My ambition is legitimate – Atiku

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How they poisoned Obasanjo against me

Atiku Abubakar, erstwhile vice-president of the country has been one of the most visible political players since the advent of the Fourth Republic in 1999.

With one of the most formidable political organizations in the country, Abubakar has been one of the most persistent presidential contenders in the country’s modern history, having first made his mark in the match-up with the late Bashorn Moshood Abiola for the ticket of the defunct Social Democratic Party, SDP in the 1993 presidential contest.

Atiku and Obasanjo

Atiku and Obasanjo

Abubakar’s preparation for the presidency after the inauguration of the Fourth Republic was helped by the now rested National Democratic Project, NDP, a quiet NGO founded and financed by him to research into virtually every segment of the socio-economic fabric of the Nigerian state. Abubakar’s power of persuasion, extensive patronage across the political class and his famed deep pockets may have been his staying power as a political prodigy.

However, over the years, his surefootedness on the political terrain has turned into an issue. One of the founders of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Abubakar upon an orchestrated campaign against him in that party slipped out to join others in founding the defunct Action Congress, AC in 2006. In 2008 he returned to the PDP and last year again walked out on the party.

Abubakar, however, remains unfazed asserting that his political migrations are underpinned by principles and founded on democratic ethos. Atiku Abubakar recently fielded questions from Vanguard on his mission, message and manner of politics among other issues affecting the nation. Excerpts:

By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor & DAPO AKINREFON

You left the PDP where you were a founding member to join APC. Was that decision influenced by your speculated interest in the 2015 presidential election?
If I had a choice, I wouldn’t have abandoned a house of which I was a key family member. The PDP was founded according to certain democratic principles of internal democracy. If you cannot practice democratic principles within, how do you preach democracy to the rest of the country? Internal democracy was systematically destroyed so badly that the party (PDP) is owned by the president rather than the people.

Internal democracy
The President decides who he wants to be party chairman and imposes his choice on everybody. We thought this was wrong and the party as then led didn’t like our opposition to the idea of killing internal democracy.

Those of us seeking reforms were perceived as obstacles and in 2005, they started the policy of de-registration to get rid of me and my supporters. The party was restructured in such a way that nobody should dare indicate interest to contest against the President at the primaries. I was so badly treated and consequently had to leave PDP and join AC in 2007. And the lack of internal democracy is still there.

The primary reason for my leaving the PDP in 2007, and now was largely influenced by a principle, and not actually my desire to contest presidential elections. And if, indeed, I have such ambition, I believe such aspiration is legitimate.

It amazes me when critics accuse of me of being “over-ambitious” as if my own ambition is criminal while at the same time legitimizing the ambitions of my opponents who are ready to break every basic rule of fair play to impose themselves.

If it is not wrong for others to aspire, I wonder why it should be wrong for Atiku to aspire. I am not in politics to make money, I am in it because I believe, however, rich you are and, however, committed you are to serve the people, you must be in government to bring the necessary policies to put your country on the path of progress and development.

As an oil-rich nation, I don’t believe the current level of poverty in the country is acceptable. I have the experience and the passion to give my best to this country.

How would you describe the level of rot in the PDP?
I am no longer in the PDP and therefore, I wouldn’t waste time discussing about their current internal problems anymore. I will however say that no forward-looking political party should be so careless about internal democracy and conflict management as to allow its key members such as governors to leave in droves.

At what point did PDP begin to deviate from its formative core values?
It is impossible to tell the story of the rot in the PDP without talking about what transpired in the run-up to the 2003 nomination convention.

Control of the party
At that time, courtiers had done so much to poison the relationship between the number one and number two citizens to the point that even when both of us were prepared to patch things up, the damage to the party had more-or-less become irreparable.

Courtiers had convinced the President he had to take 100 percent control of the party or nothing.
Since that time, no one who became President wanted to settle for anything less. When we came together in 1998 as G-38, we never envisaged a situation where a President would hijack the party and install leaders at will against basic democratic standards of internal democracy.

As the presidents took over the party, all those married to the idea of reform became onlookers. This reality has not changed.

Do you think political parties and politicians have ideologies considering the rate of defections?
What ideology would you defend when all the elementary standards of democratic practices are destroyed in your political party?
When a political party does not respect fair play, integrity, freedom of choice and systematically destroys the will of the people through imposition, what ideology are we going to defend?

You don’t expect a politician like me to remain in a political party that does not even allow a semblance of democracy to prevail at its primaries. Ideology cannot exist in isolation. Rather than blaming the politicians that have defected, blame the political parties that created the hostile environment for their defection. Which ideology would have tolerated the ownership of political parties by individuals rather than the people?

