Mr. Dan Kunle is popularly referred to as an energy expert and international business consultant. But what many do not know or have probably forgotten are his strong political convictions, especially his role in founding the PDP. He shares it all…only in The Interview
In 2013, you said in an interview, “this is not the PDP of our dream.” What did the founding fathers have in mind?
I was about 40 or 41 that time and I was the youngest in the midst of the founding fathers. The group which I was working with at that time was led by the late Chief S. B. Awoniyi and General David Jemibewon (who is very much alive now). These two people, I worked closely with them to form the Peoples Democratic Party. Their group consisted of the late DrLimanCiroma, AlhajiBamangaTurkur, AlhajiAdamuFika who is now the chairman of the National Assembly Commission. This group, I was working with them through Chief Sunday B. Awoniyi, in fact including AlhajiIsyaku Ibrahim. General Jemibewon was the one that actually wrote the constitution of the PDP.
Not Bola Ige?
The elders (of the PDP) wanted to capture as many good people as possible from the South West because of the tension in the South West after June 12, 1993. So, they already felt that they must get the Bola Iges, the OluFalaes, the Prof Adedejis – the South West elite; they wanted them to be on board. They felt that since Bola Ige was an astute lawyer, let him be the one that will chair the Constitution Drafting Committee. So the meeting they had at the Muson Centre in Lagos, the Shell Muson Centre in Lagos, a seat that was vacant there, they reserved it for either Bola Ige or anybody from the South West of his status that would come for that meeting but they didn’t turn up.
Bola Ige didn’t come?
Yes. That was even the meeting before the Constitution Drafting Committee of the PDP. That was the meeting, the first meeting to say, okay, let’s call everybody that matters to rub minds. So they now heard that the South West leaders were meeting somewhere in Lagos, either Eko Hotel or somewhere. I think Dr Alex Ekwueme, in his wisdom, felt that since Gen Jemibewon is also a Yoruba, he was a governor in Western Region, he is also a lawyer, when Gen Jemibewon was working out of the hall, he called him and said, ‘Ah, since we didn’t see this fellow (Bola Ige), he is the one we wanted to do this thing for us oh; I hope you will be able to handle it for us. You will be able to work on the constitution of the party for us.’ This is the genesis. So when the meeting for the Constitution Drafting Committee was to hold, Chief Bola Ige did not come to the meeting for the committee. Jemibewon drafted the constitution. He is alive, you can go and ask.
What you have said suggests arbitrariness. Could that be said to be the reason behind the continuous crises?
No, the committee did a good job. At that time the constitution was reviewed, it was approved, before it was adopted. Chief Solomon Lar’s group at that time and Prof Jerry Gana and his group were the northern progressive elements; they were like the offshoot of Social Democratic Party (SDP), offshoot of Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP). So they also had a group and some of them worked closely with Engr Mohammed Gana. They worked closely with Chief S. B. Awoniyi to draft the manifesto. Chief Awoniyi was the one who handled the manifesto. The beginning of the PDP was very good; it was orderly; it was intellectually driven with experienced hands.
So, at what point did things go wrong?
I’m a student of political history in this country; every time some small things will happen, people will just ignore it. They will not know the long-term implications and consequences. You see, in 1999 November/December, when we wanted Chief S. B. Awoniyi to become the national chairman of the party, you remember what happened at the Eagle Square? It’s good to set the records straight in this country. The first accident that PDP had was at Jos. Ekwueme was to become the presidential candidate of the PDP but he could not pull through in Jos; Obasanjo won in Jos. Rimi wanted to become vice president in Jos; he could not pull through. We came back to Abuja, and BamangarTukur wanted to become vice president. Within 24 hours, the presidential candidate that won (Obasanjo) nominated AlhajiAtikuAbubakar. Some people who wanted to become vice president in Jos – Prof AngoAbdullahi, Prof JibrilAminu, AlhajiAdamuCiroma – wanted to be vice president to Ekwueme. In the end, when AlhajiAtikuAbubakar got it, some internal problems started because they felt how our Baba Obasanjo chose his vice president was not consultative enough. So problem started. That was the first accident. The second accident was at the Eagle Square, when Chief S. B. Awoniyi was not allowed to become the national chairman of the party that he midwifed. He was the one (with Gen Jemibewon), who nominated Solomon Lar for chairmanship. That was how Solomon Lar became the first chairman of the PDP. The plan was to hand the chair over to Awoniyi at the proper convention, but that never happened. That was the second accident. That first accident, even at the last minute, we did not sleep. We went to Baba Obasanjo’s room at night to go and wait. And when we did not see him till about 2am, we briefed the late Madam (the late Mrs Stella Obasanjo) about the circumstance and why Oga should be careful about the arrangement of selecting a vice president without consulting widely.
