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Sunday, 15 September 2013

‘With this crisis, PDP will be injured but not decapitated’

 by Abbas Jimoh
Alhaji Birmah: It would be naive to underrate governors
Alhaji Dauda Birmah is a former Minister of Education from Adamawa State. In this interview, the three times presidential aspirant of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) speaks on the current crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the face-off between Governor Murtala Nyako and the PDP National Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur. Excerpts:
Why is it taking too long to resolve the Adamawa State PDP crisis despite the fact that the party’s National Chairman Alhaji Bamanga Tukur comes from the state?
The crisis started after the efforts to re-elect Murtala Nyako when the issue of a substantive national chairman of the PDP arose. It was decided by the powers that-be that the post be zoned to the North-East. Alhaji Bamaga Tukur happened to be among those that showed interest. He comes from Adamawa. I come from Adamawa too. He is Tafida of Adamawa and I am the Sarkin Gabas of Adamawa. So, we belong to the emirate system, the same council.
In 1983, Bamanga Tukur became the governor of old Gongola. I was at that time one of his coordinators. So, my relationship with him dated back 30 years. Now if somebody I supported to become governor wanted to become national chairman, I think it is incumbent on me to support him, having known him to be competent, older and more mature and, therefore, capable of leading the PDP. I look at Bamanga and I know he is not somebody that will fail in his responsibility.
I noticed then that Admiral Murtala Nyako was hostile to Bamanga and wondered why anybody from Adamawa would not like somebody from Adamawa at that level to be the national chairman. But that hostility was due to a number of factors.
Nyako has been nursing the ambition of becoming the president of the federation after his second term as governor. He thought as we were told that if Bamanga becomes the national chairman, that would eclipse his chances. He thought there was no way the Chairman of the party would come from Adamawa and a prospective presidential candidate would come from Adamawa. This made him to become hostile to the idea.
I am sorry to say that military men in politics do not behave as democrats. They are absolutists, because they transfer the command mentality in the barracks to the political terrain. The military do not have opponents. They only have enemies. If you are an enemy, they must crush you. This mentality brought from the military to the political phase is dangerous.
Bamanga Tukur went on to campaign and at the end of the day, he became the national chairman. Then another issue arose.  Most second term governors in the North who want to become President at the end of their second term and whose chance will be lost after they have left their seats thought that Tukur was going to side with President Goodluck Jonathan because Jonathan was sympathetic to Bamanga’s aspiration. He makes sure that Bamanga emerges. So, they think that in 2015, Bamanga will support Jonathan.
This is the reason why Nyako organised some of the governors who now behave like trade unions. They are all gunning for Bamanga’s head. This is the genesis of the problem. Now that the problem has started, actions bring reactions. This is what has brought us to where we are today. If there is a disagreement at that top, one is a governor, the other is the national chairman of a party, the generality of the people will gravitate to the two camps. This will now bring quarrel among their supporters and not that of the principals. They poison the atmosphere. This is the situation we find ourselves in Adamawa.
From day one when Bamanga indicated interest to become the PDP national chairman, I identify with him till today. I believe I will swim and sink with him because I believe he is on the moral high ground.

Now that some National Assembly members have identified with the splinter PDP, what will be the fortune of the PDP?
Let me not be disrespectful to the members of the National Assembly because of their role and contribution to the nation. But you know that governors today own the parties in their respective states. They control the treasury. They control the cabinet. Therefore, almost everybody holds their positions to the influence of the governors, including Speakers of the Houses of Assembly who would not be speakers without the support of the governors.
Two of the three Senators will probably not be Senators without the support of the governors. Therefore, if you take the functionality of the party in the state, if the governors say tomorrow, we are not going to face the east but the south for prayer, they would all pray along with him facing the south because the governors initiated and actualised their emergence in the National Assembly and the respective state Houses of Assembly.

Don’t you see this open rebellion, especially the convention walk-out by the governors as a failure on President Jonathan and Alhaji Bamanga on party management?
No, this is not the case. Let us look at this; we expect Nigeria to develop and have a strong institution. We continue to say we do not want strong persons but strong institutions. President Jonathan has brought to fore the institution of the Presidency and not his own strong man status. He is allowing people to find their own level. Bamanga has heterogeneous people to deal with. Let us not forget that Nigeria is a federation and cannot be run as a Unitary Government. Today, the federating units are finding their voices and exerting themselves. So, we have to make Nigeria stronger and not to have a dictator at the centre. I do not believe we need dictators. So, Bamanga cannot be a dictator. Jonathan cannot be a dictator. Anyway, dissent is part of humanity and Nigeria is an ongoing project. Everybody, despite the differences, must sit together to find a common front.
 
What is your view on the threat by Alhaji Bamanga Tukur to sanction the dissenting governors and their supporters instead of resolving the crisis?
This is politics. If you are confronted with some situations, you bring up ways of matching the situation. When people take extreme positions, you have to find a way of matching up and coming to a roundtable to resolve it. All this ‘katakata’ will soon be resolved. No war is resolved at the battle field but at the roundtable. This will be resolved. But I have my fears just before that convention. The Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) was registered by the Atiku Abubakar’s people. And strangely enough, Atiku suddenly comes out as the head of this rebellion. I believe it is because they have seen in the PDM the prospect of a platform that will accommodate them should what they are doing now lead to a break-up. I have a feeling they are not going to set up a new party other than to be accommodated in an existing party.
They will not go to the All Progressives Congress (APC) because Tinubu , Buhari, Shekarau and others whom they cannot dislodge are there. They want a ‘virgin’ territory which can be used. Now, there is PDM if Atiku will allow them to emerge as the presidential candidate of the party. Therefore, the situation may not be as rosy as they think. By 2014, all of this will metamorphose into something concrete that we can all see before 2015.  Therefore it is a battle of wit and the first person to blink will lose the way. I do not believe President Jonathan and Bamanga are likely to blink.

But don’t you think that this break-up in PDP has exposed your party to possible defeat in the hands of opposition?
Some damages may be done. You cannot ignore what the governors are doing. For anybody to ignore what the governors are doing is naivety. I am not that naïve as I know that what they are doing will affect the PDP. However, the PDM is just registered and has not found its root. 2015 is not an auspicious time to assemble and get people to leave PDP to their fold. If seven governors are moving out of the PDP, I assure you that there are 10 people who are queuing up to replace them. PDP has 18 governors whose tenure is expiring. So all things being equal, PDP will have 18 new governors in 2015. Therefore, in every State there are 10, 20 or 30 people who will want to succeed those governors.
Don’t forget that it is not political parties that are the only platforms that elect candidates, it is the people that go and vote and exercise their civic responsibility. The voting public are 10 times more than the card carrying members of the parties. Therefore, if you focus too much attention on the parties, you are going to miss the point.
Some people are even celebrating because this crisis seems to brighten their chances of realizing their own political aspirations. However, there is ongoing consultation aimed at resolving the crisis. At the end of the day, those who wanted to go will go and those who wanted to stay will stay. We will put our house in order. PDP will be injured but will not be decapitated.
 
SundayTrust

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