Ambassador Aminu Bashir Wali, Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister, is one of the leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party in the North. A former ambassador to China and one-time Nigeria’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, the elder statesman is certain his party would come to victory in the forthcoming polls. He also shared his thoughts on a number of subjects among them is the deployment of military during the polls, the need for a violence-free polls, the propaganda of the opposition and the resurgence of the PDP in the Northwest zone. He spoke to DESMOND MGBOH in his home in Kano. Excerpts:
Sir, we are approaching the forthcoming general elections and from your point of view, what are chances of the PDP in the contest?
Well, I can assure you that as far I am concerned; as far as our own assessments of the polls are concerned, we have always maintained the lead in this country. Yes, we might have some hitches, here and there; yes we might have had some problems during the primaries, but by and large, we have been able to get over those problems and for these reasons, I know that we are now moving forward the way we should have been moving and certainly, victory is certain for the PDP.
You are from the North and also, you are one of the leaders of the PDP in the North-West. Incidentally, the North-West is one of the most difficult areas for the Presidency. Why is this so?
Well, it is very, very unfortunate. We have something to offer to our people, others don’t have. Now, if you don’t have, you have to be able to create something –even if it is an illusionary creation. That creation is ethnicity and religion. We in the PDP we do not fall on that. We have a lot to offer our people. For those that do not have anything to offer to our people and they want to be elected, they fall back on some sentiments, which are not good for the health of our nation. We have done a lot in this country in the past 16 years. Anywhere, where there is a PDP government, we have a lot to show in all the states. And at the federal level, I can roll out so many things that you know and every Nigerian knows that the PDP administration has achieved in the last sixteen years. So, we have something to show to the people, that this is what we have been able to achieve, that this is our work. But of course, those in the opposition do not have anything to show. So, the only sentiment they fall back on is religion and ethnic sentiments. That is what has been happening in the North-West and I think it is time that we as Nigerians should break away from those sentiments that do not augur well for the health of our nation.
Religion and ethnicity, as you know, are very strong factors in this part of the country. The question, therefore, is what are you people doing to check these and return your people to issue -based politics?
Well you see, it is not something that you will do overnight. But I think that we are succeeding to a large degree in really enlightening our voters and our people to start appreciating issues and achievements as the basis for judging parties and individuals running for offices. I think that we have been able to break the culture in the North-West and I believe we are moving in the right direction now and that is why I believe that we will do well in the North-West than we have ever done before.
Out there on the streets, there is this charge that some of PDP candidates do not put the picture of President Jonathan in their campaigns and that generally, your supporters here in Kano are afraid they would be killed or harmed if they openly show solidarity with the ambition of the president. How much of this is true?
No, I don’t believe this is true. Now, you live in Kano, you are operating in Kano. Maybe six months or seven months ago, that could have been true. But today, this is something that belongs to history; that belongs to the past. You can go anywhere, you see our vehicles; you will see our materials all over Kano State or all over the North-West. Six months ago, yes! But we have worked so hard to really change the mood and the belief and the thoughts of our people. That is what I am telling you earlier that we have come a long way now; that we have been able turn the table in terms of that kind of sentiments. We are now moving towards proper integration in this country. As far as the Northwest is concerned, yes we still have remnants of those people that believe in that. This is something where education is the key- and that is why the president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan has been wise enough to emphasize a lot on education, particularly in the North-West where education is the key to opening the vista of development in the region. Without education, people fall prey to those people who carry this type of sentiment and imbibe into our youths. And that is what is killing us. But thank God, President Jonathan has focused on the youths of this country and the youths , all over the country, have turned out to be supportive of President Jonathan. Most of these youths are educated young men and women who are now going round enlightening their peers and the generality, on why they should be voting during elections and what they should be looking forward to with their votes and not to fall back on those sentiments that do not address the issues.
We still have fears. People are worried that the election might be a bit violent. Secondly, there is this debate on whether to keep soldiers on the streets during the polls to make sure the people are not intimidated away from voting or not. What is your take?
Security is the most important part of governance. And you see that when there is an election, particularly in a developing country and where we are trying to nurture democracy, we should always be conscious of the threats that are posed to our young democracy. Therefore, when election time comes, I will not want to exclude the use of any means possible to make sure we have a free, fair and non-violent election. And, therefore, if the situation demands that every aspect of our security agencies should be deployed to make sure that we have a free and fair elections, so be it. This is because we need this election. I, as the Foreign Affairs Minister, I know the international community is looking at us to see how we will conduct our elections and we cannot afford to fail.
The opposition seems to have been somehow giving the international community and their local supporters the impression that they have won the election that has not yet been contested. How do you see this?
