Former PDP Speaker of the House of Representatives and now Governor Aminu Masari of Katsina State speaks to Vanguard on the pro-Biafra agitation and the Third Term story as a leader in parliament under the Obasanjo administration, among other issues. Excerpts:
There is this agitation by some people in the South-East for secession. Should this come at this time?
It is all politics. Where were they before the election? The Igbos or the Kanus or that group of people benefitting under the Jonathan administration think Jonathan is an Igbo man or he was doing an Igbo agenda which I really cannot find.
I have not seen tarred roads, education facilities in the South-East better than any other region, not even in the South-South where Jonathan comes from. Some people were benefitting from the mismanagement and when that benefit was cut off, to them it was a loss of business. And so, they fight in a way they know. Transition period is the most difficult period in the life of any government.
Some people lost. This government came in May 2015, and it has to clear the mess before it starts doing any work. So, some agitations were for settlement because they have lost out and need to reinvent themselves. We had something similar during Obasanjo regime, they were even hoisting flags. The Igbos, for whatever reason, chose to be with Jonathan, they lost, and so those who lost, especially the business ones among them, may have instigated the agitators so that, ultimately, they will be pacified.
So, the agitators are sympathizers of Jonathan?
Yes. Where were they before? But we believe their problem is the Nigerian problem and we believe government should not treat the Biafra case the way Jonathan treated the Boko Haram issue because, eventually, we all saw that it became a problem (Boko Haram) for everybody. Some people who are determined to bring crisis to Nigeria can hijack it from those agitating for Biafra.
But, I am happy that government is doing something about it now. May be some youths, because of unemployment, poverty, can be attracted to the agitation. Of course, if government does not intervene, those people can be misled and the real criminals, like we saw in Boko Haram, can hijack and then it becomes a problem for everybody. Tell me, is there is any part of this country where there are no Igbos? No where. But what is happening now is not an Igbo agenda but some peoples’ agenda.
You were Speaker of the House of Representatives at a very crucial time in Nigeria’s history especially during the Third Term issue. Can you share your experience with us?
What we did in the House first and foremost, was to bring Nigeria in front of us which was and still important than anybody or group. When the issue of amended Constitution came up, we said, as leaders, that the Constitution made provisions for amendment. So, if anybody asked for amendment of the Constitution, it was within the Constitution, but that right did not confer on the person that other people should follow him.
In this matter, for those who were going to support it, it was within their right; for those who were not going to, it was also within their right. But, above all, let us understand that by the 29th of May 2007, all of us were vacating this place. The issues were two: Amending the Constitution for Third Term or amending the Constitution to elongate the tenure, which I said was illegal. Our contract was for four years.
There was no room for extension. If you are amending the Constitution for six years tenure it will not benefit us and those in the executive. There was nothing the government could do to blackmail us because we made sure we were free. We never got involved in whatever the executive was doing. I never participated in a contract, I never gave a note to anybody,minister or department for any favour. Do you know it was the House that first revoked the Third Term before the Senate did? Meanwhile, it was only the Third Term we killed, it was the Senate that killed the entire process of the amendment, go and check your records. And the former President knew it was going to die, because I told him.
What did you tell him?
I will not tell you my response. I might decide to write my memoirs in future, it will be part of it.
What is your impression of former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Goodluck Jonathan and the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari?
Well, let us give credit to Obasanjo, his commitment to this country is total. He is a firm believer in Nigeria. You have to salute his courage. He is somebody that can work for 18 hours and by 6 am the next day, he gives you a call. Sometimes, he gives you a 6 or 7 o clock morning appointment, and he would be there. He was hardly late for an occasion. The only thing you can compare Obasanjo with Jonathan is that they were both Presidents. Beyond that, there is no comparison. It appears to me that Jonathan did not know what was going on.
That is my simple assessment, at least as an outsider. I have known him since his days as deputy governor. Through a member of the House then, she would come to my house. And when he became Acting President, I told him that the role we played was not because of him; we played the role so that the Constitution might be followed. Even when those who knew him well said then that they doubted if he could render the service, we told them that was not the issue; if the Constitution says this, then, we must follow it. We can later regret our consequences of choice, but the Constitution must be followed. That is why if you are choosing a President, choose a Vice President that can do the job, not a spare tyre, not this take me home tyre. President Buhari and Obasanjo have many things in common. They are both generals. The only thing is that Obasanjo plays more politics than Buhari.