Second Republic Senator and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP Chieftain Prof. Iyorwuese Hagher is Nigeria’s Ambassador to Canada. He was one-time Nigeria’s envoy to Mexico, minister of state in the Ministry of Power and Steel and later Health.
In this exclusive interview with Vanguard, Hagher spoke about the rumbles in the PDP both in Benue State and at the national level, President Goodluck Jonathan’s Presidency and the world powers’ perception of Nigeria and other sundry issues. Excerpts:
As a founding member of the ruling PDP are you pleased with the fallout of the recently held congresses and primaries of the party across the country?
I don’t consider myself a founding member of the PDP even though I consider myself as a considerably experienced politician in my country. My experience is not only because of my trenchant engagement with politics as far as I can remember, my father even though a teacher and a local missionary, was in the vanguard of the UMBC struggle to assert the politico_social rights of the minorities of the Middle Belt, which is described today as central Nigeria. My father like his leader, J.S. Tarka, went to jail for several years.
My childhood and infancy was touched by politics which etched into my subconscious the determination to fight for the rights of the downtrodden, the weak, the poor and the ordinary in the society. My life is a synthesis of the public intellectual, deeply involved in fighting for social justice for all fellow human beings beginning from my village Kasar in Benue State to engagements elsewhere globally, where man is under oppression by man. My journey has seen me through the sad trajectory of Nigeria’s political fortunes and misfortunes.
I am a Second Republic senator, indeed I was the secretary of the Senate caucus and deputy majority Chief Whip of the Senate. In other words, I was a principal officer in the Second Republic Senate inaugurated in October but whose mandate was stolen by the military coup of December 1983. I was again elected into the post June 12 constitutional conference that was inaugurated by Gen. Sani Abacha in 1994. I subsequently served as a minister of state in the ministry of Power and Steel and Health.
I have been Nigeria’s principal envoy in Mexico and Canada as Ambassador extra-ordinary and plenipotentiary. This sums my experience in politics which stretches from 1977-2011. Apart from political experience, I am a university professor, play wright and poet, which has cultivated in me, the keen sensitivity to effect social change and provide answers to urgent questions of my time. I consider myself a change activist and has been an advocate of culture as the instrument of social change that is sustainable.
The People’s Democratic Party primaries in Benue, my state, have been very rigorous. There has been a massive participation including women, who contested for various positions. The level of executive manipulation has been very low especially as the outcome of the legislative assemblies of the state and both the House of Representatives and Senate were concerned.
Violence which characterized the first eight years of the Obasanjo administration has been drastically reduced. This no doubt has been because of the determination by state actors to enforce the rule of law. There has been the usual reaction by candidates who feared defeat and those who perceived loss of political base to cross carpet and defect from the PDP into smaller regional parties where contest for a ticket is non_existent. A ticket is there, merely for the asking.
Country_wide the PDP has proven its hegemonic status as the truly nationalist party. But in many states, there is a new wind of change characterized by massive defections from the PDP into smaller regional parties. This indicates that the political health of Nigeria is very sound. It proves that democracy is the best form of government. It provides a self improving, reforming and self regulatory mechanism where authoritarianism and injustice to force unpopular candidates on the people can be resisted.
This is why a multi_party democracy is good and very healthy for Nigeria’s diversity, plurality and immensity. The PDP as a party needs to properly do its housekeeping to maintain its lead over other parities. Its test as a party of the future or that of a wounded wild and stampeding elephant, will be proven in the next general elections.
I have no doubt in my mind that the PDP will easily win the general election, but this time without the landslide. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC should provide a rig-free system that Nigeria deserves. The parties on the other hand must check against the temptation to abuse power through impunity and anti-people choices that do not understand nor consider the challenge to national stability and international image that failed elections bring to a nation.
On the crisis between Sen George Akume and Governor Gabriel Suswam, leading the former decamping to the ACN and the chances of the PDP.
There is no doubt that the PDP primaries generated tension in Benue State especially the fallout where my friend, the former Governor of Benue State Sen Georage Akume announced his “purported” withdrawal from the PDP. Sen Akume is a powerful politician with a highly emotive message to the electorate of gross disrespect to himself by the incumbent whom he considers as his protégé whom he had installed.
The senator has two ambitions: to unseat the incumbent Governor of Benue State, as well as win the Benue Senatorial Zone B election. Of these two ambitions the unseating of the incumbent will prove more problematic. Benue State’s political history has never been characterized by any massive victory by party defectors except for exceptional actors like the Hon Chief J.K.N Waku and Chief Padopas Awunah, both, House of Reps. members in the Second Republic.
