•Says President Jonathan is acceptable across the country
•Explains the contradictions in the June 12 struggle
This is the second part of the Jonathan Zwingina interview. You would not need to read far to know that he is committed to the Jonathan project. But he also goes down memory lane to explain the contradictions which whittled the initial momentum of the June 12 struggle. On June 12, for instance, Zwingina said: “What then happened was that the military, first and foremost, gave us the impression that if the Abiola team participated in the emerging government, that the June 12 situation would be revisited. We were approached by the emissaries of the government, of the coup plotters or the military government at that time that if Chief MKO Abiola and those leaders working with him participated in their government, that perhaps after six months or at most one year, then there would be a revisitation of the issue of June 12. Eventually after the government was formed, of course the situation changed. Some people saw the participation as a mark of betrayal.
But we participated in government in the interest of actualizing June 12. We actually thought that we had an opportunity to seize and we then agreed to form a group and to bring together a credible group that would assist Abacha in the government. That was how it happened and we all went into the government with the consent of our principal and the deputy, it was not an act of betrayal at all. I wouldn’t describe anyone as betraying MKO Abiola among the political leaders because that decision was taken with his consent. Chief MKO Abiola won over 25percent in 28 states out of 30. The only two states we did not get 25percent of the polls were Rivers and Sokoto, so it was a national victory. However when the annulment came, when the Abacha government came on subsequent to the annulment and Abacha offered the olive branch to Chief MKO Abiola and we picked it and brought all our political elites to join the government in the hope that they would now re-visit June 12, Chief Abiola was left alone”.
By Ben Agande & Gbenga Oke, Abuja
The call for the rescheduling of the general elections to sometimes around April, what does this portend for the polity, positive or negative?
Well, I think it is positive in the sense that INEC really wants to do a good and thorough job in the sense that we have time. It is not as if we don’t have the time, all that is required is to tinker with the relevant provisions of the law, that is the constitution; and as a former lawmaker and a very active member of the parliamentary tradition, what we can do is simply insert a transitional clause in the newly amended constitution to exempt this election from the application of the January electoral calendar. We can say that the effective date for the commencement of the January electoral calendar would be after the next general election.
With the interest generated by all the aspirants in the political sphere and the tendency for divisiveness in the polity, will the extension not create more problems?
I would want to say this with full authority that my observation and contacts show that if there is any one issue of which there is unanimity of opinion regarding what is to be done, it is of a matter of finding a new date for the election. All the opposition parties even the PDP, even the governments are in agreement on this need to get more time for INEC to get fully prepared and ready. So if there is one thing that will not cause divisiveness, it is the need to find more time to do a thorough job.
The party that would have been reluctant to conceive that extension will be the party in government in the sense that they are in office and always prepared not to let the opposition take them by surprise – lets push them to the corner so that we can get easy ride over them.They agreed with INEC and with all other political parties whether in opposition or not who believe that it is better to get more time and do a thorough job than to do a rusty job and end up with more crises. So I think that this will not cause any problem at all because of what I’ve gathered from my own contacts and from my interaction with various leaders.
People have pointed to certain similarities to what is happening now in terms of the intensity of campaign, lobbying and interface with what happened in 1993 when MKO Abiola and Kingibe contested. As a man who was on top of it all and who participated actively in the Abiola campaign and somebody who is actively participating in this Jonathan campaign, what do you find to be common in this scenario?
Well, I do agree that there are common things and one of which is that there are very tough candidates and aspirants in the race, credible, tough and tested persons in the race now like they were during the Abiola days. In the Abiola days, of course you know Chief MKO Abiola in the SDP together with Babagana Kingibe and Atiku Abubakar, Sarah Jubril down the line, we had a situation like that except that now the number in the PDP is not as large as the number then in the SDP. You know SDP had 28 aspirants, today we don’t have that many, although we have more heavyweights but not as many as we had in 1993.
