because they have experience? They give the benefits of their experience through advice. We respect them. We appreciate what they have done in the past. But let them give advice to the new ones. That is what is done all over.

You see, my worry is that if you insist on that (their coming back), then we will be encouraging the perpetuation in office and sadly, we have been fighting that. So, in another way, we will be supporting it. I respect them, I appreciate what they have done, I pray for them, but I strongly believe that they should be giving advice to the younger ones. In any event, we have a saying that the joy of a dying father is the presence of a worthy successor. For your successor to be worthy, you have to groom him and train him, and impart your experience to him. Only then can he become a worthy successor.

But some of these leaders like IBB and General Buhari will simply argue that after all, General Obasanjo came back from retirement and had another eight years? What is good for Obasanjo is also good for them.

Well, that is if you are thinking of yourself. But I am thinking of the nation. It is not a question of personal interest but a question of national interest. Is it in the interest of the nation? However, we are in a democracy, since they have not been banned, the voters will decide. But it is more honorable for them to stay away and give advice. We should learn from the other parts of the civilized world. In the United States, how many former presidents are still alive? Reagan died several years after he had left office. Bush senior is still there. Clinton is still there. Bush (Junior) is still there. They are advising, they are still helping their country. They are still useful.

The country at this moment needs to be more united given so many things that have happened. What steps should the administration take to end some of these periodic crises in different parts of the country involving Christians and Muslims, indigenes versus non -indigenes, settlers and non-settler communities?

What I said earlier: Justice. And justice should be done to whomsoever deserves it, irrespective of his tribe or religion. We should be good followers of our religions. The two main religions in Nigeria are Islam and Christianity. Aren't they? The vast majority of Nigerians are either Muslims or Christians. Let us all abide by the teachings of our religions. Let us all live the teachings of our religions. Let us be practical followers of our religions not theoretical followers.

The two great religions, Islam and Christianity preach and teach peace. Peace with your God, peace with your mind and peace with your fellow man. That your 'fellow man' has not been qualified. He may be a Christian, Muslim, a Jew, a pagan, a freethinker, a Black, a White. On the other hand, the 'word Islam means peace. Love thy neighbor as you love thy self. Again that word: 'your neighbor' has not been qualified. You are enjoined to love that your neighbor. On the other hand in Islam, the Holy Prophet of Islam (Sallalahu Alayhi Wasallam) said the Angel Gabriel emphasized the importance of good neighborliness to me so much so that I began to think that there might be a revelation from God that neighbor could inherit a neighbor.

Be your brothers' keeper is common teaching to both religions. And there is no religion from God that said you should force, pressurize somebody in order to embrace it. In Christianity they are taught that if you go to them and preach the word of God and if they refuse pick up your shoes, dust them and leave them in peace. Islam, on the hand, says that 'there is no compulsion in religion'. It is a matter of conviction. But, another important thing is that the essence of every religion of God is love.

It does not matter how much you may worship God, the Christians are taught. Even if your worship can move mountains you will not enter the kingdom of God, unless you have love in your heart. Islam says that if you want to get the blessings and forgiveness of God, you must have love in your heart. Somebody asked (the prophet): Love for my kind or for everybody? And he said, 'No. Love for mankind.' Indeed a Muslim saint once said that 'I see my self as a Christian, sometime as a Jew. In my heart is Islam but love is my religion, love is my faith.' Now these are the teachings of our religion. If we are true followers of our religion, then we should practice them. And we will be our brother's keeper. We will not only tolerate, but accommodate one another.

Politically, Nigeria is a great country potentially. It is not for nothing that God has brought us together. Different tribes, different religions, different cultures and even climatic conditions. God has a purpose. And I believe that the purpose is that we should leave together, to not only respect one another but to accommodate one another. We should learn to be our brother's keeper because of the role we are destined to play in Africa and in the black world. Nigeria is destined to play a leading role in Africa and in order to play that role, we must be united and we must put our house in order, so that when we go outside to lead other people, they will respect us. That is the purpose.

Nigeria is potentially great. I say it with caution. Because we need to have good leaders in order to realize the potential greatness of this country. We need to have good leaders, leaders who are good Christians and good Muslims. Leaders not rulers. Leaders who will accept in public what they had said in secret. I don't think we will make it if we have leaders who will say some thing in the open but when they go back home talking to their tribesmen or people from the same religion, they will say something different.

