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Emergence of House Speaker: PDP’s Strong-arm Politics and the Dangers Ahead, by Usman Bugaje

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Usman Bugaje

*Says merger still on the cards for AC
*Why I ceaselessly attack Obasanjo

Whenever you stumble on Dr. Usman Bugaje, you have stumbled on a firebrand politician. This interview should have taken place sometime last December when Bugaje came out strongly against ailing Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, asking him to resign.But because Bugaje combines his love for politics with some academic engagements, he is not always available.  Last Easter the interview almost held but a trip out of the country put paid to that.  Four weeks ago, the interview almost held in Kaduna but was again aborted at the last minute. Even penultimate weekend, Sunday Vanguard almost ambushed him in Lagos and then Ibadan but it never did materialize.Therefore, when it was agreed that we meet in the Federal Capital City, FCT, Abuja, last Tuesday, Sunday Vanguard got lucky.  But even at that, there was a proviso from Bugaje.For a man who served as Adviser to then Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Bugaje’s voice carried weight in Aso Rock Presidential Villa between 1999 and 2002.He sought the membership of the House of Representatives, won, and then wanted to become Speaker and his problem with Obasanjo gained magnification.  He had to be stopped at all cost and he was – including the ridiculing of otherwise responsible politicians like Audu Ogbeh, then Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, National Chairman, and some members of the party’s exco.  The rot that PDP is today has some of its roots in the events which led to the imposition of Speaker Aminu Bello Masari, one of the men who are talking about reforming PDP but who had benefitted once employing the same strong-arm tactics they claim to be opposing today.  Read details of that ridicule.
But Bugaje is also the National Secretary of Action Congress, AC.  He was blunt enough to admit errors where they exist but insists that things are getting better.
He, however, warns of the dangers the PDP as a party constitutes to Nigeria.
But by the time you finish with this first part, you will long to read the second part where he deconstructed Yar’Adua, spoke about Obasanjo’s journey in political derailment and more.
Excerpts

By Jide Ajani , Deputy Editor,

I would like to start with your attempt to become Speaker, House of Representatives. Beyond what was published, what happened and how did you lose out?
What happened is the typical PDP thing.
If you remember very well what happened even before we were inaugurated, the typical PDP way of doing things, there was Senator Adolphus Wabara, who did not win his election.  The Independent National Eelectoral Commission, INEC, said so; the INEC website said so; then Alhaji Shehu Musa of blessed memory, an INEC federal commissioner, came out to talk to the press that Wabara did not win the election, yet, the PDP, streamrolled him in, bulldozed their way and made him a senator, against the standing rules of the senate and made him, because he was never elected,   senate president.

I would like to believe that that was done under the influence of (President Olusegun) Obasanjo.  This was the time Chief Audu Ogbeh was the chairman of the PDP and the current chairman was the secretary of the party.

This is the typical thing they did.

So, what happened in your own case?
Good!  In my own case, we went to our zone, the North West, because it was zoned to that part of the country.  There was supposed to be a primary in the zone and when you emerge from your zone then the House will elect you speaker as the one presented by the zone on the day of inauguration in 2003.

When we went to the zone, the governors in the zone, specifically Katsina State governor then, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, and Kaduna State governor, Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, connived with party at the zonal level, to prevent the holding of a proper primary.

They asked Alhaji Lawal Kaita, who is an elder in the party to call all of us together and literally inform us that the party has decided that it is Alhaji Aminu Masari that they were going to present.

What reasons did they proffer or why Masari and not you or any of the other contenders?
There was no election.
There was no argument or a set of criteria which they agreed upon to do that.
There was not even an explanation as to why they chose Masari over me or any of the others.

They just said the party decided and again I would like to say that it was the same Obasanjo at that time who directed and said he would not like to have another Ghali Na’Abba on the seat of the Speaker and for once I would like to concede to him that he got that one right because I was not going to be a Speaker who would be a Yes Man.

*Bugaje

If I were to be the Speaker he would not have had a peace of mind because the crimes he wanted to commit and which he had already started committing would not have been allowed by me to pass, including then, the Third Term agenda, which we did not know at that time, would have depended on someone who would cooperated with him.

So, the PDP granted him the wish and when we came to the House when the election was to hold, the same Chief Audu Ogbeh, then chairman of the PDP, called all of us PDP members who were waiting to be inaugurated in a meeting and he said, ‘ladies and gentlemen, honourable members very soon, I’m afraid we’re not going to allow any elections to hold today, the party has consulted and it is Alhaji Aminu Masari that the party has chosen as Speaker.