But he had chosen already…
He had already tipped Atiku that time and Bamanga was in that same hotel, thinking that he was the one.
With the level of politically experienced people that you had in PDP from the beginning and the perfect take-off that you told us about, to what will you attribute that first and second accidents?
It was lack of internal democracy. It was also due to the circumstances of that period. The political atmosphere of the country was not very stable. So you needed people to quickly take decisions. If you were weighed down with too much internal democracy – it’s not that I am defending President Obasanjo for taking those decisions without making a wider consultation – things would have gone out of hand. You needed somebody to show that he was in charge.
You talked about a headhunt for intellectuals in the South West to take over from AbdulsalamiAbubakar and assuage June 12. How did Obasanjo come in?
You see, General Abdusalami cancelled the NCP, CNCC, GDM and UNCP, all those arrangements (parties) between 1996 – that time under Abacha. When Gen Abdusalami cancelled them, people were trying to rush to form new parties. There were also suggestions that Abiola could be released. The whole situation was so fluid. So, some people tried to form a group, New Era. The first meeting was to be held in Gana Street, Abuja. Other groups were also meeting at different locations: S.B. Awoniyi; the Atiku’s group; Gen Babangida and Gen. AliyuGusau’s group – all of them. They started a head-hunt. Some people, like Gen Gowon, felt strongly that the South West should get it in order to assuage them because of the annulment of the election of June 12, 1993. Gen Jemibewon was asked to reach out to Professor Adedeji. Baba Awoniyi was talking with the brother of Chief Bola Ige, I think Chief Dele Ige. Some people were talking with Falae. They also involved His Royal Highness, Oba Awujale. The Obasanjo phenomena came about because when he was released from prison, people – including most of the old northerners – had sympathy for him because they felt he had suffered unjustly. The Chief Awoniyi group had a special session with Obasanjo during which they asked him to convince them that he was a good candidate.
The group was looking for someone who will protect the Yoruba interest?
Not exactly. Each group was interested in its own interest, which was not necessarily ethnic. For example, Afenifere will say, ‘No, Obasanjo does not represent us.’ Ohaneze felt Ekwueme was the appropriate person to be candidate. Even Gen Jemibewon said in principle, philosophically, by seniority it should have been Ekwueme.
So, how were you able to sell Obasanjo’s candidature?
His candidature was based on the amalgamation of all the interests from Atiku’s group, from IBB’s group, from the northern progressive group, that is, the Prof Jerry Gana group, the Solomon Lar group. Everyone said, ‘Ok, let’s give it to this man who has suffered in the hands of Abacha.’ Then the momentum became very, very serious.
So, the nomination of Obasanjo was based on pity, not necessarily because he was representing the South West that suffered politically in 1993?
You see, let me tell you one thing. Sometimes, leadership is situational, according to the famous German philosopher. The circumstance at times can bring up a leader. I’m telling you, that was how people like General Gowon were created; it was the situation that brought Gowon. The circumstances in which we were in 1998/99, it was just natural for many people to say ‘Ok, as long as it’s Yoruba now, why are they saying he should not have it.’ So Baba Obasanjo enjoyed this circumstance and because, luckily for him, he had a very strong pedigree; he is a hardworking man and his history in Nigeria is like a history of destiny.
