By EMEKA MAMAH
Controversy has continued to trail last Tuesday’s communiqué of the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, after its meeting in Kaduna.
The meeting had discussed the contentious issue of power shift after which the ACF said it rejected the emergence of President Goodluck Jonathan as the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, presidential candidate. But, in this interview, a former Secretary of the ACF Politics Committee, Alhaji Mohammed Abdulrahman, says the ACF has no power to regulate the conduct and decisions of political parties.
What really transpired during your meeting of last Tuesday and why are there divergent views on the communiqué?
I do believe that the pressure of the communiqué that came out from our meeting in ACF was uncalled for and it is unacceptable and non-representative of the objective, attitude, character and aspirations of ACF members generally. When you say ACF members, you are talking about the 19 northern states.
Representation is an element of goodwill. You must allow the quality of your representation to meet the expectations of the people you represent. You cannot use your representation to usurp the will, intention and desires of people to serve narrow or private agenda. So, if you talk of ACF, we are talking about a population of about 70 million Nigerians. But when you see the weight and the capacity and quality of contribution into political process coming from a narrow section, you will get to know it.
To sustain the elements that keep Nigeria together and reduce the pressure on the political process, you will agree with me that the situation we are facing today has never been witnessed in Nigeria before. The desperation of politicians; the excesses of politicians and the share bravado of people who are not directly connected with the political process that are making utterances which are likely to heat up the polity about ten times more than we can sustain in the journey towards electing a new leader for Nigeria.
Every political process must allow an opportunity for accommodation and negotiation and nobody who is a constituent of the political playfield must be forced to a position of disadvantage to make him look inadequate in a political process.
We must call all the numbers and we must make sure they are right. Putting the records straight, it was an issue about reactions from different individuals who participated or observed the primaries in the parties. ACF is an umbrella body of northerners made up of members of different political parties and members who are not even in any political party. So, as an umbrella body, we have no power to regulate political activities in the north. We can only observe it and pass comment.
If we can’t do that in the north where there are many political parties, you can’t regulate that of Nigeria. The affairs of party primaries, their conduct of affairs and events and participation are purely political party issues. ACF is not a political party. It is a political institution, but non-partisan.
So, ACF, by its constituent, cannot reject or accept any party primary. We are not qualified to do that and we are not allowed because it is illegal. If the ACF begins to show signs of being a political party, then I think it is more honorable to understand that we must be exempted from the position we are trying to arrogate to ourselves. We are a socio-political regional group like Afenifere and Ohaneze.
Their posturing has not gone even close to the big masquerade we are trying to put on the street which we have lost control of its direction. So, what I am saying is that we are not a political party and if anybody wants to play politics with the situation in Nigeria, he should go and join a political party and not the ACF. I understand that the parties have a right as they are constituted to do what they like.
If they do not have internal democracy, the civil societies can observe that and frown at it and individual members of the ACF can also do that. But that is not our communiqué. An individual can voice his opinion about what he has seen, but that is not our communiqué. Everybody is free to say what he saw, but we are guided by our constitution which says we are non-partisan political institution that has no right to subordinate the political process of any party to our whims.
So, what is going on at the moment is like putting severe pressure on political parties. We do not have the credentials to do that and, as observers and not regulators of the political parties, we cannot subordinate their acts and we cannot ask them to be answerable in their affairs to ACF.
I am doing this to call ACF attention to the fact that we are toeing the path of anarchy. We have all witnessed hate messages from bishops, mallams and others on the political process. ACF should be seen to be deflating this pressure and allowing some sanity in the issue of free choice which is democracy to prevail in Nigeria.
Ohaneze will not come and want to regulate the affairs of the PDP neither will Afenifere want to do that. It will be wrong for anybody in ACF to believe that we can accept or reject any primary because most of these parties are made up Nigerians and not northerners alone. For God’s sake, how can a northern socio_political institution want to regulate what is made up of all Nigerians? To me, it is taking things too far.
ACF cannot utter a public indictment on an organized political entity that is seeking to put in representation in the political process in order to participate actively in our national elections. We do not have the responsibility because the affairs of political parties are the affairs of Nigerians. We need to move away from what we have already over flogged. The issue of zoning almost tore Nigeria apart. I see it as the manipulation by those people who don’t understand the political process.
Do not be surprised that most of the people who are involved in this desperation are people who cannot go back home to their constituencies and ask to be given their own peoples representation. They are people who do not have anything to lose in the anarchy they are trying to plant for Nigeria. When they try to corner the president and put him in a position of disadvantage in his acts and conduct in running Nigeria, it smells of corruption because everybody is free to see the president.
We cannot create any social noise to make him feel bad because the same ACF visited the president just before our AGM. So, I do not see how an institution or a group will be insisting that the president has to consult them. That is political corruption which could derail the direction of our politics. I strongly believe that Afenifere and Ohaneze do not come out to feed Nigerians with personal opinions that their members give on the floor.
