Why Nigeria is in mess – Former military ruler, General Abdulsalami Abubakar


Following the attainment of 25 years of unbroken democracy in the country, former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, has said he has no regrets handing over the reins of governance to a democratically elected government in 1999.

The Chairman, National Peace Committee, who spoke exclusively with our correspondent in Abuja, looked back with nostalgia on how democracy has fared in the country, expressing satisfaction with the practice in the country, reports Sunday Sun.

General Abubakar, however, said that though there are some drawbacks, but when compared 1999 and today, democracy has really made advances in the country.

Abubakar who has been making regional interventions in the area of democratic practice, particularly in the West African sub-region, stated that yes, Nigeria is not yet there, “but we have come a long way since 1999.”

He stated that there was nothing to worry about on the level of the practice of democracy in the country as world political situation is causing upheaval. Excerpt:

Let me begin by asking you, how you are faring under retirement?

Well, Alhamdulillah, we thank God, so far, so good, the Chairman has been very nice and I have a lot of time with my grandchildren. We thank God.

Many people are still wondering how you are getting your energy to move around. How do you keep going?

As a military man, you know, we just have to weather the storm whether we like it or not. Well, I am struggling and I thank God that despite my age, I am still able to move as much as I want.

Don’t you think it is time for you to sit back and have some rest, having achieved so much in life?

You know sometimes when you are very active and during military regime, during my service years, which have been very active for me, and so, I feel delighted in moving. When I sit down and say I am going to relax, I would succumb, you know age is catching up with us and if you don’t do any exercise, you find yourself in a different position.

What is your daily routine like because you are approaching 82 next month?

We thank God. The daily routine is, you know, as much as possible, do a little bit of exercise in the morning as much as somebody can and then, you will face the day. You will receive people, you will receive your relations and relatives and so on.

Do you still visit the farm?

I have reduced going to the farm as the children have now taken over the farm. It is not easy. Once in a while, I go to the farm.

It is 25 years since you handed over to a democratically elected government. How do you feel 25 years after because people are still referring to our democracy as nascent?

Well, we thank God and I am very happy that it is now 25 years ago I handed over. And we thank God that Nigerians and Nigeria are enjoying the dividends of democracy. We are not yet there, but we have come a long way since 1999. The only drawback we have in the system is people still sell their votes and they do all types of things, they allow the politicians to use them in ballot box snatching here and there – unnecessary things that we should have overcome at this age. But gradually and thankfully, yes, Nigerians are gradually coming out of this menace, they are realising that their vote counts and they are making sure that their vote counts. Unfortunately, I still maintain, there are some very few people who abuse the process and they allow their votes to be bought. And if they are buying these votes, certainly they cannot be called to be accountable, the people who are being so elected.

Do you see us being at par with what happens in the United States and Europe soon where their votes count?

We will be deceiving ourselves if we think in 25 years you can catch up with somebody who has been practising democracy for the last 200 years. Yes, our hope is to be there, but even if you look at the politics now all over the world, it is messy. See right now what is going on in America, which is the basis of our democracy. You can see in the last election they had, right from the leadership of the country, the president is being accused of tampering with election result. And also, you have seen what has happened in America where within three, six months, they have so many prime ministers because of the murky field politically. And if I follow the news very well, in July, they are going to have general election. So, you can see politics all over the world is a murky affair, from America, the United States, in UK (United Kingdom). When I mean the Americas, I mean the Latin America and so on. Is it India? Is it the Philippine? Is it Australia? Is it New Zealand? Is it South Africa? The whole world political situation is causing upheaval.

But is this the democracy you envisaged when you were handing over 25 years ago?

You know democracy is a continuous process. You can’t say this is democracy. When you describe democracy, you are talking of government of the people, for the people and by the people. Yes, we are not yet there. There are some drawbacks, but compared to 1999 to today, I will say democracy has really made advances in Nigeria.

So, you have no regret handing over?

Not at all! Not at all! Not at all! I am happy with what is going on. Yes, everything is not perfect, but here we are today, celebrating 25 years of unbroken democracy.

You have been involved in regional interventions. How will you compare Nigeria with other countries in the region in terms of democratic practice?

Well, we have to thank God. Nigeria, we make a lot of noise, but in the long run, each and everyone thinks about Nigeria. Despite the fact that yes, there are political violence, there is arson and so on, but at a stage, Nigeria holds, sits back, thinks and comes out with a solution to maintain our integrity.

In some countries in West Africa, in our region, the military have taken over. Having handed over power to a democratically elected government in Nigeria, is that the right thing to do?

You see, whatever happens, it must be the political field that allows any military man to take over. When you are in government and there is no equity and justice, certainly this brings problem. You have a political party and even in the political party one belongs to, there is no democracy. So, certainly, you will expect some quivers, some quarrels to come out and if they are not handled amicably, certainly, this will result to military takeover. Remember there is no military man that takes over without the connivance and assistance of politicians and civilians.

From 1999 till now, we have seen Obasanjo as our president, the late President Yar’Adua, Jonathan, Buhari and now, Tinubu. How will you rate them individually?

Every leader, you know, has his good points and has some weaknesses. So, all of them, I can say, they did their best and they have made mistakes here and there. But like I say, it is a learning process. I hope the current President Tinubu who is in power, will learn from the mistakes the past leaders have made. I am not saying that I didn’t make mistakes; of course, there are lots of mistakes. Every leader does. It behoves on the current president to look at the history of the country to see where mistakes have been made and he tries to correct those mistakes and also does his own the way he thinks the country should be governed.

President Tinubu is one year in office. In the last one year, it appears Nigerians have suffered more than ever before. What advice will you offer Tinubu in order to ameliorate the sufferings of Nigerians?

I will say President Tinubu has inherited a very difficult situation. I compare him to the time I took over Nigeria. We had political problems that were very, very chaotic. Now, President Tinubu has taken over the country where it is struggling with insecurity, the economy of the country has gone down, our main foreign exchange earner which is the crude oil we have is in a lot of problems; the insurgents in the area where the oil is being produced are restless and are sabotaging the operation of the NNPC and also, you can hear it and see how our security agencies are fighting people in that area for setting up illegal refineries. So, I really know that President Tinubu has really inherited a lot of problems in Nigeria. But so far, so good, he was forced to take some hard decisions and I am glad that some of the decisions he took are really biting, but all the same, they are necessary for a leader who thinks for his country and for a leader who wants to better the country. Leading people is not easy. In one way or the other, you have to take decisions. There is a book in those days, John Ploughman’s Talk (authored by Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, an English Particular Baptist Preacher), during our era. It says “Do not be all sugar, otherwise, the world will suck you in and do not be all bitter, otherwise, the world will spit you out.” This is the position President Tinubu finds himself. My prayer is that God continues to give him good health and the wisdom to weather the storm of leading our country.

In that case, what advice do you have for Nigerians?

Well, for Nigerians, let’s keep hope alive. There are a lot of problems like insurgency and insecurity, there is economic hardship and you can go on, the list is inexhaustible, but we shall keep hope alive and try as much as possible, try to see what we can do to better our country. Uplifting Nigeria is not the only responsibility for the government, but every one of us has a role to play. Let’s hope we play that role. Yes, I know it is a difficult situation we find ourselves and for me to ask Nigerians to tighten their belt, I know it will not be realistic. The belt has been tightened and there is no more hole to tight the belt.

But I have some hope. We are getting somewhere.

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