By JIDE AJANI,  Deputy Editor

*Says Atiku is obsessed with becoming president
*Prays for Yar’Adua’s second term
*‘I can’t defend the inefficiency of state governors’
*‘Talk about true federalism is dishonest’

Professor Jibril Aminu is by every stretch of definition a successful individual. A medical doctor, an accomplished university administrator, two time minister, an ambassador to the United States of America, and now a senator from Adamawa State can be unbelievably blunt. Straight from the airport to his office in the Senate wing of the National Assembly complex, Sunday Vanguard had to wait for all six hours to get the interview started. A very busy senator, Aminu deliberately cleared his visitors’ waiting room of guests before ushering Sunday Vanguard in because “I know you and I know you will take so much time that was why I insisted you should come in last.” But it was one wait worth every minute. Jubril Aminu spoke; bluntly that is. Shedding light on why former Vice president Atiku Abubakar was not allowed back into the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, Senator Aminu said: “We would not allow it – though not forever.  Maybe until after the election of 2011 because, see, if you look at it and if you study those movements in time, they are all related to particular goals.” One of those goals, according to him, was to re-join the PDP, “and then when Atiku comes into the PDP, he would then do a lot of, if I may use the word, hatchet jobs, in order to take over the party and upstage Umaru in 2011.” He also spoke about devolution of powers and the risks embedded in the calls for true and fiscal federalism. This is just the first in this two-part interview. Excerpts:

A PROFESSIONAL, yes; a technocrat, yes; has had appointments at the federal level, yes; but politics, he doesn’t fit the bill.  Some people even describe you as a nice man and they wonder what lured you into politics?

You say because I am a nice man and, therefore, I shouldn’t play politics because politics in Nigeria is dirty. So, it’s a bit of a disappointment for some people, particularly because I am a medical doctor, a professor, a former vice chancellor to be in politics. Right I’ve had political appointments and I served. But let me tell you that in all of these appointments, one thing is common: I never looked for them. I never looked for them and the only other thing that is common to all of them is this logical drift. If you are a doctor, you could practice in a general hospital or in a teaching hospital and in addition to being a doctor there you are also a teacher. If you’re a teacher and you’re working in a hospital, you could be given the job of administration in the university, so you’re an education administrator and if that happens, you could be given an even bigger education administration job as vice chancellor and if you’re a vice chancellor, then you become a national administrator of education, particularly executive secretary of the National Universities Commission, NUC, which I became. And if you’re a national administrator of education, you could be made minister of education and if you’re made minister of education you could be made minister anywhere else. So, you can see there is a drift and like I told you, I never looked for any of these jobs.

You could be considered lucky. You never looked for any job in your life?
Like I told you I never looked for any of these jobs. The only job I have ever looked for and which came with some stress is the Senate because that is the only way to get it; you have to go and campaign to the people, make promises that you can fulfill and after that you try to justify their mandate and I did that and went for a second time. So, you see these jobs just came and particularly when a job comes to you from the highest authority in the land, then head of state, General Yakubu Gowon was the one who called on me to take over at the NUC, and at a time when I did not even know so much about the organization. The only thing most people knew about the NUC then was that it was a body which denies the universities money – that was all I knew about it and even when General Gowon asked me about it I told him that was all I knew. Because of my experience in NUC, I became a vice chancellor, appointed by President Shehu Shagari. I was away in America and it took me six weeks to reply him whether I would accept it or not and in the end I accepted it. Then minister of education, I was doing my second term as vice chancellor when General Ibrahim Babangida asked me to join his cabinet. I again, initially refused, but after sending two air vice marshalls to talk to me, how could I refuse. Then finally, President Olusegun Obasanjo asked me to become the ambassador to the United States.

I didn’t ask for any of these but I think we just have to accept these things as the will of God.

Between the first attempt at getting into the Senate and the second attempt, which would you consider more stressful?

