Rt Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal is the governor of Sokoto State. He stepped into the Sokoto Government House in 2015 after serving as the 10th Speaker of the House of Representatives of Nigeria. In this interview, he spoke on his upbringing, politics and the Buhari presidency, among others issues. Excerpt:
Let me start by asking about your career even before you started politics. You practised as a private lawyer for some time; what drew you away from that into politics?
Thank you very much for this opportunity. I started as a trained teacher, having passed through Government Teachers’ College, Dogon Daji. Incidentally, at the college, one evening, one of our teachers from Ghana, Mr Morris Sinor, called four of us and said, ‘Aminu you are going to be a lawyer’. I asked why and he said he had identified that I liked fighting for others. I said, ‘Well, let’s see how it goes sir’.
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My immediate elder brother, Alhaji Abdullahi Waziri, was at the College of Legal Studies here in Sokoto and his influence also made me to go into studying Law. Initially, I was offered Islamic Studies by the Usmanu Danfodio University after my matriculation, but I had to seek for inter-faculty transfer to actualise that aspiration of becoming a lawyer. So I read Law at the Usmanu Danfodio University. And soon after my national youth service, I started a private service here in Sokoto, under the tutelage of the late Ambassador Adamu Umaru in his chambers.
That is a bit unusual because normally, in that generation, you would go into the Ministry of Justice to become a state counsel.
Yes, I was offered the opportunity of going to the Ministry of Justice and a slot at the Bench of Sokoto State by the then chief judge, Justice Bello. I told them that my aspiration was to go into private life and be an entrepreneur in the legal sense, rather than going into a white collar job in either a ministry or taking a slot as a magistrate. So I politely turned down the two offers from the Ministry of Justice and the Bench.
Why did you join politics later instead of staying as a successful lawyer?
Well, all of it is about interest and how one felt like deploying one’s God-given talent and knowledge into how one could serve the people and humanity.
When Nigeria was preparing to return to democratic governance, I was a legal adviser to one of the political parties here, the DPN, and that got me closer to politicians and political actors in the state, so I developed interest.
And my immediate elder brother, Abdullahi Waziri, was in the House of Representatives. So watching him pla politics, and my closeness to people like Umaru Shinkafi made me develop interest in politics. I was following up and advising politicians, political parties, defending election petitions and prosecuting some.
In the House of Representatives you got into national limelight when you suddenly went against party big guns and became the Speaker. Who supported you to do that, in addition to your colleagues? Were there other political forces that helped you to achieve that?
There were many political leaders in this country that were interested in what was going on, principally because we were all interested in evolving and establishing a democratic culture whereby the legislature should be seen to be independent. So, of course there were some political leaders who really supported and encouraged us in what we were doing.
When my colleagues approached me to be their candidate, I said my idea was for us to identify the qualities of who should be the Speaker of the Seventh House of Representatives, not necessarily about me.
They sat down and came up with those qualities and criteria and came back and said I had all the criteria. I asked if they were sure and they said yes. So I said okay, but for me to accept, I needed to first go back to my home base. I needed to meet the then President Shehu Shagari (may Allah have mercy on him) and Governor Aliyu Wamakko and one other person I would not want to mention. I asked them to come to Sokoto and meet these three personalities and seek their opinions because I told them I was a cultured person and if these people should ask me to back out, I may find it difficult; and I didn’t want a situation where I would go with you and at some point disappoint you.
So they came and met Shagari and Wamakko, who said, “If you are not going to abandon my younger brother half way, I am with you.”
So the support started from your home state.
Of course there were other leaders like Ibrahim Babangida, General Aliyu Gusau, Atiku Abubakar, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Chief Bisi Akande, Baba Osoba, and a host of others, who were interested in what we were doing. I had cause to engage with some of them directly, some others through proxies, to discuss how it could be achieved.
We got support from them and some governors who were interested in what we were doing, even in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as at then; a number of them. So we embarked on what we called a house project.
I gave them my commitment, saying that since I had the support of my home base, I could go into it and would not look back. That was how, by the grace of God Almighty, we were able to prosecute that project and I became the Speaker of the Seventh House of Representatives.
In 2015 you chose to go back to your state, Sokoto as governor instead of pursuing your presidential ambition; was it a matter of opportunity or you couldn’t really contest at the national level, so you settled for a second best?
Well, I mentioned something about my political trajectory, and that is consultation, as well as consensus building, engagement and discussions. Our position when I was in the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2015 was more of consensus building, discussions and engagement.
