Senator Rufai Hanga is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the founder of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) which merged with the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), and sections of the PDP and APGA to form the APC. In this exclusive interview, Senator Hanga, who was a member of the House of Representatives and thereafter senator for Kano Central, spoke on many issues, among them his relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari; the ‘gentleman’ agreement between Buhari and Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu; the debate over power rotation between North and South and the chances of APC and PDP come 2023, among others. Excerpts:
Where have you been all this while?
I decided to keep quiet. I am sure most of you know the roles I played in bringing Buhari to limelight. We felt that we needed somebody with credibility, somebody capable and somebody with competence to bring some change to the country. So, a lot of people, including me approached him to come into politics. When he saw reasons with us, he agreed and he registered with the APP and we started. Then some of our leaders created TBO (The Buhari Organisation). We started the struggle under the aegis of the APP. The first time he attempted to get the presidential seat but failed for so many reasons. One of them was the lack of finances. Also, most of the APP governors then were not comfortable with him. Most Nigerians too were not comfortable with him because of his antecedents. But we continued to make moves especially in Kano. We did a lot of leg work. After that, we sat down and did some brain work. We did all we could within our political abilities to make sure that he was accepted. People decided to go for him and he was accepted. His popularity and acceptance continued by the day. When he attempted the second time and failed, we told him that look, it is not possible for us to succeed under this arrangement. Most of us were using our resources and getting exhausted. It is better to look for another party where we could actualize our dream and then secure and redeem the country. He didn’t decide then. Some of his advisers and spin doctors were not comfortable with our advice.
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During his second attempt, the governors were adamant. Nobody was ready to contribute. The only governor that was ready to volunteer was Ali Modu Sheriff, the then Borno State governor who gave N10m on the eve of the election. But the N10m didn’t reach Buhari. It was N9m that reached him on Friday evening whereas election was on the following Saturday morning. Some people said we shouldn’t accept it because, how do we spend the N9 million when the election is tomorrow? He (Buhari) rejected it. Whether it was returned (to Sheriff) or not, I don’t know. We went into the election like that and failed. The three committees sat and had an assignment and came back after some days. We met and deliberated. I was the chairman of one of the committees. I gave my report. The other committees too gave their reports. After deliberations, we went for NEC and decided to look for a small party and continue the struggle. There was a unanimous decision on this.
We went for NEC but despite the unanimous decision by delegates, Buhari said, ‘thank you very much, but I am not leaving the party.’ But I stood up and said, ‘since you are not leaving the party, I am leaving the party.’ but I told myself that I would still be his man anywhere he is, whatever he does I would be there for him. But I told him my mind that I was leaving the party. I was still a serving senator then. He thanked me for the frankness. Anytime I was going to Kano, I visited him in his house in Kaduna. Any time I was coming to Abuja I go to his house in Kaduna. When I told him that I was registering a party, he was not happy; he turned his face away. Anytime you talk to him, you can easily know his mind. He was annoyed; he turned his face away from me. Since then, I never mentioned it to him again. One day, I was going to Abuja and I branched to his house. Then he told me, ‘Senator, you politicians drink politics like water in Kano.’ And I asked, ‘how?’ He said, ‘most of the things you told me have happened.’ And I said that I had been in this thing since my days in PRP in 1978. I have seen many things. And then he asked if I was actually registering a party. I said, yes, I am on it.
After the entire struggle, I got the party registered eventually. It was the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC).
What happened after you got the political party registered?
After that I went straight to his (Buhari’s) house in Kaduna with the certificate. I told him that I had registered the party. He said, “that is very good. Thank you very much.” All his allies and spin doctors never believed that I could make it. The only person that assisted me then by following me to INEC was Buba Galadima.
I have a house in Utako in Abuja, a four-storey building. I volunteered it as the national headquarters of the party. I started calling people from all nooks and crannies to join the party and people were coming from all over the place. I asked Buhari, ‘when are you coming in?’ He said, ‘give me time.’ At the end, he agreed to join the party.
How were you financing the party?