So he eventually came, and was president for eight years. What were the shortcomings? What were the disappointments at the end of eight years that those of you who brought him experienced or saw?
Well if I’m to X-ray the eight years and just conclude without going into all the nitty-gritty because there were a lot of problems between 2000 and 2007, there were a lot of problems he encountered but he was able to meander through the whole situation. The overall mark I will still give to Baba is – I may be subjective – he will still score an A. When I reflect on everything that we did, because I started with Gen Jemibewon in the Ministry of Police Affairs, as one of his aides; then served at the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), and the Ministry of Energy as one of the technical assistants to the ministry of energy and gas. What I saw is that the government of Obasanjo attempted very, very ambitious political and economic reform agendas and because the world economy was also transiting from analogue to digital, there was a problem of how to drive through those reform agendas. Technology was not yet fully embraced in Nigeria, ICT in particular. This telephone technology was not yet a common commodity like this, so he pushed between 2000 and 2003, he was just pushing to lay foundation; it was difficult. From 2004 to 2007, he had stabilised; he was really driving very hard. Those things he felt he couldn’t do the first time, he started putting them in place. He started banking consolidation; he did the reform – privatisation, he took it to a higher level, so he tried to do very well. It is the political transition of 2006/2007 that I will say, in my little wisdom, was a big problem that had not made the last eight years to really crown his eight years success. But that first eight years, it was success in this country.
Then, he had problems with Atiku which were largely self-inflicted?
Agreed. Baba Obasanjo means many things to many people. I agree with you. Baba means very good to some of us, Baba means very bad to some people, Baba means 50/50 to some people. To me he is a human being. In fact, to me, he is a super human being; he did very well. If he made one or two mistakes; Ok, we’ll live with such mistakes. But to be very honest, I would have preferred that those mistake were not made. I would have preferred that he handed over to AlhajiAbubakarAtiku for continuity and transition, because when I now participated in Yar’Adua government for one and half years, I saw the level of sluggishness, and I saw the cabal around President Yar’Adua which, to me, must have been due to his health situation. Maybe this would not have happened with AlhajiAtikuAbubakar because he had learnt so much in the last eight years, that he was the natural successor of President Obasanjo and the PDP might have not found itself in this total mess.
A lot of observers have attributed the problems within PDP to Obasanjo. He handpicked Atiku and people protested. At the end of his tenure he handpicked Yar’Adua; four years later, he handpicked Jonathan. Is that not true?
Yes, but you see in life you must take decisions; the decision may be right, it may be wrong. History will judge that, let’s leave that like that. If Baba Obasanjo did not take decisions, we will say he did not take decision, he took the decision, the decision might have not been properly managed, and the consequences became a little bit too bad but he took decisions. And you can even see the wisdom in the man and how magnanimous he is. He still went back to embrace Gen Buhari and you remember the history of their crises over Petroleum Trust Fund, when President Obasanjo pronounced Petroleum Trust Fund disbanded. I give you one history; many people may not know this – the owner of Afriprojects, the Late Salihijo, was in contact with me and Gen Jemibewon in 1999. The total report of PTF, Salihijo gave it to me at Sheraton Hotel to give it to Gen. Jemibewon to explain it to Baba Awoniyi so that Baba Awoniyi will explain it President Obasanjo so that President Obasanjo will see the level at which work has reached so that he will not disrupt the flow of those projects. We thought that the assurances of President Obasanjowill make PTF to have a life after swearing-in. So when Obasanjo now came and just pronounced PTF dead, it was natural, Gen Buhari was not happy. In fact, Salihijo died that night. The crises between Buhari and Obasanjo now became very, very pronounced. They audited PTF, you remember. From that point, President Buhari made up his mind to fight to become president or so in 2003. He said, ‘Ok, if you could do this to me, I can also run for presidency, I am qualified.’ I remember that in 2006/2007, Jimoh Ibrahim arranged to settle the rift between President Obasanjo and Gen Buhari in Modu Sheriff’s house, this Sheriff that wants to be PDP chairman. I was privy to the arrangement; the thing did not work. Everybody tried to arrange to settle them but the thing could not work. What I am trying to arrive at in giving you all this background is for you to still see at the end of the day for you to give credit to President Obasanjo. He still bent backward to now accept to work with Gen Buhari to become president.
