A few days after five northern governors, Murtala Nyako, Aliyu Babangida, Sule Lamido, Magartakarda Wamakko and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, visited three former heads of states – Generals Olusegun Obasanjo, Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalam Abubakar – and the Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, over what they termed ‘consultation with stakeholders’, the Presidency took offence. The reason is that the seat of power sees the action of the governors as a stab on the back.
The Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Alhaji Ahmed Gulak, in this interview with Regional Editor, North, Soni Daniel, describes the five governors as opposition agents in the PDP and warns them to stop distracting his boss, President Goodluck Jonathan. Gulak insists that despite the challenges facing the party, all is well with the PDP and that Jonathan would coast home with easy victory, should he decide to run in 2015.
The five governors who visited three former heads of states and the Rivers State governor to find solutions to the problems facing the party and the country should be seen as patriots, as IBB rightly described them.
No! They are not patriotic at all. The action of the four or five governors from the north to say the least is irresponsible because they have abandoned the constitutional mandate, which the people gave them, and are now junketing, seeking undue political relevance and trying to cast aspersions on innocent persons but conferring status on themselves.
They cannot be seen as patriots but people with ulterior motives, trying desperately to hijack the mandate of the party and those of the other organs of the party. Don’t forget that the party did not send them to consult with anybody and it does not even understand what they went to consult about in the first place. The party they are talking about has its internal mechanism to solve its problems; the party has committees and subcommittees for reconciliation.
It has its constitutional organs such as the national caucus, the Board of Trustees, the NEC, which deal with issues affecting the party and its members nationwide. So who sent these people? What did they go there to consult about, for what purpose and in whose interest? Let me tell you that the move of the four or five governors is not about burying PDP but getting at President Goodluck Jonathan.
But they have already failed because the party is above and over them and Nigerians are wiser than they think. Some of them are not even members of PDP and don’t even know how PDP was formed. Governor Wamako of Sokoto for instance, was an ANPP member and was assisted to cross over to PDP in 2007 to stand election. It was a big mistake that the PDP allowed him to do that and we are still trying to recover from the problem this man is causing for PDP. Similarly, Governor Nyako of Adamawa State was never a PDP member before 2007. He was in ANPP managing his farm in Adamawa State, when President Obasanjo magnanimously allowed him to contest under PDP without even going through the primary.
So, what they are doing now is not their fault but that of the party that gave them the platform to contest and win elections. How can somebody like Nyako who just came into the party and was assisted to become governor without going through the primary be talking about democracy and wants Nigerians to see him as a democrat?
Sule Lamido of Jigawa State and Kwankwaso of Kano State were bonafide members of the PDP before 2007. But it is surprising to me that they are joining hands with people who do not know much about the party and trying to cause problem in the land. I find it very surprising that Lamido and Kwankwaso are in the same league with Nyako and Wamakko. The truth of the matter is that the grandstanding of the few governors is not about killing PDP, but about how they can come together and bring down President Goodluck Jonathan for their own selfish interest. What I do also know is that they have already failed.
Their visit to Amaechi was also not necessary because they had nothing to offer in the direction of finding an answer to the crisis in the state. They are part of the problem in the state because they are the people clapping for Amaechi to dance naked in the open. It does not add any value to Rivers State or the country.
I am not saying that they should not make peace moves for the resolution of the Rivers State crisis but I am saying that as party members they should follow proper channels of communication by first coming to the national caucus to table what they want to do and getting the nod of the party to go ahead. They can even write a letter to national caucus for emergency meeting or NEC for emergency meeting so that any issue of interest to them can be tabled and solutions proffered.
Given the avalanche of internal challenges dogging the PDP, do you still believe the party is safe and capable of withstanding the opposition with the registration of the APC?
The PDP as a party is very solid, safe and capable of meeting any challenge because it is the only party on the ground in Nigeria. Even what some people see as problems in the party is nothing but normal disagreement in any setting, where people of various backgrounds converge for a common goal. Some people talk about APC coming to beat PDP and I say it is not possible because the promoters of the so-called APC, are not democrats in the first place and their motives are selfish in all ramifications.
How can you say you are a democrat and you unilaterally handpick your loved ones for national positions? Look at how Mamora was substituted for one of the APC leaders’ wife in the Senate and look at the same time the leader imposed his daughter on traders in Lagos. Is that a democrat if I may ask you – you people continue to refer to him as a democrat and leader of the opposition?
Tinubu is not a democrat and he can never be. So, what we are saying is that if some northern governors are threatening that there is problem and that they will help bury PDP, the truth remains that they are in the minority because we have 19 northern governors and only five cannot speak for the north. They cannot just come out and begin to pose as if they control the north.
How worried is the President about recent troubling events in the party?
No! The President is only unhappy but not worried about recent events in the party and polity. He is not worried about the desperate move by these governors to foment trouble where none really exists, but he is unhappy because he feels that they are supposed to know better and behave as matured party members and leaders in their own right.
Mr. President may be concerned that those who are supposed to be part of the government are unnecessarily trying to overheat the polity because of their selfish interest. The five governors are going all out to do what they are doing because they feel that as second term governors they have nothing to lose by trying to bring other people down.
They are apparently afraid that being in their final term they have nothing more to offer to the people and that Nigerians can never elect them as President or to any higher office in the land. They should wait for their time to come instead of trying to instigate mayhem in the land when there is already a sitting President who has just done two of his mandatory four years.
