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Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi represents Kaduna North Senatorial District. He provided the structures that enabled Governor Nasir El-Rufai to defeat the highly rated former member of the House of Representatives, Isa Ashiru, at the party’s governorship primary. But Hunkuyi has since pitched his tent with the group opposed to the governor. He is now the new face of the opposition group within the APC in Kaduna. In this interview with ISMAIL OMIPIDAN, he told his story.
One of the key reasons that made many of the PDP members to move to APC was lack of internal democracy. Meanwhile, recent happenings have shown that the APC may not be different from the PDP. What is your take on this?
I think two or three things have emerged as a result of that delegates’ election under the All Progressives Congress (APC). One, substantially, the National Working Committee (NWC) and the leadership of the APC have tried to discharge its own responsibility, to do the needful, to do the correct thing. The Electoral Act on the one hand, the APC Constitution on the other, have all tried to institutionalise internal democracies as you have said and what we have seen through the guidelines issued for that elections by the APC National Working Committee, indicate they have discharged their own responsibilities. However, within the system, two things have also emerged. One, greatly, it has shown that the leadership within the state more than before have opted to come up with a consensus rather than an election. That cannot be wrong under the circumstances.
But if there is suppose to be a consensus among 10 people, and nine people agree, with one disagreeing, you should allow that one to field those he wants to be elected, go to the election ground, and the other nine should mobilise and vote his candidate out. That is the norm, but what has emerged is that the idea of the word or term consensus has been muscled, misconstrued, and misrepresented. This in my own opinion, but the leadership of the APC at various level needs must correct that phenomenal, that misgiving which the general public are now holding possibly against the APC. That is one thing.
Secondly, in some few states, it has become evident that in the name of a consensus, the system has tried to muscle out, to disenfranchise completely key stakeholders, key statutory delegates from that convention. By law, that cannot stand and must be corrected.
However, if out of 36 states, 30 have done the right thing and few ones have done the wrong thing that to me is to say the least, is very good. We must give credit to the NWC and indeed the leadership of the APC who have been able, for the first time since we were elected in 2015, come nose-to-nose with election matter that is nationwide, it does not mean there are no other issues pertaining to elections in some few states regarding by- elections matters that left much to be desired, there were. But this in the first general litmus test the APC has gone through and that is why somebody like me feel in my own state, an election was supposed to hold, an election did not hold, we are stakeholders, bona fide constitutional stakeholders of the APC, as elected members, recognised by the APC constitution, desire that there should be an election. If anyone or any group does not desire an election, since we desire an election, the meaning and context of consensus is to go for an election because we have people we wish should stand for election. Every local government in our 23 local areas is on electoral schedule by itself because they are supposed to elect 3 delegates per local government; therefore the Electoral College has been defined. Go there, the ward executive, the local government executive, elected members from that local government, whether at the party level or at the legislative or executive level should go and decide the 3 people they need in the local government. Anything short of this for APC today in 2017 will spell doom. Even the PDP, which you have said have found it their own way of life before, have come back to Nigerians and apologised and indicated their willingness to do the correct thing and the right thing. They are today, whether we like it or not, the main opposition group and party, and we should not play to the gallery to imagine that we can discontinuance the voters whether at party level or at general election level and yet expect people not to revolt. If we allow what happened in Kaduna to stay, we are not likely to make it in 2019.
Before the APC primaries in 2015, Yaro Makama, one of the party’s chieftains in Kaduna, warned you against supporting El-Rufai for governorship. You ignored the warning. El-Rufai has also disclosed that you encouraged him to run and he consults with you and other stakeholders on regular basis. How do you feel today leading another group to oppose El-Rufai?
