By Dapo Akinrefon
Dr Olusegun Kokumo Agagu, former governor of Ondo State has faulted the emergence of a Northern Consensus Presidential Candidate, saying it has no basis. In this interview with Vanguard, the one-time Minister of Power and Steel, said the Adamu Ciroma-led committee could not speak on behalf of the entire North. Among others, he attributed the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, loss in the South West zone to questionable court verdicts made the party lose in the region. Excerpts:
How do you see the recent emergence of former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar as the Northern consensus candidate?
The North, as I know it, did not sit in any conference to say they wanted to take a decision on the presidential election of next year. Some group of northerners, political leaders in their own right, decided that they would prefer to field a candidate from the North and they sat down to go through that process of trying to select a northerner of their choice for the Peoples Democratic Party.
They have a right to do what they did, but to me, it has no basis whatsoever in the ensuing dispensation. The reason is because I am convinced in my mind that they are not speaking for the whole of Northern Nigeria. We also have very many eminent northerners, who are supporting President Goodluck Jonathan’s ambition.
The Adamu Ciroma group cannot be speaking for the whole North. So, I don’t think Abubakar is the candidate of the North. He is the candidate of some selected club of northerners. I also know that Gen. Muhammadu Buhari is a northerner and there are several northerners and southerners who are rooting for him to be president and those ones are not in this group being put together by Ciroma. I know the current governor of Kano State (Ibrahim Shekarau) is showing interest to be president and so, they cannot be part of this decision that Adamu Ciroma and others are drumming to the high heavens.
It is a non issue. The part I take some reservation to is the way they are drumming it up. It is a drum beat of ethnicity, which is not good for this country. They know that their views do not represent the views of the entire North and there is nothing like the entire North ganging up against the entire South. I think it is not right, for the politics of Nigeria, for people to drum up ethnicity and religiousity. I don’t think at their level they should reduce themselves to this kind of consideration.
Do you share the view that the development could polarize your party ahead the polls?
There will always be some level of polarization whenever there is a contest. In a club, church and any political party, people will queue behind different people when it comes to aspiration. So, those who think Abubakar is going to be a good president for Nigeria will queue behind him while those who think Jonathan will be a better candidate will queue behind him. That is not polarization, it is exercising one’s right of choice.
There has never been a time in the history of this country that any party of substance, I’m not talking of one man parties, will have only one presidential aspirant; that will be a strange thing. And so, there will always be different aspirants and there will be people queuing behind these aspirants. All we need do is to ensure that we have free, fair and transparent primaries. Once it’s done, we will unite again and go ahead to mobilise our people to win the elections.
As a foundation member of the PDP, what is the real situation concerning zoning, was there any agreement on power rotation between the North and the South?
I will not talk of zoning. I will talk about discipline. The issue of zoning is referring to issues within the PDP. Nobody is talking of ANPP, CPC or ACN. Whatever arrangement that were made within the PDP is a PDP affair. The National Executive Committee, NECof the PDP has spoken on this matter.. The party has said that whatever arrangements you had put in place before, Mr President can run. Any disciplined member of the PDP, should take it as such.
What is your take on the in-roads the opposition, especially the Action Congress of Nigeria, is making in the South West with the loss of Osun and Ekiti states respectively and worry by some PDP members that the development might affect the party’s fortunes come 2011?
There is no doubt that a substantial number of PDP members, lovers and sympathizers are low in spirit at this moment because three states have been lost. Also, they are low in spirit because the circumstances under which the states were lost are questionable and Nigerians need to start looking into this seriously before we allow fraudulent hands to derail our democracy.
Elections were held, the body accredited by law to superintend over the elections declared results, certain people were declared elected. Those who lost, went to court. The courts are now the venues for declaring election winners, it has never happened in this country.
I can take our case in Ondo State for instance. It’s nothing but sheer fraud from head to toe and it is simple, if only people will take time to look at the details. There are 18 local governments in Ondo State, governorship elections were conducted, the Labour Party won in seven, the PDP won in 11. The Labour Party went to court and said they spotted infringement in 11 local government areas where we won.
Everything in the seven local government areas where they won was clean. And now, some judges sat down and said, ‘yes, the Labour Party has proved that there were infringements.’ They cancelled elections in the 11 where PDP won and based results on seven, where Labour Party won. A kindergarten kid will know that, that is fraud.
One of the suit of evidences used, was to go and crop reports and present that in court, they also claimed that even security agencies said there was ballot snatching. The SSS, said to have written that report, was subpoenaed to the court. They denied the reports but the judges still used those reports as bases for cancelling the elections. It was done at the lower tribunal and also upheld at the Court of Appeal.
People need to look beyond the noise that is being made by the leadership of the ACN and think of Nigeria. It’s a shame that this is happening and crooks are beginning to take over this land.Iit’s a shame that it happened to me. I have said it that this is nothing but fraud and I have shown it.
We have written a petition to Mr President, he has asked that they be investigated. The SSS has come out with a report that the report presented at the tribunal was fake. The police has found out that it was fake; yet people are standing on roof tops to say that they have got justice. They have not got justice, they have rigged justice.
Do you have evidence to back up your claims?
The reports are there before the SSS and before the Police and they have declared the reports as fake.
