Alhaji Tanko Yakasai is a house hold name in the country. In this interview with The Triumph’s PATRICK O. ONU, he bares his mind on the former and the current situations of the nation. He proffers a lot of solutions to the myriads of problems militating against it where he has two people in mind that can help in remedying its woes. Excerpt:
Sir, may we know you?
My name is Tanko Yakasai. I was born in Kano in 1925. I took part in the struggle for independence as a member of Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU), at one time, as its administrative secretary, national organising secretary and national publicity secretary up to its general secretary for three years. Some other time before then, I was the President NEPU Youth Association.
What is the difference between politics of yester-years and that of today?
There is a huge difference. Previously, people played politics based on convictions. Something they believed in either rightly or wrongly. Now, the reverse is the case.
Hardly you get people in politics for the interest of the country; people struggled for positions just for self enrichment which is the driving force in today’s politics, and thereby they use the position to enrich themselves.
You served in the administration of Alhaji Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari, the former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. On what capacity did you serve?
I served as Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on National Assembly Matters to the President. We were three in number. Our boss was a Special Adviser to the President, and his name is Dr. K. O. Mbadiwe and I was second to him. He handled policy and I liaised with the National Assembly.
I handled the practical aspect of it. Dealt with members of the House of Representatives and the Senate and also, I liaised with the government officials coming to the National Assembly in one way or the other and also, with the Presidency. Then, there was somebody junior to us, he was called Obong Achibong. He was also a Special Assistant, but virtually on errand duties, but much younger and almost of the same age with many members of the National Assembly, and any assignment assigned to him by us, he usually carried it out.
It was obvious that the administration was short-lived following its over-throw by the military junta, was the excuse adduced for that action realised?
No military coup that takes place for the reason they stated. All military coups are fake. The only military regime that came to power in the interest of the country to the best of my knowledge was the one headed by Yakubu Gowon. Yakubu Gowon did not take part in organising the coup or executing it.
He was only requested to head the military and government, because the man who was supposed to take over after the assassination of Ironsi as the most senior officer, was Brigadier Ogundipe. There were three Brigadiers at that time, ZakKariya Maimalari, Ogundipe, I can’t remember the other one.
So, when Ironsi was assassinated, those who staged the coup led by Theophilus Danjuma and the rest of them, decided to approach him (Ogundipe) because he was taking refuge at the British High Commission. So they requested the British High Commission to permit them to go and see Brigadier Ogundipe and they were allowed to see him.
So they consulted him by telling him that as the most senior officer in the army then, he should come and take over because all other seniors of his rank were no more. It was he who suggested to them that look, 1966 coup was virtually a provocation against the people of the North; he told them that the Northerners were more in numbers in the armed forces of the nation at that time.
So whoever would take over control at that time, must be somebody who can enjoy the confidence of the Northerners and get their trust, otherwise his days too were numbered.
So, he recommended and told them to go and look for General Gowon. Gowon at that time was the most senior Northern officer in the Army. Gowon was away out of the country. He came back just a day or two before the coup, and he was approached but, he had no alternative in refusing it, because there was crisis in the whole nation. So, people were looking for somebody who could help in stabilising the country at that time. Hence, he accepted in becoming the Head of State.
Sir, what would you say that Gowon was able to achieve with the level of trust he enjoyed amongst Nigerians at that time?
He was very trustful and selfless, no doubt about that. He was a complete gentleman till today. So, Gowon tried his best to steer the country out of the crisis, as that time, most of the senior officers of Igbo extraction, were either killed or were in hiding, because of what had happened. The whole country believed that the first coup was executed by the Igbos, most of them who remained in the military were not really of their safety, as they were afraid of coming out from hiding to take part in solving impasse.
So, at that time, Ojukwu was the governor of the Eastern Region when the coup took place in 1966. The coup makers appointed him as the military governor of the Eastern Nigeria and Hassan Usman as that of Northern Nigeria with the other one for the Western Nigeria whom I cannot remember his name.
So, when Ironsi came, he confirmed them and when Ironsi was killed with that of the Western Nigeria (Governor) and Gowon took over, he appointed Adebayo in replacement to the one who was killed together with Ironsi and continued with them – Hassan Usman Katsina, Ojukwu and Adebayo.
These were the three governors who headed the three regions in the country at that period. So now, to be honest, Ojukwu was not particularly happy that Gowon was made Head of State. Even though Ogundipe said, nobody could lead the Armed Forces of Nigeria as at that time who did not enjoy the trust and confidence of the rank and file of the Nigerian Army and with the fact that those who assassinated people like Maimalari and other senior military officers of Northern extraction even though they were affected by the coup, Ojukwu was not comfortable that Gowon was made the Head of State.
It is just like the issues raised by Ojukwu for not accepting the headship of Gowon. Ojukwu was a short-time-service-course officer while Gowon was said to have run as the full-time-service-course before being commissioned into the army.
So, according to army, those who run full service course are considered to be senior to those who run short service course even though they were commissioned before them. So, it was on this basis that Gowon was considered to head the Armed Forces which Ojukwu was against.
Coming to the National Assembly matters, there are those who argue that the enrolment of our legislators is extremely high and creating a devastative hole on our national purse, have you any contrary view on this?
The truth is that, during the time of Gowon, there were some military officers one can say that were patriotic but by and large, military officers who took over from Gowon would be said to be after power for power sake or to just acquire wealth for their selfish reasons. So, they allowed this mentality to creep into the main stream of Nigeria politics.
Most politicians believed that the military saw power as an avenue to enrich themselves as against the betterment of the masses. And also, from that time, most politicians saw politics as an opportunity to enrich themselves.
