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Why Shagari didn’t arrest IBB, Buhari, Abacha, before the 1983 coup –Lawal Kaita

Every responsible nation has its own airlines, we had one but now there is none. During these 10 years, we have failed to have our…

Every responsible nation has its own airlines, we had one but now there is none. During these 10 years, we have failed to have our national airlines. By and large, these major components of development: airlines, railways, power, industries, have been dwindling despite all the promises of declaring emergencies and agenda. Even water is not there. Honestly, I don’t see what we should be proud of in 10 years of democracy. Even that element of people choosing their own leaders, has been bashed by this administration.

Even its adherence to the rule of law?

Despite all the rule of law and everything that is being said, there is absolutely nothing to show for it as things are getting worse and worse. When we came in the first election in 1979, it was clean, clear and good. In that election, I was beaten by Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa in old Kaduna State. And I accepted it. But the thing has been degenerating to the extent that nobody in Nigeria can boast of being fairly, truly elected.

Does that mean that we have civilian, but not democratic rule?

Well, put it that way. We can’t say we are in democracy, honestly, when people are not allowed to elect the people they want.

But why are you still in the opposition camp?

Well, it is not that I don’t like the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), because I am one of those that will proudly say we have founded the PDP. But things got so indecent in the PDP, whereby primaries were conducted through nominations instead of elections; people hated by the then president where deregistered from the party. Any person who has got conscience has to leave the PDP. And we all left.

Are you saying that trend is still in the PDP?

Yes, or it is even worse. It has been institutionalised now. During President Olusegun Obsasanjo, it was just the beginning, a trial. But now it has been institutionalised.

What is your relationship now with President Umaru Musa Yar’adua? Has he ever tried to convince you to return to PDP or sought your advice on any national or official matter?

No, he has never done that. Obviously, Umaru is my younger brother; in blood relation. But he has never done that. And, I think that is his speciality: if you want him, you go to him. He doesn’t need anybody.  I can’t remember him going or calling to people.

President Yar’adua’s political strategy, analysts say, is inconsistent with the policies of his late older brother, General Shehu Yar’adua. Do you share that as a family member?

Yes, I can share that. The late Shehu was quite frank and he goes to people. In fact, he persuaded and convinced me to come and work with him and we are all from the same family, from the same Katsina. And later on, we formed the association called the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) together. And we worked together hand-in-hand.

You have been in politics for a very long time. When will you retire?

I said very soon. I remember somebody, I won’t quote his name, telling one of my friends who died recently. He wrote him saying he had retired from politics. He replied him, saying that politics has retired you. People don’t retire like this from politics. You are always useful in politics; you can give advice, settle disputes and political differences and so on. You are always useful in politics; you don’t just retire.

Who inspired or dragged you into politics in the first place?

Well, what inspired me going into politics was hereditary. I sort of found my father as a member of the House of Assembly, Kaduna; his older brother, too, was in the House of Assembly, Kaduna. People like the late Matawallen  Katsina, Alhaji Musa Yar’adua, the father of President Yar’adua, brought us into politics. It was more of coincidence, not that I wanted to be governor or so. I developed interest in politics because my father, brothers and associates were all in politics.

What is your political accomplishment?

Yes, I accomplished so many things. At least, I contested to be a governor and I was one. In terms of political parties’ formation from the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), myself, Adamu Ciroma, our elder brother, Sarkin Malam Ibrahim Gusau and few others formed the NPN. Later on, we were instrumental in forming the National Republican Convention (NRC). Again, we formed the PDP. Virtually, I have done what ordinarily, should be done.

In 1979, you were defeated in the governorship elections by Balarabe Musa of the People Redemption Party (PRP) in Kaduna State. How did that happen?

Interestingly and funnily enough, in that old Kaduna state, comprising of the present Katsina and Kaduna states, there were 99 seats in the House of Assembly. And in that House of Assembly, the NPN, my party, had 66 seats out of 99, thereby having the two-third majority. And when it got to the governorship elections I lost (laughter).

What happened?

Balarabe Musa was fielded as the PRP’s candidate and I was fielded as the NPN’s. There was a strong competition going on then between Zagezagi and Katsinawa.  The Zaria people, therefore, connived and united to defeat a Katsina man. So Kaduna state, as it is today, gave its votes, irrespective of the party, to PRP.  We noticed this when the results started coming in. For instance, in Kafanchan, which is in southern Zaria, in that local government, even in the House of Assembly and so on, the usual votes was 28,000 votes for NPN and 11, 000 or 12, 000 votes for PRP. In that governorship election, it was the PRP 32, 000 and NPN 11, 000 (laughter). That was what they did to NPN which was very strong in Zaria area. But all the same, the votes we got from Katsina, although there was no any connivance or anything, was very impressive, though they defeated us with about 9,000 votes in the entire state.  

But in the 1983 elections, the votes I got from the state were double of what I got in the 1979 elections because President Shehu Aliyu Shagari went on a campaign. When he came to Zaria, he took my hand during the campaign lectures and told the people that “Alhaji Lawal Kaita is my candidate. He is the candidate of the NPN. Anybody who will not vote for him, I don’t want him to vote at all.” That was how we won the 1983 elections.