When it was clear that most of the leaders of our political movement were in favour of President Muhammadu Buhari to pick the ticket of the APC, I didn’t go to the primary with him. We sat down and reviewed the situation. We consulted and I stepped down. I did not intend to go to any primary election with President Buhari. That was how we arrived at that position, simply because, as I told certain people, that was my position; it was not about my ambition. It was about who could do what we had set to achieve.
It is not about an individual, it should be about the country. And that was the spirit behind my decision. We had agreed to support President Buhari as our candidate. As an aspirant, we discussed locally with former Governor Wamakko and agreed. He said, ‘Aminu come back home and be the governor of Sokoto State.’ So it was all about consultation and consensus building; I would not want to say horse-trading, but more of consultation.
In 2019 you were a leading candidate in the PDP, then suddenly, when the numbers were called we saw Atiku leading; what happened at the background?
First and foremost, as believers in God, we all know that it is only what he ordains that happens. God’s time is the best. There were some political movements that made that situation change and the Waziri Adamawa emerged as our candidate.
It was all about politics, power-broking, consultations and networking. There were movements and personalities who felt they should support Atiku Abubakar to be the candidate of the party, and they were able to convince some other leaders; so it happened and I accepted the outcome.
That morning I addressed the press, accepted the outcome and gave my commitment. That was not about me, it was about my conviction that we needed to have another personality in Aso Villa rather than President Buhari at that time. I supported Atiku wholeheartedly.
We are almost in another round of presidential election process; I assume you are going to contest in 2023, is that true?
Well, I am still consulting. At the end of it all, after getting the feelers and measuring the political barometre, I will make my position known.
But usually, when politicians tell us they are consulting, we can guess the outcome; can we guess right in this case?
It is something I tried before. You are aware that the 2014/2015 consultations made me not to run. But the outcome of my consultations made me to run in 2018. So I cannot say with certainty now that this is how the outcome is going to be. I am going to consult and come out, latest by February to make my position known; so it is work in progress.
Are there scenarios that would make you not to contest in 2023; for example, the push by southern governors to have a southern candidate?
I have made my position very clear on that issue – that when the southern governors met and made that position, northern governors also met in Kaduna and made their position. I am a governor from the North, so I will not be bound by the position of the southern governors on their own platform.
In any case, the nomination process has to do more with political parties and their arrangements, not forums of governors. It also has to do more fundamentally with the rights of citizens, either to run for election or not. These are even more fundamental than whatever arrangements any governors’ forum is coming up with. So I believe it is part of the process.
The southern governors are saying it should go to the South, while the northern governors are saying it should come to the North, and I was part and parcel of that decision as a governor from the North.
As an experienced politician, do you see a southern candidate in the PDP winning the election if he is nominated?
It depends on certain fundamentals and indices. If it is the decision of political players, just as it was done in 1999, that the major political parties would field candidates from a particular region as was done in the case of President Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Olu Falae, then if Nigerians are having only two options from two regions, one of them would win. But if there is any political party that decides to go South and other ones North, the numbers will count. And we all know the voting strength of every bloc in this country. So it is up to political parties that are really interested in winning election not to be guided by certain primordial considerations or sentiments to strategise and throw up a candidate that can win election for that political party. It is a matter of strategy.
Would you accept a vice presidential position to a southern candidate?
I am not fixated on being the president of Nigeria; I want that to be clear. I am always ready to support the process that will bring in one of our best.
What do you think about Nigeria under President Buhari?
We participated in that process and had a very clear understanding of the need for a change, and God blessed our efforts and President Buhari became the president of Nigeria.
Unfortunately, in the process, because of the way and nature the government was formed, some of these problems began to manifest, right from the nomination and proclamation of the National Assembly and the emergence of its leadership, and all of that. Suddenly, the differences of the political parties that formed the coalition to form the government became manifest and there were squabbles.
On the side of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), President Buhari was at the helm of affairs. While Yemi Osibanjo was the vice president, the New PDP was able to get the president of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives. You could see that there was clearly a major disagreement between the legislature, mainly the Senate, and the executive arm of government. That somehow impacted on the takeoff of the administration.
The delay by Mr President in appointing his ministers also impacted negatively. He came with a very heavy goodwill and all of that, the support was there, but that delay really didn’t give him a good start.
The expectation was that the president would come up with a very fantastic team of ministers, but by the time the list finally came out, people wondered why there was delay.
Again, in the process of forming the cabinet, there was not much consultation with other stakeholders to form the government. So with all of these, takeoff really affected the administration.
I remember very well that a number of governors met Mr President and advised him, I think in 2015/2016, to appoint economic and political advisers, but he clearly told us that he did not need any of them. But towards the end of 2021 the president decided to appoint an economic adviser.
