*’We are ready to perform opposition role to APC’
*Says party will bounce back in 2019
Dr. Haliru Bello Mohammed, from Kebbi State, just became the acting Chairman of the Board of Trustees, BoT, of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the office vacated by Chief Tony Anenih.
Mohammed was National Vice Chairman, North West of the PDP, comprising Kaduna, Katsina, Kano, Kebbi, Sokoto, Jigawa and Zamfara states; a Commissioner for the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC); and Minister of Communications
In March 2008, he was elected the Deputy National Chairman and, in January 2011, he emerged the Acting National Chairman of the PDP when Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo stepped down. He was later made the Chairman of a 20-member Board of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) and thereafter the Minister of Defence.
He was appointed the Chairman, North Central Zonal Reconciliation Committee of the PDP set up by the immediate past National Chairman, Alhaji Adamu Mauzu. One major assignment Mohammed undertook for the PDP before the March 28 presidential election was as Chairman of Presidential Declaration Committee with nine sub-committees.
In this interview, the acting BoT Chair of the PDP bares his mind on the presidential election, the PDP before and after the election, why former President Goodluck Jonathan refused the position of the BoT Chair and his expectations from President Muhammadu Buhari, among other issues.
BY HENRY UMORU
PDP lost the March 28 presidential election. How has it been as an elder of the party?
In the first place, I don’t believe we lost the election, we conceded the election because election is not lost until it is challenged in a court of law; that is what Buhari did the first three times he contested against PDP candidates.
At the time of the election, we foresaw that the mood in the country was such that if the result was declared otherwise, the country will be plunged into chaos and there will be protest and possibly loss of lives and property; that is why President Jonathan decided to concede. So I see it not that we lost the election but that we conceded defeat because if Jonathan hadn’t conceded, we would still be in court trying to determine the real winner and there would have been a lot of evidence to be presented. However, I am glad President Jonathan decided to concede so that we can have the peace that we have now in the country.
Did your party actually prepare to win the election?
PDP prepared very well for the election. It was clear we went round the country campaigning despite the hostility in some northern states where our convoys were attacked. We persisted, we went to all the states including those considered dangerous because of the activities of Boko Haram and we mobilized our supporters. There were a lot of negative campaigns coming from the opposition especially with regard to religion, terrorism which was active in the North – East of the country and these were the issues that worked against PDP especially in the North – East and North – West.
God has designed that, after 16 years, PDP will now taste opposition and give opportunity for the other party to also show what they can do for the people of this country. We don’t regret the president conceding because President Buhari has been contesting for a very long time and maybe he has now seen some ideas which he would like to put into practice in the governance of Nigeria. In a way, it is good to give him the opportunity, let the people of Nigeria see what he has to offer and PDP will stay as a viable opposition so that when he falters, we will be there to offer alternative opposition to the people. I believe that come 2019, it will be a clash of ideas. Let us see what Buhari and APC will unfold and compare with what PDP had shown in its performance and the people will choose.
Soon after the PDP lost, there was this blame game between the presidential campaign organisation and the PDP leadership. Was it really healthy for the party?
It is true that a lot of mistakes were made; the leadership and followership of the PDP made mistakes. We took certain things for granted, but this is not the time for finger pointing. This is not the time for blame apportioning; this is the time that we should look in retrospect, come together and examine what happened and see how we can put our party together so that we can prepare for 2019. When they are busy putting their government together and showing Nigerians what to do, we will be busy rebuilding our party; we know how we did it in 1998; we know the right people to contact in every state who put the party together.
We are going back to those people. That is why I always say we take this party back to the people. We will go back to the roots and, once we do that, we will identify the founding fathers that have been sidelined and bring them back on board as many of them that are alive and available. We will build a formidable structure as we did in 1998 and it will be ready to offer an alternative government for Nigerians in 2019.
In specific terms, what did your party take for granted?
We took it for granted that the people of the country had accepted PDP as attested to in a number of states that accepted PDP, not only as ruling party at the federal level, but also as state governments. We took it for granted that our legislators will come back, but, unfortunately, the leadership of the party did not handle the primaries well. We took it for granted that whether we removed and replaced or not, whoever got the PDP ticket will win the elections and it turned out that it was not so. Nigerians have become more enlightened, they are voting more on the quality of the candidate than on blind loyalty to the party and we did not handle the primaries very well and that is a mistake that we have learnt from our actions and we will correct it come 2019.
