The uncertainties surrounding the forthcoming general elections seem to be growing wider by the day, especially with President Buhari’s refusal to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law.
His rejection of the Electoral Bill because of the section bothering on direct primaries which he does not agree with, has remained a subject of debates and conversations among Nigerians who hold divergent views on the matter. While some individuals hailed him for the action described as patriotic, others believe his withholding of assent to the Electoral Bill 2021, will not produce credible elections in 2023.
Among those who believe the president acted in good faith, is Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir El Rufai. In his opinion, President Buhari has always been a believer in direct primaries but with what is on ground, it will not produce the desired result in the general elections.
“I want to say here, for everyone to hear loud and clear, President Buhari has always been an advocate of direct primaries. From our days in the CPC, through the last primaries in 2018, when he ran for the second time, we used direct primaries. So ideologically, and personally, President Buhari prefers direct primaries, to indirect primaries because he believes that direct primaries is one that gives party members greater participation in deciding who is their candidate, rather than a few elected people and delegates that can be susceptible to corruption.
“So, I want people to understand that by refusing to sign that bill, it is not president Buhari doing it because of a certain preference for indirect primaries or anything,” El Rufai explained, during an interview with Arise TV.
He further listed four conditions which if put in place, make direct primaries a good method of getting candidates to emerge in a party. “The four conditions are; you must have membership register that is open and that everyone agrees is the real membership register of the party; you need every member in that register to have a biometric card with barcodes so that he can be easily identified and so that he can vote in the primaries; you must have a system or mechanism for counting the votes in the direct primaries that everyone has confidence in; you need security to prevent non members from coming into the venue to vote or thugs being imported to disrupt voting. If you don’t have these four conditions, direct primaries will be a disaster.
“Now, can we put all these things in place before the next elections? Maybe we can; I don’t know but right now, we don’t have that in place and I want to remind Nigerians to look at results of direct primaries in the last few years”.
Buttressing his stance, he cited the case of the recent governorship election in Anambra State, where he said the APC candidate, “Andy Uba allegedly got hundreds of thousands of votes in the direct primaries. And then the main election came and he got a fraction of what he got in the direct primaries. How can that be? You can at least be sure that members of your party will all come out to vote for you and may be a few that will be neutral will add to that.
“This happened because these four things I told you, were not in place in Anambra state and what you saw as the result of direct primaries may not represent the reality. Go back to 2019 in Lagos, there, direct primaries produced Sanwo-Olu and defeated Ambode. Yes, go and check the numbers of votes that the winner of the election got and compare with what he got in the election, you’ll know that direct primaries’ results are not reflective of reality. So, direct primaries are actually more susceptible to abuse than indirect primaries. Direct primaries is more difficult to manage unlike indirect primaries where a limited number of people can be in one room, can be counted, and you cannot change anything”.
Aside the issue of Electoral Amendment Bill, another pressing matter as the 2023 general elections approach, is the issue of zoning. On this, the governor categorically, said he does not zone positions, rather, he gets people that can get the job done. “I am a student of history and governance; I have not seen any country in the world that has succeeded on a sustainable basis, by selecting its leaders based on geography, religion, ethnicity, etc. So, it’s not a smart way to choose leaders, the smartest way to choose leaders in all the countries that have made progress, is to have competitive basis in which merit tops everything; you pick the best material.
“In Kaduna, the last time I checked, we have people from 18 states of Nigeria represented in our government because, we just want results and don’t care where you come from. However, in this country, there’s a political culture that presupposes that the leadership of the country or even of states, should rotate between various parts of the country. There’s an understanding and in fact, one party has it in their constitution.
“The PDP has it in their constitution but we don’t have it in the APC. It is an unspoken understanding and in politics, these kinds of understanding are as strong as any provisions of the constitution. You observe them and if you don’t, you pay a heavy political price. Goodluck Jonathan paid that price, when he tried to violate the agreement with the PDP leaders – that he will only contest one term after Yar’ Adua’s term.
Explaining further, Governor El Rufai noted that “Based on the political culture of Nigeria, not because I think it is a good idea, or that I support it personally or that I practice it, but based on the political culture in Nigeria, after 8 years of President Buhari, presidency should be open to the South. I do not think that any northerner should put himself forward and say I want the presidency”.
That only means he is not in the race to occupy the coveted seat in Aso Rock, come 2023. “No, I’m not a contestant…because there’s an understanding and unless as a member of APC, circumstances, compel the APC of the South, to come to us in the North and say, we don’t want it, you take it, then I can say it’s now open for Northerners.
“For me, Nigeria is at a critical junction. We have many problems and I think Nigerians should look very closely and choose leaders that can address those problems, no matter where they come from”.
And for a better Nigeria, El Rufai opines that ”Our federation needs to be rebalanced, there are many functions that federal government undertakes that they don’t do well. They’re overstretched and those things can be done better by states or local governments; and should be devolved accordingly but I don’t believe in regionalism. Regions of the old are gone; they are a myth and will not come back. I believe that current structure of 36 states and FCT, and local government can be made to work if there’s the will”.
And back home in Kaduna state, in spite of the spate of killings and violent attacks on people, the governor insisted that the state is better off in terms of development.
