▪Inside Story Of How Obasanjo Ditched Him In 2006
▪Modu Sheriff’s Sponsors In APC
Ahmed Makarfi isn’t new to the Nigerian political elite club. From being a part of the administration of Colonel Lawal Jafaru Isa during the military regime to 1999 when he became the governor of Kaduna State, governing it for eight years, and his current position as the interim leader of the Peoples Democratic Party, he has, indeed, come a long way.
He recently opened his doors to The Interview team and shared his insights and experiences, including what really went down during the recently concluded epic battle for the soul of the PDP…it’s a must read!
Your party showed a lot of promise until last Saturday in Anambra State. Everybody thought you were going to use Anambra as your re-launch, so to speak. Surprisingly, by the outcome, you came a distant third; what happened?
Personally, I wasn’t surprised and any party man shouldn’t be surprised by the outcome in Anambra. The APGA votes were not APGA votes. They were APGA/PDP votes. Anambra has a peculiar kind of politics- the more you look, the less you understand. There are intricate local issues, you know, very complicated, very intricate since the first governor, Chinwoke Mbadinuju left in 2003. These issues have been in the politics of Anambra and have not gone away. Some of it, honestly, I can’t go into the details of what I know, what I got to know, but it seems to me and to many of us that, that is the outcome people basically bargained for.
It wasn’t the issue of primaries. You know, some people said our primaries got it wrong. Whatever the outcome of the primaries, it might not have changed the outcome. The roles so many people who participated in the primaries, their objectives were different. It wasn’t for PDP to win; it was basically for this outcome to come to be. I think the consensus among Anambra politicians, apart from the APC, was that APC must never win Anambra. And I think the people’s mindset was open: APGA/PDP but not APC. With a common objective, the outcome basically satisfied the overwhelming majority of Anambrarians, both PDP and APGA alike. That outcome you saw is not APGA versus every other political party; it’s an intricate political issue in Anambra.
Is that insinuating a kind of working relationship between APGA and PDP?
There has been effective working relationship in Anambra politics between many or majority of PDP members and APGA. There has been. It has been at play. You see APGA winning governor’s seat, you see PDP winning National Assembly seats; you will see all sorts of things that you only have to come from that area to know exactly what is going on. But it seems to most of us that there is effective working relationship between, not every PDP member, but a majority of PDP people and APGA.
It seems really so bad that the party secretary lost in his own ward…
It is not about that. I think you just go back to what I said earlier. It seems to most of us, and it is not just about last Saturday election, even from previous elections, that there has been and there will continue to be an effective political working relationship between APGA and PDP in Anambra.
So they feel a sense of victory in both APGA and…
It is not a working relationship that has official stamp, but it is a working relationship that has a local political stamping. And, at the end of the day, politics is local.
In so far Buhari’s APC was humiliated…?
The main, the only objective, to our understanding, was that APC must not win.
Buruji Kashamu, in the PUNCH, said it was all your fault, that you brought your bad luck back to the party…
Well, as I said, we only won in 1999 in Anambra. And since then, we lost in 2003, and it has not been well with us in Anambra since 2003. I wasn’t national chairman in 2003. That’s one. Two, when Buruji and his clique, during the legal spell that gave them the control of the party, when the Osun South East senatorial seat was won by Senator Adeleke, we won that seat because we did not behave the way Buruji and co. were behaving. We didn’t run a parallel congress. We didn’t go to campaign for an opposing party or person. We said no, every PDP man should vote for the candidate. Buruji and his clique, in Ondo, went up to Supreme Court, having lost, openly endorsing other candidates and campaigning for them. In Edo, it was the same. So, you see, the issue is that our behaviour and theirs is different. We always go for the party’s interest; they always go for their personal and selfish interests. So, the losses in Edo and Ondo, you can also ascribe to them. Even in Edo, they were in court up to the Court of Appeal. But where did we go to court to challenge the candidate just because the name of the candidate was submitted by Sheriff? We never did. We always stood by the party. In Anambra, it is different from this particular seat, because in any case, just like Edo, it wasn’t a state within PDP fold anyway. So we lost nothing basically. You get the point. But then, since 2003 there is a peculiar politics playing out in Anambra State, and it continues to play.
Let’s go back to the legal battle your party had up to the Supreme Court; how close was PDP to extinction?
How close to extinction? Ahh! We really give gratitude to the Judiciary for saving Nigeria’s democracy by saving the opposition party. If that judgement had gone the other way, by now we wouldn’t be talking about PDP. People had made statements and even majority that did not make statements were looking at different directions. And the party would have disintegrated. What will be left of PDP by now would have moved to APC, obviously, because we know who they are. I think that it was the judgement that has immensely contributed to stabilising democracy by making sure that opposition party was not killed by whatever antics, legal or political.
So, you are saying that the PDP would have been dead by now…
Why are you people so afraid of Modu Sheriff?
It wasn’t about Sheriff. It wasn’t Sheriff, but the forces behind Sheriff.