Second, the divisiveness now in terms of the political language is perhaps sharper than in 1993 Don’t forget that in 1993 we were trying to move out of military era, so the language of the political elite was tempered. There was a certain unwritten code of conduct to put our acts together as politicians and get the soldiers out and so there was so much decorum among the political elite. The language of discourse, it only became sharpened and negative when the issue of the dress worn by Chief MKO Abiola came up and when the annulment itself eventually came up. But in June, the language was very cordial and civil and it was designed to keep the military away. Today there is no military to keep away but there is a call for divisiveness which is the issue of zoning, for instance, which we talked extensively about in the last interview – that appears to be what is causing more divisiveness than we had in 1993.
What about the temperament?
I will say that the temperament is virtually similar, the patriotism of the leaders is also similar; I will also say that the relative neutrality of the government up to election is also evident. At that time, up to the day of the election on June 12 and the issue of the annulment, it was seen visibly that the hand of the military president was neutral; it became not neutral after the annulment.Today, it is obvious that the hand of the President is neutral from his appointment, from his announcement, from the government – from its relationship with the opposition obviously there is neutrality in him. So, I think there is a semblance and we hope that neutrality will become a positive influence in our system and that succeeding governments will take the electoral system more seriously enough not to allow anything to tamper with it; and I will commend the government today for that show of neutrality.
From the passion with which you have prosecuted this issue so far, that passion was also evident in 1993 and people have wondered that at what point did you lose interest in the Abiola cause or at what point did you feel that maybe you should reduce the momentum of your drive?
No, I did not lose interest at anytime. I was invited to assist the Abiola campaign and went through the rigours of interview and we were accepted and I prosecuted the campaigns from the primaries and we won. We defeated the former chairman of the party, Ambassador Kingibe, with all the governors behind him. That was a feat that many of us were proud of.
I led the team and we succeeded, there were factors for the success: we had an excellent candidate who as aspirant was sellable, had very good pedigree, very great national and international appeal and therefore if you are managing an aspirant of that gargantuan qualification, your job as a manager will be a lot easier. So we succeeded for the primaries and we proceeded to the general elections and we prosecuted it and we equally succeeded. What then happened was that the military first and foremost gave us the impression that if the Abiola team participated in the emerging government, that the June 12 situation would be revisited. We were approached by the emissaries of the government, of the coup plotters or the military government at that time that if Chief MKO Abiola and those leaders working with him participated in their government, that perhaps after 6months or at most one year, then there would be a revisitation of the issue of June 12.
I am aware that some of the leaders who didn’t want to take part in the government were appealed to by us led by our leader and the argument was that if you don’t join the government, who will speak for us when June 12 will be revisited. That was a very passionate and persuasive argument and most of them agreed on account of that.
Eventually, after the government was formed, of course the situation changed. Some people saw the participation as a mark of betrayal. But we participated in government in the interest of actualizing June 12. We actually thought that we had an opportunity to seize and we then agreed to form a group and to bring together a credible group that would assist Abacha in the government.
That was how it happened and we all went into the government with the consent of our principal and the deputy. It was not an act of betrayal at all. I always feel sad when some sections of the media who were very tangential to the campaign or don’t really know the depth of involvement and the extent of what happened at that time describe all those political leaders as betraying Chief Abiola. No, I was the campaign
manager and I took minutes of that meeting, it was a decision of that meeting that we should look for ways of actualizating June 12; that this was a chance, let us take this offer and let all these leaders who will actualize this process when government is formed. That is what we did, the fact that there was betrayal from the military, the fact that it may have been pre-meditated or it may have been a betrayal formed by circumstances but a betrayal there was and all of us became victims. I really feel that some sections of the media will need to go back to history to be able to get the truth of these circumstances that happened that time. I wouldn’t describe anyone as betraying MKO Abiola among the political leaders because that decision was taken with his consent.
What started as a national struggle soon degenerated into a South West struggle thus making people from other parts of the country lose interest and people who did not support him now hijacked the struggle. At what point did the degeneration start?
