*Says Nigeria is too complex to be managed by neophytes
*Wants Goodluck Jonathan to exert himself
*Claims that Obasanjo has great capacity for evil
Chief Benjamin Ndi Obi seldom talks to the media. Starting from his days in the Nigeria Advance Party, NAP, Ben Obi, as he is simply called, makes no bones about his foray into politics and his mission. But in this session, Obi speaks on the state of the nation and the mega party being packaged by some politicians.
They hope that the mega party would wrest power from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. A striking statement Obi made in the course of the interview went thus:â€œThere are certain characters in this government that I see who are on a suicide mission and they want to take this country along with them on that suicide missionâ€. Asked to explain , Obi expressed his anger at the way and manner a cabal, ostensity for Katsina, has hijacked the Federal Government.
â€œThere are people in this government who just sit back and think that from where, some little place where they ran and called shots; that they can now bring that to the centre and do same, the centre of Nigeria. They are mistaken,â€
By JideÂ Ajani, Deputy Editor
You people in the opposition complain about the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as being the problem of Nigeria. May be.Â But the reality is that the opposition is yet to present a common front to fight the PDP?
Let me start by making you understand that the cost of running opposition movement is quite enormous and from year to year, the available opportunities, the financial opportunities of the opposition members begin to dwindle â€“ from year to year.
The reason for this is that you find a lot of Nigerian political elites, jumping boat very easily. And again a lot of people, a lot of politicians do not understand the enduring mechanism for opposition politics.Â To be in the opposition is like an art.Â You have to have an in-built shock absorber that absorbs the shocks from the ruling party.Â You know they always have this carrot and honey approach, they throw this at some people and you find them jumping boat; those who are lily-levered jump boat easily.
So, you see, along the line, the number drops and then you come to live with a very lean financial pocket to cope with.Â But that is not to say that the opposition is not doing what it ought to do.
Thereâ€™s also this issue of qualification:Â Who, really constitutes the opposition in a country like Nigeria?
Yes, youâ€™re right. We have to really qualify those who constitute the opposition. Once youâ€™re not in the ruling party and youâ€™re not in the ruling government, then youâ€™re on the side of the opposition.Â Even a critic is on the side of the opposition in the Nigerian context.Â We have gone beyond â€˜what are those in the opposition doingâ€™?
We have gone beyond that; what we have now is a situation where the situation in the country is so glaring and everybody is suffering from the lies being churned out by the PDP; lies which we can see.Â Anybody from that side who opens his mouth to talk is simply telling lies.Â And to cover that lie they have to lie on top of it.
Talking about this shock absorber issue, youâ€™ll agree with me that some of those youâ€™re carrying along in the opposition camp have different reasons for tagging along â€“ there are those who want to be heard and seen with a view to joining the ruling party.Â Then there are those who just have an axe to grind and so they never see anything good; and yet, there are those who actually want change genuinely?
Your summation is right to the extent that people have played those things out as you said.Â But some of us have been in this business for as long as we started politics.Â My only time in the ruling party was when my party, the APP, expelled me because I was in government but unfortunately, that expulsion was done without any attempt to hear us out.Â There were four of us who were expelled at that time: ,myself as national secretary of the party; Mahmud Waziri, our founding chairman; Dr. Shatta, minister of state, internal affairs; and Hajia Aisha, a former minister of women affairs.
They did not even give us the benefit of an explanation because when we went into government in 1999, it was as a result of an agreement and understanding with the PDP.Â All they needed to have done was to call us back and pass on the message or instructions to us to leave the government. We could have done that and I probably would have left and come back to my party as a true party man and, probably, I would have still been swimming and sinking with the ANPP as it is now, I donâ€™t know but I would not have tolerated what the current ANPP leadership is doing now, I would not. But that is neither here nor there.
So, some of us are used to playing this opposition politics at great sacrifice and cost. But a lot of people do not know how to manage this opposition thing and they find it too painful and tortuous and at the end of the day, people decide that enough is enough, theyâ€™ve suffered enough and they then go out to find ventilation.Â As you put it, we have not all capitulated.Â The opposition is doing well and we are still moving.Â Weâ€™ve been holding out meetings and weâ€™ve decided to build a new movement and we forwarded a letter to the Senate President and the Speaker expressing our feelings to them on the state of the nation. In the next couple of weeks, we hope to come out and let Nigerians know where weâ€™re going.
All these meetings and strategy sessions when will they end?Â It was this same seeming prevarication which made Action Congress, AC, lose so much grounds during the 2007 elections.Â You people fail to start on time and when the reality of mobilization catches up on you people shout that theyâ€™ve been rigged out?Â AC didnâ€™t start on timeâ€¦.?