Nobody believed that we could make it. I approached many people to assist but nobody was ready to assist. I was using my money. It got to a point that I sold my house in Jabi for N92m. The whole money went into running the party. I bought 40 vehicles for the party and opened offices across the country. Though some offices were later donated to us, despite that some people were not ready to assist because it was a new party. By my nature, if I am committed to doing anything, I do it religiously.
There was a time we were having a problem with our primaries. Some people suggested that people should be registered through biometric but I told them that it was not possible. Some people have tried it for many years and failed. How can we succeed with it under two years? But when they tried to convince him, he believed them. They brought somebody to do it but the person didn’t get it right. I told the person that this is not biometric. The person was to be paid N20m but nobody was ready to assist. He asked me to give whatever amount I could and I paid N10m from my pocket. Somebody came and was made treasurer. He was a former speaker. He is a powerful minister now but he was not ready to identify with the party openly. When we were going to INEC to register the party, he didn’t want to sign as the treasurer. It was Almajiri Geidam that was my deputy who signed as treasurer. The man (who did not to sign as treasurer) took N5m from the party despite that he did not contribute anything. But I took him to EFCC. The record is still there. I stood for truth and was blunt. That is why some people don’t like me. That was why they schemed me out of the party.
When we were to have our primary in 2010 before the 2011 elections, some people came to me and said, ‘you registered the party and you bought vehicles. You have suffered for the party. We are delegates.’ They encouraged me to contest as governor with an assurance that I would win. I told them that I would think about it. I went and told Buhari. He said, ‘why not? You can contest, after all, you have suffered, you are free and qualified to contest. Who is more qualified than you to contest among all these people? You are more qualified.’ I said ‘okay sir’. I began to move. But some people started saying that how could I contest, being the chairman of the party. Buhari then told me that some people were complaining. One of them was very close to Buhari from Kano. I said I would leave the chairmanship position but Buhari said ‘no, I have gone through your constitution. I didn’t see any clause that says that a chairman cannot contest for any position.’ He recalled that Aminu Kano contested when he was chairman of his party; Obafemi Awolowo contested when he was chairman of his party. He said, ‘Go ahead’ and I said ‘thank you sir.’ But when the people saw that if I contested I would win, they went to Buhari insisting that I should not contest. Then they suspended me from the party. Buhari didn’t do anything. Even when Tony Momoh took over from me as the chairman, I was not allowed to contest.
I was a member of the board of trustees. There was a time a meeting of the board was convened and I was summoned for the meeting. When I got there, he asked me, ‘what are you doing here?’ I said I was summoned for the meeting. I said I got an invitation via my e-mail but he said it must be a mistake and I went out. Since then, they blocked me. They continued to do their thing but I never decamped. There was a time that we wanted to merge with Tinubu’s party, the ACN, ahead of the 2011 election. These people went and told Buhari everything and that he shouldn’t accept anything from Tinubu. Instead of Buhari to pick a running mate, El-Rufai brought Tunde Bakare as running mate to Buhari. Then Tinubu was annoyed and backed out and he (Buhari) failed. Everything went like that. But we polled 12 million votes. Then people were saying that if Buhari could poll such votes, then he must be a strong ally. Later Tinubu came to Buhari and said, “Sir, they must have told you certain things about me. I agree that I am a bad boy but we will produce results for you. It is not prayers. Politics is a game. We will do it and succeed but we must abide by agreement.” Buhari agreed. But the spin doctors continued to mount pressure. Tunde Bakare was to be picked again but Tinubu stopped it and the present vice president was brought in.
The same people who did not believe in Buhari, saying that he had no capacity are the ones in his government today. But those of us who were in the struggle for CPC, who introduced him, who supported him and made him popular were not carried along. We were side-lined. During his first tenure, they were making appointments. One minister who knows me very well pitied me. He asked, ‘Where are you?’ And I said I was around. He wondered why I am not in government. He was remorseful about it.
Later, I was appointed a board member of the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri. A prominent personality very close to Buhari asked me if I had been told, I said yes, it was announced, but I rejected it. I was chairman of our party and appointed some people into positions in the party. Now they are ministers and in different positions and you are making me a member of the board of a medical centre? They wanted to disgrace and humiliate me. I am not desperate.
