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‘Dictatorship made PDP produce 5 chairmen in 8 years’ – Barnabas Gemade

There have been calls by prominent  Nigerians on President Yar’Adua to resign from office due to  his ill-health. Do you see this as justifiable ?

The President of any nation is the symbol of the image of that nation and the matter involving the health of the president ought  to be a subject of avoidable debate on the pages of newspapers. I am not in support of the debates  that are going on. Practically, everyday  the media is talking about the health of the president of Nigeria.

I think it is unfair to a man who occupies such a position to find himself ill and to be bombarded with this kind of talk. The call for resignation is not an issue people should debate; it is also unfair because these are constitutional issues which are very clearly spelt out in the constitution and people should not create their own procedure or conditions under which they will like the nation to operate.

Having said that, do you agree that the President’s  absence is overheating the polity?

This subject should not be turned into a political issue; this is a government issue and should not become a subject of partisan politics. I would not want to engage myself in the discussion of this matter. I would rather deal with issues that are political. Since  I am not in government, so I would not want to dabble into government issues.

How will you react to the belief  among Nigerians that the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) has never been a democratic party against the backdrop of what is happening in Anambra State presently?

PDP was established as a truly democratic party.  When we formed PDP, we were coming from different angles of political divides. During the Abacha era when G34 emerged, we formed a strong nucleus around which many political groups came  in order to form the PDP.  And  right  from the beginning, the selection of leadership was democratic.

When we met to decide on Chief Solomon Lar as National Chairman of the party in 1998, and the position was zoned to us in the North Central, we met and took a democratic position.  In fact there was voting between Chief Lar and Chief Awoniyi and Chief Lar became the National Chairman of the party.

Now, when I became the National Chairman after Lar at a democratic convention  there was voting, not for only the position of National Chairman, but for all positions. We derailed on the subject of internal democracy when there was serious interference in the procedures of party administration and party politics under  former President Olusegun Obasanjo  and that was the beginning of the  problems of PDP.

Barnabas Gemade
Barnabas Gemade

As far as I know, up to the time I was the National Chairman of the party, we did everything democratically including our decision on  Anambra State when I insisted that the only way anyone can lead the party there is through the stakeholders.

But after I left, I began to hear that there were other means of becoming the leaders of the party in other parts of the country and since then, it has been selection. That is not good enough, but I believe strongly that the matter will eventually change especially with the political reform which is being undertaken and with the desire of the President to ensure internal democracy in the party and to ensure rule of law.  I  am sure there will be light at the end of the tunnel.

But it seems there is no  peace in the party especially as it concerns Anambra and with the list of candidates INEC just published, PDP’s candidate, Soludo was excluded. Would you say the party was right on Soludo?

I am not commenting on what the party did on Anambra. That issue has not been tabled at any of the fora  I belong to; that is the Board of Trustees and the National Executive Committee. So long as this matter is still being discussed at the level of   committees  which I don’t belong to, I don’t yet  have full information about how and what the decisions are  on  Anambra. So, I am not commenting on that.

But what can you  make out of the fact that some bigwigs in Anambra  PDP like Andy Uba and others have  moved to other parties?  What does this trend portend for the PDP?

In the PDP, there are two classes of politicians. Those who came in to build the party, to organize the party and celebrate it and put it in the winning form in general elections and even local elections. And there is the other group of politicians who came in to sit and obtain posts in elections. You will expect the actions of these politicians not to be uniform, but to be in agreement with their own desires.

For those who came for elections, once they don’t get nomination, they go to other parties. But for those who are in politics to build and develop democracy, to build the party and make it sustainable,  like myself, we will always remain with the party.

I have lost nominations before, but I never left the party and I am sure that if I had left the PDP to another party, I would have won because I was more popular that the people who got nomination. But because I am a builder of a political institution and desirous of  sustaining the development of my party, I remain a member rather than move to another party to seek nomination.

Going by the picture you just painted, how do you see the opposition in Nigeria?

Opposition in Nigeria is not well developed because of the greed element of Nigerian politicians. Like I said, many people joined politics just because they want positions and therefore even when they are in the top leadership of their political organizations, they are still looking over to find out whether there is another way they can make it and if they find out that hobnobbing with the winning party is the best way to make it, then they abandon opposition.