Who were those forces behind Sheriff?
Who were his backers?
His financial backers, political backers and people pulling the strings. You know, at some point in Judiciary, in security angles, there were people in APC government – I wouldn’t go that far to say APC-led federal government as a policy, you understand, because he has his problem with top people in APC and APC-led federal government. But there are also influential and over-ambitious warlords, political lords or whatever, within APC who thought that they could use him to not only kill the PDP but to also pave the way for their even taking over the APC themselves. This group of people is still at it, within the APC. All they want is the control of their party, kill off opposition so that in 2019, Nigerians will have no option but them as so-called saviours of this country. I have said this before: it wasn’t really a policy of President Buhari or maybe those you can closely mention to him, but governors, ministers, over-ambitious people in APC, who are still powerful in the APC administration, were using and funding him (Sheriff).
Have you given up on Sheriff and his supporters?
Well, anybody can come back into PDP; PDP is not an exclusive club. But you know, there is what you have to give that will indicate what level you can reach within the PDP. But based on the Nigerian constitution, anybody can come to the PDP. People will be coming, people will be going. So, nobody is excluded from coming into PDP. As to where he is, I really don’t know. Because the story is that he has been accepted by APC, Abuja; no, he has been rejected by APC, Borno. So, I don’t know which one to believe. Until I know where he is, I really cannot answer that question. I don’t know where he is. But he is free to join any political party, not just the PDP.
But some of his foot soldiers, like Buruji Kashamu, are still laying strong claim to PDP; why are you having problems?
As we know it, he is also the main sponsor and financer of a party that is trying to change logo, name, still struggling with INEC.
Who are you talking about here?
The Buruji you mentioned. We know that. We know that he has recruited people to go to that party. Maybe he wants to cause as much damage as possible before quitting the PDP. Let me remind you that he is a senator; he is also afraid to make a categorical statement that he has left – that may cause him to lose his seat. So, he has a number of reasons for seemingly remaining in PDP, but it is certain that his mind is not in the PDP anymore.
Talking of plan B, I recall that Raymond Dokpesi said he founded APDA as a fallback position for PDP members in the event that Sheriff prevailed, and he said you were in the know, how…
Many of us were in the know, but we were also not telling him what to do. It wasn’t a secret. It was among the about 18 or so political parties that the Prof. Jerry Gana committee was talking with, looking at a fallback position – supposing we lost at the Supreme Court, what should PDP do? But we didn’t spend a kobo for its registration or for its function, but not that we were not aware of what was going on. As politicians, you also know you have to be aware of your environment. But you also know the case of APDA, somehow people linked to Sheriff also hijacked it away from him. The matter was in court and he lost, but because we were not really effectively involved, but not that we were unaware of what was going on. (We were) aware but not involved.
Did you approve it?
It was not for me to approve. I don’t approve for somebody to register another political party or not to register a political party.
Talking about your forthcoming convention now, shortly after the Supreme Court lifeline, a lot of Nigerians had expressed optimism, perhaps PDP has come to save democracy, but the signal we are getting lately is beginning to cause concern. It seems to be a fierce battle in your party vis a viz who could become the chairman, particularly in the south. The South West wing of your party said they thought the chairmanship ought to have been conceded to them and that your policy now seems to be that, well, the field is thrown open to everybody in the south. And given the balance of forces now, it seems that the South South and South East are presently dominant in terms of control, chances are that the chairmanship will eventually go to either South South or South East, leaving out the Yoruba wing of the party; are you not worried about the seeming dissonance and its implication for your so-called new found unity of purpose?
We have unity of purpose as opposition party. That is not to say that, internally, there are no clashes of interests. That’s the whole issue of democracy. It is not a unitary system. But let me explain exactly what the situation is. You see, the convention zoned the presidency to the North, chairmanship to the South. And it stopped there – meaning that chairmanship is open to all the southern states, presidency is open to all northern states. Now, NEC went further and zoned all national offices to North and South. NEC did and approved just national offices – North, South. NEC did not go further to zone per geo-political zones. What happened thereafter? The northern caucus – I wasn’t even there; I wasn’t even in the country; I came back and they just came and briefed me that they wanted a kind of orderliness and they had zoned the positions to geo-political zones and it was widely accepted. I told them, ‘fine and good, it’s politics. But mind you, that’s a political arrangement. We, as a party, cannot enforce it. But you, having sat and all agreed, politically you can enforce it’. The geo-political zones in the North equally met and said ‘look, this has been zoned to us, let us make another political arrangement and zone to states’ And they’ve done that political arrangement. The party caretaker committee wasn’t involved. All these are political arrangements for political players.
