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Presidential Aspirants Interview (1): My Deal with IBB – Atiku Abubakar

*’How Obasanjo wasted $650m on power’
*Says Obasanjo wanted life presidency not Third Term

Since Friday, January 3, 2003, Atiku Abubakar has not stopped moving against the tide.In some instances, he survived and came out victorious; at other times, he came off worse – but coming out worse might also be comparative and relative, depending on where you stand.  For instance, it was his dogged fight against former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s jackboot approach to party leadership that frustrated and led to the expulsion of the former Vice President from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and also made the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to disqualify him, but for which he got a Supreme Court landmark pronouncement that INEC lacked the powers to disqualify a candidate.
But it was the same move against the tide which left Atiku losing the presidential contest of April 2007 with the Appeal and Supreme Courts upholding his defeat at the polls.
Today, Atiku is ‘back’ in PDP and wants to contest the presidential election on the platform of the party. The tide this time, at least according to the resolution of the National Executive Committee, NEC, of the PDP, is that President Goodluck Jonathan should complete the other four-year tenure of his joint presidential ticket with the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua.  But the party, not wanting to get entangled by judicial altercation, says the party’s zoning arrangement remains in place.
Last Sunday, August 15, Atiku announced that “after due consultations with my family, friends and political associates, I have come here to formally announce, with humility and a deep sense of responsibility, that I shall be offering myself as a candidate for election to the office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the 2011 Presidential Election. I shall do so on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)”.
In this interactive session, Atiku speaks on some of the issues he had never really talked about. But the most interesting part of his revelation is the deal he said he has perfected with former military President, Ibrahim Babangida, who is also in the race.  Following are excerpts of his answers to questions posed by reporters at his Abuja declaration.

By Jide Ajani,  Deputy Editor & Dapo Akinrefon

YOU still have an issue with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. The governor of your home state, Adamawa (Murtala Nyako), said you’re yet to be a PDP member. How do you intend to sort the issue of your registration as a member of the party?
The constitution of PDP provides how you can become a member and your ward is where your membership registration resides. You do not even register neither with your local government nor the state chapter and the constitution of the PDP provides that you can register where you reside or where you have a home. All of these are provided in the constitution.

*Atiku Abubakar

Before I returned to the PDP in Adamawa State, there was a crisis and the crisis divided the party into two camps: the governor on one side and the rest of the stakeholders on the other. This came about during the primaries of the governorship election.  There were nine gubernatorial aspirants and at that point in time, Nyako was in ANPP. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo took him from ANPP and included him to join the nine other aspirants. That was how they went into election.

Since they came out of the election, the party has remained like that.

By the time I returned to the party, I registered at my ward but the governor said I had registered in the camp that was not recognized. I went back to my ward and went to the same camp which he said he recognized, held a meeting with both the ward and local government executives, applied to be re-admitted; they re-admitted me, gave me a slip in view of a membership card and when the membership card arrived, they gave me a membership card which I forwarded to the national headquarters of the party’s secretariat.

Governor Nyako called the ward and local government executives and threatened them.  They refused to be threatened or blackmailed, and they said Atiku brought this party to us, he is our son and we cannot reject him. He threatened them that he was going to relieve them and I dared him to remove them because under the constitution of the PDP, he has no power to remove them. This is where we are today.

Legally and constitutionally, Governor Nyako just has nothing to do with me and my membership is valid, it’s legal and it’s lawful. Whether Nyako likes it or not, that is his own business.

The crisis in Adamawa has been going on for over two years; nobody could bring the two parties together, not until I came in. I asked the national headquarters to call the two factions to order and the national headquarters is still in the process of reconciling and resolving the crisis in Adamawa PDP. So, I’m not the cause of the crisis in Adamawa PDP and as far as my membership is concerned, it’s a settled issue.  Constitutionally, legally and lawfully, I am a member of the PDP.

President Jonathan has not declared his intention to run for the presidency in 2011 but I know that it is going to be a formidable race because General Babangida is also in the race and now you have joined. How do you see yourself in the context of this race?

Everybody will tell you he is going to win. Babangida is going to tell you he’s going to win, Jonathan will tell you he’s going to win and I will tell you I’m extremely confident but the electorate will decide. But what we should insist on is internal democracy. Democratic processes should guide elections in this country, whether at the party level or in the general elections.

Only recently, the national secretary of the PDP announced new names of those granted waivers but your name was not on the list. You have vowed to file an application for a waiver. If at the end of the day, your application does not scale through, what is the next step you are going to take?