We sympathise with the five governors because their motive is not altruistic and Nigerians cannot buy into it. We are aware that Sule Lamido wants to be president in PDP and he is pressuring other people to say that Goodluck Jonathan should not have a second term, just like Governor Babangida Aliyu of Niger State came out the other day to say that the North signed an agreement that Goodluck Jonathan should run for one term only. The following day all the newspapers carried it.
And the simple question I asked, which has remained unanswered till date, is where and when was the deal sealed? Who were those present at the signing ceremony? More than six months after no one has come up with any answer, not even the governor who broached the issue. But I want to state that Jonathan has never entered into any agreement with anybody regarding his second term in office. I am saying so because if there was any such agreement whether written or verbal, I, as the Political Adviser to the President, would have been part of the process.
Would you recant your statement if the governors produce the controversial agreement before the next election?
I challenge Governor Aliyu to come out with the agreement; I suspect they are delaying so that they can have time to concoct something in the name of the so-called agreement. They can come with a fake document but Nigerians are wiser than all of them put together. All they are trying to do is to team up with the opposition to weaken President Jonathan ahead of the 2015 election. But they cannot intimidate the President out of the 2015 poll. Our position is that if Jonathan is not going to run in 2015, let it be on his own volition but not on account of the grandstanding of the five governors.
How do you see the President’s chances of winning should he decide to run in 2015?
When we reach the river, we shall cross it.
The President has been accused of stoking the Rivers State crisis. What does he really want from Governor Amaechi?
I as a person will not be surprised to hear that the presidency is stoking the fire that has almost consumed the state. He is the President of Nigeria and everything that happens must have his name attached to it. I am therefore, not surprised over the use of his name in relation to the crisis in the state. Today even if somebody fights his wife, they would still blame it on Mr. President. That is the burden of leadership.
But I want to remind you that Rivers State crisis is not the first in the country. It had happened before in Ogun, Adamawa, Taraba, Anambra and many other states and the President did not have to be involved. These are internal problems of states and their houses of assemblies that have nothing to do with the Presidency. So why does the President need to be involved in the case of Rivers? There is absolutely no reason for him to take side in a local crisis.
The President may be involved in the crisis going by the explanations by the First Lady that the problem between her and Amaechi started about four years ago following a disagreement over the demolition of the Okrika waterfront. She said so while receiving some Niger Delta Bishops at the Villa.
I believe that is not the actual position, politically speaking. I know right from 2010, Amaechi made a statement somewhere that over his dead body would the then Vice President, Jonathan, become the President of Nigeria.
Where did the governor say so? Was it recorded in the media or spoken to someone? Even so, the First Lady did not mention that as part of her spat with the governor?
My brother let me tell you that in politics you cannot sweep away what you say because people are always there. These things are known whether written or verbal. But on the issue of Mrs. Jonathan, she only offered advice to Amaechi on the waterfront, as a major stakeholder from the state. She could not have forced an order on the governor, who is in charge of the state, knowing that the President is a man of peace, who does not support violence.
But Amaechi has explained in one of the papers that he had to rush to the House of Assembly with his security men to rescue lawmakers who would have been killed or badly injured if he had not gone there.
He was economical with the truth. The crisis that erupted in the House of Assembly had died down before he went there with his security aides to beat up those opposed to him. It was his presence in the legislature that emboldened some of the lawmakers to start beating others.
The House of Representatives has voted to remove the immunity from criminal breaches for the President, Vice President and governors and their deputies. How do you see this development?
Removal of immunity covering some executive officials by the House of Representatives is not the final. It is one thing for the National Assembly to pass a law; it is another for the state houses of assembly to support same with the required two thirds majority. So I am not worried about that proposal by the House of Assembly.
But be that as it may, I still believe that it is better to maintain the immunity clause in the constitution because if you are saddled with the responsibility of running a state or governing a country, you may be distracted from you duties by litigations and prosecution if the clause is removed.
It appears as if the Presidency is becoming more concerned about who becomes the leader of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum than it used to be in the recent past? Why is it worried?
At the inception of the Nigeria Governors Forum, they restricted themselves to peer review but now they have jettisoned that objective and taken upon themselves the role of playing undue politics; politics of who gets what, where, when and how. It is a dangerous thing to our polity and it must not be allowed to go that way in the interest of Nigeria.
The governors have become so powerful and really want to have their fingers in every facet of the nation’s life. The Amaechi’s leadership of the NGF in the past few years has assumed a dangerous dimension, which endangers our democracy. The forum has negatively affected our democracy and is not good for our polity.
Is that why the government keen on controlling the NGF?
No! The government is not worried by NGF. The government is conscious of the right of governors to choose who becomes their leader at will and has never intervened in their affairs. Check the record and you will see that they have always selected their leader through consensus, alternating between the north and south.
Many within and outside Nigeria have been forced by the prevailing chaotic situation in the land to express fears about 2015. What do say about the fear of disintegration if the crisis in the country does not abate?
The country will not break. This nation has passed through a more turbulent period than what is playing out now and did not collapse. If you have been in Nigeria since 1960, you would have known that Nigeria has gone through its worst moment culminating in the civil war but it came out stronger and more united. We withstood June 12 crisis following the annulment of the election won by MKO Abiola; we have seen Maitasine, Abacha, Niger Delta crisis and now Boko Haram and we are still standing as a nation with happy citizens going about their normal businesses.
The current phase of the national challenge will soon become history like the previous ones and we shall also count it as one of our political developments because Nigerians are wiser and we want to live together in peace.
I want to plead with the four or five governors from the north, who are trying to precipitate crisis to give peace a chance and spare the country avoidable trouble. They should realise that without peace none of them would be governors. They should subsume their interest (and think of the national interest). That is my plea to them.