“If I die on this cause, I die” – Gov. Sule Lamido
It was the night the resolution of the ongoing implosion rocking the ruling peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was shredded by the police in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, Rivers State Governor and chairman of the fractured Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, and about 70 ex-speakers of Houses of Assembly across the country, were returning to Government House in the garden city after a function. But they could not access the place because of a police barricade.
As the drama of the absurd continue to unfurl, with Nigerians crying blue murder, and Amaechi struggling to get the police dismantle the blockade, someone sent an SMS to
Sule Lamido, second-term governor of Jigawa State, and one of the masterminds of the New PDP, alerting him about the dangerous situation.
Lamido’s eyes popped wide open. He shifted uneasily on his seat, as if the thing had suddenly been filled with burning charcoal.
“A democratically elected governor locked out of Government House? In a democracy? No, it’s not possible.” The man asked the senior journalists interviewing him in an elevated voice. Then, he lapsed into silence. In the tranquil ambience of the ground floor office in his official residence in Dutse, only the humming of the air-conditioners was audible. There was pin-drop silence. The journalists were speechless.
Just then, he began to speak again, pondering on what the ugly incident portends for the country. “Incredible!” Lamido declared, his voice tearing through the silence like a clap of thunder, as he shifted restlessly on the well-upholstered chair. “No, I don’t believe this. It cannot be Nigeria Police. Maybe those who did that came from somewhere. Maybe, they are armed robbers who were able to disarm the police (security around the embattled Rivers Governor) and lock them somewhere. That’s my feeling. This is scary. It is dangerous because I do not see the Nigeria Police, with clear understanding of their role under the constitution, doing that kind of thing. No, I don’t think so.”
Again, he paused and looked straight ahead as if contemplating the next line of action. Then he spoke again. “My worry is that today in Nigeria, hooligans or thugs or armed robbers can go to a Government House, disarm police, take their arms, wear their uniforms and then abduct a governor. I don’t think it is the Nigerian Police. But if, indeed, it is the Nigeria Police, then they know the consequences. What they did was treason. To me, those who did it are coupists. And they must be dealt with as such.”
Despite his anger, however, Lamido canvassed a position to prevent a recurrence of the shameful act. “We should be able to strengthen our police so that armed robbers, or whatever they are, cannot come and disarm them and wear their uniforms and take a governor.”
Tthat’s not all. When redirected to the issue at hand, which is the implosion within the party he co-founded but which is now trying to push him out, the angry governor fulminated the more, firing from all cylinders. But when reminded that PDP’s opponents were already jubilating over the confusion within the party whose chairman once boasted that would rule for 60 uninterrupted years, Lamido waxed somewhat philosophical.
“Let me say that in our tradition, you don’t jubilate over somebody’s downfall or misfortune,” he continued, adjusting his rimless glasses. “More so, because he (the enemy) is something bigger and, therefore, there is so much envy in you and you are wishing everything evil to come to it. No. It’s not done and cannot be right. For me, those who think the PDP implosion will bring a carcass upon which they can feed on are terribly mistaken.”
Why? I asked, trying to spur him on. “This is because I don’t think they are credible alternative. So, their jubilation may be short-lived. I have always said this: PDP is a big party. It is the party that saved Nigeria from what happened between 1983 and 1998. And because it is so big, it is bound to have some crises here and there. It is only normal and natural.”
But this is not just an ordinary crisis, I tried to play the devil’s advocate. This is a situation that is shredding the so-called ‘Biggest Party in Africa’.
“I’m coming to it,” he said, quietly, trying to calm the interviewer. “We have to look at history first. If you know what happened yesterday, you will be prepared for tomorrow. The PDP is a mechanism for saving Nigeria from what happened between 1983 to 1998 and it has done so much in distinguished fashion. It has performed its assignment with distinction. Only if you knew what Nigeria was then, and I’m talking of Buhari’s rule, Babangida’s rule, and Abacha’s rule. By 1998 when General Abdulsalami came in, the lot fell on PDP to save Nigeria. It was PDP that came to restore Nigeria and give the country hope and confidence. And the mechanism was not in ordinary democracy. Democracy is supposed to address a very serious national issue. Thirteen years after that aspect for which the PDP was formed has been accomplished, i.e. stabilizing the country, we have to move to the next level.”
