Alhaji Ibrahim Ahmad Coomasie, a former Inspector General of Police, is also the Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF).
In this interview, he narrates the story of the return of power to the North and the role his group, among others, played in stopping President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election bid, thereby sending him from the Presidential Villa back to his Bayelsa village, Otuoke.
Coomasie faults the sacking of the immediate past IGP, Suleiman Abba. He also speaks on how former President Olusegun Obasanjo imposed a ‘terminally ill’ Umaru Yar’Adua as president against advice.
The Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, objected to the manner the Federal Government sacked the immediate past Inspector General of Police, Suleiman Abba. Why?
You have come, as usual, in your subjective manner of asking question. You said the man was sacked. If he was sacked, it portrayed negativity. Having said that, our concern in ACF is that we want to know what he did to merit the sack. Nobody has said anything about that and you are asking me why are we raising objection to his sack? I told a television station in Kaduna that it was abnormal. Why he alone and what has he done? If he has done anything wrong, we need to be told, the country has the right to know what he has done. Nobody has said anything and why at this time? Did you are preparing for hand over to another administration? Did the out-going president take him into confidence before the sack? Was due process followed? Was he asked to explain his conduct? Or they just announced that he was sacked? Sack means removal for misconduct. Was. If he did something wrong, of course, he should be sacked. We are used to regime; when a government is changed, everybody goes with the out going-government, nobody raises eye-brow, but this person was picked and sacked. Why was he sacked? He is not due for retirement yet. Tell us what he has done to warrant being sacked.
Some adduced the sack to political reasons?
Are they right? Have they evidence to prove it? The simplest thing is for the government to tell us what Suleiman has done for him to be sacked or compulsory retired.
But in all previous actions of the Federal Government, it never explained why it sacked any of the I.Gs?
They do. Things come out. Circumstance dictates such. But in this, there was nothing outward to suggest that there was something wrong with this Inspector General of Police. This is a man the American government praised for his role in the conduct of the general elections? And this is the man you just sacked without any reason.
So the ACF is against the sack?
No, we are not against the sack, we only want to know why he was removed.
What kind of person is Suleiman Abba, you knew him while you were in service?
Yes, I knew him as a young officer. When I left the police, he was ADC to the First Lady. But I knew his progress till he became a lawyer. And I know he has been working very well. But he has been removed.
Aliyu Attah, a former I.G, said frequent change of guard in the police leaves room for inefficiency?
Yes, he is right. It disrupts continuity in the police. I did six years on the job. From 1993 to 1999. I was with (Ernest) Shonekan, (General Sani) Abacha and(General Abubakar) Abdulsalam. It was IBB that appointed me I.G before he stepped aside.
You predicted last November that the presidency was returning to the North via the general elections of 2015. What did you see that we didn’t see at that time?
There was nothing I saw that you didn’t see. I only gave you the analysis of events in the region. I never made any prediction. I told you then of the agreement in 1998 that brought in(General Olusegun) Obasanjo to power. The agreement was that it would be eight years each between the South and the North. After the eight years of Obasanjo administration, he wanted to stop the presidency from returning to the North.
And that is why he wanted another term that we all now know to be third term. And all hands were on deck to checkmate him. And you knew what he did after his failed attempt to get a third term to get another northerner to succeed him. Some of us believe that he didn’t want a northerner to take over from him. That was why he did what he did. We mentioned names of possible people being touted at that time to succeed him in the interviews I granted at that time, I don’t need to start mentioning the names again. But eventually they got someone who was ill, his illness was terminal, and he was pushed hard during the campaign, collapsed in Abuja, is it not so?
And he was rushed to Germany. Even while in Germany, Obasanjo called him and was asking, ‘Umoru, are you dead?’ But he survived it. He returned home, won the election. Two years into his tenure, nature took its course. Going by the constitution, if for whatever reason the president is not able to perform his function or he is removed, his deputy would take over. There were no qualms about it. Jonathan took over and he was sworn in immediately.
He completed the first tenure which was supposed to be a northern tenure. And then later, he said he wanted to continue. Some of us said it and it was widely reported. I said he should be magnanimous to say ‘okay, the first tenure is finished, another northerner, come and complete the second term’. But, he didn’t. I, even said if he had, he could have been a hero. But he didn’t, he said he wanted second term and won. He completed the second term, making two terms. Then, suddenly, he said he wanted to run for another term. The constitution provided for four years of two terms. He was part of the first term.
But he was just part…
(Cuts in) Let us leave that to legal interpretation. Would he do ten years or would he, if he had won, terminate his tenure midway and give out the remaining two years to the North?. I also told you that the purpose of government is security and welfare of the people. I said since this out- going administration took over government, there has been escalation of insurgency in the country especially in the North- East. Thousands of people have been killed and property destroyed. Schools destroyed. Chibok students were kidnapped and, up till today, we are yet to see them.
They have not been returned to their parents. And because of that, we (ACF) said this government has failed in providing security. These two reasons (for insecurity and the agitation that power should return to the North) compelled us and we met, all northern NGOs, and resolved that this time around, we had to struggle to get the leadership back to the North, especially because our people were being killed just because the person in the saddle could not be able to do anything. This was what happened. So, it is not a prediction. It is just an analysis. And God, in His infinite mercy, listened to our prayers.
