2023 presidency: Why move to lure Jonathan into APC will fail – Aminu Wali, former Foreign Affairs minister

From Desmond Mgboh, Kano

Ambassador Aminu Wali is Nigeria’s former minister of Foreign Affairs and a founding father of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

In this chat with Sunday Sun in his home in Kano, he speaks about the challenges and fortunes of his party, the PDP.

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Specifically, he talked about the party’s Northwest congress, which has been shifted twice as a result of disruption in the first instance and recently, as a result of an injunction against a rather popular candidate in the race, Bello Hayaitu Gwarzo.

He also lamented over the negative impacts of the Kwankwasiyya Movement – a Movement led by Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso – on the party, the overarching pressure brought by strong governors on the PDP, the moves to lure Jonathan to APC as well as the dilemma of the PDP regarding which zone, North or South,  should produce its 2023 presidential candidate. Excerpts:

Let’s start the interview with the efforts of your party to hold a congress in the Northwest zone. What is your impression of what has happened so far, with two postponement of the congress already?

It is unfortunate about what has happened, that has led to the postponement of the scheduled congress. I think luckily, what we have in place today in terms of the national leadership of our party is a leadership that looks at things fairly, that is fair to everybody. It is unfortunate that some people went and got an injunction against one of the candidates, for which they know that they cannot expel or they cannot suspend him. Legally, they don’t have the authority under the Constitution of the party to suspend or expel a member of the BOT. The constitution is very clear. Even the National Executive Committee of the party cannot suspend or expel a member of the BOT of the party.

Are you referring to Bello Hayaitu Gwarzo, the candidate that was barred by their injunction?

Yes, Bello Hayaitu Gwarzo. As you know, Gwarzo is a member of the BOT and the Constitution of the PDP is very clear and by the end of the day, it is only the convention that can expel or suspend him or the BOT itself that can suspend him. And if it is expulsion, it is the convention that can expel him. So, this is a Kangaroo thing that was done. But then, when a court gave an injunction to stop Gwarzo from contesting, the party felt that the premise upon which the injunction was secured may not have taken into consideration the Constitution of the party and the party said well, to be fair to everybody, the congress is postponed, so that the legal issues would be sorted out and thereafter, we can go back to have a zonal congress. That is what happened.

What I worry here is time. Does your party have all the time?

Well, yes!  Don’t forget that there is already a caretaker executive in place at the zone, which has been handling all the issues. But of course, that is not satisfactory. We certainly want an elected body to do it, but since the current leadership is very much aware of the legal implications, it decided to say okay we cannot just go and support what we know is not legal – that is to support one of the candidates. But since the court has made a pronouncement, we have to obey the court. But for that purpose, they said okay, let’s just suspend the zonal congress so that everybody would be given a fair and level playing ground.

Still on the aborted Northwest zonal congress of your party, there are two candidates from Kano State vying for the deputy chairman. Why is it that almost all of you, the major stakeholders of the party in the zone are opposed the Kwankwassiya candidate?

Don’t forget that I am one of the founding fathers of this party. I was the first deputy national chairman of the PDP. Solomon Lar was chairman and I was his deputy. For me, it is the party that I know. Any other identification within the party, to me, is unacceptable. Our loyalties should be to the party. So, you can see, even without me giving any explanation, you can see why we are running at parallel lines with that movement you just mentioned. I don’t belong to any movement. I belong to the PDP. And any other body that identifies with me, it is not me as a person, It is the party that he identifies. So, somehow, somehow, there is a movement that sprang up around a particular personality, but they still claim to be a part of the PDP.

Sir, from your rich experiences in party politics, what is your take on movements loyal to a particular individual emerging within parties? I mean a movement like Kwankwasiyya Movement, whose loyalty is first to a particular personality?

