The crises within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are increasingly looking intractable given the emergence of strange scenarios at the instance of warring factions. In this interview withADEMOLA ADEGBITE, a stakeholder of the party in Adamawa State, Senator Grace Folashade Bent, catalogues the origin of the crises, tracing the roots to Adamawa. She offers insights into other means of addressing the PDP challenges.
THERE have been reports that the current crises within the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) originally stemmed from Adamawa State as a result of the governor’s move to maintain grip on politics in his state. As a stakeholder, what can you say to this? I have long wanted to explain the root of the crises within the PDP as it affects my state, Adamawa, if only to set the records straight. The problem in Adamawa PDP had been on for years before it boomeranged and is now snowballing into larger crises in the party. If you could recall, the problem in Adamawa PDP began with the dissolution of Adamawa PDP executive by the national headquarters of the party. That executive, led by Mijinyawa Kugama, had expired long ago, but the state governor, Admiral Murtala Nyako, still wanted to force it on the rest of PDP members in the state. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had to intervene by writing the national headquarters of PDP asking it to conduct a congress for election of the new exco in Adamawa. The governor adamantly insisted that the exco must not go. This problem had been there before Alhaji Bamanga Tukur became the PDP National Chairman.
I recall that at a point, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, then an elder in Adamawa PDP, led a delegation to Chiefs Nwodo and Ogbulafor on the need for the party to hold a congress in Adamawa. So, you can appreciate the dilemma of Tukur on the issue at the moment. Again, the incumbent President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, as Nigeria’s vice president then, had headed a committee on Adamawa PDP crises. He was the Chairman on Reconciliation Committee. On two occasions, his committee recommended for a congress to be held in Adamawa.
That was under the administration of the late Alhaji Umaru Yar’Adua. Then as the President of Nigeria, Jonathan had cause to invite the stakeholders of Adamawa politics to the Presidential Villa. He appealed to us to go back to Adamawa and help Nyako win his governorship election. But after winning the election, the governor ensured that every stakeholder got sidelined from the PDP, some hounded out of the party to join the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
This has been the case. Unfortunately for us stakeholders, there has never been fair hearing for us. The governor has been the only one calling the shots. He has been using the state’s resources to fight us and the most regrettable thing is that he has been mobilising members of the Governors Forum to be on his side, notwithstanding fighting a wrong cause. The governors had this impression that their colleague was being humiliated and so vowed to fight on his behalf without bothering to listen to the other side of the divide in Adamawa. This is unfortunate, more so when the governors reduced this crisis to a problem between them and Bamanga Tukur. It is not so. The governor of Adamawa was the cause of it all.
So what part did you stakeholders play? When we saw that the PDP was losing grounds in Adamawa and members were crossing to other parties, elders of the party made representations to the NWC and stated our case. Of course, Bamanga Tukur, who was part of the struggle, had become the chairman. He set up different committees which also recommended the conduct of fresh congress in the state. It was when Nyako was not cooperating by insisting on the Kugama-led expired exco that the NWC dissolved the exco. A fresh congress, supervised by INEC, was held and members heaved a sigh of relief. That never went well with Nyako; neither did it go well with a few of his colleagues, most especially the chairman of the Governors Forum, Rotimi Amaechi. Amaechi, funny enough, went to the NWC and instructed it to reverse its decision on Adamawa, just like that. He did not speak with the likes of Professor Jubril Aminu and other elders in the state before holding on to that decision. Where is the sense of fair hearing by the then Governors Forum. We in Adamawa felt such things were never right because they were injurious to democracy.
Now, when the Amaechi’s side of the Governors Forum saw that Bamanga Tukur was not going to reverse himself on the Adamawa issue, the next thing was their decision to make PDP ungovernable. The fair-minded among the governors took the pain to call the stakeholders and find out the truth on Adamawa. These are the ones who have since been standing on the side of justice and equity.
Now, Admiral Nyako and the Governors Forum began to mount overbearing influence on the party and they have been whipping anti-PDP sentiment ever since. Even when they set up the Lamido’s committee on Adamawa, Lamido never bothered to call the stakeholders for hearing. The committee just took a one-sided decision in favour of their fellow governor. The conclusion was that it is either PDP returns their colleague’s exco in Adamawa or that Bamanga Tukur should resign. Is that what democracy is all about? That was the beginning of setting options for the PDP and Mr. President. As far as we are concerned in Adamawa, Governor Nyako should be held responsible for the escalation of crises in the PDP. He was the one who mobilised all the governors to start this problem because he whipped the sentiment that what happened to him would happen to the other governors. But he was wrong and his colleagues were wrong in following him too.