We took for granted that the elections will be fought on issues and ideology and not on religion and tribal bases. That did not happen especially in the North where preachers in the mosques were demonising PDP, condemning PDP to hell and threatening our voters that voting for any PDP candidate was like buying your ticket to hell. All these things happened, but we didn’t envisage that politics will come down to that level; so we took it for granted that it will be based on policies and ideologies. We have learnt from this experience and, as you can see, PDP is full of people with ideas, great intelligence and we will sit back and re- adjust and we will bounce back in 2019. Looking at the APC line up, all of them with a few exception were trained by PDP in politics, so where they learnt, the residue is still there and we will stir it up and come back with a bang.
I want you to comment on the resignation of the Chairman, Alhaji Adamu Mua’zu. Was it just Muazu or the entire leadership of the party that ought to have resigned ?
It is unfortunate that immediately after the election, some people lost their cool and started pointing fingers and shouting at one another. But it is not unexpected in a situation where nobody expected what happened to happen. People will feel frustrated and will be looking for scapegoats. The situation degenerated to what led to some of our supporters, out of their for the party and the love for the continuity of the PDP government, to blame and, naturally, uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.
So Mua’zu and his NWC were natural targets for this scapegoating, but I don’t think the blame for our candidate to win this election lies in one direction. We are all to blame including those of us who are elders who saw what was happening and kept quiet; but, this is not the time to accuse each other, this is the time to come together and see what went wrong and correct it.
How prepared is PDP to play the role of the opposition?
What is the role of the opposition? The role of the opposition is to offer an alternative to policy and to try to bring the government back on track when it tries to derail. So essentially, the role of opposition is to advice the government and offer alternative where government feels to be clueless on any issue. We already have people of experience, people of high level of integrity and knowledge and we have done governance for 16 years. We are very well placed to play the opposition role of telling the government this is not how to do it and this is what you should be doing; if they listen, of course they will succeed, but if they don’t listen, then the people of Nigeria will see what is happening and when it is time for the next election, they will decide.
PDP appear to be lucky to have somebody like you around, because they only look for you when there is problem. First, you were to look into the implementation of Dr. Alex Ekwueme’s Committee report; you were also the Chairman, North Central Reconciliation Committee. You acted as the Chairman. Can I say the party is lucky to have you?
I am lucky to have the party. There are people who are even better than me in the party. When we started, it was a party where you had the likes of Adamu Ciroma, Alex Ekwueme, Tony Anenih, Bode George, Ken Nnamani, Shauibu Oyedokun, Jerry Gana, Ebenezer Babatope and a lot of them. So you cannot say we lack people of high calibre, people who are materials to be president of this country and people with wisdom. We have all that in PDP. So it is just a coincidence if one person happens to hold a particular office and I believe anyone of us, given the opportunity, if we flock together to give our support, we will be able to deliver the party. Like I said, we are all guilty, we were complacent; that is why what happened has happened and now that we have learnt our lessons, I don’t think it will repeat itself.
You have just been made the acting Chairman of BoT, Before you came in, the immediate past Chairman, Chief Chief Tony Anenih, said in his letter of resignation that he did that for the immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan to take over. How did it really happen that you came in instead of him. What are you bringing on board as BoT Chairman?
When we lost the election, we had a president who now have more time on his hands, a lot of people including Chief Anenih believed that we could use the president to lead the Board of Trustees. As it happened, after former President Obasanjo finished his term, he was made Chairman, Board of Trustees, so we could use his influence, experience and his wisdom because there is this plot nationally and internationally to move our party forward.
The same thing could have applied to immediate past President Jonathan and the offer was made as you have seen in Tony Anenih’s letter, but the immediate past president made it clear that he doesn’t want to be the Chairman, Board of Trustees; he wants to be one of the leaders of the party who will stay on the sideline and assist the party to rebuild itself. What he said was that if the party rebuilds itself and becomes the party in government again, then if he is called to take up any position, then he will be ready to take it. But for now, he wants to rest and give opportunities for other leaders to work in the party.
We respected his opinion. That is why we thought that one of us in the Board of Trustees should be entrusted to temporally lead until such a time that we are organised and we are ready to go into election to elect a substantive Chairman of the Board of Trustees.
As to what my party expects; it expects me to galvanize all members of the party, bring them together, stop the bickering that is happening and start the process of re organising the party from the grass roots to the national level. In doing that, of course, we are working with the National Working Committee and, as you know, the Board of Trustees is advisory. The executive authority lies with the National Working Committee and the National Executive Committee, but because the residue of all the founding fathers is in the BoT, the role of BoT becomes very important at this point in time, so that the collective wisdom of the BoT will be put together and forwarded as advice to the National Working Committee and the National Executive Committee.
