BY HENRY UMORU
Professor Rufai Ahmed Alkali is the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. In this interview, he answers questions on the role of the PDP in the last twelve years of civilian rule, the strength of the Jonathan administration and the conspiracy of the opposition against the party. Excerpts:
12 years out of 51 years, the PDP has been at the helm of affairs of this country. What has the country gained in that period?
It is a question of how we perceive that. One, the fact that we have democratic governance in the country that has run consistently for 12 years is an achievement for all the people of this country. Initially people thought it will not be possible. We have succeeded; we have gone through several general elections. They may not have been perfect; only few elections are really perfect.
The government under PDP made its own mark.
If you look in particular at the president’s Transformation Agenda, it is the beginning of the transformation where the entire people of this country were mobilised to look at the Electoral Act. Each time we had election in the past, we ended up questioning the credibility of that election.
But with what the President has put in place, several international and domestic agencies including the press acknowledged that there was remarkable improvement; the last general election was free, fair and transparent; it is a major achievement.
Secondly of course, let us not forget the fact that until 1999, there was no time any political party could come up and claim it was a national political party, a party that is broad based. As you can see in the country today, there is no one political party that you can say is a national political party apart from the PDP. It is the only party where we have our base in every ward, in every local government area, in every constituency.
I will always use the example of Borno, Yobe, Lagos states. Let us look at even Kano where for some time, the government there was in the hands of opposition political parties, PDP did not die in Lagos; PDP did not die in Borno; PDP did not die in Yobe.
This is over 13 years since those other political parties have been controlling those states. So, the fact that you have people who are running a political party which is a Nigerian political party, not a religious group as other groups where a single individual will preside over as the master of everything. It is a plus for this country.
Of course, the 2011 general elections have opened up new regional associations all over, one in the South East, one in the South West, one in the North, they can only pass for regional parties; they don’t have a national spread, but so far, we have set the agenda for this country.
Thirdly, it is this same party that came up to say it is going to fight against corruption and most of our people were caught up with the law but they took it calmly. Those who are not in PDP if they are caught up, they say it is no more against corruption; that government wants to use them to stifle the opposition. Does it mean that if you are in opposition it is acceptable for you to do whatever you like? Nigeria is evolving; democracy is also evolving.
There are people who say democracy is a goal; there are people who say it is a platform; there are people who say democracy is a process. It is a combination of all. The only thing is that one should protect the interest of everybody in the country.
President Goodluck Jonathan has spoken at different fora where he expressed frustrations. He specifically said Nigerian institutions will have to be reinvigorated. Which institutions do you think should be strengthened?
I don’t think frustration is the word. There is no reason why he should be frustrated because he believes in democracy; he believes in Nigeria, he believes in the people; he believes in the process of doing things based on fairness. I don’t think there is any element of frustration. But he has this deep commitment that he wants Nigerians to rise up and we all have to rise up to be counted. It is a collective thing.
But, the President believes strongly that for us to have sustainable democracy, then these institutions have to be strengthened. First, include the electoral machinery that is the INEC. You know that in the past one year, a lot of elections took place in this country.
For the first time we have an organization that does not have a partisan person in the group. Of all the people there, you cannot say this is a PDP man. That is why we find it strange that after all these; people still want to abuse the INEC. The President took care not to include any PDP member or any politician for that matter in the commission.
The judiciary is very critical in this respect because without judiciary, the gains of democracy will be weak as they are the ones who interpret the law. In the National Assembly, we have robust leadership there.
The leadership of the National Assembly is working in tandem with the President and working in tandem with the stakeholders at every level; issues are addressed pragmatically, this is also a great achievement. People now realize that they cannot build the country outside the law.
There are other elements, even the press itself. The President has encouraged robust media practice even with the signing of the Freedom of Information Bill into law and all the encouragements he has been giving to the press to practice their profession in an unfettered environment. There is lot of respect for the judiciary in this country and also for party organizations. But, everybody has a role to play in this country.
If you want development; you want progress, you don’t want to play your part, then, who will do it for you? That question is for everybody. I don’t think the President is agitated; he is even more committed that we even think he has been and he is going to make a difference in this country.
It is alleged that the on-going membership registration exercise of PDP has been hijacked in some states by the governors who are alleged to be denying members and returnees’ membership cards because of the forthcoming congresses. What is the national leadership of the party doing about this?
First and foremost I am just hearing for the first time that our registration has been hijacked. I don’t know your source, but what I know for certain is that this National Working Committee has done something extraordinary that has never been done before.
In the process of this, we made sure that all the governors were asked to set up committees in their various states to ensure that this exercise is done freely and openly. Secondly we also asked our National Vice Chairmen to supervise this exercise in all the zones so that if there are complaints we will listen to the complaints and make corrections.
Thirdly, for the first time all the members of the National Working Committee went round all the zones where they came from and other zones where there are no National Working Committee members somebody was mandated to go.
You know we have opposition political parties around, whatever we do no matter how good it is they give it a different meaning and I hope your story is not from the opposition.
It is a routine exercise, we don’t want it to be politicized. You cannot prepare for congress and convention after a general election without opening your books to register people who have attained the age of registration or who want to come back from other political parties or whatever.
Even those ones on the ground you need to revalidate because you need to be sure that they are still on the ground and they are part of PDP. You don’t assume that everything is okay until you go for congress and new questions will be asked.
Our hope is that after the whole exercise we will open a corridor for about a week or two if there are complaints.