We have actually seen just only one person who has being very firm and resolute in his position on politics of principles and ideas.  But the rest of them are opportunists who are looking for a chance to realise their ambitions and if they don’t find it here, they join another one.

At the end of the day, if they feel the ruling party  provides  the best option  for  getting what they want, they become good friends of the ruling party. Even within the ruling party, there are many people who could have decided to be in opposition if it was a matter of benefit. So, patronage alone should not determine how you play politics.

I have been in the PDP since inception, being one of the pioneer individuals that formed the party in 1998 and about 11years down the road, I have got nothing myself. But I have not been in an opposition party. So, those who abandon the opposition because they want to get benefits need to look at people like me who have not been in opposition and still don’t have any  benefits. So, the bane of opposition in this country is greed and it is common among  many politicians.

But in recent times, politicians like Atiku Abubakar, Muhammadu Buhari and others have come together to form a common front  against PDP in 2011. Do you foresee such a group playing the role of opposition in Nigeria?

I have just finished an answer to your last question that greed is militating against organized political opposition in Nigeria. So long as  people don’t abandon their greed , they suddenly cannot succeed in what they are doing because when the time comes to decide who leads them, everyone will say yes I have to be the one and at the end of the day, if you have all leaders and no followers, then you have no organization.

People have argued that unless we have electoral reforms, nothing different from the charade election we had in 2007 will happen in Nigeria.  Do you see electoral reforms performing that miracle of perfecting our electoral  system?

Of course,  yes. The proposed electoral reforms  have been embraced by all Nigerians. When the former Chief Justice Uwais Committee came up with the reforms, they received full support from the public and even from the political parties and I am also in full support of the reforms because that is the only way we can bring credibility back to the subject of election in Nigeria.

The rules were not being obeyed and every country has a strong set of  rules for  selecting leaders because that is the only way leaders can have credibility. These rules cover almost every single subject like when you should start your campaign, the kind of campaign to put out, the type of posters you should make and so on.

These are things we don’t even think about here not to talk about the voting and counting of votes.  These are things we need to do precisely with the full weight of the law behind it.

In the United States for example, if your poster as a candidate was on the billboard anywhere one day after the elections, you will start paying a fine for every single poster counted anywhere. We have no rules here; we don’t obey any laws here.  I am talking about  basic issues. What about the more difficult ones about how the ballot should be cast and how it should be counted and how results  should be declared and so on and so forth. I think we need electoral reforms, unless it is done, we are not going to have any respect for the results of our elections.

As far as the electoral reforms are concerned, Nigerians have their doubts whether the process will be completed  before 2011. What is your view on this ?

Well, the ball is in their court.  Members of the National Assembly are hearing what the people are saying and if they don’t want Nigerians to have    the impression that they are frustrating the process , they will step up and do it. I am not skeptical about it and therefore  believe there are some committed National Assembly members who want to carry through the amendments to improve on the electoral procedure. So, I think that for  those who are not committed,  they will know that they have to sit up when they hear what Nigerians are saying.

Talking about the  party system, majority of the so called parties in Nigeria do  not even have headquarters and yet, they call themselves  parties. How many political parties do you think Nigeria needs at the stage  we are now?

With the plurality of the Nigerian society, the tribal structure of this nation will make it  very convenient for us to adopt a two party system where no particular ethnic group can possess or own a political party  by itself. So, I am in for a two party system at anytime.

The idea of having 3, 4, 5 or 6 political parties is that maybe every ethnic group or  political area may just see one party and make it their own  party and the polity will become so complicated. The numerous parties we have today, is the biggest undoing of the political system that one can ever think of. And how many of these parties are really political parties?

Some of them have no offices; I don’t think it is right for us to allow  democracy to sink to this level. I think people should be willing to embrace the two party system and if  this is not enough then people should be allowed to contest as  independent candidates at the elections. The two party system will make room for  independent candidature.

The numerous parties  we have today is one way of adopting  independent candidature, but in a manner which is not very clear. You have to have a law on how independent candidature can emerge. Now, anyone who can register a party can become a candidate of  his own party; that is independent candidature in a way. But, he is having that system without a law. But if you do have an independent candidate with a very strict  law guiding  the process , it will work.

