Sometime in January 2016, you declared yourself as National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party; why?
I did not declare myself as chairman of the party. I think the record must be put straight: On May 20, 2015, a (former) National Chairman of our party, Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu, resigned. And our (PDP) constitution says if a vacancy exists by resignation or death, the zone that produced that officer should also produce his successor. And from May to September, I noticed that the party was not following the path of the constitution. I submitted a letter (of intention) that I wanted to replace Mu’azu like any other person from the North-East; I was not given any attention. I mobilised party supporters, leaders in their own right, former ministers, former senators, former House of Representatives members, former advisers, all led by a former Senate President, Sen. Ken Nnamani, to Wadata Plaza, to tell the party that we have two vacancies in the two organs of our party – the National Working Committee and the Board of Trustees had chairmanship vacancies. So, in order to abide by the constitution that we gave ourselves, let us fill these vacancies. The proposition fell on deaf ears. That was what drove me into seeking legal redress on November 25, 2015. And the court, in its wisdom, on December 16, 2015, gave a judgment that the constitution of the party is clear; that either me who was the plaintiff or any other person from the North-East should be made the national chairman to replace Muazu within 14 days. Fourteen days elapsed and the party did not do anything. They filed a motion of stay of execution of the judgment and the motion was thrown out (by the court). They filed the same motion in the Court of Appeal; again, it was thrown out. It was clear to me that there was a vacuum in the leadership of the party; because anything done by the (Uche) Secondus-led NWC would be null and void, with the court of law having described him as self-serving and his acting as national chairman was null and void. Therefore, I had to assume the leadership of the party by taking the extra step.
Since that day, the PDP that we knew before was never the same again. That was how the party’s stakeholders agreed with me that as it was, the PDP had been frozen to death. Thereafter, they called the governors’ forum meeting and the BoT meeting and the National Executive Council meeting; it was in the NEC meeting that a (former Governor of Borno State) Ali Modu Sheriff was elected as the replacement of Mu’azu. My case was simple: Somebody from the North-East should step into the shoes of Mu’azu. That is what our constitution says and that’s what the court said. The constitution and the judgment of the court have now been complied with, leading to the emergence of Ali Modu Sheriff from the North-East. It was not a personal struggle with Secondus because his position as Deputy National Chairman was never in contention. It was his position as acting chairman that I was against, because the constitution does not permit him to step into Mu’azu’s shoes. Since the emergence of Sheriff, a lot of activities have been going on. We have set up committees of reconciliation, finance, zoning and the congress and convention committees. That is where we are today.
Do you think Sheriff has something to offer the PDP?
I think Sheriff is a grass roots politician; this is a man who won elections into the Senate two times, and as a governor two times. He knows the nitty-gritty of the opposition party. He was formerly with the (defunct) All Nigerian Peoples Party and the (ruling) All Progressives Congress but now in the PDP. Like I always say, in Nigeria today, we have not concluded the alignment and re-alignment of political classes and politicking. If you look at the APC today, apart from President Muhammadu Buhari, (former Governor of Lagos State.) Bola Tinubu and few of his associates, every other person is a PDP member. The PDP blood – hot blood – is still running in their veins. The Governor of Kebbi (Atiku Bagudu) was a PDP senator; the Governor of Katsina (Aminu Masari) was a PDP Speaker at the House of Representatives; the Governor of Kaduna (Nasir el-Rufai) was a PDP minister; the Governor of Plateau (Simon Lalong) was a PDP chairman; the Governor of Sokoto (Aminu Tambuwal) was a PDP Speaker (of the House of Representatives); the Governor of Benue (Samuel Ortom) was a PDP minister, PDP national auditor and PDP secretary; I can go on and on to mention all these people. Maybe towards 2019, that alignment will be concluded.