And what is that level? We asked the man who, in six short years, has transformed Jigawa State from a poor, arid, and predominantly agrarian state to a tourism destination presently being equipped with one of the biggest cargo airports on the continent. He bowed slightly at the compliment, before moving on.
“After stability, after restoration,” he said, “the PDP is now at the level of giving Nigerians a Nigerian service, trying to address the needs of Nigerians, which are multi-dimensional. Consider the issue of youth employment, security from anger, infrastructure and a whole lot of things. You need a party, which will metamorphose or transform from the old method of doing things to something more ingenious to save Nigeria, to serve Nigeria and Nigerians better.
“To achieve that, you need people with the commitment, dedication and discipline. You need people who would act on the rule of law because only the rule of law can save Nigeria and make Nigerians get the services they need from their leaders. And what you are seeing now is part of metamorphosis. This transition to the next phase, this transition which would address Nigerians’ needs, should come in at this point.”
But why should it take PDP a whole 14 years to discover that ‘normally, people should go into government to really serve the people who elected them? Why should the ruling party just be talking of the ‘next level’ after governing for 14 years? We fired the shots at Lamido.
Rather than getting fazed and worked up by the interrogation, he betrayed no emotion as he replied calmly: “After 2007, we were trying to stabilize as a country. We were being fully reconciled as a nation. The Americans and other people who felt shut out from the Nigeria economy were coming on board with programmes and commitment to serve Nigeria. That was after restoring Nigeria. President Musa Yar’adua was the next phase and part of that reconciliation process. He was to sit down and properly work for Nigeria. Unfortunately, he was bogged down by ill health. Unfortunately, he died and all the injuries that we had cured came back. A political problem arose which would determine whether Nigeria will be maintained or be reconciled.
“Now, if we did not do what we did at that time, we would have opened the whole injuries; because what we did after Yar’ adua died was not only about whom do we put to serve Nigeria but also about kick-starting the final healing process. The (general) elections of 2011 were supposed to be the final healing process. It took that long because when Yar’adua died, it was something beyond the party. It was beyond us. It was something brought by God. So, we have to look at what is real now because we are trying to look at 2015. Our action in 2011 has been able to vindicate our position. It has been able to justify our position but that healing process…”
In an off-the-cuff interaction with the governor before the interview kicked off, Lamido had lampooned some persons within the party that he described as scavengers, who are feasting on the confusion. Or who like some PDP topnotch intimated this paper, are deliberately stoking the fire to possibly get the rebelling governors out of the way. As a newsman, your initial reaction to that would be to ask the governor to unveil the identities of these scavengers. We did ask. And the governor reacted, first, by rubbishing the notion that the G. 7, as the group of PDP’s dissenting governors is known, are staying in the party to inflict it with fatal injuries, after which they would then decamp to some other parties they are currently being linked.
That’s balderdash, Lamido snapped. “Those saying we want to leave are just talking garbage. PDP is our baby. We conceived it, gave birth to it and nurtured it to what it is today. Where were those people now talking rubbish all this while? Where were they? Who are the people any way? Where were they? As for the issue of scavengers, it is a question with precipitations. Somebody is being accused or maligned or blackmailed of leaving the party, isn’t it? If we remain in the party we are big threat to them…”
The governor stopped the line midway and challenged this journalist to give the names of those making the suggestion. I mentioned Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, PDP’s national chairman, through one of his aides; Dr. Doyin Okupe, senior special adviser to the president on public communication, and Dr. Rueben Abati, senior special adviser to the president on media and publicity.
“Okay, wait. If there were no president, there would not be anything called Okupe or Abati. They are the president’s personal aides. They became his aides after he became president. So, they have no idea what he (Jonathan) went through as a president. They have no idea what his (Jonathan’s) friends and collaborators did to get him there. They have no idea how all these collaborators worked together to get him in there. They have no idea. So, literally, those of us standing in the course of justice are not doing anything personal. No. We are talking about Nigeria. We are talking about Nigerian president. Now, if, for instance, the chairman challenges us, he has the locus standi but certainly not personal aides.
Could persons like Chief Edwin Clark, Asari Dokubo and the rest of them, be among the scavengers? I pressed Governor Lamido further. Now, if you expect a straight answer to that, then you have something else coming. This is the way he answered it: “Thank God Dokubo said he is not a member of PDP. Thank God, he said he was ACN. But if ACN is now talking about PDP, is there no problem? There is a problem. If ACN now begins to weep more than the bereaved, then, there are some problems somewhere.”