Each had its individual problems. The first time, nomination was a bit difficult because the PDP is a formidable party because if you win the ticket in the PDP in most states you are as good as winning the election and that is why, by the way, the contest for the ticket of the PDP is very keenly contested for and that is why it is rougher and bitter than the primaries of the other political parties – that is the time to win the election. We won the first time but we had formidable opponents. And of course you know that there is always litigation and I spent a lot of money. The first time was difficult but the second time was even more difficult because at that time, we had a battle with the vice president and he swore to deal with us. He tried to recall me when I was senator but he couldn’t succeed. So now he tried again at the period of my re-election but by that time we had organized effectively to take over the party from him, and we were also able to play on the fact that his man in the state, the governor, did not perform at all. I think both times had challenges. But one thing I must confess is that each time you go to get the mandate of the people it is a bit scary.

Even from the way you spoke just now, there seems to be this nostalgic feeling about losing at the polls. When you say scary, what do you mean?
Scary in the sense that you look at somebody like me, with the background I have, all antecedents, all that I had accomplished then you go for an election and you lose, the people reject you, it would be terrible.

That would be big news?

Senator Jibril Aminu...Atiku was just too obsessed with becoming president
Senator Jibril Aminu...Atiku was just too obsessed with becoming president

Big news! It’s a life time disappointment. You did everything and then you lose an election, it’s terrible, and not even a presidential election, but a senatorial election.

But when people talk about service to the people and you interface with the rejection at the polls, for somebody like you, what would you say you have given back to the people?

Yes, we, within the limit, from 2003, one of the important things I can take credit for is the change in Adamawa. If you remember, I was the linkman when the party ordered the registration of members, for restructuring the party in Adamawa and putting new people in places and together all of us contested and we delivered the state to the party, a new state government, senators, House of Representatives, house of assembly, local government chairmen and councillors and I had the pleasure, as the leader, of delivering all these at the behest of the national office and what is good for the PDP is good for the country. Well, of course, there are other things that one has done for the people but you have to understand that if you are a senator in one of these developed nations, like America, you find that you’re dealing with issues. Unfortunately we have not reached that level yet. The type of thing we do here is to help people physically and that one you can not count how many people you’ve helped or that you are helping. Everyday they come.

But you still engage in some development projects either directly or through budgetary provisions or constituency projects and the other thing is that we help with some other people to bring projects to Adamawa and these are paying off. But if I was in America I would be talking about working on this or that trade bill or energy bill or cooperation with another country but here, we are still trying to get off the ground.

Take the PDP in Adamawa, form instance. You were the linkman in the state and you succeeded in deregistering some of the loyalists of Atiku Abubakar. Why is it that politicians thrive employing underhand tactics because it would have been inconceivable for anybody to think that the former vice president and his boss, Obasanjo would part way or, even at the local level, you would part way with Atiku Abubakar?  In your heart of hearts, when you look back…?
(Cuts in)  I think it is, and even I don’t see why you should be surprised that these things happen in politics. Political alliances are pretty much marriages of convenience.

Presidential obsession

People work together in order to achieve certain goals. We worked together with vice president Atiku Abubakar as part of the PDP. First, alliances by politicians are normal and whenever the interests change, other things change too. The way we started like you said, it would have been difficult to imagine that what happened would happen but I’m sure you witnessed it all. The problem with former vice president Atiku Abubakar was the obsession he had with becoming president of Nigeria. He was just too obsessed with becoming president. God Almighty gives power and takes but when an individual now arrogates to himself…. There is nothing bad in being ambitious but when it becomes an obsession, then, there is a big problem. That was the real cause of the crisis. You saw all that happened, the type of crisis that it generated in the Presidency. But one thing Nigerians should take solace in is the fact that democracy survived and even thrived while the crisis lasted. In times past it would have been an excuse for a coup maker. We should take solace in the fact that as all these were going on, democracy was on; democracy was thriving. All the military would have done, in times past was to say that the presidency was in danger of collapse, that the president and the vice president were at each others throat and that there was a need to save the country form disintegration, bla, bla, bla and then they would strike. So, in response to your question, there is really nothing to be surprised about in what went on at that time.

