Hilliard Eta is a former National Vice Chairman (South South) of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and member of the Bola Ahmed Tinubu Movement. In this interview, he speaks on the chances of the APC presidential candidate in the 2023 election and the controversies over Muslim-Muslim ticket among other issues. Excerpts:
How do you see the emergence of Kashim Shettima as running mate to the APC presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu?
It will not be true if I say I am not concerned by the reactions of some members of our party with regards to the choice of Senator Shettima as the running mate of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. It is true that we have two dominant religions in Nigeria. Our religions have become accentuated fault lines. Anyways, I know Barrister Bwala, I have not met with him, but I have known Senator Abbo from Adamawa. I know them to be quite educated and discerning. For them to have gone out shows that religious bigotry is alive and well in Nigeria. And we need to do everything to play down this monster because it will continue to heighten the situation. This religious intolerance and attitude could push Nigeria to the precipice. Not many countries have survived religious wars.
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One of the things that gives me confidence is that Ahmed Bola Tinubu and Senator Kashim Shettima are renowned performers and so their election would do two fundamental things for Nigeria. It will release the potentials of Nigeria and allow Nigeria to take its rightful place in the comity of nations. Another thing it would do is that it would give Nigerians the confidence that we can actually conduct the affairs of our country while keeping religion on the periphery of governance and government. I think it will also give confidence to the government that will come to take action on any law or laws in Nigeria. And then, we have a situation where there will be a line between governance and religion. We need to distinguish that religion is a private matter while government and politics are public associations.
Some Nigerians are saying that there are competent Christians from the North. Names like Boss Mustapha, Yakubu Dogara and others have been mentioned. Why Kashim Shettima?
It will be a gratuitous insult to think that there are no distinguished and capable Christians in the North. But the choice of the running mate is solely and strictly the prerogative of the candidate. Now, from close quarters, I would like to believe that there is a very strong conviction by Asiwaju that Senator Kashim Shettima complements him; that he brings the type of value he desires; the kind of partnership that he desires to take Nigeria to where he has envisioned that Nigeria should be under his watch.
If he has chosen any of these very distinguished Nigerians who are Christians and from the North, for me, that would be his choice. We chose Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as our presidential candidate, we trust him, and we trust him to make good judgements. One of the reasons that a lot of Nigerians are fascinated by this force of nature called Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is that he has shown overtime that he has the talent to appoint the best to help him carry out the onerous and herculean task of development. I believe, because it took him a while to come to the conclusion that Senator Shettima fits the bill.
What are Tinubu’s chances in the race considering that he has other top contenders like Atiku Abubakar of the PDP and Peter Obi of the LP to battle with?
In terms of who fits the bill as the 16th Nigerian president, who fits the bill for Nigeria of today, who fits the bill for the emerging Nigeria, who fits the bill for the new Nigeria, it is important to note that regardless of the perspective from which you look at the process, or from the perspective you look at the polity, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu ticks far more boxes than the other two. And in the elections of 2023, he is going to do the job of collecting a lot of IOUs, that is number one. He will bring to the table the magic wand with which he brought Lagos from beneath the first 30 economy in Africa to the fourth economy today and second largest economy in West Africa. He is going to bring to the table the detribalised nature that will engender nation building. Even the country we borrowed this presidential system of democracy from – the United States of America, is still not a perfect union. So, this phase of Nigeria’s development must be supervised and superintended over by a man who has shown capacity to be insensitive to tribe, religion, creed and gender. Nigeria needs such kind of man today.
Can you analyse the chances of Tinubu, Atiku and Obi by geo-political zone?
You must understand that the variables you have left out is that the sitting president is also from the North West. We have governors, Senators, House of Representatives members, House of Assembly members, local government chairmen and a legion of people in the region to canvass for votes for the APC.
There is something funny about the average politician. Moments leading to elections, the politicians may find it difficult to accept certain things but on the day of election, it is a pride for him to wear the badge of honour. You see soldiers being decorated in the warfront because of things that they do in the situations of war. And to us politicians, an election is a war in another form. And on that day, every politician would like to be decorated after the election. He would like to wear a badge on his shoulder, he would like to have his bragging rights, and so, every member of the APC will stand up and be counted on the day of the election. And when that is done, we will win overwhelmingly.
We cannot discountenance the formidability of Kwankwaso in the North West and we cannot say he will be abandoned by his people. But I am saying that between Kwankwaso and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu it is going to be a fierce conversation for every vote in the North West. There would also be a fierce conversation between Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar for every vote in the North East. In the South West, incidentally, there is no doubt that no candidate will stand up to Asiwaju in the South West.
The North Central did not present any presidential or vice presidential candidate within the big parties. And we have four out of six states in the North Central. So, we are strong in the North Central. Now, for my friend, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, his votes are being eaten up very widely by the Obidient people in the South South and South East. Because the dynamics have changed in the South East and South-South, the PDP cannot be assured of votes that it used to take for granted before regardless of the fact that Atiku’s running mate is from the South South. I know this because I am from the South South. I know that in the South South, it is going to be between Peter Obi and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. I know that in the South East, it will be a straight fight between Obi and Atiku. So, you see, if you do all the permutations and calculations, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu would run away with the presidency.
Do you see the possibility of the APC winning the North Central in 2023?
Well, you see, Obi is the only presidential candidate who is not a Muslim among the three frontline parties. So, in the North Central, it is not going to be the battle ground for the vice-presidential candidates. It is going to be the battle ground of the presidential candidates. And even when Peter Obi is a Christian and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is a Muslim, the Christians in the North Central will forever trust in Tinubu’s abilities, capacities and experiences. I am not saying that Peter Obi is not going to get anything there. He may have a few votes here and there, but mostly, he will have his votes on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube.
Many Nigerians are of the impression that the APC-led government has failed on its campaign promises. What is your view?
Let me say that it is true that the security situation in Nigeria is not anything to be proud of, and I will be the first to admit that there is a lot of work to do. I think there are two things we must do immediately Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu becomes the president. One, we must expand the economy using the modern instruments of Artificial Intelligence, trade, industrialisation, import substitution, protection of indigenous investments, stopping the dumping of all manners of consumer goods from China. Making sure that goods that are supposed to be produced in Nigeria are produced in the country.
But if the economy is expanded and jobs are created, a lot of our young people – men or women, would be in factories, in farms, in complexes working and making a living.
On the other hand, we must proceed to apply the latest technologies being used worldwide in the prevention of crimes. I cannot imagine for instance that terrorist groups could come to a railway station take as many as 70 something people, march into the forest and we do not have any technology to detect them, whereas there are technologies that can pick a pin from the sky.
I promise you, in two weeks time, we are going to unveil our manifesto; what we intend to do in Nigeria to deal with terrorism and its causes.
What about Nigeria’s debt profile?
All of it has been used. Tinubu promised to continue from where President Buhari stops and Nigerians are saying, if he is going to do that, we still have a problem because he has been so slow in implementation. Nigerians should be worried that the government accessed loans and there is nothing to show for it.
These loans must create the environment for the private sector to thrive in Nigeria. These loans must be used to fill our infrastructural deficits. We have a large infrastructural deficit in Nigeria and it must be filled, but we don’t have the resources presently to do so.