Beign a former Governor of Kaduna State and one-time Senator, and also the immediate past Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Caretaker Committee, Senator Ahmed Makarfi is no doubt, an accomplished politician. In this interview he gave his opinion on the APC led government, and also explained how he assumed the leadership of the PDP at a very turbulent time and he was able to take the party out of the tempest, among other issues. Excerpts…
What is your honest assessment of the current administration?
I don’t have a dishonest assessment. I’m always honest about it. It is an adminstration that started on running away from the truth, denial, shifting and blame game. They wasted so much time in denial and blaming the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), instead of getting down to business and doing for the people what they promised to do.
In the area of economy, ask the man on the street. We know that life has never been tougher. Even to eat is a tall order. Look at students, how much is the tuition fee now? Look at our road infrastructure even with all the billions that is soaked in to it.
Even the modest improvement in security, in term of insurgency in the North East, they built upon what PDP succeeded in doing. It was because we succeeded in establishing a reasonable peace that elections took place in the North. If we had not done so, election could not have taken place at that time.
By politicising it contributed to the resurgence issue that we are witnessing. Matters of security is a thing we should never politicised. PDP, APC, Labour and APGA; we must never politicise security matters. It’s an area we must cooperate and make sure our country is secured irrespective of every corner, be it external and internal threat.
How would you describe your experience as the National Chairman, Caretaker Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)?
It was a rich and rewarding experience. It was not pleasant all the way because most of the time, we went through challenges, almost to the very end. There was always one challenge or the other but of course, that is what politics is all about. Usually there are challenges within a party, the general public or whatever. But it was also a period of reflection for those of us in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and we had the opportunity to reflect over the past years when we were in power and the period we are not in power.
It has been a period of reviewing events that led to our leaving power and also strategising how to get back in to power at all levels. It was a hectic period but very rich and rewarding. It was good for Nigeria’s democracy, because in a way, it shows that opposition party politics is evolving in our country.
At one time, people thought that was the end of the opposition party, but we made it and we are evolving. So gradually, PDP will help in building a healthy culture of two or three strong political parties; that is what it looks like now. But for now, it looks like two strong parties and that is a good development for Nigeria. Power can move from one party to the other, depending on how well any party that finds itself in government delivers on its mandate.
What was the toughest challenge in those two years ?
At some point, many people in the PDP lost confidence in the party. They were unsure of themselves and what was going to happen especially after the judgement of the Court of Appeal in Port Harcourt. It demoralised a vast number of people and as the Chairman of the party; I had to be strong; I had to kind of rejig them to regain their confidence in the party.
It wasn’t easy because I had to show a lot more more confidence and where we were heading and that ultimately, justice would be done. For me, rebuilding the confidence of our party members was a priority because quite a lot of people had lost their confidence and an overwhelming majority of our people were thinking of alternatives. They thought that was the end of PDP. I think that was the most challenging period.
Was there anytime you felt giving up?
Well, for different reasons. Not because the job was not a job that was doable, but of course, I am human. Sometimes, you feel frustrated either because you are not fully supported in some aspect to enable you discharge the responsibility that had been given to you. Or when some interest groups are trying to show as if you were biased in one form or the other instead of looking at totality of the issues.
Sometimes, one can become frustrated and feel let down. How can you be going through all of these for the collective interest of all of us and still some people can’t see it? Not because of toughness of the job, no. I have seen worse situations, I have come under far worse kind of situations than the political turbulence of the recent past.
When the Party was in trouble and Senator Ali Modu-Sheriff appeared to had triumphed, what kept you going?
At the end of the day good triumphed over what is not so good. I won’t call it evil because political differences doesn’t translate to what you call evil. There was nothing in there for me personally. It was about the party I was superintending. There was nothing there for me personally.
There was nothing personal but my absolute faith, that we were on the path of truth. What mattered most was my belief that ultimately justice would be done. I have absolute faith in the judiciary that the right thing would be done and it kept me going.
You just concluded your national convention and the South West has alleged that it was marginalised. How are you handling the fallouts?
Zoning or micro-zoning is not the job of the National Chairman. The Chairman does not do any zoning. The convention did the first zoning; North for Presidency and South for Chairmanship. It was not the Chairman, it was the National Executive Committee (NEC) that zoned some other positions to the North and South, it was not the Caretaker Committee.
