By Taiye Obateru
Former Minister of Industries and Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Kenya, Sir Fidelis Tapgun was governor of old Plateau State (inclusive of present Nasarawa State) in 1992. He has declared his intention to contest the governorship ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, for next year’s election, a move that is raising dusts in some quarters. He spoke to Vanguard on this and other issues. Excerpts:
Your posters are all over the place and many have been wondering if it is true that you are interested in vying for the governorship ticket of the PDP?
Of course, it is true. I am in the race and I do not see why my being in the race should raise eyebrows. This is politics and politics is about service to the people. I feel I have something to offer and that is why I am offering myself.
You governed the old Plateau State in 1992 under the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida transition programme and people are saying, what do you want again?
Like I said, this is politics. We are playing politics and I am in the game. People should accept that fact. The question of why are you interested again should not arise. Politics is politics. Let’s leave it at that for now.
You have been accused of selling off Plateau State property during your brief tenure as governor of the state. Specifically, people refer to the sale of Barc Farms, a subsidiary of Jos International Breweries (JIB) and some of its other subsidiaries. What is your reaction to this allegation?
I have also heard the allegation and despite repeated attempts to clarify the matter, some people have refused to let the matter rest. It is unfortunate that some of these people are well educated and enlightened and ought to know better, but for reasons best known to them, they have refused to let the matter rest.
JIB is a limited liability company and the history is there for anyone to access. Plateau State Government has never had controlling shares of the company of which Barc Farms was a subsidiary. So it was impossible for me as the governor or the government I headed to have sold something in which we did not have controlling shares.
JIB went public when it was running short of funds and sold shares to the public, I remember buying about 200,000 shares then. That was in 1991. So as I said, it is a limited liability company quoted on the stock exchange and Plateau State Government has just 20 per cent holding in it while all the local government areas of the state jointly own six per cent. So in all, Plateau State Government and the local governments jointly own 26 per cent.
That is clearly not a controlling holding for the Plateau State Government to take any unilateral decision concerning the company. It is therefore mischievous to accuse me of selling off Barc Farms or any property of Plateau State.
Let me put the records straight again. Barc Farms was a hundred per cent subsidiary of JIB and when it went public, it decided to sell off some of its subsidiaries that were not running profitably. So the board of the company decided to sell off 90 percent of its holding in Barc Farms and retained just 10 per cent.
Quix, a soft drink company and some landed property in Yola and Jos were also sold off to enable JIB, the mother company which was also running at a loss to get money to operate profitably. So it was a survival strategy decided by the board of the company and the records are there, so people must accept the truth and stop peddling falsehood.
Plateau State has been embroiled in crisis for some years now and people are saying for PDP to justify its hold on the state, it must find a way of restoring peace. What do you think needs to be done to solve the problem once and for all?
I happen to be a member of the Advisory Committee headed by Chief Solomon Lar which was set up by the Federal Government. Since we are awaiting government’s actions on our recommendations, I would not want to go into details. But all I can say it we have done a lot of work and out recommendations will go a long way in addressing issues. Remember PDP also controls the centre and is equally interested in restoring peace in Plateau State as a responsible party. We have made a lot of recommendations and I am sure the Federal Government would in their wisdom look at what is appropriate and take a decision on them.
The issue of having a free and fair election is dominating talks in political circles. Although President Goodluck Jonathan has repeatedly given assurances in this regard, skeptics doubt his sincerity, one because he is a contestant and two because of other bottlenecks yet to be properly addressed. Do you think we can have a credible election next year?
I think we are capable of having credible elections in this country and I am optimistic that the next election would be an example. I also think we should take the president by his promise to ensure a free and fair election. I don’t know why people are saying that this cannot be because he is contesting.
Yes, he appointed Professor (Attahiru) Jega as INEC Chairman but he has given him free hands. In any case the Prof. is not someone you can push around. So it is possible to have credible elections and I think it us the politicians who should cooperate to make this possible because a lot of times, it us that create the problem. But I am optimistic that with everything they are putting in place now the election is going to be free and fair.
PDP is in crisis in many states, Plateau inclusive and this has become a recurring decimal over the years. Why is it difficult for the party to be cohesive when it boasts of being the largest party in Africa?
I think the major problem is the excessive hold of governors on the party in states. You see, the governors control the party structures in their states and that is why we continue to say the party has to go back to his original founding principles because of the excessive influence of the governors over the party.
I was a member of the reconciliation committee set up after the 2007 election by the national body which was headed by former Vice President Alex Ekwueme. What we saw all over the country was that the governors had too much grip on the party in the states and they run them as they want. That is why you have crises in virtually every chapter of the party in the states.
The governors want to control the party and that is not what the spirit of the PDP is. The spirit of the PDP is that the people should control the party. But a governor reasons that if he controls the executive of the party, it will help bring him back to power so they hold tenaciously to the control of the party structure. I believe the party needs to do something about this to reduce the crises in the state chapters of the party.
Talking about crises, the Plateau PDP is also factionalized and we have what has been tagged ‘PDP1’ and ‘PDP 2’. Your group is alleged to be united against Governor Jang. What is the problem?
It has to do with the governor himself and some of the things I am telling you now were issues we raised with him at the initial time. I was with him (Jang) during the election. I was his campaign director because Obansanjo asked me to lead his campaign here. After he won the election, party congresses were held but there were a lot of complaints.
Everybody complained, I was an eye_witness to it and I advised him on what to do. I said look, this is politics, people are
complaining and you knew this thing was not properly done why don’t you call everyone to a round table, sit with them and harmonize things so that you can carry everyone along but he refused and that is why we have the crisis. I warned him at that time, I said look, if you don’t do this thing there will be crisis at the end of the day; you will have problems on your hands because everybody wants to be relevant and the political party is the level people think they should be relevant.
I said if you deny them this you will have problems in your hands and with time, it developed and when it came up, I told him, you see what I told you.
There was also the crisis that trailed the governorship primaries which Jang won. There were issues and the national leadership of the party tried to bring the various camps together in the interest of the party. At the end, we were all asked to come and be a part of the campaign to make sure that PDP wins the election. But after winning the election, Jang refused to carry all the other
governorship contestants along.
He had made promises to them before the elections that when I win I will carry all of you along and we’ll move together; we’ll decide on what happens in the state together. But as soon as he won and was sworn_in, he turned his back against the state and of course, it will appear that there are certain agenda he wanted to implement without other people. Because from day one there are so many things that has come to light that should not have happened and the initial euphoria at the beginning, that he is an experienced person _ he has been governor in two states _ he is an elderly person and so forth, has long died down.
Your group desires to prevent Governor Jang from getting the ticket of the PDP for a second term, but people are saying that the large number of aspirants from your camp could make this a pipe dream…
I want to assure our supporters that there is nothing to worry about. We are many, yes, but we are very united in what we are doing and all of us know what we want and how to achieve it. That’s the assurance I want to give to our people.