We have to divide your question into two and for the purpose of this interview, we are taking only one. What you said about El-Rufai and I is true. But on consultation with me on how he runs his government, no, that is not entirely or completely true because there are policy issues that I were never consulted. But that does not make them wrong. The only thing is that, I feel differently about them, which is normal. But at the end of the day, he is the head of his government, he decides for the government under his cabinet what he does and what he does not do, I am not part of that cabinet, it is only fair, justifiable, maybe, to say ‘yes there is need for that consultation,’ and where it exists, I think it is good, and where it does not exists, in my own opinion, that does not make it bad unless if those policies are policies that appear at variance with the actual interest and norms of the people in Kaduna State. So the little I will say on that is that you must remember he is the head of his government. To consult is not mandatory. The only consultation known within our constitution under the law is the council. There are decisions he cannot take until he consults, he meets with his council and it is decided. There are decisions he cannot take unless they are considered at his own legislature, which is the Kaduna State House of Assembly and it is agreed to be done. I am neither a member of the Kaduna State Assembly nor a member of the Kaduna State Executive Council. So, it is not mandatory for him to consult me, but it would have been better. That is the little I would say on that.
On what you say Yaro Makama said, yes we were then part of the two divide, he was for Isa Ashiru, I was for El-Rufai and the product I was selling to my honour then, was a good product. I try to sell a product I was deeply convinced to my bones sincerely was good, to the people. There was nothing deceitful about my decision then. It does not mean from that time he took up government till today I don’t have my reservations, I have. I have said so, a lot of things he had done, I have reservations about them, but there is little I can do about it because I do not form part of the constitutional decision making body of his government. Now having said that, the second part of the question which I said for the purpose of this interview should have been the centre of attraction is what happened the day that I led a group to address a press conference against what El- Rufai and his group today stand for. Simple!
So tell us what happed?
I am a product of democracy. The office I hold is a product of the process of democracy so also the office El-Rufai is holding. We all agreed to register within a political party and stand election as has been guaranteed and mandated by our constitution. Today, I disagreed with El-Rufai and his group because they have refused to submit themselves for an election, and I will continue in my own way as Hunkuyi, the way I did to stand for him to be elected then in 2015 so also today that we should all be responsible to our people and election matters must be decided by no other than our electorate, who ultimately hold the ballot to decide for themselves, whom they want to elect. I disagreed with his (El-Rufai) group because they choose to lock the door with few individuals to raise a list of delegates who are supposed to be elected by the executive of the wards and local government in our various local governments.
The station of that election is the 23 Councils of Kaduna State, not one room, one office, one house, one town or one location anywhere within Kaduna State or outside Kaduna State. If there should be anything other than election, then the issue of consultation, the issue of carrying other interested parties, the issue of recognising what the constitution of Nigeria, of recognizing the constitution of APC, that is calling an all-inclusive stakeholder meeting to discuss, to agree or disagree, should have resorted to. And I keep stressing, if 1000 people are called for consultation on whether there should be an election or consensus, out of 1000 people, if 999 agreed there should not be election, and one person disagrees that there should not be consensus but an election, the correct thing to do under the nominal law of consensus in internal democracy is to allow that one person to field who he wishes to stand the election and then that 999 should mobilise and then defeat the one person and the candidates at the election. That was what I led, for your information, in 2014-5 through primary elections to return El- Rufai as the flag bearer of APC.
The Makama you are talking about, and other contestants in that election, Isa Ashiru, inclusive, all got up and embraced El- Rufai at the ground of that election because there was a transparent procedure of election. We didn’t hide to do anything that will undermine the right of our people to elect who they wish. That respect is too key, too important to be discountenanced at any given point in time of any leader who is worth his salt, who benefitted from the provision of what democracy is all about. Therefore, the simple answer to your question is that, today, I did not disagree with El- Rufai, because he is arrogating to himself the power of the electorate. Election decisions belong, reside and must be returned to the people who have the powers to decide. The law says there will be election, there should be election. El-Rufai must respect the feelings and the aspirations of the people. He should stop being clever by half.
But the El-Rufai group said there was an election and that it was just a few of you who were opposed to what transpired. Were you called for any meeting at any point in time before the alleged election?
No, the issue is, there was no any election, and we have proven that. There are three or two major activities to that election. One, convening a valid, I say valid, stakeholders’ briefing/ meeting which was not or was improperly conducted.
How do you mean?
