BY HENRY UMORU
Hajia Maryam Inna Ciroma, a former National Woman Leader of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, was also the Minister of Women Affairs. Ciroma, who recently resigned as the Managing Director of the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), hails from Borno State and is married to veteran politician and a former Minister of Finance, Mallam Adamu Ciroma. In this interview, she bares her mind on the forth- coming National Convention of the PDP; her aspiration to become the party’s Deputy National Chairman, North, among other issues.
Your party is preparing for its National Convention. As an aspirant for Deputy National Chairman, North, what are you bringing on board?
The PDP is having its Convention and it is a very serious Convention because since we lost the presidential election in 2015, we have not had an elective Convention. We tried to have one, but unfortunately it did not happen.
We know we have problems in the party and we need people who will look at the problems with a view to changing the way we do things; that is why I am aspiring to be the Deputy National Chairman to help reposition the party and take it back to the people.
This country cannot go back on democracy. We must move forward. And if that is the case, we must have strong political parties. A democracy without a strong opposition party is not a democracy; we need to have a very strong and focused opposition and it is the party structure that will give the opposition. Therefore we would be there at the party Secretariat to provide a strong platform for Nigerians and the only way we can do that is to rebuild the party and I know that I can also contribute in rebuilding the PDP.
You are going for a position that is hitherto seen as a position reserved for men because right from the time of Chief Bode George to the eras of Shauibu Oyedokun, Ibrahim Shema, Haliru Bello and Uche Secondus, men have occupied that office. As a woman, why do you think you are suitable as the Deputy National Chairman?
Politics is about conflict resolution and I am good at settling conflicts because, as mothers, God endowed us with how to manage crisis. I remember that when I was the Minister of Women Affairs, we had one conference in Israel on conflict management and the UN recognised women as good conflict managers.
So I think that if I am in the National Working Committee (NWC) holding that very top position, I would bring my experience to bear on how to resolve issues; we would not allow people defect; we have to give them a chance to reconcile because when people are angry, that is when they leave the party. We don’t want people to leave us because party politics is about people. Therefore, as the Deputy National Chairman, I will do very well to ensure that we keep the party together, we keep our supporters; in fact, mobilise more because women are good mobilisers.
One major problem that the PDP had that led to people leaving was the issue of impunity and lack of internal democracy. How do you intend to address both issues as the Deputy National Chairman, working with the National Chairman and other members of the National Working Committee (NWC)?
Well-meaning PDP members are agitated about the issues of imposition and impunity and people hijacking the party structure. Democracy is all about participation and choice. It is just like going to the market, you are buying maybe handbags or shoes, you have to make your choice; it is the same thing. People will look at the quality of the people presenting themselves and, based on their assessment, elect those they think can take care of their interests. But if two or three people sit down in a room and they now bring their friends or girlfriends or whosoever to positions of authority, of course people are bound to reject that because the idea of a few people taking decisions on behalf of millions of people will not happen again. We are going to change the way things happen in the party.
How is your level of consultations?
I have done a lot of consultations. I have been talking to stakeholders across the country, party leaders in the states, to sell my candidacy to them. I am happy that I served at the national level as a minister and a party leader. I know people across the board in this country and that is working for me because, every time we call people talk to stakeholders on my behalf, the response I get is, ‘We know her. When she was the minister, she did this for us; when she was the Women Leader, we had issues and we went to her office and she was able to help us’. That is the beauty of doing things selflessly; once you are able to do things in a honest and selfless manner, it always comes back and people are telling me that it is payback time.
You are coming at a time the PDP is in opposition. What is your blueprint ahead of 2019 to ensure that PDP wins the presidential election in the North?
We know why we lost the election. Apart from the APC propaganda, PDP also lost because people did not take us seriously that cost us the election. We are now looking at how to correct those mistakes and one of the mistakes I mentioned earlier is imposition of unpopular candidates in election. Come 2019, people seeking elective offices will be freely elected by Nigerians and this is one way of correcting the first mistake. Secondly, looking at issues that affect Nigerians, the party must come up with a manifesto that will endear the party to Nigerians because if you don’t have a plan, you don’t have a programme, what are you going to offer for the next four years? We must offer something concrete, something that we can deliver; no propaganda.
PDP must also track its programme across the states because if governors are elected its own platform, you must track their performance so that you don’t lose the states if they don’t perform. The party must be supreme; it must take its leadership position because, at the moment, you find that state chairmen are afraid of their governors. But the party is supposed to be supreme. In those days of the NPN, I was young but I know my husband was a front row person in the party and I know how they were doing it. When they had meetings with the party chair, Chief Adisa Akinloye, sitting on the high table and former President Shehu Shagari is on the other table, Akinloye could tell the President off. That was the party for you. So we must ensure that the party directs the affairs of its members no matter who you are; even the President. If we are able to return this kind of era, Nigerians will see us as more credible.
You want to be supreme but the governors fund the party; is there going to be a paradigm shift?
I am an ardent supporter of members paying their dues; in fact, we are putting a big burden on governors by making them to single-handedly fund the party. Why don’t we implement what we have in the Constitution? If members pay their dues, the party will have enough money to run its affairs. I still remember when I was a public officer, I was charged 5% of my salary and it was supposed to go to the party and they were deducting it from source. So, if public officers, their salary are deducted 5%, if you go buy forms, you pay; you take membership card, you pay, millions of Nigerians are members of this party and, if we pay our dues, the party will have enough resources and, in developed countries, parties invest. The party is supposed to invest in businesses so that it can use the proceeds to run its affairs; we just cannot sit down and be lazy and be waiting for donations; if it is not happening in other countries, why do we do it in Nigeria? I think the party must look for ways of funding so that it can be free and be fair to everybody.
You may be described as Mama PDP against the backdrop that you were there when it was formed; can you give Nigerians an insight into how the PDP emerged?
Honestly, this idea of the founding fathers, the people that started this PDP, the dream started when politicians who held office in the Second Republic were clamped into Kirikiri Prisons, Lagos and they then sat down and looked at their situation and said it should be the military versus civilians and not civilians versus civilians. They now decided that once they were released from prison, they will network and come up with a national party that is acceptable to everybody so that they could face the military squarely. In Kaduna, Abubakar Rimi came to Kaduna and met my husband and they discussed the issue of coming up with this party. They brought Solomon Lar in, started and became G18. But G18 was solely northerners. They said since Abacha was a northerner, let the northerners face him before taking the matter to southern Nigeria and they wrote a serious letter to Abacha asking him not to succeed himself, asking him to allow democracy to thrive. When that letter was released, many of them were arrested Abubakar Rimi inclusive. Fortunately my husband and the late Chief Solomon Lar were spared, but they were threatened. And from there, they now moved to Lagos and got support from people like Dr. Alex Ekwueme; in fact, the late Chief Bola Ige was in the party before he pulled out and the group became G34 with members from all parts of Nigeria. The dream of the G34 was to have a formidable force to face the military and that was why in the elections in 1998, the PDP was able to sweep the polls by almost 85% and this is to show to you that the party started on a very good footing.