Now the South wanted us to, kind of, ‘micro zone’ on its behalf; we didn’t do it for the North. Why should we go to the South and micro-zone? Do it the same way the northern political caucus did, if you so desire; go and meet and do it, but don’t tell us to come into a matter that concerns southern part of the country and get involved. We didn’t get involved in the entire northern caucus affair as a party, in any of the geo-political zones. I got involved in North West because I come from North West. I was there not as a national caretaker committee chairman. So now the issue was that the South failed to meet for a very long time. But I understand that they met recently and maintained the zoning of other offices but they said the chairmanship and deputy should be either South South or South West; whatever, and South South and South East should sort it out. If they cannot sort it out, then they should go to the convention. It is for them to sort it out. If they cannot, all candidates should come to the convention.
What’s wrong in South South producing the party chairman?
There is not wrong in it but they have to politically sort it out.
You know, why I ask is that the story out there is that an agenda is unfolding: you being the chairman was because of the influence of Governor Fayose of Ekiti and Governor Wike of Rivers and now Fayose is interested in becoming vice president even though he has announced presidential ambition; if chairmanship comes to South West, that technically knocks out Fayose, so it suits Fayose to ensure that the chairmanship goes to South South or South East so that, that would enhance his chance of becoming the vice president…
There are many political hypotheses. It is also said that the South East is not seeking any such office because their own is the vice presidential slot. So, square that with what you have mentioned about Fayose. So which one is which? And you earlier said the dominant people in PDP are South South and South East, so if they are dominant and you know this is what they are haggling for, who is in a better position to actualise that? But this issue of South West, we cannot help them put their house in order. It is for them to put their house in order. What brought about Sheriff’s issue in the first instance was lack of consensus agreement in the South. The chairmanship at that time was zoned to South West. There was argument between them and they said rather it should be taken out, based on what we heard, and that was how Sheriff actually got it. So there has been a long problem there even before I became the chairman, national caretaker committee, and they have not been able to sit down at home and sort out their issues.
For the sake of your party, don’t you see this as a threat, because…
It’s not a threat, because we are very conscious of these contending forces. I won’t say what our strategies are but we are comfortable with…
Do you have a strategy?
Of course we do.
Then you should be confident to say it.
But if I say it, it becomes no strategy. When I say it, it becomes no strategy. We are very conscious of all these contending forces and we have our permutations, we have our calculations, and we believe we will be home and dry where we are going. But it will be stupid of us to lay out our path to victory in 2019. In spite of all the issues, at the end of the day, everybody will be carried along appropriately one way or another. We have our political calculations and we are comfortable with where we are.
But if the problem in South West paved the way for Sheriff and the problem has been there before you came and the problem is still lingering, draining the party of vital energy, don’t you think it should be fixed before the convention, otherwise you risk another major loss?
We have factored that into whatever we are doing. There is no time to fix any particular thing before the convention. But I assure you that we are not unmindful of the situation in South West and we are not going to forsake the South West. At the end of the day, every part of Nigeria will belong; will get an appropriate share in PDP and PDP government. God willing, we will form the government come 2019.
Fayose has declared his interest in the Presidency in 2019, do you support him?
As chairman, caretaker committee, I can’t even support a councillor or anybody vying for position; mine is to create a level playing ground for all.
That’s not a direct answer…
It is a direct answer. Why should I take side? I shouldn’t take side.
Don’t you think it is conflict of interest for Fayose to remain the chairman of PDP Governors’ Forum and he is busy convening meeting of stakeholders that would decide how the convention will take shape, meanwhile he has presidential ambition?
First of all, I am not aware of the meeting he convened with stakeholders. All the meetings to do with the convention, I have been calling them irrespective of who and who were there, either governors, National Assembly members or whatever. But he calls meeting for their own governors’ forum as chairman. Now, the party didn’t appoint him the chairman of governors’ forum, the governors did. I mean, it’s their call; it’s not our call. But what will be wrong is President Buhari calling for meeting of the APC people to talk about convention or plans towards 2019 when we all know that the APC has said that he is not the only candidate – there are other candidates. So, yes, there may be a thin line, but we are mature politicians enough to know where to draw the line.
You earlier said that your party has zoned the presidency. Against that directive, Fayose has declared his ambition to run for presidency, aren’t you embarrassed by his effrontery?
Well, we’ve made a statement as a party that, that declaration was totally uncalled for and unhealthy. The South West, as a chapter of the party, made a statement to that effect; the South East made a statement to that effect; the North made a statement to that effect. So, basically, Nigerians have made statements. Yes, he is exercising his constitutional right but the political decision and position has not changed. And mind you, during Olusegun Obasanjo presidency, there were people that went against zoning. During Musa Umaru Yar’Adua presidency, some people went against zoning. At the end of the day, the party respected zoning overwhelmingly; people won based on zone. So, it’s his call, not mine. It doesn’t dilute, one bit, the principle of zoning that the PDP has adopted.
He is seen as your ally, true or false?
He is for PDP; it is not the issue of Makarfi. People should not personalise the issue of PDP to Makarfi. I am just a symbol of the PDP, nobody is doing anything because I have a political agenda. No. PDP invited me and gave me a job to do and if the PDP that invited me to do a job did not support me, who will support me? So by supporting me he is supporting PDP. It’s not a question of ally or otherwise.
