Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari was a former two-term Governor of Zamfara state and chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress APC. Before serving out his term in 2019, he was the Chairman of the influential Nigeria Governors’ Forum NGF.
The former federal lawmaker in this interview speaks on the forthcoming National Convention of the ruling All Progressives Congress APC, and dismissed concerns about a gang up by some current and former Governors in the Northwest geopolitical zone to frustrate his ambition to become the National Chairman of the party, saying their political dalliance will come to nought. Excerpts:
Beyond being a member of the House of Representatives, state party chairman, governor, why do you feel so certain that your political experiences really stand you out as a candidate for the National Chairmanship of the All Progressives Congress?
Let me start by giving thanks to Almighty Allah who gave me the opportunity to serve our people in various capacities. Number one, let me point out that even before the formation of APP, AD and other political parties – that is, during the period of the defunct UNCP and DPP – I contested under the platform of DPN for the membership of the House of Assembly. You know how the military behaved at the time. The elections were not concluded before the parties became defunct immediately General Abdulsalami Abubakar took over and had his transition programme which went on for nine months and culminated into handing over power to a democratically-elected government in 1999.
Then, two parties emerged and I was part of negotiations for the formation of APP. We went into the convention despite my young age and we were part of the scheming that took place until the exit of the South West through the covert influence of the military because they knew that if the South West at that time and the northern bloc came together as a political party for sure, the PDP will not have a chance to install a leadership.
The government of the day and the military had made up their minds about what they wanted to do for the so-called stability of the country – they were going to give the Presidency to a particular section of the country which was the South West. It was not only about shifting power to the South West but to a particular person, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and this did not go down well with us.
We tried to reach our best to reach out to our seniors like Chief Alani Bankole, Chief Bode George and others in the South West, for them to know that there was a game that was being played out. Even the late former Governor of Oyo State and former Minister of Power, Chief Bola Ige too; we told them that the military was playing a game, influencing several minds and that we should not insist on putting their demand for presidential ticket into the party’s constitution. That demand, subtly encouraged behind the scenes, became what brought about the division that led to the exit of AD leaders from APP. The northern bloc of the leadership agreed that yes, the APP Presidential candidate is coming from the South but what the South West which later became the AD power bloc was looking for, was an emphatically explicit documentation that what should be in the constitution of this party is that the Presidency is coming to the South West.
But you can’t play politics like that; the northern bloc would not like to start with such explicit indications that could discourage the followership and cause feelings or assumptions in the North, right from the beginning that people were only being mobilized to play second fiddle. Our elder, Marafan Sokoto and others argued and argued to a point that they reached a deadlock.
The South West bloc then exited and formed the Alliance for Democracy (AD) the next day. We had to do our convention and launch APP on the Parade Ground which was successfully done because preparations had taken much time and several meetings. Some of them agreed, people like Alani Bankole, Chief Olabode George agreed to stay with us and others went to stay with AD.
In all these, my experiences and the lessons learnt about bringing together divergent interests for national cohesion and party success are very significant; I did not learn as a mere onlooker but as someone who has been part of the real process that birthed the current democratic dispensation in Nigeria. I feel much empowered to lead in the national interest and lead a truly national party to much success nationwide.
You were very young, below the age of 30 when you were given the chance to play critical roles during the formation of various political parties even before the current democratic dispensation began. Now, where do you stand regarding the clamour for young people’s increased involvement in governance?
Seriously, one of the major things that qualify one for pursuit of national leadership position in a political party is dynamic experience and as one who was lucky to start garnering such experience in my 20s, I wholeheartedly support the involvement of the young generation.
I have given a background of how we started political mobilization, long before contesting for office. I was under 30 and it is a matter of what you can get done. In any case, several of the governors at that time (1999) were in their early 30s, so it is not really the age that matters but what you are able to deliver.
Sometime in 1999, I became party secretary in my state and we worked hard, preparing for elections but when we had the election, we were overwhelmed because our thinking or calculation was based on the fact that we were solidly on ground but the unexpected influence of those at the centre and other factors made us to end up sharing the local governments equally, with seven each. Our earlier analysis made us not to expect the PDP to win more than three local governments. It was surprising.
We identified two or three LGAs where PDP could make impact but unfortunately, we didn’t know how they did it despite the support we had. All of a sudden, we lost more councils than expected but we came out with a huge vote margin. If that local government election that was held in 1998 was the governorship, we would have had our way but that was how it happened.