We believe that the implementation of our collective ideas will bring PDP back to what it was meant to be by the founding fathers because we still have residue of the founding fathers in the BoT, and we know on what premise this party was built and we know the people who built it are still available in the various states of the federation. So if we take this party back to the grass roots, we hand it back to the people, it will resuscitate, revive and roar back into power in 2019.
In taking the party back to the grass roots, how do you avoid what happened in the past when Chief Anenih and his team in trouble shooting efforts were misunderstood by the former Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, that the former was usurping the functions of the latter?
Like I said, the BoT does not have executive powers. If we have brilliant ideas, we should discuss them with the executive arm of the party, that is, the National Working Committee and the National Executive Committee. If the linkage is broken, then you have a situation where there is a breach in communication and then the implementation becomes fractional and therefore unsuccessful. This time around, whatever ideas we have in the BoT, we will implement together with the National Working Committee. If we are setting up a committee, it will be a committee of the party not a committee of BoT. If we are going round, it will be the party going round, not BoT or NWC or National Executive Committee. So the party will work as a unit not in groups of BoT, NWC, NEC. I have no doubt that we will succeed.
Muhammadu Buhari has been sworn in as the President of Nigeria. Before now, there were calls for the North to produce the President and some leaders of the North operated under the ACF to have it. Now we have it. As a Nigerian and not just as a northerner, is he taking us there against the backdrop of the issue of change?
Change was there before he came in. The principle under which PDP operates is that Nigeria should be seen as a united nation, but because of the present circumstances, we believe it will need time to blend as one people. And only when we can blend as one people is when every section of Nigeria will be given a sense of belonging and one of the innovative ways PDP has set out to build this sense of belonging is by making sure that whenever we set up a government, every part of this country, region, state, religious, tribal factors are put together so that the federal character of Nigeria is reflected in the government.
That is why we introduced zoning and rotation of power so that everybody feels he has something in the government. The six zones will feel that they have a chance and opportunity at one time or the other to produce whatever position, whether it is the president, the vice president, Senate president, the speaker, chairman of the party, chairman BoT.
That is one way we feel will further unify this country until we arrive at a time when Nigerian does not look at you as to where you come from, what religion you belong to, but what you can offer. Meanwhile, before we reach that, we have to create a sense of belonging that will eventually lead us to that position that a Nigerian is a Nigerian wherever he comes from.
That is what PDP has set out to achieve and I believe if all Nigerian parties accept that principle, it will not be long when we will reach the point where Nigerians will be seen as Nigerians regardless of where you live or come from.
Expectations are very high from Nigerians. The issues of power, petrol, unemployment, among others, are there. A new government is now in charge and I know you are not in the position to set agenda for it. But if you are to do that, what would you say and think the Buhari-led government should do if it must take us there?
I can’t think of what this government can do because I haven’t seen their performance. I was old enough to remember Buhari’s performance as a military head of state, but as to advising this government, I believe they have made promises to the people. The only advice I can give is that they should keep their promises to the people. The people expect power to operate normally, they expect security to be restored and enhanced, they expect all aspects of Nigerian life to operate smoothly whether it is education, health, transportation.
PDP has tried very hard and we have tried to publicise all that we have achieved in the last four years of former President Jonathan and in the 16 years that we have operated. For 25 years, the railway wasn’t working; I was fortunate to be the Chairman of railway when President Yar’dua directed that instead of going into standard gauge immediately we should first of all restore the narrow gauge so that people will start using that while we are working on developing the standard gauge and we thank God that the trains are now moving.
We planned to have railway in every state capital, the Ajaokuta/Warri to extend to Lokoja, the River Niger Marine transport.
The integrated master plan has been worked out and have developed gradually from Obasanjo’s time to Goodluck’s time. All these we expect this government to continue, otherwise the transport sector will be stagnant. In the power sector, so many turbines have been ordered by the PDP government, they have been put in place, but the required infrastructure to fire them is what is lacking and that is the next phase and we expect this government to carry on with the next phase so that all these turbines will be fired and, once they are fired, there will be enough power all over the country.
The power sector is such that you can’t do it over night, but we have set the trend, we have awarded contracts for many hydro electricity projects and the distribution is also another factor. Contracts have been given out for distribution system to cover all zones of this country. Towards the end of his administration, former President Jonathan and his vice, Sambo were opening various stations to make it possible for these distribution stations to send electricity to all parts of the country.
If the coming government continues with this process, they will set up transmission, which is already awarded in many parts, and distribution, which the DISCOs were set up to do, but you know they are still at the take off point, so the government should help them take off properly and they can do it in the four years they have and hopefully, in 2019, we will come in and continue from where we stopped.