You lost significant number of influential members at the height of the crisis, a number of them, of course, migrated to APC; what are you doing to…
Can you mention them?
The most prominent among them would be former Senate President Ken Nnamani, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and others.
Atiku left before…. Atiku, we believe, is on his way back and he would be welcomed, hopefully, before the convention (Laughs). All of them are welcome. I am not talking particularly about who have left; even those who have not been in the PDP are welcome. We are open. Nnamani, I read his statement, he says it’s the interest he represents, his people – what they do and who they are, which I disagree with. Yes, by profession, they are traders but they have principles also. And you can see that APC was rejected in Anambra, with all the federal might, APC was rejected. And you can see all the local government polls. Nnamani happened to have come from Enugu; he didn’t even win a councillorship seat. So, draw your own conclusion from there.
What are you doing to replenish your fold? What specific steps are you taking?
You see, for some strategic reasons, don’t expect a lot of people to move to the PDP now. People are in APC for different reasons. But wait for the time when everybody will be on his own, you will see the influx of people to the PDP.
On your statement earlier that Atiku is on his way to the PDP before the December 9 convention, of course the story has been out there that Atiku is set to return to the PDP; don’t you see a link between what you may call the persecution of Atiku by the federal government? We are aware of what happened to Intel. A few days ago, they said the resident permits of its expatriates were revoked, do you see a connection between his imminent return to PDP and the APC punitive actions?
I don’t know the details of the issues. So my comment on that will be very, very limited. But if you are talking of persecution, who are those being detained, jailed and incarcerated? Is it not PDP people? So, who should speak about persecution? Not anybody in APC that is just tapped on the shoulder or whatever, because of internal issues.
Don’t you see his (Atiku) sanction is because he is identified with the PDP or because he is coming back to the PDP?
I don’t think so. Somebody with the mind to persecute, even if you are within the fold of APC and you disagree with them, you don’t have to move out (before they persecute you). You don’t have to move out at all. But I’m not in the APC; I don’t know their working pattern. So, I’m not in federal government. But it is obvious there is persecution. But those being persecuted are PDP people.
The fact that you said Atiku would hopefully return to PDP before December 9 tends to reinforce the argument that his intention solely for coming back is to get PDP’s presidential ticket, though he argued that if he doesn’t join the party before the convention, technically it knocks him out of contention for presidential ticket.
No, due to constitution amendment at the convention, it is one month before any primaries when you can join. There is a proposed amendment that it will be one month to primaries. And even then, you can get a waiver if you have joined earlier than one month before the primaries. That’s if the amendment goes through. Even if it doesn’t go through, there is a provision for a waiver. Mind you, former Oyo State governor, Rasheed Ladoja, just joined the party and he is contesting for the chairmanship of the party because we gave him a waiver. Our gubernatorial candidate in Anambra recently joined and we gave him waiver and he contested for the governorship. There is no time frame that limits your chances to contest for any particular office. As to what the real intent for coming, it is only him that knows that and people may have their suspicion for what it may be, but power comes from God. At the end of the day, party men and women will freely, very freely, nominate those to stand for election as candidates of the party.
There are reports that he’s been funding your party, the PDP, particularly in his home state, Adamawa; the PDP branch there said he has more or less hijacked the party.
When did they say that?
They addressed a press conference recently.
First of all, I’m not aware of any kobo Atiku has given to the party. I am not. If he has given individuals within the PDP, that is a personal gift, not for party to operate. If he has given anything to Adamawa I am in the position to know. But mind you, it was just about two or three weeks ago that we elected new officials in Adamawa. At the last convention we dissolved some states’ structures, Adamawa inclusive. So the new leadership in Adamawa has not been in office for more than a month, so why will the issue of Atiku having a record of funding the party come in? Again in Adamawa, there are different political interests. I have heard one of the individuals who was eyeing to take control of the party’s political structure because he wants to contest for governorship; having failed he has equally been talking and saying some other things. I have also heard that some people with senatorial ambition, having failed to have control of structure in their senatorial zone… you know politicians – we are a funny set of people; you have to go beyond what we say to actually get the truth of issues. Not every time we talk, you take what we say. You have to look deeper sometimes. So, some interest may have propelled those that spoke the way they did; we have to dig deeper. Atiku has not hijacked any Adamawa structure. When I look at those who are very satisfied with election of party officials at Adamawa, politically, they have never aligned with Atiku, in terms of Adamawa politics. So, if now they are satisfied with the outcome of election, how does it tell you that he hijacked it one way or another? I am not aware that he interferes in the process of electing state officers.
You said the PDP lost the 2015 presidential election for two main reasons; one, because it fielded Jonathan; two, because it lost touch with its base. What steps is the party taking to correct these errors?
