Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi is the Chairman, National Caretaker Committee (NCC) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Elected twice as governor of Kaduna State, North-West Nigeria, Makarfi is one of the most respected politicians in the country today, given the manner he has steadied the leadership of the party in the past few months.
In this interview, the accountant-turned politician speaks on his rumoured Presidential ambition, the upcoming convention, imminent return to the PDP of former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar among sundry issues. It is a Vanguard’s exclusive!
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor and Dirisu Yakubu
Talking about reconciliation, have you stretched a hand of fellowship to Ali Modu Sheriff?
We set up a committee and sub-committees on that. We said we should devolve it from the caretaker committee and I don’t have up to date reports on that. The National Reconciliation Committee chaired by Governor Nyesom Wike and Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo are working and in each geopolitical zone, we have committees with chairmen. The chairman of the North-East is Governor Darius who has a strong personal relationship with Ali Modu Sheriff and I am sure that he must have been in touch with him but I don’t have the report from which I can be specific.
Talking about issues in Kwara, there are two major tendencies there, what is the latest on the reconciliation report?
Well congresses took place in the eleven out of the sixteen local governments. There is an appeal which we are going to sit on today (Wednesday) and the appeal is saying that even though there were votes and votes counted and those who won cut across the two divides, different positions, that the quorum to conduct the congress did not meet the constitutional requirement. We will look into that. But whatever the outcome may be, we will remain fair, just and equitable and we will not take a decision that will forward one faction against the other. Our role has been to harmonize different groups so that they become one.
To what extent can you say the reconciliation committee has succeeded in wooing back aggrieved members into the party who left as a result of the conflict?
We have made progress. Yesterday (last Tuesday) for example, there was a meeting with Osun to agree on a template for unification and I didn’t participate in that. I allowed them to meet with the National Organizing Secretary and I understand that they reached an understanding and both sides have signed; that is integration. You know peacemaking is a long process; it is not something at the snap of your fingers you achieve but we have remained focused and resolute. We are not getting frustrated; we’ll keep on meeting until we achieve success and that is how it should be done and that is how we are doing it.
What is your reaction to the crisis that preceded the election in Anambra State? There was a crisis and even the state executive committee was dissolved.
There were five factions which we dissolved and right now there is no faction in Anambra state. What we have is just a caretaker committee.
But before then, the Ken Emekaiya faction had become the main tendency and all major stakeholders were rallying round them apart from Chris Uba.
Not at all. Senator Ben Obi is from Anambra State. He wasn’t aligned to that neither was he aligned to Chris Uba. And so was Senator Stella Oduah. So there were five factions with five factional leaders; that was the state of Anambra. But right now, we don’t have those factions again. We only have one caretaker committee and we are arranging for congress that will include all of them.
But are you aware that most of your members worked against your own party in that election?
We are aware but it was not the first time. But there is something going on in Anambra that only Anambrarians can tell you what it is. Right from 2003, this issue has been recurring. We pray and hope that this would be the last time it will occur. Part of the reason of course is that a state where you have five factions and structures; if two decide to go one way, three may decide to go another way, so this issue will continue. Unifying the party in the state in such a way that we only have one party structure in the state will go a long way in making sure that this is prevented in the future.
What is your reaction to the petition from stakeholders in Anambra State that the congresses should be postponed on account of the crisis and the death of Dr. Ekwueme?
I am aware that petition was received but I said they should sit together; mind you the National Secretary (Senator Ben Obi) is also from Anambra. So why can’t they sit at home with him and sort out the issue at home and come out with a unified position? I don’t want to look at what one side is saying.
The point they are making is that Dr. Alex Ekwueme, the father of the party who started the party has just died and the party just came out bruised, scattered…
I agree but why is it impossible for them to sit as one family at home and come out with one voice? We also hear the other side which is also saying that they just want that perpetual state of lack of leadership in the country/party. So we have heard both sides.
With only a handful of weeks away to the convention, how optimistic are you that your party will get it right?
We are working hard to get it right. Of course there are concerns. I have seen a letter from Professor Tunde Adeniran, I heard he had a press conference yesterday (last Monday). Prof Adeniran’s letter was specific because he made mention of five names that he thought might have been compromised, saying that they had a candidate; four names from Rivers and one name from Imo. The committee that we set up is made up of about 160 people. Did he take time to assess the remaining 155 to know their disposition? If you are going to be fair, you assess everyone of the members of the various committees. You cannot pick out five out of 160 and then make an analysis and then say maybe because of that, we have taken side. We must take nominations from states. We wrote and asked for nominations from each state and we got nominations from each state.
So you cannot talk of nominations from Rivers State alone, what of nominations from other states, what is their disposition? I am not in a position to know, nobody is in a position to know.
Bode George did not even mention anything specific but the first person who first wrote me was Professor Adeniran and he provided details. If Bode George had half of the details provided by Professor Adeniran it would have been better, but he made it wider without any specific details. I just received a call now that the committee to Lagos State that we sent because Bode George complained that something happened and some other leaders in the state changed the outcome of local governments and state congresses.
They sent an appeal and the leader of the appeal who happens to come from my State, Honourable Bade told me that Bode George’s petition was right and authentic. Now if it is impunity why should we go and uphold his complaint? Where is the impunity here? Where is the issue of taking sides? So will the other side in Lagos now say we have taken Bode George’s side?
So I think we should be careful when we throw accusations tying it to either I have presidential ambition or this or that. Which one of them have I called to say that I have an ambition, come let us work together? But in all honesty, virtually most of them with the exception of two including those who are complaining have approached me making the same offer.