We must filter what goes on there and put Nigeria first and not to break Nigeria; but to ensure that the collective enjoy comfort and accommodation in the political journey towards 2011 presidential election. The population of ACF does not claim to have all the answers to the political process because, like I have said, the quality of representation must protect the aspiration of all individuals that make up the northern region which is the 19 northern states.
There is no act that has shown that they are conscious of that leverage and they cannot put views that will embarrass the Nigeria collective. That is why I strongly believe that there is some faulty dynamics in stating the percentage of our adequacy to our northern cause. I have always thought that if we are going to overflog anything, it should be our losses and inadequacies in the north that we should be presenting to the political situation as why we are concerned.
Our farms are dried, our children are not in school, we have so many beggars on the streets, and our infrastructure is low. Those are the things to peddle in a political process. So, we must proceed with caution to make sure that the political process and the journey does not damage the playfield as we move along.
The ACF is saying that Jonathan should respect the zoning agreement which also has a little backing in the 1999 Constitution. They are also saying that Jonathan was a beneficiary of the same arrangement he is now pushing to the background?
How did Jonathan benefit from this arrangement? It is good that we must not assume because, if we assume, you know that everybody should know.
You and the ACF chairman are on the other side of the divide and there are allegations making the round. What do you want from the current arrangement?
Democracy, free choice. When Awolowo was heading the Action Group, there were many northerners who wanted him to be president. He came with a helicopter in 1959 and carried out his campaign. I know that the party’s constitution is subordinate to the Nigerian Constitution.
I know that being president of Nigeria is the civic franchise of Nigerians and not political party members and we are talking about the position of the president of Nigeria. We should not heat up the polity. If you were unable to educate the electorate or carry them along in the past or be able to allow the process be part of consultation with the people, if, at the end of the day, people are allowing another part to present its points, I sympathize with you because you have not done your home work well.
I believe that in a political process where the actors consult with the people, maybe, we could assume that this is what the people want. In this particular political process, nobody has been carried along. That is why we have almajirai on the streets and our farmland dry.
We say that our population is large, but a hungry population does not know how to cast vote or even register to get a voter’s card. We must work hard for that because we cannot put the cart before the horse. We must relate with our people because we failed to do that in the past and, now, we cannot talk with their voice and insist that is what they want. If they want a northern president, they want it for a clique of people who believe that their vote and grip on the nation is waning.
I believe in equality and that the Nigeria collectively belongs to all of us and I believe in the Nigerian Cconstitution which I subscribe to because I don’t belong to any political party. So, we cannot be subjected to the constitution of a political party that is less than 20 percent of the Nigerian population.
Before a communiqué is issued and circulated, it must have been read to the meeting and adopted. Was this particular communiqué read on that day before it was circulated to the press?
Part of the communiqué was read out. But, unfortunately, we know the character and picture of the politics of the last 12 years and we know that it is not the best that we have on the line. In any case, everybody has told us about their disappointment. But then, let us work out how majority of the north can carry the vote.
If you know that the people that are constituting the population of the north can get voter’s card, they are well read, they are well fed and their interest taken care of, then fall back to the possibility of their voting for you. You do not need to carry it to the stage of confrontation because it is confrontational asking the president to definitely deal with the ACF.
It is an element of a loss of direction and an inadequacy to operate within a political framework that serves the purpose of majority of Nigerians. What I am saying is that the communiqué was put up by seven people and the entire text was not read on the floor.
You know, as a meeting progresses, many things come up and they always say, “let us come up with some points that reflect what has been discussed”. The communiqué did not say that they wanted to remove IBM Haruna and what highly respected Nigerians were saying there that I had to put them in their shoes.
But did members actually reject the outcome of the PDP primary election?
Somebody got up to say so but we have free speech. Somebody said that ACF should reject it and most of us said no. That somebody said it is not in contention. But is it everything that was said there by everybody that formed the communiqué? It should not have been in the communiqué because it was not designed to be there because we are not a political party. You must understand that all actions of ACF must be held up to as what we are about to do.
Individuals cannot just come with mandate from a few people. The communiqué did not actually reflect the views of some of us. Rejecting the primary was the view of one person. It is not everything that was said on the floor that is meant for a communiqué and they should not now use the communiqué to promote their personal views or agenda.
ACF is not a vehicle for that and we will not let the ACF go down the drain. We must protect the ACF and have a body that can stand with other regional groupings. We cannot say that everybody should be in the same party. We must toe the line of being able to sit on a round table with other Nigerians. My concern is to allow everybody participate in the process. PDP issues are PDP issues and when Nigerians are going to vote in an election, it is Nigerians. I am saying that the ACF has allowed itself to be used and they should not be seen as attacking Jonathan because it is a PDP affair and Jonathan is not PDP.
He is only a candidate of the PDP. Facing Jonathan directly is like putting their legs on both sides of the fence and they must be able to identify their aspirations and their representations and they must address it properly and not face the president to say what others are equally opportune to say. They are not in a position to do what they did. If some individuals can arrange themselves and come up with the things we are saying, they should know that others will be able to do theirs. It is a free world.
When you intervene in public issues, understand that the public is not subservient to you. We are a social club that is spending public money because 99 per cent of the money of ACF is donated by state governors.