The very first step, even before I became chairman, caretaker committee, was zoning the presidency to the North. Yes Buhari is president but of APC extraction. The PDP family felt the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua having passed away, that the tenure Jonathan completed should have been for the North, then the next one should have been North. So, it caused a lot of dissension and it worked against us. Again, our language, we were not communicating well with the people. Some of us were talking as if Nigerians had no option. You get the point? Using derogatory language to call our brothers and sisters; that pained people and counted against the PDP. The lesson is that we should use language that is civil but effective in communication. We should basically talk about issues, not personalities, not name-calling or whatever, so that we can re-establish the link between the party and Nigerian voters. The first issue I talked about, that matter has already been taken up, so there will no talk of shortchanging the North.
Talking about 2015 election, in the interview we had with one of your prominent leaders, the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, he said Jonathan lost largely because of sabotage and that northern PDP members sabotaged PDP for purely ethnic reasons, that the voted for APC against PDP; true or false?
That’s why I said it is true that people felt shortchanged. And foul language at that time was used in the campaign. You don’t do that. Even in the North, people used foul language in talking. You may not know, maybe because they spoke in Hausa on radio and other programmes, but there was foul language from PDP members from both the North and South. That disconnected millions of voters from the PDP. That’s the truth. Even in the South you wouldn’t say there was no disenchantment and ‘sabotage’. Maybe not South South, but the votes you would have expected from some states didn’t come. In other elections, it wasn’t so. People, for some reasons, were not too enthusiastic. But that’s history. We are looking ahead now to 2019, but we must learn from history and make sure that the history of 2015 does not repeat itself.
You party’s presidential ticket has been zoned to the North. And APC would have used four years by 2019; if PDP produces the president in 2019, will the northern president do one term or two terms?
It is not a one-party system. God forbid you link our party with other parties in anything. We are unique, so don’t use the example of APC and link it to us. PDP cannot decide for APC.
If PDP produces the president in 2019, will the northern president do one term or two terms?
How many years did Obasanjo serve?
How many years did Jonathan serve?
In total, how many years?
Eight plus five, 13.
How many years did Umaru Yar’Adua serve?
Two and a half years.
So, if North under PDP serves eight years that will be what?
We just want clarity…
Look at it from the PDP, the clarity it there. What is in APC cannot affect PDP. What is in PDP cannot affect APC. In totality, if in PDP a northern president serves two terms, when you add that to the number of years Yar’Adua served, it would not be equal to the number of years President Obasanjo and Jonathan served. Then, of course, it would shift again to the South. Whatever you have to say, you have to say it within the context of the PDP, not any other party.
OK, my own understanding is that if I vote PDP 2019, potentially my candidate then stays in office till 2027…
Potentially, but you know, it is Nigerians to decide. You know, political decisions are tied to election cycle. An election cycle is tied to performance. So, all you can talk about is one election cycle until you are getting close to the end of it before you can make postulations as to the next election.
Is it true that you are interested running for the president?
I have heard that rumour, and it has been there since 2007. It remains a rumour because I have not thought of it.
Not something you have thought of… Will you serve if you were called?
I have thought of it, you understand, but having been appointed to chair the party, I came to the conclusion that to think about myself will be disservice to the trust people have in me. It is also diversionary. That was how Modu Sheriff got it wrong based on what some people say. I think it will be stupid to get it wrong, by even developing or thinking of something personal to me while I’m discharging this responsibility. After all, there is still time; by the time I leave as the caretaker committee chairman on the 9th or 10th December, there might still be about 10 months to party primaries.
There will be four months; candidates will be emerging between April and May.
I don’t think so. After all, we do have an Electoral Act.
That’s tentative. You have to see the Electoral Act that will be in use. Whatever they brought out is tentative. Now, the Electoral Act is in the National Assembly. We have to see the final text of the Act; if accepted by the president that is what you can use as a basis for saying what would happen.
To put it simply, nothing forecloses your candidacy after you serve your tenure as interim party chairman?
By any law, or party guidelines I’m not excluded, but at the moment I’m not thinking about that.
I’m putting it to you: if drafted, would you run?
Until that matter arises. (Laughs)
The former governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, was quoted to have said the best winning strategy is for PDP to put its best foot forward. When we are putting together a national team for football game, nobody cares where members of the team come from; we are all interested in a team that can win. Don’t you think that should be the best thing for PDP to do against 2019, instead of zoning?
Yes, you can find the best from any part of this country. But politics is also about people; you don’t ignore sentiments and use any book or theoretical basis to do things. From any part of this country you can find people to put forward. You can say it’s a basket of the best, you know. Nobody can say he is the star, the best of them all. You can have a basket of good people you can put forward, and in this basket you can find people from different parts of the country. Now, you have to play politics. If you look at the basket, who do I pick out of the basket that would fit into the current political situation that will make me win? That’s the issue. Politics is all about winning.
Looking at the state of the country since 1999, can you honestly say that zoning has worked for Nigeria – not for the parties now, but for the country?
Yes, maybe one of the reasons democracy has lasted this long could be ascribed to zoning. It gives people sense of belonging and hope. It’s a developing thing; we can develop and grow out of it, but let’s do it gradually. Let’s get there first.