Well, you see once we have the right leadership leading any political party, this kind of thing would not happen or would not be allowed to happen. This is because there would be limit, a red line which every member of the party cannot cross. But unfortunately, we have not been that cohesive at the national level of the party for some time now. But thank God, for the first time since the departure of Solomon Lar, this current leadership of the PDP, the national leader of the party, happens to be one of the founding fathers of the party. And so, he knows the principles and the basic philosophy of the party and also what really brought people together to form the PDP. At least, he has a perception of what the PDP should be. And I don’t think he would tolerate this movement stuff, I don’t think he would tolerate anything meddling into the administration of the party- like having a different movement whose loyalty is not to the party leadership. For us, the national party leader is our sole leader. No more, no less! Nobody who is not elected within the hierarchy of the party can be a leader to me. Whatever movement it is, regardless, should not arrogate itself the authority that can compete or disregard the party national leadership- because this is what is happening.

You don’t like talking about the Kwankwasiyya Movement, but it is real. How would you access their impact on the PDP in Kano State and beyond? Have they added value to the party or have been a cross for the party to bear?

I think that, initially, when they started, some people took them in good faith. They saw them as members of the party. And felt innocently  that it was not really built around a particular individual. They saw it like another brand to bring people into the PDP and they were somehow okay with it, but unfortunately as it turned out, it turned out like a cult within the PDP. And that has not augured well   for the PDP in the state and beyond. Initially when it was looked at as nothing harmless, yes, it added value. Kids, one way or the other, wanted to be identified with the PDP if they wear one thing or the other. But as it is, it seems that it is now built around a particular individual as opposed to around the party. If it is around the party, by now everybody who is a member of the PDP would be wearing or would be identified with the colours. But no! It got to a point where it is operating like worshipping the leader of the movement. Number two, it contradicts every democratic norm, all the democratic norms of running, not even a party, but any society of people. If there is democracy, then everybody will and should have a voice. At whatever level, there cannot be only one person that can determine everything. So, that is the difference. So, for Kano today, if things go the way it is going, I will be very, very sorry for our young people that are now coming up. The political culture that is being nurtured in the party would not augur well in the future because number one, discipline is broken down. I have been a victim. I am sure you know what happened to me. In a society, no matter what, respect for elders is always inculcated in the youth. And they have always respected that. That is how our society was and any society in Nigeria is built around that culture. But eventually that culture of respect in Kano is being eroded arising from the emergence of this sort of movements.

There is a new PDP national leadership today. Do you see this team of leadership as the type that can fight APC and their incumbency to a standstill by 2023?

Absolutely, absolutely. Like I said earlier, the spirit of the founding fathers of the PDP is now brought to the fore. The founding fathers of the party fought the military and succeeded, let alone fighting a rival democratic institution like the APC and its incumbency. We were there before and we know how the game is played. The current leadership was part and parcel of the first PDP government. Iyorchia Ayu was a minister in that government. So, he knows the values and the programmes and the achievements of the PDP within that 16 years of governance and today, he is at the helm of affairs of the party. And I believe that very soon, we would start seeing a lot of people, a lot of Nigerians trooping back to the PDP because a lot of people have a lot of confidence in Ayu’s emergence. Like I said, I have absolute confidence in Ayu- because we worked with him in the national secretariat, he was a member of the 34, he was first Chairman’s Political Adviser when I was Deputy Chairman to Solomon Lar. He was his Principle Political Adviser. And most of the political thinking of that era owe itself to Ayu’s input. So he is very much conversant, in fact, he is the most qualified person within the PDP to really drive the new vision of the party. The previous leadership of the PDP led by Secondus.

They are still around, they are still agitating and they still feel that they should not have been removed they way they were removed. Don’t you see them as a threat to all these goals and new vision?

