By Fred Itua, Abuja
Senator Ayo Arise, is a member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview, he spoke on 2023 general elections, insecurity, among other issues.
As a party man who also supports his own, I just want to know the legacies Buhari have created and how you want to build on it. Secondly, this Muslim-Muslim ticket is still a major issue. Do you think the APC miscalculated by going for a Muslim-Muslim ticket when it was obvious that the Christian community will rise against it?
The Muslim-Muslim ticket is a decision that cannot be said to be perfect as there were situations for the Muslim-Christian ticket which ordinarily could have been ideal if not for the fact that the candidate happens to be from the South West . If the candidate had been a Christian, it would have been much easier to pick a Muslim northerner. But since things happened the way it has happened, it is much easier for a Northern candidate who is a Muslim to pick a Christian Southerner. That would have been the most reasonable thing to do but now we have the reverse as the case. The condition on the ground is very clear that the Northern population, may be 60, 70 percent are Muslims and we are talking of numbers if you are to win election. After sitting down very well, you will discover that there are very able, intelligent, technically sound Christians but the question is that how many votes would you command to be able to win election particularly from the North. If the reverse has been the case to the South West, it would have been a suicidal error for any Northern candidate to pick a Muslim from the South.
So, when you look at the situations that are emerging, he had very limited choices and when you consider the fact that yes, there have been a similar situation in the past and in reality, anybody that wants to rule this country must not make religion your priority. If you make religion your priority then our chances for development is tending more towards zero. If you look at the entire world, what the leaders are discussing, if the Pope goes somewhere, the discussion is different from what other Heads of States of developed nations will discuss. In this world we have today, people are discussing things about creating life in the space, they have even gone beyond electricity, that one is taken for granted. But in this country, we still don’t have electricity to work, people don’t have electricity in their homes. Are we looking for solutions like that or we are looking for solutions to resolve our religious differences. What concerns a leader should be providing minimum acceptable standards for the citizens, security, availability of amenities and facilities for livelihood, employment. These are things I believe should be the focus of leadership. And I think Nigerians should be more worried about these at this point in time. How do we resolve our security challenges, unemployment, cure the situation of our nepotism, tribalism, these are the issues that are paramount and Nigerians should be more concerned about.
I think what we need to focus now is not practically feasible for Tinubu to say he is dropping his Vice because he is a Muslim, so, not only would he lose face, people will start wondering, is this the type of leader we want to have. Looking at the character himself, we all know that his wife is a Pastor of Redeemed Church and they have been living together for God knows how long, so, I do not think that the basis of discussion in their home is religion. For many of us, the situation of inter-marriage between Christian and Muslim is more prominent in the South West.
What we are looking at is for us to live as brothers and sisters. We should not be looking at ourselves from religious aspect and this is an opportunity for us to begin to move forward but if you look at the apprehension of people in this country, it is being festered by a few. Those are the things that have brought so much suspicion into the society and people are looking at religion as a basis and we don’t need that to solve the problem. We only need a good leader to ensure that he lives by example. I think for me personally, it could have been not looking or not expecting the reaction in a way, but I personally is one of those who will say let us give Tinubu and his vice a chance. If we are now being directed towards becoming a Muslim nation, I believe there are people in Nigeria who will stand against that move and I don’t think it will ever come to the mind of Tinubu and of course, the vice is quite an educated person that has antecedents that can also be pointed to.
The gentleman came to the Senate after I left, I don’t know him that much but from all that I heard about him, I think when he was governor, I believe there was no time he could have gone ahead to drive Christians out of Borno State. So, when we look at, it is an experimental thing. We saw it before, but Abiola never ruled for us to know what he could have done. But we have an opportunity to see how things will work out in the current time. If you look at Singapore, under Lee Kuan Yew, you saw what he had contributed to that society to make Singapore what it is today, a very developed country and his legacy continues. I believe all what Tinubu wants now is a name to say I have left a mark on this country the way he did when he was Governors in Lagos State. We still continue to say the master plan for Lagos is what others are still following. Even though I have known the governor of Lagos State for more than 25 years, but I have never bothered to find out whether he is a Christian or a Muslim because those things don’t bother me. In fact, it is not long ago that I knew that Fashola is a Muslim and when you look at many of these people, they have Christian wife; so, there is no fanaticism in this thing. We cannot rule this country based on that. I believe we will do what is right. I think it is a major issue that we continue to appeal to the Christian Community that this is not a slight.
