•‘How inordinate ambition is ruining PDP’
•On Tukur’s successor: Why Muazu was not initially in the calculation
•Says Obasanjo made govs too powerful
By Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North
Prof. Jerry Gana, orator, politician and member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party’s Board of Trustees, is one who does not shy away from matters relating to politics. He served for many years under military and civilian administrations.
In this interview, he disagrees with those in the North opposed to President Goodluck Jonathan’s second term bid and insists that the region should reciprocate the support it had been getting from the people from Jonathan’s South-south over the years.
Is the current PDP meeting the dream of its founding fathers?
Certainly, in a social transformation, there are deviations from the norms and vision and because we are not God, it is not possible to have one’s dreams perfectly realised. So, I must say that there are deviations from the original vision, but they are not deviations that have completely ruined the vision. There are certain imperfections, but I must confess that in the main, the PDP is on course.
Why do I say so? The fundamental objective or vision of the founding fathers, starting from the G9, to G18, to G34, is being realised. By the way, the G9 really refers to the few of us, who gathered under the Institute of Civil Society (we had to actually incorporate it during the Abacha days) to be able to have a legitimate basis for meetings).
The original members under G9 included Dr. Alex Ekwueme, Chief Solomon Lar, Mallam Adamu Ciroma, Chief Francis Ella, Alhaji Sule Lamido, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, Chief Bola Ige and myself. The major objective of the G9 was restoration of civilian rule in Nigeria because the military had been in power for many years and Nigerians were getting fed up with military dictatorship.
So we wanted to have a credible and genuine democracy. The battle initially was not ideological and that is why we formed the PDP. The PDP was a party of democracy and our objective was that when we have election, the party should be in control of Nigeria definitely so that nobody could toy with the government formed by a party like that. And it has worked and if that is the only thing we have achieved in the last 15 years, we have done tremendously well.
Democracy has stabilised because, at a time, the party was in control of 28 states and we were in control of the National Assembly and did not have to refer to any other party in making laws for the nation.
The party has done three things for Nigeria: Apart from respect for democracy, there was respect for civilian authority by the military; for the first time, we were actually, as it were, (pardon me for the use of the word) ‘sacking’ military officers for the first time and there was no coup.
It was just because they knew of the power of the party and the fact that the civilian government was solid and then we have been delivering development. Whatever anybody may say, the Nigeria of 2014 is certainly far beyond what we were in 1998.
So, what do you think is the cause of frequent crises in the party?
Ambition! It is inordinate ambition. It is unfortunate people are too ambitious; people don’t want the system to settle down; people are looking for election all the time. Democracy is not all about election. Democracy is also about development. To me, there must be a very powerful link between democracy, good governance and development. Anyone who has been elected into office should note that his duty is not to win the next election, but how to use the mandate to give the people good life.
Better economy and social security should be uppermost on the minds of those who are given the mandate to manage the system. Let people see that the mandate we give to leaders bring about a change in their lives. But, unfortunately, in Nigeria, you win election today and tomorrow you are already thinking about the next election. For goodness sake, we did not elect you to just go and win the next election. We want you to show results that you can govern and give people hope.
This government was only elected in 2011 and, by 2012, people were already talking about 2015. It was not even up to a year when Nigerians started talking about 2015. They should allow the President to do his work and serve Nigeria well. So, ambition has been the single most dangerous factor ruining the party. People have been too ambitious, too selfish and don’t want to cater for the ordinary people on the streets. Who cares about your winning elections? We want you to deliver good governance before anything else.
Don’t you see this development as a failure of discipline on the part of your party?
I agree with you entirely. But let me tell you that Bamanga Tukur, who has now left, was a man of discipline. He wanted to bring about discipline in the party but he is gone. The problem here is that there must be good location of the power within the party. What happened was that when Gen Obasanjo became President, he was not there when we formed the party; he was invited to join the party and we worked for him essentially to solve the June 12 problem.
That was the main thing and I thank God that we solved that problem. But when he now came in and saw that he was not on the Board of Trustees of the party, he was not among the founding fathers of the party, he sided with the governors. The elders had their own way of dealing with things. So he pandered gradually to the governors because he could not do anything about the BoT that had only two votes. So the governors became so powerful and any attempt by anyone to take that power from them, has to be very wise about it; otherwise you are a goner.
But in all honesty, do you think President Goodluck Jonathan has performed well to merit a second term in 2015?
If anybody were to be objective and to compare the last two and a half years and to compare this period for example with any of the previous administrations, which had gone through eight years or whatever time and you look at what Jonathan has been able to achieve within the period, he has done very well especially when those things were achieved when there was a decided confrontation to actually cause lack of peace.
