Agitation for restructuring borne out of political motive - Baraje
A Chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje, spoke to Journalists on Saturday at an interactive session during a graduation ceremony of students of Baraje Centre for Arabic and Islamic Studies, Ilorin. AHMED 'LATEEF was there.
How will you describe the performance of students this compared to previous years?
I feel highly fulfilled, highly impressed and highly accomplished. Those are the three expressions that describe my present position. Because since we have started (the school), it has always been one new thing upon the other every year. There is always something new, which is an improvement upon the last one we have done.
This year, I feel accomplished and highly fulfilled because this school is no longer my own per se or the board own per se, but now government approved. Not only that, it is usually not normal for government to approve your school within a space of two months as a Centre for Examinations. This school was immediately written again after the approval that this school has been approved as one of the major Centres because of the impression and the highly impressive turnout that the school made.
So, these two things are going in parri pasu, and I believe that the board in charge of the school will shed more light on the steps they have taken. It is the work of the board, not my own work. And I want to give them that kudos and I want to say that may God Almighty reward them abundantly.
Ilorin is reputed and revered as Islamic City. In recent times, there has been growing concern among residents on the strange happenings such as ritual killings and cultism in the city. As a senior citizen of Ilorin, what can you say about the trend?
That is a very touching question. Not only as a citizen of Ilorin, not only as a Kwaran, but as a human being, who actually valued life and the teaching of Islam connotes peace. Every religion has a moral. The Islam per se teaches peaceful co-existence. This town (Ilorin) is deep rooted in Islam; Islamic knowledge, Islamic practice and Islamic tradition, that is what we know Ilorin for.
And when disturbing incidences are happening around Nigeria, people come here to take cover, they come here to seek peace and they get it. So, it becomes very disturbing when you hear.. I was in London for example when one of the most dastardly effects was reported in the media, and I was reading on the social media that a man, who called himself a cleric, went, exhumed and dismembered the corpse of his bosom friend. It is appalling, it is disturbing, it is a matter of concern.
Not that in the past you don't have disturbing issues in Ilorin but not like this. The disturbing issues that we witnessed when we were growing up in this environment is when there seems to famine, when people are hungry and there is no food or when work becomes difficult for people. We cried out to the clerics, religious leaders in our society and they put their heads together and they employed all sons and sundry of Ilorin and we go into special prayer. Within a twinkle of an eye, such difficulties will disappear.
Therefore, as disturbing as this one is, it does not pass the ability, the capacity and knowledge of the clerics from Ilorin. I therefore call on them, this is now their time, they cannot sit down and look. Strange things have come to Ilorin. It could be as a result of development. These are parts of the panacea of development. But this is not the kind of result of development that we desired.
The kind of the result of development we desired, is positive. Bringing in of industries, knowledge and new innovations that will keep our youths busy. That is the kind of thing we desired and not this kind of dastardly act. So, as a citizen, as a Nigerian, as a political leader, I feel highly concerned, highly disturbed and as a result, I'm calling on our revered fathers in religion, to please come together and do what they inherited from their forefathers, gather and put their heads together.
These strange things should be banished from our own land, and I believe very sincerely, with collective opinion, sense of belonging and collective actions with osmosis of knowledge upon these Malams, believe me, it wouldn't take them a week before some of these things will begin to disappear in Ilorin. I therefore call on them through the media, that I feel highly concerned that our fathers should not sit down and look, otherwise posterity will not forgive all of us.
As you just talked about issues affecting our community, local government election is also around the corner. What is your take on this?
The agenda has already been set. It is just left for those coming in, to look very closely and study the agenda and ensure that they take out the best out of all the items of the agenda, and implement. What do I mean by that the agenda is set? Here in Kwara, thank God, we have a functional system.
Remember, I have been a national figure; I have been the National Secretary of the then ruling PDP, I have been the Chairman of the then PDP when the party was in power, and thank God with the cooperation of Nigerians and members of the then PDP, I came out unhurt. And up till today, it is a pride for my community, my state and Nigeria. That with all the mudslinging that has been happening since I left, nothing has touched me. We thank God for that.
So, I am in the best position to tell you, which system, state or area in Nigeria is operating a system. Kwara is operating a valid, solid, very reliable and impeccable system and a kind of standard that people can learn from. And what do I mean by that? I have traversed the country when I was the Chairman of the then ruling party. It is only Kwara that I have never set up or headed a committee to come and settle quarrel.
Here we find a system that is not only working but alive. Where people just sit down and do things in common, what the political circle called Consensus. So, we go into election well prepared, we go into election knowing full well who we are going to vote for and go into election and we have already known that this is where all of us are going. It has never happened in any of the states. It is not a weakness but in politics, it is strength.
Another State that actually has this kind of arrangement, I want to say very closely and with my experience, is Cross River State. What they have above us is that they have an hierarchy. As you are siting down, you know when you will be what in Cross River State. When you are a local government chairman this year in Cross River State, you know in the next four years, you will be a Minister. That is their own arrangement, and that is what we called consensus. We have a similar thing here.
Now that the local government election is coming, we know that system will throw up candidates for all the local governments. I therefore appeal to the stakeholders that this system, which I described as functional, should be allowed to operate. It is the one that has been bringing peace and tranquility.
