By Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor,
For Iyorchia Ayu, Third Republic Senate President, what was thought to be impossible has become possible – without a backlash.
For Sunday Vanguard, it became imperative to get either Ayu, who signed all the statements of the Northern Political Leaders Forum, NPLF, or Mallam Adamu Ciroma, the incrementally indefatigable chairman of the Committee of Nine which produced the Consensus Candidate of the Forum.
Mind you, both men had been featured in the Sunday Interview segment of the publication.
But with the expected announcement of the Consensus Committee of the NPLF, Sunday Vanguard was determined to get either of these two men. We got one. Ayu!
In this interview, this politician who served as a thorn in the flesh of the military administration of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida in the wake of the June 12, Presidential Election annulment crisis, Sunday Vanguard was treated to the importance of the success of the consensus option adopted by the NPLF.
According to Ayu, it was and remains about agreements reached and breached: “I will still maintain that, the North really had never been a monolith, whether in the 1950s, 1960’s, 1970’s all the way to the present, the North has never been a monolith.
There are other shades of opinions in the North. Different political parties were also formed in the North. So, this issue of the North coming together as just a monolith has never been there. That is what people should understand.
The idea of consensus does not in any way mean that there will not be other opinions or expressions of interests by other people. But the dominant thinking within the group that was put together was that for the success of the unity of the country, we in the North supported a southern candidate so that everybody will be seen as being fair to all and that that would enhance the unity of the peoples of this country.
Therefore, the major group that came together felt that way. The movers also felt that in the interest of what is good for all, agreements had to be kept and honoured. It was never about a gang-up against the South. It was also not a gang-up against any individual.
Even if that individual is President Jonathan or any other person, it was never a gang-up. Even if it wasn’t the President and it happened to be somebody else, it was never a gang-up. It was just that we should pursue the spirit that agreements in this country should be respected. Whoever is concerned, we should respect agreements.
Whether the agreement is between North and South or between East and West or anybody, we should cultivate that habit of respecting agreements in this country. Politicians should learn to keep agreements. It is only when politicians begin to keep agreements that we shall be respected. That is the only time when people will respect us as leaders. That will be the only time that we can be respected by the international community as a nation”.
I’m sure that you’re aware that when you set up the Consensus Committee of the Northern Political Leaders Forum, NPLF, headed by Mallam Adamu Ciroma, some people just laughed it off as unworkable?
Yes! I heard that from some quarters.
So, what went through your mind as your read comments and statements from people regarding the non-workability of that agenda?
Well, those remarks were the usual skepticism of people who have seen politicians come together to negotiate.
However, and you will agree, the issues at stake this time were just too serious. It was and is serious, for the country, and particularly for the northern part of the country who felt cheated. It is also serious because a section of the country needed to redeem their image.
So, what I knew all along was that at the end of the day, the committee would come up with a consensus candidate and everybody will respect the choice.
But in some quarters too, some people were disappointed that your likes would be involved in what was described as a gang up arrangement because that was what some people thought was on the table when the Northern Political Leaders Forum decide that it was going to challenge President Goodluck Jonathan?
As I’ve said before and I will still maintain that, the North really had never been a monolith, whether in the 1950s, 1960’s, 1970’s all the way to the present, the North has never been a monolith.
There are other shades of opinions in the North. Different political parties were also formed in the North.
So, this issue of the North coming together as just a monolith has never been there.
That is what people should understand. The idea of consensus does not in any way mean that there will not be other opinions or expressions of interests by other people. But the dominant thinking within the group that was put together was that for the success of the unity of the country, we in the North supported a southern candidate so that everybody will be seen as being fair to all and that would enhance the unity of the peoples of this country.
Therefore, the major group that came together felt that way. The movers also felt that in the interest of what is good for all, agreements had to be kept and honoured.
It was never about a gang-up against the South. It was also not a gang-up against any individual.