The aspect of the former vice president going to Abeokuta to meet with Obasanjo, there was this rapprochement and people thought that hey! Atiku is on his way back to the PDP but you people, working with the state governor in Adamawa blocked him from coming back to the party.  What happened to forgiveness and …?

(Cuts in again)  But we really wouldn’t.  If we could.
We would not allow it – though not forever. May be until after the election of 2011 because, see, if you look at it and if you study those movement in time, they are all related to particular goals. If you recall when the fight was on, he fought with us and did everything towards the PDP, to destroy the party, for the purposes of the 2007 election; we know that because we were at the receiving end of that battle. We knew what happened. We knew how much he tried to hurt the PDP. We knew all of his involvement with all the legal problems. Take my own case for instance. I was elected senator in 2007 but I wouldn’t really say that I was a senator until May, 2008, when the final case was disposed off at the Appeal Court. He did all that to us, destabilizing everything. He also went out and said all sorts of things against the PDP and even went as far as composing a song to parody the party and all the things they did was meant to discredit and destroy the PDP and all the statements he and his people were making about the president and the PDP right up to the end. Then he went to form a new party. The party took people from PDP mostly, people they were able to lure – this man was never a friend of the PDP.

Senator Aminu...why did Atiku want to return to PDP?
Senator Aminu...why did Atiku want to return to PDP?

He then looked at the entire horizon available to him and found out that if he was going to become the president, he had to find his way back to the PDP and there was no party that was going to make him president except the PDP. And then when he comes into the PDP, he would then do a lot of, if I may use the word, hatchet jobs, in order to take over the party and upstage Umaru in 2011. That was the simple idea. He went to Obasanjo so that Obasanjo would forgive him and smoothen his way back into the PDP and also if you look at the time he went to meet with Obasanjo, it was a mercy trip to Assisi and the whole thing was geared towards 2011.

Let me tell you the game plan: If he was re-admitted at that time he would have been able to qualify to contest for the ticket of the PDP for the presidential elections because the constitution of the party says you have to be in the party for two years to be qualified to contest. Now if he was re-admitted anytime latter, he would have to be given a waiver so he can contest the elections in 2011. That was the number one thing but we read the signals quite well.

Then the next thing they did was to organize something celebratory, about Adamawa’s 200th year of forming a kingdom, that it would interlace with the marriage of his daughters and the whole thing was an Atiku event and the whole idea was to celebrate his return into the PDP and he taking over the PDP. And what would he have done after all that? He would simply have gone ahead to challenge President Umaru Yar’Adua. That was it. Now, he would not get it. Let me tell you, he is desperate but he would not get it because if, as we pray Umaru does, he returns and completes his second four years, then by law of zoning and laws of common sense in Nigeria, this job of presidency, would go back to the South and it would not come back to the North East for how many years now – is it four multiplied by how many terms or is it eight multiplied by how many terms? And by that time, however, optimistic he is, by the time it comes round, to the North or even the North East.

It is good hearing that from you and what it implies is that after the two terms of the presidency in the North, it would come back to the South?
Yes! That’s right. It’s obvious.

But some people are not thinking like that because we’ve heard some people suggest that it depends on what happens at that time and they are working on all sorts of permutations because…?

(Cuts in) Politicians are always working on all sorts of permutations because that is what gives them the hope.

The reason I say this is because if someone else takes up that second four years, what then becomes this argument about eight years in the north and eight years in the south and some are even apprehensive that after the second four years of President Umaru, there might be a paradigm shift?

our people don't want to be in opposition
our people don't want to be in opposition

No! No!! If people agree that the reason why somebody from the North should do it again, that is a different thing because this was the agreement we had in 1999. Obasanjo did eight years from the South and it came to the North. If after that time people from all parts of the country decide to change it fine. But I’m not the one to decide for anybody what to do, the platform or how it would be done, no. But as it stands, we have eight  years of the south, eight years of the north, fine. If nothing changes, if you give it back to the south, the north will also have to wait for another eight years. And it is not shameful because it is in the constitution but a political party may decide not to do it.