You don’t decide who a stakeholder as an individual is. The situation declares who is a stakeholder. But I know, since El- Rufai was not at the venue of that meeting that day, I, Hunkuyi and Senator Shehu Sani would have been the highest stakeholders to that meeting. I wasn’t invited. He wasn’t invited, so many other elected and non-elected stakeholders were not invited, so it was unduly constituted, but we were quick to overcome that. I was not invited, but it was a party gathering, so I went, so also so many people, who were not invited, but it was a party’s bona fide meeting, so we attended, but they refused to come. The venue of the meeting is the state party headquarters. It is there in the guidelines. There is a proviso that if for any reason the party office is not suitable, yes you can source another office, but those that were invited, who were there with us, we saw the text message, the venue of the meeting called was the state party headquarters, so there could not have been any meeting elsewhere other than the one at the party headquarters. That is one.
Two, the elections were to hold in 23 Councils’ headquarters of Kaduna State on Saturday 29th July. Our members were in all the 23 Councils of APC local government locations, they were there in the morning of 29th until 4 pm, there was no activity, there was no meeting, and most of the offices were not even opened. So if there was any process somewhere, again, there was no election.
Again, the guidelines stated clearly: ‘give notices of election 48 hours before, at the various 23 Councils to the INEC, the police and you should paste it as a notice there.’ Some local governments did send those notices. But was there anybody the following morning? I have answered that question. Some did not send the notices. Could there have been a valid election where there was no notice and the venue was not even opened? Four, INEC is a key instrument to validating those elections by way of observance and crediting their own report at the end of the process. They have confirmed there was no local government in the 23 locations where anybody had shown up for any process. Five, I am a delegate to that election, I was in my own local government, nobody was there. Could there have been an election there? Six, there are other statutory delegates who are in at least, that is within our group, 17 local governments of theirs to witness that election, nobody was there. Could there have been an election? Eight, there are chairmen of this party, custodians of APC within the local governments, across the state, who were there, they never received anybody posted for election, they never received any papers for election, they never convened any congress in those locations for election. So who could have been the custodian of convening those elections? I can go on and on. I can list 15 reasons to convince you there was no election.
In fact, the other group headed by government blew hot and cold at the same time. Initially, the information they came out with was that the governor says there will not be election but maybe they discovered in their own naivety that that is a statement that has no ground because the governor didn’t order an election in the first instance, it was the APC leadership that ordered the election, so nobody can reorder or cancel the election, except the APC leadership, they now quickly reverse themselves the next day, saying the election held in all the local government areas and they have a list. In my own opinion, that hide and seek will not work. And I will not be part of it.
In the past, efforts by the APC Akida to get El-Rufai sanctioned by the APC national leadership have never yielded any result. We understand petitions have been filed concerning what transpired recently. Should the national leadership again decide not to look into your matter, what options do you have?
First of all, like I have said I have traced the history of APC, where we stand today and where we are heading tomorrow, in my own opinion I have told you, If I felt differently, I will tell you differently, APC leaders on this ad hoc delegates’ election, discharged their own responsibilities up to this level, and the result, the report that we have seen coming back from various states have vindicated them because they requested for the right thing to be done, but human factors being what it is, in some states there has been this problem. In my own opinion, the National Working Committee of the APC is likely to stand on the right path of history and correct that anomaly.
Two, I don’t believe there will be any other way than to cancel that contraption that happen in Kaduna, to declare another day, set up another team to go and make sure our people, the executives of the wards and local governments in the 23 Councils, decide for themselves, for the party, for the polity, for Kaduna State, who those 3 ad hoc delegates should be in their various local governments. I don’t believe the NWC is likely to do anything otherwise. In the event as you said, I don’t know how they are going to do otherwise, I don’t know who is going to do otherwise, I don’t know if the otherwise happens, and a different verdict given, whether or not there is likely to be peace for APC in Kaduna State. If, God forbids, any other thing is done in the contrary, then it is going to be very unfortunate because, I say election did not hold and we don’t agree and will continue to say election didn’t hold and we will do all that is possible within our powers, within the polity to make sure that election must hold and the result must be respected.
