According to Atiku Abubakar, the chairman of his Jeli ward in Jada Local Government Area of Adamawa State, likens his return to that of the prodigal son. However, what he failed to add is that unlike the biblical prodigal son who came back to meet a stable and organised home, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Atikuâ€™s home, was anything but organised by the time Atiku returned last week.
Wracked by multiplicity of ambitions, unsettled by shambolic acts of leaders of the party and thumped by the ego of one man, the PDP which Atiku has come back to meet remains even more fractious than he left it â€“ at least by the time Atiku was forced out of the PDP, it had only two main forces (pro-Obasanjo and pro-Atiku).
Today, the PDP is divided along so many lines. It is this PDP that Atiku has returned to with a promise to work with other leaders of the party to put right. Last Tuesday, he made a public declaration to clear the air on his return to the party.Â His associates from Adamawa State and across the length and breath of Nigeria turned what ought to be a media parley into another political rally of sorts. Atiku re-registered on April 7, 2010 and his PDP card number is 5438200
But Atiku delivered a speech and responded to questions from journalists. Sunday Vanguard had been on the neck of Atikuâ€™s main media managers namely Mallam Garba Shehu and Dr. Adeolu Akande to facilitate an interview.Â The response was always WAIT. Even the idea of presenting questions online and responses sent through the same channel did not achieve the desired objective. But because an interview represents the questions and answers of the subject, Vanguardâ€™s Henry Umoru, painstakingly recorded all the questions and answers provided by Atiku, who is also the Turaki of Adamawa.Â Sunday Vanguard then went a step further to put in context, the speech delivered by Atiku on that same day.
This is what has now been carefully edited and presented as todayâ€™s Sunday Interview which we call the ATIKU INTEROGATORIES. But Sunday Vanguard will not rest until Atiku agrees to grant Sunday Vanguard, the real interview to clear the air on so many issues begging for answers. For instance, what actually led to the beginning of the end of the once cordial relationship between him and Obasanjo; what led him to seek dÃ©tente with Obasanjo in Abeokuta in 2008; the real story behind the failure of the mega-party project and many more? But, all the same, you will find this presentation interesting. Excerpts:
By JideÂ Ajani, Deputy Editor
What are you bringing to PDP that should make its members feel good and excited?
As long as you are in PDP, you will have the right to contest. Nobody will take that right away from you.Â That is why we insist that internal democracy must be enthroned.
The only thing is that me, as Atiku Abubakar, I have the right to support whoever I want to support.Â That is my own right, too.Â But contesting, you will contest!Â Nobody will stop anybody from contesting. Everybody would have equal rights to contest.Â That is the only way every member of the party can have a sense of belonging.
At what point did you become disloyal to your boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo?
Talking of loyalty and disloyalty, when did my disloyalty start?Â Was it in my first term?
I want to make something very clearly. My loyalty has always been to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria because if you look at the oath of office and the oath of allegiance, it is not directed to the President or to the Governor.
The oath of allegiance is to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria but when you are working with a military man, who, in military tradition, as far as they are concerned, they said they believe in 100 percent loyalty to them and I made it very clear to my boss then that my loyalty and allegiance is to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
What is the story behind the events of the 2003 presidential primaries when you were said to have attempted to eyeball President Obasanjo?
Now what is the real story behind the story? I have said this over and over again, there was never a time the President actually begged me to support him.
But of course, I reflected together with the group of governors who where then supporting me and told them why I had to support the second term bid of the President. One, it was the decision of the party to zone the presidency to the South for eight years. Two, I believe disrupting the zoning is going to disrupt our delicate political balance, that is in terms of our unity, peace and stability and I, therefore, urged the governors to bear with me so that we could all move together to support the President then.
So till we went to the convention ground then, there were still some governors who were supporting me and asking, â€˜sir can we vote for this manâ€™?
I said â€˜go ahead and vote for himâ€™. That is the real story behind the story.
What type of PDP are you envisaging as you go back into the party?
I have every belief that it is not going to be business as usual in PDP anymore, because leaders are prepared for a reform, the party members are prepared for a reform and we are all reform minded in PDP today.