Talking about the potential of the PDP to win election come 2019, President Jonathan has lately been saying that he is under pressure to run in 2019; are you worried by the vision he is seeing?
I’m not worried. I don’t even know if he said so. And if he said so, I don’t know who those pressurising him are. But if anybody is pressurising him, he should assess their capacity to make things happen – whether they are in the position to actualise whatever it is they wish for him and the country. Not just President Jonathan, anybody so-called who is asked, pushed, or pressured to go for elective public offices, it is always good that you make an independent and honest assessment of who the people telling you are and also the receptiveness of Nigerians to what the people are saying. This advice I’m giving applies to all politicians.
Let’s go back to the evolution of the present democracy we are having, a lot of people say we got it wrong in 2007; do you share that sentiment?
Yes. We made errors in transiting by different levels. But that is history. The issue is that we should allow democracy to actually thrive, allowing people the freedom to freely choose among all the competent people standing for elective positions who their candidates would be. That is one sure way of avoiding a repeat of wrong transition.
In a recent interview we had with Governor Fayose who was chairman of the presidential committee set up by Obasanjo in 2006, he said you were the favourite of the committee then to fly the party’s flag in the 2007 election, but somehow Obasanjo refused because he felt you were too intelligent to be controlled…
Well, I didn’t discuss that with President Obasanjo. And till now I haven’t discussed it with him. But I knew when a straw poll took place and I know that, that time I think I got 13 votes. I think the next person got six votes and somebody got 1, another got 2. But still, it was for party leaders to sit and decide, and when that decision came, it didn’t favour me. It was the view of most governors that we should revolt; I spoke to some of them: I said ‘no, there was no reason to do that’. My interest was that we should have a peaceful transition from one civilian government to the other. And that was my primary interest. Whether it was me or any other person deemed qualified and competent, I was more interested in a peaceful transition than being the president at that time.
With the benefit of hindsight and given what we’ve gone through in the last decade, if you were caught in the same situation, would you act differently?
I don’t get your point.
If tomorrow, a straw election is held and you were proposed as the party’s flag bearer and somehow one Maradona says no, they shouldn’t pick you, they should pick someone else, and you are in a position, would you act differently?
There is no Maradona at the moment.
Our Maradona has been Obasanjo.
There is no such. We don’t have a president to take that decision. So, right now, the majority view will always prevail without any superior person in position of leadership that can lead to such.
What do you think could have given Obasanjo that impression that you were uncontrollable?
First of all, I don’t even know if he said that, because he didn’t say….
What could have swayed his decision?
That’s history I was never interested in finding out. As I told you, the governors are still alive and central to how we transited. I told them I didn’t want a rancorous transition. I wanted a peaceful transition from President Obasanjo to whoever is going to take over from him. Then my consideration was that we should build a culture of transiting peacefully from one civilian administration to another. I didn’t try to personalise it.
Given Yar’Adua’s performance in the two and half years he was in office, would you say that Obasanjo’s veto then was justified?
You see, Yar’Adua didn’t serve a full term. Two, he is deceased; I think it would not be morally right to start that kind of deep analysis. So, let by-gone be by-gone for me. But the important thing is that we should not try to lord it over people. We should try to consult and get the opinion of others and the majority opinion should be allowed to prevail in democracy.
Another myth that has refused to go is third term. A lot of believe that an attempt was made to elongate Obasanjo’s tenure by all means. Obasanjo has come out to deny, saying there was nothing like third term even though there were documentary evidence – both visual and video – of money changing hands for his tenure to be extended; as an active participant, was there really a third term agenda?
Well, first of all, I’m not aware of money changing hands because I never handled any money. Secondly, I think, – if what I read was exactly what it was – I think that President Obasanjo said he did not ask or push for it, but not that it didn’t exist, because if it didn’t exist, what did the National Assembly vote for? It was because it existed, no matter who the promoters were. I believe he made a statement that it was not his baby. Whosoever baby it was, it existed. It didn’t come to be. Of course, he cannot deny what the National Assembly voted on. As to who the promoters were, I was not in a position to know. But it was obvious it was there.
Talking about Obasanjo, he once said that the PDP was dead, he tore his card and swore never to come back to the PDP; do you hope to bring him back to the PDP?
No. I respect his opinion. He equally said APC is what? Of late, I think the recent statement is – ‘dead’; so you have two dead parties. I think when he made that statement, it was sometime back; I don’t think it is the same position now. But that is not to say that we don’t have our challenges. The two major political parties are wobbling, but I believe we are going through our worst crisis; the crisis of APC is yet to come. So, let’s see if they are going to be able to come out of it.
Do you see his exit at that time as one of the major factors why the PDP lost in 2015?
