In the Sixth National Assembly, Katsina State-born senator, Alhaji Kanti Bello, represented Katsina North. He was not only the Chief Whip of the Senate but also an outspoken member of the assembly. He would be remembered as the man, who spear-headed the campaign against confirming Dr. Goodluck Jonathan as acting president, in the absence of late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua, who was in hospital abroad.
Now a chieftain of All Progressives Congress (APC), Bello, in this interview, has accused the government of being responsible for insecurity in the country. He insists that Major-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari is not only the answer to corruption in the country, but also the person, who could sanitise the nation.
Senator Bello said that President Jonathan has failed Nigerians and would be kicked out of office in 2015. He speaks of system collapse, how some northern politicians sold out and betrayed him and the entire North in 2011, for their selfish interests, why he left the Peoples Democratic party (PDP) for APC and the
General Ibrahim Babangida connection.
Most Nigerians only know you as a former senator. Could you tell us other things about you that may interest Nigerians?
I was born in Ingawa Local Government Area of Katsina State. I’m a graduate of Engineering from the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, Kaduna State. I was born 67 years ago. I have worked in various capacities from Project Manager, in the then North Central State to Project Manager and coordinator of construction and mining of Katsina Rolling Mill. I was the first Managing Director of the Katsina Rolling Mill under the Federal Ministry of Mines, Power and Steel. I later left for business.
In 1989, the late Major-Gen Shehu Musa Yar’Adua invited me to join politics and I was the first Chairman of Peoples Front (PF) in Katsina State and the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was my secretary. Shehu Musa Yar’Adua tried to register PF, but Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) banned it and created his ‘little to the left and a little to the right’ Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC). I was elected senator in 1992 during the era of what the late Chief Bola Ige (SAN) called the five lSeprous fingers from 1997-98 on the platform of the Democratic Peoples Movement (DPM), before we were kicked out by the late Gen. Sani Abacha and co. In 1999, I wasn’t keen to seek elective post, but I came back to the Senate in 2003, on the platform of All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP).
In 2007, I was re-elected senator on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). I left PDP 12 months ago because I realised that PDP is a party that has many problems. There is no way I will be in a party and my conscience would be bothering me and I will remain there. Every morning you wake-up, you will hear that the PDP-led government has spent billions of naira on projects and you won’t see what they spent the money on. The next day it’s either oil subsidy or pension scam. Having seen what is happening and the high level of corruption in government, I had no option but to leave the PDP, with the aim of joining a party that can move Nigeria higher and together we will save the country. It is obvious that the country is sinking. Nigeria is in an unfortunate situation and we must salvage it from insecurity, corruption and economic backwardness. The system has collapsed.
Some of us, especially in the area I come from, the North, want to do something to rescue the nation. This is some of the reasons I left the PDP for Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). I wanted to be part of a mega-party that can confront the PDP, hence, the reason for the merger of major opposition parties (APC), all for the sake of saving Nigeria from disintegrating. We want to do this by the coming together of patriotic Nigerians, to do something to salvage the situation we find ourselves. This is the summary of where I am today.
Alhaji Mohammed Abba-Gana, former minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), recently told the North to forget the presidency in 2015 and wait for 2019. His reason is that the North has no popular candidate that can defeat President Jonathan. What is your take on this?
People, like Alhaji Abba-Gana, are entitled to their opinions, but let me explain some points Abba-Gana seems not to know. I don’t care whether the president comes from the North, East, West or South. What I’m saying is that we need somebody and people who can bring about change. I believe Abba-Gana is from Borno State and I’m sure that today, he cannot visit his state. He is here in Abuja talking nonsense. It is a pity that a man of Abba-Gana’s standing had the guts to say that the North should forget the presidency in 2015. This shows that he is a sycophant. He cannot visit his state, because of insecurity, yet he wants a government that cannot provide him security to continue. He is not a true northerner. Maybe he is not aware what’s happening in the area I come from, the North. Before 1999, for instance, Kaduna and Kano states had over 400 industries, but from 1999 till date, all these companies have almost closed down. Before 1999, they were in operation. Unfortunately, this moment I’m talking to you, we have less than six industries working in Kano hence; millions of people have lost their jobs.