Obasanjo’sprivatisation has been strongly criticised. Also it has been said that while he went after others on corruption, he was enmeshed in Halliburton. How can you give him an A-rating?
Thank you very much. On privatisation, I will score him “excellent.” Go back to the BPE days from 1999 to 2007, go and check those transactions; it was thorough and there was complete adherence to process, using some of the best experts in the field. Two or three transactions may have had problems, legal loopholes here and there, like Nitel/Pentascope, the Privatisation Loan Scheme, and the Aluminium Smelter that had hitches and ended up in the Supreme Court. You cannot expect such a very ambitious project to score 100%. It still scored 80/85%. People in this country don’t even know that Nitel was carrying 11,000 staff liabilities, pension, gratuity, salaries and Nitel had only 400,000 telephone lines. People forget easily in this country. So we went through all these headaches. Let me tell you one thing about the issue of corruption; Nigeria has abused that word. Corruption is a relative issue anywhere in the world. There is corruption in America, there is corruption in Japan, there is corruption in China, there is corruption in the United Kingdom, there is corruption in Germany, there is corruption in Saudi Arabia; there is corruption in every human setting.
Those involved in Halliburton have been punished in France and the US, but not in Nigeria…
What does your law say? Do you just wake up because they did it in America, what is your local law? I will tell you something. Do you know if you go to swear to an affidavit today, the form of the affidavit, how much is it? How much do you pay? What is the cost of printing the form? Will you say because they have applied sanction in America, you want to apply the sanction here, when your own laws, your statutes do not provide for it?
Let’s go back to the PDP. A former chairman of the party said it will rule Nigeria for 60 years. What happened?
The guy who said PDP will rule Nigeria for 60 years, that was his dream; that was his personal dream. He was on top of his game at that time. He did not think about the amount of work and commitment required. Even the ANC in South Africa is having problems. Then you say a country where you have more than 30 active parties, Nigeria had about 30 active parties, whether they win or don’t win at least they are there battling. So when one person makes a statement like that, it’s left for the intellectuals who have inner minds to say, ‘look this guy has made a statement, what is the content of work involved now, who is going to do the work? Where is the team that will drive the country along PDP vision and mind-set continuously?
Why did the founding fathers withdraw from the PDP?
They withdrew when the vagabonds took over.
Who are they?
You know in Nigeria they will tell you that you should not mention names, that the enemies will be looking for you to assassinate. You know the crop of people that took over our party from 2008 to 2014, they destroyed the party. I don’t care what the enemies may say; they destroyed the party. A member of the Board of Trustees of PDP that I am close to, got to hear of meetings through the newspapers.
Anenih is a grandmaster; he’s been there.
What can he alone do? There is what we call natural limitation; what can Baba Anenih alone do? When he looks round, he can’t find the likes of Obasanjo; he can’t find the likes of Jemibewon; he can’t find the likes of the late Baba Awoniyi, what can he alone do? So when they took the party, and a set of vagabonds came in, and started running the party like banana republic. You know when monkeys see banana, they just go mwammwam; no intellectual input, nothing. They don’t care. Why will people not be offended?
How can you blame them? The so-cavagabondlled elders didn’t prepare successors.
You are right, but you see, as I have said, you are very right. This transition of 2006/2007 was the third accident PDP had. PDP had so many accidents but they were always quick to panel-beat it.
And the accidents were always attributed to Obasanjo?
