One would think that as a prominent northerner, he would join in the campaign by the leading opposition party and some of his kinsmen to edge President Goodluck Jonathan out of office in 2015. But that card is not on the table.
For Senator Ibrahim Mantu, former deputy president of the Senate between 2000 and 2007 who was also a delegate to the just concluded National Conference on the platform of the North-Central zone, the recent statement credited to some northern leaders that President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election was predicated on the release of the abducted Chibok school girls was senseless. In this interview with Vanguard, he, among other things, condemned the ultimatum. Excerpts:
His take on the just concluded National Conference It had been five months of very rigorous work. I don’t think most of us have attended any conference that was so demanding like this one. It was so demanding because we were given three months to finish the job and we tried as much as possible to finish the work given to us and that’s why we had to do extra work.
Again, I can say that the main objectives of setting up the conference were achieved. We achieved so much more than we expected
Personally speaking, what did you take away from the conference?
Number one: you should remember that when we came into that conference, we came like parallel lines. Nobody expected the views of the other person to meet with his at a convergent point.
So, after a week or two, the tension was easing because everybody was able to understand which side of the divide the other person was. Then the next thing was: why is the other person taking a different position from my own on the same issue? And of course, everybody had to ask and the other person was able to give his or her views as to why he or she was holding that kind of view. Then, we were now able to understand one another. The other person was also able to see my own point of view. And as a result of the interaction, we were now able to understand one another and why we were holding these different views.
We now said to ourselves, what kind of sacrifices can each group make so as to achieve what the economists call Point of Equilibrium? At what point can we meet because we have been told that we must agree on every issue by consensus? And that means that everybody must shift his ground to accommodate the other person’s position.
Now, in order to meet with Mr. President’s directive that delegates must agree on all issues by consensus, we went back to the drawing board. Now, the north has understood the position of the south.
The south has understood the position of the north. What adjustments can the south make to meet the northern position and what adjustments can the north make to meet the southern position? And the adjustments we made it possible for us to agree on virtually everything by consensus except one naughty item of derivation.
And even that one, I can say it was a huge success in the sense that, at least, there were views being expressed by those who wanted an increase and those who wanted the status quo to remain. The views are now going to help Mr. President to take further decisions: to either abort or let the status quo remain.
Let me say this: if it were just bringing us together to know one another, to express our views without any body holding back. That was enough because it was the first time people were told to speak whatever they wanted. That enabled us to offload things that had bottled up over the years in our minds.
Two, lack of communication causes a lot of misgivings and people conceive ideas based on rumours or assumptions. Take for example, when we came in on Monday, last week. People peddled rumours. Some people came with suspicious mind and every day, they were looking at everything very meticulously, trying to see where the hidden agenda was. They did not see anything. So, when they saw a strange document inside the document given to us, they now said wow, what we have been looking for is now out.
But by the time we read through the contents of the so-called new constitution, we discovered that one thing was responsible for that misgiving: the titling of the document. Instead of reading amendments to the 1999 constitution based on resolution passed on the floor of the plenary, they said “draft constitution 2014”. So, it connoted the idea that a new constitution 2014 was in the offing.
So, they were now asking why. All over the world, constitutions are amended. So, when the issue of the title was resolved, the next was let’s us look at this draft for amendment. What does it contain? Are there some clauses that have been smuggled into the constitution that were not what we resolved at the plenary?
Again, a very close and meticulous look at the clauses showed clearly that there was no single clause that was smuggled into the so-called new constitution. It was all a reflection of everything that was agreed upon by delegates at the conference.
Are you saying that the champions of the cause goofed?
They were just being pre-emptive. But the good news is that when they now saw the light, they all joined hand with other people to commend the wisdom of the secretariat because the truth is that although, it was not part of our mandate that after the deliberations, we should go ahead and draft an amended constitution to reflect the resolutions but common sense tells you that this thing will end up in an executive bill by Mr. President to the National Assembly amending the relevant portions of the constitution that were not in conformity with the resolutions on the floor. So, the national secretariat of the conference went ahead to use their wisdom to say look, why don’t we reduce the workload for the presidency
This conference, I can say has the best recommendations that will actually push Nigeria forward and actually take us to our destined greatness. Everything under the sun has been so meticulously examined and solutions were proffered on how to get these things done the way they ought to.
As a former Deputy Senate President, how do you think the outcome of the conference will be given the force of law?
There are two options: one is for Mr. President to send this draft amendment constitution by way of an executive bill to the National Assembly and the National Assembly will now employ due process of lawmaking and promulgate those areas affected by act of parliament.
And those that will be affected by the amendment, they will now go through the due process of amending the constitution. Number two is by way of referendum. But if it has to go by way of referendum, the National Assembly also must provide for that because right now the National Assembly is currently amending the 1999 constitution. So, what they have to do is also provide for referendum in the 1999 constitution which is not there now.
Away from issues of the conference, certain northern leaders recently gave an ultimatum to Mr. President predicating his re-election on the release of the Chibok girls. How do you view this?
