Ambassador Aminu Wali, Nigeria’s Immediate past Foreign Affairs Minister, was a senior cabinet member in the Jonathan’s administration. In what could be described as his first major conversation with the media since they lost power, Alhaji Wali who was Nigeria’s Ambassador to the United Nations for four and half years and a former Ambassador to China for the same period, reflects on why the PDP lost in the 2015 polls.
He also spoke on how the politics of ethnicity and religion undermined the 2015 polls, the near global conspiracy against their administration’s efforts to procure arms to execute the war on Boko Haram, the N950 million charge against his person by the EFCC and Nigeria’s present economic mess, among other issues. He spoke to Desmond Mgboh in his Kano home.
How has it been for you and your supporters in the Northwest since your party, the PDP, lost out, in 2015?
It is a known fact that the PDP suffered serious defeat in the last general elections in this country, particularly in my zone and we know exactly the causes of that defeat. We had seen it coming over a period of time and of course, from the way it happened, it surpassed our estimation. It was really devastating. But that is politics. Not only in Kano but nationally, there has been a change of baton. And this is to be expected. For me as somebody who has been in this business for close to 40 years, it is a normal thing. In a properly organized democratic setup, where there is a free and fair election, the party in power does not last for 16 years. The electorate would always want to look the other side to find out whether they would get a better deal from the opposition. And this is what is happening in Europe, in America, all over the world. Therefore, that it happened to us in Nigeria is nothing different. It is our match through democracy, it is our match to establish democratic rules in our nation and I believe that we should be gallant losers and then form a robust opposition, a responsible opposition to now highlight areas of the failure of the administration so that they can correct- because after all, we all belong to Nigeria and whether you are in power or out of power, what is important is to see that Nigerians get a better deal from whoever happens to be in power. You need to pinpoint those areas that the administration is going wrong so that they can correct them, for Nigerians to get a better deal. Not because you are out of power, you want the party and the government in power to fall. No! That is bad politics as far as I am concerned.
So for me, it is a lesson that all politicians, perhaps those within the PDP and the other parties must learn; we must learn to accept defeat and then now get up and move forward and try to regain the lost grounds.
Why do you think the PDP failed in the 2015 elections? What were the dynamics that led to the fall of your party?
Well, it has been there for a long time. Like I said earlier in my comment, in any free democracy, you don’t expect a party to continue ruling for ever or for two, three, four, five terms! The party has been in power for 16 years and along the line, there were lots of mistakes that were made and the opposition took advantage of some of the lapses that we had and linked up with the voters – they were able to convince the voters that the PDP has failed. But the major issues, as far as this part of the country was concerned was the belief by the electorate that we failed to contain the security situation in the North-east. That, we as a party, and as a government, did nothing to contain the situation, because that was the propaganda that was going on in the media through the opposition. Rather than being responsible opposition, advice us on what we should do more to contain the situation. Like what is happening today, I will be very disposed to offer my advice on how best to contain the situation.
We accept that they have tried (in respect of the fight against Boko Haram) since they came to power but that is not to say that the previous administration had not done anything to contain the Boko Haram menace. They used it to blackmail the PDP. And this is one of the main issues that the electorate bought and they went against the PDP. And of course as we go, a lot of things are being unraveled and I think that by the time all the trials in the courts are concluded, a lot of the truth would come out.
As a Foreign Minister of Nigeria, constitutionally, I happened to be a member of the National Security Council, so I knew what we had done and I know what actions the government too, both internally and externally to see how we can contain Boko Haram. I was a member of the National Security Council and I led a lot of delegations and teams of this country and other countries, the Joint Security team of the countries in the region and these security outfits were still in place even after we had left office. So to say that we have not done anything to contain the Bok Haram insurgency was a fallacy. We had done the best we could under those circumstances.
One of the things the Jonathan administration suffered was the fact that the International Community was not giving them military support. What exactly happened giving your background as a Foreign Affairs Minister?
Well, you see I had led delegations to discuss this issue of Boko Haram with a number of countries to give us help and support. The President had mandated me to discuss with a number of these countries, which I did but the demands of the equipment we need were not forthcoming- for whatever reason we were not very sure. But I think that there was some kind of conspiracy against Nigeria as a country and I think that it is happening even till today, that same conspiracy is still ongoing because even the current administration has not been able to get the kind of military equipment they needed against Boko Haram. They are still having problems in obtaining the weapons we also wanted. So, we had to make do with what we can get from Russia and some of these European countries and even South Africa-theirs which later became a scandalous issue. But of course, we know what triggered our going to South Africa to look for equipment there for, at least, a substitute for what we could not get elsewhere.
The Goodluck Jonathan government went to every extent to acquire the military wares that was required to successfully deal with the problem of Boko Haram. I am telling you because I happened to be a member of the National Security Council and at the same time, Nigeria’s Foreign Minister. We kept talking, speaking to various governments in all parts of the world on this issue. I had been to the USA, to Washington, to the State Department. I had been to New York and I met with various leaders from several of the world. I had spoken for one and half hours with the President of Turkey and we discussed all these issues and a lot of the governments that we discussed with particularly knowing that this was a diplomatic issue, somehow some promised to give us support, but they never did anything. The issue of Boko Haram was very unfortunate and was not something that should have been politicized.