They took seven and we took seven but when it came to the government, we had taken the lead we worked hard for; thus, in the National Assembly election which followed, we took all three Senate seats and then we took five House of Representatives seats; we lost only Anka Federal Constituency but Shinkafi/Zurmi we cleared it, Birnin-Magaji, we cleared Maru /Bungudu, we cleared Gumi and Bukkuyum, we cleared Gusau/Tsafe – all that was in 1998. When it came to the governorship elections, we led our party to victory in 19 out of 24 local government areas of Zamfara state. Five of them were PDP, that’s where we had been until 2003.
What is your response to the clamour for a power shift to the South?
Well, I have no personal position beyond the party’s official stand. If the top leadership of the APC made a promise that power should move to any place, we should respect it. We would have no reason not to oblige. But we should look at this and all other things critically so that APC can survive and succeed further.
Don’t you think that leading a party towards nationwide general elections involves weightier responsibilities than being a young, lucky politician?
In 2003, I became party Secretary in my state, I was the Director-General of the Muhammadu Buhari presidential campaign as well as that of governorship campaign and that of every other person who was contesting on the platform of the defunct ANPP. We won the seats in the State House of Assembly and National Assembly 100 per cent and we won the governorship. In 2004, I became the State Chairman of the party and our success stories continued.
Although there were intense calls from people urging me to contest for the governorship seat and succeed Governor Ahmad Sani, there was a logical reason why that could not be done; I clearly understood the perspective of the governor that since we are almost from the same Local Government – he is from Bakura and I am from Talatan Mafara – so, it was not practical for the governorship ticket to remain within that axis. If you recall, Bakura was carved out of Talatan Mafara local government so, technically, we are from the same local government.
The then governor said no, let us take it to another zone so that we can get their buy-in, so that ‘you are going to be the Deputy Governor.’ There was a misunderstanding so I decided not to go for the position of Deputy Governor and came to the House of Representatives after finishing my term as party chairman. I was in the House of Representatives when the then governor, Aliyu Shinkafi defected to the PDP and we remained in the ANPP.
The PDP had everything – President (Goodluck Jonathan), oil money and federal power but God had decided the destiny that I would win and be governor of zamfara state in 2011. I became the governor and then came the process of merger to form the APC. We were then 11 governors: Borno, Yobe, Zamfara, Nasarawa, Edo, Osun, Lagos, Oyo, Ekiti, about eleven of us including one from APGA. That’s how we started the merger process. We wanted to be the progressives in the sense that we wanted to bring all the opposition on board. Ondo was a Labour Party member, Anambra was APGA, but Anambra and Ondo defected to PDP finally and then we remained 11. That’s where we started this struggle up to 2013 when the PDP had their congresses and we had the New PDP joining us, with four states: Kwara, Rivers, Kano and Sokoto states and we became 14. We started this process of merger and then in the 2015 election, we won all the state’s seats in the National Assembly and also, our party, APC won the Presidency.
This is where we are today and at the same time in 2015, my colleague governors unanimously accepted me to be the chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF). If you look at what we have done in the past and what is on ground now, the issue or responsibilities of chairmanship will not be a difficult task for me to deal with because I know the right buttons to press to bring the people together and win elections.
You said running for party chairmanship or leading your party shouldn’t be a difficult thing but one notices that things are being said about you, including an allegation published few weeks ago by a little-known online website alleging that N8 billion gold bars owned by you has been seized at Kotoka International airport in Accra. How do you react to this?
Publishing absolute rubbish can easily get quacks into big trouble when a maligned or libeled person decides to sue. I never knew anyone in that place and contrary to a few person’s very wild speculations, I never had any such gold. The baseless allegation easily fizzled out because genuine publications which had colleagues and other contacts in Ghana found that there was no substance to it.
Well, some persons can fabricate lies but at the end of the day, the truth will prevail.
They have circulated rumours that I got money from the London Paris Club, that I robbed the state and did this, that and that but I challenge anyone either in the Governors’ Forum or in the state – anybody!
I have mentioned it time without number, that if there is any fronts man or collaborator within or outside who is holding money on my behalf or who knows where I kept money, I say that God should not spare him if he decides to cover me up! I made it very clear but at least, I know myself what I have been doing and what I did for my people and the (Governors’) Forum, what I even did for my party the APC… So, whatever lie someone wants to tell, he should put the facts on the ground that is the most important; not using some faceless cowards like himself to disseminate fabricated lies. If there is anybody who knows any account of mine anywhere, either in Nigeria or anywhere or that of any of my associates, they should come and put it before the public.
