By Gbenga Oke
Senator Ahmed Makarfi was former Governor of Kaduna State between 1999 and 2007. He also served as a Senator before becoming Chairman, National Caretaker Committee of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP.
In this interview in Lagos over the weekend, he bares his mind on various national issues ranging from re-ordering of elections by the National Assembly, preparation of the PDP ahead of the 2019 elections and how the party is managing the fallouts from the December National Convention.
He also talked about the failure of the South-West to clinch the chairmanship of the party as well as restructuring. Excerpts:
The People’s Democratic Party, PDP was enmeshed in crisis ahead of its National Convention and there were still some skirmishes after the convention. Can you tell us the progress the party has made after that?
Well, not many people gave us a chance before the convention, many thought the party was going to scatter from the Eagle Square but that did not happen. But that does not mean there was no fall-out from the convention. After any convention, there must be issues arising from the conduct of such conventions. So, it is not different that PDP has some minor issues after the convention but it is gladdening that the party remains solid, remains united and one. Before the convention, we anticipated that some issues would arise, that was why we set up the reconciliation committee which moved to work immediately after the convention.
The current leadership also set up two other committees which consist of Seriake Dickson Committee and the other one led by former principal officers of the National Assembly to reach out to the aggrieved and to bring them back on board and to integrate them in a bid to provide a united front. This is also to provide a strong and virile opposition to the All Progressives Congress, APC, which is in power. We have covered a lot of grounds, but that does not mean to say there are still no issues but I am not in a position to know what those outstanding issues were because I am not the national chairman of the party now.
I have left the office of chairman but I continue to give advice in areas where I am needed and I am also handling issues I can handle on my own just to bring unity into the party without necessarily having recourse to the current leadership. The current leadership has been meeting with relevant organs of the party, the governors, National Assembly members and former governors in order to forge the way forward for the party. I am sure the party is set and working so hard to be a virile opposition party.
What is your reaction to insinuations that your leadership stirred disaffection in the South-West zone after it opened up the office of national chairman to all zones despite earlier zoning the office to the region where the party is not strong?
I want to disagree with you in your assertions about states of the South-West. First, there was no intention of throwing away the South-West or any other bloc from any part of the country. And by the time we went to the convention, there was no political arrangement from the South as to where the chairman of the party should come from. We came in May and a convention was scheduled for August in Port-Harcourt, the PDP met in Port-Harcourt and micro-zoned the chairmanship of the party to the South-West before August last year.
When we went to Port-Harcourt, because of interference from government, that election could not take place and our tenure was extended for a year. When we were approaching the December convention, the North met and politically discussed among themselves and maintained the micro-zoning. The South met and they could not agree on the micro-zoning. Before every convention, you meet, discuss and also take certain decisions. The unity that existed from the South before the August convention disappeared before the December Convention. When they met, they could not agree. Then they met again and agreed on all other positions except two positions which were the chairmanship and the deputy chairmanship. And they left that decision among themselves and even the South-East excused themselves from it but the South-South and the South-West could not agree.
And when they could not agree, the South-West and South-South decided that the convention should decide who becomes the chairman and deputy chairman. Failure of a certain part to sit down and agree should not be seen as the rest of the country heaping something on somebody.
Nobody directed the North to meet and maintain what they did, I did not ask them, it was not in my position to do that and nobody stopped the South from agreeing on certain terms. Failure to agree was what made the race open and politics is an issue of negotiation. So they came to the convention divided, campaigning against each other and in politics, when you are campaigning against each other and you want the rest to give you power, it becomes more difficult. So really, it was a local failure because the remaining part of the country had their agreement intact. But I think they did not see a reason to unify before they decided that the convention should determine who emerges.
It was at the venue of the convention when the election was about to start, some of them started going round to say they now have a consensus candidate while some others started going round disclaiming the same agreement. So, in such confusion, who do you blame? You cannot blame anybody. Be that as it may, no part of this country should be taken for granted.
Except you don’t understand the politics of Nigeria, that is why you will expect to win election on the convention ground. Before you get to the convention ground, all the alliances have been formed and you will know whether you will win or lose before getting to the convention ground.
You may not have the leadership of the party, you may end up having what is even more than the leadership of the party. As chairman of the party, you have limited powers even when your party is in government. Can you tell me how powerful the chairman of APC, Oyegun is today? I think where people should look up to is the Executive because that is where policies are formulated and executed and that is where the interest of people you represent can be implemented. That is my personal opinion.
Apart from the Dickson committee, I know there is another committee being led by Dr. Nwodo with Dr. Bello Haliru and David Mark. They are complementing what others are doing just to ensure peace and accommodation in the party. When you mention that the party is absent in the South-West, I disagree with that. For me, you have to go gradually to achieve peace, anything you rush into especially where there is sharp division, you are bound to fail. So the party is very conscious of these problems and we are doing all we can to harmonise. I can tell you that you will know our strength as a party when the elections come. Nigerians should stop looking at the big picture of ceremonial things, those things don’t win elections. You don’t go by the crowd to win elections. In 2015, which crowd did we not have as a party? Did PDP not lose elections? So, don’t be carried away by the crowd that attends a rally.
It is being said in some quarters that PDP has not shown enough confidence and direction to convince Nigerians the party is set to take over power from APC in 2019. How prepared is the party for 2019?
No serious party will want to continue to remain as an opposition party. The role of any opposition party is to take over power and that is what we set our eyes on right now. And I want to thank APC for actually making our job easier and I continue to pray that APC continues to make our job easier as we move closer to elections.
