Senator Paul Wampana is a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), one-time Speaker of the defunct Gongola State House of Assembly, former minister and one of the three founders of Northern Leaders and Stakeholders’ Assembly. In this interview with RUTH CHOJI, he says Nigeria can take a cue from Rwanda to solve the incessant killings in the country, among other sundry issues.
You once resigned as the Speaker of the old Gongola State House of Assembly in the Second Republic. What informed that decision?
The GNPP and then NPP were sharing the same ideology. As a Speaker, it was noted rightly or wrongly that I was notorious and that I was planning to contest the governor of the state. So there were some subterfuges, who tried to blackmail me so that by the time elections come, I will not be sellable to the people. People began to bring up the issue of religion into politics then. I also had a good relationship with the members of the House of Assembly and peope belived that they will follow me in whatever decision I take. The then deputy governor, Wilberforce, who is also a chirstian, travelled abroad, then people started insinuating that he was coming back to contest as governor. When the man landed at the airport and the press besieged the airport, waiting for him, innocently they asked him if he was going to contest as governor and without knowing what was happening, he said ‘yes, if his people asked him to contest, why not?’
So the press blew the answer and it became like he will contest against his boss. So they started saying that we want to christianised the state. Some were saying that ‘Wampana want to christianised the state by supporting his brother to contest’ since I have decided not to contest. The NPN which was at the center came out to support me on air. Immedaitley they made this statement, the following day, the news was that, the NPN have hijacked the Speaker. This further compounded my problems. The Christians themselves are criticising me. When I studied the siaution, I decided to opt out of the system. I resigned and that was also big news. The NPN came to my rescue and it was then that I realised that the maniputlaiton came from the NPN because the then Liaison Officer of the government was a smart poltician, who took note of my notoriety and told the then President Shehu Shagari that ‘unless that boy, the speaker joined him, they will not win Gongola state’. And the only way I will join them if I am forced to leave the GNPP on my own or kicked out and then, they wll embrace me.
So Mr. President invited me and told me that he had heard much about me and the mudslinging that was being done against me. But that he want to work with me. It was a big problem because my people were into NPN. I told him I wasn’t going to join his party because they haven’t been fair to my people. I named some projects that were meant for us but were given to Yola. I named the projects. He said project ‘A’ is being delayed because it has to go to the Senate, but he can transfer project ‘B’ to us through presidential fiat. I went back to my people and told them how it went with the President. My people were very happy and encouraged me to join the President’s team because they believed if I can bring that project before I became a minister, it means I can bring more. That was how Federal Polytechnic was brought to Mubi town.
As one who has seen it all, how would you compare the present day poltical parties with what it used to be during your time?
In my days, there was poltical ideology. But today it is not there. It will be difficutl for you to tell me this person is PDP because of his ideology and the other person is APC because of their ideologies. APC today is saturatd by PDP members. So what is the difference? Peope are not likely to vote a political party, they prefer to vote for individuals.
What is your take on the nation’s economy?
I am very much worried and that is why I say it is better to play down the issue of political parties and go for the unity of this country. Politics is at home, not at the national level. Anybody who is not worried about what is going on now, then he won’t be worried about nothing under the sun. We have come to a shocking, frightening level in our country and there is only one thing that can save us. We need to unite the country.
How do we do that?
That is the project we are working on. We want to work on the unity of this country. We know the way to do it. It’s not just Nigeria, lets look at northern Nigeria. Under Sardauna, it was one North. Today, it is a thousand and one North. We need to know what went wrong. We have to retrace our steps and see where we missed the point. We missed it when we introduced religion and tribalism or you call it ethnicity into our politics. What did Ahmadu Bello do to make North one bloc? And what are we doing today that is dividing us? Nigeria must stay together. We have to be truthful to ourselves. Self deceit is the one you deceive yourself. There is self deceit in what we are doing as a nation.
What about the internal security challenges we have especially in the North?