Political defection generates mere tea-cup storms in the political ocean. House of Rep seats and some state assemblies could be lost to popular candidates of smaller parties. These candidates usually return to the PDP fold after the government is formed. Benue politics is basically pro-establishment. As to the PDP winning in the forthcoming general elections in Benue State, I have no doubt.
In other states of the far North and the West, a cloud of uncertainty still lingers. The present anxiety caused by the face off between Akume and the incumbent governor is similar to the one that history taught us a lesson eight years ago when Chief Barnabas Gemade, a political colossus faced off with the then Governor George Akume. I was the Director-General and Chairman of Akume’s campaign. Gemade’s candidate was easily brushed aside and he suffered crushing a defeat in his new party.
The Benue zoning and rotation principles, their strong sense of justice and love for peace makes me to state categorically that just like the Gemade-led defectors were crushed, the Akume-led defectors will be similarly crushed even though Akume, a basically lovable character might receive token affirmation from the electorate in his bid to return to the Senate.
Benue people frown at defectors and copious collectors of political grudges whose very personal quarrels are elevated to excessive tirades, abuses, angst and bifurcation. It will be a pathetic run off tragedy if Akume that built the party to dominance in Benue State is crushed in the forth coming general election. If this happens, it will not be because he is not popular. It will be because of wrong and tragic choice, and the unpredictability of party loyalty to personal loyalty. I wish that my dear friend will not suffer this but perhaps the die is already cast.
The perceived crisis of interest and superiority among political leaders in Benue State and its possible carry over effect on the people and the socio-political development of the state.
The Benue electorate is far too engaged in survival to rush to take sides in an elite quarrel over the allocation of unearned resources. The political class from zones A,B and C are solidly behind Governor Suswam. Everybody including those who were humiliated four years ago when the PDP primaries presided over by then Governor Akume sympathizes with the senator, yet somehow there is an eerie feeling of the unseen hand of God’s retributive justice.
I hope from Akume’s lesson, that Governor Suswam might refrain from a God-father anointing of the next Governor of Benue State in 2015. Nigeria must move away from political God_fathers of fortune, who perpetuate rent-seeking that beggars state treasuries. The political fall outs of the stand offs in most states will prove that a metamorphosis is here and a paradigm shift where real democracy will grow roots, has been effected.
To sustain this, the law enforcement agents of state need to protect democracy from election manipulators and bad losers who seek to make the nation ungovernable. Benue State will be the last state standing even if all others have exited the PDP. As long as any election is held where the Federal Government is held by the ruling party, Benue State will vote for that party.
The past bitter pill of exclusion and disempowerment have taught us, Benue leaders, to make political haste slowly. We seek accommodation rather than struggle. A lone political actor who does not consult his political base before leaping into the unknown, stands the danger of being consumed alone, in the political inferno. Such political character becomes tragic, pathetic and pitiable.
On the need to calm frayed nerves after the disenchantment that greeted the PDP primaries
This is a must. The state PDP must immediately establish mediating committees whose role would be to calm frayed nerves. A political process where one man’s victory is another man’s loss and humiliation cannot sustain leadership. No political leader, no matter how powerful can withstand the fury of politicians pushed to the wall as a result of personal humiliation and loss of face and dignity, which western democracy foster on us.
In Benue State, a system exists where consensus is continuously being built by a dynamic civil society comprising of traditional leaders, the church and an army of youths demanding for their voices to be heard to resolve conflicts. Eight years ago, I had the fortune of being the chairman of the party’s state wide conflict management and resolution committee, before being the Director General of the campaigns.
We were able to assuage frayed nerves and put back personal slights. Principally, the role of the winners in the primaries as initiators of harmony is paramount. So also is that of the a state Governor who is the controller of political resource allocations and appointments. In several cases, the winners of the just conducted primary elections have already initiated the process with the losers and with their supporters.
On the chances of the PDP nationwide
Yes, I believe that the PDP will win and the victory will be decisive if the party will eschew impunity. The PDP must avoid all efforts for landslide victories that are tele-guided by impunity and rigging. The spate of court cases that annulled PDP victories in some states are sourced from this culture of impunity. I personally do not seek membership of a party that insists on impunity to do things because power allows whatever can be done, by abusing power and the democratic process.
I believe that a party that cannot guarantee justice to its followers has no right to lead. The PDP is today sadly, the only nationalist party. It is being challenged at several fronts by regional and local parties that at best can hold sway at state levels and as minority legislators.
