Former chairman, National Reconciliation Committee of the PDP, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, in this interview makes a post-mortem assessment of the recently held national convention of the party; and throws light on his speculated 2019 presidential ambition. He spoke with MUYIWA OYINLOLA.
Would you say the last convention of your party was a success or a failure considering the fact one of the chairmanship aspirants stormed out of the convention ground in protest and another has instituted a case in court challenging its outcome?
Well, I’m not aware of who stormed out of the venue.
It was Prof Tunde Adeniran?
I didn’t see him storm out of the venue. In any election, there’ll be a winner and there’ll be losers. Only one person can win. And we expected that some people would feel hurt because they lost. And that was why we constituted the first convention reconciliation committee and it has been very active, and among others, they visited Prof Adeniran himself. I watched it live when they visited him. And he made positive remarks. I’ve not had the chance to speak with him to know whether he stormed out of the venue.
Yesterday of course, I saw in the news one of the aspirants alleging exclusion. Not that there were things done basically wrong. And from one of the news I read, his grievance was that one of his names was misspelt. I don’t know how. I saw it and I saw where his name was clearly written. I don’t know in which of the polling booths his name was misspelt. He said one of the names, not the entire names, was misspelt. And we know that voters even sometimes write just one name, if they have three names; you may be Dr. A B C, voters would just write Dr. A, Dr. B, or Dr. C, because the level of literacy of voters differs. Still, the votes are counted as long there is a name that corresponds with the person standing for election. As long as you can know the intent of the voter, such votes are usually counted for the person intended by the voter.
So, to be honest I don’t know at which polling booth this happened because four polling booths were used. He didn’t say that Prof was not there. He didn’t say the second name was not there. The last name was what he said was misspelt. I didn’t see anything like that where I voted.
And in any case, anybody can type or print out any kind of paper like that if somebody wants to start an issue where it doesn’t exist. I was not in charge of the election because the committee was there but I know that based on report, nobody was excluded. All the candidates were announced to the delegates at the venue for each of the offices and INEC was given the names of all these people standing for election. Those who withdrew at the venue, their letters of withdrawal were read.
As a matter of fact, at the venue also, a document signed by Ladoja on behalf of all the aspirants from Southwest was circulated by him that all the aspirants from Southwest had withdrawn for Adeniran. If that confused voters not to vote for Professor, I wouldn’t know. Maybe that was why he got zero. Maybe his people from Southwest that were going round saying they had only one candidate might have made people not to waste their votes and rather cast their votes for Adeniran instead of splitting their votes between the professor and Adeniran. I don’t know what really happened.
Let me make it categorically clear that nobody was excluded. And before the commencement of the election, the electoral sub-committee went round with the agents of all the candidates polling unit by polling unit to observe; if any abnormality was seen, why was it not raised by their agents. So, to me, all these are afterthoughts. And of course, we have this rumour from some people in APC that they would not allow us to have peace. So, we would not be surprised that something like that is happening but like I said, the reconciliation committee is there and we urge him to think twice and take the path of honour, it’s better for him, and not the path of litigation. Experience has shown that all those who had taken the path of litigation against the party have not succeeded. Not only have they not succeeded, it has diminished their political fortunes. And especially at this point, people will draw all kinds of interpretations as to why he’s embarking on such an action. It is unfortunate but as a PDP member, all I can do is to draw his attention to take the path of honour and reconciliation rather than take the path of litigation.
Having said all of these, as far we’re concerned, the convention was a huge success.
Prior to the convention, there were allegations that you were working for the emergence of Uche Secondus, who eventually emerged chairman. What role did you play in his emergence?
Secondus never visited me to seek for favours but most of them visited me at one point or the other. I don’t have to tell you what we discussed. What I promised them was a level playing field. You take a look at the result and analyse it, if people are alleging that governors bulldozed their way for Secondus; the total delegates from the states controlled by the governors was just about 1,000. Secondus got 2,000 votes. So, he got as much votes from states without our governors, almost equal, like 50-50. Where is the bulldozing? Where is the imposition here?
And some people are now saying that this shows PDP is now a regional party. Look, the entire votes in South-south and South-east are not up to 1,000. So, when you say regional, which of the regions? The entire South-south and South-east don’t have delegates that are up to 1,000. So, you cannot even call it regional. The other votes came from the North, some of course came from South-west. So, how does this result imply that it is a regional party? But of course, we know that some people try to make nonsense of the success recorded. So far as I’m concerned, I just stuck to the rules and created a level playing field.
Some people say oh, chairman did not micro-zone. Why should I micro-zone? The caretaker committee then never micro-zoned anything to anywhere. We didn’t do it in the North. If we didn’t do it in the North, we should never be expected to go and do it in the South. We stuck to what the convention decided upon and what the NEC decided upon and everything else was open. And that made some people to feel may be we should have moved in a particular direction but if we had moved in a particular direction that would have been to favour them and the other people could have accused us that we took a measure unilaterally in order to favour some other candidates.
So, we did nothing wrong. We just stuck to the decision of the convention, by the decision of the NEC and left the whole race wide open.
What Chief Bode George, alleged was that what the Port Harcourt convention agreed upon was that the national chairman should come from the South-west. How do you react to this?
No, the convention in Port Harcourt decided that presidency, North; chairmanship, South. Now, before the May convention, the North met and micro-zoned their positions. The South met in Port Harcourt and micro-zoned their positions. Now, when we went for that convention, our tenure was extended because of interference of security agents, they didn’t allow proper election to take place.