You can see that, honestly, from takeoff there were some mistakes. I don’t like mentioning names, but some of the principal officers of his administration had no public service experience. However, some of them were good in the private sector. They did not also have democratic governance experience. And the dynamics of democratic governance are fundamentally different, even from serving under a military dispensation, not to talk of the situation where most of them at that closer level are controlling power. They had no public service record at all; so it was a fundamental mistake.
I know there are some areas in government you need to bring in people from the private sector who can serve, but you must be able to separate the two.
You cannot expect someone from the private sector to work for you efficiently as secretary to the government without a public service record. It will be extremely difficult. If he had served either as minister or in public service somewhere, he can come in and serve as secretary to the federal government, a position that is essentially about managing the entirety of the executive arm of government in a way. When you have someone without that experience in that position, then the takeoff would be faulty.
Would you say the takeoff sort of crippled the government?
When you have a faulty start, it will always be difficult to correct. And of course, it has not been effectively corrected. We thought that with the coming of Professor Ibrahim Gambari as chief of staff, things would improve, but honestly, it is not as we expected.
One of the criticisms against you is that you constantly change political parties; one can count half a dozen, what would you say about this?
No, not up to half a dozen.
The second criticism is that the attention you give to national politics may have affected your effectiveness as governor of Sokoto; what is your take?
Well, my changing political parties has been circumstantial, right from my first election, which I contested on the platform of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). The circumstance in my local politics necessitated that we left the ANPP in a transition to the Democratic People’s Party (DPP) with former Governor Bafarawa. When we were with him and he decided that most of us, including me, would not contest on that platform, I felt I could win election in my constituency, and I told him in his residence that I was not with you on this one; I would rather try on another platform.
I did and connected back with the then deputy governor, Aliyu Wamakko, on the platform of the ANPP, then we negotiated collectively to join the PDP. So it was circumstantial because of my conviction that I could win election on any platform; and to the glory of the Almighty God, and I am grateful to the people of my constituency and of Sokoto State, I have won elections five times consecutively: 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019.
It was based on my conviction that I could win election and circumstances warranted that I be denied the ticket of my political party, or circumstances demanded that I had fundamental disagreement, as was the case in 2015 with the PDP. I disagreed with President Goodluck Jonathan on the way Nigeria was run, so I left and joined forces with the APC.
I went against the tide in the North West in 2018/2019 with Buhari as a sitting president. I took the risk against the tide and decided to pitch tent with the PDP because I lost confidence in the way Nigeria was being run by President Buhari as far back as 2017/2018. I had made my position known and campaigned on the basis of that here in Sokoto and nationally.
So my changing of political parties has never changed my ideas, ideology and person. What I believe in and have always said is that our political parties in Nigeria have never been ideologically driven, particularly from 1999 till now.
What is President Buhari doing with certain characters in the APC? How did their paths cross? I don’t want to mention names, but they are there; some are in his cabinet and he knows that they don’t share anything in common, apart from being human beings.
How do you allocate your time between Sokoto and national politics?
I will come back to that. It was not my making to be in the House of Reps from 2003 till 2015, unbroken. The roles I played at various levels in the National Assembly and national politics will be of advantage to the Sokoto Government House.
The people of Sokoto were aware of who they were nominating and electing. They believed their son had done very well as Speaker of the House of Reps. Politically, as Speaker and number four in the hierarchy of leadership in Nigeria, they did not expect their son to be left out of national demands whenever such things arose.
So, I try as much as possible to do my work as the governor of Sokoto State. No sector has suffered because of my involvement in national politics; that is the most important thing. If there is any, let them come out and say it.
In any case, we are in modern times, so you can run government without being physically present; that is what the world is heading towards. As I said, in everything about governance in Sokoto, nothing has suffered.
It is true that I move in and out of Sokoto. I have tried to explain to the people who have that kind of misgiving that it is not about my movement. The question is: Has the work suffered? I believe I am still doing my best as the governor of Sokoto State while I pay attention to some national assignments when the need arises.
Of all the things you have done in Sokoto as governor, what do you think you would be remembered for?
I want a Sokoto that is in the position of many things in many ways. We have a lot of indices in the health sector, education, social development; I mean in terms of poverty rating and all of that.
I want a situation where, in few years to come, when the people of Sokoto look, they would appreciate the focus and vision of the government they entrusted in me, which actually impacted positively on human capital development.
Repositioning a Sokoto child, boy or girl, to face the challenges of the world, which are becoming more dynamic and complex, so that they can compete favourably with their fellow brothers and sisters, either in Nigeria or at the international stage, is my vision and aspiration.
By Kabiru A. Yusuf