In this interview with ABDULLAHI OLESIN, former acting national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alh Abubakar Kawu Baraje bares his mind on topical national issues.
Relationship with the President of the Eight Senate
My relationship with Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki is that of brotherhood. That is simply what I can call it. This means our ways, principles of life and belief are the same. One major thing is that people look at us from the distance and think it is a master-servant relationship. No. We know how old he is and how old I am. But he shall ever remain my boss and leader politically. As my boss, I was a civil servant when he came in as a governor of this state and under him I served as a permanent secretary, one in Government House and another being in charge of general service. He is also my brother, because he extends that hand of fellowship and brotherhood to me. He treats me like a senior brother. And when you find him and me sitting down on a private table, I also talk to him like a junior brother, because he gives me that opportunity. So, my relationship with Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki is multidimensional. He is a brother, my leader and boss. But he prefers to call me Mr chairman. One thing you must know is that no matter how anybody is, usually he has some people around him that he listens to. I thank God, I am one of them.
Crisis in PDP and solution before 2023 polls
In all political parties across the world even in America, you must have crisis. It is only abnormal when it is becoming a tradition. It is not only in PDP, it is worse in other parties. I make bold to say that in APC, it is worse. By the time their crisis snowballs, I’m afraid there wouldn’t be APC again. In PDP, we have already set the ball. We have set up a reconciliation committee headed by the president of the eight Senate, Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki. His committee is to bring back the cooperation, integration and rehabilitation of the party. The way PDP worked is one of the most wonderful ways I have ever seen.
What looks like impossible today, let it be the 11th hour of the 2023 (elections), that is when you will know the capacity of PDP. This has been witnessed before. We fought and at the last minute to the elections, you will just see that we have normalised. That is wonderful thing about PDP. Even with my very short stint in APC before I quickly ran back, I still met that tradition in PDP. We have been talking to ourselves and we have received assurances that we should go on with our efforts. I’m happy, committee of former chairmen are meeting, so also former secretaries and others. By the middle of this year, you will begin to see magic that the PDP does.
Absence of party supremacy in current democratic dispensation
This is one of the reasons why we are having crisis in our democracy. During my time, both as national secretary and acting national chairman of the then ruling PDP, if you were following very closely, this (lack of party supremacy) is exactly what I met on ground. As the national secretary who happened to be what some people called the engine room, I looked at the constitution of the party then and I discovered that policies emanated from the office of national secretary. I used that window to impress it on the then President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who was not only a democrat but a thorough party man.
It was in one of our NEC meetings that he announced that any political party gathering or situation we find ourselves, party should be addressed before him. That was one of major achievements we had even before I translated to becoming the national chairman. Because that is where the check and balance begins and stops. I don’t think our constitution, as it is today, allows independent candidature. So, you cannot become any political office holder without having a platform including Mr President. We made that crystal clear that party comes first. And that was why that time we called Mr President at the party secretariat whenever we needed his attention.
He told us point blank that if we don’t call him, then we are the ones that are misleading him. I brought back in the party the tradition of working in accordance with the manifesto. How I wished we had got it right by the man living longer than he was. What I inherited was a hangover from the military rule. When you look at it from 1983 to 1999, people were almost forgetting about party politicking and the tradition of the supremacy of the party. When the then President Olusegun Obasanjo of PDP took over with his military background, brought in the military ideas that everything must emanate from the centre. And when you do things that are wrong for a longer period, the tendency is that people think that was the normal. When you try to correct that abnormal thing, they will raise eyebrow. But thank God, I had an understanding president, who was a democrat.
Until we begin to see the party as supreme and everything not centering around the executive and party politicking our democracy shall continue to suffer. My effort was to bring sanity into the party and throughout my period, it worked greatly. I think the panacea is for political parties to work and ensure the supremacy of the party.
Regret being part of the APC
I will not tell whether I regret or not. But if I believe that the place is cozy enough for my own idea, would I not be there? What I always thank my stars for was that as a politician, I remain focused and with my principles of serving the people. And the moment we got to agreement into forming APC, I realised that the people whom we sat down with, discussed, agreed and accepted our input, after winning elections, they did not waste time to show us that all those agreements have been swept under the carpet. All those talks about serving the people, none. And I went to the party secretariat to submit the complaints of the like minds of those of us who merged with them and made the winning of the elections possible. I make bold to say that. I told the party this is not what we agreed to do. There are lots of dishonesty that the government has started with. Anything that you do that carries a lot of dishonesty, don’t call me there. Those of them that failed to quickly leave the APC with us are the people regretting and not people like us here. If I have an opportunity to write my view, it will be better expressed in my book. But today, Nigerians are the better judges on who is honest and who is dishonest.
The issue of security is a matter of concern. Anybody who says the issue of security is not a concern in Nigeria now is not interested in Nigeria being one. When I speak about lies and hypocrisy, some people might be thinking that he was saying that because he didn’t have what he wanted in APC. It is not so. We should ask this government question to solve the problem for us. I cannot tell you the answer to the problem. But if we are not careful, that problem will boomerang and Nigeria will be in danger. I don’t blame people, who created Amotekun. Because they cannot sit down and watch for death and danger to enter into them and then they call themselves leaders. It is not done. So, even if we have an opportunity in Kwara State today, I will lead the people that will form our own security outfit.
