Bello Bala Shagari is a politician, youth activist and a representative of Non-Aligned Movement Youth Organization, and grandson of onetime Nigeria’s president, Alhaji Usman Shehu Shagari. In this interview, he examines President Bola Tinubu’s government in the last few months and other issues. BIYI ADEGOROYE reports
You were one of those who campaigned for President Bola Tinubu, how do you feel about the impression that his policies only succeeded in increasing hardship in the land?
To say that President Tinubu’s policies have increased hardship in the land is akin to stating that medicine is bitter or that injections are painful. Naturally, remedies may not always be desirable, but they are necessary for wellness. It is too early to pass judgment; let’s allow the medicine to take effect first. After all, the ailment Nigeria is suffering from wasn’t contracted on June 12, 2023, when President Tinubu assumed office.
The President inherited a substantial amount of baggage from the past administration, and in spite of that, the economy is beginning to recover and investors’ confidence is restored. But whatever we are going through now is something we must go through sooner or later. So President Tinubu has saved us from further deterioration and future suffering.
But the same APC that is ruling the country, why should people believe that this administration will be any different?
Despite sharing the same party name, there’s a stark contrast between President Tinubu’s approach to the party and President Muhammadu Buhari’s demeanor. And their leadership style differs. Electing a different party might not necessarily bring about a change in leadership style or policies, unlike the distinct ideological differences seen in American political parties. It is always about the man on the ticket in Nigeria.
President Tinubu’s actions convey that he is engaged in a different political approach. And if you look at the Tinubu-led government, you’ll see that there are no key persons from the past administration except a few. It is an almost completely different set of people. The man is visionary; he has a goal and knows how to achieve it.
How would you respond to the claims that Tinubu’s team, including his ministers and advisers, does not really inspire hope?
The opposition may always voice contrary opinions, but Tinubu’s administration stands out for its unprecedented inclusion of youth and women, embodying a commitment to innovative and inclusive governance. Critics often overlook the results- oriented nature of this setup. Take, for instance, the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Bosun Tijani, a former APC critic, appointed based on merit and a drive for outcomes. Bosun and I had once had exchanges on Twitter about the APC government but here we are today.
Another illustration is Khalil Halilu, a 32-year-old heading the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure, showcasing young talents excelling in their respective fields. There are several others. President Tinubu strategically positions these individuals in the tech and communication sector, demonstrating leadership through recognizing strengths and assigning appropriate responsibilities. So, Tinubu’s team not only instills hope but also serves as an inspiration.
In terms of balancing, there is dis- quiet across the country over what was described as Yorubanisation of appointments by Tinubu. How do you react to this?
Frankly, the perception is unavoidable and this is why. If the former occupants of some particular offices in the past administration were northerners, and another administration comes, will it be fair to replace them with another set of northerners? That is where the problem is. The precedent was set somewhere. In my own opinion, the President has even tried. Look at the setup of the Service Chiefs for instance. It was equally distributed even with the section of the country which didn’t really vote for him. While this perception may take time to correct, the evident equilibrium in appointments suggests a commitment to fostering inclusivity and fairness.
Still on balancing to reflect or better still accommodate Nigeria’s diversity, would you say Tinubu has been fair to the North in terms of appointments?
Some of the most powerful people in Tinubu’s government are northerners. And what does it matter anyway? The geographical origin of appointees becomes inconsequential when considering past instances where concentrating security architecture favored the North but did not alleviate its insecurity. The truth is, even when anyone’s tries, the North cannot be neglected in terms of appointments as a result of its political relevance. As far as the eyes can see, northerners are well grounded in Tinubu’s government, as well as other sections of the country . So it is just hearsay.
Before the coming of this administration Nigeria was already very insecure. Life was just one penny. Would you say there’s been an improvement in the last five months?
It is too early to judge. But if we must, at least, there hasn’t been a single case of kidnapping between Abuja-Kaduna high- way since the coming of the new administration. This was something that was very prevalent. There is also significant peace in the Niger Delta, even in the South East. So something different is happening already and it is felt all over the country.