Can you allay the fears of your supporters about the EFCC’s ongoing case against you?
There is nothing to worry about. Nothing to worry about.
What is being said now is that there is a gang up in the North West by people who are interested in the number two slot and that is why Yari has to be neutralized by whatever means.
What do you mean by ‘neutralized’?
That there is an agenda by few party elements in the North West to truncate your aspiration for the party chairmanship position because if you get it, it will spoil their calculations for the 2023 Vice Presidential slot.
I hear that also. Somebody told me that some of my colleagues and former colleagues are interested in the number one and number two slots so, if the (National Chairmanship) seat goes to the North West, nothing will get to them, so they ganged up to neutralize Yari.
If God decides that it should be, it is going to be. People can maneuver and do all sorts of calculations but they will not prevail.
All I know is this: I have the capacity to lead this party and they know what I can do.
It doesn’t matter what excuses they are giving that oh, he is from the same zone with the President, no. Our calculations now are towards 2023 not 2019. It is only when you have a party, a strong party, that you start thinking of 2023 and whatever the situation may be, the capacity to lead the party to electoral victory is the most important thing. This is one major area in which I believe I have a little but very significant knowledge about how to go about getting it done.
Your state Governor who recently defected to the APC has been named leader of the party. What is your reaction?
You see that one, I have nothing much to say. All I advise them to do, all that I ask of them is that in all that they want to do, they should go through the party constitution and act in accordance with it. Let them look at their constitution very well and take a lead from there.
I am not contesting any leadership. It is the people who made me to be their leader and they will continue to call me leader as long as I am alive. It is not about the APC; they call me leader.
When I was a governor, I never called myself a leader. Even as a sitting governor, there is someone I was addressing as ‘leader’ and he knows; I call him Jagora. Jagora is leader, I do call him, whenever he was present, I call him leader. Whenever I make public address, I address him as a leader. I never addressed myself as a leader; I was governor, that is what the constitution of Nigeria assigned to me and that was what God decided to make me. However, in terms of respect, at least, there is someone that you have to respect in the system. Throughout my entire eight years, I always had someone to address as leader. It was only after my eight years in office that they started calling me leader and then we continued like that.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t matter whether the governor is leader or whosoever is the leader; the important thing is to deliver. If you can deliver, you can take your leadership and go away with it.
As for the pronouncement of the National Chairman (declaring the governor as leader), I will not comment on it but I refer them to the constitution and let them do the needful, as far as the constitution is concerned. The Nigerian Constitution kept the Nigerian President where he is, it kept the party where it is, kept everybody where he is. So, let’s look at the constitution and it is clear about everyone’s roles. For me, I am not contesting the leadership with the governor or anybody; it is out of respect that I am being called a leader because I was there before him.
How do you assess the chances of the APC in 2023 against the background of what the party promised in 2015 but appears unable to deliver, especially in the areas of insecurity, anti-corruption fight and the economy?
Let us put a team in place first. If we put a team that can manage the APC effectively, that is how we are going to know the impact. Not only these ones, yes they were part of our campaign promises and we know there are some hitches in the economy and what have you. There are some issues there but it is not so bad to an extent that what we have been doing or achieving cannot be seen.
However, there are so many issues behind chances in APC 2023 or otherwise. A lot depends on how we do our calculations; a lot depends on where we zone our presidency to – all those kinds of things are facts we should consider.
The only thing I will say is that if you look at our merger, from the north and the zones we have taken to merge together, the South West especially. If you look at it critically and look at what has transpired, from there we can say okay, this is what we should do as a party or this is what we should not do as a party and carefully look at some errors we made in the last six years and see how we can quickly push as a party and as a government to see how we can cover about 30, 40 percent of it and then convince people and ask them yes, we promised so many things that we could not fulfil because we found so many things that were not in place.
On the issue of the economy, we expected to have the oil price at 100-120 dollars per barrel but it came down to USD 27 per barrel and now, it is not going beyond 70. There are so many things we are going to talk about, not only security, unemployment and so on and so forth. There are so many things we need to look at, areas where we are doing the best we could. There are many things to look at within the system, especially between now and next year.