And what we want to see is the PDP we created, the one we established, the one we co-founded in 1998, when there was internal democracy.Â Even if you want to become an ex-officio, you have to go round and campaign and be voted for.
That is the kind of PDP we are going to bring back. Make no mistake about it, we will bring it back.
Now that you are back in PDP, what is your agenda? Is it true that you want to be a presidential candidate for 2011 and what are your chances?
What is my agenda in PDP?Â To be a strong and loyal member of PDP; to make sure that there is reform in PDP; to make sure that there is internal democracy and due process in PDP.Â That is my agenda. Do I have a chance in PDP if I decide to run for presidency? Only God knows.
Do you think there can be free and fair elections in Adamawa PDP the way you envision it with the type of state government in place â€“ with a Senator Jubril Aminu and Governor Murtala Nyako, how do you see that happening because their images loom large?
Will there be free election in PDP in Adamawa with the images of Senator Jubril Aminu and Governor Nyako looming large? I am not aware whether they are looming large, but I can tell you we will have free and fair elections in Adamawa.
Why?Â Judging by the by elections we have held, where we stood our grounds, this time the votes must count and therefore they did count.
Why is the same PDP you left before now an acceptable platform for you?
Is PDP an acceptable party for me?Â Why not?Â How can you say the house that I helped to build is not acceptable to me?Â Why should I not go back to my house? You want me to be on the street.Â You think all of us here will waste our time from Adamawa, from our various places all over the country to gather here if we are not sure we are back to PDP (or if it is not an acceptable platform for us)
What will happen to the Action Congress, AC, which you helped build?
What will happen to AC? I do not know. From all what I know is that two weeks ago I was in Taraba and unknown to me, the entire executive committee of the party in the state announced that there is no more AC in Taraba.Â If it continues like that, I am afraid, you may have no AC.
Can you mention some of those problems or stumbling blocks you met in AC that made it difficult for you to achieve your vision?
I really did not face any stumbling block in AC as such. But right from inception, I said it in AC meetings that AC alone cannot be a viable opposition to the PDP.Â I made it clear that we need a bigger party and that was why I championed the coming together of other opposition groups to be able to form a viable opposition party. Now I realise that most of them are not prepared or do not have the spirit of give and take so that a viable opposition party can emerge and if there is any frustration or disappointment I had in the opposition camp, it was because none of them was genuinely and sincerely interested in forming an opposition party.
If I had my way today and if my pen could make a law, I would make a law to create two or three parties in this country.Â I wish my pen can do it but unfortunately, my pen cannot do it. People of Nigeria must decide to do it themselves.
Your fears of a dominant party?
I am so scared of a dominant one party, so scared to my marrow. If you happen to get somebody in that party to be president and that person does not believe in vacating office, one, he will use the PDP that has majority in the national assembly to amend the constitution and remain in power forever.
Two, he will get all the PDP state legislators to carry out the same amendment and then we will end up with a president for life and one party and only God knows what will happen to us. Many of us here who will never tolerate it will either go into exile, or be in jail or will be killed.
I am so scared of a one party rule. It is very scary. It is not like the African National Congress, ANC, which has a one hundred year history and strong institutions to checkmate this kind of things. Ours is a party that is just about 10 years and no strong institutions. So this is my frustration in the opposition camp.
Youâ€™re going back to the same PDP which has as its Board of Trustees chairman, your former boss, Obasanjo, whose image also looms large?
You said what challenges will I face in the PDP with former President Obasanjo looming large? As far as I am concerned, I am not aware whether he is looming large.
Whatâ€™s your view about the PDP Reform Forum and do you agree with the cause they are championing?
If their objective is to have reforms within the PDP and to have internal democracy, and to fight for the independence of the party at the various levels, you know I support it. Whatever we are going to do must be done through due process.
I mean if you want to effect changes in the party constitution, you must come through the convention, through the congresses at the convention and do your reforms. You cannot do your reforms by having a pressure group and asking for national executive that is elected in a convention. That is why democracy is good. If you are dissatisfied, wait for the time to come and effect the changes through elections. So definitely I am for a reformed PDP. I am for new a PDP. I am for more independent party structures at all the levels so that the party can be independent of who ever whether you are the Chairman of local government, whether you are the Governor, whether you are the President. Definitely I will like to see such a party structure.