What you’ve said now might sound consoling that the PDP is working in tandem with the constitution of Nigeria?

Yes we are.

But that’s actually the problem. People insist that the PDP is the problem of Nigeria. Some say it’s because the party is too big. Some insist that its leadership is mean and spineless. I could go on and on with the perception people have of the PDP out there and that is why people out there…?
It is because the party is winning. It’s a winning party.

That’s the problem?  It sounds paradoxical?

No it is not paradoxical. This thing is borne out of envy. People are envious in frustration. People who couldn’t get what they want are frustrated so they say these things. Would you be surprised that Atiku is frustrated with the PDP? Would you be surprised that Muhammadu Buhari is frustrated with the PDP? How many times did Buhari attempt to be president of this country and how many times has he lost to the PDP? Why should he love the PDP? Do you know what these golfers talk about Tiger Woods when they are behind the scene? Or do you know what they say about the Williams’ sisters? This is the envy. The other problem with the PDP is that it is very large, so huge that even the opposition is within it and I always remind people, when they say PDP is attempting to make Nigeria a one-party system, that if Nigeria becomes a one-party system it is because the people and not PDP want it to be so, it is the mentality of the Nigerian people. Our people do not want to be in the opposition, they always want to be part of the action so that at the end of the day they want to be able to say to the followers that these are the things that we’ve gotten, so you take this, you take that and so on.

People talk about debates before elections as if that would change anything but the truth of the matter is that people are not interested in that, you know that. People go into politics to get something for themselves personally or for their people or for their area but to think that people would just go into opposition and stay there and continue to oppose the PDP, that is not true and that is not Nigeria. But when you see people moving into the PDP it is not the PDP doing it, it is the psychology of the people who want to be part of the action. I would like to appeal to our people to understand it and when you are winning people will be envious but then, again you will end up having problems with it because it becomes so large that even any party which wins – look at the Labour Party under Tony Blair and now Gordon Brown; when Labour won an election three times a lot of opposition is coming from within the party; Mrs. Margaret Thatcher faced it too.

You say you want to appeal to Nigerians to change their mentality and…?
Yes, they need to understand what is going on. Look at those who had complained about the PDP before, once they see what they like in it and they believe by coming back they would get it, then you see them coming back. Why did Atiku want to come back to the same PDP where he had said so many bad things to condemn it? Absolutely!

But on a better scale, when you say people go into politics to say they have gotten this and that so people can have handouts, wouldn’t it have been better if the PDP government, for instance, can provide power, water, good roads, good healthcare delivery system. I’m out there and the people are complaining that the PDP government is a failure? Take your governors?
I’m not going to defend the performance or the efficiency of the PDP as a government, particularly the state governments or even local governments, I know that .

Serious challenge

I know that that is a problem the party is trying to solve but I also know that that is a problem of the constitution where states look at themselves – although they are really not – but they look at themselves as if they are independent of the Federal Government of Nigeria and governors look at themselves as if they are some kind of leaders who can do whatever they like. It is a problem which will have to be addressed and the way to address it is if the PDP faces serious challenge at the polls in 2011 and find that we don’t do as well as we have been doing.  That will send a message and it will wake the people up. Apart from vox populi – the voice of the people – there is nothing you can do under the system as it is, in my own opinion. You can remove a governor and the party threatens them – the parties are no longer even in a position to threaten anybody – you find that tomorrow they do the same thing; you bring in a new man he does the same thing.  The only answer is when the people challenge them at the polls and they face a stiff opposition, then they will all wake up.