Looking back at the role you played shortly before the 2015 elections at the APC primaries, do you have any regret playing that role considering what is playing out now?
Not today, not yesterday, not the day before yesterday, I have never, regretted anything. Like I told you, the decision I took in 2014-5 was based on knowledge, was based on reason, was based on information available to me, was based on assessment, and was based on compelling circumstances at the time when the decision was taken. If, maybe, I knew something different that I know is likely to be counterproductive to the polity, to my people, probably I wouldn’t take the decision that I took, but I have no regret because as at that time, what was available to me, the situation, to the best of my reasoning and abilities, was what I felt was right. And that was what I did. I have no regrets.
With what is happening now in Kaduna APC, are you not seeing the possibility of your party losing the state?
Well, I am not. And the reason is that you should understand even in 2014, there was division, and that division was eminent because, unless if everybody within the polity agrees that one person should be at the center, there will still be division. Even then, after most of us in Kaduna APC then agreed that Buhari should be the flag bearer, it did not stop us from having a crack down the ladder because for governorship there are other people who came up to oppose El-Rufai. But at the end of the day, there was victory for APC.
So, even now, you should understand where we stand today, that is our groups, we stand at variance with the group of government, we are only saying, go back to the people to decide anything called election. If that is a crime, then I am the chief criminal, because I will always insist that the correct thing is done, and it is the same thing that was responsible for the victory of APC in 2015, even though there was that fierce fight for the guber ticket. There was also at my own level for the senate, a fiercely fought battle between various aspirants wanting to fly the flag of the party, so also at the lower level but we were able to overcome it because everybody agreed that the people are supreme in decision making in election matters as far as democracy is concerned.
Let me be direct. You provided your structure for El-Rufai, in 2015. Should he decide to run again, will you support him?
If he decides to run again, I will not support him the way things stand today. And I am being very honest. The reason is, I believe majority of my people in Kaduna State are desirous of something else, they desire something else, so Hunkuyi cannot tie himself in opposition against his own people, it is not my own way of politics. But he might see reason, he might change, he might go back to the people, he might plead, the people may agree with him. If the majority of the people agree with him Hunkuyi is always with the people, my structure and indeed the structure of any person, you should understand, is like a waterways, it does not have any construction that you will say is carrying the boat, it is the water itself, it is fluid but it is carrying the board, that is the power of the people. My structure is nothing other than the decision of the majority of the people believing that what we say, what we tell them, what we guide them, we do so out of honest feeling, guidance and premonition, to give them the right thing at the end of the day.
Finally, will Hunkuyi run in 2019?
I don’t know. For now, I don’t know and I may not be able to say, like I told you just now in the last question, structure is like waterways, the polity is fluid. How do I know what the APC is likely to become? How do I know who and who are likely to even run at the national level? How do I know how the PDP is likely to reform and bring challenges to the APC? How do I know who are possibly going to, out of reason that is now showing, leave the APC again? How do I know the PDP will not be the same leopard with the same old spots and people are likely to leave the PDP and still come back to APC? These are fluid dynamics. There are so many ifs. There are so many questions. There are so many critical issues that nobody today in August 2017 can foresee, not even in October, therefore, the essence of participation in politics, is not to stand election, the essence of participation in politics is to put up a government that will be responsible and responsive to the yearnings of the people, all these Hunkuyi has decided by God’s grace, to do, if Allah leaves me with my health, I will be part and parcel of the strong structure that will guide Kaduna State in putting up a government, come 2019, Insha Allah.
To this end, I will call on every individual of voting age in Kaduna State to know and understand that we are pursuing their right, we are advocating that election matters must be decided by them, the people, the electorates, by the party leaders and no one else. Therefore they should be aware of the tendencies that are on the horizon as at now in Kaduna State and that is undemocratic and we must put heads together to correct that anomaly.
In my own opinion, in my own hope, in my own prayer, each and every one that is likely driving Kaduna State towards the direction of anything, other than democracy, must be stopped.