Whether we like it or not, I was party to the emergence of that administration. Secondus was at my house where he was interviewed by all the stakeholders of my zone (Northwest zone) before we agreed to go along with him. At that time, we all believed that things would work out well. But I think that somehow, along the way, there was a derailment. PDP is people’s democratic party. It is not owned by any individual or organization. It is our own, all of us, all Nigerians, and whoever wants to identify with the PDP, owns a piece of the party. And there is a constitution which was carefully crafted by people who are well qualified and with amendments here and there as we go on. For the PDP to succeed, we have to adhere strictly to the constitution of the party. But unfortunately, the last administration vied away from the basic principles of the constitution of the party. In fact, if they had adhered strictly to the constitution of the party, then, movements like  Kwankwasiyya could not been tolerated. The constitution does not provide for any movement within the party. But somehow, it was tolerated and encouraged. When Kwankwassiyya movement came out from the APC to the PDP in Kano State, they came in as Kwankwassiyya Movement. That would not have happened under the current leadership. If you come in, you come in as a member of the PDP and your movement is something that is totally outside the party structure. So, my vision of the current leadership or my confidence in the current leadership is to the effect that I know that the driver is a good driver and would take us safely to our destination. My only appeal is to those aspirants for political offices, particularly aspirants to the number one position to please tread carefully, for the party to come up with the right kind of person that is generally accepted, both within the party and across the country.

There is the assumption that the PDP is now under the control of some strong governors, strong governors like Wike and his friend in Sokoto, Tambuwal, and that these governors dictate the tune and not the elected leadership. May we have your view on this?

This is a very sad situation. But it evolved over the years. It would be unfair to blame the last administration alone. PDP started stumbling within the first administration. If I could remember, a lot of the provisions within the constitution and the way that the PDP was being run were taken from the former parties, particularly the NPN of which I was part of. The party, from what I know of the NPN, the party is supreme. Whether you are the governor or the president, you have to go with what the party dictates, when I say the party, I mean everybody, not a certain group of individuals sitting down to decide. But unfortunately, over the years – maybe it is as a result of lack of resources or the party was unable to create ways of raising its own resources and it was depending on the largesse that was coming from the governors and even from the presidency as it was when we were in power. Eventually, through the process, the party began to lose its grips. Because when we came into office in 1999, as a member of the national caucus, we used to meet every week when we first started, every week with the president and his ministers and his nominees, BOT, every week and get reports of what the government was doing. It eventually went to bi-weekly and then somehow along the line, it just fizzled out. 

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That is where I think the party lost track. It didn’t lose track now as in today or yesterday. This problem took time to evolve to what it is today.

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What is the solution?

The solution is strong leadership.

And what is your appeal?

Let us now learn to be fair to one another, whether you are the governor or the chairman of the PDP or whatever. Let us be fair to the party and the only way to be fair to each other is to allow the party and constitution to be referee to all the players. They must give the party the chance to be the referee. Just like in a football game, the referee is the sole authority in the game. And the party should be given the authority to make sure that there is fairness in whatever that is being done. And at the same time, the party should think of how to independently generate funds – I think Ayu has started. I saw him going to visit the national secretariat that we started building some years ago. When that structure in the center of Abuja is completed, I think the party would depend less on any individual for funds.

Only recently, the PDP national chairman paid a visit to Obasanjo to canvas his blessings and invite him to the party, but I think the signal in the media was that Obasanjo turned down the offer to return  to the PDP. How do you see this?

No! He did not turn down the offer, it was not a question of turning down. Obasanjo has already made his position clear a long time ago, that he is no longer, I mean, he is now a statesman, not only in Nigeria but in Africa, in fact, in the world. And I worked very closely with Obasanjo when I was in the United Nations and I know the kind of respect that the man commanded at the international level. So, I think that he had realized that at his age, he should not be drawn into party politics and all these things. But deep down, he still cannot acquit himself of his preference. If we sit down , me and him sit down, talking, I still can see the flicker of his preference to PDP than any other party in Nigeria! But for him to now come out and say that I am going to be partisan, some of the assignments and some of the activities that he is undertaking at the moment cannot continue. He has had recognition in Africa, recognition internationally. So, I think he is trying to protect what he has going for him now. His position as a statesman may not be accommodated by the narrowness of a particular political party, but deep inside him, his thinking is definitely PDP.

The PDP appears to be in a dilemma in terms of whose region should produce its presidential candidate, North or South, for the 2023 elections. What is your position?

