By Fred Itua, Abuja
Senator Sidi Ali is a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). The 85-year old politician, was a member of the House of Representatives in the Second Republic. He was also a senator, who represented the FCT. As a delegate to the recently-concluded presidential primaries of the APC, he opened up in this interview on the planned Muslim-Muslim ticket by the APC, South East Presidency, among other issues.
You witnessed the national conventions of APC and PDP. You also witnessed the influence of dollars in the choice of their candidates. Looking back, are we making progress?
I will always tell people that we are making progress. This is based on what we know and what we had in the past. We need to go back to history. For instance, I was elected member of the House of Representatives from prisons. I wrote a damaging article against Olusegun Obasanjo’s military It was decided when I was there. Abubakar Rimi and other Kano leaders came to meet me in prison. Luckily, I wasn’t convicted. Then, we didn’t need to spend money. But now, things are different. Once you declare your interest to run for office, the amount of money they take from you is unimaginable. Imams and chiefs in your village ask you for money. The amount of money they take from you is terrible. When you have, you give. When you don’t have, you borrow. When you eventually win, you find a way to make it up. At each stage of your contest, you spend money and people feel it is normal. We’ve to be very careful. I remember an Igbo man went to Ibadan City Council and won an election. That is like the Senate of today. NCPC won the whole of South West. Azikiwe was the leader of the party. He won the elections on the eve he was to be sworn in as the premier, Obafemi Awolowo went round and convinced Obas that why will they allow an Igbo man to be a leader in Yoruba land? That was when defection started. All the members of NCPC defected to Action Group and voted for Awolowo. That was how he became a premier. Azikiwe would have been the premier of Western Region. Azikiwe wasn’t a tribalistic person. But that action by Awolowo started the tribalism we have in Nigeria today.
Now that we’re here, how do we get out?
I was a delegate to APC presidential primaries. We were all brought to Government House in Kano. We saw Tinubu, Osinbajo and other presidential aspirants. I called my Igbo friend who was an aspirant too. I told him other aspirants from other regions had already visited the delegates I asked him when he was coming. He told me he would address the delegates at the Eagles Square. I told him by the time we reached Eagles Square, delegates would have decided. He’s my friend. This aspirant, I took him to Sani Abacha. He spoke and argued with Abacha. As a typical Igbo man, he was bold. When Abacha was to form his he asked for this aspirant and that was how he made him Minister. I asked him why he bought the form if knew he wasn’t serious. I said maybe he’s one of those aspirants who bought forms to negotiate for consensus candidate. Some people who bought forms didn’t have money. People bought forms for them to negotiate for consensus.
The primaries had increased the anger in the South East…
Not just in the South East. All over Nigeria. I was a delegate. I can tell you that it was a bad system. Each aspirant who came gave money. Not everything they gave got to us. Delegates were not allowed to have access to the real amount presidential aspirants brought. In some cases, aspirants brought about N150 million. But delegates got only N250, 000.
There is this anger in the South East that they were cheated out. That has led them to support Peter Obi who they’re hoping can win
It’s a wrong approach. You know it’s impossible for an unknown party to win a national election. They ought to have remained and fought in one of the major political parties. The anger of the South East can’t be justified. For a long time, they committed their votes to the PDP. Let me tell you. There is a man called Sulaiman Ndu. He was a Commissioner for Lands in Abia State. He was a Muslim. When he left, he vied for a position in the Sports sector. When they zoned the position to the South East and this man was recommended, someone shouted and said he was an Hausa man because he was a Muslim. Whereas, this man was a former local chairman in Abia State. He was a director of campaign to a sitting governor.
There was an agitation for zoning. There were agitations that the presidency should be micro-zoned to the South East. Was that agitation valid?
In the case of PDP, the argument by Igbo leaders was valid. South East has always been with the PDP. In fairness, PDP should have given the ticket to the South East. Igbo have always put all their eggs in one basket. That shouldn’t have been anyway. In the case of APC, it would have been wrong to give the ticket to an Igbo man. Those who invested in the party, deserved to be rewarded.
But in 1999, regional leaders settled for South West. PDP and APP gave the tickets to South West candidates…
APP gave its ticket to Ogbonnaya Onu. Onu sold his ticket to the South West and collected money. He didn’t concede the ticket for free. Don’t say that again. He didn’t do in good faith. I was sitting with Obasanjo. We were six. When it was announced that he was elected, we were frightened. We thought Abiola’s son would be the candidate. Instead, it was Onu. Saraki and other leaders who worked for Onu, were very angry when he sold the ticket to Olu Falae. In 1999, the offices were shared. South East got Senate President. In eight years, all the five states in the South East, produced a Senate President. At that level, you could see the problem. People are afraid to trust them with power. Nzeribe was always used to instigate trouble.
How do we achieve Presidency of South East extraction?
The leadership of the South East must be deliberate about it. If the South East will meet with the political leadership across Nigeria, it will work. They need to reach out. When Goodluck Johnathan was running, Clarke came to Kano to meet with leaders. But we don’t see this with Igbo leaders. It is not possible to get it if you don’t reach out. This is a problem. Igbo leaders should come out and campaign. In these last primaries, no Igbo aspirant campaigned round the country. They need to come out and move round the country.
Barring any last minute change, the APC may go for a Muslim-Muslim ticket. Do you support that?
I’ve written a letter to Boss Mustapha, Secretary to Government of the Federation about the position of Vice President and why he should show more interest. Any party that fields candidates of the same religion, will not be considered as serious. I believe APC should not make that mistake. There are credible people from the North who are Christians and should be considered for the position of Vice President. It is not okay to have the president and vice as people from the same religion. APC fielding Muslim-Muslim ticket may not succeed. That’s why I’m reaching out to Mustapha to join the race. We’ve a lot from the North who are Christians. They’re good enough to be made Vice president. This is my take.