For me, I feel touched by this situation. If you go to Kaduna, which was my former state capital before the creation of Kastina State, all the textile industries that employed thousands of Nigerians are dead. It is funny that since PDP came into power, billions of naira had been spent in trying to provide electricity for the nation and to power our industries; yet, power generation since 1999 has not gone beyond 3,000 mega watts. If not because of corruption, we should be talking about 30,000 mega watts. However, up till now, the nation produces less than 3, 000mw of electricity and every time government tells us that it’s planning to improve on power, but all are lies. Now, government has succeeded in selling Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) and I can assure you that there is no hope because the same persons have bought it. I don’t see any solution to power problem under the present government. This government has no direction.
So, for Abba-Gana to say that this government should continue, I would say because he can’t go to Maiduguri, as he is comfortable in Abuja, he wants the present administration to continue. He doesn’t know what is happening at home. He cannot visit his place, that is why he says the government that is shares in the blame for insecurity should continue. It is not a question of North producing the president; the truth is that, the ruling PDP has to go if we want this country to be great. PDP, as a system, must be kicked out and only patriotic Nigerians can do this. It is not a question of grooming somebody. Who groomed Jonathan? President Jonathan started as Deputy Governor and ended up as President. As I speak with you, I cannot drive from Abuja to my state, Katsina, without fear of being killed. That is the situation we find ourselves in Nigeria under this administration. We sleep with one eye open because of insecurity and someone is saying that this should continue. The same government under whose regime all our industries died. We are a nation of over 160 million people that cannot boast of one solid industry that can employ a good number of Nigerians. The cloths you and I and every Nigerian are putting on are imported from China because there is no electricity to drive our economy. A good number of Nigerians cannot afford a square meal and somebody wants this government to continue because of sectional reason. Who said the North is insisting on a northern president. We are insisting on the best to govern Nigeria, no matter the zone, tribe or religion. That is the point we are trying to make.
But you knew all these before you left ANPP for PDP. What is your reason for joining the ruling party?
Thank you very much. Between 2003 and 2007 I was in the Senate under the umbrellas of ANPP and PDP. It is on record that I was in the forefront to ensure that democracy was sustained through my contributions, the bills I sponsored and the motions I moved. The records are there. Well, after we stopped (Olusegun) Obasanjo’s third term, my party entered into unfortunate situation. I called it unfortunate because in ANPP there were certain forces that were liars, hence the constitution of the party stipulated that the outgoing executive officers should nominate a caretaker committee before a congress was held to elect a new exco. Gen. (Muhammadu) Buhari, is my mentor. He was my head boy in school and I was one of those who encouraged him to go into politics. I respect him not because he is General and former head of state, but because he is not corrupt and can salvage the country. However, some party members, after the outgoing nominated the caretaker committee, went and sold some dummy and lies to Buhari. Some of these people are still in the Senate. Unfortunately, Buhari made a mistake by believing them, even though I did what I did for the interest of the party because I had no ulterior motive.
There was one serving senator from my state. He was good at making mischief. They went and told Buhari that the outgoing exco should not be dissolved, even though it was against the party’s constitution. Remember, I told you that former President Yar’Adua was my secretary in PF. We started politics together, and we were members of one big family. If there is anybody I respect so much, that person is Buhari. So, I respect him not because he was a head of state, but because he is not corrupt. Unfortunately, he acted just like every other human being by supporting an unconstitutional act. He was misinformed by liars. When this happened, I was not happy. So, the late President Yar’Adua, then governor of Kastina State, who had been my friend, asked me to come over to PDP and help him. He explained to me that he was eyeing the presidency. He told me that he would be a good president and I believed him because he was not corrupt too and with the quarrel in ANPP, I agreed to assist him.
When I joined PDP, Yar’Adua asked me what I wanted? He asked whether I would run for governor or he should make me a minister. I told him that since he asked me to come and assist him, I would want to go back to the Senate, not for selfish interest, but to help formulate good legislation that would assist him give Nigerians quality leadership and dividends of democracy. Yar’Adua said, no problem. So, I ran for Senate and won. When I got there, even though I came from the same state with President Yar’Adua, I was made the Chief Whip on merit, a position I held for four years. So, the reason I left PDP for APC is because a lot of liars are in the ruling party. There is one senator from my state who is good at sowing discord among party members. He is still in the Senate. I’m surprised at his attitude to life.
