Ali Modu Sheriff, former governor of Borno State is now a political phenomenon in the state. His last trip to Maiduguri, Borno State capital attested to this amid a huge crowd of supporters that graced his return. The former governor speaks on a wide range of political issues in Borno and Nigeria, shedding light on the issue of insurgency which he denied knowledge about. In this interview with reporters, Modu-Sheriff speaks on a wide range of issues.
Q: Maiduguri, the Borno state capital practically stood still on Sunday, when you hit the town. What was your
mission in Maduguri?
A: Thank you very much. I am indeed happy that, each time they tried to fool the people of Borno state, God in his mercies always bring shame on them by proving them wrong. Well, I am here this time around in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state to tell my people that I have formally dumped the All Progressive Congress, (APC) and that I have embraced the Peoples Democratic Party, ( PDP). I pity those pedaling lies about me. My people must have heard a lot of stories, but they did not hear it officially from me. I am also here to encourage them to go and register with the PDP. This is where we have pitched our tent in other to be in conformity with the central government for the benefit of our people. Basically, this is my mission to Maiduguri.
Q: Well, Sir, you have been a consistent politician, because all along, you have always been in opposition to the central government perhaps because of historical factor. Now that you have switched over to the side of the establishment, what are your supporters to expect from that?
A: You are very correct. I am a consistent politician and I had been in one political party all through my political journey till now. I was a founding member of the NRC and I remain with the party despite that fact that we lost election at that time. I was a member of the All Peoples Party (APP). In fact, we brought the party to the state and we formed government. From APP we metamorphose into All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). All the parties we form were based on principles of democratic representation and good governance. The need came when we had to take certain decisions, as a political party, we agreed to go into merger with the idea to make us strong and position ourselves as formidable opposition in the country. Thus, we formed what is now known as the All Progressive Congress, (APC). But unfortunately, the party did not go far when it was hit by greed and selfishness as against our principles. We were thinking about fairness, equity and justice, but all these were not found in APC, as such, we have to take a decision, which informed our thinking to take our state to conform with the central government.
I am not playing politics today for myself. I am in politics today for my people and for the benefit of the people I represent, that is, the people of Borno state. Today, you and I know that if there is one state that had suffered a lot in term of insurgency is Borno state. You and I know very well that all the security agencies under our constitution belong to the central government, which President Goodluck Jonathan is the Commander in Chief. As a politician, the President coming through a political party, which form government at the center owes his party and states which form government under his party. The President has his people, who would tell him what should be done to their states. They always would have his attention because they belong to the Sam clan. Whether what they would tell him is right or wrong, he must hear them. Now, Borno state people are suffering, and I know that certain things are achievable only when you belong to the central government, and if it would take me to join the mainstream political party in order to go and fight for my people, I think my decision to join the PDP has been justify. In any case, Borno state is losing each time we are in opposition. Every time we are in the opposition, we do not benefit in terms of dividends of democracy as states under the PDP. This is because it is natural that the central government would have to satisfy those states that voted them in. If we are not going to assists the central government to form a government, then, they are not duty bound to bring the dividends of democracy to us. Of course, to provide security to protect live and property is their responsibility but we would be in a better position to get their attention if we are part of the central government. I can say that the totality of my reason for joining the PDP is to bridge that gap between the people of Borno state and the central government.
Q: Do you have any political ambition now that you are in the PDP?
A: to be honest with you, I nurse no political ambition, but my supporters have gone to the extent of buying form for me to run for the senate, and I told them that, I did not make up my mind about running for any political office. My interest now is for Borno state to have the desired peace. I think that is the issue on my mind and I believe this is also what all well-meaning Borno leader should be thinking about; Peace for Borno state. Peace as we used to enjoy in the past. I want the Borno citizens who were forced to flee their homes, their villages and local government to go back to their normal livelihood. I want our children to go back to school in their various local governments, without anyone coming to kill them. These are my prayers, these are my wish and these are my interest now not election.
