Salihu Yakasai, son of the founding member of the Arewa Consultative Forum and elder statesman, Tanko Yakasai, shares his thoughts with KAYODE OYERO on the performance of the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, insecurity and other issues
In February 2021, you were sacked as the Director-General of Media and Communications to the Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, and subsequently arrested by the Department of State Services for asking the President to tackle insecurity or resign. Did you envisage that such drama would greet your tweets?
I didn’t envisage it to that extent, but I have seen the trajectory of the people in the Federal Government and I find it hard to believe that their problem is always with those who are calling them to do what is expected of them. It is the pure responsibility of any government to secure lives and property, but this government has failed to do that and doesn’t want to take responsibility. As we can see today, anyone who asks the government to secure the people of Nigeria, to do its work and to protect Nigerians is its enemy. I have never seen this kind of thing in my life. I had seen the trajectory and I knew there would be consequences at the end of the day.
Even though I am not affected in person as I have not been kidnapped or attacked, but those close to me have. The first time that I was suspended, my younger sister’s husband was killed right in the presence of his family in his own house. When I was arrested and sacked about four months after the suspension, the brother of my elder sister’s husband was kidnapped in his own house in Kaduna. They had to pay ransom to get him out. This is the sorry situation that we are in.
There is nobody, particularly in northern Nigeria, who does not know someone who has been directly or indirectly affected by insecurity. Should we keep quiet and allow these things to continue? This is the seventh year into this administration. We chased the PDP government out because of insecurity and the issue of Boko Haram in the North-East, but today, the North-West has been lost to banditry and kidnapping.
How will you score the Buhari regime’s performance in critical sectors?
The only sector I will give him a pass mark is infrastructure even though I have one or two reservations. For security, it is zero. For the economy, it is zero. For the anti-corruption fight, it is zero. All the things are worse than he met them. He seems to be doing well in infrastructure, but where is the security? Look at the Abuja-Kaduna road; it is the spinal cord of northern Nigeria. You cannot travel in that area in peace. You cannot fly to Kaduna; you cannot go by rail and you cannot go by road. That road is being attacked almost on a daily basis. So, what is the essence of infrastructure without security?
The tweets were basically about the failure of the APC government, a party you were part of. Were you surprised by your initial suspension and eventual sacking by the governor since you have a relationship with him?
I have a cordial relationship with the governor and I thank him for giving me the platform to contribute my quota to the development of my state. I have met him occasionally at public places after my sacking. My sack is understandable because the governor and the President are in the same party and the governor was not comfortable with me attacking the Federal Government. I am not surprised about what he did. I know the vendetta that they were putting against him because I was putting him (Ganduje) in a very uncomfortable position. I have a voice. The same thing we accused the Peoples Democratic Party government of doing, the APC is doing worse than it and I find it hypocritical if we keep quiet.
Your father, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, is an elder statesman, who is not scared of sharing his thoughts. How did he react to your tweets, suspension, sacking and arrest by the DSS?
I thank God that my father gave us a good upbringing and freedom of choice. When I was arrested, he was very upset and disappointed because I didn’t break any law. I was told that the first question he asked was what exactly did I say? They showed him the tweet and he said there was nothing wrong with it. It was not even insulting; it was a factual opinion. He said there was no basis for the arrest and that the security agents were overzealous. He felt it was wrong and it put the government in a bad light.
Many Nigerians are still being held for tweeting honest criticisms against the Buhari regime. Would you say your prompt release was because of your pedigree?
It had nothing to do with me being the son of my father, but the people rose against it. The outrage was not just within the country, but outside the country. I remember there were plans to come out to protest. The government saw that holding me was becoming an issue and fortunately, there was no basis for them to continue to hold on to me. Maybe I was lucky because there was an outrage, but others have yet to gain freedom.
The DSS, in confirming your arrest, said you were ‘being investigated for issues beyond the expression of opinions in the social media as wrongly alleged by sections of the public’. What did the DSS say was your offence?
The major accusation when I was arrested was that I was being used to instigate the people against the government. This was the concern of the security agency. They said I was part of the government and I was being used to instigate people against the government to cause instability. This is one of my problems with the government, a government that I was part and parcel of, a government that I served at the state level, but all these things were not taken into account. Of course, anyone who knows me knows that I don’t work for anybody; I don’t subscribe to anybody’s agenda. I do things out of my own conviction. I think the security agents later realised that there was no basis for my arrest; I did not break any law. When I was arrested in Kano and taken to Abuja, I kept going back to the tweet, the comment that I made, I went over it in my head and I didn’t see anything wrong with it.
Were you assaulted during your detention?
I was not assaulted. I was invited and I honoured their invitation. I was held for four nights – one night in Kano and three nights in Abuja.
Going by your experience, what can you say about the freedom of expression in the country?
It is portraying a very negative view of the government and it is very wrong of the government. The situation is real; people are hurting and unfortunately, whatever the government is doing is not translating into any desired result. Bandits have now become more daring to the extent of blowing up a Nigerian Air Force jet and a train, where the bandits operated for hours before rescue came. Once the desired result is being felt, the same way I scored the government 7/10 in infrastructure, if in terms of security, the government improves, I will score them the same. Unfortunately, every other sector aside from infrastructure is not getting better, including security. The government must realise that whatever it is doing is not getting the desired results and it must do some soul-searching and be critical of itself, assess the situation holistically and proffer solutions.
With all that has happened, do you think the APC at all levels is intolerant to criticisms?
We have seen it in different states, not just by the Federal Government. It is, however, important to criticise within the legal framework, because when you overdo it, you have given them the opportunity to use legal means to hold you down.