Have you spoken to Buhari since then?
I saw him in July during the beginning of his second tenure last year. I met him man to man at the villa. I discussed with him. I gave him advice, especially on the agriculture assistance. I told him that most of what he had been giving out and the people in charge are claiming that farmers are producing tons of this or that is a lie. All the money was going into their pockets. That was when I told him that I was sorry that I rejected the appointment that was given to me because I felt that it was a humiliation. He then said okay, okay, I should give my CV to Tunde. And that was it.
Did you give the CV?
I did. Tunde sent somebody to my house here to come and collect it.
And you have not been called since then?
Nobody called me up till now.
Some people are saying that President Buhari is not getting it right because he abandoned the CPC members. Is it true?
That is true. He threw out Buba Galadima. Galadima is blunt. He would always tell the truth. He said that if he was still in the party, things wouldn’t have been like that. The moment the election was won, we were thrown out. I was thrown out. Sule Hamma too was thrown out. Many of us were side-lined and thrown out.
There are alleged conspiracies at the Villa not to shift power to the South in 2023. Are you aware of something like that?
For me, rotation is not constitutional. Rotation is not an established something. We have who is who in the Villa. There are spin doctors. It is true that they are saying that there will be no rotation. I believe in democracy but democracy that is just. There is no democracy in rotation. The APC knows that they are scattered. They know that they have done nothing to win election anywhere. But they are adamant. What they are planning is to rig. Rigging doesn’t take place during the Election Day. It takes place before then. This Electoral Amendment Act is for rigging. I have experience. All the clauses in the electoral amendment act will give them all the leeway to rig. I was a member of the House of Reps. There was a time something was smuggled into the electoral act. We produced this electoral act that Nigeria is now amending. I was a member of the committee that produced it word by word. During every election they amend it. During an amendment, they smuggle something into it.
In view of your closeness to Buhari, are you privy to any information that there is an agreement between him and Tinubu that after he finished his two terms he would hand over to Tinubu?
That is an open secret. There is an agreement. It is implied. Even in law, there is implied and expressed act. If something is expressed, there are no two ways about it. My belief is that there is an implied agreement that he (Tinubu) will take over; an agreement that there is no problem, you are in charge of the party. That is why he didn’t back out after the first tenure. So, I am sure there is an agreement. If Tinubu knew that he would not benefit, he would have backed out during his (Buhari’s) first tenure. But he didn’t back out because he knew there is that arrangement.
Assuming Tinubu backed out before the second tenure, do you think Buhari would have made it?
No. PDP took things for granted. During his first tenure, Buhari performed woefully. Most of the people that were vehement and very active were disappointed. Some of them fought him, but I didn’t fight him but I didn’t work as I did during the first tenure. Tinubu too didn’t put much money because of the disappointment. His (Buhari’s) boys had made money, they had amassed wealth. They used the resources to push into the election. What helped Buhari to come back is that, one, PDP took it for granted that he had performed woefully. They felt that they would beat him. If they had worked like politicians, he wouldn’t have won the election.
Do you think they would have done better?
There was rigging and a lot of malpractices that took place. So many things happened even in our eyes, but PDP didn’t do anything about it. Atiku believed in people he believed in. He didn’t believe in the right people. He wants people that would massage his ego and tell him what he wants to hear. He gave money to people who could not deliver. He didn’t take advice. That was why he gave out money but the work was not done. What they would have done during the second election was to protect the votes to ensure the votes were well protected.
But do you think the APC will give Tinubu the ticket in 2023?
What do you think he will do?
I think he will go to the South West to consolidate it, keep it and make sure he has a tight grip of it.
Why do you have doubts APC will give him the ticket?
It is because there are diverse groups. Before the emergence of groups that are in charge now, Tinubu had been in charge of 85 per cent of the APC nationwide. He was in charge of leadership and in everything, but now he is not in charge of anything. Maybe, he is in charge of Lagos and Osun. Ondo is not with him, Oyo is not with him, and Ekiti is not with him. Other states, too, are not with him. He doesn’t have even 10 per cent in other states. He can’t have up to 10 per cent other than in Lagos and Osun. He can have APC in Kano because the governor is solidly with him, but I don’t think that will help him either. That is why Tinubu may not win the ticket.