What isÂ yourÂ impression of the suspension of 19 members?
I do not have the facts. I do not have information about the suspension, so I do not know really what transpired.
What was the motivation for being part of the formation of PDP in 1998
When in 1998 I worked with other patriots to found the PDP and, later, contributed immensely to its growth and electoral successes, the motivation was never about becoming President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Our focus was ending military rule, enthroning democracy and ensuring people-oriented development.Â It was in fulfilment of this objective that I ran for and won Adamawa State governorship election in 1999.Â Before being sworn into office as governor, the offer to be Vice President came and I accepted it with the belief that I could help put in place policies, institutions and services that would guarantee our steady progress as a democratic nation.
How would you describe your loyalty to Obasanjo?
During the first half of our first term of office, I worked closely with my boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo. I was loyal and supportive.Â I was committed to the strengthening of democracy and to the timely delivery of democracyâ€™s dividends to our people. I was ever mindful of the complexity of our country and the need to maintain its delicate political balance for the sake of peace, unity and stability.Â This was why I resisted the pressure to contest against Obasanjo in the PDP presidential primaries in 2003.
Your parting of ways with Obasanjo?
Not long after we were returned to office for a second term in 2003, I became aware of a scheme to subvert the constitution, destroy our party, endanger our young democracy and throw our long-suffering people into an avoidable political crisis and confusion.Â I opposed this dangerous plot with all the courage, energy and resources that I could muster.
Why contest on another platform in 2007?
As a consequence, I was forced out of the PDP that I laboured so hard with other patriots to build.Â My associates and I had to contest the 2007 elections on another political platform amidst constant threats and harassment. But we were convinced that we could only save our democracy from the jaws of tyranny by fighting for our rights, including the right to offer ourselves for elective offices.
What are the benefits of the fight against Obasanjoâ€™s dictatorial tendencies?
The fight for democracy and the rule of law in Nigeria has enriched our laws, strengthened our judiciary and deepened our democracy.Â Today, no one can be disqualified from contesting elections except by a competent court of law.
Today, there is a strong push across the country for electoral reforms because of the abuses that were perpetrated in 2007.Â Thanks to our struggle, the PDP set up the Ekwueme Committee to ensure reconciliation of aggrieved members and their return to the PDP, as well as the return of the party to the ideals of the original PDP, including a move toward greater openness and internal democracy.
Why do you believe in a two-party system?Â And why didnâ€™t the mega-party project work?
I have been a long time believer in a two party system which makes for a viable opposition party.Â This was why I collaborated with other opposition figures to establish a viable opposition party to ensure the survival of our democracy.Â Sadly, that effort was sabotaged by those who were unwilling to compromise and subordinate their political ambition to the greater good of the country.
The major reason for returning to PDP!
Our country is faced with a multiplicity of challenges such as bloody inter-communal and ethnic violence, deepening economic crisis, collapse of our infrastructure and the risk of the unraveling of the amnesty in the Niger Delta.
Therefore, it would be irresponsible of me to continue to engage in a fruitless effort to convince other political leaders that Nigeria is more important than our individual ambitions.
My return to the PDP became even more urgent with the coming of an Acting President who has publicly committed himself to ensuring a more democratic and transparent polity. Our return to the PDP will help ensure a democratic and people-oriented PDP.Â Let me also hope that it will help sharpen the focus of those who remain in opposition because Nigeria does need a viable opposition political party.
Nigeria is greater than our individual ambitions and aspirations. Therefore, I shall work tirelessly to ensure that the PDP remains a democratic party where the votes of its members actually count.Â This is important so that whoever emerges leader within the PDP at the ward, local government, state and federal levels, will be accountable to the members.
Given its dominance of the political landscape in this country, if the PDP is able to achieve internal democracy, organize credible elections and adhere to its constitution, and if due process and the rule of law are allowed to reign supreme, it will be easier for Nigeria as a whole to do the same.
With regards to my membership, I wish to categorically state that I have rejoined the PDP from my ward, and I have my card here with me. In fact, my Ward, Local Government and State Chairmen of the PDP and other stakeholders are here to demonstrate their support.