Senator Ahmed Sani Yarima, a former governor of Zamfara State and three-term senator in this interview spoke on why President Buhari would not endorse the APC’s National Leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s presidential bid in 2023, the call for sack of Oshiomhole, his life outside office and his presidential ambition, among others.
For two decades, you occupied elective positions from 1999 to 2019. You were a governor for eight years and a senator for 12 years. How is life outside the office?
Well, it is a very good situation for me. I have been busy throughout. Even before I became governor, I was a permanent secretary in the civil service. I had worked with the CBN. I was used to waking up very early and going to work and coming back very late. So, when I became a governor, it became worse. I closed very, very late. And in the senate, it was much better, but there is no much difference between the two.
Sir, what do you miss the most from these positions?
Interaction with the people. I am used to meeting people every time, talking with them, serving the people but now I am much freer. I meet people less. Maybe when I start politicking, it will be the same again. But now, I miss the interactions.
But I am still interacting with people, but it is much more less than before because I am back to school. I go to school from Mondays to Thursdays. I leave home 12 noon and return home by 4:30pm but I still see people, they visit me. You know people have started making move for me to campaign for the presidency. People are asking me to come and contest and so on and so forth.
Which school are you now?
I attend an international school for Arabic studies for a course in Islamic Studies to enable me know more about my religion.
What do you want to know more?
I am learning Arabic as a language and the Qur’an. For Arabic language; I would love to be able to read Islamic books in Arabic. You see, we that have concentrated all our education in the western education, would hardly see Arabic book and read it and understand what it says. So, we are relying on the interpretation of other people and I believe that every Muslim should make effort to be able to interpret his Qur’an, to be able to interpret religious books so that you are not misguided by other people. If you are relying on people’s interpretations, you will be hearing people talking things that are not properly said. The way they will say it will be much more different from how you would understand it if you had read it yourself.
In 2007, after the expiration of your second term, you moved to the senate and subsequently other governors have done same. Will you say the senate is a retirement home of ex-governors?
I think it’s turning to be one. In 1999, the calibre of the people that were elected as senators has changed. Now we have former ministers, former governors and others so it is becoming a position that was expected of it. It is now taking shape. It is supposed to be an assembly of elders’ statesmen and that is what is happening now. You can see now, former ministers, former governors, many senior citizens are going there. Unlike at the beginning when we were struggling to see who we were going to support to go to the senate.
Is it a retirement home?
It is supposed to be so, just like the upper house of parliament in the UK and the senate in the US. As a governor, you are virtually working 24 hours with very few hours to rest and sleep, but in the senate, you go by 10 to 11am and by 2pm you are back home. So, law making cannot be compared with the executive assignment of governance.
What is your position on the call that the parliament should be part-time and the number of lawmakers be reduced?
You see, compared to the population of Nigeria, there are over 200 million people; I think the number of the parliamentarians both in the House of Representatives and the senate is adequate. It should not be reduced neither should it be increased. I think the number is adequate as far as Nigeria is concerned. There are only 3 senators representing each state. And Zamfara has about 7 million people and it is one House of Representatives member per million because we have only 7 reps. So, I think the population is adequate.
Should it be part time?
No, I think it should be full time. They are still like part time now. You are required to sit a number of days in a year. You have a number of days that you must sit in a year. It is not compulsory that you must sit all through the 365 days.
President Muhammadu Buhari represented by the Information Minister, Lai Mohammed was quoted as saying Nigerians think that lawmakers are guzzling huge amount of money and doing nothing, what is your take on this?
It is because they don’t know what is obtainable in the National Assembly. Senators receive salaries almost equivalent to a governor – that is salary. And the House of Representatives members are receiving much less. The running cost they are looking at is necessary. If you don’t have running cost, how do you move around? You are supposed to attend meetings; you are supposed to go for oversight and you have to visit your constituencies. So, the allowances that are given to National Assembly members are not too much
The incumbent president is from the North-West like yourself. Why do you want to seek for the presidency?
Because I am a Nigerian. I don’t believe in regionalism, saying that this man is from this side or that. Let’s have the best people who have much more better things to offer to Nigerians. Everybody should come up with what they want to do for Nigerians and how they want to move Nigeria forward. The contributions you want to make and such a person should be assessed by Nigerians whether he or she should be elected or not. It is not from where you come from and not your religion. As far as I am concerned, you should look at individuals as Nigerians otherwise we should ask for rotation of presidency in the constitution. If we are looking at regions, North-West has done, let’s go to South-South; which means anybody whether he is good or not but once determined by that zone should be elected. If it is not determined by constitutional arrangement, every Nigerian should aspire to be in elective position of government.
There are insinuations that President Buhari signed a pact with the National Leader of your party (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, to hand over to him in 2023. How do you intend to tackle this?