No, we said it before: it was a mistake to let our five governors walk out of the party and leave it for good. It was a mistake to use foul language on the electorate, ignoring the sensitivity of people. And it was also wrong that the party was not given prominent position in the campaign. Ad hoc arrangement such as TAN was used as the focal point of campaigning. Most people went there just to go after money. They had not much at stake. So, when you use ad hoc arrangement that was not grass rooted, obviously it was more of a showmanship than a deep rooted political structure that could have canvassed for votes. Those were mistakes we made that contributed to our loss.
The national leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, said that Jonathan’s PDP government won gold medal in corruption, do you agree?
And Jonathan replied him.
You are a member of PDP; did the party win a gold medal?
Not even bronze. Not even bronze. No. Jonathan replied him so he should also quote the reply of Jonathan.
What is your view?
The PDP was as corrupt as described by Bola Tinubu?
You see, let all of us be assessed by an independent assessor to know who is more corrupt than the other. When you are in power you can call those not in power anything. And I will be happy if the APC can step aside and let’s have an independent body to come assess all of us, including him that made the allegation. Let’s find out who is more corrupt than the other.
Are you proud of Dasukigate, Deziani scandal, stories of billions of dollars stored in real estates, shoddy oil deals; are you proud of them?
Nobody can be proud of them, neither am I proud of the $25 billion contract recently awarded by NNPC. (Laughs)
You were governor of Kaduna State from 1999-2007; how has Kaduna changed since you left?
Well, when we were there we did our best; it wasn’t easy. But before I became governor, remember that I was part of the administration of Colonel Lawal Jafaru Isa. So I had served and traversed that state to know the complexities of the state, the burning issues of the state, and the needs of the state. So, I found myself already enriched with data on the issues that needed to be addressed and that helped us in focusing to address them, in spite of the challenge of Year 2000 – the riot and the loss of lives and whatever. But we moved quickly to do so many things that ensured peace and stability. That is not to say there were no issues. There will continue to be issues until the end of the world. At the moment, somebody may not appreciate when you just look at what we did at that time. When you just look at it now, and not try to cast your mind back to what the issue was and what was achieved, if you just look at it now narrowly, you will be missing the point.
In specific terms, I recall when you came in, Kaduna was under intense sectarian crisis, but in a matter of few months, about a year or two, it started to stabilise, for the benefit of leaders and Nigerians who were not old enough to understand; can you share with us some of the extraordinary measures you took then?
First of all, the tripartite legal system which we introduced – the customary court, the Sharia court was there, but it was limited in how it should apply, and it was also a court that was in conformity with the constitution. But even that, we involved the clerics. We got understanding; it wasn’t that we slammed a legislation against the people’s will. In areas we had reservations, we discussed, and we heard them out. So allowing the right of appeal from any of these courts to conventional courts when you think that your constitutional right is impeded either through the customary court or Sharia court, that settled the matter of lording it over others on the basis of religion or whatever. The creation of traditional institutions and the districts also freed communities that felt they were subjugated under a culture and tradition alien to them. As a matter of fact, most of them were independent communities before the white men amalgamated them into one large entity. So we just tried to go back to history and restored them to their earlier status and that helped a lot.
And, of course, the policy of equitable development across north and south endeared people to us. We knew we had nothing against anybody and we did not show any inclination of being against anybody. We ran an open government; we were accessible, because if a government is not accessible, people can draw the wrong conclusions and that will not be good. So, these and a lot of other things we did made us succeed in stabilising the state.
Lately, one crisis that has bedeviled the country, the North particularly, is the issue of farmers/herdsmen crisis. From what we now know, the APC government has not managed it well; as a PDP government, what would you do differently to fix it?
Well, you know this is an age-old problem. It has assumed wide dimension because before it was limited to the north, but due to loss of grazing land, herdsmen from Nigeria and foreigners are moving south, that’s why. Even when I was a toddler, we knew of it. The same way, people were being maimed or killed, farms were invaded. That happened when I was growing up even before I was the age of 10. I subscribe to the culture and to the principle that we need to domesticate livestock farming, not to allow it to continue to be this nomadic. But again, it is not an issue that you just come out as an emperor and just announce that. You need to sit down with people and make it enticing, so that you can settle Nigerian herdsmen. After all, like in Kaduna, Laduga is a whole district dedicated to the Fulanis and they are thriving. If they visit and see in other places they are thriving, they are secure, they will learn that culture. But when you approach such with ‘gra gra’ (force), you will not communicate with people. Even if it is a laudable project, it would be misunderstood. And you must have a transition time that you would do all these sorts of things. I believe all of us working together, Nigerians working together with those involved in nomadic farming, we can address this matter. Again there is a regional issue, that within the premise of ECOWAS, something that our leaders have to discuss, because there is cross-border nomadic issues to be addressed. So, it is both domestic and regional, and you need a holistic approach to deal with it.
If I can get you correctly, you believe in ranching?
What’s your view on the detention of El-Zakzaky and his wife?