All of us should have put our hands on deck regardless of whichever political parties we were. Take us on the economic and social issues in the country; take us on the international security issues in terms of security in various States and communities, but when it comes to matter of Boko Haram , it was not something that we can have different voices. We were supposed to be united for the sake of our own country. That is why up till today you have not heard any member of the past administration saying anything to undermine the efforts of the current administration in fighting Boko-Haram.
From the little we know regarding the management of the funding of the war against Boko Haram, the present administration claimed that there were lot of corruption in the management of the funds. What is your response to these kinds of revelations?
I may not be fully conversant with what happened as far as the management of the security funds was concerned, but I know that every time that we had reports in Council, we were briefed of the efforts that were being made to purchase arms. But you must note that when you talk of the details of the purchase of arms, this is not something that has ever been made public, not even in Council. In the Federal Executive Council, this was not discussed. Even in the National Security Council, we were just given a general brief, “this was what we are trying do and this is what we are trying to do” and of course this is something between the Ministry of Defence and the office of the National Security Adviser. But as far as I know, former President Jonathan made some remarks sometimes ago, about three or four weeks ago, that – they were talking about $2.1 billion- he said that that could not have been possible, adding that there was need for proper explanation.
Even if there is any money missing out of the $2.1 billion dollars that they are talking about, let us know how much was missing and how much had gone to actually purchasing the arms. We know for sure that as of today, the Nigeria armed forces are still using the military equipment that the former administration managed to purchase and they are still in use. Tell us the cost of the military equipment you have taken procession of, and then let us now know the cost of the ones missing. That is the whole point. Secondly, from experience, and from practice, the office of the National Security Adviser- even in budget, funds budgeted to that Office, have never been accounted for. In practice, when you say that these funds are for security, it is between the President and National Security Adviser. So in this case, since some of these funds went through the funds of the Office of the National Security Adviser, some have already been budgeted to the National Security Adviser; you really have to separate the two before you know exactly what you are talking about. This is something which is subjudice and I will not want anybody to delve into that issue. It is already in court.
Given the kind of massive defeat recorded by the PDP in the North-West Zone, we have heard accusation flying round that the leaders of the PDP in the zone, for which you were one, had not put in their best. How do you respond to this allegation?
We have to be honest with ourselves. The politics of 2015 was polarized so much so that it became impossible to appeal to the electorate in the North-west to vote for the manifesto of the political party or on the basis of the performance of the government of the day. It went very ethnic and very religious. And I think the outcome of that politics, from the background of what is happening today, (the hardship faced by all irrespective of tribe, region and religion) would put to rest that type of politicking. I think that today, I am not lamenting the loss of North-west in that election, I am actually relieved that what is happening today would put the politics of ethnicism and religion to rest. Because what I said before the election was that the current President who happened to come from the North West was what Awolowo was to the South-west. And if we go back to history , when we see the devotion and love the people had for Awolowo in his own region and among his people, it was exactly the same that d happened in the North-west. But I believe having gone through this; I think the next time around, the voters and the majority of our people now know that politics is not a matter of religion and ethnicity. It is like a person who has two wives. Now, when you get the second wife, you will be able to know which is better of the two. Now we have now gone through what we have gone through- I am not lamenting though, I think I am relieved that we have gone through this. Luckily we have gone through it peacefully. Because whenever and wherever, there ethnic or religious consideration in any political situation, the thing is always explosive!
I remember that by the time, I went to vote in my own voting station here, people around were looking at me as somebody who is an unbeliever! Why should I support Goodluck Jonathan? Just like an unbeliever, I have blasphemed. It got to that level that some of us were not feeling safe in our homes and in our own communities anymore simply because the propaganda had gone so much into their heads that anybody that did not support the person that did not come from their ethnic group or from the same religion or creed, then you are really out of it. This is what happened in the North-west. You were here. What I am telling you is nothing strange to you. You don’t even have to ask me. You know yourself what happened, why we lost. And like I said I am glad for General Buhari that he won, I am glad for the people of North-West that they have done what they did and this hopefully would open the eyes of everybody that politics is not a matter of religion or ethnicity.
When you talk like this, you seem to imply that the people are passing through a system of government that is not as good as the immediate past administration. Give us some more explanations- are these people getting the sort of deal they had dreamt of when they were calling an individual the messiah?
Unfortunately for the party in government, when they were campaigning all over the country, they went and made so many promises that they would make this country an utopia- everybody would get jobs, everybody would get money and even if you were unemployed, you would be paid so much per month and what have you. There would be power everywhere in three months! They made all sorts of promises. I don’t know whether it is the President that said it or some members of his party. And by the way, President Buhari ran three times before he won and all these years he had been repeating the same promises to the people. And they believed him, and unfortunately, the party has not been able to live up to these promises and that is why we are having problems in explaining to people what the problems were. So, we are waiting to see and hoping that things improve for the sake of fellow Nigerians. I will not wish any government doom; I will always wish them well – again, for the sake of Nigerians. I will hope that they do well so that Nigerians get a better deal and a better life for themselves and for the coming generations.