“Investors are coming. When we came into office, the 2014 World Bank Ease of doing business of national rankings ranked Kaduna number 24 out of 36 in ease of doing business. Because of the reforms that we’ve introduced and investments in infrastructure and governance, we moved to number one, four years later in 2018.
“The results are clear; in the last six years, since we started the first edition of Kadinvest in 2016, we have attracted $2.8billion in investments. And the investments are real.
“Our Kadinvest has been quite successful. Even at the height of Covid-19, we had Kadinvest virtually and the investments keep coming. People are surprised at why investors keep coming to Kaduna in spite of the headlines about insecurity. It’s because the investors are discerning. Our major problem is security and we are working with the federal authorities to put an end to that and by the time that is done, with what we’ve invested, I think Kaduna state is the state of the future. It is the next Lagos,” he enthused.
With the level of massacre by bandits as witnessed in the state in recent times, people most often, wonder why security forces and the government are unable to prevent killings. “It’s is a major problem. The security agencies are doing their best, but they are over-stretched. Nigerian Armed forces are involved in internal security operations in about 32, 33 states. We have about 150, 000 of them. Our Police have not recruited in many years. When we came into office, we had about 13,000 policemen in Kaduna. Today, we have 11,000. Yesterday, I was talking to the IG about this and he assured me that they are recruiting 10,000 policemen. Okay, 10,000 policemen across 36 states, how many more can I get? So, the reality is that we don’t have enough boots on the ground to address the myriad of security challenges that we face. And these security challenges are asymmetric, they are widespread, they are everywhere. There’s no part of Nigeria that is not facing one security problem or the other”.
The governor further suggested more holistic solutions which include; “ramping up number of boots, more technology, more investments in armament, a level of ruthlessness to wipe these guys once and for all”, stressing that “I have always believed that we should carpet-bomb the forest; we can re-plant the trees after but, let’s carpet-bomb the forests, kill all of them. There will be collateral damage but it’s better to wipe them out and bring peace back to our communities so that agriculture and rural economies can pick up, than to continue this touch and go, touch and go isolated responses to banditry”.
Justifying his call for total annihilation of bandits in the state, he said, ”They kill people in Sokoto, you mobilise the army there, and chase them out, they move to Kebbi, from Kebbi if they are bombed, they move to Kaduna. What should be done is to bomb them from the air, ground, troops on the ground at the same time in all five, six states of the North West plus Niger. And this problem can be sorted out in my view, in weeks. I believe the levels of insecurity now are at a tipping point and something is got to give. My hope is that what will give is the end of this banditry once and for all. It is a problem!”
On one of the problems he inherited that has been from time immemorial- herders /farmers’ conflict, the former FCT minister said, “Farmer/herders’ conflict is not the major source of insecurity. It has always been there and there are structures to deal with that; the traditional institutions, security agencies know how to deal with that. The problem is that some people confuse these bandits with farmer/herders’ clash. These bandits are criminals. They sell cows, buy guns and make conscious decision to be criminals; it’s not farmer/herders’ clash.
“Farmer/Herders’ clash occurs when herdsmen that do not carry AK-47 but carry sticks and cows encroach on a farm or destroy crops. And what usually happens is that the person that destroyed the crops will report himself and say, look I have damaged crops; that will be assessed and he will pay”.
Disclosing reasons for the encroachment, he said, “Once upon a time, Nigeria had grazing reserves, dedicated routes- cattle routes and stock routes but over time because of population, urban development, encroachment and in some cases, greed by senior government officials, some of these grazing reserves and cattle routes have been allocated to individuals and these cattle go through the farms and you have this problem”.
And to end the conflict, he suggests that either governments recover all the stock routes and the grazing reserves, like Jigawa state has done, or adopt a more practical solution which is to modernise livestock production. This he noted will be achieved by offering itinerant herdsmen infrastructure to stay in one place, give them pasture and water. “Some may call it ranching or whatever, that’s the way to go and we’ve all agreed to do that but it is a very expensive process.
In Kaduna state, we borrowed 10billion naira from the central bank of Nigeria. We have established two of our grazing reserves and put up infrastructures to resettle 1,500 families of herdsmen and we hope the success of that will show the herdsmen that you can make a living in one place; your child gets to go to school, get vet clinic, health care and you don’t get into trouble getting into anybody’s farm and having to pay compensation. We have asked the federal government to support the states by giving each state an amount in this degree so that we all establish this and show that this thing can be done; this is the 21st century,” he stated.
Finally, he affirms that insecurity is an economic problem because it reduces investment. “If we did not have the security challenges that we had, I will not be talking about 2.8 billion dollars in investment, I’ll be talking about multiples of that”, he stated.
After citing examples of how insecurity has affected the state’s economy, he declared that “insecurity is not just a human issue, it is also economic issue that affects livelihoods; there’s nothing you can do with a certain level of insecurity.
“Today, we have rising food prices and many people think it is because of the dollar, no, it is because agricultural production has been negatively affected by this banditry that discourages people from going to their farms. Those that have been able to farm cannot go and harvest their crops. Some of the bandits in some parts of the north are imposing levies and taxes on communities before they can go to their farms. And this has an effect because this part of the country is one of the food baskets of the country. It’s a major economic issue and increasingly, it’s also becoming a political issue. So it’s something that I think as I said, is at a tipping point and something got to give”.