In this interview with GEORGE AGBA, the interim national chairman of the National Committee of Buhari Support Groups (NCBSG), Senator Abu Ibrahim (APC, Katsina South), presents a bigger picture of the support groups beyond the conclusion, by some Nigerians, that they are all about President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2019 ambition.
What is actually the main intent of the Buhari Support Groups?
As you know, President Buhari was elected as the president in 2015 and there were so many support groups that were working for him then. The support groups immensely helped the president and the APC win the general poll. Later, the government was formed and somehow, the support groups were relegated. Not much was heard about them again and some of us started wondering what was going on with the groups. We felt people should realise that once they vote, they must wait and ensure that their votes count.
I am one of those thinking seriously because I have been with President Buhari since he started politics in 2003. Then, I was in the Senate and I also knew Buhari since secondary school. He was my house captain when I was in form one. So, we knew ourselves for a very long time. I know his main supporters, the main persons handling his political affairs. Then I started thinking of what to do about these groups. With the consent of Buhari himself, we compiled a list of names of organisations and we had about 198 different groups on our list. What bothered us next was how we could manage these groups with their respective independent structures. That is what brought the idea of National Committee on Buhari Support Groups. The idea is to help these groups get a unified identity to make sure that they are known, to make sure that at least Mr President acknowledges their existence and even thanks them.
But don’t you think keen observers of political activities in Nigeria will interpret it to mean that you have started campaigning for the president ahead of 2019?
Well, personally my aim is not necessarily that. I realise that you cannot start afresh; even if you want to do 2019 and you let these organisations die, it will be very difficult. I go outside a lot; at the local level, there is murmuring that they have pushed them aside. Obviously, it got me convinced that we must, at least, bring them to the fold, we must be able to communicate with them and it will be easier for us if we want 2019. It will be easier for APC itself because these groups form strong local content. Personally, that’s the main reason- to reinvigorate these groups. If you want to use them, it will be easier but if we had allowed them to die, it would have been a very difficult task for us to do 2019.
But you are aware that many of them are personally attached to Buhari as a person and not APC as a party?
We gave them the name Buhari and whatever we do, we a get message from Buhari to them. Why we are doing so is because if we communicate with the local people, it will be easier for us to get ideas. We have these groups massively spread all over the country and some of them are even based in the local governments. So, if we can mobilise them into a coherent unit, it will be easier for the government to reach the grassroots. Let’s say if Buhari is to contest, it will be easier for him if he wants to but that is why I said ‘if’ because I am not saying that he will.
Why I am asking these questions is because whenever people hear of support groups, what comes to mind is election?
These groups have been meeting for almost a year now. If at all Buhari is not seeking reelection, he would, at least, have someone who will take over from him to continue his policies.
How are the groups being funded?
The funding, to me, is not very important but what is important is that no government money comes here. We do our thing, we help ourselves, raise funds by ourselves from friends and Buhari supporters who can help us and I can tell you that Buhari will never give us money from the government coffers. How much did we spent in Kano; did you hear of the budget? It is not always very costly because even the support groups have leaderships that are coming and not everybody. The chairman and the secretary of each group are the ones coming. At least, they should be able to take care of themselves because they are the leaders of the organisations. They don’t bring common members.
Are you alone in this crusade; if not, can you tell us about some of the promoters of these groups?
Well, there are promoters who are Buhari’s lifelong supporters who have been with him and we are discussing with him on what to do. We want the support groups to participate. But filling positions of authority of the support groups is both appointive and elective. As such, their elections will take place in a few weeks. What is important is to make the support groups alive and to make them alive, you have to give them chance to be part of producing their leadership and within the next month or two, we may likely see elections taking place at various levels to put in proper structures and proper democratic leadership.
As a key member of national committee of these groups, do you think the president’s interest is being propagated in line with the aims and objectives of these groups and is he really interested in these group?
Whenever we are meeting we tell him. He gives his goodwill messages. The one in south-west saw us reading his message. His message was handwritten by him. Even the one in Kano, he sent his own goodwill message. I believe that he is most likely going to send his goodwill message to the meeting we are going to hold in north-east. Whatever we do, every state will brief him because it is his name and not my own name.
You are doing this at a time when there are conflicting voices coming from the aggrieved members of APC and you are now launching these groups across the zones?
We are not launching this; it should be clear. These were existing organisations, some of them five years old. Some may even be 10 but then you got elected and you left them just unattended to and I thought it was not only during political seasons and election periods that you start talking to them. You nurture them, accept what they have done before, thank them and from there, you start disseminating the programmes we have.
Don’t you think somebody might say it is an alternative B for the APC in the event that Buhari is no more comfortable with events of 2019?
These groups were existing before and some of them even predated APC. I know some organisations that were there since we were in ANPP and CPC. Some of the organisations came into APC. You can’t allow these kind of organisations to die just like that because you are APC. Of course, APC is there, APC is for everybody. For example, every person who is in APC must not be part of the groups. I am in APC but some may be in APC and may not be a member of Buhari organisation. But what is important to me is to show gratitude to people who worked hard to install this government.
You are doing this at a time when the opposition are even calling on the president to resign on grounds of his ill health. What do you have to say?
That is politics. Roosevelt was the president of America during Second World War and he was on wheelchair, even when he was moving from Washington to Casablanca to meet Winston Churchill, it took him almost five days on the ship which he was transported to meet Winston Churchill on wheelchair. It is only somewhere in Nigeria that people play politics with the president’s health. Leadership is about mental alertness. How somebody can lead is not necessarily physical alertness.
I remember late Kennedy who had a terrible back ache after sitting for two to three hours. Last Friday, at the Villa Mosque, what was important is that Buhari came out, called everybody by his name and even called me and said, ‘Distinguished Senator Abu Ibrahim, how was your son’s wedding’. Everybody was surprised. He called the Minister of Water Resources in his usual joking manner. So, the man (Buhari) is alert, he has the mental capacity to decide because he recognised everybody. I will score him 9.5. Forget those who spread the rumours because he didn’t come out for FEC meeting. He was there at the Mosque physically and he walked, he talked and did his nofila before the main prayer.
What will you tell those who are asking him to resign and allow his deputy, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, to takeover?
In politics you cannot stop this kind of cheap propaganda. Resign for what; for what reason; in terms of ill health? I am asking you; is he ill? FEC is an advisory body. He can seat down as a president and take decisions. Of course, FEC is a constitutional creation but the constitution does not make its attendance binding on the president. For example, if I feel I am not well and disposed to chair a meeting, I excuse myself. That is why we have the vice president.
Beyond the Buhari presidency, what becomes of the Buhari support groups?
First, let us revive these groups, thank them and give them a chance to decide what they want to do with themselves because they are important political organisations that we cannot just allow to die. We will revive them, we will sit down with them, we will look ahead on what to do and how it will help the relationships within the party itself. For now, we are just talking of these groups, reviving them and holding meetings with them to see those that were existing and those that were not existing, have compendium of those groups that are alive, then we call for a meeting and think of what to do ahead.