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First Republic politician, a foundation member of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), former Hausa Editor of Daily Comet, Kano State-born elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, speaks to DARE ADEKANMBI on the 2023 presidential election, the ongoing constitution amendment exercise, power shift, among other issues.

From the recent development in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), it appears the party is looking towards the South for its presidential candidate. What do you make of this?

Well, it is inevitable. With [President Muhammadu] Buhari completing his two terms, nobody will think of proposing a Northern candidate anymore, particularly in view of the performance shown by Buhari during his seven and a half years presidency. So, it is inevitable that the president would come from the South. Mark you I don’t belong to any political party, but as an observer, the only problem APC has is that apart from [Senator Bola] Tinubu, I don’t know any other strong person that has the resources, contacts and so on to be a presidential candidate that will make a difference. Whatever anybody will say, since the beginning of Buhari’s presidency, Tinubu has been in control of five out of six states of the South-West. This is a solid base for him. All he needs is for him to get about 45 to 50 per cent of the northern votes to win the presidency. That is if there is nobody else from the South to Tinubu’s strength. But I don’t know what they are doing in APC. They have the president, the government and so on. I hope this will not lead us into a military coup.

A military coup? How?

I said I hope it will not lead to a coup. The APC has the presidency. But if there is no way of retaining the presidency, I don’t know what they are going to do. I only pray that nobody will take this country back to the trajectory of a military coup.

The people of the South-East have been saying for equity, they should be allowed to have a shot at the presidency this time…


Power is not given out like that. Votes are cast and counted. What the South-East needs to do now is to begin to look for the votes, long before now, and I don’t see them doing this. We have 36 states in the country and anybody who is looking for votes to be president must have their calculations of the numbers required out of the 36 states to produce the president of the country. I did not see them doing that calculation before now and I don’t know if it is too late for them to do so now with just a few months before the election. They should have known this long ago. They did not go out to other zones to establish bridges for cooperation.

I have told them many times that it is better for them to go out of their zone to look for friends in other zones. In a democracy, votes are needed and they must be looked for wherever they are. And when you need votes, you need to connect with friends who will give you the votes. I have my sympathy with the South-East and really want them to produce the next president, but nobody has the power, not even Buhari, to give them votes or make them president. It is only the people of Nigeria who have the votes. So, they need to reach out to the people, especially now in Nigeria that people won’t give you their votes until they know what they will get in return. So, let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.


The name of former President Goodluck Jonathan is also featuring in the discussion about a presidential candidate in APC. Should they field him, what do you think will happen?

I read that Jonathan has not been taking part in the activities of PDP for some time now. He is not in APC yet. Let’s wait for him to declare if he is going to declare because he is not in APC yet. I can see your point that without any credible candidate from the South, APC might open its door for Jonathan to come in. It is possible because this is politics where there is no permanent enemy and no permanent friend, only interest is permanent. Until Jonathan decides to join the APC and he will be crossing over to meet other presidential aspirants in the party, he has to work out how he is going to contest against such aspirants. Nobody will be able to readily give you an answer for this question. It is going to be a question of votes and people ought to know beforehand who is going to get their votes and then they will make up their minds whether to give the votes or not.


You were an active participant in the politics of the country since the First Republic. When people reminisce about that era, they say the betters of politics and good governance are in the past and that there is not hope for the future. Do you share such a sentiment?

Politically, our better days are in the past where they did politics of conviction and patriotism. Now, money is the driving factor for our politics. Anybody who is now looking for elective office, be it councillorship, local government chairmanship, membership of national and state assemblies, governor or president, the main thing is how heavy is their pocket. What the office seekers themselves are thinking of is that they are going into politics to invest and how the outcome of their investment will be. This is why people are going into politics now, to make money and not to serve the people or build the country. That is the major difference between the politics of the first and second republics and what obtains now.

Politics is a wonderful thing. Sooner or later, people will understand that this money politics will not take us anywhere and they will begin to change their mind and their approach. And when there is no way out, they will begin to look for an alternative. When money politics is not changing the country for the better, people will begin to think of politics based on patriotism as the answer and they will make this their mantra.

Some politicians and non-politicians who are dissatisfied with the status quo, particularly the way APC and PDP have run the country and are converging under what they call the National Movement, a third force platform to, in their words, rescue the country. A former governor of Kano State, Rabiu Kwankwaso, is prominent among them. Can a third force make any difference or cause any upset in 2023?


He came to my house and invited me to the meeting. He told me there would be a meeting of politicians from all political parties and non-politicians. He invited APC, PDP members and even non-party members. I think it is from that they are trying to see what the next step will be. If they are going by the way we did it before, it would be like history is about to repeat itself. We started by political associations that led to the formation of the first national movement that later on developed into the National Party of Nigeria (NPN).

What NPN did which no other party in Nigeria so far has done was that at the time NPN was formed, there were other parties like the UPN which everybody knew belonged to Chief Obafemi Awolowo; there was NPP which belonged to Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe; GNPP which belonged to Waziri… and there was PRP which belonged to Aminu Kano. Only NPN did not belong to anybody and that was what made it acceptable to all Nigerians.