So, I think reasonably in terms of calculation and strategy, I believe the candidate of APC considered all that before coming up with Muslim-Muslim ticket.
Well, on Buhari’s legacies, I read a few things that Tinubu said he would do and one of the very first one, in terms of tackling security is the fact that he would automatically start the process of having State Policing. I don’t think that if he says that he will continue on the legacy of President Buhari, I don’t expect that he would just become President and start rubber stamping everything that Buhari did. In terms of policies of this administration, you will notice that a few things are focused on social benefits of the people to ease the burden of the downtrodden, now the implementation might be another question. Have those policies achieved what they were set out to achieve and to be sure, let me make it very clear, I do a few things for the government. I think our civil service needs total complete overhaul. We are the ones responsible for the ailment of the country. Even though a leader can come in and begin to change things but the rot is so deep that when you even try, it becomes the problem and when Buhari started, we started hearing the slogan “corruption is fighting back”. People didn’t know what this meant and when you look at where we are today, those people that surrounded him, what is their thinking. Are they thinking about how to bleed this country to death or they are thinking about how to bring infrastructure to benefit all. If a leader does not go beyond his advisers, the chances are that he might not know half of what is going on in the society. So, it is still part of our responsibility to begin to talk to power that this is what is going on; these are the problems we are facing. So, I think, he will come in and do his best.
Issues are being raised about Tinubu’s health challenge. Do you think he is medically fit to be President. What are your thoughts on the plan by your colleagues in the National Assembly to impeach President Buhari over worsening insecurity in the country?
Let me start from the age of Tinubu and his health. You see, I have always known Asiwaju from afar and I have always admired many of his styles even though I did not support him during the primaries because I believe every politics is local and I have to support somebody from my local government that is running. When you look at Buhari, everybody thought he was going to die anyway. It is a typical example of our level of understanding to know that it is only God who controls who will die or live and as such, if a person is not feeling well or looking frail, what I am looking at is that today, the most powerful President in the world, that is Biden, he is 80 years old. I was looking at You Si-kun, the Taiwan Speaker, you see the way he was walking, he is between 75 and 80 years old. In America, the President, Vice President and the Speaker, these are the three most powerful people. It is different from Nigeria where you have the President, Vice President, the Senate President and the Speaker. The Speaker is number three in America. The two of them are very, very old and we cannot say that individually or collectively, we are smarter than an average American. There is no single statistics to prove that. So, if those people feel that these people with experience and old age are the best to entrust the affairs of their country to, who are we to be challenging that. We have had a young man as our president in this country and may be part of their policies or lack of their policies is why we are where we are today. It is not impossible. There is nothing as a single factor to define who should be president in terms of how old or how young. But when we talk in terms of health situation, yes it looked like Tinubu has some health challenges, we are not Doctors, just like we are not Doctors when Buhari was sick and he came back looking like 10 years younger. So, who knows what is going to happen because this is a life ambition for Tinubu to be President. After winning the election, he might look like 20 years younger than he is looking because the heart and the way you feel actually define what happens in terms of your health and in fact, there are some people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, so if God says you are going to live this long to lead your country. Even his opponent Atiku is 77 years old. So, if the man says he is 70 and some people are trying to disprove that, I don’t know when he was born and a number of us don’t know and if you look at the calculation of when he left the university, those ones seemed to tally with the age that he is talking about. So, these are some of the things people are not looking at. But I know as long as he means well for this country, to plan well, to put a developmental roadmap for Nigeria that will change the way we think, live and ways we hold something, then I pray he will win the election, and by the special grace of God, based on calculation, I believe he will win the election.