Lessons from ‘O to ge’ mantra that ousted PDP in Kwara
We have learnt a lot of lessons, both the leaders and the led. In Kwara State, there is issue of capacity and competency. When people have the two, they don’t hide. So, we believe very sincerely that the led are learning. They were tricked and blindfolded and what you hear now is ‘O ti Suwa’. They said that is the opposite for ‘O to ge’ mantra. To me, the capacity of the PDP that was ruling before, the people that took over found the shoes too big for them as a result of dishonesty of purpose and getting power through lies and deceit. The PDP has not gone into oblivion in Kwara. But we adopted the method of the late Minister Bola Ige, which is ‘siddon look’. This is because you don’t want to share in somebody’s failure. That period is past now. We PDP in Kwara are operating very effectively. If we are not on ground, they will not pick our own leader in Kwara to come and solve the problem at the National level.
Refusal of the Kwara State House of Assembly to swear in Jimoh Raheem Agboola of PDP as a member representing Ilorin South Constituency
The people that have no regard for rule of law when they are in power, that is what they demonstrate. When PDP was in power in Kwara State, about two bye-elections were held. The opposition won and those people were sworn in with immediate effect. This thing is by law. And if you are leading people honestly, obey the law. Somebody has been declared a winner of an election and you refused to swear him in in spite of the court judgement. The unfortunate thing is that some members of the state House of Assembly don’t know that they are destroying their political careers with the people they are working for.
Because if anybody is in power today and he is not helping himself by obeying the law, when he wants another thing next time, we will say we don’t want you because you are a lawbreaker. Even if it is more than one person that is involved, let the law take its course. We are in the period of politics, let the person come in first. If you play your politics very well, he may become part and parcel of you. Why are they afraid of one person? The answer is dishonesty.
But I sympathize with the leader of the state House of Assembly because he is a young man, who has a political future. Some people are helping him to ruin that future. I will advice him, with alacrity, to swear in Hon. Agboola so that the whole world will see that he is a law abiding politician, otherwise, he is painting his political career in bad colours.
Comparison between APC and PDP
They are both enjoyable if you have a ruling party that is tolerant, honest and having the interest of serving the people. As a matter of fact, it is the opposition that is supposed to be enjoying most. Because if the leadership of the ruling party is honest, the opposition will always put them on their toes and they will always listen to them.
But unfortunately, the ruling party in the country today is not only intolerant, it doesn’t even listen. They think whatever you are saying is to the garbage. If you ask me, my party PDP was in power where I served as chairman, I know how we wooed our opposition. We asked for their opinions on issues but how many times had APC done that? I thought anybody who canvassed for votes from the masses to become President or any elected position and wants to correct the wrongs he had seen in the society, you don’t get there and begin to blame people. They knew those things were being done wrongly, that is why they asked you to come and correct it for them. The APC has cultivated the culture and tradition of lies that they cannot go back. As far as I am concerned, where democracy is thriving very well, opposition can be very enjoyable. In the ruling party, people there are not enjoying, talk less of the opposition.
Some APC Governors wooing Jonathan
Jonathan is an experienced person and well exposed. He is a one-time President for five years. He served as Vice-President for about two or three years. So, he has enough experience and he knows what is good for him. We will not say Mr President sir, don’t do this, because I knew and worked very closely with him. He is a very cool-headed person and tolerant to a fault. So, those people who are going to woo him, he will welcome them. Don’t be surprised when Jonathan wants to take action, he will not consult anybody.
And that is what he did in 2015. When all his lieutenants surrounded him and it was imminent that he was losing election, they positioned themselves and said we are not going to surrender. They didn’t know at the eleventh and half hours, he sneaked out and went to make that historical (phone) call. The day the APC governors left their NEC meeting and went to him, they said they came to congratulate him on his birthday. The information leaked out to some of us that they were going after the NEC meeting. So, they came to me and said, myself and somebody should go to Jonathan. That he should not welcome them and lock his doors. I said the Jonathan that I know will never lock doors. I said the person I know will even give them pounded yam. And that he would continue to talk and work with them. If they are not careful, by the last minute, some of them (APC Governors) that go there, will end up declaring for PDP. So, the issue of wooing Jonathan is not a threat to PDP, because we know and trust Jonathan. We know that he realised that PDP has done more than enough in his life. And he is always saying it. He never hides it. So, we are very confident. Let them go ahead. I know how much they woo me too.
Rotation of Presidency
The PDP has always made it clear. It is part of our tradition that zoning brings in understanding. And through it, you don’t concentrate power in one place. That is why we take the issue of zoning very seriously in PDP and 2023 will not be different. That is why you haven’t seen many people who will say I want to be this and that. When the time comes, you will hear the right thing from PDP. So, let us be patient. We are working.