INTERVIEW: North Supported South-East For President In 1998—ACF

– Says North With Sheikh Gumi On Bandits

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The Secretary General of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Murtala Aliyu, has claimed that the northern political establishment supported late Dr Alex Ekweme for the presidential ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party in 1998, but the military elite did not allow it materialize.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with THE WHISTLER, the former minister of state for power said all northern delegates to the Jos Convention of the PDP were ready to vote for Ekweme before ex-military generals moved in to turn it in favour of Olusegun Obasanjo, also a retired military head of state.

Obasanjo went on to win the presidential election in 1999 after defeating his closest rival, Chief Olu Falae, who contested on the joint platform of the Alliance for Democracy and the All People’s Party.

Aliyu, who was reacting to a question on how the north views the South-East’s demand for presidency in 2023, said the north is only concerned about having the right candidate.

He said, “In 1998 to 1999, during the transition from the military to the civil government, at the convention of the PDP in Jos, almost all the northern delegates were behind Alex EKwueme, who was an Igbo man. It was the military guys that assisted or cajoled the delegates to go towards Obasanjo for reasons best known to them.

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“So, it’s not as if the north is aversed to anybody from other zones. If you recall at that time, the whole north agreed to step down to allow southern candidates battle for the presidency. But that was a transition period.

“Now democracy is getting grounded, you don’t become president by either wish or by decreeing that I must be. I think people should get out of there cocoon, go round the country and convince people on why they should be trusted with the leadership of the country, on why they should be voted for.

“I don’t think the north is aversed to any Igbo presidency, no. But you must go out and convince people that you’re a Nigerian and that you will be fair. That’s all. So I don’t think people will just sit down and agree that the presidency will be zoned to this side or that side. No, that won’t happen.

”At the end of the day, I think what is important is people should get out and look for support around the country. I’m not sure that this idea of blackmail will work. It won’t.”

The northern leader expressed regrets that some people are linking the survival of the country to which zone the next president would come from, adding that it is politicians who’re pushing the narrative for their own selfish interests.

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He said Nigerians, especially northerners, would vote any good presidential candidate regardless of where he comes from, and cited the case of late Moshood Abiola (Yoruba) who defeated Bashir Tofa (Hausa) in Kano during the 1993 presidential election. Abiola was the presumed winner of the election which was annulled by the military regime of Ibrahim Babangida.

The ACF chieftain urged Nigerians to be concerned about who will fix the country rather than which zone would produce the president, adding that “no part of Nigeria will be better than the whole.”

Aliyu also spoke on Sheikh Ahmad Gumi and his alleged romance with bandits.

He said the ACF met Gumi to find out what he was doing with bandits and after listening to him, the organization expressed support for his action.

Speaking on Gumi he said,  “We have met with Sheikh Gumi to find out what he was trying to achieve. And, I think his approach is that there are issues that made these people bandits, and those issues must be addressed. Like they have no stake in the country, nobody takes care of them, no schools for them, no hospitals for them, nobody supports their economy and even when we give support to agriculture, nobody thinks of livestock.

“So these are some of the challenges that Sheikh Gumi says the government should try to address while also addressing the violence. So Gumi is saying that while we are scaling down the violent section of the banditry, we should also address the other aspects to discourage further recruitment. He said because the bandits are not educated and they are quite numerous in number. They are used to hardship, and they are in the bush.

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“So, he’s saying that just killing those in the frontline doesn’t make much sense because there’s a big army of recruits that they can now catch on. Gumi is saying that, while addressing the other aspects of the violence, please try and address the soft aspects too. And in that regards, we are on the same page with him. “

He said however, the Federal Government is not thinking alone that line and prefers only the military solution.

He added that the designation of bandits as terrorists has made Gumi to withdraw from negotiations with the bandits and “allow government to handle it.”

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