Have you ever seen this type of violence before deliberately by people who are ready to die? So, to see that at the same time this President has been able to perform in the areas of restoring infrastructure, roads and railways-for the first time the trains are beginning to run again – people look down on this. It is a very serious transformation.
For over decades, the trains were not running and, in a vast country like Nigeria, we need the trains otherwise you cannot move your heavy goods so that you don’t destroy the roads. Power-apart from Babangida, who built Shiroro Power Station and added hydro, we haven’t had any power station until Jonathan came on board. He has not only added Gereku but Omotosho has been opened and nine more are on the line.
If Nigerians are patient, power situation would improve significantly and decisively this year. Apart from that, the whole power sector has been transformed from a government-owned sector to a private sector-driven process business with integrity. These are very profound things and because we are close to Mr. President, people think we are not objective. The current Minister of Agriculture is the best we have had for many years.
He has transformed the agric sector by introducing a value chain in Nigeria for the first time. Even the aviation sector has witnessed a serious transformation despite the problems the minister seems to be having. So, this administration has done very well in all the strategic sectors but people forget so easily about the fact that we are passing through very difficult security challenges.
There is a claim by many northerners that, legally and politically, Mr. President is not qualified to contest in 2015 because that would have made him to violate the Nigerian Constitution, which prohibits a president or governor from being sworn in more than two times. How do you react to that since you are also from the north?
You see, we argued in 2011 and I am prepared to argue again. There was a force majeure in the political system of Nigeria because nobody ever thought President Musa Yar’ Adua was going to die when he did. He died in office and when that happened, constitutionally, the Vice President was expected to take over and conclude that particular mandate, which they were given together. So, the election that Jonathan actually stood as a President was that of 2011 and it is left to him to have a second term if he wants.
But I know that it is just politics and nothing more. But, honestly, we in the party feel that in democracies all over the world, a sitting President, who is doing well, has the right of first refusal to say ‘I want to run or I don’t want to’. In other climes, if the sitting President indicates interest to run, nobody runs against him. But here, we are very fair minded and we always allow those who want to run against the President to do so at our convention so that others can challenge the President in a free and fair primary. But to say that the President is not qualified, it is not right. That is quite unfair and undemocratic to say the least.
As a member of the BoT of the PDP, are you aware of the agreement said to have been signed between Mr. President and northern governors to run for a single term of four years in 2011?
I believe that if there was such an agreement, they would have brought it out by now. What happened was that during the campaigns, the President was in Kenya attending the AU meeting and some journalists asked him something about the contest. At that time, people were just thinking as if he was very selfish and wanted to continue to run but he said he was only offering himself for the term.
But Obasanjo, in his letter, made reference to Gov Suswam who first told him that Jonathan wanted to do only one term, which now made Obasanjo to put it in his campaign speech, which he read in one of the campaigns that Jonathan had agreed to do a term. Gov Suswam has not denied that to best of my knowledge and nobody has denied what Obasanjo has written about the agreement. Is Jonathan now distancing himself from the agreement?
What I want to say is that there is a whole lot of difference between a postulation and an agreement. People must have suggested to the President to say, ‘why not one term’ and all that. But the truth is that there was no agreement whatsoever to do a term. But, in any case, even if he had agreed to do one term, who says he cannot change his mind? I mean, is Jonathan God? Even if he had sat with them and accepted to do a single term but now the reality is such that he cannot do so.
He comes from an area of this country that has not tasted power before now. Even if Jonathan says today that he cannot do a second term, do you think the people of the South-south would just sit down and allow him to go like that so that they wait for another 40 years before they can take power again? Then, he would not go back to Yenagoa. That is the reality and it is not a personal decision but a collective decision in a country where power continues to shift. It is the turn of the South-south and they want to do their complete term and conclude it.
They seem to be telling Jonathan, ‘Look, you are the one who was given the mandate, don’t chicken out’.
That is what they seem to be saying but I am not speaking for the South-South. I’m sure that if it were a personal thing, Jonathan would wish to say ‘let me finish and go home’. It is no longer just mere Jonathan; it is now the symbol for the South-south and now that he has that opportunity if he does not use it, his people would make his life miserable from now till the end of his life.
As his friend, I advise him to stand election in 2015 and if he loses, fine but ‘stand for your people’. Other people have stood before; some for 40 years. Did we complain? I like to appeal to our people, particularly, in the northern states, that we have to have a very profound sense of history.
The very area where Jonathan comes from have consistently supported the power base in the North either in the days of the NPC or later NPN. Those of us, who were of the progressive stock in NEPU, NPP or PRP in the second republic were always jealous of the fact that the South-south minority, like us in the North, would always go above us and actually relate more with the northern establishment.