Each convention is distinct, you don’t transfer one to the other. Now, that cancelled every arrangement that were done prelude to anticipated convention in May. Now, when we came for this convention, the North met on their own; they didn’t even invite me, as chairman. They didn’t even consult me. They met and reaffirmed their earlier zoning to geo-political zones. The South was unable to meet but at the tail end of the day, they met but they could not agree on chairmanship. So, they left chairmanship open to South-south and South-west, that the two parties should go and resolve. That if they don’t resolve, they should both go for election. Was that a matter for the National Caretaker Committee? It was a purely a matter for leadership from the North and from the South. And the failure of the leadership in the South to meet and resolve amicably, we should not be held at fault for that. That’s exactly what happened.
It was alleged that you said the South-west shot itself on the foot with the kind of campaign it ran. Can you please elaborate?
I didn’t say South-west per se. I said they allowed some elements. I was referring to Senator Buruji. You’re a journalist. You know the number of pages of newspapers he’s been taking, lambasting everybody, castigating everybody. Somebody with low integrity, to seize the momentum and be like spokesperson. People will think twice.
This is because people are trying to run away from certain kind of characters and we cautioned them. When they came to submit forms, I personally told them, the media was there, I said this is creating negativity that can end up affecting you. It has the potential to turn off people. They said they would caution him but did they caution him? If they did, it didn’t work. But he went on doing it. If we foresaw an issue which is affecting people’s campaign and draw their attention, that’s all we could do. But he kept on at it; print and electronic. And mind you, Buruji is associated with all the litigations associated with Sheriff. So, if you allow such an individual, going back to where the party came from, for God’s sake, wouldn’t you think that is enough to turn off a lot of voters?
On the issue of PDP turning to a regional party, I think what the South westerners are saying is that their zone is being excluded in positions in the party. For instance, in 2011, the speakership position that was zoned to them was occupied all through by Aminu Tambuwal (Northwest). In the current equation too, the chairman is South-south, deputy Senate president (Southeast), deputy chief whip in the Senate and Reps (Southeast). There is nothing for South-west. What do you say on this?
Look at the North-west, North-east, North-central also, what do we have? The strength of the PDP at the moment still rests in South-south and South-east. We have to build upon that. We’re not saying they should take everything. But the North-east, the North-west, the North-central also complain about the same thing but that’s not the issue. Accommodation is best achieved when you form government.
Of course, no part of this country should be dispensed with. South-west, North-central, North-west, every part of the country. PDP is conscious of this and PDP is conscious of the kind of indiscipline that occur when there are rebellions.
But again, part of the lesson is consultation. That you don’t treat people like boys; that you’re going to whip them. But with early discussion and consultation, that kind of issue will not arise. These are all parts of the lessons that we have learnt over the years, why certain things work, why certain thinks do not work. But South-west must be given its due, looking at the larger picture, like every other part of this country, it must be given its own due. I totally agree with that and I subscribe to that.
The speculation out there is that South-west would probably get the vice presidency slot. How feasible is that?
In politics, you can’t rule out speculation. I’m not in position to say anything on that but you know that vice president or running mate is more or less the decision of the candidate. Of course, he would consult. You don’t even know who the candidate would be. You don’t even know whom he would consult. So, anything not taken is available. That’s all I can say. You cannot say it belongs to this part of the country or that part.
Do you think the ripple effects of the convention can be sorted out soon so it won’t jeopardize the party’s fortune in 2019?
We’re working on it. We will not tell people how we are working on it but we are working on it day and night. But mind you, our convention has come and gone, APC is yet to hold its own and it must. Do you know how their own will turn out? We have done what APC has failed to do. For fear of ripple effects, they’re afraid to hold convention. We don’t fear ripple effects, we held convention and as democrats, we immediately ignited the mechanism for reconciliation.
Do you think Secodus can lead the party to victory in 2019 and what advice do you have for him?
It’s a collective effort. I believe all of us working together and supporting those elected can lead the party to victory. It’s not going to be a personal project of anybody.
Few days ago I saw an article in a national newspaper urging you to contest for presidency and that you would make a good president. Could this be your handiwork or that of your foot soldiers preparing the ground for you to declare your ambition?
I’ve not mandated anybody to do anything for me in respect of that matter but of course, for long I’ve been aware of all kinds of groups talking about that and there’s still time.
It’s a matter that one needs to consult widely about to see whether it is something that somebody can effectively do or not. It’s not how you start the race that you will finish it. And I’ll allow this consultation to go on. It will enable one know what exactly to do and when.
Some of the protagonists of micro-zoning are of the view that if you had allowed for micro-zoning, the permutation for 2019 won’t favour you because presidency would go to North-east, and you’re from North-west. How do you react to this?
First of all, presidency has never been micro-zoned. National chairmanship since President Obasanjo became president has always been micro-zoned. The moment the president chooses the national chairman he wants, that’s micro-zoning, and every other zone follows suit. That’s what used to happen. The difference here now is that we don’t have a president, so everything is wide open. But what has been happening before is that the president would say, ‘I’m the president; I’m the leader of the party. I want Mr. so so as national chairman; that person must come from a particular zone. So, it has been micro-zoned. And the party would say ‘fine.’
Now we’re not in power, we don’t have president. So, there is no one individual to decide on who he wants as national chairman. So, people should know the difference. The situation has changed, so the realities are not the same.
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