If you look at the APC as a party, there are five blocs: the ACN (Action Congress of Nigeria) of Tinubu; the CPC (Congress for Progressive Change) of Buhari; the ANPP (All Nigerian Peoples Party) of Ogbonnaya Onu (now Minister of Science and Technology); the New PDP of Bukola (Saraki, now President of the Senate) and (Rotimi) Amaechi (now Minister of Transport); the APGA (All Progressives Grand Alliance) of (Governor Rochas) Okorocha – these are five distinct political blocs. They have come together but I have not seen them mix because, to date, we have crisis in the National Assembly, crisis with the budget, and crisis about the ministers. This is because the blocs have not allowed themselves to mix. Until we conclude the alignment and re-alignment process of the political class, people will continue to join a party, not because of its ideological platform. However, towards 2019, we will have two clearly distinct political parties. If APC will survive, we will see it; if it will break, we will see it. They have not become a political party; they are still a political contraption. They merged and pulled resources together to oust the PDP government at the centre.
The PDP ex-Ministers Forum seems not to want Modu Sheriff to lead the party into 2019 elections. What do you think of that?
Politics is about interests; maybe they have their own personal interest for one of them to be the party’s (next) chairman. I am saying ‘maybe’ but what the forum should understand is that the party has a constitution, and in the constitution there are organs of the party. We have the BoT as an advisory organ; we have the NEC, which is the second-highest decision-making organ. But the ministers are not members of the NEC. They do not have any constitutional power to challenge any decision. As a body, they have persuasive position; they do not have any constitutional power to effect a change in the party, unlike the governors’ forum, who are members of the NEC and members of the (national) caucus. The NEC consists all state (party) chairmen, all governors, (national) chairman and secretary of BoT. There is nowhere in the constitution that former ministers are members of the NEC; they should realise that before they start to shoot themselves in the foot. If you don’t have the constitutional power to effect any change or your wishes, what you do is by persuasion.
Who are the people the PDP intends to reconcile with?
Every member of the PDP who feels aggrieved should be reconciled. There are people who contested in primary elections, won but were denied tickets to represent the party. Instead, the tickets were given to other people.
Are you one of the aggrieved people?
Yes, I was one of the victims of impunity. There was a primary election, which I contested to represent my senatorial district. I won that primary election and a certificate was issued to me; at the end of the day, the then national chairman did not submit my name. Somebody else’s name was submitted. This kind of thing (impunity) was done all over the country and many people became victims of impunity. These are the kinds of people that should be reconciled. We need these people to rebuild the party. All those involved in the impunity must now take the back seat. We are not asking them to leave the party. The PDP needs new managers; new faces that will radiate confidence and trust in the party, so that we will move ahead.
You said those who engaged in impunity would have to step aside; does your statement confirm feelings in some quarters that the party was badly managed under the last administration?
Everybody knows the party was badly managed. I gave you instances where those who won primaries were denied opportunities to represent the party.
Should ex-President Goodluck Jonathan or Mu’azu be blamed for the problem?
As a practical politician, the ex-President has nothing to do with the party administration; and the party should be firm on that. If I were the national chairman of the party, the president must take instructions from me because it is my party that gave him the platform to become president; so the president should listen to the party – and the party should advise the president. It was the leadership of PDP that mismanaged the party.
Will you say the impunity was bad enough to justify the exit of former President Olusegun Obasanjo?
Those who left the party are in various categories; leaders like Obasanjo, no matter the situation, ought not to have left the party. Leaders like Obasanjo that the party gave him the platform to be president twice ought not to have left the party in the manner he did.
Because no matter the situation, he is a leader; no matter the frustration, he is the leader and must remain the leader that he is. He ought to have stayed on and continued to proffer advice because this (PDP) was his house. He doesn’t matter if his advice was not taken by the past administration; no matter the situation, the truth will always prevail. That is why I am saying that as a leader, he ought to have remained in the PDP. As a leader from the same party (with ex-President Jonathan), Obasanjo ought not to have publicly criticised the party (PDP). PDP is his; he was the president. Have you seen an American president criticising his own party after leaving office? If Obasanjo wanted to see the president (Jonathan) 10 times, he had the access. He once said that he was not bound to accept ‘the adviser’s advice.’ Since he was no longer the president, it should have dawned on him (that his advice might not be taken).