The National Security Adviser, Nuhu Ribadu, recently said kidnapping has replaced armed robbery. Now, if you look at the demographic that perpetrates these crimes, it is the youths. How can this government discourage youths from such crimes?
The man is adept at his role. While I can’t assert closeness with the NSA, I’ve known him personally long before his appointment, and I’m familiar with his character. He enjoys a notable reputation; his stand- ing requires no introduction. Presently, he’s actively involved, particularly with matters concerning young people. A telling sign of a forward-thinking leader in today’s context is their engagement with younger generations, indicating a readiness to adapt to the evolving times. He adopts a distinct strategy in tackling Nigeria’s security challenges by not only addressing the symptoms but also delving into the root causes through socio-political solutions.
While sharing this insight sparks caution, his recognition that relying solely on combative efforts won’t be enough is a hopeful sign. Nigerians would be wise to await results; six months in office is relatively brief in the political landscape. The damage incurred over decades, for obvious reasons, cannot be swiftly undone. Despite criticisms of his approach, it begs the question: How can he effect change if he follows the same path as his predecessors, doing the same thing others have been doing? On our own part, we will do anything to support him.
Lately, we see elected officials on the platform of opposition parties having their elections nullified on grounds analysts have faulted. This has given rise to the suspicion that APC is indirectly moving against the opposition, using the judiciary…
The responsibility to address this lies with the judiciary. Courts are transparent spaces, not hidden chambers. If you bring an APC analyst, he will also convince you that the court are right. Analysts have their biases. But it is nothing new. Anyone who loses in court will cry foul. At times, success in elections isn’t solely about winning the votes; one might secure victory through dishonest means, and sometimes they field inept lawyers prone to court errors. When such mistakes occur, resulting in client losses, they begin to cry foul.
Our courts base rulings on presented evidence, making the ability to prove one’s case crucial. So even if you’re right and you cannot prove it, you will be wronged. I think that is a systemic problem. It has nothing to do with APC. And APC will take advantage of any mistake anybody makes in court just as anybody else. That is politics. Unfortunately for the opposition, our new Chairman is not willing to leave any stone unturned.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has for the umpteenth time, said liberal democracy has failed in Africa. Do you subscribe to that, if yes, how well do you think Nigeria’s democracy can become better?
I respect President Obasanjo a lot. He is an elders statesman. I think there’s nothing wrong with what he is saying other than the fact that he is saying it to the wrong audience and at the wrong time, especially now that coups are sweeping across Africa, and West Africa in particular. Additionally, the President of Nigeria who doubles as ECOWAS Chairman is struggling to maintain democratic rule in West Africa.
The statement is not helpful at this moment. Nigeria has a very strong democracy which has survived since 1999. President Obasanjo himself ushered democracy in 1979 and was the pioneer benefactor when it returned in 1999. And without the democracy we have today, we won’t get the chance to debate the kind of reforms he is preaching about. But these kinds of rhetoric in the past have often invited coups in the country, and Nigerians will not endure any military rule again.
You aspired to lead Abuja Municipal Area Council, (AMAC) lwo years ago. What really happened, and do you still have such an ambition?
It was an idea suggested to me by a friend of mine by the name of Jibril Sule and I became excited about it. In Nigeria, the unique opportunity for residents to run for political office exists solely in Abuja Municipal Area Council (AMAC). My connection to AMAC runs deep as my grandfather, who initiated its development in 1979, held a fervent passion for it. His first official assignment when he became President was to visit the proposed area where Abuja city was to be built, which is now the Municipal.
While I don’t feel entitled, I expected to be familiar, yet that wasn’t the reality. Although I’ve always been a member of the APC since 2014, I registered my membership in Shagari Local Government in Sokoto, fortunately, the APC primaries coincided with the 2021 revalidation, allowing me to register in Abuja and relocate my polling unit.