It is true that somewhere in the party’s constitution, if you are a returnee or a new entrant, there is a provision which states you cannot run for  either party or public office, until you have a probation of either two years or 18 months. I want to start by saying that all those provisions were not there before.

They were inserted by Obasanjo to stop Atiku. I am a founding father of PDP.  We crafted the constitution and at the time we did it, Obasanjo was not even in the PDP.

After the late President Yar’Adua came into office, the party saw there was need to reconcile those who were forced out or frustrated out of the party to return to the party. The famous Ekwueme Committee, in one of its recommendations, the report recommended unconditional return of old members to the party and a white paper was issued by the party, saying that all those who were members of the party that had returned, should have unconditional and unfettered return to the party.

The NEC accepted the recommendations and directed state branches to issue registration cards to all returning members. Now, the question is: is the provision of this white paper superior to the party’s constitution or they are the same? Now, it is a matter of legal resolution but most lawyers say that based on the white paper and the acceptance and approval by NEC, I don’t need a waiver.  But all the same, I decided to request for a waiver and my application for a waiver was filed this morning. You asked what will happen if I don’t get a waiver; I want to tell you, I will get a waiver because I moved out of the PDP together with Nwodo.

We were pushed out of the PDP at the same time and then, Nwodo was my returning officer at the AC convention in Lagos. I used the same provision from the Ekwueme Report to get my own waiver; I want to see how they will deny me of a waiver. I’ve also requested for a waiver, I don’t see how PDP will get of this but if they try to get of this, the courts are there to interpret.

You were Vice President of this country for eight years and you were there with Obasanjo. You ran an administration that has been dubbed one of the most corrupt in the history of this country. What moral pedigree are you marketing this time around?

I don’t know whether we ran the most corrupt administration in this country because I stand to be disputed. I don’t know about all the rest, what I know briefly, I can say is about the power project.

Before 2002, I was chairman of the National Council on Privatization and one of the sectors we were hoping to improve on, was the power sector; and we had, internally, reputable contractors to study the power situation in Nigeria and advise us on how to go about it. They submitted an excellent report and I still believe in that report. And so, in 2002, I recommended to the President that there should be diversification of energy.  We recommended the establishment of power stations, it could be small or medium sized.

We further recommended attraction of foreign investments to fund the power projects. According to their report, by the year 2005 if we had implemented them, we would have been self sufficient in power. I took it to the president and made a very strong presentation but opposed to my own presentation, another presentation from the Minister of Power, who had recommended to the president an option that with $650million, we could revamp the power stations in Nigeria, make them functional and even add more capacity.  But in the consultants’ report, they also drew our attention to that, that an attempt to do that, would not solve the problem.

The power stations are so old and after revamping them, they may not last for one year and then, they break down again. So, I drew the attention of the President to that aspect of the report. He was the President.  At the end of the day, he decided to accept the minister’s recommendation of $650 million and released the money, and the money went down the drain.

By 2006, he gave the minister the money and who he said he revamped the power stations.  Whether they were revamped or not, I cannot tell. But by 2006, he had come up with this idea of IPP (Independent Power Project), all using gas, all located in the Niger Delta. So, the President called me, he said ‘VP, I want you to chair this IPP thing because you are in good terms with the governors, if you tell them to bring money, they will bring money.’ I told him ‘Mr President, I don’t believe in this, but since you said I should chair it, its okay, I accept.’
He (Obasanjo) inaugurated, I attended.

After the inauguration, anytime the IPP had to meet, I gave an excuse and Lyle Imoke presided. I never sat down in that committee until I left government. I know of a contractor who was paid $1.8 billion upfront in that scheme or scam and till today, he has not delivered.

Then on top of it, when the Yar’Adua administration came on board, they gave additional money. We are still where we are and we are going to be where we are, that is all that I know. If you are talking about corruption, please count me out of it because there is no type of definition that has not been done with me. I know Obasanjo went round the whole of this world, telling everybody that I am corrupt; now that I am out of office; I have been meeting heads of state and presidents who have been telling me what the former President has been telling them about me. So, please, count me out of corruption.

They said I sold everything to myself in this country; whether I sold everything to myself, you have had enough time to know if I actually did sell anything to myself. My accounts have been turned upside down, both home and abroad; so I don’t know anything about this sweeping allegations on corruption you are talking about.

Why should anybody trust you this time around about becoming President because you left the PDP, created the Action Congress, AC, and now you’ve returned to the PDP?

This is not the first time I have been calling for the unity and progress of this country. I did it during the late MKO Abiola’s time in 1993. He emerged candidate and I ran campaign for him until he won. In 1998, if I had wanted, I would have picked the PDP’s ticket because I was virtually in charge of the PDP structure.