You have asked a very good question which I haven’t heard for years because some don’t even ask that question, they just assume. What happened was that the political elite that brought Chief Abiola victory was made up of national elite from all the states and Chief MKO Abiola won over 25percent in 28 states out of 30. The only two states we did not get 25percent of the polls were Rivers and Sokoto, so it was a national victory.
However when the annulment came, when the Abacha government came on subsequent to the annulment and Abacha offered olive branch to Chief MKO Abiola and we picked it and brought all our political elite to join the government in the hope that they would now re-visit June 12, Chief Abiola was left alone. I was part of that arrangement but left for Yola to become the Commissioner for Health, and later Water Resources.
A lot of the political leaders left, so obviously he was left at the mercy of the Lagos press, the Lagos NGOs, civil society organizations, non political handlers and they wrote his speeches; they became militant. Some of those who did not like the election and who opposed us in the campaign, they found the good opportunity to be relevant and Abiola being a very generous person, that was what attracted a number of people to him but the point I can make as the manager of the campaign was that the politically sophisticated elite who could have managed the political struggle of that time had left to join government and so he was virtually left alone.
The struggle was hijacked, as you used the word correctly, by non political forces. They had good intentions, they were sympathetic, they were national and patriotic but they were not political elite and so the rules of political contacts were alien to them. Most of the rules available to those who were left with Chief MKO Abiola were union politics, agitation, militancy, short term application and the national direction was actually lost and some of the militant elements among the South West also found relevance in the MKO campaign and then they started using the language of attack and condemnation on other leaders of various parts of the country and those leaders felt uncomfortable being attacked after they had brought the victory.
So they began to withdraw in the interest of their reputation, integrity because there were young elements in the Abiola compound and they were physically attacking people and calling them traitors; something that MKO Abiola would never have done. So that was why it shrank to a level where obviously those of us who knew how popular Bashorun was were not happy about it.
President Jonathan’s campaign team seems to have an overwhelming popularity at the national level in a disturbing language that suggests that may be we are in a wrong place because we are from certain part of the country. For you who have the benefit of this kind of situation in the past, what are you doing to calm down this language that supporters from the South South seem to be championing?
Well, yes you have observed quite correctly that one language is really a bit harsh or being direct but I don’t think it is the language of attack. It’s simply a language that says look other people went ‘through this road, why are you complaining when our son is going this road?
Yes, it is a simple question, is it because he’s from where we come from and so many questions like that but I want you to note that in the last two to three months, that language has completely subsided and I don’t think that the kind of language that shrank the Abiola popularity is anywhere near the Goodluck campaign at all.
If there is anything, the Goodluck campaign is becoming wider in terms of popularity, goodwill and acceptability with elements and elite all over the country. If you look at the Eagle Square and the elite who were there and the leaders, there were more Northern political leaders at the Goodluck campaign. There were no such leaders at any other person’s outing. At least we have had some two or three outings to compare. He gathered more political leaders from the North than any other person which actually in my
view gives the impression that really there is no truth in the claim that he is not a popular ticket in the North.
He is a popular ticket in the North and it is a popular ticket all over the country and the element that are uncomfortable with him are very few. As I have said severally Jonathan is popular across the country and I gave reasons. President Goodluck is just barely four months and he has not accumulated
any debris or any dirt to count against him. If you want to attack Goodluck, you look at the record, it is not long enough to attack him and he has not done anything abrasive.
He is a very cautious and careful person, so he has not done anything wrong and he has not used any rough language and has not done anything out of the ordinary to generate resentment. So he is relatively a very clean president. How do you attack such a person? He looks absolutely clean and if you look at leaders like that all over the world, such leaders attract support, get the benefit of the doubt and Goodluck is in the hey days of his honeymoon and you can never defeat a candidate like that.
You were in the National Assembly when it was very interesting. What are the fond memories that you have of those times?
I have so many memories of the National Assembly. I enjoyed the debate, I enjoyed the camaraderie of some of my friends, I enjoyed the committee of which I served and above all, I enjoyed my job as Chairman, Senate Committee on Information as well as deputy senate leader.
