By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Hon. Bawa Bwari was one of the most prominent faces in the National Assembly between 1999 and 2007 having served as the Chief Whip of the House of Representatives in that period. His reputation as the longest serving principal officer in either chamber of the House is unbroken. His adventure in 2007 into the Niger State gubernatorial contest was swallowed up by the intrigues that shadowed the primary contest in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Following that, Bwari became a principal strategist in the internal reform movement within the PDP leading to his suspension at one time from the party. Recently, Bwari defected from the PDP and picked up the membership of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN and is presently bidding for the gubernatorial ticket of the party. He articulated his aspiration, his dreams for Niger, nay Nigeria in this interview with Vanguard.
You recently defected to the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN. What stimulated your action?
Every Nigerian knows what is happening in PDP. We were at the formative stage in 1998. My election to the House of Representatives and position as Chief Whip of the House for eight years gave me the chance to attend all the meetings of the PDP at all levels, including the caucus, NEC, state level and at the ward. We all know the rights and wrongs that were happening in the PDP. In fact, the PDP started derailing when we wanted to elect the chairman. The majority of the PDP members wanted Chief Sunday Awoniyi and to everybody’s surprise Gemade (Engr. Barnabas Gemade) emerged as the winner.
At the convention, I remember there was what was called the unity list and as long as you were not on that list, you were not going to be elected and that was exactly what happened. So, the issue of level playing ground came in and from then on the party has been derailing from the ideals of its founding fathers.
Some of us decided that we had to right these wrongs and in 2007 we formed the G – 21. The G_21 was formed essentially to look at the constitution of the PDP, which we knew was not altered with the approval of the majority of the members. We saw a lot of things that shouldn’t be in that constitution, we looked at them, reviewed them and tried to put pressure on the leadership to amend that constitution especially in the areas where they gave the board of trustees chairman a lot of powers to the extent that the President was supposed to be reporting to him.
He (BOT Chairman) was to oversight the President, the National Assembly leadership and so on. We succeeded in a way that there was a special convention to reduce the powers of the board of trustees chairman and our actions that led to the formation of the Dr. Alex Ekwueme committee which was to review the constitution and reconcile some of the aggrieved members of the PDP.
That report was submitted and as I am talking to you today, not much has been done on that report. If that report had been implemented fully we would not have been in the situation we found ourselves in PDP today. So, a lot of things are not being done well in PDP.
We did not relent and we went ahead to form the Reform Group and you remember that I was one of those suspended as a result of our action. Before we went into what we were doing we were liaising with the National Security Adviser and the presidency and they reasoned with us that we were doing the right thing and they were supportive. But at the end of the day we discovered that the presidency was playing along for some selfish reasons and decided to drop their support.
Was this when late President Umaru Musa Yar‘Adua was taken abroad?
Yes. Jonathan was Acting President and we discovered that there were games going on and suddenly, the support we were getting was withdrawn.
Well, we identified the problems in the PDP and therefore the party needed some kind of reform. With this reform a lot of those who were enjoying the PDP as it was would be affected and most of those who would be affected were the Governors because the Governors decide what happens in the PDP because they have the delegates, they have the Governors Forum.
In the NEC which is the highest decision making body, there is no influential body as the Governors. They decide what happens, at all times and so on. So, with that, if you are going in for election it is only the person that the Governor wants or anoints that gets the ticket because he has the delegates, he directs them mostly because they are either his commissioners or his aides. And in the case of the President he uses his ministers and so on.
What we wanted was a situation where there would be level playing ground. Suddenly, the Governors I think reached an understanding with the President. Meanwhile, our proposal had been endorsed at the caucus level of the party. At the board of trustees it scaled through, but at the NEC where you have the majority of Governors, it did not scale through and that is how that proposal was defeated. They used some technicalities because ordinarily, there is no way a proposal would scale the caucus, scale the BOT and fail at the NEC and the President was there and he did nothing about it.
We hear there was an understanding with the Governors and the President that had to do with 2011 election. So, a lot of us were frustrated at that time and started leaving the PDP. I remember Aminu Bello Masari was quoted as saying that the PDP was irredeemable and that was why he had to leave for CPC.
I remained in PDP but I want to tell you that since I left office in 2007 I think I have been invited for meeting maybe twice at my local government level, nobody has invited me at the zonal level or at the State or for any meeting that has to do with the PDP. For someone who has been in the party for over 12 years and been in the National Assembly for eight years and the Chief Whip for eight years to be left out, the frustration and all that. For a young man like me to be sitting doing nothing and claiming to be PDP and not knowing what is going on at your local government, at your state and not to talk of at the national level. Those who came in after you dictate what happens in the PDP, leaving out those who have the experience to contribute to the development of the party.
So, do you agree with those who claim that Jonathan does not keep his friends?
With what happened I want to believe the insinuation that he doesn’t keep friends, he doesn’t keep promises, his priority is always his interest.
So, what do you see in ACN that you don’t see in PDP?
A lot of things happened during the 2007 elections and if you have been following the court cases you will notice that all the court cases went against the PDP, the only saving grace was that some of these elections were repeated and PDP was able to win back some of the states and that was understandable because they were already in power and it was easy for them to come back to power.
Look at some of the states that PDP has lost, they are states that were supposed to have been won by the AC then. The ACN has gained all those states and that tells you that the AC as it was then was a popular party and would have beaten the PDP in many states. When you look at the states and if you are to pick any two of the performing governors, they are in the ACN, Fashola and Oshiomhole. They are doing very well in their states compared to the PDP states. You know why? They won their elections fairly. The PDP Governors were assisted by the then Chairman of INEC, Iwu. They won their positions as a result of the fact that they were nominated by the ruling party.
The major thing that made me look towards the ACN is that ACN preaches justice and from what I have seen and the caliber of people that are there, there will be justice for all, they will be fair to us unlike the PDP where there is a constitution made by them which is not respected not even by the highest office holder in the party. So, you don’t expect anything good to come out from a party where the Governor preaches rule of law but chooses which law to obey.
You are said to be interested in contesting for the gubernatorial ticket of the ACN. What informed your quest?
I have been encouraged to run for the governorship and because of the zeal and dreams I have for my state, I have no hesitation whatsoever to run for the seat of Governor of Niger State. Niger State was created in 1976 with hope and dreams of the founding fathers, but I want to tell you that those dreams have not been realized. I believe that those dreams are realizable. I want to lead our people to realize those dreams.
What dreams do you have specifically for Niger State?
Niger State as it is today is suffering from lack of development. When the state was created in 1976, water was being distributed in trucks to various houses in drums. With time we were able to overcome that in the state. I want to tell you that the situation in Niger State as per water supply today is like the way it was in 1976. This is unbelievable. If you don’t believe me, go to the state capital and see.
The Niger State capital is more of a rural capital, the hospitals are just there but they are mere consulting clinics. If you look at the situation of our schools today, they are in such a bad state that you will think that there is no governance at all.