By Simon Ebegbulem & Dapo Akinrefon
IN the first part of this interview, Chief Tom Ikimi, a former Foreign Affairs Minister inÂ lateÂ General Sani Abachaâ€™s regime, gave insight as to what led to the failure of the proposed mega party
In this concluding part, Ikimi, a stalwart of the Action Congress, AC, explained why he refused to return to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. He also poke on other issues. Excerpts:
WHY did you refuse to return to the PDP with Atiku?
Well, my 20 years in politics in Nigeria has not been for nothing, it has given me a lot of experience. Iâ€™m able to see things farther than most others can see. I have had no doubt in mind for some time now that the PDP would sooner or later disintegrate. Of course, my haunch about the disintegration of PDP is becoming true now.
The recent explosion in that party is only a tip of the iceberg. In 2001, the leaders of the PDP in my state, Edo State, approached me and persuaded me to join the partyÂ in the interest of unity in our state. Bowing to the enormous pressure from friends and supporters here, I agreed to join the PDP but as it turned out I was only there for a short time. You may recall the efforts I made in January 2003 to dress up the PDP by conducting a very well organized primary to select a presidential candidate.
I believe that was theÂ only time the party has ever held an internal party election where delegates actually cast a vote. When we won that election in 2003 someÂ leaders of the party including the one from my state started plotting a third term for Obasanjo with a dream to rule Nigeria forever. They decided to hijack every system in the party and to eliminate all those who they perceived would not toe their line.
They proceeded to deregister all those so identified and I was one of those who was asked to seek re-registration. I have never come across such a development in any organization any where in the world where all members of a party would be suddenly de-registered and asked to re-register again.
I with a number of others left the party and decided not to go back there again. That is why I played a central role in the registration of the Action Congress.Â For me it will be utter nonsense to now turn around at this time and return to the PDP in its present form. There are a number of us who left the party, who have vowed that we shall not go back, but will continue in our endeavoursÂ to create an alternative platform for Nigeria.
I have heard and read all kinds of things alluding to my going back to the PDP. Itâ€™s all totally false! Some politicians need to be trusted and I wish to be counted among those. I have canvassed strong opinions against the PDP, across our state for instance, for which a vast numbers of people believed me and on the basis of which so many have left the PDP to join the Action Congress. I cannotÂ just to turn round and say I am now going back there. We have been able to take power from the PDP in my home stateÂ and we are immensely proud of our achievement. We must now do the same in many other States, in our sub region and eventually Nigeria.
Despite the implosion in the PDP, you still find people moving to the party, what do youÂ make of this?
It is a typical Nigerian syndrome ofÂ people that are unable to sustain a struggle. They have found out that only in the PDP, can they find free money, those in the party do no work, they are just in charge of the nationâ€™s treasury, dishing out money to themselves and to their friends. Most Nigerians feel, why fight these people; perhaps it is better for us to join them. Not many people would do what I and a few others have done. I left my lucrative architectural practice to go into politics where I have been over the past 20 years.
I have been hugely oppressed by the PDP Government during the past twelve years but I have managed to stay away from them. Politics they say is a thankless job, others claim there are no friends or foes, but I know that when those trooping to the PDP today eventually find that our viable alternative is working, they will return before you blink. It is really a matter of leadership. If we manage to put together the right leadership and create the enabling environment, nobody will remain in PDP in Nigeria. The party is now a national embarrassment. We have proved in Edo State that an alternative can work.
We have government who will rather spend so much money on frivolities rather than in projects that will bring about developmental changes. This has been the bane of the nation for a very long time. How do you think these excesses canÂ checked?
Well, if the priorities of government had been right, our country would have witnessed a phenomenal transformation by now, particularly during the period covering past 12 years when Obasanjo was in power and had so much resources. Our budget is now recorded in trillions of naira. This is an amount beyond the comprehension of an average Nigerian. There are no words in any of the over four hundred Nigerian languages to describe the amount.
They can only refer to the amount as uncountable! I understand that the recent budget of over 4trillions, assented to by the Acting President is based on a 60 per cent recurrent expenditure and 40 per cent capital expenditure. I cannot see how our country can justify spending 60 per cent of trillions of naira in the interest of only 1.4 million peopleÂ in a country of 150 million people. The majority of our people are poor and jobless.
I understand, also that the cost of running the National Assembly, consumes some 30 per cent of the nationâ€™s budget. This, to me is unacceptable. If it is true that each Senator earns around N250 million per annum, then, we have a fundamental problem in our hands. In fact, from calculations if you add allowances to that sum of N250million, it brings up the amount due to each Senator to a mind bungling figure of over N300 million per annum. The details of the House of Reps are similar.