Obasanjo stated that after several private efforts had failed, he had to speak out against his own party and Jonathan because of national interest. What do you make of that?
It depends on what you call national interest. If you and I speak, it will not carry the same effect as when Obasanjo speaks. He ought to know that. Once he comes out to the public to speak, it is far-reaching – the negative effect will be far-reaching. And that is why he should always be cautious about what he says – by the time he comes out to criticise a government, paints the government in bad light like in the open letter he wrote to former President Goodluck Jonathan. If I were him, I wouldn’t have done that because Jonathan joined issues with him. Those things were not expected of our leaders. By that, the PDP was completely brought down. As a former president, there are certain things one must not say in the public. The PDP made its mistakes but leaders of a party must know that certain information shouldn’t be divulged to the public.
Is it true PDP has begun shopping for 2019 presidential candidate in the APC?
Let me tell you one thing: you should not put the cart before the horse. Unless and until the PDP is built, if you are made a presidential candidate and the party is weak, can you win the election? If anyone aspires to be a presidential candidate or wants to run for any political office on the PDP platform, the most important thing is to build the party; let the party be rebuilt and revived. We want the party to stand strong to win elections either at council level or at the national level. It is then that the interest of who becomes president comes in.
Saraki, Tambuwal and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, as well as other prominent ex-PDP members in the APC, are among the so-called aggrieved people that left PDP. Is your party planning to bring back these men to its fold too?
I don’t believe those ones are aggrieved. Those ones were fired by their ambitions. There are categories of aggrieved persons in the PDP. They did not contest in primaries and win and the party tickets were not given to them. Most of the leaders felt aggrieved because Goodluck Jonathan wanted to stand for election in 2011. After (ex-President Umaru) Yar’Adua passed on, some (party leaders) did not want Jonathan to succeed him in the next election, saying somebody from the North should stand for that election. You cannot stop the man (Jonathan) from standing for election because he has the constitutional right (to do so). On the zoning formula issue, the arrangement was clear and the death of a president was not foreseen. The zoning formula was effective; it was ongoing and successful until an intervening circumstance happened – force majeure, an act of God. The constitution is very clear on that; when a president dies, the vice-president will succeed him; he becomes the substantive president and he appoints another vice-president from a different zone. The zoning formula would have been broken if, for example, when Yar’Adua passed on and Jonathan became president and chose a vice-president from the South. Then, one can say the zoning formula has been broken.
What about the allegation that Jonathan signed one-term pact?
I was the political adviser of ex-President Jonathan. I had searched all the documents to see the pact signed by Jonathan; I did not see anything like that. I asked Jonathan himself, he said there was no pact signed by him. I asked further if there was any verbal agreement, he said there was none. But if somebody on his behalf went and committed him, he (Jonathan) cannot be held accountable for that.
Is there any effort to get people like Saraki and Tambuwal back to the PDP?
The position of the PDP today is that we must go shopping in calm, still and troubled waters. So, all over the country, the PDP must go shopping – whether in the APC camp, the APGA camp or Labour Party camp. The PDP is going to shop in all these camps. I believe we will get some good catches (politicians).
Saraki is alleged to be enjoying the backing of the PDP in the Senate; is this part of the shopping strategy ahead of 2019 presidential election?
Like I told you, if you juxtapose my argument with what is happening at the National Assembly, most of the people (APC senators) have ‘hot’ PDP blood flowing in their veins; wherever they are, they are PDP (members). We have come a long way (with these people) since 1998; because of 2015 elections and they went to APC does not make them APC (members). We are (all) still PDP; we talk – we discuss; although, we may have our little differences. The issue is: APC (leaders) never liked Saraki to become the Senate President, notwithstanding the fact that he came to the Senate on the platform of the APC and contributed a lot to the APC winning (the 2015 general elections). But he was not part of them and he ought to have known that.
Will you advise him to defect and join his PDP colleagues in the Senate?
