Barrister Ibrahim Birma is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with CHARLES AIDOGHIE, he speaks on sundry national issues and challenges facing the ruling party.
How would you appraise the efforts of the federal government in curtailing general insecurity and insurgency in your home state of Borno?
Compared to before, it is only a matter of the depth of insecurity now. But generally it is still very prevailing but the ability to move and the fact that it isn’t visibly clear whether we have the local government freed as they claim but at least, the movement is better than before, except that like in Maiduguri now going to Maiduguri you can only access it through Damaturu, through Biu- Gombe -Damaturu, although partially.
The others are there but not too impressive but it is better than before. Then Maiduguri on the outskirts, if you go by 2, 3 kilometers, it isn’t comfortable. But that one it is the farming populace that has the heat of it.
The claim that no local government or area in Borno state is under the control of insurgents, how valid is it?
It isn’t valid, but there is also no local government that they freely move around and ransack. In all the local governments, the security outfits are there to monitor and control but they also can’t sleep with two eyes closed. It is that bad but they are in charge of these local governments unlike before, except that here and there, the insurgents still make an inroad into it.
What is your assessment of the presidential election which the opposition PDP is contesting in court. Will you say it was free and fair?
Elections, for you to claim free and fair in crystal level isn’t feasible. We have had elections but you only interfere with elections in an area that you are still very comfortable. You don’t go and rig in an area that you aren’t comfortable. So, the rigging is more pronounced for those that are in charge or in control of an area. But basically by Nigerian standard, it isn’t a bad election. It isn’t.
By Nigerian standard, how do you mean?
Here in Nigeria, you know what I mean by Nigerian standard. There is nothing that is near perfection but we will go through it. But there is nothing that is perfect in Nigeria.
But the PDP has alleged selective application of the rules of election; that for instance, INEC was very strict in demanding for use of Permanent Voter Cards in the southern part of the country, compared to the North. Did you observe that?
That’s very true. Because in the North, there are some places that it hasn’t been even used because attempt to use it hasn’t worked so naturally it means you can’t count on that again, because when I went to vote in Biu, three times it didn’t work, they asked for my name, and based on the voter card, they went to register and they obliged me to vote.
So, in that type of situation, anybody can come and vote. If it were PVC, definitely you can’t do it twice but you can’t even circumvent it and there was no rule which stopped people from voting otherwise than by PVC. So that’s the issue.
But I believe that the level of preparation also wasn’t quite tidy. Left for me, PVCs machines should have been serviced and awaiting only elections and all these materials, in Nigeria we have 36 states, almost all of them have airports; almost all of them have Central Bank of Nigeria vaults. So, left for me, sensitive election materials should have been transported to CBN vaults in all these 36 states, used in the same method of transporting cash, so that once they are deposited there at the appropriate time they will only redistribute it to the local government. But this wasn’t done, most of the people that were involved in the INEC elections were largely administrators and none of therm is a logistics person. So they need to beef up their logistics department, it makes it easier.
Do you share the opinion of those who argue that INEC appears too unwieldy and should be decentralized?
No, you don’t have to unbundle, because unbundling it will make autonomy an issue, whereby unbundled unit will say they won’t take directive from INEC as a body. But INEC, let it strengthen its units that are involved in the physical and technical angles of it.
There were overwhelming votes for APC in the presidential election in the North but suddenly, the voting pattern changed during the governorship. We saw what happened in Adamawa, Bauchi, Kano, Sokoto. What informed that voting pattern?
The president has his own character credibility that has earned him a lot of respect with the electorate. Same can’t be said of some of these governors. So, wherever you see that there were issues with the governors clearly before then they were build up.
Like Adamawa that you are talking about, a lot of people agree that he has done a lot of physical development more than all his predecessors but in his own relationship with people, he seems or wants to accommodate everybody which isn’t possible. There are some situations in position of authority that what isn’t feasible can’t be done but you better say it to that person than to think that you want to carry him along. You may not be able to satisfy human being.
The one of Bauchi, before then if you see the senators, the House of Representatives members like Dogara and what have you, had consistent running battle with the governor so much so that at the end of it you know that APC as a party is broken in Bauchi.
