Senator Yusuf Abubakar Yusuf represents Taraba Central in the Senate. In this interview with RUTH CHOJI, the lawmaker explains why the Taraba APC is engulfed in crisis over the last primaries.
Taraba state APC seems to have been divided since the conclusion of th primary elections. What actually played out?
Honestly I will not say it is divided into factions but it is divided into caucuses. What actually happened is that, after the outcome of the 2015 elections, the APC became very strong and united. When the chairman of the APC in the state was appointed as an Ambassador, we needed to have an acting chairman and immediately we picked one, some forces in the party started manipulating the party.
Who are these forces?
The forces were led by the former minister of women affairs, Senator Aisha Alhassan. I cannot wish her away because she had done a lot for the party and all of us were together at a point. But she wanted to run the party with her loyalists and some members of the party felt that, it should not be so. I happened to be the highest elected official of the party in Taraba state. Some people regard me as the leader, while others see me as a principal stakeholder. Then I concentrated on my parliamentary activities and thought I should give a window for the minister to run the party.
But it became obvious she wanted to take over the party and run it for her personal ambition, which created lots of problems for other members. There also arose a formation of Integrity Group which was challenging the way the minister was controlling the party. During the exclusive management of the party by the minister, so many members left her camp to join the integrity group. But I decided to be neutral as a leader, believing I could unite the party. So when the congresses were being prepared, the acting chairman who didn’t meet the requirement of the guidelines had to go. We all met with the national leader of APC, Ahmed Tinubu, where we tabled our problems and he advise us that, it is an internal issue that can be resolved among ourselves.
We felt that the acting chairman should be allowed to lead because we were not comfortable leaving the party in the hands of Aisha again. We still gave her the opportunity to produce the acting secretary of the party and acting deputy vice chairman, but this decision drew the anger of the integrity group who felt that they were being sidelined. So, a meeting of stakeholders was called by the acting chairman of the party. At that meeting, we tried to resolve the issue of the three positions, the acting chairman was accepted by everybody but the deputy acting chairman and acting secretary that were nominated by the minster were rejected by the stakeholders.
They suggested we allow stakeholders from the relevant local governments the positions were zoned to decide and present the candidates they want to hold those positions and if by providence, they nominate the same people the minister wanted, then no problem or the minister should lobby these local governments to support the persons she wanted to take the positions. If she had done that, I am sure people would have obliged her. We have two former acting governors from one local government. There is no way they can be sidelined when choosing leaders from their place. Also in Takum, the stakeholders were asked to nominate a candidate of their choice who will now be allowed to contest for the position. It was there the minister refused and insisted we go for election.
As we approach the congress, the acting chairman had to step down because he didn’t meet the requirements and the minister’s candidate was rejected because he is the director-general of the minister’s campaign organization. He is also the coordinator of former vice president Atiku’s campaign organization in the state. So he is romancing the PDP government in the state and that is why the people said they can’t entrust the party in the hands of such a person. The crises became worse and I had to joined the neutral group of Chief David Kente, one time gubernatorial candidate and other prominent Taraba sons and daughters. And this is because I wanted to see how I can unite the party without taking sides. At that time, the minister was being difficult and rude to everybody.
We still had a meeting with some of the stakeholders and it was there we were told the national headquarters was not happy with Barki, who is the coordinator of the minister’s campaign organization. Even while the Aisha was in court, the PDP government gave her N10m, which everybody knew to work and arrange for election of the Speaker. So Aisha and these people were working against the APC’s interest in the state. I tried to do things that will unite Taraba APC. Whenever we tried to object to her actions, she will say it is because I’m a Fulani man and Mumuni Barki is Mambilla by tribe and that is why I don’t like him.
That I’m being vindictive because of the ethnic clashes between the two tribes in the past. We know she was planning to contest the governorship and that is why she wanted to hijack the party structure but others have also indicated interest. If we allowed her candidate to take charge of the party, it will send a wrong signal to the rest that we are supporting her.
What has been the impact of her defection on the APC in Taraba?
I would say it is minimal and we all know that things are turning out against her. She would have done better if she had moved to SDP or PDP but she moved to a relatively unknown party. Anyway, that is her business. I’m sure she has her own strategies.
Would you say that the party primaries were free and fair?
The primaries are normally difficult and challenging. On whether it’s free and fair, the result have been released. We had 10 aspirants and we tried to get them to agree on a consensus candidate but they all refused. So we decided to sign a memorandum of good behaviour which all of them signed. The chairman of the party, El-Sudi also assured them that, those assigned to conduct the election are credible Nigerians who will conduct a free and fair election. I also advise the aspirants to accompany the materials to the venues of the primaries but they refused. I wanted them to be sure that, it was going to be a free and fair primaries. I was ready to accept anyone of them that emerged. Unfortunately for them, the smartest emerged as the candidate. Of course they have been crying foul but we need to accept the outcome of the primaries.
Some of them have called for the cancellation of the governorship primaries?
If the primaries is cancelled, what do we do as a party? Nobody has the power to cancel the primaries at this point because it is over. I will advise that they all accept the result of the primaries and opt for reconciliation with the winner. That way the APC can win the gubernatorial election and everybody will be carried along. They are now suggesting that we disqualify Senators Joel Ikena and Danladi SanI now that it’s too late. My prayer is that, it doesn’t linger too long. Almost every state has this crisis, so that of Taraba cannot be any different. It is better we remained in APC and win the elections so we will share the cake after we have won than to leave APC and move to smaller parties. For me, let us be united and reconcile, put our terms and conditions in paper and sign an agreement with the winner and then support the candidate that emerged.
Coming back to the APC at the national level, the chairman is facing criticisms from different quarters over the outcome of the primaries. Should he resign as some are suggesting or not?
Nigerians are bad losers. We all know that it is only one person that can be governor or senator. I’m concerned because people don’t understand what we are facing. If we insist that it must be me or you and not her, then it will affect every facet of our lives. The seed of the current crises APC is facing was planted by the former chairman, Oyegun because what he used to let everyone has his or her way in the party. There was no discipline and rules and regulations were being flouted by powerful people in the party and so the party was powerless. But Adams came and is saying that the party is supreme and guidelines must be adhered to.
The party is supreme and so people must obey rules and regulations. I think that is why people are against the chairman, Adams Oshiomhole. Yes he has his own challenges but anytime you want to do a paradigm shift, you will face challenges. The governors who are in charge of the party in their states were not allowed to have their way this time around. Adams said the party is supreme and that nobody will be allowed to subvert the party unlike what used to happen in the past. So, I don’t see anything wrong with the way Adams is handling the party. I was made to understand that, there is a Supreme Court judgment that says the party decides who their candidate will be.
The governors must stop imposing their candidates on the people, even though they have the right to support their candidates but imposition of candidate is not healthy for our democracy. Most of the crises you see in the states are because the governors wanted to have their way.
There are fears that INEC might be biased or work for the APC in the forthcoming general elections. What is your take on this?
I have no reason to doubt INEC. They are following the laws that established the process of elections in this country and I don’t think they have abused the law. If there is any way they have abused the law, then somebody would have gone to court to challenge them. For me, I have nothing contrary to make me believe that they are partial. I think they are impartial and are independent. INEC will conduct free and fair elections next year.
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