This means that each Senator earns around N1million a day. One can see the reason why it has become such a do-or-die matter to make your way to the National Assembly. Nigeria does not require such big government and at such an alarming cost.Â Why should anyone be in doubt then why these privileged people in the National Assembly would prefer the status quo to remain They cannot reform the process that brought them illegally to office.
Looking at the scenario that played out during President Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s medical trip abroad and the way it was handled by his family, the Acting President has maintained that he was not going to force his way to see the ailing president. How do you think it would have been handled?
I have utmost sympathies for President Yarâ€™Adua, particularly that it was not his own idea to become the President; it was an arrangement forced down on him by Obasanjo, whose intention it was to mess up things for Nigeria having failed to secure a third term for himself. In fact, President Yarâ€™Adua, when he was governor of Katsina State was hardly known in Nigeria; That he was ill was apparently common knowledge and I believe Obasanjo also knew he was too ill to be President.
I was really surprised at the recent public show staged by Obasanjo in Abuja where he declared that he was not aware of the Yarâ€™Adua situation and he asked for Godâ€™s punishment if he knew. He cursed himself. We in Edo State have good sentiments for President Yarâ€™Adua particularly for permitting the enabling atmosphere for the judiciary to dispense justice without which weÂ would have lost our mandate.
However, the constitution of Nigeria stands above personal interest. Irrespective of whatever imperfections may be inherent in the document we have no other alternative but to honour its current provisions. Therefore if the President is ill and has to go away or is not available for whatever other reason he has to hand over to the Vice President. With his present continuous absence for some 4 months now we can now appreciate what a mess the country would have been in if the Vice President was not given the authority to act.
The health of the President should be of interest to the entire people of Nigeria; we can all see what obtains in other countries such as Cuba whereÂ Fidel Castro is in hospital orÂ Egypt where Mubarak is in hospital, all constantly televised for all to see.
I therefore think it is wrong that the presidentâ€™s condition is being shrouded in such secrecy. Nigerians must know because it is not his fault that heâ€™s ill and I think the first person that should have access to the President in this circumstance is the Vice President. That he has no access to the president is totally unacceptable.
Mixed reactions greeted the dissolution of the Federal Executive Council by the Acting President and Nigerians are waiting to see if the new FEC will invoke the necessary section of the constitution to declare the president unfit to continue in office. Whatâ€™s your position on this?
By the time the National Assembly took the decision to hand over power to Acting President Goodluck Jonathan, the atmosphere in the Federal Executive Council was already bad; the members had polarized into various camps. It would have been very difficult for Jonathan to work with the council as it then was. In my view, I think it was the best decision to dissolve that council and constitute another one.
The tenure of Jonathan as Acting President is now very short and I think the time factor is a situation heÂ should bear in his mind as he makes immediate plans. He should therefore embark on a few clear objectives, and as he said: power generation, electoral reforms, Niger Delta Amnesty,Â and National Security may be good forÂ immediate focus.
Now that he has a new team I believe these are achievable goals. The most important thing now is to lay a firm foundation for free and fair election to ensure a hitch free 2011 general elections and to install properlyÂ elected governments at all levels in Nigeria.
There are speculations that the Acting President may run for the 2011 presidential elections in spite of the earlier agreement in the PDPÂ zoning it to the North. Do you support zoning and would you advice the acting president to contest?
I believe every Nigerian is given the freedom under our current constitution to run for any office in the land that he may aspire to. The issue of zoning the presidency to North or South , is a PDP arrangement, which was borne out of sentiments at the time Obasanjo was being drafted in. The basis for those sentiments no longer exist. Goodluck Jonathan hails from the region referred to as the South-South geo-political zone. Historically, this zone has not had the good fortune to produce the President of Nigeria. While other zones are bound together by such factors as language, religion or cultural affinity, the South-SouthÂ has a common trend of minority difficulties as its binding force.
Vast majority of the people of the region which produces Nigeriaâ€™s oil wealth and contends with the problems of the raging Niger Delta crisis, now view this period ofÂ Goodluck Jonathanâ€™s Acting Presidency as their best chance to claim the presidency; therefore, the decision as to which way to go now rests with Goodluck Jonathan himself and to my mind, it is not an easy decision to make judging from the prevailing circumstances.
How will you compare the military rule then and what obtains presently in our democracy?
