What are your thoughts on the unfolding events in the political scene in the country at this time?
I have one thing that is worrying me, which I will like to share with you, which is that it looks like the country is heated, as you people say in the media. The polity is heated, but I don’t know how many of you have ever sat down and wondered why; what is the reason, what is the basis for this tension people have created in this country? So far, as you know, there has been no riots, nobody has been murdered, nobody has been robbed, no sweat about somebody not given access, except for Boko Haram which is not relevant here. The issues that should heat us don’t heat us, like the Boko Haram thing, not even inflation. Nothing! So, I think in this country, we have freedom for which we must thank God and people have their own way of responding to their freedom. That’s number one.
Number two, I think to some extent, we are intolerant of any little issue which you could handle in many ways but, we prefer to blow it out. And I also think, public officers in this country are often very keen to be seen on headlines. We have this. If this is all we have, we have to thank God. If you agree with me, I’d like to appeal to you and your colleagues not to worsen the situation, not even to join them. We all have a stake in Nigeria. Politicians plan trouble in this country, run away and leave us. Remember some people ran away in 1979. We didn’t see them until 1994. That wasn’t two days. And also remember, most of our great leaders refused to run away. I believe even if (Chief Obafemi) Awolowo was not in prison in 1966, he would not have run away. I’m told that Sardauna (Ahmadu Bello) and Abubakar (Tafawa Balewa) stayed, when it was about to happen and paid the supreme sacrifice.
This is a great country. People say we don’t have our own Mandela. We have our own Mandela. They are in the farms; they are in the classrooms; they are on the beats; they are nursing the sick. Some of them are producing newspapers every day.
These are Mandelas because without them, there will be no Mandela in any country. Let me appeal to us to be proud of this country, to love it and to serve it.
I have always said that the problem with this country is that we don’t love the country. We have converted this country not into a fatherland or motherland but into a market, whether you are talking about Abuja market, Alaba market in Lagos or Dugbe market in Ibadan. You go to a market to get the best bargain and after that you leave. If you come back tomorrow and they tell you that the market has been moved, you do not mind, so long as there is another one. Nigeria should not be treated as a market.
I remember in 1967, the most uncomfortable day in my life. I was in UCH, Ibadan, when they said somebody had invaded the Mid-West and some people were told ‘you cannot stay in the West, go to Lagos, go and register in Lagos.’ We had to run up to the North. It was the most uncomfortable period in the history of this country. Do not let us get to that position again, simply because some people want to be governor or president. Think of the ordinary people. What will they do if this kind of thing happens? I beg you.
Your party, the PDP, has lost five governors to the All Progressives Congress [APC]. What does this portend for the PDP and Nigeria at large ahead the 2015?
You cannot discuss this without indicating what the fortune of the party will be as a result of this. I can’t say that the PDP, as a party, is absolutely okay. And I think that most of the problems have to do with the leadership of the party and particularly, their internal democracy and whether they are resolved to do what they can to save the party according to the first principles. Not by victimising people today, making peace and reconciliation. No party wins or survives or builds a great country by series of reconciliations. That is an indication that you have not handled it competently. Every time they are talking of reconciliation, of meeting there or meeting here. You will continue to have these problems if the party is not based on principles, ideology and on a sound democratic leadership. If you do not have that, you find yourselves always trying to settle quarrels and some people taking advantage to make a name or make money for themselves. This is the problem of the PDP.
Governors can go if they want. They are no more than any other member of the party. Tomorrow, the President can say I do not like the party and go. Ok, let him go. Or Bamanga Tukur, my brother, could say he doesn’t like it. Let him go. So, stop judging a party by what people, whose tendencies are well known any way, do. How many times have you seen people, whose individual interest, is affected and then they leave? Some people say ‘I built PDP.’ You didn’t build the PDP. At least, they do stay. They will say ‘I’m not going because I built PDP or I founded it.’ If you say ‘I’m not going because this is a party I love...’ and for me, the PDP is a party I love.
I have said it before and I will say it again. Since independence, we have never had any party which enjoyed this widespread followership which you cannot associate with any ethnic, religious or geographical tendencies like the PDP. There are parts of the country when they (other parties) are temporarily in charge, they think the PDP is dead. It’s not. The PDP is the only party which reflects Nigeria - our disorderliness, our quarrelsomeness, our spread all over the country, in our ability to get up at the last minute and do the right thing.
So, these governors who have left, I can tell you, each one left because of their own individual interest. When they were causing this problem, I have said it, they should not claim to be working for any part of the country. Let’s say, they cannot claim to be working for the North. They are working for their political calculations, their political interests and ambitions. They feel frustrated. How can people say they are working for the country? How can people say they are working for the North, when we know they are only working for themselves? I don’t think this will affect the PDP, provided the national leadership of the party knows what it is doing.