Even if that individual is President Jonathan or any other person, it was never a gang-up. Even if it wasn’t the President and it happened to be somebody else, it was never a gang-up.
It was just that we should pursue the spirit that agreements in this country should be respected. Whoever is concerned, we should respect agreements. Whether the agreement is between North and South or between East and West or anybody, we should cultivate that habit of respecting agreements in this country.
Politicians should learn to keep agreements. It is only when politicians begin to keep agreements that we shall be respected. That is the only time when people will respect us as leaders.
That will be the only time that we can be respected by the international community as a nation.
What were the ideas behind it?
It was founded on very strong principles. And it was founded by people of integrity.
These are people who would not trade their self worth for anything.
I’m talking about people like Mallam Adamu Ciroma, M D Yusuf, my humble self, and some of us were foundation members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and we come together, to go into an agreement.
We should learn to abide by agreements. I am very convinced that it will work out. So far so good!
Without prejudice to what some of the supporters of President Jonathan were saying then, some saw in the comments of Mallam Ciroma, the vociferous nature, with due respects to him, some form of irredentism, because it was more like it’s either North or nothing?
I think some people misread Adamu Ciroma’s comments.
Adamu Ciroma is a well trained intellectual, the earlier breed that graduated from the University of Ibadan.
He was a newspaper editor. He chooses his words very carefully. But he is quite passionate about what he believes in. And he will rather lay his life in what he believes in.
And he believes that an injustice was being done.
And he came up quite firmly to defend the position of the group.
It was not his personal position.
But the way…?
(Cuts in) If you’re talking about irredentism, I think people like Papa Clark, who are backing President Jonathan, made comments that were completely unbecoming of elders in this country.
At certain points, Adamu Ciroma even said he will not trade words with people who are older than him.
But he made it clear that he will stick to the issues.
And I believe that he did just that.
I also believe that if anything, Adamu Ciroma has discharged himself very well. He has discharged himself very well as a leader, as an intellectual and as a statesman. And the fact that he has successfully managed the process leading to the emergence of this consensus candidate means that he should be applauded.
He worked very hard.
I think we should give credit to the man because he worked very hard – it is a credit to his intellect and his commitment as an individual and as a Nigerian that he does not want any form of cheating in this country.
He deserves credit.
Now, talking about you, you kept a dignified silence when the story hit town that you were likely going to throw your heart in the ring and also seek the presidency?
And some people read meanings into it?
You read the reports too?
Yes I did!
So, what went down?
We are in a democracy. I am also a team player. I was at a point the spokes person of the group. ManyNigerians know my antecedents. Many Nigerians know my commitment to the truth.
They know my commitment to democracy. Nigerians know my commitment to justice and democracy.
Therefore, at times like that, when Nigerians are in search of good and purposeful leadership, it was inevitable that people will search around.
And your name came up?
The consistent mention of my name for the office of president was part of the search process.
It is true that a large number of Nigerians, including the media, pressurized me to join the race, but I worked with a team and as a team player and I looked at my relationship with the others who are in the race, and I decided to maintain what you call a dignified silence.
I have always maintained that we should be leaders who should be able to serve Nigeria in different capacities and not necessarily everybody wanting to be president at the same time.
That is not to say that given the opportunity to serve as president, I will not serve Nigeria.
But I think everybody has his time.
But I’m also sure that you would not have been unaware of some comments on the side, which tended to suggest that maybe there is a crack in the Northern Political Leaders Forum that’s why we see the name of an Ayu just springing up suddenly?
We could have had 20 candidates and we could still have managed them the way we managed the four.
So, my springing up would have still been within the spirit of democracy and letting a thousand flowers bloom and if in the process of blooming I had been selected, all the others would have rallied support for me.
They would have rallied round me.
If I had joined the race and Atiku emerged as he has, all of us would have rallied round Atiku as the other three are rallying round Atiku.
So, it’s not so much about an individual.