Again there was no explanation, there was no attempt to persuade us, there was no argument put forward, there was no attempt to convince us.
It was a matter of power without persuasion.

And, after announcing that, they even made a rehearsal of what would be done on the floor of the House of Representatives.  One Honourable Mercy, from one of the South South States, was asked to rise and present the motion in a particular manner; the person who was to second the motion was to second the motion in a particular manner too.
Everything was rehearsed.

You mean the same Audu Ogbeh was there and this rehearsal was going on?
Yes!  It was rehearsed properly at the meeting.
The reason for this was that so that when we get on the floor of the House, nobody would go against what the party had agreed on.

But you were there, too and you did not voice any objection?
In my own case, let me tell you what happened.
I had gone round the zones of the country between the time we were elected and the time we were to be inaugurated, I had gone round to see my colleagues in their own home-bases to discuss with them. I was in Lagos, Ibadan, Port Harcourt and in so many other places.  I did my own campaign because at that time there were three or four of us from that zone contesting.

One thing was that my colleagues kept telling me wherever I met with them, especially my colleagues from the South, that ‘look, from what we have seen, for us, by virtue of your education, your records, by virtue of one, two, three, four, you appear to be the best qualified in the circumstance.  Even when the party decided otherwise, there were still three others among those contesting who still wanted to go ahead on the floor – we were prepared to raise the issue and ask that elections be done on the floor of the House.  In fact I wanted us to see it through with an election on the floor.

You mean you wanted to defy your party?
When they heard about what we wanted to do, they called me to a meeting, in Chief Audu Ogbeh’s office.  Ogbeh and some senior elected officials of the party and his deputy national chairman, the late Colonel Madaki, national legal adviser, was also in attendance at that meeting but I can not remember the names of all those who were there.

They called me alone to the meeting and said, ‘we know you are good and loyal party man, but the party has decided, the position has been ascribed’ and Chief Audu Ogbeh was relating his experience how he was to be Speaker but he couldn’t get it, he was this he was that and this and that.

But I told him, ‘look, can any one of you tell me the criteria that you are using or that you have used to say we should all step down for Masari or why Masari is better than the other aspirants’.  Nobody could give me an answer.

The real reason, I would like to believe, is that they were all doing the prompting of Obasanjo.

But today you are with the likes of Audu Ogbeh in the opposition?
Yes! These same people, today, sit with me in a meeting and lament that:
‘Oh! God, things have gotten so bad in this country; why are things happening in this manner’.

What do you say to them?
I often remind them, ‘why shouldn’t things go bad in the country; you people started it, by allowing the then President to ride over the party and get whatever he wants in breach of thn same democratic principles that you cherish in public;

‘When you people talk in public you appear like democrats, you talk about democracy, you talk about the rule of law, you talk about processes and procedures but you do not respect any of these virtues in your own party’.

When I was a member of the PDP, there were lots of complaints brought to me by some party leaders about what was going on in the party and which they didn’t like.  I don’t need to mention peoples names but some of them kept coming back to me that President Obasanjo has instructed them to take some punitive measures against me because I was always abusing him.

But in truth, you were always abusing Obasanjo, even as President and Commander-in-Chief, you were always abusing him?
Look, all I was doing was to bare my mind – that is a right that I have.
The PDP will never call us as members of the party for consultations or any discussions with a view to moving the party or democracy forward but whenever the party is in trouble that is when they come rushing to us as national assembly members.
Whenever they are in trouble they come running.
I made this point over and over.
Even when Audu Ogbeh left and Ahmadu Ali took over, I continued to make the point.
I say, ‘why are you people always coming to us when you are in trouble’?
They would in turn ask me ‘why am I always abusing the President’.
But I always tell them I am not abusing anybody.
I disagree with some of the things the party does and when the party refuses to provide us a platform to discuss and reach a consensus but I am not able to discuss with you internal because you have not provided a platform for that.
In a democracy you can not just keep doing things like that.
We are not in a military regime.
I am a democrat; I represent constituencies; I represent my people and, therefore, I have every right to express my views.
I also often tell them that ‘if you have provided us with a platform internally for discussions and debates or through party mechanisms on policies, the direction of government and on a number of issues, I would have no right after I have exhausted all that internally’.
I would thereafter have no right to go and talk to the press but if you are blocking that you can not stop me from expressing my views because it is no longer a democracy it is something else

This internal democracy that has become a buzz word appears to…?
(Cuts in) What the absence of internal democracy does is that it actually destroys the political party as a democratic institution.
It destroys it completely and it turns it into a cult.
What you will end up having and which we have seen is that a few people will just decide on behalf of everyone else without due process or primaries.
This is what Obasanjo did in the eight years he ruled – he destroyed the party.
He destroyed political institutions along with it and not only the party.
It is this tragedy that he created that has brought us to where we are today in this country.
It is this tragedy that turned INEC into what it is.