Sir, some Northerners are arguing that Dr. Jonathan should not contest for the 2011 presidential polls because of the gentleman's agreement? What will be your advice to them?

But I had told you. It was their agreement, not mine. Within their party they made this agreement. Within their party for whatever reason they made this agreement. And if they want to undo this agreement, let them meet within their party and decide to undo it.

Until that is done, it is not advisable for Jonathan to run?

I will not make my comment until they, who are the architect of this agreement undo that agreement. But so long as they are there and if they are gentlemen, it is up to them. You know why I say that they should meet together? If there is no agreement within them, there may be problem again. If they don't follow it, there may be a lot of misunderstanding. Let them meet together and look at the circumstances of the country now and see if it is in the interest of the country to undo it. And if they decide, well they can undo it.

Sir, some people keep arguing in the media, that the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua should not have accepted the offer by Obasanjo to take the leadership of the country

(Cuts in) But why did Obasanjo give him the offer? Why did Obassanjo give him the offer?

They are saying that because of his health, he should have rejected the…

(cuts in ) Why did he give him? Why did he? Do you think that if he has refused, Obasanjo would not have dealt with him? Obasanjo knew he was sick. Umaru didn't want to go for another term … to go into politics again . Umaru wanted to go back to the classroom. But of course, Obasanjo might be right. This is because in terms of achievement, integrity, honesty and transparency, Umaru was the best of the PDP governors then. He was the best.

There was no doubt about it in spite of his ill-health. Perhaps, that was what informed Obasanjo to pick Umaru in spite of his health. But Obasanjo knew Umaru was not healthy. And Umaru wanted to leave. And if Umaru had refused… well, Obasanjo had his own reasons for adopting him. I should not accuse Umaru. I told Umaru when he came to see me to tell me that he was being considered for this (presidency) but that he was not interested. I said 'don't ever do it'. I know you are not well, but your leader wants you do it. Accept it and pray to God. Allah knows what is best.

Sir, we have had democracy for 11 years. Would you say the dreams of Nigerians have been realized?

The dreams of our founding fathers have not been realized. They dreamt of united, prosperous, peaceful and stable Nigeria. We are still struggling to achieve that. They dreamt that there will be leaders who will not put their personal interest above the national interest.

They did not dream of leaders that will be stinkingly rich. For they went into politics to serve but not to be served. Sarduana died leaving a mud house in Sokoto. He had no other house. He had no shares in any company, he had no transport company. In his bank account, he was in red. Sir Abubakar Tafewa Balewa left a mud house in Bauchi. He had not a kobo in his bank account, yet he was the first prime minister of the country. Mark you, oil was found in the country in 1958, just before independence. Incidentally, I was the first minister of oil.

So, if he had wanted money, he would have got it?
In 1958, I was appointed the Minister of Mines and Power and I remained in that ministry until 1966 when the coup took place under the prime minister. And for almost seven years, during those years, not once did the prime minister discuss oil with me unless I went myself to discuss oil with him. Not once did he send anybody to get a licence to lift oil or to get an oil block.

On a general note, is there no hope for Nigeria given the background you have painted of the present situation?

In spite of the ugly picture that I have painted, in spite of my description of the present situation in Nigeria, the situation in which the institution of family has broken down, respect for elders and constituted authority is now at it lowest ebb, honesty has become meaningless, symptoms of revolt looms large in the horizon, in short, there is meaningless in philosophy, insecurity in polity, chaos in politics, immorality in society, corruption in economy, even frustration in arts and lack of creativity in literature.

In spite of all these, by the grace of God, we will get out of the woods. I am an optimist. I am not a cynic. This period in which we are is a period of trial and we will overcome. But I expect the youths with the guidance of responsible elders will get us out of the woods. The youths are the solutions to our problems. They are the vehicles of change. They are the vanguards of the revolution. The youths will carry out a cultural revolution, a bloodless revolution. And I believe we will see that. My name is Joseph, Yusuf. Joseph was a dreamer. I too dream dreams. I have a dream that Nigeria will be united. I have dream that Nigeria will be peaceful. I have a dream that Nigerians will love one another and be their brother's keeper. I have a dream. I have a dream that Nigeria will take its proper place in the comity of nations. I have a dream. I have a dream…