So, in all of these, in the middle of these claims and counter-claims, blackmails and threats, what would Lamido push as the way forward?
“There is a way out,” he said optimistically. “And it will come obviously with some spill- over effects and some collateral damages. Maybe if what we have been saying here had been harkened to in the last two, there mouths, perhaps, we wouldn’t be here today. After going round, after the meeting with the president, after meeting the party chairman, and these are real, if the issues had been addressed, there wouldn’t have been any problem. During the convention, they shut out Governor Nyako. They prevented him from entering the arena. And we went to the president, and told him: ‘Sir, see what is happening. Please, do something.’ We went to him and said ‘Please, do something. Governor Nyako has been shut out of the convention. He was denied the tag to come into the arena. The delegates from Adamawa could not also come into the arena. Rivers delegates, who are statutory delegates by being members of the National Assembly, were also changed. Their names were replaced. And we told the president to do something.”
A notion soared in the immediate aftermath of the walkout at the Eagles Square during the contentious PDP convention. The belief, in certain quarters, was that the walkout had been pre-planned and executed to ridicule the president. To buttress their point, those in that school of thought cited Lamido’s visit to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the previous night, insisting that the visit was to perfect the strategy for what unfurled, next day, at Eagles Square.
The Jigawa governor flatly objected to that insinuation. “It’s true I went to Atiku’s house, but it was not PDP that we discussed. He had wanted to see me in the last two years, and after the ceremony at the mosque, I went with him to his house. And there were a number of us there. We just had lunch and left. That’s all.”
Okay, how does the governor react to the suggestion that the rebellion by G.7 would not last because their assembly is a congregation of strange bedfellows, fellows whose ideologies are diametrically opposed to one another?
“Rebellion against who?” the governor asked. “Rebellion against ourselves?”
Rebellion against the system, I said.
“What system?” Lamido snapped. “What system? Those adding fuel to this situation are those who are privileged with our votes to lead the party. Take Bamanga Tukur as an example. In their zonal congress, Bamanga, before the election of Bauchi, scored zero (laughs). This happened, yet, we said ‘no, we want Bamanga’. And we would have Bamanga because we were doing the bidding of the president. As party loyalists, we assured the president, we said ‘Sir, you are going to get Bamanga.’ So, we called Nyako, and we told him, ‘you cannot humiliate the party’s presidential candidate. No, you can’t do that because even in democracy there are some traditions and concessions. We are the party. So, we dignified him. We got him elected. Our delegates, who you now say are not democratically elected, who you now say we manipulated, were the same delegates that got Bamanga manipulated into office.”
But what is the way out of this mess that the party has found itself? I asked Lamido, pointedly, the second time.
“I wish something was done to reduce the heat much earlier on when the pot was boiling,” he said, matter-of-factly. “If we had done that, the water would have subsided even though it would have had little spillover. But then, I have been saying, for the love of Nigeria, we would not do anything to cause unnecessary turmoil in this country. For the love of those people who believe in us, we do anything to ensure that this party does not crash. So, the way out, the issues involved are very simple. There is an item given to the president, and given to the party by the Obasanjo Reconciliation Committee, headed by (ex) President Obasanjo. The item was also given to General Babangida, Tony Anenih, Barnabas Gemade and Ahmadu Ali, where these things are discussed and itemized. So, there is a way out.”
But what exactly is the G.7 demanding? I asked Lamido.
“They are there with the president,” he said.
Is the issue of President Jonathan running or not running in 2015 among the items?
“I don’t think that is the issue,” he responded.
What, then, is the issue? I probed further.
“It is not fair for people to pick out something which tends to narrow the debate to a personality. Jonathan is a Nigeria citizen, and under the constitution, he has the right to run. We respect that. But what we are saying is that the process, which is going to produce him, must be as credible and as transparent as it was in 2011. Because in 2011, this type of things were not applied to make him get there. In 2011, even the aspirants came out openly and declared for him. At the convention, the proceedings were very transparent. We came out openly to declare for him at the convention. Even his co- aspirants came out openly to declare for him.
“Now, what we are saying is: if you want to get re-elected, you can never achieve that by playing discordant tunes, selling intimidating lies, causing EFCC to embarrass people, etc. These things cannot work because at the end of the day, even after picking the ticket through this self-help projects, and you have already destroyed your infantry, who will be there for you? So, we said, Jonathan can run but the process must be credible. It must be transparent. Dismissing and sacking, absorbing and dissolving, coercing and intimidating cannot work; will never work. They will not work because in a family where we have brothers and sisters, that thing called trust and faith in each other should be the propelling engine.”
