Alhaji Tanko Yakassai is and elder statesman and currently Chairman of a new political group, the Northern Leaders Stakeholders Forum, which recently unveiled an agenda to create a platform for the emergence of responsive political leadership for the governance of the country. In this brief encounter with Thisage, the one -time political adviser to President Shehu Shagari in the Second Republic explains the mechanics of the group’s plan. Excerpts:
Your new political group recently unveiled a plan to create the platform for the emergence of good political leadership for the country. Could you expatiate?
What we said we would do is to allow the political parties to present their presidential candidates. That is not our business. But after the candidates are produced, we will then present our agenda to them for the governance of the country to the benefit of all. We will do that by interviewing the candidates after their emergence, to see and hear their plans to govern. If they are considered competent enough to carry out the plan, we will offer our support.
Does your agenda deal with all the political parties?
Yes, certainly. Though we are political, we are non-partisan
What is this agenda you are talking about and how do you intend to get them to comply?
Our agenda is first and foremost to unite the people of the north to solve the problems facing the region and then after that go out to other regions of the country to meet like minds and develop a pan -Nigerian agenda for the good governance of the country.
Look, we started from somewhere. We have observed that from 1999 till date, all the presidential candidates and even governors were sponsored by some influential Nigerians and therefore when they come to power, they do the biddings of their sponsors rather than that of the Nigerian people. We want to change the narrative and ensure that the candidates earn our support be agreeing to translate our agenda for good governance into reality or else we would work against them.
How do you hope to enforce your agenda on any candidate that emerges through political parties not controlled by you?
Let me just say we are actually not thinking about the coming 2019 elections. We are looking beyond that. The idea I am talking about came by, what I may call divine will. We are actually thinking about all subsequent polls after 2019. The idea governing our agenda is that it is time the people become the source of authority and legitimacy for any presidential candidate. I believe that direct primaries as it is done in America rather than indirect primaries as it is currently done by our political parties, should be adopted
The direct primary is an open system whereby party members are allowed to cast their votes for candidates and not by nomination by party members. What you have now is a situation which allows state delegates to be hijacked and substituted by ‘hired delegates’ from lists compiled in Abuja to facilitate the emergence of preferred party candidates. That is the development we want to change. The law provides for two types of electing candidates, direct primaries where members are elected and indirect in which all delegates elect candidates.
Right now governors can control the emergence of candidates, many select the delegates and bring them to Abuja. Any of the delegate that is not ready to vote as directed would be changed even by hired delegates who are paid to vote for the preferred candidate. Now, if that candidates emerges victorious, he would not be obliged to work for the good of the people but their paymasters. That is what is happening.
As to whether this our agenda would work, let me tell you we have passed this stage before. My personal opinion is that America has a bigger population than us and they did it. Why can’t we? We did it during the time of Professor Henry Nwosu, one-time electoral chairman who adopted the option A4 voting method, whereby people lined up behind candidates of their choice. Nobody complained. It can still be done. And you know, the people know those who can lead them and that was what that option A4 proved.
Are you saying Nigeria’s major problem is leadership?
What I am saying is if you make the people the final arbiter in the emergence of a candidate, the candidate would have no option than to do the will of the people.
How do you intend to make your group Pan-Nigerian?
We are going to liaise with with similar groups in the country later but for now, we want to get ourselves and our plan established in the northern part of the country first. We do not want people to say we are merely concerned with elections only, hence our focus is not necessarily on the 2019 polls, but the future, particularly after we have left the fallout of the coming polls behind.
Don’t you think the 2019 polls would provide you the chance to test run your agenda?
Our conviction is that we have to get started with a new system in which the party delegates matter, in which the voter matters in determining who emerges as a presidential candidate and goes on to win the election. That would force the elected candidate to pay attention to the welfare of the party member, to the voters and the people generally. What we have now is a jamboree call party convention.
What vision of the future Nigeria are you looking at?
I believe that Nigerian was created by the will of Allah through the instrumentality of the British colonial masters. Even if the Nigeria as we have it today had not been created the way it was, I believe the Nigeria of today would have emerged somehow.
If you look at our neighbours such as the Republic of Benin, you will find a large number of Yorubas there, which you could get to team up with the Yorubas in Nigeria. Go to the Camerouns, you will find Fulanis there, which you can bring to team up with Fulanis in Yola, for another example. What about Maiduguri in Borno state where the Shuwa Arabs and Kanuris in Lake Chad region could also have teamed up with their kits in Nigerian. The same is true of Fulanis and Hausas in Niger, for instance. I believe a time will come when you won’t have only Nigeria but a larger African federation with an African High Command and Regional Federations.
You know, when the Holy Prophet received the summons form Allah to go and preach he first released it to his wife and Ali, the little boy in his house and then he told his friend, Abubakar and that was the beginning of the spread of Islam. Now, you can see the large numbers of Muslims in the world today. You have to start any good project from somewhere by laying the foundation for the building to come up. If you make efforts you will always see results.
What do you think is the best method to rid Nigeria of the crises threatening to cripple it?
That is why we are thing of a system that is idea, philosophy driven. What makes a few Nigerians like us to think up such an idea also means that there are many like minded Nigerians thinking the same way. We just have to find a way to link up, that is all. It is actually a question of time for the synergy to develop and grow and translate that thought about a better, greater Nigeria, into action and reality.
Constitutional bait and counselling is been offered the youths these days to mainstream them into politics. Do you think that can be another way to bring in the new Nigeria you are talking about?
Why not. I joined politics when I was 25. Look at me at old age, I an still fighting for a better Nigeria. I believe the youths of today are better equipped than me. The English Language I am speaking with you now, I learned myself. I also learned how to read and write in English, all by effort. So if the youths learn to apply themselves, they can make things happen in Nigeria. Nothing tried, nothing gained.