It is this kind of things and unless we stand against it, unless we correct it, unless we stop it, this country will continue to go down the drain; we’ll be in more darkness, we’ll have more poverty and remember, from 1999 to 2007, the poverty in the land doubled – go and check the UNDP country report and see the indices; the poverty in this country doubled and it doubled even at a time when we made so much money from oil that we had never made before in the history of this country.

The reason for this is because when institutions are destroyed, nothing else can stand up and deliver.

You said earlier that your colleagues today in opposition were there when Obasanjo was doing all he did and some of them helped him execute.  But more importantly, what I have discovered is that you people, politicians, are all the same:  When people are benefitting from the rot, it is all well and good but when people are shoved aside and no longer have access or benefit from that rot, that is when they cry blue murder, what would you say to that?

* Bugaje

I absolutely agree with you Jide.  I honestly agree with you – this is an important question and this is what has brought some of us into politics and we are not pretending that even our own party is immune or perfect.
In fact, we are in politics because we know that things are not perfect and why are they not perfect?  t is because the breed of politicians that we have today in all the parties are the same breed that believes that it is politics of opportunism and not politics of principles.

One of the things I did as the National Secretary of Action Congress, AC, after taking over was to start cleansing the party of those elements.

We dismissed about seven or eight or nine chairmen of the AC at the state level. We were also able to dismiss about two or three national officers; in fact some of them resigned because they realized that they could not have their ways.

We suffered for these actions that we took because some of the politicians who would bring or were expected to bring their funds refused to assist and their claim was that these people at those levels were independent.  But we insisted that the issue is that of following procedure, about due process; that was the price we had to pay to get things done properly

I can tell you that AC today is much better than it was even when I came in and it can only get better.
This is what I expect people running parties to do and this is what I expect other stakeholders to do in this country in their own respective ways.

As a journalist, you can not come into the party and bring about those changes but you can ask, as you have been asking on what and what we as politicians are prepared to do to make Nigeria a better country.  You continue to monitor what I have said if it is true.   When it’s time for our party primaries, find out if what I am saying now is what we will do; that is one of the ways we can make this country a better nation.
So, I absolutely agree with you that things are not perfect, we shall get there.

In the PDP for example, I have not seen anything that the party is prepared to do to move away from its old ways except for those who have now come out to say they are Reform Forum within the party.
And even this Reform Forum people are starting lately, where were they all along and why didn’t they start much earlier?

But why do you think they are doing what they are doing now?
They are doing that now, I suspect, because it is election time and some of them have seen that they do not stand any chance to get a ticket unless they do something about the procedure.

Okay, I would have wished they had started this much earlier then they would have shown consistency.
We started much earlier and this is not the first time that I am complaining (His voice rises).

Yes, it is not the first time.  In fact, people observe that you complain a lot; about virtually everything?
I am still complaining and I will continue to complain about what is not right.
Even in AC I have not stopped complaining.  We have to get these things right.

There appears to be an incongruity in what you’ve been saying a couple of minutes ago.  You are talking about AC.  Are you still in AC or you’re just bidding your time before re-joining the PDP?
(Long laughter)  I am more than in AC.  I have been in AC from 2007 and I am going to remain in AC; I am still the national secretary of AC and I don’t even know even if why anybody would think that I should move to PDP simply because Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has decided to re-join PDP.