Military rule is unacceptable if you put it side by side the option of democracy. The only advantage you may have in a military government is that it is usually a small government and it takes fast decisions. They do not spend huge percentages of annual budgets for servicing their administration as we see today in our democratic government. Since they are not the peopleâ€™s choice, they do not have the peopleâ€™s mandate.Â In developing countries such as ours, democratic governments need to be small, inexpensive but efficient.
While you were Minister for Foreign Affairs trying to launder the image of the country abroad, it was alleged that so much was spent by the Abacha regime. How true is it?
As you know very well, the government in which I served was a government that existed in times of crisis and difficulties in Nigeria. I look back now and Iâ€™m satisfied with the role I was made to play in the interest of our nation. We must not always assess contribution that individuals make in government only at times of peace.
Peace time diplomacy is different from crisis time diplomacy; that is why those who served our country as Minister for Foreign Affairs during the period of the Civil War and at the time following the annulment in 1993, must be given some credit for what they did to ensure that our nationâ€™s name was retained and sustained within the comity of nations.
During the time of Abacha, one barrel of oil was sold for $8, today, a barrel is sold for $86; during Obasanjoâ€™s regime, it went up beyond $100 per barrel. There can be no comparison whatsoever between the funds that was available to Abacha and the funds that is available to the present governments. Money earned by Nigeria between 1999 and 2007 is unprecedented in the history ofÂ our country. Where has it all gone?
My salary as minister at the time, was around N7,000 per month and it is when you add other benefits that it gets up to around N12,000 per month. You can imagine how much the salaries of ministers are now. The records are there for any one to check.
I was not privy to what transpired in terms of fraud in that regime, which since leaving office I have constantly heard about.Â But I wish Abacha was alive to answer for himself, because what has protected others is that they are alive and they are able to either cover up what they have done and in some cases they are still around to continue to cause more trouble.
Every one knows, that General Obasanjo arrived from Yola prison with nothing in his pocket and his farm was in shambles with huge bank debts. Today, he is a billionaire. How did he make all these billions? Is it by becoming the President of Nigeria or is it through the running of Otta farm. Of course he can cover for himself now because he is alive, Abacha is dead and that is why every one is pointing fingers at him.
How would assess the administration of Governor Adams Oshiomhole so far?
Edo State government under Comrade Adams Oshiomhole has virtually settled down now and any visitor to Benin City or to other parts of the State today will see that there is a lot of construction activities on going in the state. Roads are being constructed, hospitals are being built or renovated. Schools are being built or renovated. People now wonder why this is so because for 10 years that the PDP was in government, not one new classroom, road or hospital was built. In fact, workers were hardly paid.
What ComradeÂ Oshiomhole and the AC government have demonstrated is that, indeed they are in touch with the people of the state and are addressing their concerns. I am a national leader ofÂ Action Congress in the state and Iâ€™m well respected by the governor, leaders and rank and file members of the party, but I donâ€™t throw myself around as the only person that must take every decision.
In fact, I bow to the decision of the party. Everyone has the opportunity of airing their opinion whenever we meet in order to arrive at decisions. We donâ€™t have a situation in which any one man owns the party. The issue of a God Father the State has been eliminated.
Thereâ€™s this fear that when the local government election will be held later this year, that the AC might disintegrate like the PDP due to alleged disagreement between the old and new members of the party. As a leader , how do you intend to resolve this issue?
We have consistently said that it does not matter when you joined the AC in the state; whether a foundation member or new entrant, you have the same opportunity. We are not going to say like in the PDP, that you must be in the party for one or two years before you can contest any position, no.
Many people, who have just joined the party, have been made commissioners, many have been appointed into various boards; you would also see that we have been integrating new members into the structures of the party statewide. At this point in time, the processes for the choice of candidates to run in any election in the state has not been released.
I cannot see how anyone would now say that some people have been given preferential treatment over others. I can confirm that all those who have come to the party, will have equal opportunity and as the party is now so popular in the state the competition may be quite keen.
When a party grows to become so big, fundamental difficulties associated with the struggle for power, will always creep in but it rests with the leadership of the party to ensure discipline in the system, that we have a free and fair process and that the internal democracy of the party is not compromised.
Recently you celebrated your 66 birthday, how has life been as a former minister and politician?
Well, I give thanks to God for permitting me to live peacefully and in good health over the past 66 years. Iâ€™ll like to thank my friends who recently put together a package for the celebration of my 66 birthday here in Benin. I also thank all who came from various parts of Nigeria to felicitate with me on the occasion.