The point we members of PDP should be stressing is that no one is bigger than the party and we must instill the principle of justice, fairness and equity in the party. This is a party the founding fathers had wanted every member to run on equal basis; that is common ownership. If that happens at the national level, it should happen in every state. Come to think of it, Governor Nyako was not a founding member of PDP. He came from the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) and almost immediately after joining PDP became the Adamawa governor. Since he joined, he has been lording it over those he met, including Professor Jubril Aminu, veterans like Wilberforce Juta, Tony Ananiah, Col Kama, Dr Aliyu Idi Hong, Dr Umar Ardo, John Elias, Boni Haruna, and many more who are not just stakeholders, but who had spent their money, time and energy in building the party.
Why do you think the governor was insisting on having his way all the time, most especially on the issue of PDP state exco? You should appreciate that he was coming from a military background where authorities flow from only one direction and others must just obey. He has not imbibed the culture of democracy fully, because he still believes he could lead politicians like a military Admiral. Democracy, you know, is the government of the people by the people and for the people. Our governor must realise this. Again, Governor Nyako got the governorship seat without any challenge. When he was brought in, all the stakeholders rallied round him and campaigned for his victory. The people I had mentioned earlier worked very hard to support and sustain him in power. But when he got the power, he surrounded himself with sycophants who probably told him to send every major stakeholder away if he is to always have a full grip of the party. And that is what he did. If they are beginning to spend the money belonging to the state to fight their personal cause, it is better they realise on time that that money belongs to everybody in the state. At the appropriate time, people will ask questions. These have been the issues affecting the overall PDP at the moment.
Some people are attributing the problem in PDP today to the inaction of the Presidency and the PDP national officers on some issues. Do you share in that conclusion? Hitherto, this party had been operating as a family, and nobody had envisaged the turn of events. What you referred to as inaction by the authorities in the party is their display of sense of maturity and fairness. First, they brought in the elders to intervene and ensure that normalcy returns to the party. Who would ever believe that the G7 governors would not listen to even the elders? Since I joined this party, I have never seen the level of impunity being displayed by members. The PDP had held a convention to elect its national officers at the Eagle Square.
The INEC issued PDP a certificate of registration and I do not see the New PDP claiming ownership of the certificate. I see the efforts by the new PDP members as just crying wolf where there is none. Take for instance, when the elders call them to a roundtable and asked for their grievances, they gave stiff conditions which to me are ludicrous, very laughable. For God’s sake, how can a breakaway faction of PDP say they want the president to drop his ambition to run for second term? That the EFCC should not probe anyone of them and that the sack of Adamawa exco should be reversed? These are self-serving conditions that will never impact positively on the lives of an average Nigerian. The New PDP members are just proving to the world that they are not sensitive to the yearnings of all Nigerians. How many of the governors have been able to put in place good programmes that were adjudged to have touched the lives of their people. Why are they fighting desperately, talking about 2015 as if they have tomorrow in their hands? Can anyone of us just forget that there is only one Supreme Being who watches over all of us and who decides everybody’s fate? You are asking Jonathan not to run in 2015. If he decides to run then, what powers do you have to stop him? However, I think it is only personal aggrandizement and selfish motives coupled with the bad belle syndrome that is ruling the conduct of members of the New PDP. Nigerians understand better now as they have gradually been overcoming the initial raising of the dusts.
Many watchers of the political scenarios conclude that the New PDP members will never back down, having gone far in taking actions against the main PDP. How do you see the problem ending? Of course, they will not want to go back into PDP because of ego reasons; but they should find a good soft landing for themselves and play ball with the President to give them a soft landing. If they would not do that, the only option available to them is to form a new political party and then leave the PDP. At least if you are not satisfied with the pattern of leadership of somebody, you stay away from such a person. If seven out of 23 governors decide to go their way, does that mean the PDP will die?