Since the North presided over the affairs of the nation more than other zones, many believed that system failure started under Northern leaders in government. What do you think?
Why are you people always referring to this? It is not public opinion but misrepresentation of statistics. When Northerners presided over the affairs of this nation we made progress. You people have forgotten that the South has ruled Nigeria more than the North under democratic rule. For instance, there was an election in 1960 and Alhaji Tafawa Balewa won and ruled Nigeria from 1960 to 1966; that is six years. Then, there was a military coup, Gen Aguiyi-Ironsi ruled for six months and Gen. Yakubu Gowon toppled him and ruled for nine years. Remember, nobody elected General Aguiyi-Ironsi and Gowon. Nigerians did not elect them. Why are you people always saying the North has ruled Nigeria more than the South? Gowon was not elected but ruled for nine years. After Gowon, Gen Murtala Muhammed ruled for six months and Obasanjo took over and ruled for 42 months. Obasanjo is a Southerner.
Now let’s do the calculation, Obasanjo did 42 months. Shagari came and did four years before Buhari came and did two years and was toppled by his colleague, Babangida, who did eight years. Chief Ernest Shonekan did three months. Then, Gen. Sani Abacha toppled him and ruled for five years and six months of Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar. Obasanjo was elected President in 1999 to 2007. Again, he did eight years. Yar’Adua did two years. If you put all this together, you discovered that Balewa, Shagari and Yar’Adua were the only elected leaders from the North and they did a total of 12 years. How many years did Obasanjo do? He did eight years and if you plus it with President Jonathan’s six years you will discover that the North has done a total of 12 years under elected government, while the South has done 14. Therefore, the South has ruled Nigeria two years more than the North.
If you talk about leaders and the number of years they spent, the South has ruled Nigeria more than the North. Those military leaders, who came to power through the barrel of the gun, did not come with the mandate of the people, hence you cannot take that to mean that the North has ruled Nigeria more than the South. The question is, under what manifesto or constitution did these military leaders preside over the nation? They were soldiers and it was pure military affair. But under democratically elected government, the South is likely going to rule for 16 years if Jonathan completes his tenure, while the North has done 12 years. But this is not the issue. The issue is: we don’t care about where the president comes from in 2015. He or she can come from the North, South- West, South-East or South-South, but he or she must be a Nigerian who can do the job. The only reason we are talking about the North is because we have somebody who can do the job and that person is Gen. Buhari. He is not corrupt. The cancer we have in this country is corruption and we need a political surgeon to remove that cancer and the person that can remove it is somebody who is not corrupt. It has been proved that Buhari is not corrupt. Therefore, if Nigerians want to remove this cancer, they should elect him not because he is a northerner but because he has the tools and capacity to do the job. Buhari is Nigeria’s Nelson Mandela.
Many believed that your inability to return to the Senate was as a result of your role in Jonathan’s presidency?
Yes, it is true.
So, PDP refused you a ticket?
I was sabotaged by my governor and PDP because of my stand that Jonathan should allow the North complete its two terms of eight years. Do you know that there was a rumour that I was dead during the 2011 elections and the people cried and tore their voters’ cards? The Department of Security Service (DSS) was aware and those behind it were not arrested, as government was aware of it too. They didn’t want me to come back to the Senate. I did my best through the media to say I was alive at least for the people to hear my voice but they told the people that it wasn’t my voice. In spite of that, there were top shots in the state. For instance, Keita. He actually came out openly to campaign and voted against me and he was involved in anti-party activities against me and at the end, the governor compensated him by giving the son an appointment. Today, the same Keita is criticising the Jonathan administration. I don’t know what he sees now that he did not see before, that made him got involved in anti party activities against me. Let me make it clear. I have nothing against Jonathan, but my problem with him is the way he emerged as PDP candidate. I’m a conservative. Do you know why? I’m somebody who sticks to the rule and I want people to stick to the rule.