Yes, but he had the capacity to quickly make up. Now when you see how nobody could now help to panel beat or patch things up from 2008 to 2013. When the vagabonds came in 2007/2008 to 2014 and destroyed the party, we became onlookers. Because you can’t fight them because they were occupying the front seats, the televisions, newspapers in Nigeria, all for money; they were grabbing banana, like monkeys. So now they have destroyed the party now. I’m aware now that they now want to hand over the party to the undertaker.
Isn’t this also because the party lost its supremacy – or was forced to subordinate itself – to the president or governor?
Ok, let me clear one thing. The presidential system of Nigeria is fundamentally flawed. This country needs a reform. We need to run a proper federal system and allow the states and local governments to have more powers to generate revenue and contribute to the centre, or we go back to regions. This country should have a minimum of 9 or 10 regions, autonomous regions with their own parliament and everything, and contribute to the centre. Having said all this, it is for you to know that I am not going to make a superficial statement that Obasanjo was right or wrong. A leader like Obasanjo operated in the circumstance in which he found the country. Nigeria is a country that is still largely illiterate, the 5% elitist in Nigeria does not really even know what they want for themselves and they are the ones you guide the 95% that are very, very unconscious. They are half conscious and half unconscious. So Obasanjo behaved in accordance to the way he saw the country, otherwise in America where the federal system works very well in the same presidential constitution, can the president of America, would he have behaved like President Obasanjo? No way. So it was the circumstance in which Baba found himself. So it’s not that I want to criticize the regime of President Obasanjo for the eight years; I was around in that government. I know what happened and what did not happen; but I will always tell you the positive side of that government outweighs the negative side.
Would you also say that the seeking of tenure elongation, what was called 3rd term, was also on the positive side?
If you look at the Third World environment and the circumstance of a country like Nigeria, honestly with the benefit of hind set even now I will say how I wish Obasanjo had spent extra eight years. I have no apology. Looking at the circumstances of Nigeria, how I wish Obasanjo had spent additional eight years to right some of the wrongs and some things he did not conclude. Take the Mambilla Hydro, for example. A PDP government came and cancelled it; stopped the project, with $1.4 billion on top of it; the money was coming from China. Eight, nine years down the line, they have not done anything to Mambilla Hydro. The railways system, express from Lagos to Kano – $8.3 billion, with the Chinese railways engineering construction cooperation; they cancelled it; they stopped it. People within PDP that were not happy with Obasanjo for the eight years came to Yar’Adua and now ganged up against all the good policies. If you look with the benefit of hindsight today I will say how I wish Obasanjo had his way to do extra eight years so as to complete all those infrastructural projects.
In 2015, President Goodluck Jonathan handed over voluntarily to the APC. Did that take you by surprise?
Jonathan handed over for two reasons: one, his personality. He is a very simple person that should not be a president of a very complex and complicated country like this. The second reason he did it was, he looked at the whole situation and he felt helpless, because the vagabonds that surrounded him were just taking money. So he felt that if he tried to struggle with President Buhari’s tsunami movement, the country will be taken over by tsunami and some of us will not be in this Abuja today.
Will you attribute that action to the failure of PDP?
Yes now, that’s why I said the vagabonds surrounding him.
Do you regret ever belonging to PDP?
No. I cannot regret because we had good vision, we started nicely and up until now I have not gone to resign from PDP. I haven’t gone home to my ward to say I hereby relinquish PDP
As it is now, do we still have a party called PDP?
To me, you know, there two things in insolvency – you can have technical and financial insolvency. In Nigeria now, Nigeria is technically solvent but Nigeria is financially insolvent. PDP is, technically, still a party, but it is morally and financially bankrupt. They are insolvent. PDP is morally and financially insolvent; they are bankrupt.
Do you agree that the President Buhari is targeting the PDP in the anti-corruption war?
I sympathise with Gen Buhari because of his age (anybody that is 70 must be guided) and the amount of work that needs to be done.
Because he has reached the biblical age. Now if somebody at 70 takes on this type of job, you don’t even know how to talk about his actions or inactions. He came out now as president but the centre cannot hold among the coalition of parties that formed the APC. So PDP remnants that are battling for survival now, naturally they will feel that President Buhari is the one that is directing all the probes against them. He has a challenge on his hand at his age, because who will help him look into APC? So will he use the same instrument of government that he is using to look into PDP affairs to look into APC?