You see, the President has not even made up his mind if he is going to contest or not. If he decides to contest an election, no group of persons is qualified to give him ultimatum. Those people called themselves northern elders. Who elected them to represent the elders in the north? I am an elder in the north. I don’t know them and they didn’t seek my views.
If they decided to constitute themselves into an elders’ council or forum and want to speak on my behalf as an elder, I think that I am qualified by every standard to have been consulted. At one time or the other, I was the second in command for seven years in the highest lawmaking body in this nation. I am also a northerner.
How many northerners have occupied my position among those people who called themselves northern elders? How many of them have occupied an exalted office? So, why am I not qualified to be one of them? I think I should be qualified for consultation by virtue of the office I held. But they didn’t consult me. So, they are speaking for themselves not me.
And like I said to you, even if they have been given a mandate by everybody in the north to speak for them, there is no way they can control the way everybody will vote on the day of voting. You don’t make a statement that cannot hold water and just expose your stupidity to people. As far as I am concerned, that was an invalid statement because I, as a northern elder, will vote the way I want to vote on the day of voting according to the dictate of my conscience. Whether the Chibok girls are found or not, Nigerians did not vote for Goodluck Jonathan to be president on the basis of chibok girls other than what they feel he can do.
Besides, I believe that President Jonathan is more concerned as the man who wears the shoe. He knows where it pinches more than any one of them. President Jonathan is under tremendous pressure from the world community to do everything possible to ensure that these girls are found safely. I believe that they are doing what we don’t know in that line because there is enough pressure on him from within and outside. Therefore, these people cannot claim to be more concerned about the safety of these girls than Jonathan.
If the President declares today, would you support his candidacy?
It depends on who he is declaring with because the president is actually a member of the PDP and the PDP as a political party is going to declare a level playing ground for everybody to contest the presidential ticket.
If he is going to contest against those people they are mentioning their names in the APC, automatically, there is no alternative to Jonathan but if he is going to contest agains some people who are better than him which I don’t know, I cannot say now until I see who president Jonathan is even contesting the primaries with and who is facing him if he emerges as the candidate of the PDP later on. Of course, by the time he emerges as the candidate of the PDP, I am a loyal party person; I am a member of the Board of Trustees, BoT, of the PDP. I cannot vote against my party. I will always vote for whosoever our party fields as candidate.
Do you think PDP, irrespective of whoever they field as a presidential candidate, will win in 2015 amid unhealthy developments in the polity?
Are you a stranger in Nigeria? There is no alternative to PDP now! I am not joking. Let me tell you one thing, I am one of those people that was so happy and excited when APC was born because as a democrat, I have been looking forward to an opposition that can have the guts, strength and support and be an alternative to the PDP. I have always yearned for a very strong opposition that can be an alternative to the ruling party. So, when the APC was born I said Alleluya .
From the way people were rushing to join the APC, I said for the first time, we have got a party that can challenge us and put us on our toes so that the right thing will be done. All this imposition of candidates, all the wrong things that we do that are not in conformity with democratic principles and culture, we will now stop them so as to win the hearts of Nigerians. But unfortunately, while the APC was basking in that euphoria and everybody saying an alternative to PDP has come, you see what is now happening. Many of them came here and said, look, Senator Mantu, since 2007 you have been out of office. PDP hasn’t given you any appointment and you are a very relevant politician in Nigeria. We cannot understand how somebody like you is being ignored.
Therefore, come to APC where we are going to correct all the ills of the society created by your party, the PDP. And these were my former colleagues in the PDP. And I told them one thing. I said, gentlemen, I cannot jump from frying pan to fire. I agreed that all was not well with the PDP but I will rather stay in the PDP because there are more chances of me correcting what is wrong in the PDP than going to APC. They said no, no.
This new party is going to address all the problems of the PDP. So, there will be no problems whatsoever. I now said, let me watch how your conventions will go. Then what happened? The moment they started their conventions, they were more impositions, more disrespect for the views of the people, lack of internal party democracy than it obtains in the PDP and today, a 63 year old person is a youth leader in the APC. Yes, we had a similar thing in the PDP but we corrected our own immediately because we believe that a youth leader should be somebody that understands the culture of the youths.
Now, the crisis in the APC has led to even the founding father of the APC abandoning the party for the PDP, coming back to say, sorry, we didn’t know you are a role model. So, today, people like Shakarau are now in the PDP. Yesterday, Ali Modu Sherif declared. These are the ones you are seeing at the national level.
There is no single state in Nigeria today that APC has not lost people back to the PDP. Look at what happened in Adamawa state to the extent that they even impeached the governor. So, you can see that APC is dead on arrival.
There is no alternative to the PDP up till now. But PDP shouldn’t relax saying we don’t have an alternative. As a member of BoT of the PDP, I still feel that we should address some of our problems that have to do with internal party democracy.
As a democrat, I am looking forward to very strong opposition that can be an alternative to the PDP because without any serious challenge, you can’t be put on your toes. Opposition is very important because objective criticisms help a ruling government to do those things that the people want but with the situation today, it is like there is nobody to challenge and I wish we look for a challenger.