The National Assembly is a place to make friends, a place to laugh, a place to know Nigeria as Nigeria rather than your state. Of course you are brought by your state, indeed by your senatorial zone, but when you come to Abuja, you meet people everyday and from across the country. In the National Assembly, you will be compelled by the circumstances of the environment to be national in your outlook, to be accommodating in terms of personal life as well as to relate with people that are not from your area. I think the National Assembly and the senate in particular is an experience that I don’t think that anybody can really forget.
During your days in the National Assembly, there were so many alleged interferences by President Olusegun Obasanjo. To what extent did that affect what the National Assembly would have achieved and how did those alleged interferences affect the choice of leadership from Evans Enwerem, to Okadigbo and beyond?
Well, I agree with you that the manner and temperament and style of President Obasanjo had an impact but he didn’t take away from the national leadership because no matter what it was, whatever the former President threw at the National Assembly, it gingered the National Assembly to come together in order to resist that onslaught and in order to be able to put good answers to the question and do not forget that we were dealing with a President who has the military way of doing things, so we had to come together to check that.
But I do agree that he did affect us in terms of the divisiveness especially of the senate and I have said what caused the problem in the Senate did not start with the Senate, it started with the Executive, it started from day one.
The Executive became split, the President and his vice became split on the issue of who would become the first Senate President. That split in the Executive permeated the Senate and to some extent, the National Assembly. So, there were divisions in the Senate, that actually introduced the root of division in the Executive branch and, of course, the President being the premier, the principal took the upper hand in the processes and it affected the various leadership in the Senate, it affected changes in the Senate leadership where once the President was uncomfortable with the leadership of the Senate, he took some major steps that would cause discomfort or even removal of the Senate President.
But I can say with certainty that most of the Senate Presidents that were changed were changed not exclusively because of the hostility of the Executive but also because of certain problems within the National Assembly. Unless there is a crack in the wall, a lizard cannot enter. So that is really how I look at it not that President Obasanjo was solely responsible. There is no way he could change the leadership unless there were some things internal that created that decision and I can give you two examples.
Please give us
President Obasanjo wanted to remove Senator Anyim but he couldn’t because the Senate stood behind Senator Anyim up till the end. President Obasanjo also wanted to remove Senator Ken Nnamani but he couldn’t because the Senate stood behind him. So those that lost offices lost them largely on account of certain internal conduct or internal activities that compounded the onslaught of the President and made the defence weak to a point where the interest of the President in dividing the National Assembly, the Senate in particular, prevailed unfortunately.
But what really happened to Chuba Okadigbo as Senate President then?
Well, that question requires a seminar but the summary is that the differences between Chuba Okadigbo and Obasanjo started during the campaign for the President. They didn’t start in the Senate, they started right before the campaign. Chuba Okadigbo hailed from Anambra State and Dr Alex Ekwueme one of the Presidential aspirants is also from Anambra State. Obviously being a realistic politician, Chuba Okadigbo wanted to be seen at home as someone who helped a leader from home and Obasanjo wasn’t happy with that because he expected that Chuba being from the political family that Obasanjo adopted, he would have supported him. So that was where the differences started and these differences moved with them right to when they both got to government, one was President and the other as Senator. Do not also forget that Chuba was a very brilliant Senator and sometimes intimidating with his superlative language and very intelligent in the way he approached debates.
People like Obasanjo were uncomfortable with such people, so that discomfort tended to create brushes between them once in a while but I think it is a period that scholars have written articles, journalists have written some things and you are likely to find most of these details in my forthcoming book. There you will find some of the things I feel affected Chuba Okadigbo’s presidency and created the end that came out of it.
Talking about the home front, you started with former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar but at what point did the two of you go your different ways?
