By Ben Agande, Kaduna
The former Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee of the People’s Democratic Party, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, in this interview, speaks on the recent convention of the party, his presidential ambition and the return of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar to the PDP.
Makarfi also speaks on the achievements of the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government, saying, by early next year, more Nigerians will troop into the PDP as they are “dissatisfied with the performance” of the ruling party.
What were the challenges that you and your committee faced while planning the just concluded convention?
About ten states had no executives from ward to state level. Some were dissolved at the previous non-elective convention. Oyo never had one even before the non-elective convention. The first major challenge was having ward, local government and state executives in these states. Factionalization and in-fighting had sharply divided the party and made it impossible for it to function as a unit. In all the affected states except Osun, we were able to conduct these congresses. That is not to say that there were no lingering issues but we overcame and that enabled those states to participate in the convention.
Also, funding was an issue. We largely depended on those who volunteered to serve in committees and sub-committees who had to make a lot of sacrifices. Their welfare was not taken care of by the party but their love for the party made them to provide services without remuneration.
Of course the issue of micro-zoning took so much effort to resolve before the convention. It is unfortunate but that was all in the spirit of people exercising their fundamental right to aspire and contest for positions. The Caretaker Committee under my leadership never felt offended but our position was that we were guided by what the constitution of the party expected us to do and we were not going to go beyond that. Most of the issues of micro-zoning were basically political issues and not issues we were duty bound to enforce.
The emergence of Prince Uche Secondus is seen as the product of the overwhelming influence of state governors who allegedly forced the hands of delegates. People point to the emergence of the so-called Unity List as an example of the influence of the governors. Do you share this position?
No, I don’t. First of all, we have eleven governors and the delegates from the states were about 1, 000 while the total number of accredited delegates was 2, 000. The National Chairman got about 2, 000 votes. Assuming every delegate from the governors’ controlled states voted for him, that is just 1, 000 votes but he equally got same number from other delegates. If you have a government, you have more delegates because you have official delegates. That shows that the outcome of the election was as a result of political negotiation which carried overwhelming majority of people across Nigeria.
On the issue of Unity List, apart from maybe the first convention of the PDP, all subsequent conventions had lists. They were not official lists of the party. Let’s even go back to campus politics. In campus politics, you go into alliances. Alliance A may have people gunning for different positions and they come together to form a bloc and may have a list of who they want their supporters to go for. Another group may also have the people they want to vote for. Any group that is able to be dominant may have all their candidates elected.
The issue of list was the result of political negotiations by aspirants who came together to form blocs and canvass for votes. It was mere political negotiations by people seeking votes. It happens everywhere. If you look at the recent convention of the African National Congress in South Africa, the delegates were split down the line for those who support Jacob Zuma and those who were opposed to him. You can’t stop that in any political arrangement. It has been going on in the PDP and it is not an instruction from the party because if it was, the other candidates would not have gotten any votes.
Some people have set up what they called ‘Fresh PDP’ in reaction to the outcome of the convention. Do you find this worrisome?
It is worrisome in the sense that it is an avoidable nuisance. You can’t even recognize any face or any name. I read somewhere one of them saying they had the support of a chieftain of the APC from one of the south western states. Let’s get serious. People who cannot afford rent in Nyanya can go and rent a mansion in Asokoro? The truth of the matter is that as a party in opposition, we do not expect to be allowed to have peace. The party in power will not allow us to have a run without throwing spanners in the wheels. We should expect more distractions. We will prove ourselves by dealing with such distractions and coming out of them.
As we approach 2019, what would you say is the strength of the PDP? Why should Nigerians give the party another chance?
No matter the level of distractions, there will be an avalanche of defection into the PDP because Nigerians have seen through the deception of the APC. All the gimmicks of the APC will not make any difference. People know where the party (PDP) is. The party is united. In many states, there are requests for membership cards. The grassroots movement is what is not being reported in the media. That is a clear indication of what will happen in 2019.
In Kaduna State, one of the political stalwarts, Yaro Makama, recently defected to the PDP and what this portends is that it is a positive move for the state because it is only when the state is back to the PDP that it will witness governance with decorum, people will be treated fairly, equitably and justly and collectivism will be brought back.
You are seen as one potential leader that the country needs at this time that the country is more divided along religious and ethnic lines. Will you contest the presidency in 2019?
I am pleased that people think that way of me and I will seriously consider it if I am offered but until the offer is made, you don’t give specific answer to what has not been offered.
Are you prepared to serve the country in the capacity of President?
I wasn’t prepared for the leadership of the party when I was called to serve but people said I served well. In my life, I am always prepared for whatever at any given time because you don’t know what will come your way. I am not a stranger to Nigeria. I am part and parcel of this country. I know what people are going through and I know most of the things that are the issues disturbing us in the country and the things that we need to get out of the way for the country to be better. Even for my own intellectual improvement, I should be concerned. In my life, I have always been ready for whatever will come my way.
Do you see the return of former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar to the PDP as a game changer?
It is not a game-changer as people would want to call it but an indication that, very soon, people will be trooping into the PDP. Come January and February, you will see more defection. The game-changer for me is ordinary people at polling unit level joining the party because that is where the politics is.
But the return of Atiku Abubakar to the party is a big plus and we welcome him. He was a founding member of the party, somebody we respect. He is very resourceful politically and can add value to the party.
The decision by state governors to contribute $1billion from the Excess Crude Account to fight insecurity has sparked controversy with some state governors dissociating themselves from the decision. As a former governor, do you think the Federal Government needs money from the ECA to fight insecurity?
If there is no consensus by those who own the funds, the Federal Government should not touch the money. But where there is consensus, so be it. The funds there belong to the federal, state and local governments; so you need a consensus to spend it. If there is no consensus, the right thing to do is not to touch the money.
People have argued that the north has produced more Presidents in Nigeria than any other part of the country yet the region remains backward compared to other parts of the nation. What in your opinion is responsible for this?
Once you are a President, you are a President for the entire country. Any disadvantaged part of this country, whether north, west or east should be targeted with a deliberate policy in order for it to catch up with the rest of the country. There must be some cooperation with state governments. That, in my opinion, is what is lacking. The central and state government should engage the private sector to see how the disadvantaged states, whether in the north or in the south, can be helped.
The central government should help the federation become more united by bridging the gap between the endowed states and the not so endowed states. All fingers can never be the same but there should be a minimum standard that each state should reach in terms of education, health and other parameters of life. Government should evolve deliberate policies to bring all states to a certain minimum level.
Looking at the promises made by the APC before it came into power and what it has achieved so far, how do you assess the government?
The APC government should walk the talk. They came with policies that sounded sweet on the face of it but no implementation. The suffering in the land is too much. The division in the land is alarming; there is high level of insecurity, unprecedented kidnapping and so on. Of course you may say it is not the fault of this government but leadership is crucial to resolving some of these challenges.