Again, in the course of an understanding we had at the Constitutional Conference of 1994 and 1995 and power rotation which originated from the South; and so, we decided that the presidency should go to the South. In 2003, there was pressure and not until we went to the convention ground, the governors were asking me whether they should vote for Obasanjo and I said they should go ahead and vote for him. It was worth sacrificing for the unity and progress of this country. For me, it is much more important than my personal ambition. So, if I say I want to be president, there is nothing wrong there.

When we started this struggle, I remembered the late Shehu Yar’Adua saying that some of us might not be able to see it and in truth, he (Shehu Yar’Adua) did not live to see it. I think and I believe that I have the credentials.

We were pushed out of PDP and we decided to go to the Action Congress. When I was in AC, I made a case for a viable opposition party and I was responsible for trying to bring about Buhari, Bafarawa and AC together. They made me chairman of the steering committee and we held series of meetings; and I recommended that the best way to go about it, was to adopt an existing political party because forming another party, would take time and they might not even register it. And adopting the same party, we may end up in litigation like the AD case; so, eventually, they chose AC to adopt. I still said we must be pragmatic about it.

I recommended that we open the constitution to allow the other parties contribute as how they want the constitution to look like. I also suggested that we relocate our national headquarters; I recommended measures that will make the other parties feel part and parcel of AC. I also recommended that we tamper with the name, it should be either ACP or ACN; we all agreed and I traveled abroad. The next thing, Buhari announced the formation of CPC.

I also heard that the NEC of AC met in Benin saying they are not changing names, constitution or logo. I asked what kind of people we are dealing with.

I returned to the country and called my political associates and said I wanted to create a viable opposition party that can stand out; all my efforts have now been dashed. I said after all, we were driven out of PDP and now, the PDP is looking for us, let us go back. We held series of meeting here in Abuja; that was how we returned to the PDP. After I returned, they (AC leaders) went and adopted the same thing I recommended; I went to Lagos to defend it.

I called my friend, Asiwaju Tinubu to Dubai to convince him, I traveled to Lagos and appeared before the caucus of the party to defend it, I had a long list of names and eventually, we settled for two, ACN and ACP. They cited instances of betrayal from ANPP when they had the joint ticket of Falae and Shinkafi; they finally said they could not trust anybody. I said if you cannot trust I don’t see how we can play politics; I don’t see how we can relate.

Looking at your relationship with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo over the years, Nigerians were surprised when you made a trip to Otta. One would like to know if you have actually reconciled. Because from all indications, it appears you are yet to reconcile with Obasanjo. What exactly is your relationship with Obasanjo?

Before I visited Obasanjo, we happen to have some common friends that we both respect; and one of such friends is Ahmed Joda, who hails from the same state with me. Joda is somebody I respect and I told him that I don’t have anything against Obasanjo; if he wants to know whether I’ve forgiven him or not, I told him I’ve forgiven Obasanjo but I don’t think a meeting was necessary. He said okay and he left.

I came back to Abuja and early one Monday, the governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola was knocking on my door. He said himself and other governors met and felt that my boss and I should reconcile.  I told him about the meeting Joda had with me in Yola just a few days before I came to Abuja . I told him as far as I was concerned, I have forgiven Obasanjo.  But Oyinlola would not give up on that and I told him that an immediate meeting was not possible because I was traveling out of the country.

He asked ‘when are you coming back?’.
I told him January 13 of that year.  While I was abroad, he called me to confirm if I was still coming back on January 13 and I told him I would be in Lagos to attend Bisi Akande’s birthday celebration and after that, I would leave for Ibadan to attend Lam Adeshina’s birthday and then from Ibadan, fly back to Abuja. He asked what if I met with Obasanjo in Ibadan at a neutral place and say we forgive each other. I said fine but I think he must have gotten back to Obasanjo who must have asked him to convince me to come down to Otta.

After I finished attending the birthdays, he (Oyinlola) called me from Osogbo and said what if he came to take me to see Obasanjo. He pressurized me and I asked him to come.  I didn’t go with any of my aides. So we went together in Oyinlola’s convoy.

When we got there, Oyinlola thanked both of us for agreeing to meet. I was the next person to speak and I narrated the efforts of Joda and persistence of Governor Oyinlola; I said Mr President you know I am the kind of person that easily forgives and I told him it’s all over. As Obasanjo was about to go into details, I told him, if you raise any issue here, I will give you an answer that you won’t like. It’s either we forgive each other, forget about the past and move on and help build this country.  He said okay VP I know you. You can expect that Obasanjo will continue to fight you forever and you can expect that Atiku will continue to defend himself forever. So, that is the story.

