How Bola Tinubu and I parted ways — Iyorchia Ayu, new PDP Chair
Iyorchia Ayu

•‘Why I opposed Shonekan’s ING, sacrificed my position as Senate President because of MKO Abiola’

• ON FRIENDSHIP WITH ATIKU: I will be fair to Saraki, Tambuwal, other PDP presidential contenders

•ELECTORAL ACT CONTROVERSY: Direct primary was complete disaster in 1998/99

•‘Many of the governors who defected to APC already calling me, saying they made a mistake, want to return to PDP’

By Nnamdi Ojiego

The second part of Dr Iyorchia Ayu’s interview is mostly an interesting conversation on his exit as Senate President in the Third Republic during the crisis triggered by the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election and what he will do as National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Already a nominee of the North where the opposition party’s top job is zoned to, the PDP Convention holds this weekend where his nomination is scheduled to be affirmed. Enjoy the interview:

When the military government of Gen. Babangida put in place the interim national government chaired by Chief Ernest Shonekan, you opposed it and that eventually led to your impeachment as Senate President. What lessons you might have learnt since those days? It actually rekindled my belief in democracy because I played a key role in the emergence of the late Chief MKOAbiola as elected President.

Before that, I had discussed with the President Babangida several times and he assured me if there was free and fair election, he would hand over. I mobilized my party because I was the highest elected officer in then-Social Democratic Party, SDP, at that time.

It was I with Bola Tinubu and other senators like Martins Kuye because we had no party exco, so, we took over and united the party. We had leaders like Baba Ajasin, Olu Falae, Shehu Yar’Adua, Odumegwu Ojukwu, Abubakar Rimi and others.

We mobilized and put together a very strong party under the then leadership of the National Assembly because we had no party exco. We went to Jos, had an open, free and fair contest. Abiola emerged and Nigerians voted heavily for him.

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So, I didn’t see any reason why that election was nullified. So I refused to support it. So an interim government was unnecessary. I stood on the position that Abiola should be sworn in as President and was never going to betray him. That was my position.

I was ready to sacrifice my position as Senate President because it was immaterial. What is the use of being Senate President under a dictatorship? I’m happy about the struggles we put in place.

After the struggle, Bola Tinubu joined NADECO and fought in his own way. I joined G9, G18 and G34 under the leadership of former Vice President Ekwueme and we fought.

Thank God we have enjoyed democracy now uninterrupted for about 23 years. So I feel very contented and satisfied.

The lesson I have learnt is that whatever are the challenges, do not put self-interest before the interest of the nation because if the interest of the nation is well served, yours will also be served and I’m very happy I did those things and I would never have done it differently.

I will continue in the same cause of championing democracy. So I feel that I made a little sacrifice for my country because this is the only country I have. I have no other passport in the world; I don’t have a house anywhere in the world.

I’m proud to be a Nigerian and I will like to live in a democratic Nigeria where everybody is treated free, fairly and equitably. So I’m very happy with what I did.

Under the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, you were a well-known supporter of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and this cost you your job as a Minister. You defected alongside Atiku to then Action Congress, AC. How then would you ensure a level-playing ground amongst PDP chieftains interested in the party’s presidential ticket which the former VP still wants?
I was not produced in the North by Atiku Abubakar. The whole of the North backed me and everybody in the North supported me and I believe that when I go to the convention, there is still going to be an election and I believe the whole country will elect me.

So, I will represent the interest of the whole of Nigeria. As a party Chairman, you are a father to all. There are so many others who are my friends that will still express interest. Yes, Atiku Abubakar is my long-standing friend because we have been in politics for a long time together, so is Senator Bukola Saraki and Governor Tambuwal who ran before and several others that may come up. So, there’s no fear, I alone cannot stop anybody.

I told you that there’s going to be a National Working Committee made up of so many people, almost 30 people and, ultimately, we are going to have a convention committee just like the one that is going to handle this convention.

The subsequent ones that will produce the President will still be there, therefore, there will be a level-playing ground just like we did in Port Harcourt and whoever emerges as the presidential candidate of the PDP, Nigerians shall support that candidate.

Therefore, Nigerians or any other candidate that wants to run has nothing to fear from me, whether as ward councillor, local government chairman, state governor, senator or a member of the

House of Representatives, it will be a free and fair election. This is what PDP is known for. We are not like the other party that imposes candidates on the people. I have done it in the past and I will continue to uphold democratic principles.

What is your view on direct primary as passed by the Senate in the ongoing Electoral Act Amendment Bill?
I will give you my view as a person and not as PDP because we haven’t discussed it at the party level and but I believe we will discuss it. I have asked one or two lawyers to look at it.

However, I personally believe it’s unconstitutional. Parties have the responsibility to draw up their own Constitution. You can’t simply take a generalized position and say it should be direct primary.

My take is based on my experience. When we first started out in 1998/1999, we did our first election using direct primary and it was a complete disaster. There was a lot of falsification of results and it took us time to sort it out.

Ultimately, we did and it was that experience that made us change from direct primary to indirect primary. Indirect primary does not mean that people’s wish is not respected.

I personally will prefer indirect primary but the base for participation should be expanded enormously so that money bags will not be able to easily buy.

Honestly, indirect primary, to me, based on my experience in the PDP over the years, is much better than direct primary that we experimented with the first time when we did elections in 1998/1999.

How would you stem the defection of high profile PDP members like governors, ranking senators, etc., to APC?
Once we start promoting internal democracy in the party, those defections will stop. They can’t stop totally but they will be minimized and I believe that there are so many who left that will come back to PDP.

Many of them are already calling me that they made a mistake because they went to something that is not a political party. How can a party be led by a governor who leaves his state and doesn’t even go there?

He was elected to govern his state. Today, the governor leaves his state and stays in Abuja, so many things are happening in that party and many of our people who populate the APC are coming back.

If you check the top list of APC members, most of them are former PDP elected governors, senators etc. I believe they will all come back.

I believe PDP will get stronger and will be in very good shape in a few months. We’ll mobilize ourselves, mobilize the country and fight for the election as a democratic party.

Some top members of the PDP in the North like Senator Bukola Saraki, former PDP National Chairman, Alhaji Abubakar Baraje, etc., feel that the north-central should have the presidential ticket and not the National Chairman. We want to know your take on this?
I think that’s just a misinterpretation by the public. The PDP zoning committee made it clear that the zoning of party offices does not affect the zoning of presidential or legislative offices.

That the Chairman has come from the north-central does not stop people of the zone from expressing interest in the presidency. So I believe that people are simply misrepresenting what’s happening.

You can extend the same argument to the North and say now that the Chairman has come to the North, then the North cannot show interest in the presidency. I think the conversation will continue.

When the time comes, we as the party will sit down and discuss and see what is best for our party and what is best for the country. I think Nigerians should not jump the gun, they should wait for us.

So people like Saraki that you mention have nothing to fear. There are many other highly qualified people from the north-central that may be interested in the presidency.

The Chairman should not in any way affect them but if they emerged as the presidential candidate and the party wants me to resign.

I will resign that very day so that we have the President. There’s no problem with that at all.

(This interview was done before the PDP National Convention)

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