Everybody wanted change, throughout the country. At least, where elections were conducted properly, everybody was voting the opposition party. That was what it is. The interesting thing about it all was that when Buhari was going about his campaign, the difference was obviously clear between him and the other candidate. People wanted change, saying ‘enough is enough’. They wanted peace, development. Right now in Katsina, there is no power. I don’t put on my generator until the evening. And power is one source of sustaining small scale enterprises for individuals. With adequate and stable power, you could get loan from banks and start something and know that, in due course, you can repay the loan but when there is no power, how do you power the business to the point of making profit to repay the loan?
But however small the business may be, once there is power, everything will take shape. Security and welfare, that is the purpose of government. This government has failed. I keep on repeating it. Funny enough, when the election was set to hold in February, they said no, they would reschedule it for security reasons, even when the security agencies said they were ready until the last minute when they all chorused they were not ready for security reasons. It was postponed. But the people, rather than get agitated, remained calm, cool and collected until the six weeks elapsed. The election was held, and, behold, there was improvement in the security situation in the North-East. What does that tell you as a journalist? Why couldn’t they do it in six years and they did it in six weeks even when we had support from our neighbouring countries?
You were a strong advocate of northern presidency, but there were some leaders even in the North here who castigated your action…
(Cuts in) Nobody vilified or antagonised me. At the presidential primary of the APC, they got Buhari as their candidate, and PDP had Jonathan as their candidate. These are the two major parties. I came out to say that ACF will support Buhari because we said leadership would return to the North and a party had brought out a candidate from the North who was Buhari. As far as we are concerned, he is well tested, because he was once head of state and he made impact at that time. One person from the other side of the divide went to publishe that I was on my own with the comment I made. He said the ACF never met to take the decision that culminated in the comments I made. But the Central Working Committee, CWC, and Board of Trustees, BoT, of the ACF, met later, to affirm, not only to confirm, what I said and even went further to say that the decision was taken since 2002. So, there was nobody that went against the ACF stand on the return of the presidency to the North.
What kind of person is the president elect, you were classmates at a time?
A: He was my classmate. We started together in 1953 before I went to continue in Zaria due to my father’s transfer. Before then, his brother was working with my father. We are more than classmates, we are family friends. I have known him ,both here and in service. He went to the army, I went to the police. And we continued to work together. We have an association of the 1953 intakes which meets every Christmas and Easter here. Incidentally in 1983 Christmas, we met here as classmates and from there he became the head of state after the coup. So, since then, we have been together. Any time he comes to Katsina, he comes to this house and we chat.
I know him as a serious person, somebody who is committed to whatever he is doing. Somebody who is serious about the development of his country and people. He likes honesty and integrity, that I know very well. He is somebody who is not corrupt. He loathes corruption. He is well disciplined. That is why the queue concept was introduced and it worked at the time he was head of state. You don’t throw things anyhow at that time.
There was transparency in the expenditure of government. Security too was good at that time. Now, during the campaign he said he would look into the security issue and see what he could do. He said he would fight corruption and restore electricity which is worrying all of us. This is the man we all know and he is capable of doing it provided he selects the right team. He is the right man for the job. This man(Jonathan) has been six years in the saddle, yet we are yet to get all that I listed above that Buhari said he would do. I think he should put the right persons in his cabinet. He has to be very careful. He is now the president of the Federal Republic, he should get good people where ever they may be in this country. There are credible people around. Everyone cannot be thieves.
Was it not curious to you when it was alleged during the campaign that Buhari had no certificate?
I think it was just mischief, nothing more than that. It was stupid particularly for some nonentities to engage in such talk. Somebody that has been in this country, schooled, joined the army and rose to become major general, then became head of state. He was minister of petroleum and governor of one of the largest states then, he was then made the chair of PTF. He performed every where he was posted, and now because it was obvious that he may win, at 72, you are saying he had no certificate. He attended courses abroad where schools are more strict than ours, and they found him very suitable to run the courses, he passed creditably. It was mere mischief. Every Nigerian has the right to contest for the presidency and indeed any elected position in the land. There is this man (Ayo) Fayose, who even predicted his death, and the other one (Femi Fani) Kayode, what were they saying? Absolutely nothing. Again, the Defence Headquarters too dabbled into the politics and were saying what is not. Why couldn’t they come and say it once and for all?
Were you surprised that apart from taken the centre, the APC also took Katsina State?
APC took Benue, Plateau, Oyo, Lagos, Kano, Bauchi, Jigawa, Kaduna, and other states, if it did in all these states, why will it not take Katsina? Is this not the home of the president- elect?
PDP has always dominated this state since 1999?
But that has come to an end. This is change period.
One of the reasons APC won the elections was because of the shortcomings of the PDP, now PDP says its returning to power in 2019. What is your advice to the APC that is coming to power now and PDP that wants to retake it in 2019?
The coming to power of any party entirely rests with the electorate. And now we are all getting more civilised, we are talking on issues now, rather than personality. If a political party comes to power and fails to perform like the out- going one, the electorate has the right to change it. If the APC fails to deliver, I am sure you know what the electorate will do.
Did you vote and who did you vote for?
I voted. I have been advocating for a northern candidate, a northern candidate who is also my classmate. Of course I voted for the APC.
How about the governorship election?
I voted for APC and Masari. Is anything wrong in that?