It is because of religious sentiments and ethnicity. The people in the South-East and South-West have overcome that. As far as the South-West is concerned, he is a Yoruba first. You can be an Alfa, Babalawo or Pastor, but you are a Yoruba man. The same with the SouthEast. In a renowned Christian home, his shrine is at his backyard. He gives you drink by first pouring it on his ancestors but the North is not like that. The moment you say you are a northerner, the thought of Boko Haram comes. Fulani herdsmen come into you mind. You hears ‘infidel’ or ‘kafiri’ and the rest. We have to do what South Africa did to end this divisions. Mandela recreated South Africa through a peace move where they discussed freely their grievances. Go to Rwanda, till date, I am not convinced that there is a place where people kill each other like Rwanda but Paul Kagame came and changed all that. Today, Rwanda is one of the best places to go for holidays. So, in the North, I don’t think we have reached South Africa in segregation. We have also not seen the type of deaths that Rwanda saw and yet they are able to make it.
Has Buhari government done enough to unite this country?
I don’t think they came with a plan. To me, this government did not convince itself that it was going to form a government. So, they formed a government by accident. The saying goes that, if you fail to plan, then you have plan to fail. They had no plan. Nigeria is such a complicated country. They didn’t envisage the trouble that was on ground before coming in.
The Buhari government has consistently blames the PDP for the state of the nation. As a chieftain of the party, do you believe your party should be blamed for anything? I entered poltics in 1978, which is 40 years ago. In American poltics, there was a period Bob Dole contested election with Bill Clinton who had an impeachment problem and so Bob Dole contested against Clinton. He rained abuses on Clinton. So when elections came, Americans realised that Bob Dole failed to tell them what he planned to do for America, so they voted Clinton again. It is the same thing happening in Nigeira now. The party in power is spending all its time, digging dirts on PDP, forgetting that it is saturated by PDP stalwarts. Those who made PDP tick in those days are the same people in APC, making it tick.
The president has declared his intention to seek re-election but some are criticising him for not doing enough to ask for another term. What do you think? I am not surprised because he has the constitutional right to do that. Everybody can declare for it. Declaration is one thing, to be president is another thing. Declaration is Buahri’s prerogative but voting him is going to be the citizens’ prerogative.
Some parts of the North are under siege by people suspected to be herdsmen. Does this bother you? Yes, but the only way to get rid of this is to take the Rwanda path. The two major tribes were the ones killing each other and it is the same here. What we need is a Paul Kagame or Mandela. If we don’t have it, we should create one. We can do anything we want if we decide to do it. People are ruling by politics. We need to stop the politics of religion and tribalism. If Christian and Muslim cannot come together, how can we develop? Is there a different land for farmers or Fulanis? No, we have the same land. I do remember in the Bible when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, one of his disciples brought out a weapon and cut the ear of one of them. That tells you that even Jesus disciples armed themselves to defend themselves. Are you more faithful or more Christian than them?
Coming back to the PDP, do you still have faith in the party? Yes I have.
What are the chances of the PDP in the forthcoming general elections?
They have to look for their aggrieved members and then unite them. Unity is the only answer to Nigeria’s problem. I am one of the three conveners of Northern Leaders and Stakeholders Assembly.
There is a coalition spearheaded by Obasanjo as the Third Force but Nigerians are wondering why your group and these other ones will not merge as one united force?
There is free room for like-minds to discuss. I am on information that, they are making efforts to get in touch with our group. If they come, we will look at what they brought and see if it will unite this country. There are so many groups and affiliations. We need to work on all these. We saw IBB recently and he suggested that about 13 groups had visited him with similar ideas. So that, we can get in touch with these groups and work together. I told him to get their names for us. I don’t care who becomes president of Nigeria provided northerners come together to present a common candidate. Right now, no northerner has come out to say he is going to be president except for one or two. The APC and PDP have both zoned the presidency to the North yet the northerners have not shown interest.
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