They supported the North in the first and second republics and, for goodness sake, is it too much for the North to support the South-south until they finish? Why are people in a hurry? Four years in the life of a nation is a short time. Look, if we don’t allow justice and fairness to happen, then there can’t be peace. So, justice demands that if Nigerians so prefer, let us allow Jonathan to run for a second term and then there will be justice and fairness.
After that, the North would bring a candidate and rule for eight years. Why do some people want to be in a hurry and destroy the nation? Some people think that if they don’t run now, they have lost their opportunity. They are simply selfish! In any case, many of the people who are jealous did not support Jonathan in 2011. We the people of the Middle Belt are the ones who voted more for him.
If you do the analysis, the area that has got a lot of gains from this democracy are the areas that did not really support the President’s election in 2011. In terms of projects, appointments or programmes, they have benefitted more from this government than those of us who backed the President. My people are crying out. What do they get? In most areas death. Do you know that thousands of people have been killed in the Middle Belt because of their support for Jonathan? Please people should realise that the people from the areas that are shouting against Jonathan are the ones who are benefitting more from him. If they challenge us we name all the beneficiaries and projects.
As a member of the BoT, what led to the emergence of Ahmed Mu’azu, who was not really in the PDP Chairmanship race?
We did an analysis and we felt that because of our nasty experience in the past, we should move away from the tradition where the Chairman and the governor of the PDP would come from the same state. We have had problems with the former chairmen having problems with their governors-is it Nwodo, is it Ogbulafor, is it Gemade or Tukur? Chairmen seem to be having problems consistently with their governors.
So, this time around, we said, ‘Look, we are moving into election and we don’t want any more crisis between the Chairman and any governor. We wanted to take the Chairman from the state not controlled by the PDP. That is why we looked in the direction of Yobe and Borno states and we were serious about it. But you see, we don’t have the kind of information that the leader of the party and others may have. There are certain things that they know that we don’t know.
In the end when preference was made for Adamu Muazu, we said, ‘Fine, let him be because he is qualified to be’. And believe me, if the Chairman and the governor cause any tension in this party, having promised us that they would work together, let me use this opportunity to say as a member of the BoT that the party would be very angry and ruthless. And I am talking on behalf of the elders. If they now create any trouble, the party will take a very serious view of it because we are tired of the party Chairman and governor quarrelling.
How do we bring back the G5 governors?
In a democracy, it is right of association and if people say they want to go to another platform it is alright. I am a two-party system person. My model all along has been that. That is why when you see when we had the opportunity under Gen. Babangida, we modelled and promoted a two-party system. And I wish those parties had been allowed to grow. Every major democracy around the world is sustained by a two-party system though there may be other smaller parties in those countries.
It makes the choices to be clear and the government to work harder, sensitive and responsible to the people. For the last 14 years, we have been in power and we need a strong opposition. We welcome the challenge of another party. We actually like the idea of the APC emergence but I don’t think they are mature yet to be able to take over from the PDP. But if Nigerians vote for them, fine. But I am telling you that the PDP is very well organised and we are not threatened with the coming of the opposition.
We love the challenge of another party and it is healthy for our democracy. My prayer is that both the PDP and APC will campaign not in violence and rancour but on issues, programmes, plan, vision and allow Nigerians to choose the best. But the way the APC is going about it now is wrong. They should not be abusing Jonathan over every little thing.
Why is it that no PDP National Chairman has ever successfully served and completed their term?
I would say that the kinds of forces working in the PDP are responsible for this kind of manifestation. The PDP was formed by five major groups that could have been separate parties by themselves. The PCF from the South-West, led by the late Bola Ige, Adebanjo, Falae and others. They actually went on to become the AD and controlled the South-west. We had the PSP under Solomon Lar and Rimi, we were the progressive, we could have gone ahead to control a few states, there was the PNF under Dr. Alex Ekwueme, and then PDM of Atiku, Anenih and so on.
So there were five major groups that said ‘instead of going our separate ways, let us work together and restore democracy and dignity of civilian authority’. Because of this, the person, who holds this centre must be a democrat. The very nature of the formation of the PDP makes it very dynamic because there are so many forces. Secondly, the problem of one section of the party, the governors becoming very very powerful.
That is a reality and you need wisdom to handle them. If you want to reduce that power, you do it wisely over time and not by confrontation because nobody will allow you to take away their power just like that. You need how to manage them and talk to them to allow party supremacy to rule. So there is always going to be some friction but a good Chairman must balance the forces. If it was one of these forces that formed the party, it would have been easier. Thirdly, intra-party democracy must be made to prevail in the party. Let decisions not be by imposition but by democratic choice. Any Chairman who wants to impose what he wants will not last.