I have been saying this when people were clamouring that I should.. I was out of the country when I called back home that my name was being taunted as one of the people wanting to contest, and I said the time was too early and still early, that when the period comes, the system will throw out the direction that we are to go. And we know very sincerely that who is the overall Chairman of this system, he is the one and only indefatigable, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki, the Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The media can do their exercise, fine, no problem about that. They can do their mental and physical analysis or whatever and we know that, that system operates.
How would you react to the calls that you should join 2019 governorship race because of your experience and exposure?
It is part of the system. It is part of the answer that I gave then and now. There is nothing wrong for such people to voice out their desire. In fact, such desire or clamour will help the system to be more coordinating, will help the system to take a very reliable decision. There is nothing wrong about it.
Yes, I can no longer hide. I was hiding and I was driving people away, asking people to keep quiet, that when the time comes, it will throw up whoever. But I can't stop them. And day by day, the demand was getting higher and higher. You will discover that it is a long time we have discovered together. This is part of the things I have been running away from my base, and I don't know, when the system comes, it is a very sensitive, very sensitive to the wishes of the people and to the clamours and desires of the society.
So, that's why I said whatever people are saying, is good for the system and I cannot stop them even if I want to. I have attempted to, I cannot to. So, as far I am concerned, it is desirable for the system.
There is call or agitation for restructuring of the country. As an elder statesman, what really is your position about it?
Personally, the call has been very ambiguous. Some people will call it restructuring, some people will call it devolution of powers and so on. I think Nigerians should sit down, look back at the various reports of all our conferences. I was a participant of one of the conferences in 2005 when we had a political reform conference. We talked about devolution of powers and we recommended as appropriate in that report. I have a copy of that report as a participant.
The one that came after in 2014, they copied from the one in 2005. The one that we did in 2005, we took and studied the one that took place in (Sani) Abacha's time in 1995. So, all these reports, when you look at it, Nigerians are not saying anything new. But because some of my colleagues in this field of politics, with due respect, just want to score a cheap point, they just decided to come up and said restructuring, devolution, and I want to say with due respect, that our representatives, both at the Senate and the House of Representatives, are very well focused and fully sighted, because the issue is a very sensitive one. We must define what is restructuring.
As I am concerned, even before I went into deep politics, I have been a supporter of devolution of powers. There are certain functionalities, which the Federal Government is taking responsibility of, may be as laid down in our Constitution, that ought to be quickly looked at. The responsibility of teachers for example, the responsibility of building schools, the responsibility of ensuring that amenities like provision of water, ensuring that roads are passable in some areas, they shouldn't be at the Federal. They should devolve to the states and from the states to local governments, and as they devolve, they should be equally, finally and economically supported.
I believe that when people have a say in the running of government and when people are elected into government and people can hold them accountable, most of these amenities will be well distributed. Not only well distributed, they will get to the right people at the right time.
So, my opinion is that if you call it restructuring, define it, if you call it, devolution, define it. I am not opposing it. I have interacted with some Senators from different parts of the country at different time as to why is it they voted against restructuring, they all gave me common answer. The answer was that they need to consult more, because they need the expression "devolution" to be defined, so that their own Constituencies are not shortchanged.
When people now run to newspapers and said they are voting against restructuring, the wishes of the people, is because such people only want to score cheap political point, whoever they are at whatever level. In most of these things, we must be careful and I believe that nobody in his right senses will say he is not in support of devolution of powers. And I think almost a week after the Senators voted, the Senate President quickly came into the media, social media particularly and said, the Senate will revisit restructuring after due consultations.
Before arrival of President Muhammadu Buhari from his medical trip, Pastor Enoch Adeboye of Redeem Christian Church of God visited him in London. What is you take on this?
I don't see the visit of Pastor Adeboye as being special. If at all, I would say that it is only proving one point wrong politically that Buhari is a religious bigot. So, if somebody of Pastor Adeboye's calibre can take six hours flight and go to see President Buhari within 48 hours, Buhari is coming home, then it is speaking a different thing about what some people are saying Buhari is a religious bigot, may be he has now finally succumbed to the advice of not only his doctors but to the spiritual advice of Pastor Adeboye. So, I think the development is a very good one.
Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) are currently on strike. As a trained teacher, do you consider this development as a good omen for us in this country?
This is a critical period. This is the period most of the tertiary institutions are taking exams including those that are passing out. I have two people I'm sponsoring on my goodwill scholarship. Last week was their project defence, and the Supervisor said there is nothing he can do, they have to wait. You see the implication of that (strike action).
For ASUU to have chosen this time, it is unfortunate. But I hasten to say in line with the comment of the Minister of Education, that the government has been foot-dragging too much on the issue ASUU since about 13 years ago. It is not fair on our education, it is not fair on the system, it is not fair on the standard that we are clamouring to improve and protect. This is not the best way. And I thank the Minister Adamu Adamu for coming out very honestly and bluntly for the very first time. What we know government officials to be doing in this part of the world is to be defending the indefensible.
But fortunately, he has not done that. What Adamu Adamu has done is the best for this country and I think latest by Tuesday, some good news will come to Nigerian public. I'm not saying it authoritatively but from what you and I had read from the pages of Newspapers. So, if that is done, our fear will be allayed. But sincerely speaking, we are not happy, I'm not happy as a parent, I'm not happy as a political leader, I'm not happy as a Nigerian that the incessant going on strike by ASUU is desirable for our education. May God help this country.