PDP appears to be running away with everything and you’re here talking about cleansing AC but the same PDP that has brought about these mess in the polity seems set again to continue along those lines, how can we solve this problem of PDP running away with everything?
You see, for somebody like me, I am not in politics because I want to get office of get something else and if I was I would not have left the PDP in the first instance and if I believe in the fact that might is right, I would have remained in PDP.
But what I am doing and which I expect all Nigerians of conscience to do is that we must come together and work together at the level of the party at the level of business, at the level of professional groups, at the level of civil society organizations, at the level of community-based groups and all that to fight this syndrome of might is right
In any case, I do not believe that PDP will continue in power and I believe in what Edmund Burke said that the only things evil needs to triumph is for good men to keep quiet and do nothing.
PDP is getting away with it and have chosen not to do anything.
They have chosen to just wait, to just talk, complain in the comfort and privacy of their homes or come out and say things and do things that will lead to changes which may cost them something: If they are in business it may cost them, if they are in government they may lose their posts or jobs.
But those who can not come out because they can not make sacrifices should wait till the day the thing comes crashing; it will carry everything that they have accumulated because of that fear of not losing what they cherish.  Anybody who puts his comfort above his liberty and freedom will soon find out that he will lose both liberty and freedom and the comfort itself.  This has happened over and over in history and I am amazed that people are not seeing these things for what they really are.
People should make a proper and critical cost-benefit analysis.  Even those nice successful business executives who have all the nice things including their children studying abroad and who have chosen not to do anything, they will find out that all these are temporary comfort because what we are fighting against now or what is happening in the country now and which they are just watching from the comfort of their homes will eventually crash that business of theirs and it can throw the country into turmoil and they can lose everything, in fact, more things than they are prepared to sacrifice.
I think people need to get it very clear.

Correct me if I’m wrong:  They way the AC operates in the South West is not different from the way PDP operates generally, a situation where an individual decides for the entire zone but the tragedy of that is that Nigeria looks up to South West as agent of change.  How do you relate to this because it is instructive and the excuse people give to accommodate this charade is that progressivism is it, they fought against Obasanjo’s marauding PDP team, that they fought against the status quo and that they have done so much and would, therefore, singularly vet whoever wants political office in the zone on the platform of AC?  And you will agree that all I have outlined negate that internal democracy you are talking about?
In the first place, I can not defend the situation in the South West. It will be best for you to get them to explain.
What I can tell you and what I can assure you of is that since I came in, the actions we have taken is with a view to putting the party on a better footing employing democratic principles and I have gotten all the cooperation that I require from these same people that may not have met the standards that you referred to.
My hope is that whatever may have bee done in the past, when we come to do them this time, we are not going to allow it, for me.

Although I do not know for how long I am going to remain the national secretary because we are going into mergers and alliances and some other things and the talks are still on for now. But wherever I find myself, whether in the party or outside doing whatever, I can assure you that we will continue as members of the party to ensure that the highest democratic standards that are meant to be attained for the good of all will be attained.  For me, politics is not about getting a ticket and win election.  Politics is about having a system that can eventually deliver good government.  A party that can not follow its own constitution can not abide by its own procedures can not respect the rule of law can not deliver on good governance.  A party that breaches its own constitution, its own rule and is selective about whatever they want to do will do the same when they get into government and that is exactly what the PDP is doing.  No respect for rules and processes; they do things in breach of their constitution; they just do things brazenly and with impunity.

My own role and the role of some who have come into politics is to see in what way we can change.  It may take us longer because some people may say we are crazy and how can we ever stand up against PDP but we have read history and we know it can be done and it shall be done.

You’re right with all that you have said, including the Lagos example but when you look at the process that threw Fashola up, the transformation that he’s making, won’t you agree with what I would want to describe as guided democracy, where we can allow the type of Lagos example to pass because with due respects to most of those who wanted to contest the primaries in AC in 2007 for the Lagos governorship, I dare say none of them may have delivered as Fashola is doing?

Honestly I don’t buy that idea.  I don’t

But some of your people are making that point and they use it as excuse?
No!  You can have a case like this but I don’t think we should buy that idea at the expense of ignoring the rules of the game because you see sustainability is the order of the day and such a thing can not stand because when we begin to use one-offs, two-offs, three-offs as justification for such things, then we are not ready to accept rules and procedures because in the long run, it is the political culture that you build for a nation that lasts the test of time.

This is why societies with established democracies for longer, you have minimum expectations, whoever is there.  You do not have a situation where you move from the best to the worst or vice versa because there are certain basics that must be followed and which are universally accepted.

Back to Atiku Abubakar’s issue:  The curious thing Nigerians would want to know is why is Atiku back in PDP and what are you still doing in AC – people see him as you political mentor, you worked with him as Adviser when he was Vice President and some even insist and say your fight against Obasanjo was all about Atiku.  Why are you in AC and he, in PDP?

READ THE RESPONSE TO THIS QUESTION AND MANY MORE (ON HOW OBASANJO BEGAN TO DERAIL AND WHY NIGERIA IS IN TROUBLE) NEXT WEEK.

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