That is a good question. If you remember during our last interview I told you that all my decisions are governed by analysis. I have gone to school not to ignore what I learnt in school. I went to the University even to become a Professor of political science who I am now because I take the instrument of the power of analytical capacity for analytical objectivity and is actually very helpful in life. When I analyzed the political spectrum and how President Goodluck Jonathan who, in my view, has a better approach to the growth of the nation and the better approach to the time, I approached my friend and leader and told him that I think this time around this is where the road will lead me and I think we can go that way for now and he said he would think about it and I believe he thought about it differently and he said that look, the best way to go is not that way but he chose the different way to go and we all agreed that okay, I can go this way while he goes that way.
There is no quarrel at all because we are very friendly, we talk as mature leaders and that has never become a problem just like at a time in his career that he said he was not wanted in the PDP because of Obasanjo, he left for Action Congress and I did not go with him. I stayed in the PDP and we remained good friends and I respect him as my leader. He is my friend, my leader that has intervened very positively in my life but he doesn’t prevent us from reaching objectives befitting and taking decisions that may not be completely united. There are no two independent minds that will not one day disagree for politics or principles. The disagreement is not out of disharmony, it is based on different calculations and we have not been traumatized by those disagreements at least.
Some people now see you and former President Olusegun Obasanjo as being in the same boat now for Goodluck Jonathan?
We are not in the same boat because I have never seen him in the campaign office, he doesn’t come there to say anything and let me tell you, if I want President Jonathan to win, I will be very happy for everybody to support him including former President Olusegun Obasanjo, I have no problem because politics is not about disliking people and even Obasanjo. I respect in some areas and I have always said despite quality differences I might have had with him or grudges I may have had with him, President Obasanjo was the one who lifted Nigeria very tall in terms of foreign relations.
Throughout the history of Nigeria, there was no president who lifted this nation to the height where we were during President Olusegun Obasanjo. Whether you like him or not, you concede that to him. No president generated economic policies that brought us so much resources, whether they were spent wisely or not is a different matter, but no one had the kind of influx of resources like Obasanjo did. So that was something that happened in his time, there are a number of positive things one can trace to him, just as there were a number of negative things one can trace to him, so I will not deny his vote for President Jonathan because I have disagreement with him, no. There are many people you may disagree with but you agree on some issues.
Then will you say that former President Obasanjo being behind President Jonathan is an asset or a liability?
Both! He is an asset because there are some people that out of respect for Obasanjo, they will support Jonathan no matter how negative Obasanjo maybe portrayed, there are people who respect him and who will support Goodluck Jonathan. So that is an asset. There are people who will because of Obasanjo run away.
So that is the liability part of it. Which one is better? Only time will tell but I can assure you that no President or any aspirant or candidate looking for votes will say I don’t want this man’s vote or I want the other mans vote, every aspirant wants all the votes including prisoners’ vote
because if you want to win as long as your party gives you ticket, you need their votes. To vote for somebody and to influence the government are two different things, it doesn’t follow that if Obasanjo supports Jonathan, he is going to help him run government. No, President Goodluck has his mind, he is a thorough scholar and he debates issues based on objective facts and he is not somebody that takes a position based on somebody who just said it. No, he analyzes and weighs things. I work very closely with him and I can testify to the brilliance and approach to issues and you have to convince him before you get his approval on anything.
Do you see the attempt by some Northern presidential aspirants to form a common front against President Goodluck Jonathan a threat to his ambition?
No, I don’t see it as a threat at all. I just see it as an impossible experiment because throughout the history of this country, the one that I have participated actively in, I have not known one case where leaders come together and some people step down voluntarily. Nigeria suffers from an egocentric plague, people have high impressions of themselves and nobody is willing to devalue themselves in a political market. I do not see any of those leaders that will willingly take a secondary position and say okay, I am less than this person, let the other person go. You wait and see, you will see that they will not agree.
I wish they could agree, it will make the election debate vibrant, it will make the discussions good and we will have a clean opposition to contend with and happily defeat them but unfortunately they will not agree and I think if you want to see whether I am right or wrong, all I will say is that you should be patient, time will tell.