I don’t think Nigeria belongs to any of them and I don’t think anyone in any position can determine what Nigeria should have. Politics is about election – for people to decide what they want. So it is the majority of the people that will determine who they want. If he signed an agreement with Asiwaju, that agreement cannot be implemented even in getting the ticket. It cannot guarantee Asiwaju a ticket. For example, the president has announced and the party has decided that our primary is going to be direct – just like we elected Mr. President during the primaries of the last general elections. Will he direct everybody to go and vote for Asiwaju? Because, I believe it is going to be a free and fair election, agreement or no agreement is a political statement, but I don’t think that is possible because I don’t think that the Buhari that I know will sign any (such) agreement. He knows that he doesn’t have the powers and the authority to hand over power to whomever he so wishes. He said it is going to be free and fair; in fact, he even said it in the open that he doesn’t have any candidate. So, these are just speculations.
Should Buhari decide to present a candidate, are you going to challenge that?
I have told you, Buhari has already said he doesn’t have a candidate and that nobody should even use his name. He has already said his mind.
Do you have the popularity and resources to defeat Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu should he choose to run?
On capacity, I believe that I have the energy, I have the knowledge and I have the experience. And as for resources, you don’t look at the resources for going for a position. Once I have something to move around for the campaigns, I think I can do it. The resources that are required are contributions from every citizen of Nigeria (who are in the party) because it is the party that will sponsor a candidate. It is not the candidate that will sponsor a party. So you don’t need so much resource to contest. I was governor, I had no N20million when I started campaigning for governor. And I became governor by the grace of God. It is God himself that will decide. What you need is to have good intentions.
I am not going for president to be rich. I am not going for the presidency to be in a position of superiority. It is a matter of service.
One thing that people will quickly remember about you was the introduction of the Sharia legal system in Zamfara under your administration. Are you going to do same at the national level if elected as president?
See, I did Sharia under the Nigerian constitution. I prepared a bill, sent it to state assembly and the state assembly passed it into law because we have a homogenous society and I did it with consultations with the Christians. I had a meeting with Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Zamfara State chapter and we had an understanding and the law was mainly for Muslims. So, at the national level, we have the House of Representatives and the Senate, if I can send my bill for Sharia and it is passed by the National Assembly, so be it. I am a Muslim, I want to live and die as a Muslim. And I want to practice my religion as provided for in the constitution. So, the issue of Sharia is being misunderstood and misinterpreted.
There is no compulsion in religion. The constitution of Nigeria is what is being operated and that is what I will tell people. At least, I have been in the senate and I would have proposed a bill to introduce Sharia, but I know that is not possible. There is already Sharia in Nigerian constitution. What I did was to implement what is in the constitution at the state level.I don’t need to say I want to do the Sharia programme at the national level, it is not possible.
Do you see the APC surviving post-President Buhari?
The APC is going to survive (post-Buhari) unless there is a merger between the APC and another party and they decided to change the name just like they did for ACN, ANPP and others. But the APC will outlive Buhari. You see, people may leave and form another party; it’s a tradition in politics. So many people where in the PDP before but today, they are in the APC and some who were in the APC are now in the PDP. It is where you think your interest will be most covered or achieved that you go. If it’s not going to be achieved in the APC you will leave and join another party. But what I believe is that with Buhari’s leadership, with his decisions to ensure that transparency would be adopted in terms of primary elections, I am sure whoever that has the capacity and is supported by the people , will enjoy the party’s support.
Talking about transparency in the primary, what comes to mind is that of Zamfara. Are you satisfied with the way President Buhari managed the APC crisis in the state?
I’m hundred per cent (satisfied).
Because, the decisions of the party was that everybody should go back home and there should be direct or indirect primaries but in Zamfara, because of the crises between the leadership of the state and the headquarters of the party, primaries could not hold and President Buhari insisted that primaries must hold. So, at the end of the day, primaries could not hold because of that crisis and that was what brought us to where we are.
Then who do you blame, yourself as a party leader or the president?
I am not the leader of the party. The governors are the leaders of the party in their states. Every governor is the leader of the party in his state. Today, if the governor of Zamfara moves to the APC, he will be the leader of the APC in Zamfara State, not me. I am an elder statesman in the party but the party leader is with the president at the national level and in every state, the governor.
You met the president at the peak of the crisis, what did you tell him and what was his position?
I tried to appeal to him to intervene. Myself, alongside Wamakko, a former governor of Sokoto and Aliero, a former governor of Kebbi went and appealed to him to intervene to make sure that there is a primary but the primaries could not hold. We appealed to him to talk to the chairman and the governor so that the two of them can agree so that primary election could hold but it did not happen.
The former governor of Zamfara, Yari is very close to you; he is one of your political godsons, why didn’t you talk to him to do it the way the president wanted?
You see, he was the governor. If you will recall, I had problem with the former governor who was my deputy for eight years. And I learnt a lesson from there. I didn’t direct him; I never said to him, ‘I want you to do this’. All the same, we still had problems. But I did not want Nigerians to blame me. I supported him to become governor and I pulled out. I only advise him. And I did advised him. And when I advise him, I don’t do that in public. If he takes it, good and if he doesn’t take it, good too.