My view on that is that we should respect courts. In whatever we do, we should respect what the court says. If the court has given bail, we should respect that. If government has reasons why the bail should be set aside, they should follow due process and get it set aside. But not doing so and detaining anybody – not limiting it to El-Zakzaky, anybody detained outside legal pronouncement, I don’t think it is right.
Still on your tenure as governor in Kaduna, the incumbent governor has been making news lately over competency test for teachers and all that. By his own pronouncement, it would seem as if there wasn’t any attempt whatsoever to deal with the issue; do you think he is applying the right solution to the teachers’ crisis?
Well, I had left office ten years ago. I don’t know how many have been recruited, whether those people were qualified or not qualified. But even during our time, there was the issue of unqualified teachers. I will tell you what we did: what we did was to get in touch with the National Teaching Institute, Kaduna, for teacher retraining and examination. They were retrained for some months – I cannot remember whether it was six or nine months, and then they had to pass some exams. If they failed the exams, they were not qualified to continue teaching. That was the principle we adopted when I was in government, but I don’t know the influx of teachers since I left, how many, and their qualifications. So, I am not in a position to go further than to explain what we did to address the issue of unqualified teachers when I was in office.
In one of the newspapers, you were reported to have said that the APC government has not performed well on two main areas: security and economy. At the time the APC government came in, the major security issue was Boko Haram, but wasn’t it PDP’s incompetence that worsened the Boko Haram issue?
Well, Boko Haram was and is still limited to where? The states where Boko Haram was and is still basically limited to have never been under PDP; they have never been under PDP.
That’s an opening statement?
That’s an answer! (Laughs)
On the economy front, how would you rate the Buhari government?
When I woke up this morning, the first text I saw was: ‘Save me, sir, in the name of God. I am here crying. I have woken up without even a kobo for my family to eat.’ That was the first text I saw. I never saw that kind of text when PDP was in power. Not that people had no needs, they had. For families to be without food, even one meal to eat a day, says a lot. Agreed, it is a collective responsibility, because we have federal government, state governments and local governments across the parties, but the buck stops at the centre, because they make economic policy. States and local government are affected by such economic policies; so is the private sector. In my opinion, there is no effective coordination in the APC government, because you find different departments saying different things on the same issue.
Can you give some examples?
No. I can’t begin to recall all, but on so many issues. You are in the media; you may find the attorney-general saying one thing, Prof Itse Sagay saying another thing, the SGF saying a different thing, one adviser saying a different thing. You will find those in economic planning saying one thing, the minister of finance saying one thing, and then you find maybe a powerful governor in APC saying one thing…
A governor from the North West?
Wherever (Laughs). So, you see, under PDP there was central authority which flows, which people refer to. With all the shortcomings, at least, you know you have access; you know the channel, the direction and sometimes we got it wrong; that’s normal – you get the point? Maybe the absence of the president for some time before he recovered also created the opportunity for people who may not even mean well for the administration. But by purely looking after their personal interests, they also they complicated matters. Of course, we have National Assembly heading one way, the executive heading another way. Of course, we had executive/legislative rift during PDP, but (it was) minor and manageable. This one, since the National Assembly started, it has continued, it has not abated; which is not healthy. It’s not healthy for the executive, it’s not healthy for the legislature, and it’s not healthy for the country.
You are an accountant. The Senate has recently approved $5.5billion loan request, which Femi Falana has criticised and said the government has no business taking more loans; as an accountant and a professional, what’s your view?
Well, borrowing in itself is not wrong. The issue is what the money would be used for. If you want to borrow and, as you borrow, get value for money, OK. But you borrow one billion, and 500 million goes for consultancy, administration etc., and then at the end of the day the value is not worth more than what you borrowed. These are the areas we need to look at. So, for me, borrowing to revive things like railway and getting value for money, borrowing to revive road infrastructure, to make roads that can last 20 to 30 years with minor minimum maintenance, borrowing to improve security, borrowing for power and getting value for money – there is no harm in doing these. But a lot and some of the things we borrow for are for consumption. I am against borrowing for consumption, borrowing to pay overheads. That’s totally uncalled for. If you borrow for consumption, how are you going to pay? But if you borrow to invest in capital development, that capital development will generate economic activities that will generate income for the country to have the means to pay the external debt.
It is almost certain now that Buhari will contest in 2019; as a PDP leader, what are the issues you think will work against him in 2019?
Well, when you talk about economy, you see people are affected adversely. What is tuition fee now? How much do you pay for bills? How much is your salary? If your son goes to school, private or public, how much do you pay? How secure are you? Do you feel safe to travel even in daytime from Abuja to Kaduna or Lokoja road or any other road? How safe are you to go to your farm? These are all the issues and they touch the ordinary man. Look at the rampant kidnapping; it is not the rich or the children of the rich that get kidnapped; even children of the poor are kidnapped and they have to cough out N5,000, N10,000 before they get their children back. It is as bad as that. And it touches on people. So these matters are points of call; they are in the front burner in campaigns for 2019. Definitely, from the look of things, Nigerians are fed up and they will make the appropriate change.