No doubt, deadly intrigues, distrust and falsehood run deep in the present situation PDP has found itself. Despite all these, Lamido says his love for PDP has not waned. Indeed, he professes profound love for the party he helped to midwife, saying ‘the party is our party, and the government, our government.’ But what if the pendulum swings in favour of President Jonathan and he picks the PDP ticket for the 2013 presidential race, despite the high level of discord in the party, what would he do? Would he campaign for him?
“Listen,” he said, “the process where we are being maligned, where we are being abused, where we are being intimidated, it would no longer be the party temperature, it would be interest temperature through the party. I mean, look at the (just concluded) convention. You sent out Adamawa governor with his delegates; you changed the names of delegates. Is this called party? It is not party, it is interest; and we should allow the party to go by the regulation of transparency so that by the time the process produces a candidate, of course, we would say ‘yes!’”
And if it doesn’t go through the path of transparency as he envisions, what would he be canvassing for?
“I don’t know why you want to make the issue personal,” he said. “I’m not an article. I’m not something owned by somebody. I’m a human being with the right mind for this country; and whatever I believe in, I would defend it anywhere. If the party is going wrong, I will keep on fighting until the right thing is done. Of course, if we do the right thing, and the president emerges, I will support him because I did the same thing in 2011 against all odds. I sacrificed a lot for the president’s emergence in 2011 because the process was right. It had integrity. I think we did what was right and, therefore, I stood by that process. And I know the consequences of what I did. Once, I believe that what you are doing is right, I have no problem with you. There would be no problem.”
Despite the various peace moves initiated by party elders and concerned stakeholders, President Goodluck Jonathan launched a surprise attack on his perceived adversaries, upper week, sacking nine ministers in one fell swoop. If the trend continues and the president eventually picks the ticket, would Lamido still cling to his love for the party?
“We don’t do things by conjectures,” he retorted. ‘The president, under the constitution, has the right to appoint a minister. He also has the right to fire him. These are things you cannot take away from him, no matter what you want to introduce. Whatever it is, his action (ministers’sack) is legitimate. So, you cannot attribute this to any crisis because under Obasanjo’s regime, some ministers were fired. Some were appointed. So, I do not think we should be confusing actions which are legitimate, which are legal, with some imaginations.”
Does Lamido feel betrayed and disappointed that he was with the president the night before he (Jonathan) sacked his nominee in government, Prof. Ruqayyatu Ahmed Rufai, the immediate past Minister of Education, and he never gave him an inkling as to what he had done?
“No, I didn’t feel betrayed,” he responded “I have no hard feeling for not confiding in me. He is the president and he was right because these are actions and duties within the authority of his person and office. I’m not bothered about what you people call the timing of the action. It is immaterial. When you are doing the right thing, you can do it anytime because there is no time frame for doing the right thing. You can do the right thing anytime you want to do it.”
The thinking in the camp of those sympathetic to the president is that the G.7 governors are pushing a northern agenda for power shift, come 2015. Indeed, many of them have been castigating Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the Rivers State governor, for aligning with the north against his own brother, President Jonathan, who hails from the south-south. I asked the Jigawa governor if his group’s crusade is really about Nigeria or truly a northern agenda for power shift?
Here, the teacher in Lamido came to the fore. “In leadership, there are some times that issues and debates may not be understood properly by the followership. And to me, the issue of north and south, Islam, Christianity, pagan or animist should not come into this debate because it will diminish the real essence of it. The followers are free to hold their own kinds of feelings and pictures, but we, leaders, should not divide ourselves. It is dangerous for the country. “It is dangerous for Nigeria. It is dangerous even for those who are saying so. It is either Nigeria for all of us or we just take our ways differently. Simple.”
At the 2011 convention, another top journalist recalled, former President Olusegun Obasanjo thanked governors for reaching an agreement with Jonathan who, he said, had agreed to make a sacrifice to serve only one term. Now, was the Jigawa Governor part of the deal, especially in the light of Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State’s insistence that there was an agreement?
“I don’t want to be dragged into personalizing these issues,” he said. “I don’t want us to reduce these issues to he said this, he said that. He is Nigeria’s president. He made a statement on honour; it is up to him and his honour to stand by what he said.”