In the event that you are unable to achieve you ambition, do you have any alternative to form an alliance?

Why do you want me to disclose to you my political strategy?

You have talked about efforts to reconcile you and Obasanjo, but what you have not told us is the real cause of the problem.  Was it power or money?
I think it was power because when we came into office, we were in a private discussion. He said ‘in 1979, when I left power, I left Ghadafi, Mubarak, Mugabe and Eyadema in power; 30 years after I left, I came back to meet them in power and now you want me to go’.

I said Mr President, it is because Nigeria is a different country; it is not Libya, it is not Togo, it is not Egypt neither is it Zimbabwe, you just have to go. It was just like a child’s play. If you recall, he convened a political conference in 2005. One morning he called me and said ‘VP, I’m sending Kanu Agabi and Jerry Gana to come and discuss some issues with you’. I said okay. Kanu Agabi and Jerry Gana came and they laid before me proposals to amend the constitution which was eventually smuggled in. For two hours, we met; I told them, ‘if I send you back to Mr President, will you deliver my message’?

They said ‘yes’.

I said ‘go and tell the President that I will not support this, not only that, I will fight it’. The next thing I did was to go into the conference, opened a secretariat and funded it; I also brought members of the delegates together to say no, this is not good and we succeeded in that.

The next was through the National Assembly and of course from that time, I was out of government. I held series of meetings with some people and I asked how we could stop the third term bid; but it was not third term bid. I knew it was life presidency.

At the meeting, I raised my hand and said ‘you IBB and TY Danjuma sent Aliyu Gusau to me when I was presiding over a meeting at Bolingo Hotels. You said if we were giving the South the president, we should not give anybody other than Obasanjo; I did not know Obasanjo. If you knew this is the kind of man he was, why did you ask us to vote for him’. Babangida, could not answer, Aliyu Gusau could not answer, neither could Danjuma.
It was Buhari who raised his hand; he said ‘Mr President, I would attempt an answer’.

He said yes ‘we worked with Obasanjo when he was military Head of State, but then, we were the people with the fire power.  If we told Obasanjo go right, he would go, if we said left he would go; we thought we could handle him. But now, he is the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, he has all the fire power, he has executive powers’. I said okay, ‘it is now we should meet and strategise on how to stop this thing’.

So, it was the struggle for power but I was not struggling for myself, I was struggling for Nigeria. I knew Obasanjo was not looking for third term, he was looking to become life president and I was ready to give my head to be cut off, not for my sake but for this country.

Is it true that Professor Jega was your political adviser? Secondly, you were part of the struggle for internal democracy in the PDP and now you have a new leadership, are you satisfied with the circumstances through which the new chairman emerged?

Professor Jega was never my political adviser. What happened was that I offered him the post and he declined.

About internal democracy, I’m certainly not satisfied yet. We still need to do more on internal democracy in the party. I won’t say we are there yet.

In your debate on zoning, it appears your whole political aspiration depended on zoning. But a lot of people have given their own interpretation on zoning. What is your own take on the outcome of the NEC meeting? In the build up to that meeting, what deal did you enter into with Babangida in the event that you don’t run at the end of the day?

My interpretation of the decision of NEC is that they have retained the constitutional provision of zoning and of course the President has the right under the constitution of Nigeria, which is supreme, to offer himself. That is the interpretation.

And of course, myself, IBB and Gusau were the conveners of the G15 and from G15 to the Northern Political Forum and our main objective is to preserve the unity and stability of this country through power rotation, power shift or zoning because it will appear up till now, the country seems not to be politically developed to vote either regional or ethnic cleavages up till now.

What we did during the draft 1995 constitution which we gave Abacha, we actually proposed a single term, provided that each zone would be given a chance to rotate and we said by 30 years, all zones would have produced the president; after which we can review the constitutional provision. We also recommended two Vice Presidents, one from the zone of the president, the other from either the North or South.

But when Abdulsalami came, NADECO went and met him; they said they did not want anything about Abacha. They went ahead to remove some of these provisions and then, we ended up with what we have today. Now, you can see the foresight we had in 1995 when we gave Abacha the draft constitution; if we had that draft, we won’t be talking about zoning today, we would have moved on. I think this has taught us a lesson. We may have to revert to it at a later date. The deal I had with IBB is that when this has been resolved, we will enter into a room and then, one person would emerge.


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