Do you have any regret that your party lost Zamfara State partly due to the person you supported?
They are all my people. The current governor was my commissioner. He was in the APP with me; he contested for local government election as chairman and lost. I made him commissioner of Local government affairs; he was to oversee the candidate that he lost to, and then, he left us when the former governor wanted to move to the PDP and now he became governor. In all his speeches, he recognizes my position as his former boss and so I too will continue to recognise him. In fact, God has given him the power and the position. Whoever becomes the governor of Zamfara after the election, I will support him. After election, I don’t care about party any more. It is only when election comes that I will say let me support somebody who is in my party, but once the election is over, Nigerians should support whoever is there so that he will deliver the services.
Is there any plan for the current Zamfara governor to decamp to APC?
Most likely, yes. You will not be surprised if he moves. Yes. We are working and we are talking. Every politicians tries to get more people to their party especially governors. If I can have governors with me, the party will be better off.
How far have you gone in this regard?
I think we have gone very far.
So very soon he is going to decamp?
Very soon, yes.
Isn’t it an irony that while you are saying he is going to decamp to the APC, your foot soldiers in local government are decamping to the governor’s party, PDP?
This is politics. You would not understand what is happening. He will not just move in and not know who is with him. But now, if they move and he moves with them, they are his foot soldiers. Every politician wants to be sure that this man or this politician is with me.
Where will Yari be in all this?
He will join. He will continue as APC member unless he wants to leave.
Are APC’s members being persecuted by Governor Matawalle?
I don’t know what is really happening. In politics, there are a lot of things you can read and not understand until you know what the background information of everything is. And I have not gone to look at that side because I believe that it is an internal issue, that I should not bother myself. Everybody today in Zamfara respects me and I try to keep that respect by not involving myself in issues that are not very clear to me.
What is your position regarding the repeal of the pension law for ex-governors in Zamfara?
I support it. I believe that the constitution of Nigeria empowered the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission to come up with something that will be given to governors even out of office. And it is in that regard that former Governor Yari decided to monetize the issue of education of our children after office, the issue of medical facilities and services provided for N10, 000,000. Initially, it was N5, 000,000 before he left and changed it to N10, 000,000. And this governor now felt that is not good. And so, it was determined by law and it is now removed by law. So whatever law provides for is what one should expect.
How will you compare Yari’s administration with that of Matawalle?
Well, every one of them has done his own best. Yari has done very well and I believe Matawalle is doing his best too.
The APC has been moving from one crisis to the other almost in all states, thus, the calls for Oshiomhole’s removal. Are you in support of this?
See, I believe in constitutionalism. Any effort to remove leadership unconstitutionally, I will not be with it. But you see, anybody who wants Oshiomhole to go should follow the constitutional procedures. Talking loud and shouting is not the best. You cannot just think that people say I don’t want this man, he should be removed. It is just like people who will be demonstrating to say that the governor should go or the president should go or the state assembly members should go. Oshiomhole was duly elected by the delegates of the party and there is a procedure clearly stipulated in the constitution for removal of national chairman.
You led clerics to pray for late President Umaru Yar’Adua, you did same for Jonathan but you have not done same for President Buhari. Why?
How did you know that I didn’t do it? You see sometimes, some people like publicity; some do not want publicity. Buhari is not that kind of person. But we are praying for him. There is no day I say my prayers without praying for him. There is no day I interact with Ulamas (clerics) that I don’t ask them to pray for Buhari. There are so many methods of praying for people. If you are doing it between you and God, you don’t have to publicize it.
How will you assess president Buhari in the area of security?
Personally, I believe he is doing his best and he has done very well. During Jonathan’s era, Boko Haram had reached Abuja. They bombed the UN building. Where are they now? They are confined to Borno State.
Insurgency is not an easy thing that you can just wake up one morning and take over. I believe the service chiefs are doing their best. The service chiefs are taking this fight like a personal fight. I know what is happening but some people don’t know. You can see the insurgency is now underground. But before, they were not underground; bombs everywhere.
How is your poultry farm?
My poultry farm is doing very well. I started with 5000 layers in 2003 which I purchased from Obasanjo’s farm. I ventured into it based on advice from Obasanjo and late Governor Kure (Niger State). As I am talking to you, I have the capacity of over 480,000 layers and in stock, I have 450,000 layers. I am producing not less than 9000 crates of eggs every day. Thank God I have something doing apart from my school and political life.
How do you market them?
We have so many dealers. The demand is more than supply.
How far is your contract with the Zamfara State government on the supply of eggs?
It has been there even before Yari and it is still there. Some people thought I’m selling a crate of eggs for N10, 000. It is not. Each crate goes for N1, 000. Dealers take a crate between N850 and N900. So, it only N100 that we add for transportation to schools.