Some analysts linked the PDP’s loss in the South-West to the absence of internal democracy…
The loss is nothing but plain questionable verdicts from the court. We should be able to see behind the smokescreen and say exactly who the crook is. It is as simple as that. Singing songs of internal democracy is unfounded. How many other parties have conducted primaries like the PDP? What other internal democracy do they want? What other party has something that is comparable to that of the PDP?
I’m not saying PDP members are angels and the rest are devils. The truth of the matter is, if there is anything that has a semblance of internal democracy in parties in this country, it is the PDP that is practicing it. Of course the party is big, therefore, it is more difficult to manage. Competition is more intense. And the tendency is that many people who lose don’t know how to take defeat nicely. I think it is calling a dog a bad name just to hang it. People should look more into this.
With the 2011 general elections around the corner, what steps you think your party can take to reclaim the South West?
We will sit down to console ourselves, re-energise and re-strategise. There are areas where people are not at peace with each other in the states and local governments. We need to sit down to put in place a conflict resolution mechanism that will unite our people and wake them up from their low spirit.
I think over the next few months, things will wake up again in Ekiti and Osun states. In Ondo State, we are back, the party is doing great, we are waxing strong and thousands of people are coming to join the PDP, which is an indication of the love people have for the organisation called PDP in Ondo State. So, if we can get over it in Ondo State, I’m sure Ekiti and Osun states can muster the same kind of energy and focus.
What is your comment to the Ondo State Government’s allegation that the contracts you awarded for some projects, especially the Owena Dam and university projects, were inflated?
I usually don’t answer this question. These are two people, present governor and old governor. The present governor says the university was just an avenue for siphoning money from the government. You come to ask me, what do you expect me to say? Anybody, who has been to that campus will be full of praise.
With all due sense of modesty, I don’t know of two campuses among all the universities in this country that is like OSUTECH. Secondly, I’m wondering why anyone in his right senses should abandon what is there, in terms of quality and beauty and allow grasses to cover such investment.
The entire campus was to be built for N5 billion. I called all the contractors and told them I wanted to take the campus in one year, ‘take 50 per cent, go and buy all your materials so that there is no cost for variation in this contract and that by the end of September 2009, you give me my keys.’ We all signed and left. I kept N2.5 billion in the bank so that as certificates came, there won’t be any delay whatsoever. This was in 2008.
In the budget of 2009, we had appropriated N5 billion. Only God knows the whereabout of the N5 billion that was kept there and for two years now, they are saying that it was an avenue for siphoning money and they have not been able to name one contractor who got an inflated contract or who got money and didn’t perform.
They have not been able to trace any money to the pocket of the governor that left. Iit just does not make sense to talk, it looks like fiction for me to think that this kind of thing would happen and such a project could be abandoned. In the absence of all these, why should we be answering questions about that university? It is not only the university that was abandoned, there are over 45 major projects that were ongoing, some with no financial commitment whatsoever.
You have declared your intention to vie for the Senate in 2011, but many would want to ask: why the Senate?
Why do I have to worry myself, after all these nasty experiences that one is having from colleagues who call themselves politicians? Over the last six months, I’ve received a lot of pressure from leaders of my party and even from leaders of my community from the Southern Senatorial District who are not from my party, saying they need my clout and experience to represent them at the Senate.
They said because of my clout, I would be able to bring to them dividends of democracy. At the end of the day, I couldn’t resist the pressure, I decided to throw in my hat. I’m in the race, presenting myself to the people, if it’s the wish of the people that I should go and represent them, I will go. If by some absurdity like the last time, they pick somebody again, I will sit down in my house and relax.
The amendment of the Electoral Act is somehow causing ripples, members of the National Assembly want to be part of the NEC of their respective parties. What is your take on this?
I had passed a comment two months ago about the new Electoral Act and I’ve given one or two talks about it. In that Act, I saw a lot of very positive things for the development of democracy in this country. It prescribed internal democracy, like candidates of political parties must emerge through a transparent primary and that anybody who emerges, the party cannot change. It gave more time to INEC for the preparation of the elections. The act tried to do something about excessive spending of money on elections.
If it had been passed in that form, I was convinced that the law would have gone a long way to making the 2011 elections, perhaps, more credible than the ones we’ve had before.
But when INEC asked for more time and the law had to go back to the National Assembly, it was then, that these new additions were suggested. I think we need to plead with our National Assembly members to put national considerations first before personal consideration.
To me, the constitution of a party cannot be dictated by lawmakers in the National Assembly. I think the National Assembly members, in trying to protect themselves and in trying to return to the assembly; and being afraid of what might happen in their various parties, are beginning to think of ways of protecting themselves and I think it is something they need to be advised against.
Unfortunately, I think this is coming from National Assembly members who belong to the PDP. That they are PDP members does not mean that the truth must not be told. I don’t think it is right. Some came with the ridiculous idea of members of the National Assembly being members of the National Executive Committee of the party. The governors might probably come up and say all members of the State Houses of Assembly must also be members of the executive, the local government chairmen can also come up and do likewise.
We must end this before it gets to the point of the ridiculous and making a mess of all of us. Running of parties should be left to the political parties, the farthest we can go, is by saying that candidates must emerge through democratic primaries. Once that is done, how parties organise themselves should be left to the parties.