The governors, too, have their agenda. The governors have their group. But among the governors, there are splinter groups who are working very hard. There are those that are in charge of the party. There are those that are not in charge. But they have their groups that are working hard. They have coordinators going round. Inside the Nigerian politics, I know what is happening. I know the groups. I know the mergers that are coming out now to make impact. These groups are there and there is the first group which is the Villa. They are those that are in power. They are vehement and will produce the president.
Do you think that the APC will present a Northern candidate?
Of course! That is what they are trying to do. That is what they are doing. APC is presenting a northern candidate. The only two or three people that are likely to be southern candidates are Tinubu, the vice president (Yemi Osinbajo) and Fayemi (Ekiti State governor). These are the likely candidates that may emerge, but the opportunities are remote, based on what is happening in the party because as I said earlier, these groups are rigidly defined and to reconcile and come together will be a bit difficult. But there are many contending forces from the North. I have grapevine information but I don’t want to mention names. Also, I don’t want to speculate like the social media. I believe what I know and what I see.
What about PDP, would they pick their presidential candidate from the North?
PDP have their problems. They have looming problems coming. APC is in tatters and PDP is in looming danger. People were disappointed with PDP. But now, with APC’s abysmal performance, people may say PDP is better. They have made two mistakes and are making the third one now. There is a clique in PDP. There are groups in them. I am seeing from a distance. There are people that have constituted themselves as authorities. But they are like local champions. Everybody believes that he is a kingmaker in the making. That is what is happening. That looming danger is unavoidable. No stupid Nigerian doesn’t know that they are planning to rig.
Do you think 2023 will be a reality in the face of the current agitation for self -determination from both South West and South East?
This is not the first time people are making all these agitations. There were agitations before. But these ones are more serious than ever. My belief is that I don’t think any responsible person will be serious about separating in the nature and manner they are asking for separation. The sensible thing if there is any to do is to bring our minds down, sit down and say, look, we are tired. If we cannot have our way, let us go our way in peace and not in pieces. It is a simple thing that can augur well for this country; to go our way in peace not in pieces. If I were Buhari, I would have called for a conference. Let every zone bring its delegate to the conference, draw an agenda, sit down and discuss. Do you want to remain together? Yes. How do we remain together and be satisfied? Do we want to remain together? No. How do we go our way in peace? Then, we draw it down. If this can happen, that will be good.
Don’t you think the senators and reps members should be able to sort this out?
We have the worst senators and reps members in the history of the whole world. They are rubber stamps. They have no conscience. They are after what they will get for their pockets. We have never had a terrible and woeful house of reps members and senators that we have now. If the senators and house of reps were responsible, that is the right thing to do. But they are not representing anybody. They are representing themselves. When I say this, I say it with all sense of responsibility. I am sorry I am generalizing. I am saying majority are bad ones. But the majority always have their way. I am sure the minority are not happy. But there is nothing they can do about it because they are the minority.
From among all the parties, there are people that are not happy with what is happening. The senators and House of Reps members don’t care about what Nigerians want. Nigerians would cry that we don’t want this and they would still do it simply because of their pockets.
Are you comfortable with the recent Southern governors’ verdict on restructuring and zoning of the presidency to the South in 2023?
The Southern governors are more enlightened than the Northern governors with what they have done. But if they could sit down and talk like that, I am disappointed. How can they say that the Presidency should go to the South in a democracy? You can’t do that. There is nowhere in law that rotation should take place. When you are doing something, do it wisely; it is just like the Igbo that are agitating that they want to be recognized but are killing and rampaging but want presidency. How do you want people to trust you? The Southern governors are intellectuals but they made a mistake. They shouldn’t have insisted. They should have done it in another way. They should have behaved as politicians. Politicians can have their way by lobbying.
By Hamza Idris, Isiaka Wakili & Clement Adeyi