Offer of what, to be a presidential candidate?
That we should work together but that is not what I am looking at, at the moment. So what gives you the moral right? But you cannot imply something to me and because I have not taken the bait, then you go and apply it on another person that one- on-one, I have never even met anyone with to discuss any particular thing.
In any case, as I said we took nominations from each state and we took nominations from relevant organs of the party and in constituting committees, we picked from each of these nominations. Surely, some may be aligned one way or the other, there is no need for us to screen them. PDP never screened them before appointing them and commenting on about five, even if it were so, what about the other 155?
But we have seen the concerns raised and we will pay special attention to those states that those five come from and see if there is an appeal arising from there so that we will look deeply into that.
And as a matter of fact, when we compiled this delegates list, we were going to call the state chapters’ chairmen to come with their own copy because the delegate election is conducted by states. This committee only compiles the reports, attends to petitions and makes report to the national headquarters; they don’t go there to conduct the elections.
So, when we receive the reports, we intend calling the state chapters’ chairmen to come with their own copies and compare records with us in case there is any tampering so that we can deal with it and if the candidates for chairman wants to be present when this is done, they are welcome.
We will be open and transparent but they must also be just and fair to us and discuss issues with us before they go to the press making will allegations.
A national secretary aspirant Abubakar Mustapha has raised concerns about the micro zoning of the position even though the party has said that there is no micro zoning of the office of chairman. So what is really happening?
First of all, if the main convention had taken place in May 2016, the complaint of Abubakar Mustapha would have been thrown at him because he was National Organizing Secretary at that time and for each position they only provided one form for each position to be contested for.
In May 2016?
Yes. They only printed one form; he was National Organising Secretary, Ali Modu Sheriff was chairman meaning that there could only be one candidate. Abubakar, when he came and picked the form, did anybody prevent him from picking the form? If we printed only one form, would he have gotten another form?
Two, he said the NEC zoned positions between North and South and that we would not go further than what NEC has done. But we are also aware that NEC has not micro zoned what was zoned to north to geopolitical zones and that was purely a political arrangement; and the geopolitical zones met and micro zoned to the states.
Now this micro zoning will not prevent us from making the race open to anybody, that is why he came and picked form.
But anybody picking forms should be aware that people have made political arrangements of do me and I do you. I have this, you have that, I will give you my vote and you give me your vote. So if you are outside that political arrangement and if you think you can challenge that political arrangement, it is up to you to make that decision and go for it. But don’t expect us to say that no, don’t go and make political negotiations or political arrangements.
We also said to the south if you want to reduce the run, you can also go and meet as the north met and make political arrangements but we as a party will not enforce it because NEC has not taken a position on that. If NEC has taken a position, we will enforce but since NEC has not taken a position, any other thing is a political arrangement.
Some people are so used to sitting down and you give them something, they think we should come and be giving people something. We said we will not, go and work for it.
Do you think the party is better after the low morale of the defeat of 2015?
Of course because immediately after the loss you know the crisis we went through and we are just coming out of the crisis. We are not afraid, we have never been afraid of meetings or conventions but the party in power has been afraid of meetings, of holding conventions. So in spite of all these, at least we are able to sit in meetings to do convention knowing that opinion defers but at the end of the day, the party is supreme and we are matching on. So I think we are in a better state immediately after the loss and even up to the time we came out of the Supreme Court. We had bright chances of taking over power in 2019.
We have come out of the immediate crisis, I am very hopeful that we are going to come out of any possible convention crisis. But among the sub committees we intend to put in place, is a post convention reconciliation committee. We will not wait till after the convention but it would be in place knowing that there must be some fallout because there must be winners and losers and it is best to get prepared and work to assuage feelings as a result of having contested and lost.
Of course I won’t be chairman by then but we need to take certain actions that would make sure that certain things are in place so that we can swing into action immediately.
Do you think President Buhari’s stewardship of the country has made the prospect of the PDP better or more difficult?
Better! They have been campaigning for us and we thank them so much and we pray that they will continue to campaign for us.
How are they campaigning for you?
They are not performing.
We heard that Atiku Abubakar is about to come back your party?
He or any other person interested is welcomed.
Are you expecting him at the convention in December?
I don’t know.
Has he reached out to you?
I have spoken to him severally but that has nothing to do with coming to convention. If he wishes to come to the convention, he is free.
Has he indicated his willingness to return to your party?
It is an open secret. He or any other person who is interested in rejoining or joining the party as a new member, they are welcome.
Some have imagined potential conflict between your supporters and those of Atiku in the contest to win the 2019 presidential ticket. How do you think the party should manage such crisis?
First of all, I have not made up my decision to what I will do or not but assuming I do, I would take things as they come; that is when I decide to do so. But at the moment, I cannot allow myself to be distracted, I want to remain focused. Yes there are risks, so we must go into this convention as one family and come out as one family. Otherwise whatever ambition anybody may have, that means it would go with the wind. So first thing first and I don’t want to be distracted with personal aspirations.
There is this fear of the grip of the governors over the party; how do you react to this sir?
I was a governor before and the same allegation was made and it has not gone away. We cannot discount the relevance of governors, the National Assembly members, State Assemblies. They are elected people because they are your first eleven.
You cannot discount the relevance of elected people, everybody is important one way or the other and it is not one versus the other. It is how you can bring all of these people together.
You know they work in unison for the good of the party and we have been doing our best to make sure both the Governors, the National Assembly, the BoT, the former ministers, the former leadership, we have been making efforts and we are succeeding in bringing everybody on board through working together as one and I hope and pray that those who would take over from us, will improve upon the modest achievements we have recorded.