Let’s look at Nigeria: People look at the constitution and they say it is not the best.  The National Assembly is attempting to review the constitution; how do you see this coming together?

I have my worries about constitution review
I have my worries about constitution review

Well, that is if we can have a review. I have my worries about the constitution review because the parts that are required to be amended in the constitution are very many but the part that the people are talking about and crying for are glaring but they may be very difficult to amend.

The first one is immunity. A governor will do whatever he likes
and if he is summoned in court he will refuse to appear; he will be summoned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, he will refuse to appear; he will be summoned by the Police he will refuse to appear because of the constitution and if he goes to the Supreme Court the Supreme Court will support him in the end. That is number one. Number two, the local government aspect of the constitution is a serious error because I was part of the constitution making body in 1994/1995. We gave the local government a preference, a law and everything just as Babangida did and Abacha allowed it most of the time but in the 1999 Constitution, they messed it up completely and they left it very vague and the state governor and members of the houses of assembly found this vacuity and they moved in to craft laws, local government laws which favoured them.

How can a member of a state house of assembly who comes from the same local government as a chairman, insist that he wants to control the chairman and sometimes you have two members coming from the same local government area, have one chairman and they still want to control the chairman – they want to determine his terms. That thing is not good but will the state houses of assembly amend that section of the constitution, when the constitution says two thirds of the assembly? Let’s leave that; how about the state independent electoral commission. You can see what the state governments made of it during the local government elections of all parties – no party can claim to be a saint. The Kano elections was the worst, they did it.  This just shows you that so long as you allow it, people with all shades of colours will just abuse it and do whatever they like. Will they allow the SIECs to go? There are things like that which the public knows should be amended but will the problems be solved when the constitution itself spells out how it can be amended?

But the devolution of powers from the centre to the states would go a long way in freeing the federal government?

It is not true. There is no such enormous power in the hands of the federal government, it is just a dependency syndrome developed by states from prolonged military rules. The states have their powers but what have they done with it. I have been involved in the issues of governance and I have not seen a single instance where the federal government went out of its way in a megalomaniacal way and took over responsibilities. These things began once they were worried by the states or because the states did nothing.

But the constitution states, taking the recent strike in the universities, for instance, that labour matters….?

It has nothing to do with the federal government. If you remember the federal government was always keen in saying that it would not sign an agreement that would imply making a commitment on behalf of the state government. The president is not willing to do it but ASUU says you must do it because otherwise we are not going to get what we want. Go out there and find out beyond this propaganda, whether it is union, or state government or the local government believe that the federal government should do it for them and then they don’t have to do it. I dragged the federal government into the issue of primary education. I went round this country and I discovered that there was no primary education at all in this country. I can assure you that had the federal government not come in with the Primary Education Commission, PEC, there would have been no primary education in the country today; they were doing nothing I went round every state in 1985/’86 and we created the PEC in 1988 (August 8, the decree was promulgated).

And I want you to believe me and if you look at it very closely what has happened over the years is that states had abdicated their responsibilities and that was why the federal government moved in.

Okay, Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu and General Alani Akinrinade have this new movement, Change Nigeria. Their fears are real and it centres on true and fiscal federalism which appears to have disappeared, contrary to what we profess?

You see I don’t believe them; they’re my friends, particularly General Akinrinade, they’re my friends but I don’t believe them. They have not studied Nigeria and Nigerians very well in a way they should. Nigerians want a unitary government; and people have been advocating it and I am not talking about politicians here, people who just want to carve out a little empire for themselves. The average Nigerian likes a unitary government because they like the protection of the federal government of Nigeria. Go to Modakeke tomorrow. Modakeke are Yorubas in Osun State. If there is any crisis there, they will feel happier if they are told that the Nigeria Police was coming to settle the problem, they would feel happier than to tell them that Osun State Police is coming; that is the truth. The same thing with the Tiv people living in various parts of the country and the same thing with people when you have inter state crisis.

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