With elections just about a year away, do you see them achieving anything worthwhile in 2023?

This new National Movement will do very well if they would try to copy the strategy we used then and adopt the trajectory for the national movement. They should open their doors to everybody. I attended the meeting and I spoke there. I did not talk there like I am talking to you now, but I spoke in a manner that the interpretation is the same thing as what I am saying now. Before we formed NPN, the then national movement had branches in all the parts of the country, East, West, and North. So, by the time the military lifted the ban on political activities, we were ready. We had our constitution, manifesto and other things in place. It did not take us a week. What we did was to change the word ‘movement’ for ‘party’ and put ‘Nigeria,’ such that instead of a national movement, we had the National Party of Nigeria. In a matter of one week, we had our posters all over the place.

Lennox Mall

They need to do something like this, but the most important thing is that they should give every Nigerian a sense of belonging in the party and to do that, they must involve them right from the word go.

People, particularly from the South, often talk about the advantage the North has over the South in terms of voting strength, political consciousness and so on. How strong is the advantage in terms of the 2023 presidential election?


The population is always important in politics because it is the population that gives you the votes. So, clever people from the South will try to reach out to some leaders in the North and when they get a change of a good chunk of the votes from the North plus the votes they get in their own South, they will be able to produce the required number of votes to win a presidential election. This has happened before and I think it is the only trajectory that will lead to victory for a southern presidential candidate.

There are quite a number of northerners like Bukola Saraki, Aminu Tambuwal and Atiku Abubakar who are angling to be president, though mainly on the PDP platform. Should the PDP pick a northern presidential candidate and APC goes for a southerner, what do you think will happen?


At the beginning of this interview, you told me that APC is looking for a presidential candidate from the South and I have not heard anything from the PDP yet.

No one from the South has said he wants to be president under the PDP… You just mentioned about four presidential aspirants from the North and you did not mention any from the South. So, those who are interested in becoming president from the South in PDP will have to decide now. I don’t know whether they are giving up. I don’t know what is going on in their minds. Politicians are weird people. They may be doing something that you may not be able to know until the last moment. I don’t know if this is what is happening in the PDP. I don’t belong to any party. So, I don’t know what their calculations are.

But should PDP pick a northerner and APC, a southerner, how do you think the North will vote?

You earlier spoke about the advantages the North has, such as population, political consciousness and voting strength. Politics started largely in the North. Although NCNC was the first party that was formed, unfortunately, they limited themselves to the South like AG also did. But in any case, with the advantage of population and political consciousness, I think the North should be aware that a northerner has ruled the country for eight years and by that calculation, northerners will be divided into two halves. One half will be for the northern candidate and the other half will be more realistic to vote for a candidate from the South.


As a former journalist, I know you were Hausa Editor of the Daily Comet for about eight years, would you say the media is effectively playing its role of holding the government of Buhari to account?

You are right to say I was a journalist. I was editor of the paper from 1954 to 1961. Concerning the media’s role of holding Buhari to account, I would say the media has not played this role well. And the truth is that what scattered Nigerian politics is what scattered the media profession too and that is money. Unfortunately, the people are not setting up media outlets because they prefer to put their money in banking and other sectors. Those who have media outfits are not putting enough money into running them to make it possible to recruit competent people, pay them well so that they can work for their pay that will be enough to take care of their needs.

This is a big shortcoming in media operations in Nigeria today. That is why the journalists go to press conferences, not for the purpose of what the organizers of the events are going to say, but are looking at the size of the brown envelope that the organizers are going to give them. Their reportage will be determined by the size and the weight of the brown envelope handed down to them. The implication is that the media is not reflecting the reality in the country.

They are only reflecting the weight of the brown envelope given to them. That is the tragedy of the matter. You see people who have contributed nothing to society getting banner headlines anytime they talk. People are even now clever to save money for press conferences or their events. This is also partly reflected in the negligible part of the population that comes out to vote on election day. [What this means is that] this negligible part has collected money from the politicians to vote.

I hope one day, I will be alive to see when the media will go back to those great days when we practised journalism so well that we were arrested and kept in prisons. At that time, journalism, like politics, was based on principles. I pray that time will come when people who are giving money to journalists will grow thinner and there will be a change for the better.

The National Assembly is trying to amend the much-discredited 1999 Constitution for the umpteenth time. What changes would you like to see in the amended constitution?

The real change which I hope the lawmakers will have the courage to do is to drop the American-type presidential system and go for the French presidential system where an elected president will have less power and we will have an elected prime minister chosen from among members of the National Assembly. Once we do this, we will change the situation for the better. I hope this is what is going to happen. There are other things, but I think this is the most important change that anybody who wants the situation in the country to change should do because when we do this, we are doing away with the concentration of power in the president and making people to look for that power to make money for themselves rather than serving the people and building the country.


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