In Sokoto, it isn’t that Tambuwal is good or bad but at least he has been in the forefront and most of these states, their own perception of governance is the one that will easily relate with them. They see the Presidency as too far, it is governance at the national level. But as far as they are concerned with these states, it is the person who has shown ability, capacity or semblance of who will do it for them they will choose and it is even good for political development in Nigeria. Irrespective of party, if you don’t perform, you shouldn’t be elected.
Even the APC itself and outside it, there is the observation that the rallying point driving it or its best asset is President Buhari. It has even been predicted that it will certainly run into serious credibility challenge in a post-Buhari administration. Do you share that belief?
It is a very correct assessment. At times, it baffles me that people say this is PDP, this is APC. There are situations that the APC as of today is largely populated by people from PDP, because of the cross carpeting at a point in time is not in the interest or elecotrate . Some for bandwagon effect, some for their own personal reasons.
But Buhari on his own part has decided not to interfere into the political calculations of this country. If he had delved into that, he has enough credibility but not the knowledge of intricate politics and people would have listened to him. But he allowed it to go its own way so people had a field day but post 2023 if the same attitude continues, he isn’t there as a president and he doesn’t have the character of interfering in the political process. So it is now going to be woven around other factors.
But basically in any given society, if you want practical democratic society, if you want political progress, I would want us to weave our aspirations, our convictions, our belief around institutions, rather than around individuals. Institutions can sustain themselves, they can outlast us but individuals, whether by forces or nature or whatever, they give way. So we should learn to build our democratic ideals around institutions like the political party.
When Buhari insulates himself from the running of the party, would you call that a virtue or good political character, bearing in mind the contending forces?
Whether insulating himself or keeping away himself at least, he hasn’t ventured to call the party at critical point into order, except when there is an overwhelming voice that he has to interfere, otherwise he isn’t the kind of person that will wake up in the morning and say, “Administrative secretary or party secretary, what is happening?” No, he isn’t that type of person. This is what is visible to every concerned onlooker.
Your party faithful have identified governors in one camp and certain party leaders in another camp, as the ones involved in power tussle for the party structures and its statutory organs. Buhari appears indifferent?
It isn’t the right thing to do, he should have taken a definite position because if you look at the Nigerian political society, the governors whether as former governors, serving governors, they create so much powers around themselves. Now, these powers is being whittled down. If you look at when the president came, unlike in previous dispensations, all the governors in their various states will send a list of names to the president, amongst which he should choose a minister. This isn’t done today: the president doesn’t interferes in their running of affairs neither does he expect them to also interfere into his running of the Presidency. In fact, they can’t even interfere. He has asked them to go and do their own constitutional roles as it pertains to the states.
If the president can now find a mean of working with the national assembly or by issuing executive orders that even the local government grant should go to local government at that tier of government, directly without this joint account issue, Nigeria would have been better off but unfortunately it isn’t yet being done.
We are very early, yet to serve the second year term maybe he would do it around that time. That will save a lot of things but the president if he had decided not to interfere in the political process, let him start interfering in some of these governance issues.
The power tussle in the National Assembly. The APC not only zoned Senate Presidency and Speakership to certain zones but went further to micro zone to certain individuals. Is that in order?
Left for me as a person, zoning in whatever form discourages competition and if there is no competition, there is no competitiveness and there is no quality but that’s a generalized form.
Within the Nigerian context, there are so many segments of the society, whether political or social, gender or what have you that people believe they should be carried along. So to that extent, zoning should be allowed as a matter of principle but not to be enshrined in any document. So that once we outgrow it, it will naturally fizzle away. And like I said earlier, I want us to build the democratic ideals, weave it around institutions and not on individuals.
So the party can zone the leadership of the national assembly to the North east. There is nothing bad in it but for them to mention a particular beneficiary of that arrangement, I don’t think that is fair, I don’t think that’s right, because by the Constitution, it is members of the national assembly, irrespective of their own party platforms that brought them to the assembly that will now choose leadership for the party and not by outside forces.