Looking at the removal of the Apo Legislative Quarters’ Chief Imam, Sheikh Nuru Khalid, for asking his congregants to be more discerning in the next election, are the citizens under a dictatorial government?
I do not agree with the position of the cleric that Nigerians should not vote again. That is very dangerous because we already have low voter turnout and some fragment of the population cannot be deciding who governs us. The Sheikh has been calling on the government to do the right thing regarding insecurity, but the government has not done so. Maybe he was frustrated and expressed that extreme opinion. However, I totally agree with some of the other issues raised by the Chief Imam. Like he rightly said, almost all the leaders of the mosque are battling insecurity in their home states. The leadership of the mosque overdid things by suspending and sacking him. His dismissal was not by the government but by the mosque leadership.
There seems to be this belief in the North, perhaps it’s a creation of religion that people shouldn’t criticise their leaders in the public, yet the leaders are misbehaving. Is that right and don’t you think it has contributed to the sorry state of Nigeria?
The only problem we are having is that some of these people in northern Nigeria are being selfish, because some of them are benefiting from him (Buhari); some of them are looking at it that he is a northern President and they don’t want to stab him in the back. But we in the North are the biggest losers in terms of the poor leadership that this government is giving to this country. Nigerians must be united and speak with one voice against insecurity, economic deterioration, high illiteracy rate, poverty and all issues bedevilling us as a region. It is hypocritical of us to keep quiet now and only for a southern president to emerge next year and we start shouting the way we did when former President Goodluck Jonathan was in office.
Many people, including President Buhari’s party members are aware of the worsening insecurity and economic indices but they are not talking. Do you think the President is surrounded by sycophants?
He is not only surrounded by sycophants, but also incompetent people and it is just sad that the President can’t do anything about it. He doesn’t question or punish anyone. Look at the Kaduna train bombing, Malam (Nasir) El-Rufai publicly came out to say that he had notified the Nigerian Railway Corporation and security agencies that the night train should be stopped completely but nobody did anything about it until the attack happened. Nobody has been sacked after the attack. The President does not have control of his own government. Who is the boss? I don’t know what is so difficult in the President removing someone he appointed himself; all their failures are not seen as their individual failures, but the failures of the government of which the President is a leader. What is so difficult in taking action against someone you appointed, for goodness sake?
So, he is not only surrounded by sycophants but also by incompetent people and unfortunately, he is not doing anything about it. I can’t seem to wrap my head around the fact that all these reports will be given to him, even if they are not given to him, can’t he see for himself? I know he is someone who watches the news; he watches the NTA and Channels Television. He knows these things. The only problem is why is he not taking any action? This is my problem in particular with this government.
The new APC Chairman, Abdullahi Adamu, said Governor Nasir El-Rufai and the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, should not desecrate the party in the open, and Senator Oluremi Tinubu attacked Senator Smart Adeyemi for speaking up against insecurity in the country, should party loyalty be placed above national interest?
This is one of my problems with the government of Buhari and this is what I personally experienced when I was in the APC. Behind the scene, the same complaints that I have today, even in the Villa, we have people with the same complaints but unfortunately, if there are no results, you have to get to a point where things must be said objectively. When the Kaduna train was attacked, you could see the frustration of Amaechi and El-Rufai that their recommendations were not implemented. The point I am trying to make is that members of this government get to a point where they are fed up of complaining behind the scenes and just let out their frustrations in public.
Amaechi and El-Rufai’s frustrations were similar to mine. I had expressed them behind closed doors but nothing was done. National interest should be paramount and not party interest, because a day will come, whether in this world or in the world after, where we all stand and account for all our deeds. So, you better go with your conscience.
There are people who believe that the President is not as bad and dictatorial as being portrayed, but that some of the people who work for him or are loyal to him are mere sycophants and hypocrites. Do you agree with that?
My problem with him (Buhari) is that he is more or less inactive; he doesn’t caution his people and he is not firm with his appointees. Insubordination and all of these things are happening while the President is there and he is not taking any action. I think this is one of the biggest flaws of his person – inability to intervene and take action. Whether he is dictatorial or not, I don’t know; I have not worked directly with him, but I know he hardly takes actions and intervenes in serious situations.
Do you have any regrets defending Ganduje during his ‘dollargate’ ordeal?
I have zero regrets in life. I learn from the lessons that life has thrown at me and move on. I learnt lessons from the incident, but I do not have any regrets. I learnt to always stand by what I believe in and look at the issues critically and access them.
Nigeria is said to be in a mess and the National Leader of the APC, Bola Tinubu, attested to this in Kaduna when he said Nigeria was bleeding. What do you think should influence people’s choice for the presidency in 2023?
Number one is character. For me personally, I think the most important criterion we should look at in selecting the next leader of this country is character, because you can be competent and intelligent, but if you don’t have character, it is zero. The second one is someone who is nationalistic. I don’t want a regional President, who is not accepted by all Nigerians. Also, I want someone with the ability to assemble the right team. This is one of the major problems with President Muhammadu Buhari; his inability to assemble a team, whether it is the right one or the wrong one. In 2015, it took him six months to even appoint ministers and we were expecting angels from heaven, but we ended up with what we had at that time and a lot of them are still the ones in office despite their inability to deliver.
The ability to assemble the right team is very important and crucial in electing the next President in this country. I also want someone with a blueprint; that is the fourth quality. I am talking from experience. President Muhammadu Buhari was focused on winning the election, unfortunately, he didn’t have any blueprint and he came into office and they are playing sarcasm with us; try this policy it doesn’t work, try the next one, that is what they are doing. So, I want someone with a blueprint. And the last one is for the parties to put aside selfish interests and ensure that they present candidates with these qualities.