He should advise himself. But if I were him, I wouldn’t have allowed the crisis to reach the current level. I’d have stepped aside and face the trial (at the Code of Conduct Tribunal for alleged false assets declaration). I know Nigerians are watching if the trial is political persecution or legal persecution. As a Senate President, I should put aside my individual ego. I don’t want to bring the reputation of the institution into disrepute; let me remove myself from the institution of the Senate, which is sacrosanct. The fact that someone else becomes the senate president isn’t a do-or-die affair. Saraki should have removed himself from the position of Senate President by resigning right from day one. What is going on is shameful; the government of APC has engaged in separation of government rather than separation of power. It is sad to see the head of the legislative arm of government facing a criminal charge. In other climes, anybody who is facing such issues will just resign from that position of leadership.
Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State has described Buhari has a dictator in a democratic government. What do you think?
Fayose has made his own assessment of the President and he has told Nigerians as a whole what he thinks of the APC and President Buhari’s government. He’s a leader in his own right and he’s a governor of the PDP; he has a right to criticise the government and people have a right to criticise him, like he is being criticised over his governance in the state (Ekiti). That is the beauty of democracy. His criticisms are good for the APC and Nigerians. We need (more of) this type of vibrant criticisms for the government to perform.
In your assessment of Buhari, will you say he is acting with dictatorial tendencies?
Even if Buhari is acting with a dictatorial tendency, it is in his blood; he spent the better part of his life in the military. Like Obasanjo, when he was president, there were dictatorial tendencies in him. So, Nigerians must accept to live with them. If you have made a mistake by electing a military president, then, you must learn how to enjoy him. The president should have political advisers who will continue to advise him on democratic principles and on the constitutionality of his actions or inactions. Though he is the President, he doesn’t have the reservoir of knowledge on democratic principles or the constitution. That is why he needs advisers that can look him in the face and tell him the best way to go about things. Tambuwal emerged as Speaker of the House of Representatives against PDP’s wish in 2011 but the PDP managed him till the end.
If Buhari is considered to be dictatorial, Jonathan was severely criticised as being too soft and effective, hence his alleged failure in fighting corruption…
You have just said now that this man (Buhari) has dictatorial tendencies. The executive arm of government has no hand in prescribing judgment; it is to investigate, arrest and arraign. This was properly done by the Goodluck Jonathan administration in accordance with the constitution. Some people faced trials for the (fuel) subsidy scam during his tenure; they were investigated and arraigned before the court.
But nobody was punished under the administration for crime…
I don’t believe that the Goodluck Jonathan we had was this weak like Nigerians will like to say. This a man who believes in the constitutionality of every action; who believes in robust consultation in whatever he does because if we run counter to the laws of the land, anarchy will set in – that is what the man was trying to avoid.
The handling of the leader of Independent Poeples of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu and Fulani herdsmen by the Buhari-led administration is considered by many as ineffective. What else do you think the Federal Government can do to resolve these issues?
Like I said, the president needs political advisers who can look at him in the face and advise him. It is not everything that is resolved legally or militarily. As a political adviser, I’ll invite (Alex) Ekwueme, Ike Nwachukwu, (Ralph) Nwazurike and other leaders in the South-East region and have a meeting with them: ‘Look, do you know what this young man is doing? Do you know we have fought a civil war in this country and how much it cost us in terms of life and properties? What we as leaders see this young man will never see it. Are you aware of what he is doing? Please, I will hand him over to you to lecture him on the need for unity in this country.’ That is political solution. And before he (Buhari) knows it, if this process is put on ground, the issue will in no time be resolved. Yar’Adua came in when the Niger Delta militancy was at its peak; production of crude oil was less than 500, 000 barrels per day instead of two million. What did Yar’Adua do? He called the leaders and they sat down with the militants; that was the beginning of the amnesty. So, we need certain political solutions to solve certain issues, not military.
Does the current insurgency by Boko Haram in the North-East require a political solution too?
The issue of Boko Haram is different from that of the Niger Delta militancy and the IPOB because the insurgents have no leader you can deal with. Some people have used this situation to scam government. I think the government should mobilise the northerners to bring them on board as it fights the insurgents.