We have some time before the elections and I believe the leadership of the PDP should be able to get up without calculations of what they will get or what they will lose or what enemy they will get rid of. We will be able to manage.
In terms of what it (defection of G-5) means to the party? Nothing! They people have left and it is nothing. Everything appears to be intact. We are not in war; there is no widespread violence in the country; the economy is growing. The only thing is, it may affect the membership of the party in the short term. That’s all. When I say short term, I mean before the election. There is time and they know what to do to have the resources and the peace to be able to reorganise.
Actually, the kind of force they (New PDP) wanted to bring about from that Eagle Square where they went for their meeting, they were not even able to achieve half of their objective there.
That would have been the most shocking blow they would deliver. It didn’t go to anywhere. Two of them (G-7), probably the most vocal, decided not to go after all. And a few of them, we know they are there because they have nowhere else to go. Where will the governor of Adamawa go? In Adamawa, I heard the prominent members of the APC say they don’t want him. If he is there, he is there but he is not there to lead them.
So, I think they should be worried. It is these people who are leaving who should be worried. Every day, I hear they go to the Villa to talk to the President. I don’t believe that it is the President who is calling them. I believe they are the ones going there trying to get the best time to come back.
Do you see the National Assembly members from the states of the G-5 governors defecting with them to the APC and handing the majority to the opposition in the parliament as being calculated in some quarters?
That sounds like people having wishes for themselves. The majority of the PDP in the National Assembly is quite sizeable. I don’t think the departure of a few people will change the equation. Remember in this country, we have a problem. If a governor leaves, they say such and such a state is gone to the APC. People say Adamawa is going to the APC. It is ridiculous and demoralising for the PDP. During the election, the governor was defeated in his home town. Simply because a governor or two have left, you cannot say the membership of the party has left. These are very big states. I like (Governor Rabiu) Kwankwaso of Kano State but, the fact that he has left does not mean Kano has left. Remember there are other people there. So, I don’t think this is going to affect the PDP.
Besides, the National Assembly was established by the constitution in a democratic setting. I know some of these people. If they wanted to leave, by now they would have left. If you go to the National Assembly, they are still sitting. It is not the kind of thing that you should worry about. The media should lead in assuaging the feeling of people by a dose of realism. The realism is that while nobody wants to lose any member of their party, I don’t think anything has happened now which will shake the PDP.
How do you react to attacks on President Goodluck Jonathan, coming from key leaders of his own party?
They are not talking as members of the same party working together to win election as a political party; they are not talking as members of the same party bound by some kind of philosophy, by a manifesto requirement. No. Everybody has now positioned himself for 2015. That is all that matters to them. Will I say something which will promote me, or my cause/ It is shocking to see people referring to the President of the country in those terms.
But, the President and the people of the Villa must also not stoop to be replying to these things. He has taken people who are very trained in polemics. When you want to hire people to work for you, you do not take people because of their ability to be crude or to deliver polemics on people. No. Look at people that the President of the United States brings. We compare ourselves with them. All of these people, who the US President hires, do you hear them engaging in polemics? They are very careful and selective in their language. So, when people in the Presidency, government and in the Party try to reply to each other on these crude terms, these things will happen. I do not like anybody to be insulting our President. The President must try to control things also on his own terms.
The PDP is worried also because it is huge. I respect the other parties also but, how much opposition is there? When a political system is weighing heavily on the side of a political party, most of the opposition comes from within. So, they are all fighting within as if the rest of us are not there. I do not think it is a bad thing. But, it is also not good for people to position themselves.
The President once said that there should be no politicking until 2014 but from his own side, the next week, people were campaigning. So, other people also are doing the same and they have reduced this country to be on a permanent campaign mode. Yet, they talk about let us do the work we were elected to do. How can you do it? When can you do it, when you spend all your time on polemics and hacking at each other?
And eventually, people who are determined to get to an office and either by the grace of God, they never got there, as we have seen or people who have lost, keep on fighting or you find that eventually, if they do get it, they never do well. If you notice, people use an office. You find that if you make someone a governor today, he is very unlikely to work as a good governor. Most them are going to use their position to jump on to the next post, the president. Whatever office you give to somebody, they don’t sit down to do the work which they promised they would if they got the election. No! They now go there and so, they use it as a jump platform to the next post and that is what occupies them. All the friends they have now are the ones that will help them to get to the next position and all the enemies they make now are those who are opposing them for the next post. What sort of nonsense is that?