Alhaji Umaru Dikko, a key voice of the northern political establishment was transport minister under the Shehu Shagari presidency in the Second Republic. Off the political radar for some time now, the astute politician has signaled his intention to return to his old turf. In this interview with LEADERSHIP SUNDAY’s SHUIB SHUAIB, Dikko comments informedly on key political issues - 2015, issues of internal democracy, Boko Haram and declares that the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is the platform he has settled for to prosecute his political ambition.
Suggestions have been made for the country to adopt regional parties. The ACN has dominance in the south west. Where would the PDP fit into under this arrangement and can it survive?
Is there any party we call a national party that is not allowed to contest election in the regions? The parties we have now are national parties and are also regional parties. Whichever party you belong to can contest election in your region and in any other region. So, it is better, it is simpler.
Are you a member of any political party?
I am a member of the Nigerian party. I am joining the PDP. I want to go there because I see certain things right and I want to reinforce them. Also, I see certain things wrong and I want to tell them how to correct them.
Everyone speaks of the lack of internal democracy within the PDP. Do you think this is a problem that needs to be addressed?
Well, I do not know. I am just coming in. I will see whether there is internal democracy or not. If there is none, then I will support it. But at the moment I am learning.
There is a debate going on in the country on whether President Goodluck Jonathan should seek reelection in 2015 or concede to a northern candidate. Where do you stand?
First, you are talking about PDP as a party. Am I right? Now, how many political parties are there in Nigeria? Many. If it is a debate within the PDP only, I can understand. But there are many parties in Nigeria.
However, if you confine it to a debate within the political party called PDP, then whether or not they should allow a candidate from any part of the country to contest is their own political arrangement. I do not think there is need for any debate on this issue.
If the present president who was elected on the platform of PDP is desirous of seeking a second term and there is no constitutional impediment, then what is the problem?
First of all, if you want to contest an election there will be other candidates maybe within the same party, who are desirous of competing with him. And if he wins within his party, then his party will field him. If somebody else defeats him, then that person becomes the candidate of the party. So, really I do not see the debate. It is totally unnecessary. It is a waste of time.
First of all, he has not said he wants to contest. Even if he does, that does not stop anybody else within the party from competing with him. So, to be honest with you, I think the people who are talking about this are just wasting their own time, wasting the country’s time and wasting everybody’s time.
It is unnecessary. It is an unnecessary debate. It is not time for it. The time has not come. We are talking about one political party in the country and it is not the only party in there country. There are many parties and everyone will field his own candidate. So, what is the debate? My suggestion is that they should allow the present president of the country to do his duty to the country. That is more important than debating about future elections.
They should allow Jonathan to sit down and discharge his duty as president. At the moment, he is the reigning president. They should allow him to devote his time to work for the country, to achieve results, which he can show. Even if he wants to contest, I think it should be based on his performance.
People will vote for him or not vote for depending on his performance on what he is doing now. If he wants to contest again, first of all, he has got to win the nomination of his own political party. There will be other members of the party who wish to be president. They can contest against him. If he wins, fine. If they win, fine.
Before Jonathan was elected as the party’s candidate for PDP in 2011, he allegedly made a commitment to a number of governors that he would not contest in 2015. Does this matter?
Well, was it only the governors that elected him or refused to elect him? Now, this commitment that he has made, so what? If there is an election, is it only the governors that can elect people? To me, even if he made commitments to governors, are there no other people at elections that vote for people?
One reason why the debate is coming up is that northern elites are feeling the pressure of the poverty and insecurity in the region. A number of them are losing the admiration of the populace. How else do suggest they manage the situation other than setting political goals?
This is entirely something for the party. As I said, there is nothing, which says, only Jonathan can win the party’s nomination. There is no law like that.
Other people can contest if they want. I really do not see the problem. I do not see the debate. How many of us are sure that we will see 2015. Many of us may die before 2015. I am not saying the whole country may die, but many of us may not see 2015.
You have your own constituency as a politician. Some politicians are angling to see that power returns to their regions. Do you think it is ideal to be fighting to take political power to a certain part of the country?
You see, you go into politics because you have got certain ideas or views about how things should be run. Therefore, there is competition. You cannot help it, you cannot stop it. There is competition.
So, to me it is alright. There is nothing wrong with it. If I say I want my party to win, you cannot blame me. If the other fellow says he wants his party to win, you cannot blame him. So, I think there is nothing wrong.
Then you ascribe to the idea of zoning?
Is zoning applicable to all political parties in the country? No. You see, you are assuming that the style of PDP is the only applicable plan in the country. Remember, if you are talking of PDP, you are talking of one party. There are many parties.
So, the only thing is I wonder whether we have too many political parties. In my view, there was a time I use to think we should stop for some time and build the country first. When the most important things in the country are established, then we can come back to democracy.
But at the moment, we are wasting too much time. You elect a president today and before he starts working, you are talking about future elections. Do something now. Let your credentials be established. Let people see what you have done and that will qualify you to re-contest.
On the current insecurity and particularly Boko Haram; do you think politics has anything to do with it?
Of course yes. I do not know why they are doing it. But because they say there are certain things they are not satisfied with, and once somebody is dissatisfied, it becomes political.
Once somebody says; I want this, I want the country to be run this way or that way, it is political. But I do not know. All I know that it is our business in our country to ensure that there is peace in every part of the country.
Do you think it would have made any difference if a northern president had emerged in 2011?
Look at it this way, it is a party arrangement. I keep telling you there are many political parties in the country. It is not only the PDP. Every party has got its own arrangement, which will help to make it in the election. It is just an arrangement. It there was only one party in the country, then there is a problem. But there are many parties.
The PDP has got its arrangement, which it thinks will help to make people vote for it. Other parties have there own arrangement. So, if you blame the arrangement or party, if you are in that party, then you can bring a debate to make a change. If you do not belong to it, then it does not matter what arrangement they make to make you vote for it.
In Africa, it is very difficult to vote out a ruling party. From your experience in politics, do think it is possible to vote out the PDP in Nigeria?
Why not. In England for instance, although this is not England, the party that had been ruling is the Labour Party; about thrice it was voted for but finally the Conservatives came and beat it. So, it is possible. Some people think that once they hold power, then nobody can beat you.
Do not believe that. It depends. The people can vote you, vote you and other times, they can decide to vote somebody else. Only, if you wish to win, you must also be willing to lose because nobody wants to lose ever, then nobody can accept defeat. And that is not democracy, that is not an election.
Is there any likelihood that you will seek political office in the future?
I would not say. You see, this is what I am saying. Anybody who thinks you can see the future and you can take decisions on the future, should stop and think. The future belongs to the future. You can never see tomorrow. Never try to say you will see tomorrow.
Since 2003, General Muhammadu Buhari has in a way been the lone opposition figure in Nigeria. Considering his military background, what do think of his democratic credentials?
Well, he is a democrat and he contested election. That means he believes in democracy. He has been a military man like many others. He does not have any credentials in democracy more than anybody else or less. So, he is trying his best.
The military men appear to be giving up on their ambitions. Gen. Babangida has said he would not contest for president again. Gen. Buhari, in a way has also said he would not contest. Do you think it would be ideal for all of them to quit at the same time?
I think, it is a matter of personal choice and a personal decision. So long as you are not prevented, you are free to be in politics or be out of politics; that is all.