Q: With what we saw when you arrived Maiduguri on Sunday, it is likely that, the people might mount pressure on you to contest election in 2015. If such a situation presents itself and if the people continued to put pressure on you to contest, would you succumb?
A: I t is really not important for me. I think anybody can represent Borno state. It does not have to be Ali Sheriff. I have represented them three times as a senator. There is nothing poetic about running for political office that it has to be me. However, if they insist and I have no option, I would have to do what they wanted. I would have no choice but to please them. But like I said for me, let’s have some peace in Borno state, being or contesting for position or being in the senate is not my priority.
Q: Many people in Borno believes that you have all it takes to set agenda and pursue your goal to logical conclusion. If perhaps you eventually sacrum to pressure from your people and you run for the senate and won. How would you used your good office to ensure end to insurgency in Borno state?
A: You know I was Chief Executive of Borno state two times. I have also been in the senate three times. I was minority leader in the senate two times. I am a grassroots politician who travelled to all nook and crannies of the state. By all standards and indices I know the terrain in Borno state. My first move would be to ensure peace return to Borno state. If I am forced to go back to the National Assembly, I would make sure I belong to the committee on security and work on the relationship I have built with people overtime to ensure that attention is given to Borno state and to the northeast in general in order to root out insurgency in this area and region.
Today, half of the people of Borno state are living in Maiduguri. This is not what they want. That is not their making, but they were forced to abandon their homes because some wicked elements are seeking to take their lives. This should not be so, but no thanks to insurgency. Our people have suffered enough. There is abject poverty in the state, particularly in the rural areas because these people depend on their farm produce to feed and clothe themselves. Unfortunately, they could not farm because some people would not allow them have peace. I don’t think there is any society that would love to promote poverty. It is my responsibility and the responsibility of the leaders of Borno to ensure anend to the precarious situation our state found itself over the years.
I know the working of the National Assembly. If I am forced to go, I know that, all I need to do is to lean on that experience I have over the years to ensure I bring succor to our people. I know what we can do as a group to bring succor especially on the insurgency situation facing our people and the generality of the people of the northeastern states.
Q: It was alleged that you are one of the people sponsoring Boko Haram. How did you react to this when you heard your name mentioned, and what is your response to such allegation?
A: (laugh). Well, I was also very shocked and devastated, when I was also told that all the Stephen Davis saga was all fabrication. I believe if there is one person who suffered in the hands of the insurgents or Boko Haram, that person is myself. I cannot be a sponsor and at the same time bears the highest number of casualty. By my upbringing, my association and my relationship with people, I have never met one person that is Boko Haram. To this moment, no one member of my family was found or arrested as a member of Boko Haram. I lost my blood brother, same father same mother to Boko Haram. I lost my cousins to Boko Haram and I lost many of my friends and associates to Boko Haram. Now I ask, who are those people killing us? I think those people who are making the allegations are the same people killing us. They are the same people going round with propaganda in order to give dog a bad name to hang it.
The truth about this is that, I do not look like someone who would even have relationship with Boko Haram not to talk of being a sponsor. Truth never hides its colour. I am happy today because facts have emerged, all those fabricating these lies have been arrested. Those that fabricated this so-called Stephen Davis saga are currently in the hands of security agencies. All of them have met their Waterloo. When the security agencies finish their investigation, they would let us know who ask them to go round fabricating stories. There is no way I could be Chief executive of a state and a Boko Haram sponsor and killing my own brothers, relations and friends. I don’t think even the devil would killed his own. The allegation was a pure fabrication by some people in this state, everything you hear about this Boko Haram was fabricated here in Maiduguri. The photographs of those claiming to be Boko Haram commanders with Stephen Davis were taken within Maiduguri. We now know those who were behind the masks. We know their locations in the state and we know the people behind that fabrications. It is very unfortunate that they allowed themselves to be used. They were all arrested and in due course they would be presented to Nigerians to tell Nigerians who send or ask them to do what they did.
