In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, speaks on President Goodluck Jonathan’s eligibility to contest the 2015 presidential election ; why he joined seven governors to float the “New PDP”; his presidential ambition, role in the registration of PDM and other issues.
At what point did you decide to team up with the seven governors and others to ‘make things right’ in the PDP, considering the fact that some of them were never your political associates and had in fact worked against you at some point?
If you dig into the history of how the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was formed in 1998, you will understand that one cardinal objective of the party is to stamp out dictatorship and executive high-handedness in Nigeria. It was commonly agreed upon among the founding fathers of the party that the PDP was going to be a political party that will operate and function by the rules, and that decision-making in the party would comply with democratic norms.
But along the line, and not too long after the party won the presidential election in 1999 and also won the majority of seats in the National Assembly, the PDP began to change in character and in content. The change in character had to do with the fact that some elements in the leadership of the party began to wield an iron fist; and the change in content began when the PDP started to change its own laws to gratify the desires of a few powerful individuals in the party.
So, the effort to correct the wrongs in the PDP didn’t just start now. And that is why I will want to correct you on the appellation of ‘rebel governors.’ Those of us who have come together to champion crusades to return the PDP to the dreams of its founding fathers are not leading a rebellion against the party. What we are doing is to further strengthen the PDP and reconnect it to the Nigerian people.
When did I join the governors? This happened after four delegations, one after the other, were sent to me. I did not give them any terms or preconditions because I believe in their sincerity or purpose.
Some say they saw this coming when some of your associates moved to register PDM and succeeded in doing that. Is it not safe to conclude that you are in this to destabilize the PDP because you now probably have an alternative platform on which you could realize your ambition? Or you are in this because you are not getting fair deal from the party as you complained recently?
Let me correct you on the two notions you have raised here. One is that I do not have a hand in the formation of the PDM. Absolutely none! True, some of the people in the party (PDM) may be my political associates; just the same way they are political associates with other leading members of the PDP. You will recall that the PDM is the very back bone of what we today have as the PDP. If some members of the PDP feel aggrieved about the way the party is being run and then decide to float another party, the best I can do is to persuade them not to go in that direction. I do not possess the right, or even the powers to prevent them from forming and belonging to a political party of their choice. The second wrong notion you raised is to say that I am in this struggle because I am not being fairly treated in the PDP. And then, I should ask you: Am I the only one who is not being fairly treated in the PDP? I can confirm to you that over 70 per cent of members of the PDP also feel that they are not being fairly treated by the party. That is why we are demanding for a change in the way the party is run, and that is why the actions we have been taking thus far enjoy popular support among members of the PDP.
With your action, haven’t you betrayed the party leaders some of whom facilitated the waiver granted you only two years ago?
Don’t forget that I didn’t leave the PDP in the first instance as a matter of choice. There was a process deliberately orchestrated to expel me, alongside some other members, from the PDP in 2005. Do not also forget that I did not return to the PDP at the mercy of any individual. My return to the party was borne out of a genuine reconciliation effort led by a respectable statesman in the person of former Vice-President Alex Ekwueme. I am a loyal member and a leader of the Peoples Democratic Party. I also have personal values. As a politician, my core value is to protect the tenets of democracy. I will never betray my values for democracy to satisfy political conveniences, not even when I could have directly benefitted from such infractions.
Is it that Atiku has not learnt his lessons, some might say? Don’t you think some of them might be regretting backing your waiver?
To be honest with you, I do not seem to understand who the “they” you are referring to are. I will probably ask you to explain it further.
In clear terms what is your grouse against Bamanga Tukur? (We understand both of you are from the same locality in Adamawa State).
Alhaji Bamanga Tukur is a respectable citizen of Nigeria, who has contributed immensely to the growth of our national economy through his involvement in the private sector. I cannot hold any grouse against such a person, even if we don’t share the same kindred. But being successful in running corporate boardrooms does not mean that you can be successful in running a political party. Bamanga Tukur doesn’t understand the art of running a political party and a lot of people understand that deficiency in him, but chose to keep quiet about it.
It is believed that the role you have played so far in this saga is not unconnected with your plan to contest the 2015 presidential election. Must Atiku be president?
My presidential ambition dates back to 1992 when I stepped down for the late Bashorun MKO Abiola. Since that time, I have been at the forefront of every presidential contest in Nigeria. I am a democrat to the core and I believe that the only way to earn and run a successful presidency is by a popular mandate, through the mechanisms of a political party. Every democratic government, in the true sense of the term, stands on a tripod: the candidate, the political party and the people. These three cords have to be well knitted before you can campaign for, and win a presidency. So, anybody who wants to be president through the mechanisms of a political party must be interested in reconnecting the party to the Nigerian people.
Must Atiku be President? No. It is not a birth right. The difference I had wished to make when I ran was to give back to a country that has done so much for me. I owe to Nigeria; Nigeria does not owe to me.
A commentator said the other day that this time if you lose the current war you are waging against the party it could deal a deadly blow on your political career. Do you agree?
I don’t understand the context under which the commentator made that submission; but I think it is very unfair of him or her to say that I am waging a war in a democratic setting.
You were conspicuously absent at the trouble-shooting meetings so far convened on this crisis. Why? One had expected that you would attend the meetings held last Friday in Abuja between your group and your former boss, former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Were you not invited?
I had foreign engagements lined up for me six months earlier and I was just waiting for the convention to come and go. These engagements had involved foreign leaders. You will not advise that I stay away from those commitments. As a human being, I cannot be in two places at the same time.
It looks like you and Obasanjo are already finding a common political ground now because some of those governors are Mr Obasanjo’s political associates. What is your political relationship with him now? Do we take it that you could work together in the build up to the 2015 polls?
I will work with anybody who has a genuine intention of rebuilding the PDP.
One of the conditions the “New PDP” reportedly gave President Goodluck Jonathan is that he should drop his presidential ambition. Is this true? Isn’t that a way of trampling on his right to seek elective office in a democratic environment like ours?
That is not correct. No person has a right to stop the other from pursuing his rights as guaranteed by the law. If President Jonathan doesn’t have the rights to contest the 2015 presidential election, only the court can make such pronouncement, not an individual or a group of individuals. It is entirely up to Dr. Jonathan to say he will run or not. My view is that with zoning in the PDP now dead, anyone qualified under the constitution is free to run.
Do you foresee early resolution of this current crisis? Can the PDP be one family again?
A resolution of the crisis in the PDP is in the best interest of all members of the party. But like I said, I will not be a party to any agreement where the values of democracy will be betrayed for political conveniences. The PDP needs to respect its own laws and also honour its own conventions.
In 2011 at ThisDay Dome in Abuja, you reportedly said those who make peaceful changes impossible make violent change inevitable. Do you still stand by this as we approach 2015?
To start with, you will recall that the original copyright of that quote belongs to the 35th president of the United States of America, President John F. Kennedy, during a speech he made in the White House in 1962. I have made reference to that quote as you rightly mentioned in 2011 in protest to the abiding culture of lawlessness and arbitrariness in the PDP.
I have heard people extrapolate that quotation from me and giving it a completely different meaning which, in purpose or by mere conjecture, is outside the ambiance of the norms and values that I subscribe to.
Today, the PDP finds itself in the midst of a mess, largely because the party has refused to retrace its steps to the path of constitutionality and internal democracy. And, to have a situation in which leading members of the party walk out on the president and the party leadership, demanding for internal democracy should itself be considered as a peaceful process of change.