How would you appraise Jonathan’s approach to the PDP crises? Although a school of thought believes that the president should have wielded the stick right from the beginning, you should appreciate the manner by which the president works. The president, I know, believes in dialogue and so had set machinery in motion for that option to resolve the problem. I want to give it to the president for being humble in sitting with the governors in dialogue. That is commendable. You could see when Governor Aliyu Babangida was reading a communiqué at the end of their meeting with the president and the president stood humbly by his side. That is very encouraging and it got me endeared to him. I even learnt that the president, ab initio, was ready to play ball with the governors, but the way they were going about it makes the idea of dialogue, which everybody believes in, unworkable for now.
Do you think the ongoing crises in PDP will rub on its chances of winning in the next presidential election? I don’t think so.
Why? It is because our democracy is young and just gathering momentum. The good thing is that Nigerians have come to realise that PDP is the most organised party among all, having stood the test of time. Even though you may not ascribe outright excellence to PDP in some areas, yet you can give the credit to it for sustaining democracy for this long. It has never happened in Nigeria that democracy would run for more than 15 years. I still think that Nigerians believe that a devil you know well is better than the angel you really do not know. Nigerians do not have problem with PDP as a party, but the problem they have is with the individuals. But I know that the prayer by most Nigerians is for PDP to get more credible candidates to bear its flags during the next round of elections in 2015. I have interacted with a lot of people in Nigeria and I know that their conclusion is that they neither have a problem with the party’s manifesto, nor the constitution nor the party’s organ, they have problems with the kind of leadership it has been producing. So they want some set of good candidates, people-oriented individuals to lead and give them what they wanted in the next political dispensation.
If you are to suggest steps by the PDP leadership to overcome the current crises in the party, what would you say? I have said over and over again that cases must be treated on their individual merit. There is no need to join the bandwagon on issues at stake. Some members of the party felt that the leadership had wronged them in some ways. Yes, the party is not infallible. So I want to support the idea of dialogue. I want to appeal to members of the party who are aggrieved to take the matter gently by thinking like real stakeholders, rather than acting like fighters. In politics, we disagree to agree and if we must maintain a good balancing of opinion in the party, we must all come to the roundtable to iron out our differences. The problem in PDP still has solution if the warring parties agree to operate with open minds. But I feel it is really not good for a side to want to lord it on the other. We are equal partners in PDP. All the same, the PDP cannot operate successfully without maintaining discipline among its members. There is need for party supremacy. That is what is making the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa to forge ahead. ANC in South Africa experiences crises too. They had one most recently, but members came together to resolve their differences and it has since been moving on. If we don’t keep a mechanism for conflict resolution in PDP, we are bound to experience rumblings that would always undermine efforts by the leadership to stay afloat. It is bad when some people just feel that they are higher in status than the party or where some members just felt they are too big for the party to contain. So, in the long run, if the aggrieved party members feel they can no longer remain in the PDP for reasons best known to them, the best option at the end is for them to leave and form their own parties, if that would bring a lasting peace to both parties.
Has President Jonathan ever impressed you as a leader? You can judge a leader from different perspectives. A leader is analysed, criticised, commended, condemned, or rather dismissed based on certain attributes he exhibits. The way I see President Jonathan may be different from the way you or other person sees him. I have been in government before, and I realised that the way you see things within is different from the way the people outside see same things. So, I will be cautious in assessing President Jonathan the way most people assess him. For me, however, I think President Jonathan has made some giant strides since he got into the saddle. First of all, you can appreciate him better by the way he has been trudging along despite confronting too many battles and fighting too many enemies. Some of his enemies are uncompromising. They give an impression that whatever good he does must be opposed and run down. This certainly has made ordinary Nigerians to feel that the president has really been trying. Talk of public sympathy, which is currently growing for the president here. I see the Jonathan’s government as trying to galvanise energy towards solving some of the problems it met on the ground. The government has been trying against all odds to leave good impression that it is capable of addressing the challenges facing Nigeria.
Take for instance the problem of security. Were it not for the consistent battles the present government has been waging against terrorism, where would Nigeria have been today? The president’s calmness, hopeful mien and steady disposition to issues may not be what many Nigerians desired, but his approaches have been producing results in some ways and Nigeria has been moving forward. Under President Jonathan, there has been stability in the oil and gas sector like we never experienced before. His government is improving on power generating capacity and you can feel the process of development and building of infrastructure in strategic parts of the country. So, the country needs some measure of stability for the government to excel. To me, it is unfair to always put the president on the spot just for personal gains and reasons. Opposition is good and healthy for democracy, but when it becomes destructible, that is where the problem lies.