(Cuts in)Â I will like to cut you short there.Â I do not agree with that.Â Haba!Â I will not agree to that at all. We all know that there was no election at all in 2007. We went on campaign and we were talking to human beings. The PDP, too, went on campaign and they were talking to human beings and it was clear. Even you media people were reporting these things.
Let me ask my question and then you can take it together.Â You would agree with me that the AC did not come out on time.Â The new movement has been in the works for quite a while now and some Nigerians are waiting for direction.Â Elections may even hold later this year, so what time would you have to mobilize and campaign?Â That is the question?
This mega party thing really started just a few months ago apart from the mega party thing that was going on in Lagos much earlier.Â Weâ€™ve all come together under one umbrella and weâ€™re working out the modalities on how to come out as one and we have to agree on the vehicle weâ€™re going to use.Â Discussing with human beings and negotiating has its challenges.Â I am of the AC and if you ask me which vehicle to use Iâ€™ll tell you straight that AC is a wonderful vehicle that is known and it has a catchy symbol.Â The other person may say letâ€™s use DPP, it has no baggage itâ€™s new and all that. Yet, somebody else might say â€˜gentlemen letâ€™s travel lightâ€™.
However, I agree with you that the time is short because as you pointed out, there is the possibility that elections might even hold this year.
The important question to ask is:Â What have Nigerians gotten from the PDP?
The answer on the lips of Nigerians is a call for change and they want to identify those people who symbolize this change?Â Who are they?Â Are they the people we have known before?Â Can we trust them?
Because we politicians, we have let down the people, we have disappointed them many times over and when they look at us now they see us as a bunch of crooks who can not be trusted; they see us as people running around the corridors of power and stealing money here and there and we now carry that negative tag on our chest and it is very, very unfortunate.
But I still believe that at the end of the day, you can still identify with people who still conduct themselves with honour and respect and I can tell you that the little I had before I joined politics would have been enough for me and my family to carry on but then when I realized that this country was not being properly run, and I realised that those who were playing politics were no longer of unquestionable calling, no longer of impeccable character.
I started politics 32 years ago and I know some of those with whom we started together.Â Some of them are still in politics but when they speak, people just laugh at them and this is because of the way they have managed their affairs. When I fight for a cause, I fight because I want Nigerians to see justice and not for any selfish reasons, never.
Some people look at the type of opposition you people are trying to foster and ask those who constitute a bulk of the leadership:Â Why didnâ€™t they fight from within the PDP to change things instead of allowing themselves to be pushed out?
Look, let me tell you this: Yes, it could have also been a possibility but the question to ask is how would you have fought within the PDP when some of us were de-registered?
Obasanjo de-registered some of us and made sure that we were no longer members of the PDP.Â He made sure our names were thrown out from the PDP. So how were you going to fight from within, when you had been thrown out of the party. You remember, my principal, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar; he was registered in his office at the Villa.
And I called him to ask him, â€˜You Excellency, this one that they have come to register you in the Villa, is that Adamawa Stateâ€™?
He burst into laughter and said I should go and ask Ahmadu Ali, who was then chairman of PDP.
We didnâ€™t have the opportunity of even giving a fight.Â If we had the opportunity at that time maybe But you would also agree with me that Obasanjo, at that time, was doing everything humanly possible to make sure that we were annihilated.
From all his plans, he didnâ€™t want us to see the light of day.Â He was so committed to his elongation agenda and he saw some of us as obstacles on his way for that project.Â He saw it rightly, but thank God, we were also determined to make sure that that nonsense never worked.
So, we couldnâ€™t have fought from within.
Whenever I see your principal, he would have to answer some questions because he is also culpable in all of this.Â Was it not the template Alhaji Atiku Abubakar put in place in the PDP with the instrumentality of the Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM, which Obasanjo simply took to another level, barefacedly?Â That was the template that was used to get Obasanjo to win the primaries in Jos, in February 1999?
I donâ€™t think that is correct.
You may not agree but that is the reading?
No, I donâ€™t think that is correct. You want an instance Iâ€™ll give you one.Â Chief Sunday Awoniyi was not allowed to become the National Chairman of the PDP; instead, it was Barnabas Gemade that was brought in.Â Alhaji Atiku Abubakar remained the VP, he was there and there was no time the VP was known or seen to have raised objection?
Iâ€™ve taken pains to ask my principal something like this because I happen to know that up till today, PDP has never conducted a congress where a chairman was truly elected by delegate.
No, I disagree.Â The 1999 convention which produced Gemade went through the motions of voting and counting just as was the Jos convention held earlier that year?
That was the one that brought in Gemade. The thing had been programmed.Â Obasanjo had said he didnâ€™t want Awoniyi.Â And you know that Chief Sunday Awoniyi of blessed memory was a man of impeccable character.