It is so much about the cause we are fighting and whoever emerges would be the arrow head and whoever was chosen couldn’t have been important.
The confidentiality of the Consensus Committee was such that has never been witnessed in this country before and nobody believed it was possible or workable and most of what was being reported did not reflect what was going on in the committee?
How was the committee able to engender that level of confidentiality?
It was so simple.
We selected people who respect themselves.
People who are not flippant.
People who could not be bought. And, therefore, the members of the committee are people of integrity.
And these are people who are not publicity seekers and most of them are elders.
These are people who have served Nigeria very well and their track record speaks for itself.
They simply did their job and at the end of the day, they delivered.
I must say, for somebody like me who have worked in the media before, I think the media should do more investigation, investigate their stories more.
Now, the committee has announced the consensus candidate, what is the next step for the Northern Political Leaders Forum?
The next step is to rally round the candidate. We have to sell the candidate to the people of Nigeria. One thing that people must understand is that the candidate is not just the candidate of the North, he is the candidate of the Nigerian people.
He’s a Nigerian candidate and he’ll be elected by the Nigerian people as the Nigerian president so it goes beyond the North or what we are doing in the North. He’s for the whole country.
So, what we’re doing is for Nigeria.
We will present him, firstly to the people of Nigeria who would be the delegates of the PDP at the presidential primaries.
We hope they will nominate him to bear the flag of the PDP.
The other step is the general elections.
We believe that Nigerians across all shades will see the democratic credentials that he has and we believe that they will understand that that is what Nigeria needs at a time like this – democracy.
We want to have the dynamic political leadership that Nigeria deserves to put this country back on the track of development, stability and progress that has been lacking.
We also believe that it will lead to the respect of the international community because democracy is the issue in the world today.
Before you get there, how is the committee contending with the three other candidates whom some Nigerians had vowed would never support a single consensus choice?
What’s the spirit? The spirit is high and excellent.
They’ve pledged their support.
They’ve also written and signed an earlier document before the announcement that anyone of them selected, they will rally round him.
They have all come out to pledge their support for Atiku Abubakar.
All the campaign structures will collapsed into one.
All of them and all of us will be actively involved in canvassing for votes for our candidate everywhere and we’ll be actively involved in mobilizing for him.
The spirit is absolutely excellent.
But the political party monitoring department of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has come out to say that any arrangement of consensus that doesn’t take cognizance of the delegates would be frowned at?
That was seen by many as a backhanded reference to the consensus candidate of the Northern Political Leaders Forum?
I don’t even know what they were referring to and I didn’t even read the statement.
To the best of my knowledge, people within a political party are free to come together, back one candidate and present him to delegates who will then carry out the democratic process.
We are still going to have other PDP candidates and the delegates will vote, supervised by INEC, and the results will be announced.
Then the candidate of the party will emerge and once that person emerges, the entire party will rally round the candidate.
We pray and hope that it will be Atiku Abubakar.
Don’t you see yourself – I mean the Northern Political Leaders Forum – facing an uphill task in confronting a president who seems to have the goodwill?
As for the incumbent, we expect to have a free and fair presidential contest in the party and nothing less.
It is expected that he will allow free and fair primaries to prevail.
That is the only thing that can keep the party together.
In a free and fair election, we also believe that our own past experience, collective experience, in fighting for elections will prevail over an incumbent who has little experience in such fights.
So, we believe we have an advantage over the incumbent.
You know your political party, the PDP and its ways of conducting its affairs?
The PDP you referred to is the PDP distorted by Obasanjo, the PDP where it was do or die and anything went and where there was no democratic process.
It was a time when INEC and the security agencies virtually became part of Obasanjo’s agenda. We believe that this time around there will be free and fair elections
But in your party, President Jonathan is the incumbent?
It doesn’t matter.
The party will not work as during Obasanjo.
People should not forget that in 1999 and 2007, there was proper party apparatus, elections were held and somebody won.
We still have that machinery.