There has been calls by some people that the position of president must  remain in the North as we approach 2011. As a foremost politician in this country, how do you react to such calls?

I don’t understand how to react to this call.  It has to do with the issues of resignation of the president and so on. These issues are constitutional and in every respect, when a constitutional matter arises, it must be dealt with constitutionally and the Nigerian constitution spells out how to deal with such issues. We were at the constitutional conference where we talked about rotational presidency of single term of  6 years by each  zone.

But at the end of the day, the constitution that was produced in 1999 by the Abdusalami administration recommended two terms of 4years each and that automatically became the constitutional provision and the country must always adhere to it and anybody who is president and who desires to go for a second term is free to do so.

Talking about the constitution, the National Assembly is working towards reviewing the Nigerian constitution and people like you that have made certain recommendations in the past are expected to contribute to it in certain areas…….

This current one is targeted at elections and electioneering; that is the main issue now. So,  aspects of the constitution that need to be reviewed  that have been sent to the National Assembly are those that were proposed for the present political reforms that are going on.  This must not be equated to the contributions we have made to constitutional writing.

For example, from  my own personal desire and  understanding of the way Nigeria operates, I would have opted for the parliamentary system of government for this nation.

I believe we are not mature enough to practice presidential democracy effectively because from what happened in the last government, it can’t work effectively. In every constitutional conference I attended, I always go along with those people that want the parliamentary system because it is only the parliamentary system that gives true representation of the people both in parliament and in government.

This presidential system gives you representations alone in the parliament; those are the only people you decide; you don’t decide who becomes a  minister or any other thing in Nigeria because that is the decision of the president. For a government like this, it can easily be cornered by a cliché.

When leadership becomes overbearing, then nobody can control that leadership anymore under a presidential system of government and we have seen it in Nigeria. It is a big problem. We are better of with parliamentary system of government. The presidential system is so expensive.

We are getting close to another election and the citizens are doubting the ability and sincerity of INEC  to conduct a free and fair poll. With the Anambra State gubernatorial   election around the corner, what do you think needs to be done in order not to repeat  what happened in 2007?

INEC is heavily incapacitated now. First of all, there are many members of the INEC board which they call National Electoral Commissioners who are not in place because the tenure of some of them have expired and new ones have not been appointed. This incapacitation alone is a hindrance to the effective monitoring of elections. Secondly, INEC’s past has constantly haunted it and therefore, it  needs a reasonable overhaul in order to regain its image for the future.

I think the electoral reforms that are being undertaken is what  will bring about some real engineering in the organization of INEC and give it capability to carry out credible elections. I do not want to talk about individuals;  it is not necessarily individuals that are the problems.  Because the system is not well organized,  it can collapse anytime. I think  we need to look at INEC in totality rather than look at individuals. If a man does not operate according to the law or procedures, then he should be sanctioned, but if he does, he should be allowed to run his tenure. That is my attitude as far as INEC is concerned.

Looking at Nigeria’s democracy, how will you say  we have fared in the last ten years ?

Nigeria’s democracy has come a long way, but a few people have damaged it along the way; that has been the problem with this democracy. This is the longest period  we have had a democratic administration , but we have   not kept  the rules. We would have gained positive experience but we did not gain it because the rules were not kept.

I was a National Chairman of PDP and I know what I am talking about. These people worked against the rules. Now, we are beginning to move in the right direction because people have started challenging when necessary.

Before now, you could not challenge anything because if you did, somebody will say no, I have all the powers to do it, so you have no right. Like in PDP, if you don’t like what is happening, the only way is to find your way out and that is why in 8years, PDP produced 5 National PDP Chairmen.

There was no reason for it simply because some people did not want to keep the rules.  When  they don’t keep the law, they dispense with  people, thinking people are the problem whereas, they are the problem.

Those kind of actions actually take you backwards. We should make sure that in our party, we do not harbour dictators. Then, we would be advancing on the right course to achieve proper democracy in Nigeria. As long as people deceive you and they get into position, they become dictators.


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