On the desirability of Western assistance to Nigeria in the conduct of the forthcoming elections?
For the next election, I believe INEC has acquired the necessary technology from the Western countries. The West does not need to give us any aid. We are rich, we should manage our resources well and demand that the West shares its technology with us. This is the path and trajectory of progress and rapid development.
This is the Chinese and Indian pathway. I have no reason to doubt it can also be Nigeria’s road to prosperity. I wish to prophecy that Nigeria will emerge from its forthcoming election a much stronger and united country. We only need situational and transformative leaders who will stand for the truth, justice and patriotism.
The spate of bombings in the country, the Jos crises and threats to the unity of the country
I do not think the spate of bombings in Nigeria pose any threat to our unity. The bombings can not be worse than the four years of civil war in which Nigerians fought themselves and at the end we lost resources, logistics and over a million Nigerian souls perished. I see the faceless bombers as a cowardly attempt by desperate actors who make money and are powerful in situation of chaos.
Democracy guarantees a better way of expressing grievances based on representative rule. The copy cat bombers, kidnappers and harbingers of mayhem are seeking to plant fear and panic to the Nigerian mind which they hope can lead to chaos so that corruption and confusion can thrive. This should draw together all the political and non-political leaders to come closer. These senseless bombings should bring us together instead of driving us asunder.
On the possibility of the country splitting after the next general election arising from disagreements from major actors
I believe that Nigeria will come out of the next elections united and stronger if we can rise up to the need of real statesmanship, if we can move away from partisan virulence to seek accommodation, concord and practical solutions to the political ramifications of the next elections; Let us remember that power is transient and political positions come and go.
The lesson of Adedibu and President Obasanjo, Babangida and so many powerful men and women that inhabit the political cemeteries of Nigeria should enable us look at politics as a game and responsibility to practice goodness in a short period. The strongest among us is not too strong all the time or forever, the time comes when all the powerful must succumb to the more powerful. This is why the Yoruba’s proverb on power that the wasp that chased the mighty hunter away from his expedition back to his hut was itself swallowed by the harmless wall gecko.
Let all power mongers and those evil minded who seek for power to injure their perceived enemies know this: power is transient and position gained or lost in one’s life time are like seasons; inescapable and variegated ending one day with a funeral oration by political friends and pretenders.
His perception of President Goodluck Jonathan and his leadership style
President Goodluck Jonathan is a humble God-fearing servant of the people. Even though his rise to power has been rapid his intellectual and analytical mind has made him quickly learn form his mistakes. He is a kind compassionate father of a nation on the brick delicately poised between greatness and disaster.
He has demonstrated the necessity to be vulnerable and delicate when situations warrant and then when to be strong and in command. He is generally the most respected of all the candidates in the international community. Within his short debut as Nigeria’s President he has had a commanding presence at the G8 summit in Canada. At the United Nations General Assembly last year he was the 1st Nigerian President to address the General Assembly as a member of the U.N Security Council.
Nigeria will greatly be served by electing him to serve out his avowed four years ahead. He will be the binding glue to unite the country and lead the nation to prosperity by offering the Nigeria youth the possibility that his rise to power could also be a national narrative and dream for all Nigerian youth.
Assessing the Jonathan administration
President Goodluck’s Government became a government of necessity after the demise of President Umaru Musa Yar_Adua. He has performed above average. He has been very successful in his foreign policy where Nigeria is proving that it has immense leadership reserve for not just West Africa but to the whole of Africa. The President must however find urgent solutions to the political and environmental cauldron that erupts in the Plateau time and again masquerading as religious conflicts.
Nigeria must flaunt its uniqueness as a country where Muslims and Christians are at peace with one another. There must be the strengthening of law and order enforcement and the combat against corruption. We are the happiest people on earth, we are proud and colourful and diverse. We are the world’s most plural and multi_cultural society. We are a great nation. It is time to be proud of ourselves, it is time to respect our institutions and our leaders and to live in love and harmony.
It is up to us all and up to us alone and up to us now. President Jonathan must quickly tackle the oil industrial complex which corrupts and seeks to infiltrate this country through the process of intensive endocolonization, where the elites are scrambling for the nation’s resources while our exchange rate and civilian economy are being depleted.
Further more, the President should allow for a resource allocation where greater emphasis is put on the education and re_education of our youth. To refuse to do this is to constantly remain on the brink where governance becomes merely the attempt to prevent civil war, perpetual armed conflict and dissidence.