Alhaji Salihu Tanko Yakasai is a man who is not afraid of threading where angels dare. In 2015, when supporting President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election was almost an apostasy in the north, the nonagenarian rooted for the Ijaw man from Otueke, at great personal risks. In this interview with IBRAHEEM MUSA, the elder statesman bared his mind on restructuring but stopped shy of taking on President Muhammadu Buhari’s handling of the Abdulrasheed Maina saga.
Recently, the entire north virtually converged in Kaduna and brain stormed about restructuring. Somehow you were not there. Were you not invited?
Well, if you say the entire north, I doubt if it is correct. There is an organization, I can’t remember the name, headed by Dr Usman Bugaje. It has been there for some time. They organized a meeting; by and large, the meeting was intended for academics and it was held in Kaduna. Did you see Balarabe Musa there? Did you see Abba Musa Rimi there? Did you see Garba Nadama from Sokoto? There were a number of people who were not invited.
Were you not invited?
I wasn’t invited and the other people I mentioned were not invited equally.
Restructuring: Let’s revert to 1963 constitution
Do you align with the meeting’s resolution that the north should pursue devolution of powers in a bid to restructure the country?
All along, I have never been opposed to it. From my observation, I have never seen or heard a northerner opposing restructuring for opposing it sake. But my own take was that, I will not make my opinion known until the people who are campaigning for it explain what restructuring is all about; so that I can be able to take my bearing from there.
When Chief Emeka Anyaoku recommended that we should go back to the 1963 constitution and I happen to know much about that constitution, and I feel that if its possible to go back to that constitution, I will vote for it.
What are the attributes of that 1963 constitution?
A lot of things but I will pick one item. The 1960 and 1963 constitutions provided, in respect of revenue allocation, that Premium Motor Spirit, that is petroleum, tax on it should be calculated on the basis of consumption. And therefore, the three regions at that time, were giving tax proportionate to their consumption of Premium Motor Spirit.
So, my opinion and my interest is that if we go back to constitution, I will like us to maintain that position in terms of Motor Spirit, and also add items which were not present at that time. At least I will mention two. One is Value Added Tax and the second one is Pay As You Earn. I will tell you why. VAT is the tax we pay for consumption. The same principle that guided the 1963 constitution to allow consumption to be the determinant for allocating revenue that accrued from the consumption of Motor Spirit, should be applied in determining revenue collected from the two items; that means the revenue should be based on consumption.
Let’s understand your argument. If for example Lagos state consumes 50% of Premium Motors Spirit and Kano consumes say 30%, you mean the revenue that should accrue to Lagos should be more because of its consumption?
You see, in respect of VAT and PAYE, Lagos as one state is getting 13%. And 35 states are sharing the rest. So, if it will be distributed equitably, Lagos cannot get 13%.
But the economy of Lagos is bigger than virtually all the states…
But VAT is based on consumption. Where they are more people that consume is where should get bigger share. In the last population census, Kano had the highest number of people.
This has been the area of my interest right from 1911, when the north had 51% of the population. But that one was done on the assessment of tax payers, on the assumption of the number of people who pay taxes in each family. But in 1921, it was an actual head count. And this is the reason why in 1921, the north came up with 56% of the population. And since then till 2006, we have never had less than 54% of the population.
But people have been questioning these population figures. Geographers argue that population thins out upwards but ours is an aberration whereby the population increases as one moves up north. How do you explain this?
Anybody who says that is being either dishonest or ignorant. The question of movements of people from highland to riverine areas happened before now. That was many years ago when people were roaming about and following tropical seasons. That is the reason why people tended to settle near the sea.
But since people are now more or less settled down and they started to produce their own food by way of agriculture, this idea is now obsolete. You are a journalist, did you ever have a situation or an occasion where a single village has migrated from one part of Nigeria to the other?
When the British came, they conquered the south as it is today in 1900. When they finished conquering the north in 1903, the same area of land that constituted the north at that time, is the same that you have today. For example, the Nigerians that tend to go out of their natural habitats are the Igbo.
This is the reason why in the six geopolitical zones, the south east has the least in terms of population because they have the least in terms of area. And because of that, they were forced to go out to earn a living elsewhere. The second world war was brought by Hitler because he was looking for more land.
Colonial conquest made Britain to acquire more land in the world and therefore, he felt that Germany was cheated. He used the slogan of ‘’Living Room’’, which he used to win the support of Germans so that he can conquer more territories. And acquiring more territories means acquiring more natural resources. Not only in terms of farming and fishing and so on. But also in terms of mninerals.
Lets leave history and come back to contemporary events. What is your reading of the entire reading of the AbdulRasheed Maina saga?
Let me tell you the truth. I did not pay attention to it until yesterday.(The interview was conducted when the Maina saga just came up). And I came in from Kano today. I started reading about it, to know the circumstances surrounding it, when they took off the light.
I know of the time when all the newspapers in Nigeria were awash with Maina’s story about absconding from Nigeria and so on. In fact, since that time, I had not heard of his name mentioned in any medium until recently. I didn’t know that he has come back to Nigeria. I didn’t know that he has been reinstated until yesterday when read it. I then said ‘’how come!? This man that had ran away from this country?’’
At that time, someone who was connected to the scandal, appeared before the National Assembly committee and confirmed the stealing of billions of naira. In fact, before that time, most of the billions that are being mentioned that were said to have disappeared at that time, I was very skeptical about it. I didn’t believe it until that person came before a National Assembly committee and confirmed that so much was stolen and was giving exact information about the dates and amounts; through which banks the money was withdrawn and so on. That was the time when I started believing it.
Now, when I read that the man is back, I became curious. I will like to be well equipped before making up my mind on the issue. From the little I have gathered, what I will say is that the man came back to the country with the connivance of top government officials. But whatever it is, it is really unfortunate and embarrassing because it shouldn’t have happened.
From the little you have read, what does the saga say about the administration’s coordination of government affairs?
No doubt there is no coordination. If there is coordination, this shouldnt have happened. A man that has been declared wanted rightly or wrongly, shouldn’t have been legally allowed to return and reinstated to his work, without due process being followed to the letter.
What does it speak of the president himself. Is he really in control?
I don’t know whether it is his fault. I don’t want to make a statement that will appear as if I am already bias against him. That is why I always avoid talking about him. I have said all that I needed to say about him.
When I said it, I was hated and now, most of the people who hated me, those who even refused to talk to me because of it, are now hating him and themselves. So, I feel that I should be grateful to the almighty God that I have been vindicated. That is why I don’t say anything about the president any more.