Had Awoniyi become the chairman then, Obasanjo would not have been able to play his pranks and my principal, too, would not have supported Obasanjo in any of these schemes he was later to be known for.
Let me tell you, Obasanjo came into party or partisan politics with a clearly defined agenda inside him.Â Those who even went to bring him from prison and into politics lost track completely of Obasanjoâ€™s essence and Iâ€™ve been able to say it to them over and over again.Â They are my friends.
I was one of the first people they consulted when they wanted to start, to bring him in.
I said which man?Â This was in 1998, I said this man, this man, bring him to do what? And I told them that â€˜if you were counting on me, count me out; that this is not my kind of person. I wasnâ€™t close to Obasanjo but after the collapse of the Second Republic, you recall that Obasanjo had this his Otta Farm leadership sessions.Â I was a regular person there, with my good friend and leader, Dr. Tunji BraithwaitE.Â Most times I went there; he didnâ€™t. I said to myself, â€˜does it mean that Nigerians didnâ€™t understand this man.
When I came into government in 1999 with the National Security Adviser, NSA, on the understanding between my party and the PDP, in 2000, I started saying to the NSA that this Obasanjo man is insincere; that this man is not sincere to this country.Â He would say â€˜Ben, you donâ€™t even like this manâ€™. From 2000, if I did not say this thing to the NSA I said it more than a dozen times.
In 2001, I continued.
What were those things you saw?Â With the benefit of hindsight, people could actually say all these now. But what were those things you saw which made you feel so strongly that the man was insincere?Â Most people didnâ€™t see it coming or, some saw it but chose to say, â€˜well, letâ€™s suffer this manâ€™?
Let me tell you, Obasanjo was sworn-in on May 29, 1999. The first executive assignment that took place in this country was to deny the legislature its true leader, Heavy money changed hands,when they brought Evans Enwerem, of blessed memory, as against the wish of 90% of the entire membership of the senateâ€™s Chuba Okadigbo, in order for the government to make that possible, Ghana-Must-Go, left right and centre.Â I said this is not right, this is not right and this will signal the continuation of things like this.
That may have been just, in a silly manner, on the platter of an excuse like, there was a need not to have a combative legislature since this was just the beginning of a new republic.Â Because the fear was already there, that there was the possibility of a gang-up against Obasanjo.Â That was what was sold?
If that were true, at the end of the day Chuba Okadigbo became Senate President, was there a gang-up?Â Did it happen?
Go and check the records, the executive bills that were passed during the period of Enwerem and Okadigbo, which was about a period of six months each, in comparison, Okadigbo did better.
Chuba was not going to start fighting the executive, but Chuba understood clearly, the separation of powers.Â Over time people must have come to understand Obasanjo and his brand of politics.
Obasanjo is just one military dictator and this didnâ€™t change when he became President of Nigeria.Â For him, it is one party rule, as far as he is concerned.Â And the President would call the short from all angles.Â If itâ€™s possible, Obasanjo would want to have the Order Paper of the Senate before proceedings start, just so he could vet it.
A man who took time to deny councilors, councilors, went in to find out that â€˜okay, this councilor, I do not want himâ€™.Â The man has great capacity for mischief and evil.
And unfortunately, Nigerians lived with him for eight years and the democratic foundation he laid for this country is all that weâ€™re suffering.
Even if all that we have said is not true, that foundation left behind by Obasanjo is what the country is suffering.
That implies that the present administration which he mid-wifed is not performing at all?
Okay, what is your view on this impasse?Â Section 145 states certain intents, the Senate insistsÂ it can not do anything because the man is at liberty to write.Â Then there is the FEC, according to Section 144, which is expected to act and they are saying the man is not permanently incapacitated.Â Without prejudice to morality, constitutionally, where did President Yarâ€™Adua err?
All weâ€™re trying to say here is that the constitution itself has given room for some lacuna. The constitution was prepared by men for us so it is not a full proof.Â But I believe that where you have a man, a President, where youâ€™re leaving the country, even if it is just for one day or two days, in order to do things neatly, it is better to transmit that letter.Â Anything can happen to anybody, weâ€™re not super-human, anything can happen.
But let me tell you what I think is happening here, in my own considered view, it is because of the illegitimate nature in which this administration came about.
Look at Obasanjoâ€™s administration, as tough as he was, didnâ€™t want anybody to cross his path. Was there any situation when Obasanjo left the country, even without transmitting any letter, you found Vice President Atiku Abubakar wanting?Â Did that ever happen?Â Not performing the job of a president?Â Not for one day.