Let us go to something that had affected you recently- The anticorruption crusade of the hour. What is your assessment of it all, especially in terms of the fact that some are being questioned while others are being shielded?
You see a lot of people have said it before me that this thing is selective – because I happened to be a victim. I served this country to the best of my ability for the better part of my life, from minor public offices to major public offices. I have been through it all. And I have always been proud to say that my performances in public life had been exemplary. But all of a sudden to wake up one morning to be accused of corruption where there is none. As far as I am concerned, I was never responsible for those funds. I was just somebody who received funds on behalf of my party in my State. How can anybody look at me and say that I have laundered money? How? These were funds that legitimately came from the National Campaign Organization for the purposes of the election two days before the election. How could I have laundered it? I received this money through a bank on behalf of my State which I delivered and which was used for an election which we lost. If, there were any act of corruption, then, go up to the chain, find out where it happened. But don’t go and leave the donkey and keep the load. If we were talking of anti- corruption in Nigeria, it has to be a holistic approach, not piecemeal, not for the minors. For example, I think the anti -corruption agencies are wasting their time on people like me. Because in my own community, in all the positions I have held, the people that I have worked with, they know I have always been incorruptible. They know this fact themselves. And even people within the current administration, they know that I am incorruptible. Even before I got into politics, I have been able to make myself comfortable as a business man. I have never looked for anything in politics except to go and serve. So when you are talking about corruption, go to those institutions that are the cesspool of corruption. Talking about the institutions, make sure that you clean those institutions of corrupt practices, institutions like the NNPC, major economic ministries and government agencies. It takes two to tangle. No one person would ever commit the act of an act of corruption without having a helping hand from elsewhere. That elsewhere is always coming through a government agency. At the same time, look at other areas- the legislature, the judiciary and others. Once you clean that, you have now set a foundation for fighting corruption which would survive the current administration.
A lot of people have argued that we want the anti -graft fight to also target APC State governors and government that had supported the APC Presidential bid in 2015. What is your take on this?
He who comes to equity must come with clean hands. The administration is fighting but within its fold, there are those that are believed to be corrupt and therefore, they lack the moral authority to fight corruption or go to any other person. Look into yourself. And just like they told us, “change begins with you.” The fight against corruption begins with you inside your administration before you now move out to others. So if there were allegations that within the government and that within the ruling party there were those people that were being accused of one thing or the other, these accusations should not be ignored. That is why a lot of people are saying that the fight against corruption is being selective. So that really gives less legitimacy to the efforts at fighting corruption.
How do you see the refusal of the Senate to confirm the appointment of EFCC’s boss as well as the allegation that the SGF’s company was involved in a transaction that did not go through the due process?
Well, you see these are developments that have just started and I am not in a position to make comments on that. But these are accusations and once accusations are made, then it is the responsibility of the authorities to now direct the agencies that would deal with those things, to look into them so that the truth is established. In our case, a lot of my colleagues were being tried on the pages of the newspaper, they said that so much money were being traced to me as a person. That was being very unfair. You do not go the press simply because you called me to ask me about some of these issues. Yes, I might have signed a piece of paper and the bank had received money, but don’t go and tell the public that you had traced so much money to me. You have already convicted me before a trial. For example, I have an international image to protect. When you Google my name today, it is there and I have a lot people across the world. I was the Ambassador of Nigeria to the United Nations for four and half years, I was Nigeria’s ambassador to China for four and half years and I was a Foreign Affairs Minister and therefore I have a lot of friends and well wishers and they would Google this thing. For them, when they see it –Aminu Wali has stolen N950 million – that really is a big dent on me. You have already convicted me without a trial. And most of these people that have been taken in and locked up, they are not people that are going to run away. Why don’t you call them, discuss with them and establish a case against them and then take them to court. I think we deserve to be treated as innocent people until proven guilty. This is a reputation I built over the past 50 years and overnight somebody who is far too junior comes up overnight to say that I am a thief, without having any concrete evidence against me., to say that I was aware that these monies were stolen- which I know that they were not stolen anyway. Because for me there was a public fund raising and most the stalwarts and business people, oil moguls and what have you, raised N21 billion, so if they send N950miion to Kano , who am I to question the source of the money.
You said that you do not want to be an irresponsible opposition member, but as a Nigerian, how would you assess the Buhari administration so far?
My assessment is something that is not personal. As a politician, I listen to every person and opinion; listen to what the people say- some are for government and some are anti- government. But at the end of the day, form a view from what the majority of these commentators are saying about the performance of the government. Personally I am not happy with the 20 percent inflation rate in this country because that reasonably cuts down the effectiveness of people’s earning when they go the market, which makes life absolutely difficult for the common person in this country. So obviously, they need to look into these issues, they need to put up an economic team, and this is something that had been mentioned by a number people. They should look at our own administration, areas that they believe that we have done well, they should find out what we have done right and areas that that we have failed, they should take it and correct it.