Some of your colleagues in the nPDP changed their minds and refused to follow you to the APC. Was their action a form of betrayal?
As a democrat, I don’t believe in forcing anybody to follow me to any party against his or her convictions. When I decided to return to the PDP in 2008 from AC, some of my friends and associates refused to follow me back to the PDP. I didn’t hold it against them.

I returned to the PDP in 2008 following the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s pledge to reform the PDP and return it to the original democratic ideals on which it was founded. I didn’t hesitate to return, but some of my friends and associates chose to remain in AC.

Therefore, if any right-thinking adult takes decision based on his/her informed self interest, I have no right to castigate the person. It is within their right to change their minds.

Given your experience in the former Action Congress, AC, and the dominance of APC leaders by leaders of the defunct AC, do you think you may have a level-playing ground in APC to realize your ambition?
I don’t want to cross my bridges before I come to them. Politics is not rigid science where the rule of alliance and re-alliance is constant. You have to build a network of friends across the country.
In fact, I don’t think any former AC leader has any personal grudge against me so much that such grudge would override the larger interest of the party.

Politics is like marketing; you must sell yourself by gentle persuasion, using your unique qualities such as experience and passion for service as your selling point. And I don’t think anybody is against me in APC. I don’t see it that way, although some may perceive it as such.

How would you rate the recent registration exercise in the APC? How does it compare with the last registration in your former party PDP?
The turnout was incredibly greater than my wildest imagination.
The level of enthusiasm demonstrated by APC supporters nationwide was marvelous. And the simple message in this massive turnout is that Nigerians are desirous of change. As to the second aspect of your question, I don’t want to talk about PDP registration because I am no more there.

What reforms would you like to see in APC?
Like any new political enterprise, APC may have its own growing pains and challenges and we keep learning and improving every day. I want to see APC as a political party with the largest and widest national appeal. However, as APC expands and sells its programmes across the country, the PDP will do anything to throw a spanner into APC works.

Desperate tactics
It is already launching a propaganda war against APC by calling it the Muslim Brotherhood Party of Nigeria. And these desperate tactics won’t help the PDP because it is capable of polarizing the country and deepening the religious divide we are working hard to bridging.

I am glad that the APC has refused to be distracted from its focus on the country’s main problems, which include joblessness on the part of our teeming youths, the issue of poverty and the lack of security throughout the land.

Are you worried that party bigwigs such as Attahiru Bafarawa, Ibrahim Shekarau and Buba Marwa have left the APC o the PDP?
This issue is not about individuals leaving to another party, it is about the desire of Nigerians to seek alternative platform for change. People are more concerned about the quality of their lives and that is why they need change.

Therefore, whether some members left or not, the most important thing is the widespread desire for change in 2015.

In your opinion, is the national dialogue recently initiated by President Jonathan necessary?
An agitation for dialogue or national conference is not a new thing and they preceded President Jonathan’s administration.

Possible solutions
Any platform for Nigerians to discuss their problems and possible solutions is not necessarily a bad idea to me. It is part of the democratic process.
These agitations are persistent and I don’t think the coming together of Nigerians to discuss these problems is a bad idea. It is better than pretending that these problems don’t exist.

What is your current relationship with Governor Murtala Nyako?
We are not enemies. We had political differences, but those differences should not turn us into permanent enemies. My philosophy of politics is one without bitterness.
There are politicians that once cast aspersions on me, but today we relate like brothers. I don’t keep grudges.

Do you foresee the 2015 elections holding peacefully?
By the will of God, Nigeria is going to survive the prediction of doom in 2015. Once elections are free and fair and people are willing to acknowledge honest defeat, I see no reason why any patriotic politician would want to protest.

Patriotic politician
Let us pray for Nigeria and at the same time appeal to our politicians to abandon their do-or-die attitude to power. You don’t need to kill the people in order to serve them.

Do you have hope that the 2015 election would hold under peaceful conditions? If not, what are your projections?
I pray that the elections will be peaceful.  I, also, along with other Nigerian politicians, must do our best to ensure that the elections hold under peaceful conditions.

What do you make of the claims by the PDP that your assertion at the PDP 2010 convention that those who make peaceful change impossible make violent changes inevitable has fueled the violence in the country?
If you know me and know my antecedents, you know that I abhor violence. I can not be an agent of violence. That statement was originally credited to John F. Kennedy.

The renowned statesman and former president of the United States of America, could not have been instigating violence in his country at the time he made that statement.  Our country, Nigeria, has experienced several episodes of violence in the past, especially when people felt that their votes had been stolen or their civil rights trampled upon.

It behoved me as a Nigerian statesman to have called attention, during a party event, to the need for us to avoid any similar recurrence of violence.
When President Kennedy made that classic statement, Boko Haram didn’t exist. Let us stop politicizing security issues in this country.

 

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