Before the main convention, the North on their own met and micro-zoned their positions to different geo-political zones and these geo-political zones equally met and micro-zoned to the states. It was not the National Chairman that did that, it was not the Caretaker Committee that did it. In the South, they also met and at that time, they equally did micro-zoning, it wasn’t the National Chairman, it wasn’t the Caretaker Committee that did it.
It was southern leaders of PDP who did it. When the elections did not take place and our tenure was extended, whatever arrangement that was made became basically a thing of the past. Now after the Supreme Court judgement, and when it was obvious we were going for elections, NEC maintained the initial zoning of positions to North and South.
The North met, I was not even part of that meeting and they affirmed their earlier zoning which was a political arrangement. It was not me that did it, it was not Caretaker Committee that did it. What the South failed to do should not be visited on me as my failure because right from the beginning, there was no time I convened or I directed that North or South or any geo-political zone should meet and micro-zone. It is purely a political issue and you have to communicate among yourselves and build that unity of purpose, confidence and then you go and talk.
Once you’ve reached a political arrangement you inform other colleagues that you have a political arrangement and they cue in to whatever arrangements they have also built, the caretaker committee played no role whatsoever. What the South West was looking for was not our job to do; to go into the affairs of the South and say you micro- zone? Under which power?
The South West, all of them are in NEC and in none of NEC meetings did anybody rise up to propose a further micro- zoning. So, if you left the avenue that decision could have been taken, you didn’t even suggest it and you think the National Chairman will come in unilaterally, then you are not being realistic. Is that being fair to the National Chairman?
It was not! I have taken a lot of time to explain a whole of these issues. And all that we knew was that NEC had done North and South and we said: ‘If South micro zone, we have no problem, no objection to it’. It is a political arrangement. But a week or so before the convention, the South met but what they failed to agree on was national chairmanship. They left it open. So, if they met and could not agree on national chairmanship, how do you expect the committee under my leadership to see that they have to agree. It was basically a failure to have a consensus in the South and not the fault of the caretaker committee Chairman.
What is your party doing to win back aggrieved members?
We anticipated the fallout and that is why under my leadership we inaugurated Post Convention Reconciliatory Committee under the Governor of Bayelsa State, Seriake Dickson. The Committee has been busy going round, trying to assuage feelings. So far so good, I have seen it on television and in newspapers, mainly statements coming from leaders like Bode George, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, Jerry Gana and Raymond Dokpesi.
The Reconciliation Committee is going about its job. The Chairman and his commit-tee are also going round to mend fences and bring more people on board. You know reconciliation is a continuous process. In PDP, we are used to it and I think it will continue until we achieve comprehensive reconciliation.
One of the aspirants has gone to court on the convention matters that can be resolved internally. How are you approaching this kind of issue?
This is one of the unfortunate issues that is coming from some people. We had to deal with so many of them especially by Senator Buruji Kashamu and his cohorts. We have suspicion that he is also behind this. Again what is the matter? I understand he said that his last name was mis-spelt. Mis-spelling a name, he is translating it to mean exclusion. It is for the Court to decide that but it’s an unwise decision. It is very very unwise.
Hardly would you find a voter writing even the full name of the person he is voting for. If you have like four names; Professor, Dr. so so, you will just write Professor or write one of the names. And once a ballot is attached to one of the candidates, it is counted for the candidate. Knowing that the level of literacy of these voters differ, you have four names and you want all the voters to cram your four names. As long as in his own wisdom, he has written a particular name. His complaint was that, his last name, Adedoja, was mis-spelt. Taoheed was there, is that exclusion for God sake?
It does not amount to exclusion. Secondly, if it was done, anybody could have printed that flimsy paper because I know that the electoral panel and the party submitted all these names to INEC and that is what is in the record of INEC. Thirdly, names of all contestants were read out to delegates and his name was read out in full. Again before the voting started, the electoral committee went round to each polling unit with agents of the contestants to inspect, and if there was anything to be addressed let them raise it. Nobody raised any issue, that he saw something wrong.
This all happened in the public glare, everybody watched them going from one polling boot to another and inspecting them, all this happened. He claimed that the omission made people not to vote for him. Well before the voting started, a former Governor of Oyo State, Rasheed Ladoja who had been convening meeting of the aspirants from South-South, South West came and distributed papers, they went round distributing papers to states’ pavilion that South West now has only one candidate, that they have resolved to vote for him in the person of Prof. Tunde Adeniran. If his people from South West, leaders distributing papers that they have one candidate, it is possible that voters, instead of wasting votes knowing that south West only had one candidate, might have voted for Adeniran and he saw it. I know he told me that he had not withdrawn but I told him this was paper being circulated. I advised him to go to the pavilion and announce that he didn’t withdraw. He didn’t do that. For God sake, call a spade a spade.