For me, I have no association with Boko Haram. I have no relationship with Boko Haram and I would never be one. I have nothing in common with people who are associated with Boko Haram. I mean, what is Boko Haram? Simply western education is Haram. Everything I became today was through western education. So, if western education is Haram, I could not have been senator, I could not have become governor, I could not have become what I have become today.
If I am one of them, their believes are that, anything to do with western education is Haram – prohibited. I cannot be sitting here and talking to you if I believe that western education or everything western is Haram. Almighty Allah will expose them, Allah will deal with them and I pray Allah to expose them and make sure they do not see anything good in their lives. Allah will make sure that all those people because of mere politics they want to destroy our names, Allah will deal with them one after the other. I pray very soon Allah will expose them.
Q: Your political opponents are accusing you of not being mindful about the victims of insurgency, who are now taking refuge in many camps made for internally displace persons, IDPs. How would you react to this accusation?
A: well, sometimes I wonder how some people think. The people of Borno state are not fools, they cannot continue to tell lies and people would keep quiet. I think so many people have already replied them. But I will tell you this, the first time I came to Maiduguri after living office in 2011 was to see the people that were displaced as a result of worsening crises situation. I met with the victims and address them afterwards, I give them my own contribution to assists them as a short term cushioning effect. When people were killed by Boko Haram even at the time when nobody was ready to go out to some of our local governments, I came and I went round to commiserate with our people. I drove over 180 kilometers to visits and commiserate with victims at Kala-Balge. When nobody wanted to go on such a voyage, I dared the risk to condole families of those that were killed by Boko Haram. I am not from Kala- Balge, but I went there with all the risk. I went to Biu as well and other places. The truth is that, even yesterday, when the Federal Government brought some relief materials to the victims of insurgency at the camps, some politicians went and lock up the schools where the victims are housed. How can you lock up people as prisoners for God’s sake? They did that, to prevent us from delivering the relief material to the victims. But praise be to Allah, the people came to us. Some of them were crying. They said, they were sleeping on bare floor and have no enough food. They said, here comes succor from the Federal Government, but the state government is preventing them from collecting. I do not know what kind of politics we are playing with victims that needs assistance. What was their crime that they should not be allowed to receive relief materials from the Federal Government yet the state government continued to plead with Federal Government to send assistance? The state government lacks what to tell Borno citizens, they lack how to confront the people because the government is already three and half years and there was actually very little to show as compare to their earnings.
Some people have said so many interesting things about the government. Now, let the government come out and tell the people of Borno state what they did in three and half years with the resources entrusted to them rather than looking for excuses and abusing people. I was told that, yesterday, the APC chairman in the state was abusing us. This is a small boy coming out to insult us! Well, we cannot join issues with them because they are too small to join issues with. They are children, who do not know their right from their left. They can abuse us for all times but nothing scratches our skin. For them, politics is to go out and insult people, for them, politics is to go out and tell lies, but that is not politics and that is certainly not what we are teaching the younger ones.
We are teaching them to go and join politics in order to help people, to bring dividends of democracy to their people and not to go and be abusing people. Surely, that is not what we teach our younger ones. We did not teach them to carry stones and throw it at people or to carry cutlasses and knifes to go and kill people. But as strange as this is, we believe that the government lacks what to tell people as such, they are encouraging madness in the name of politics.
Today, they called us Boko Haram, tomorrow I do not know what they are going to called us, but when this puzzle is revealed and every Nigerian and Borno citizens in particular come face to face with the truth everybody would answer his name because like I said, the people of Borno state and indeed Nigerians and the world would know who is Boko Haram and who is not.
Q: The major problem of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDD, in Borno state as it has been observed over the years is lack of unity among its leadership. With your coming now to PDP how is that being addressed?