I do not pray Nigerians continue to suffer and that is why I believe Nigerians will make the right choice by voting out the party in power. As to our preparations, all I can say is that we are doing all that is legally and politically doable to achieve our objectives. It would be inappropriate for me to give a hint of what we are doing or what we are planning.
It will amount to someone going to a battlefront and publishing your war plans, you have as well committed suicide before going for the war. We keep our plans to our chest but be rest assured we are used to the politicking and we shall leave no stone unturned.
Till date, many still feel the over-bearing influence of the Governors in the PDP is part of the reason why the party lost in 2015. It is also believed that such played out in deciding who emerged Chairman of the party at the December Convention. Being a former Governor and a major player in PDP, how do you react to this?
Well, going back to the 2015 elections, the North expected to have the ticket but even at that, our language was not so polite in the campaigns. The manner and language some of our members used in campaigning for 2015 was insulting to a certain part of the country.
Also, the party structure was not used for campaigning rather Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria, TAN, was used for the Presidential campaign. And TAN was just a motor formulated by some people to impress those in power, it was not something structured, PDP is a structured party down toward the village level; to now abandon that asset and use something superficial, naturally there will be problems because it discouraged some people while some others became nonchalant. I can tell you that some governors are not even aware how campaigns were going on and no governor was sitting in the campaign council. When you blame governors, I can tell you that not even the chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum was in the Presidential Campaign Council.
These factors contributed to losing elections, not that APC won, but PDP threw away the election. There could have been difficulties or challenges, but if we had acted differently, there was no way we could have lost the 2015 elections. If we are talking about the states, I can say yes but at the presidential level, there was no question of over-bearing influence by any governor especially as I mentioned, no governor was in the Presidential Campaign Council. They were basically expected to be on-lookers until you visit their states to campaign. They made a mistake. Going forward, the PDP has only 11governors, so the people are working together with the governors we have and the governors are also showing their support. I have not seen where they are showing overbearing influence on anybody; if they have ideas, they share ideas and we implement the ideas.
Right now, you won’t find that in PDP because the situation is completely different, we know that and we are making use of all the assets that we have, whether governors, former governors or former ministers, we respect the view of all who can add value to our party.
Recently, the APC stated that the party is now for restructuring after they initially rejected it. Many believed it is because elections are approaching. Where does your own party stand on the issue of restructuring?
I addressed a World Press Conference when this matter came up. I said that APC is now like a chameleon changing colors. All I can say is that, right from the beginning, we in PDP were for restructuring. Besides that, the Governor of Kaduna State and the Chairman of the committee by the APC said on Channels Television that restructuring is not important. The following day, I featured along and said all the conferences that were initiated for the processes were done by the PDP because it was during Obasanjo and Jonathan some of the conferences were done and some of the recommendations border on the issue of restructuring.
I also said restructuring means different things to different people, the starting point is to narrow down the understanding and proceed stage by stage because there are things you can do immediately, some on short-term and some on long-term basis. Several of these issues being raised today are because of several issues happening within the country right now and we have to be sensitive.
I believe running away from this issue of restructuring is like running away from reality. For a party to say because they want to win elections, therefore they have changed their position, that is the height of deception and it is for Nigerians to take them for who they are, people who will do anything just to remain in power not because they mean it.
Does the PDP feel threatened by the political moves of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo especially with his third force?
We don’t feel threatened by the Coalition of Obasanjo. I can tell you that most of them are friends and associates. They said they are not a political party, time will tell. If they turn out to be a political party, we will see how it plays out. Obasanjo himself said anytime they turn to a political party, he will cease to be a member. My take on it is like in the United States where you have independent candidacy, you have the Democrats and the Republicans, then you have an independent candidate who looks at a candidate and decides where to swing at the last minute. That is what I feel it is, time will tell what their aims are.
What is your take on the re-ordering of elections?
The position of the law is clear on this. It is not what is passed but what is signed that becomes law. If the President signs it, it becomes law. We passed the same law during my time at the Senate and then a Court said it was unconstitutional and that it was INEC that has the power to do that. If that is the case, so be it. But for me, I think my take is, PDP should prepare to win no matter how elections are ordered.
To think that elections should be ordered this way or that way, it is a lazy way of approaching elections. Whichever way it is ordered, we should campaign and work. I believe strongly that anyhow the elections come, PDP can win. So we should concentrate on the main issues and not through any short-cut.
On the issues of Herdsmen ravaging the Country. What do you think the APC led government be doing to tackle the issue?
I believe this issue has assumed a dimension which is alarming and all hands need to be on deck to address it. This a problem that is ravaging the North Central of the country and the Southern part of the country. When I was governor, this problem was rampant in my area but people did not know but it was similar to what is happening now; tough the ferocity was quite different, the proliferation of arms was not there, just cutlass and arrows.
The influx of some of these people because of free movement of ECOWAS has also made it difficult and it has complicated the matter. Therefore, this matter we must look at it critically. The Federal Government has talked about the issue of the colony, colony as a word sounds to be offensive, colonization to me means domination. Ranching sounds business, anybody can go into ranching and you do business where it is feasible, you cannot do business where it is not feasible.
So, we have to begin with the policy of modernization of ranching where it is most feasible at this time and re-orient and re-indoctrinate the herdsmen. It will take time but it is doable, modernize their profession, give them some level of education, give them incentives to make them change their ways and methods. Anything to achieve peace is not a waste. I am not saying they should reward them for criminality or illegality, I am talking of domestic herdsmen that are Nigerians, they should assist them to modernize their practice. Then on the issue of free movement by ECOWAS, if people will be crossing our borders and killing and maiming people all in the name of ECOWAS free movement, that is absolutely wrong because every life is important and in the spirit of ECOWAS, we should not continue to waste lives.