When this was happening and the opportunity was there for you to rectify, you had the chance of announcing it but you didn’t do it. You had the chance if one of your names was mis-spelt, if that is the case. I saw his name; I didn’t see any mis-spelling. Even if one of your names was mis-spelt, your agent saw it, he didn’t ask for it to be corrected. Who are you going to blame? Is that an exclusion?
There was a rumour of the existence of ‘Unity List’ weeks before the convention. Why didn’t the Party do something before that day?
The party didn’t come out with the so called unity list. The only convention where lists didn’t come out was the Jos convention which is the first one held to nominate the president. Even the first convention, there were alliances. Go to university campuses’ let’s begin from there, student’s union politics. When you are going for election, you form alliances, you form groups.
The groups produce their own candidates’ list. If they are the majority, they get elected. So if the majority produces their own list and they get elected and then you are complaining. What is politics all about, is it not negotiation? You vote for me, I vote for you.
You vote for my candidate, I vote for your candidate. After all, all these candidates voted. May be only three were busy campaigning, the rest who even knew them? Like Kaduna has this, Nasarawa has that position. May be it is only their political zone they may know that. The rest of country may not even know because the campaign and issues are localised.
If people form alliances, what you call political alliances, majority will carry the day. If majority form alliances and they make their own list and they said these are the list of people that we have alliance, if you have alliance with some people go and make your list .
If you are not in a position of majority to form an alliance who are you going to blame? And this has been happening in all PDP conventions but it’s not a list produced by the party. It is alliances of like minds. We are going for elections, I need your vote, you need my vote. If there are 10 contestants and only seven positions. If seven come together and say vote for me, I vote your own, they will win. That shows where the majority have agreed to go. You can’t ask people not to form political alliances for purposes of voting.
But it was not an official list of party, it was a list of candidate produced by themselves having formed alliance ahead of the election. If you go to the convention ground without mentioning of alliance you will lose. Before you go to any convention ground, you may have formed a strong enough alliance to ensure your victory. If you are unable to form that strong alliance surely you can’t win. It is not at the convention venue that you form alliances.
Shortly before the convention you went round the country and you visited some prominent people like former president Olusegun Obasanjo, but you refused to speak. Why?
But he said he was speaking on my behalf and I agreed with him. He told the Journalists that as his son, he was speaking on my behalf and I agreed with him. I still agree with him.
Does Obasanjo had any major role to play in your party in 2019?
My visit to him should not be limited to PDP or issue of party or election or no election. He was our president, the leader of our party and I always associate with him. My visit should be taken in a larger context than narrow issue of politics.
From your discussion with him, does he look like he would ever return to PDP?
He is a Nigerian, he loves Nigeria, he will continue to be involved in the affairs of Nigeria to make it a better place. I don’t think he will join any political party but I equally don’t think he will keep quiet and be a passive onlooker in things happening in this country.
How are you handling the entry of Atiku into your party?
He is not my responsibility but that of the party. He has the constitutional right to join any party at any given time, no body should deny him of that. As a matter of fact, as a party we are looking for many more to come. Political aspiration and power comes from God.
There was rumour that you wanted to go for presidency but you denied it. The landmark achievements you recorded in Kaduna as governor for eight years, are you not willing to translate that at the national level?
What some people said was that I was doing things as a party chairman in furtherance of my presidential ambition which I said was false. As National Chairman, it was morally wrong for me to pursue any other thing rather than discharging my responsibility as the National Chairman. And perhaps, if I have personal political aspiration, that is personal for me to think about now that I am no longer in that position. I’m free to decide any how based on whatever advice I get. It is an ongoing thing but I haven’t made up my mind.
But you are not ruling it out completely?
Never rule out anything completely.
What is your take on the Federal Government’s plan to withdraw $1billion from Excess Crude Account to prosecute the insurgency war?
I don’t have the details, but you see I don’t like making comments on sensitive issues especially if it borders on security. I need to have details before I could comment. The money is said to have been taken from ECA. There is a constitutional issue involved, it is not for the Federal Government, not money for the states. It is money that belongs to the federal, states and local governments. The correct procedure is for everybody with the right to this money to be concerned. Doing things unconstitutionally is wrong!
Credit: New Telegraph