Go and check.Â And you know Obasanjo was almost always out of the country. My friend, if the current Vice President can preside over the Federal Executive Council, FEC, meetings, and take decisions and sign contracts, he should please go ahead and run the country as a man who is Number Two, it is an automatic responsibility.
You want to create vacuum in one area, cover another area.Â You see yourself as a Vice President then you act as a Vice President.
Heâ€™s been acting and yetâ€¦.
(Cuts in) Thatâ€™s what Iâ€™m saying; there should be no gap.
If all these gaps were covered, all we would be talking about is to be praying for the man to come back and take his job, not for people to be holding rally and saying enough is enough.
There is a gap that is why enough is enough.Â Those gaps should be filled by the man who is there; he is not going to be president but he should act.Â Heâ€™s just acting as President then let people go and challenge him that you can not do this you can not do that.Â In a situation like this the man should act, simple. You see, I am worried and do you know why I am worried?
Iâ€™ll tell you. There are certain characters in this government that I see who are on suicide mission and they want to take this country along with them on that suicide mission.
I didnâ€™t connect to that; please explain?
There are people in this government who just sit back and think that from where, some little place where they ran and called shots, that they can now bring that to the centre and do same, the centre of Nigeria, they are mistaken. The centre of Nigeria is bigger than all those little provinces they ran. A cabal, sits back and they just concoct things, put them out to us.
Those who are managing Yarâ€™Adua, those who are speaking for Yarâ€™Adua, must go back and think twice.
Thatâ€™s why I said some characters here are on suicide mission and they want to take this country along with them.
Talking about suicide mission, letâ€™s look at the Mutallab case?
I mean, look at the Mutallab case for Godâ€™s sake.Â It doesnâ€™t just make sense to me at all.
This boy was not trained here. This boy does not live here.This boy had nothing to do with us.
He got completely indoctrinated outside, in the same western world, in the United Kingdom, and a country like Nigeria that is involved in peace keeping all over the world, spending its money and resources, to bring peace in the world, is being castigated and being put on the watch list.
Your story on anti-terrorism, let me give you more details.Â I read it.Â It made sense but let me give you more insight.
When I came into the senate in 2005, after being denied my mandate for some two years, by May, 2005, I put in two bills â€“ an act against terrorism; the second one, a bill for the establishment of anti-terrorism agency.
My northern colleagues called me, through the, late Mamman Ali, the former governor of Yobe. He called me and said, â€˜you are our very good friend, we are not comfortable with this.
Okay, letâ€™s get it clear now, was that after the first and second reading or just during the first reading?
This was even before the second reading.Â These were the northern senators.Â He then said they had nominated Nuhu Aliyu to discuss the bills with me.Â Apparently, they thought the bills were being sponsored by the American and Israeli governments through me.Â I sat with Nuhu Aliyu in his office and we discussed extensively.Â That something like this could happen because our borders were so porous and Aliyu saw it and agreed. Meanwhile, this matter was even raised in the mosques and people started calling me but I explained and when they all saw it, they relaxed. Then we did the second reading. After my second reading, Obasanjo, through Bayo Ojo, now brought in another bill on terrorism â€“ a wishy-washy bill.
I told him that that was not a proper thing, that a members, bill takes precedence over any other bill, especially when the memberâ€™s bill was already going through the processes.Â I think Senator Udo Udoma said they should throw it back at Bayo Ojo, that there was already a brilliant bill before us that was being discussed.
This is why I said some people are on a suicide mission.Â It wouldnâ€™t have gotten to this level where America would list us.
Ask yourself, between December 26 and I think in early January, what happened between the government of Nigeria and the US?
The first message I got about this thing was a call from the US, that theyâ€™ve arrested a Nigerian who attempted to blow up a plane.Â I had people around me who were to accompany me somewhere and when I came down it was a subject and I told them that if we donâ€™t move fast, speak to the right people, we would be black listed.Â And when it happened, those who were there called back to say that I said so.
This is what I mean when I say some people in this government are on a suicide mission and they want to bring down this country with them.Â Look at what has been happening to those who have been traveling.Â If our own international pride, Prof. Wole Soyinka can be treated like that, subjected to what he said he went through, then you can imagine what would happen to people like us.
So, what happened to those two bills?
That was the end of it.Â By the time we left, it didnâ€™t sail through.Â Iâ€™m still going to speak with the senate president.
Which one are they now talking about; that they would expeditiously pass?
No.Â This government now forwarded another bill through Aondoakaa. He now brought a fresh bill. The other one is gone.
Which type of country are we in? This country is going down the abyss and things are falling apart, and when it becomes a matter of WHEN the centre no longer holds, then weâ€™re in trouble.
In the past, people used to hate their leaders. Today, it is the leaders who hate the people by not providing for them.Â You can see the reverse now as the case.Â And I am afraid for this country.