A: We would unite all of them. In fact, you can see that we have come together, everyone that matter in the PDP. Our target is to work towards the return of peace in Borno state and in fact all well meaning Borno citizens has realized the importance of unity as such, uniting to salvage our state. All of us as leaders that you see today, are not too keen about position or political office, but how to end the crises of Boko Haram and bring peace to our state. That is our mind in the PDP. For me, I told you that running for elective office is not as important as ensuring that peace return and Borno regain it’s lost name as the ‘Home of Peace’.
We am interested now to get the right people to be in position of leadership. We are at the retirement stage now and we need to bring up people who would take from where we stop. But we need people who would work for Borno state and take it to the next level of positive development. People with the mind to reach out to the poor. We have done all we could in our power, now we want younger people with ideas and who are not interested in insulting people to take the affairs of the people of the state, so that, we would remain behind to advise and correct where necessary. This is the position we are suppose to now take as elders and leaders in Borno state.
Q: what are the chances of PDP winning the election in Borno state come 2015?
A: PDP chances are enormous. I did not have to tell you this going by what you saw when we arrived on Sunday. The crowd of people and of course, you can agree with me that these people are not rented crowd. The human being you saw on the street of Maiduguri that day were not forced to come out of their houses to come and welcome us. The people of Borno state knows that we did not lie to them while were in office, thus inform the crowd you saw. I have been playing politics for over 30 years but I have never seen such a number of people coming out to welcome any politician in Borno state.
I was elected three times as Senator, two times as governor but I have never seen such a number coming out despite the insecurity in place. I told myself that goes to show that the people of Borno state have a mission, and they said it. Their mission is to see that change has taken place. We promise them, that change would surely come. PDP as long as we bring out our candidate have more than 90 percent to win the 2015 gubernatorial seat of Borno state.
Q: There are about 10 aspirants eyeing the governorship seat in the PDP. How would the party manage its selection process to avoid rancor and keep politicians within the fold after the selection process?
A: We have started the process by asking them to go and talk to themselves. They have seen our sincerity and they have been talking to one another. We would not interfere with the process and anyone they selected would be our candidate and of course none of them would have course to regret because all of them would form part of the government. We are not after any individual among them. All of them are our younger brothers. Almost all of them with the exception of the former MD of the Bank of the north. We asked them to bring their own choice for governorship and we would bless him and work together to achieve our purpose of ensuring end to Boko Haram crises and bring back peace for our people.
One of them will surely become the governor, some of them will be Commissioners, SSG and the rest of the positions or perhaps ran for other offices as we deem fit. If you are running for governorship and you failed but we feel you can do well in other position, we would plead with ourselves to shift ground in other to have the best because we are not settling for any better but the best. We are doing everything transparently and they accepted our judgment, and told us that whoever emerged at the end of the day, they are ready to work together for the benefit of Borno people.
Q: What is your massage for Borno people?
A: My massage to the people of Borno state is that people should not listen to the propaganda going the round. The people of Borno state has suffered enough and it is time for change. We are fielding their children and we are looking for the best for them. Let the people give us all the backing to have the change we so desired. Let everybody go out and register with the PDP because today, the situation Borno is facing, only a PDP led government can salvage the situation by aligning with the central government. Being in the opposition cannot help us any longer but let’s be in the mainstream so that the people of Borno state can have the dividends of democracy. Today, Borno state is the least develop state in the northeast sub-region because we are in the opposition. This is enough, we should not be deceived or deceived ourselves any longer. Let’s join hands and put a PDP government in Maiduguri Government House come 2015. Secondly, and most importantly, we are very mindful of the security challenges in the state, we are determine and would do everything possible to ensure peace return and everybody goes back to his or her village. We are talking to the Federal Government, the Security Agencies, and they are assuring us of better days, they are working very hard towards achieving peace. I can tell you today, that the security agencies in Borno are working more than before. They are working day and night to ensure peace return to the state. By the grace of God, Borno would experience peace again.