It is a mischievous thing for anybody to do. We, in the PDP, are democrats. The election is coming and we have always maintained the position that we will conduct free and fair elections and we will certainly try as much as possible to ensure that there is no violence, and that there is peace and security in the country. But for those in the opposition, their propaganda has gone beyond what is an acceptable norm in any civilized society. For people to start parading themselves as if they had won the election- that is deceitful, that is dishonest; that is unfair and that is a recipe for disaster. This is because if you are able to convince your innocent voters to say that this is the situation, if the thing turns round to be the opposite, then you are really creating a recipe for violence. We should always assume that we should go into an election hoping to win- of course, we all hope to win. Not to assume that I have already won. Because the election has not yet taken place. But see it this way- If we as a government goes about saying that we have already won, then, they would start screaming that it is rigging. The best thing is to move into an election where we both respect each other and accept that yes we are going into an election, any one of us can win depending on the effort and work we put into our campaign.
In the past few weeks, the PDP seems to have moved into Southwest. Will the same effort be replicated in other parts of the country?
The president has not neglected any part of the country as far as campaign issues are concerned. This president is reaching out and linking up with the people in the various parts of the country. And of course, you cannot reap where you don’t sow; the president is sowing where he is going to reap. And he is moving out, he has visited almost every part of this country and he has always been in touch with people from all parts of this country, explaining his position in various media. He is the most visible of all the candidates. Not just because he is the president, but because he is willing to offer and submit himself to Nigerians, to open himself to the people, to say what he has done and to accept criticisms from all corners and be able to answer those criticisms. He is the most open president that we have ever had.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo recently tore his PDP membership card in the open and renounced his membership of the party. How do you see this drama and how much impact would that have on the party?
I don’t really want to comment much on that. One, this is a free country and of course, our party is democratic and every person in this country has a right to determine what he or she wants to do at any given time, particularly when it comes to being part of a political grouping. I will not want to go further than that. He was my boss. Whatever he does , that is exactly what he wants to do. Nobody can tell him what to do or not to do.
The war on terror has been successful in the last few weeks. But Nigerians are also worried that how come there has been so much success just because there is an election. Why were these successes not recorded in the past?
When you are fighting terror, there are a lot of things that may not come to the public domain in preparing to face the terrorists. Some of us in government know how much we have been through to get us to where we are today. It is not out of choice. That is the much I can tell you. We have wanted to succeed all along, except that the preparations and the acquisition of the platforms to enable us to move forward and face these terrorists have taken a long, long time to come. And the fact that today , the international community and the whole world had realised that this is not Nigeria problem, that it is a regional problem, that yes this is not a Nigerian creation- it festered in Nigeria , it got some sanctuary in some parts of Nigeria- yet the membership of this organisation cuts across the states that are around us. So we now up to realize that this is not a Nigerian problem. It is our problem – Nigeria, Chad, Cameroun, Niger and to some extent, Benin Republic. So, we have formed a multinational Joint Task Force to face the issue and this has really helped. As far as Nigeria is concerned, we are still taking the brunt of these efforts. We are able to do what we are doing because we have been fully prepared. We have been preparing over a period. If you noticed all along, the Nigerian Armed Forces could not move as fast as they had desired because of the constraints we have had over the years as a result of the non-investment in our Armed Forces . Today, we are better off. We are better prepared to take on those terrorists. It is not because of election. Let nobody take it that it is because of elections. Whether there is election or not, this is what would have happened anyway.
As a leader of the PDP, what are you doing to assure the non- indigenes community in Kano State that they would not come to no harm during the election?
This is what I have explained earlier that we are doing our best to enlighten our people to win them away from those ethnic and sectarian sentiments. Of course, it is not affecting the supporters of the PDP alone. It would also affect the supporters of the opposition who do not belong to this part of the country. What we are doing is moving in, bringing in the youths and getting them to start educating others. And we are succeeding in this direction. As far as the government is concerned, we have a responsibility to make sure that there is peace and security. That brings me back to the question where you said deploying the military during election. It answers that question. We cannot, as a government, allow some hooligans to start threatening or molesting or even harming fellow Nigerians, regardless of wherever they may have come from. It is our responsibility and there is no doubt that President Jonathan is committed to peace in every part of this country and that every person, no matter which part of the country you come from, is safe and secured. If you recall, only three or four days ago, President Jonathan was in Warri , Delta State, where he addressed Northern settlers in the state , settlers of Northern Nigerian origin and most of them are mainly from the Northwest. Attahiru Bafarawa from Sokoto State led the team and received the President. You see it cuts across both ways and this is what we should explain to our people that their kit and kin are also living in some parts of this country where they may face hostile reaction if anything happens to those settlers in this part of the country after the elections.
The PDP in Kano State still have some elements of disagreements and differences. What are you doing to resolve all issues especially knowing that your unity will make you stronger during the polls?
Well, as leaders of this party- myself and Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau-we are doing everything possible to bring everybody together .This is something that we have discussed at our level here, we have discussed it at the national level and we would be having the Vice President in Kano in a matter of days and I assure you that we would sit down and take a second look at the problems. Believe you me, it is not a very serious problem, Ndabawa is very close to me, Muhammed Abacha is like my son and they don’t have any problem with me and so the whole point is that there may be some differences, but it is not a very serious situation.