I told you earlier why I had problem with the ANPP, because they broke the rules and because I wanted the rules to be followed. They frustrated me out of the party. PDP, the South and Jonathan as a leader, are expected to uphold that principle in PDP constitution and allow the North complete its tenure, but they went ahead to reverse it. That is the issues the North has with Jonathan. Even the National Assembly discarded that aspect of the constitution and Obasanjo, who is supposed, as an elderly statesman, to oppose illegality followed suit, but I thank God today; he and Jonathan are having issues of distrust and betrayal. They can no longer agree. So, I came out boldly to say this was unconstitutional and I left to assist Babangida, who I believed would have been a better president, hence, I accepted to be the Deputy Director of his campaign organisation and I have no regret doing so. It is not something personal or that I don’t like Jonathan, but I want the system to work and the game should be played according to the rules. Democracy cannot work without following the rules and that is the problem we face in our democracy.
Some people believed that I hate Jonathan. That is why sycophants made sure I did not return to the Senate. One quality I have, which nobody can take away from me, is that I always obey the rules and principles. I’m a strict person and I cannot be bent to do injustice. I worked so hard for Governor Ibrahim Shema to win the governorship of my state. I did it because I had not left PDP. If I want to fight you, I will come out openly. I’m not the kind person who pretends to like you while in my mind I don’t like you.
Politically, the North is no longer united because the Middle Belt was behind Jonathan during the 2011 elections and it is still with him. What’s the fate of the core North?
My friend, there’s nothing like the Middle Belt is with Jonathan. Who told you that the North is no longer united? Wait till 2015; we will know whether the North is united politically or not. The result of last presidential election shows that Buhari won in Niger State and Niger is in the Middle Belt. There were split of votes in Nasarawa that, also is in the North Central. Of course, he did not win in Kwara, Kogi, Plateau and Benue states. But he had substantial votes in these states. So, in the Middle Belt it’s 50-50 between Buhari and Jonathan. That is why I hate what is going on in the country. They are trying to incite Christians against Muslims in the Middle Belt to kill each other. Let’s call a spade a spade. The religious disharmony in the North is created by government. I have no grudges against Christians, but all I’m saying is that anybody who tries to differentiate Middle Belt from the rest of the North should forget it because in 2015, the North will speak with one voice. I repeat, I don’t care which part of the country the next president comes from; all I want is a Nigerian president. The votes that will make Buhari the President will come across the country. Insecurity in the North-East should be handled with care because the zone represents 40 percent of the nation’s population. We must be careful, so that the insurgency does not extend to other zones. This country belongs to all of us.
Many believed Boko Haram is the creation of some Northern politicians. Before the emergence of Jonathan as president some leaders from the region said they would make the country ungovernable if he won. What is your take?
That is propaganda. It is not true. How can a few people make Nigeria ungovernable? Is it the fault of the North that our industries are not functioning and there’s youth restiveness because of unemployment? Is it the region that made the power sector not to work? Obasanjo and Jonathan’s administrations had spent trillions of naira on power; yet only 3,000mw of electricity could be generated? Is it our fault that the nation could not generate enough electricity to drive her industrial sector? Are we the one making the nation ungovernable? Why do people blame the North for Jonathan’s failure? The reality is that the people are hungry; poverty rate is higher than before; no jobs for our youths to do. So, blame Jonathan for insecurity in Nigeria.
Having lost thrice to become president, Buhari is warming up again, under APC. Do you think he will win this time?
My friend, Gen. Buhari is making sacrifice to save Nigeria from total collapse. Do you agree with me that Buhari is not corrupt? He owns no house anywhere in the country, including Abuja. Take a look at his colleagues, who were heads of state. They have lots of houses and investments all over the world. So, we need somebody who is not corrupt to help sanitise Nigeria and cure this cancer called corruption. There is no need pretending. The system has collapse. In most states, local government election has not been conducted for eight years and government is not bothered, hence, the reason there is no development in the rural areas. The constitution did not envisage this. The local government system and agriculture have collapsed and nobody is doing anything about it. People are busy stealing money.
So, we need one who can help us salvage the situation. Yes, I want Buhari to run for the presidency again and I’m sure this time, he will win, by the grace of God. It is not a question of APC; it is about you and I; it is about Nigerians, including the press, to help put an end to corruption and the only way we can do it is, by electing Buhari.