How does Lamido feel that some parties are feasting that his party, PDP, is on the path of extinction? Is he not worried are you not worried?
“It’s good to go into history,” he said. “What were we in 1998? Those who are talking today, who brought the process of being able to talk? Who rescued the situation and brought the climate for people to do what they are doing and saying now? In 1998, was there anything like APC (All Progressives Congress)? There was no APC. In 1998, there was PDP. Of all the parties formed in 1998, of all the efforts made to restore the Nigerian nation, it is only PDP that is still standing with the same nomenclature.”
But that nomenclature has since changed with the emergence of New PDP, you pointed out. The governor hardly allowed you to land when he declared: “PDP has been PDP. New or old, it is PDP!”
Still on the question of 2015, is he not worried about his party in view of the intimidating potentials of APC?
“That is what I’m saying,” he began. “The resilience of the PDP, the leadership within the party, which cut across all the Nigerian societies, their track record of working together and serving Nigeria, their commitment to Nigeria, their passion for Nigeria, all these will make them come together to do what is needful.”
In a recent interview with a weekly magazine, Asari Dokubo, a former Niger Delta militant-turned-millionaire businessman, threatened that Nigeria will burn if President Jonathan does not earn a second term in 2015. How does this inflammatory statement come to the governor? “He is a small boy,” said Lamido. “Yes, he is a small boy. His entire clan, I don’t think they are up to one million people. If his entire clan are not up one million people, you just ignore him.”
And does Lamido not think that all these political battles could impinge negatively on his political future?
“Who?” He snapped.
‘You,’ I retorted. ‘What are your plans?’
“What are my plans?”
‘Yes, what is your future political aspiration after Government House, Dutse?’
“Let me tell you this, and I mean every word of it: I’m a Muslim and I believe God controls our fate. To me, I had no idea I was going to be a governor but I’m now a governor. Five years ago, when I was selling peppermint, lip sticks and pomade, I never knew I was going to be a governor. Like others who are there now, all of us, from the President to governors, to council chairmen, some years back, we had no idea we were going to be where we are today. So, my fate lies with God, and as a Muslim, I submit to will of Allah. If Allah says I’m going to be this or that, I must be, no matter how much you say it will not be.”
As the interview started its homeward stretch, I took the governor to what he said before we started. He had said, off the cuff, that he wouldn’t mind if he died on this cause that he and his colleagues at G.7 are pursuing. And neither would he fret if his family were put in harm’s way on the same account. Now, does he want to recant or he still stands by the statement?
This is how he answered: “What I said was that by our history and the legacy of NEPU, a party in which I was also a key player, we suffered a lot of consequences in the course of striving to do the right thing. In 1983, we followed Aminu Kano. We loved him, we regarded him but NPN (National Party of Nigeria) simply builds a wall around him. They took him away from us. We couldn’t even reach him. We knew what we went through before the election-the harassment, the humiliation. But whatever is your belief and conviction, even if you want to move, your conscience will not allow you to go.
“What we did at the PDP convention (the walk-out) was against injustice, manipulation, high handedness and political power which are on rampage. We would not take all that because we are not articles. We are not slaves. So, we opted out. We knew there would be dire consequences. But whatever may be the consequences on our personal lives, on our children, their future, whatever it is, we would stand by our action until the right is done. We wouldn’t mind if we pay the price because it is part of our historical formation. It is part of our history to stand against injustice. During our days in NEPU, people were killed for pursuing the cause of justice. During our NEPU days, people were thrown into wells and the wells filled up. People were roasted and harassed, persecuted. People died in diverse ways during the process.
“We were about to be similarly hunted because of my conviction in 2011. In 2011, I stood by the president. I was abused. I was called names. They said I was a pastor, a Christian. I was almost ex-communicated from my people. My life was declared. I could be killed anywhere. For my conviction, they burnt my office. They burnt my secretary. They went to my house to burn my children. It was the army who came to save them. So, I know there would be dire consequences.”
But what if the PDP chairman, Bamanga Tukur, is shown the way out? How much of the problem would have been solved? Would it be the beginning of the healing process?
“The demands are many,” Lamido said finally. “There has to be a collective way for all of us that are prepared to do the right thing for the party and for Nigeria. By the time we agree to do the right thing, of course, there will be healing and continuity.”