Manoeuvrings have commenced for 2023 politicking. While some top shots of the PDP are pushing for the presidential ticket to be retained in the North, others are against it. Which zone do you think should produce the presidential candidate of your party?
We are not the ruling party but an opposition. Why are people concerned about what the opposition party is doing or not doing? As of today, what affects us directly; 51 per cent of the time is the action or inaction of the ruling party. Probably, 49 per cent of the time, it is the action or inaction of the opposition party. So, we should be concerned with what the ruling party is doing.
Since democracy returned in 1999, which is now 22 years ago; the PDP had three presidents for 16 years; for President Obasanjo, there was unanimity in the country that he should be drafted, voted and elected because that time required an Obasanjo in Nigeria because we wanted somebody who can fix the country, return the country to its past opportunities; path of good governance and cohesion. He did his best but unfortunately, in Nigeria, people must also refer to that quality that brought him back that he is a Christian and a Southerner. After he finished his tenure, the successor must be a Muslim and a Northerner. So, events brought in Yar’adua who started ailing the moment he assumed the seat and he died. To maintain a system, the vice president took over, less than one year before the expiration of the tenure.
In 2011, can we deny him (Jonathan) the seat and bring somebody to take over or allow him to continue. I think good conscience requires that he should be allowed to continue and I am one of those who supported his re-election in 2011 based on that consideration. It was based on a written understanding that President Jonathan was going to do one term and fix certain inequities that became visible in the administration of Nigeria. President Jonathan made a commitment and a public statement that he would like to amend the constitution, such that the tenure will be one term. He said five years or six years was better and would do electoral reform. This was because the system that brought in governments in 2003 and 2009 were disputed by the court and other observers. The Electoral Act would be changed and he would have several projects to embark on. But for one reason or the other, President Jonathan reneged, which became the death knell of the PDP in 2015, though, there were other contributory factors and the system was dislocated.
As far as the PDP is concerned, the presidency should return to the North because the successor to President Jonathan in 2011 should have been a northern candidate, not Jonathan. That is the understanding in the PDP and that is what I subscribe to. We cannot enforce a system on APC neither can the APC enforce a system on PDP. We should have certain salient points in the PDP, just like they will have in the APC. It is expected in the APC that his (Buhari) successor should be a candidate of Southern and Christian extraction. Even though, as far as I am concerned, President Obasanjo came on his merit; that the country needed somebody of his texture and experience. In 2011, the circumstances were said that the incumbent president should be allowed to continue. In 2015, the assumed qualities of President Buhari made him defeat President Jonathan. People should look for a qualitative leader and de-emphasize this issue of subterranean attributes like religion, region and others.
Sir, we are talking about the president of Nigeria not the president of PDP. Will it be fair if the North retains the presidency in 2023?
In the PDP, it is fair because, you first have to speak at three levels. First, the party followers, the presidential candidate of the PDP, then I will be talking of the president of Nigeria. Now, I will talk to you strictly as a PDP man because we will not attribute the presidency of APC to us.
Yes, he is going to be the president of the country and not that of the party but he must first have a platform; the platform of our party because, we want to win election and have a historical reason to say that the last president of Nigeria was President Goodluck Jonathan and the next president should be the PDP candidate. Let me say that we must emphasize that the PDP wants to put forward a candidate that can win the presidency. When the time comes, that overriding desire will be a major input into the decision we are going to make. I, as an individual, will be in support that the presidential candidate must be from the North.
But reports have it that there are moves to put forward former President Jonathan as your party’s flag bearer .
No, it is not true. I am a very senior member of the PDP and member of its Board of Trustees. I have not attended any meeting or got any credible information that legitimate organs of the PDP are talking of giving the ticket to President Jonathan. And I do not believe that President Jonathan will seek for the ticket of PDP or APC in 2023; somebody who out of his nationalistic feeling and sense of responsibility and humility conceded defeat in 2015? He was salvaged by the ruling party, and also has credentials positive and negative that can be used against him. He never expected to attain the highest office, but will now descend to return to the gallows. I do not think so. I think there will be superior advice to him that he has had his and there is a lot of honour in retirement.
In the South, your party’s top shots are arguing that the North was given the presidential ticket in 2019 and the party was defeated. And to them, that has addressed the zoning arrangement in the party. Why won’t you support them to have it in 2023?
I supported Atiku Abubakar in the 2019 primary election; nobody gave him the ticket. He went to the trenches, fought and battled, then won the presidential ticket of the PDP. The PDP was not looking for a presidential candidate but a president of Nigeria; somebody from the PDP got the presidential ticket of the PDP but Nigerians did not make him to be the president of Nigeria, which was the ultimate goal. So, that ticket was inconclusive.
Are you saying Atiku should contest in 2023?
Why not, he can go for it. There are so many others that will go for it. I am a politician who upholds going through the crucible of elections. People should submit themselves to elections and accept results of elections. If they do not accept the results, then they should challenge it as per the status of Nigeria. People should not be demanding ticket but declare interest to canvass for votes that will make them win. This is what democracy is all about. I do not want people to be talking on sentiments and primary considerations.
Do you see PDP defeating APC in 2023?
I want PDP to take over the governance of Nigeria, not only presidency but the remaining states in 2023; but we must work for it. It is not manna from heaven. Yes, people should work for it and we should have a change. There are enough attributes of the PDP and APC to judge the parties.
We were accused of so many heinous crimes in 16 years; these people came in for eight years, they have achieved so little or so much, so we can compare and contrast. We should not say because PDP did 16 years, APC should also do 16 years. If PDP has done 16 years of bad governance, are we also going to allow APC to do 16 years of worst governance? No, we cannot. If you introvert the logic, you find the performance and shortcomings of leaders being foisted by the party and let Nigerians decide on whose candidate being foisted by the party can we elect to be the president of Nigeria because, Nigerians are requiring so much for a leadership in 2023.
People are alleging that in 2019, you traded your senatorial district which you have retained since 1999 to Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State. How do you react to this?
I will admit the obvious; Mai Mala was a member of the PDP from 1999 to 2004. He was a councillor and a young man who has tremendous respect for me, which is a fact. The factual thing is that my candidature in the PDP in 1999 to 2015 have always enabled me to comprehensively win elections in my zone. In 2019, my senatorial candidature was aborted by the leadership of the party when it decided that incumbent members of the National Assembly will have a right of first refusal, which is undemocratic. This did not go down well with me and my supporters. When we were winning the election, we received no aid but mobilised towards achieving our stated goal in the zone, unlike other zones, to win election. When people use extraterritorial reasons to impose a candidate, people are bound to react. Secondly, I am a victim of incumbency.
Then, I worked against so many people and even the local chiefs and some civil servants were agents of the ruling party; there were many factors involved. What I take as a pride that can’t be taken away from me, not only in my zone but the entire Yobe State, you must design your electoral contest to defeat me or support me. In my zone, for reasons that are unknown to me, I am able to determine, against incumbent government, what would be the outcome in my own senatorial zone. It is not my only desire but I also want to determine the outcome in my state, which I have not been able to achieve.
The PDP lost the presidential elections in 2015 principally because a section felt President Jonathan should not have contested, so they voted against the PDP. I have decided within me that I don’t intend to contest election again but determined to reclaim the rightful seat of the PDP in 2023.