Weekly Trust: Sir, it’s now ten years of civilian administration without military intervention. How can you assess the situation?
Yahaya Kwande: The issue is not the time limit but what have we achieved? One area where we have failed within the last ten years is the lack of democracy in our affairs and lack of freedom. We are not talking about the construction of roads or how many hospitals we have built. We are talking about the freedom of a Nigerian. In that sense, we have gone back. If we are to compare the freedom of a Nigerian and democracy as it was in the First Republic, I will tell you that we have failed. As far as I am concerned, the most important thing to any human being is his freedom. And since we have not been electing our leaders the way we want and those we want, then we have failed in the ten years.
Kwande: Look at what is happening despite what had happened in the 2007 elections. President Umaru Yar’adua made the pledge that he was going to correct the ills of the electoral system. It was a courageous thing to say at the moment he said it, in the place he said it and the eyes and ears of the world were on him at that moment. But believe me, you can’t match the activities of INEC and Yar’adua’s subordinates to what he said. I don’t know what is happening to Nigeria; other people are moving forward but we are moving backward.
WT: What is the way out?
Kwande: The way out should have been the electoral reform, but it shows that people are thinking more of themselves and of individual interest. There have been suggestions as to what to do. The original concept of Obasanjo was to deceive people and manipulate democracy in Nigeria. I may not say two political parties are enough, but people can measure and see what happened during IBB’s tenure. It was a wonderful arrangement. Nigerian politics has never been based on ideology.
The way out is not for two, three, or four individuals to be appointed to adjust our democracy, because despite the good intention of Umaru Yar’adua in having correct and genuine democracy, you need the ordinary man in the street to contribute.
The rigging usually starts from the units, so Nigerians need re-orientation. Do we really want to get rid of rigging? And the intention to get rid of it should not be on the people being appointed to be resident electoral officers or the Chief Judge in his court. The whole thing should go down to the grassroots.
WT: How do you stop a citizen from being manipulated to rig election?
Kwande: You have to raise the standard of living of that person, because people take election periods like harvest seasons. This is so that they can accumulate in whole whatever they can during elections to feed themselves and their families until another election, so ordinary Nigerians should be taught the objectives of electing somebody.
I don’t believe that the people who spend money and allow people to rig election are unknown, because they’re the ones who visit villages to negotiate with the village head and tell him what he will get. The village head in turn will promise the number of votes before the Election Day, so the way to stop election rigging should not be in Abuja, but in the villages.
WT: How will you rate President Umaru Yar’adua in the last two years, especially the implementation of his 7-point agenda?
Kwande: I believe that he is not tackling the Niger Delta issue well. I have also seen that the rule of law is not being practised right. Even though he has interest to make this country okay in the rule of law, the officers around him are not helping matters. Like the re-run election in Ekiti State; before the re-run election, they should have banned those they found guilty from the beginning. But when you allow somebody to accumulate money for two years and take him to court thereafter, by that time, he is at an advantage to fight the opposition. The rule of law was not followed, and it shows that the intention of President Yar’adua is failing if you compare it with practice.
WT: How will you assess the Jang administration?
Kwande: Well, everybody knows my opinion on Jonah Jang. I will tell you that Jonah Jang is a physical developer. I don’t have to justify my opinion because whoever is coming to Jos will know that something is happening in Jos. Roads are being constructed, so to me, Jos deserves the face-lift Jang is trying to put across. However, as a human being, he has positive and negative parts. I don’t know whether his public relation with people is one I admire.
Jos would not have been what it is today if there were no strangers. I have told him publicly that he would have to open up to make Jos peaceful and accept everybody as his brothers. And we have authority wherever we want to go. There are people outside staying with us, so the question of being an indigene or not is also very confusing. If you read the constitution, you wouldn’t get that, because I don’t believe that the question of differences between government and settlers is being projected rightly.
I will tell you Isiyaku Gwamna, a Fulani man from Gombe, once represented Plateau; Inuwa Anacha Dan Anacha represented Plateau; MK Sani represented Plateau; Inuwa Ali on high level Turakin Jos represented Plateau. Inuwa Ali contested in an election here in Jos with a native Ngo Hannatu Chollom. I was there when the result was declared. They grabbed and embraced each other. I still remember vividly when she took her head tie and placed it on Inuwa Ali, a Hausa-Fulani from Kano whose parents had been here generation upon generation. She told him: “What have you done? Do you feel proud defeating a woman?” That was the thinking on that day; she didn’t care if he was a Hausa-Fulani or whatever ethnic group.
I don’t know where this thing comes from, so to make it short, Jonah Jang is a hardworking governor with good intentions to develop Plateau State. Second, I as a person don’t know where his public relation or social policy of this government as it affects strangers is going.
WT: Plateau State has passed through three testing periods in 2001, 2004 and 2008. As an elder statesman, why these crises and what are the solutions?
Kwande: Well, what was wrong was the devil because the people that started the crises are still here. Hausa people are still living in Jos, and to my surprise, they are even more than before. If anybody is thinking that there will be a day he will wake up and find out that only people of his ethnic group are living in Jos, it is a mistake as it will not happen, because London is London because of settlers. Those who fought others are still here participating in our daily activities.
Believe me, I don’t believe there is a Hausa, Fulani man or Yoruba man who will even like to be the Gbong Gom Jos, because when you talk about indigene, it ends only around the culture of a people. Nigerians have the right to go to the market, pray, eat, move and interact freely without hindrance of any kind.
WT: What can you say about the relationship between Nigeria and other countries?
Kwande: This is the position which I should praise Obasanjo, because he came in and took it upon himself to bring back the image of a Nigerian nation. He was more of a minister of foreign affairs than even a president and I believe we achieved something during his rule. Unfortunately, we Nigerians are not doing enough, which is why this question of rebranding Nigeria is my darling, because a Nigerian person is the one destroying Nigeria.