On the threat to impeach Buhari based on the security challenge, well, you know it is not every party member that can come up and say it is right because a lot of them are looking for one position or the other and you know that is the major problem; people cannot talk and as it is, many people are undermining this President because he has advisers around him and many of these things are shielded away from him. So, for a group of people to say they want to impeach him based on what is going on in Nigeria today, I believe such a threat, even though I know it cannot be achieved, such a threat isn’t out of place because when you see people are being kidnapped here and there, these people have got to Kubwa and they are now knocking on the doors of people to kidnap. Do you think the President is aware of this? No, he is not because if he is aware, he would have done something about it. He did not become president to expose us to danger, he became president because he felt and meant well for the country. So, those people did not allow him to get information and the people being spoken to everyday did not say they want to impeach him; even the party will not support such move. And because of that, this is a question of numbers in the Senate. I believe it is a mere threat. It is not a threat that can actually happen because the majority of people in the Senate are APC and this is their president. Whatever you think the President has done, it is the solution that we are looking at, not impeachment. If you look at the voting pattern, you need two-third majority to carrying out the impeachment threat.
Are you sure loyalty to the party is still there because some of them have lost their return tickets. If it comes to voting, do you think they will stick their necks out for Buhari?
Let me say this, the person to decide whether it will be open or close, who is the person?
As we speak now, he is being threatened even more than Buhari
Well, until that one is being carried out, that is when I will know that something is really on fire but you look at the way Senate is structured. Take it this way: during Obasanjo’s time when he was faced with impeachment, he did not have votes per say in the South West but the simple fact that they wanted to impeach him, that was what galvanized votes for him to win the second time. The question that comes to mind is, those people that lost their elections, does it means they cannot run and win another time. If there are people sitting down and thinking unless they have been promised the ticket through the other party, that is when it will make sense that, okay, I already have my ticket to come back, there is nothing these people can do to me. Many of them don’t want to retire and go home; they are looking for appointments here and there in the coming dispensation. So, the truth is that it cannot happen and why did they wait if it is truly based on altruism or in the national interest. The President is leaving by May next year and we are in August, before they carry out any impeachment process; don’t forget they will involve the House of Representatives, and if you look at the people marshalling this impeachment, do you now want to make sure that you damage your party so much that you cannot win the next election? There were so many reasons and dynamics that will guide us. Based on my experience in the Senate, I know it will not happen and those who are aggrieved now, they only need to do the Nigerian factor and that is why we are in trouble in the country. To impeach the President is not easy, even a state governor, how many have they impeached before ? So, I look at it, that is in a very practical form whether it is a correct move or not is another issue but it is something I know cannot happen. They can’t impeach the President, they don’t even have the numbers. The estimation that some people have lost their ticket will not work because that is not the end of their lives; they will still come back. So, it depends on the character now and don’t forget Buhari is very popular in the North regardless of what he has done. So, it is not something that can easily be done but for them, we have been on this security problem for so long, there is nothing anybody can do in 6 months. They should put options on the table, these are the things we expect Mr. President to do within this period.
What are your fears about the 2023 elections especially considering the general state of insecurity in the country? Some people are calling for state of emergency.
Well, the truth of the matter, I entertained no fear about the fact that the election will go smoothly but my only fear is that how quickly can the issue of insecurity be resolved starting from now.
So, during Jonathan’s time, when Boko Haram started kidnapping of over 200 girls and the installation of flags by Boko Haram in the North, Nigeria demanded, can we have an election, some people said it is not possible; they have to do some things to make sure that the elections held. So, the President has the powers, either to recruit people in the Army or the Police and this should not be done based on ethnic recognition alone. If you don’t put quality people at work, you will get poor results.
Finally, and still on the single faith ticket, do you think the party is doing enough to help Tinubu to reach out to the Christians? We had a gathering of Northern APC Christian Leaders recently in Abuja and they vowed to work against the ticket.
There can be nothing that we will say is enough. We must constantly appeal to the Christians, the Christian Association of Nigeria, the leaders of churches to allay their fears of not only marginalization and discrimination which at the end of the day could resort to nobody is speaking on their behalf. But part of the things that need to be said, the president and the Vice President, yes the President has awesome power; the VP too, if he is very close to the President, will enjoy such power and exert such. But I will not negotiate it at all, because you have the Chief of Staff to the President, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and so many other areas that you can put Christians. In many instances, we have seen that the Chief of Staff can be more powerful than the VP. We have seen that like once or twice, so, if some of these things are reserved for Christians, you have not considered them sufficiently in the scheme of things as it stands now, then you now put all these things down.