It is obvious that in most time, military were seen as the last hope by the common man to redeeming the image of their country in terms of positioning its economy for the benefit of all. But, here in Nigeria, the reverse is obviously the case. Why?
Well, institutionalisation of corruption in Nigeria government was made by military who ruled the nation. Even if there were some corrupt elements for that time, the approach, the attitude pushed one to go for corruption, particularly after Gowon.
Like I said, most of those who are in government are there for themselves unlike during our time where honestly dedication, commitment and patriotism were the order of the day.
For more than two decades, Nigeria has been in democratic governance without much to show. What is the way out?
Now, when you are in crisis, your immediate concern is how to get out of it. For we to get out of this mess is not by coup, I will never support military take over. I can’t advocate for the take over. It is not a blessing to our country; rather, it is a curse.
I would never support that. So, what I think we should do, let us look at politicians, see who amongst them can really stead the ship of this country to the delights of Nigerians, in terms of experience, exposure, contact and help us put back the country in a proper track of building a stable democratic norms, development and progress. So, this is my own opinion and judgement.
In the two political parties of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC), there are persons whom I believe can stabilise the country for better. They can enjoy our trust and confidence because; they have the ability for that position (presidency). They can think of the solutions to our numerous problems confronting us. They know those that would help them fix the country and restore it to its lost glory. There are two people in my mind (he interjects).
Can you mention their names for us to know?
He continues, I have in PDP, Atiku Abubakar, a onetime Vice President for eight years. He was elected governor of Adamawa State, before Obasanjo asked him to be his vice. Atiku was and still is a practicing politician with the experience and the second person is Ahmed Bola Tinubu in APC, a former governor of Lagos State also, for eight years. He is also, an experienced politician.
Get any one of them elected as President, they can do the job. They know what to do to take this country back to the interjectory of good governance.
We have discussed much about other issues, how do you rate the present Federal Government?
Don’t ask me about this government because, I have already said what I would say since 2015, when they were about coming on board. Go back to 2015, I made it public that, Buhari is lacking in competence and quality to give Nigerians the kind of leadership they deserved.
I said it and it was published everywhere. And I still maintained that position and nothing will make me change my mind in that regard.
Take two things last year, (2020), he decided to lay gas pipeline from Warri to Maradi (Niger Republic), he promised to complete it in two years, which means by 2022, it will be completed, so, if Buhari had this programme by 2015, he would have completed it before now, and by that we would take into trajectory of development in Nigeria, because with the gas availability in the country, we would be able to start small scale industries, medium sizes even bigger ones in Nigeria, because you cannot develop a country without workable industrialisation.
Second point is that, Buhari is talking of building a railway to the same Maradi. Now, I don’t know the time frame of this project, but, supposed Buhari had something like that in mind in 2015, by now, it would have been completed.
During the time of Tafawa Balewa, he formulated the national development plan, the trajectory to develop Nigeria (blue print). He wanted to develop Nigeria, example; Nigeria agriculture, transport, including railway system, where every part of the country will be connected with the Mediterranean Sea and goods and services would be exported to other countries leading to the Atlantic Ocean in Lagos and the Mediterranean Sea by Tafawa Balewa for every Nigerian to be able to export to other countries.
After the first national development plan, Gowon started the second phase. Unfortunately, it was abandoned, and since then, no one had talked about it. But, the only person (President) and unfortunately, he died, Yar’adua introduced his seven-point agenda, and if you look at the agenda, it was part of the national development plan where he picked some of his programmes like railway system, roads and others.
He tackled them seriously before he died. Nobody is talking about these things anymore. People are looking for the person who can re-connect Nigeria. Whether we like it or not, we are looking for someone who can move this country forward based on experience and capability.
And these two people I have just mentioned are capable of fixing this country because they have what it takes to lead it out of these present woes we found ourselves. The only problem is that you must be acceptable to the masses before you can make it.
Considering our present constitution, how it was formulated by the juntas who were in a hurry to leave the political space for the politicians in 1999. Do you think that any president elected by Nigerians can really make an impact without over hauling or restructuring it as being demanded by the people?
It has nothing to do with the constitution, because all the previous plans we had could have taken the country to the Promised Land and it was the same constitution. Constitution has nothing to do with it. It is a question of governance and leadership.
The issue of restructuring is still a mere say, because those who are calling for it, have not really come out to say this is what we want the leadership to restructure. I was in Nigeria when it was only three regions, but, today, it has 36 states. Many of the people who are agitating for restructuring are my friends for the seventy something years. But, they have not come openly to say what we need to restructure.
It has to be put in a black and white so that those of us who do not understand what they are saying would be able to see it clearly.
They did not define it, in a country of about 200 million people and you are calling for restructuring, restructuring what? If the agitators are honest, let them come out clean. What are they hiding? If you put me, my children and grandchildren in this house, we are 87 Nigerians, so, we should be concern about what they are talking.
You talked about your youth age where patriotism was the order of the day, what can you say of today’s youth?
No, they are after getting rich quick like their politicians of today.
Sir, insecurity had virtually taken over our land (Nigeria) what are the ways out?
Certainly, we have to look at the way out. Ahmad Gumi, the son of Sheikh Abubakar Gumi, took the trouble to go and meet some of the insurgents in their hiding places, and they told him their problems and he brought the issues for the government to look into it, and he even visited Obasanjo for the same reason, which he personally initiated for the purpose of peace and tranquillity in Nigeria, but, people critise it. So, if you have any contrary view on it, why not bring your own idea or suggestion out.
Remember, the Niger insurgents, they started killing people, and people talked to the then Yar’adua and he listened and after negotiations, he gave them amnesty and now, we have peace in that region. Government should first of all, listen to what they are saying.