Was Governor Balarabe Musa’s impeachment done to avenge your 1979 defeat?

No. There was no any plan of impeachment at all. When we lost the election, the NPN caucus in Kaduna State met. We took a decision that as much as possible, we should cooperate with the PRP. But he refused to cooperate with us. We offered him an olive branch and even President Shagari sent his team to make it possible for us to work together. We did try several times but he refused even to cooperate with us. We thought he will say let’s work together. He did that knowing fully that NPN had 66 members in the House of Assembly. But he refused to come forward. We thought he will offer us three to four commissioners and so on. But he did nothing like that. At the end of it, the caucus met again and decided to impeach him. He committed so many blunders during his 18 months tenure as the governor. So the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Alhaji Mamman Iro Danmusa went ahead and we mobilised our members. We got the two- third and even got one member from his own PRP (laughter). That was an interesting period of pure politics with no sentiment. They were not doing it for me, it was for NPN.


You were said to have created a parallel government in Kano State when Shagari appointed you as his Presidential Liaison Officer. That was even why Governor Abubakar Rimi declared you  persona non grata in the state. How did that happen?

Well, you know that it was a PRP government under Abubakar Rimi. When I came in there, he refused to see me. Even when I went to him with a minister from Kano, Alhaji Bello Maitama, he refused to see us. He said he could see the minister, but not with me. He was saying that as far as he was concerned, I was an illegal body (laughter). Well, in a way, he never cooperated. Also, the federal government, unlike now, was full of resourceful people.

So when we started the Shagari Mass Housing Scheme, Kano State was given between 700-1000 housing units. In Kano, housing and land are very scarce and precious. I went to the late Malam Aminu Kano and asked him to give me three names to be included in my committee that will handle the 1000 housing project. I brought in three members from the NPN and we picked the chairman from the PRP. He was Alhaji Sani Gwale. He is still alive. I said ok, look at the urban housing, see to their construction and also see to their distribution. And everybody in Kano was entitled to it.

When they got the fertilizer in the rainy season, they deliberately refused to give it to NPN members. I didn’t even contact Shagari. I talked to Malam Adamu Ciroma, who was the Minister of Agriculture.  He said how many tonnes do you want? I said 20,000 – 50,000; and he gave them to me. I was distributing fertilizer to people more than the PRP government in the state was doing (laughter). That was how I became more popular than the government in the state. So, when elections came, Rimi contested and lost.

 You served as Kaduna State governor for three months when the military struck. Where were you when the coup occurred?

I was in the Government House, sleeping. But I was aware that something like that will happen. I was sleeping in the Government House on the 30th December, 1983; that very morning I was going to Kafanchan for the presentation of a staff of office (first class) to the late Emir of Jema’a, Alhaji Isa Muhammadu. It was about six in the morning when my security aide came and started knocking at my door. I was very furious, I opened the window to see what was happening. I hadn’t seen a single car even though we were travelling around seven. So, I answered the door and saw the security man holding a radio. He did not say a word to me; he handed the radio to me. I heard the radio saying, “I, Sani Abacha … bla bla bla…. ” That was a clear signal of a coup.                   

Also, on that night, at about 1:30-2:00am; a lady, who was one of our members in the State House of Assembly came to a meeting saying that if we were not careful, either today or the following week the military would topple our government.  We got all the signals for the coup.

Didn’t you realised that you were jeopardising your lives by not taking any action, having got wind of the coup, like Sardauna, others did in 1966?

Shagari was fully aware that there was going to be an attempted coup. But when he called the officers alleged to be planning the coup; they all said that there was nothing like that. They were Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Aliyu Gusau, Ibrahim Bako, among others.

Was Shagari convinced that they were not planning any coup?

No. His argument was that if he were to arrest his kinsmen like Babangida, Buhari, Abacha, Gusau and so on, even if he shoots away all of them, the next people that will take over are all foreign to him. He did not know them. This he knew. It will be quite a disaster for him to remove them; and for some other people to take over and come and do the coup. But I believed it was destined to be like that.

As a prince, up till now you don’t have any traditional title. What is happening?

Well, nothing is happening. I always hold the view that I did not want a traditional title much as I respect it. Because it is only meant for you to sit down at the palace and advice, while you have no any authority over anything. And in the last 30 years, I have been having a free life. I have been enjoying free movement without any constraint. I like the way I live, which is very much comfortable. It is unnecessary, therefore, to go and get myself turbaned without any authority. I found it a very big constraint to my belief in life. If I will be made an emir, then I can accept it out rightly. Because I know I have some authority, but to be a title holder, I don’t think it is worthy. Mind you, I have an older brother, Alhaji MD Yusuf, who also doesn’t like it and he never accepted it. He was offered several times to choose, but he refused.

Do you have anything to do with former President Obasanjo now?

I have nothing to do now with Obasanjo. But I still have some small liking for him. I admire him, sometimes, because he cracks jokes. If you are with him, he creates an atmosphere of ease around you. He makes you laugh. This is the only attribute that I know he has. Otherwise, he is very vindictive and unforgiving.