Exactly, this is the challenge for him. Anybody who philosophically wakes up and says, ‘Oh, why is it PDP rascals you are after, there are also rascals in APC, why are you keeping quiet about those ones?’ Like SuleLamido said. You cannot fault this; this is democracy; you cannot fault this. This is why I say I sympathise with Buhari because he has a challenge in his hand because if you take everybody in PDP and expose all the money they have mismanaged, OK, good. Now take all the people in APC that also used their position in government and privileges to promote APC, to make you president. If he does not go after the corrupt people in APC, does that mean that he is sincere? Well, this is politics.
The chairmanship of PDP has been zoned to North East and the assumption within PDP is that chairmanship has been ceded to Modu Sheriff; Is that true?
That’s what I read, that’s what I heard. I called some people that I felt that I should express my concern to, some highly placed people within the system and they said, ‘Well, that the arrangement was to zone the chairmanship to South West, or if South West misses it by any democratic arrangement, it should go to North Central Yoruba. That’s what I heard – that option one is South West to take the chairmanship of the party because when you look the geo-political arrangement, this zoning issue and federal character, if they have followed that with discipline, Modu Sheriff wouldn’t have been the one advocating or soliciting to retain chairmanship of PDP today because he is from North East, and if PDP in 2019 says that they want to zone presidential ticket to the north, the north means North East, North West and North Central in the geopolitical arrangement of the1995 Constitutional Conference. If you look at it, if Sherriff is insisting he wants to be chairman of PDP and the South West now keeps quiet and the Yoruba part of North Central also keeps quiet, when they know, oh, if the South West does not win, it could come to them, that is, part of Kwara and part of Kogi. If those people now walk away after they might have installed Sherriff, if they walk away (they say water must always find its level), they will find somewhere to perch.
Is there any final, last-ditch effort to save the PDP or have you given up?
You see, I didn’t want to say this but I will say it for record purposes. When Governor Segun Mimiko moved from Labour Party to PDP, he felt he wanted to go to the mainstream ruling party; that was his philosophy. You see, because the history of Nigeria was regional grouping, you still saw this regional grouping trying to come up in 1999 if you remember. In the east, it is APGA or one party in the east; then in the South West it was AD, but PDP tried to cover the whole country, saying we are national in spread. So Mimiko, philosophically, is a very astute politician; he said, ‘Look let me move from one-party state, Labour Party (they had only Ondo) to the mainstream ruling party, which was strategic, thinking that he can now join the mainstream party and carry Ondo to it, instead of remaining in only Ondo or instead of joining the South West group. That same South West group, are they not the one that has now metamorphosed to national ruling APC? So now he got there and the vagabonds destroyed PDP and Jonathan lost the election, he is now left with a situation whereby he has to relate with people that he cannot understand what is going on. If my consultation with some people like him is anything to write home about, some of these people are also not happy. That is just the answer to the question you asked me. It’s not like everybody in that PDP that you see today, it’s not like all of them are happy. Some of them are not happy; they are questioning the rationality of this chairmanship being retained in the north. But because their number, it’s a game of numbers, you know; this is democracy, they will overshadow their voice, they will overshadow them.
How long within the constitution of PDP is a chairman supposed to serve?
All these constitutions they have amended two or three times; I don’t even know the provision now.
Is PDP doomed?
You see the move to bring Sheriff will further reduce the chances of PDP surviving. If they had brought some old hands back, consult with Dr Ekwueme, consult with the General Jemibewon and they try to regroup, and they do it carefully with a South West chairman, they could revive the party gradually. Not with the mind of winning election in 2019 but they can again rebuild. It’s like a team that is not doing well; a football team can reorganise gradually, gradually, gradually, but the way they are going in the last one month that I have been reading, I think this guy is going to be the undertaker.