Well, you see for me, my antecedents are very clear. When we went to the party’s convention in Jos, I was an Ekwueme’s man. I supported him to the end and up to the time the man died, I still maintained that relationship with him. For me, my solution for the Nigeria’s problem at that time was to get an Igbo man to become the president after the civil war, to get an Igbo man to take over the country. My belief was and is still is that if Ekwueme had become the president of Nigeria, all these Biafra stuff would have been long forgotten. All these things would have been put to rest, if only we had allowed an Igbo presidency at that time. If we had Ekwueme then as president, nobody would come and agitate for Biafra today. Yes, maybe the Yourba was shortchanged when Abiola was not sworn in, but that is one thing you and me cannot be accused of. But today what we need, from my point of view, what I believe is that we need a change of government in Nigeria, we need the PDP back to power to take us back to eight years ago, where the APC took over because things have really gone bad, things have become so bad in this country in every aspect.

We are talking about that we need…?

Yes, we need to win 2023 general elections and for me, I don’t care where the person comes from so long as the person is capable and can win elections for our party. It should be somebody that can break the barriers of all the zones in this country to be able to emerge as a presidential candidate. There is demand for Igbo president, Yoruba president or a Northern president or whatever president. Yes it is a legitimate right for everybody to voice out his preference, but I hope that within the PDP, we are going to come back to our senses and really look at the aspirants, sit down to look at them and in the same spirit that we were able to produce the chairman of the party, that same spirit should guide us to produce a winner candidate for the presidency of this country, regardless of where the person comes from.

If I get you right now, the emphasis is how to get a winner kind of  candidate?

Exactly, because we we have to do something to get rid of where we are today and then we can now return back to our zoning. I want a winnable candidate from whichever part of the country. Let us accept the candidate so that we can go ahead and win the elections and once we win the elections, then we can now sit down within the PDP and within the larger society also to see how do we now satisfy the aspiration of every Nigerian from every part of the country, maybe come up with a new formula  like the initial thinking .Yes the initial thinking was to move rotation to all the six zones and after that , there should be no more rotation. But unfortunately, Obasanjo finished and Yar’dua died. That was what brought about the complications. The people are crying that the North has ruled. Yes, it has ruled. But they had APC and we have PDP.  We have ruled for 16 years as PDP, but those 16 years were not from the North. I am trying to justify anything , no ! For now, forget about where the candidate would come from , let us get a winnable candidate.

There is a suggestion that to ease this form of challenge, let’s cut down the tenure to one –tenure stuff, so that the presidency can go easily round to the zones. What is your view on this?

This is something that can be visited and be accepted. Because you see this two term business, once somebody gets to the Villa, he does not want to hear anything that would curtail his tenure. We would now have to have a national consensus across all parties that it should be one term presidency. I am totally in agreement with that. Maybe we make one term  – five-year presidency, so that another zone will come and take charge so that this question of “we have been left out” would be over. After that, it is going to be purely on merit. We really have to learn to be Nigerians and to be our brother’s keepers regardless of from whichever part anybody comes from. Like I was saying, I never regretted supporting Ekwueme. I remember Obasanjo came to this house to seek my support and I told him Sir, I have known you before EKwueme, but Ekwueme has been my political soul mate.

There is still this speculation that somehow former President Goodluck Jonathan is still being lured back to the political field and APC may field him as their presidential candidate.

Jonathan is my boss and I served as his minister and I respect him and Jonathan is his own man, his own person. No matter how close we are with him, at the end of the day, that decision is his, not mine , not that of anybody. But as far as I know, he is still a member of the PDP. Yes, he has not been happy, apparently, from the way things were going and that is why he has not been too much involved in the affairs of the PDP. And maybe secondly, he’s got an alternative by being engaged in a lot of these African affairs, moving all over Africa, trying to sort out democratic issues…You want my opinion on what?

Should he move on with the offer or should he not?

I doubt it very much, knowing the man and what he is. I doubt if he would take that offer. I doubt it because I think he is already enjoying tremendous amount of respect, nationally and internationally, that going back, trying to go and start fighting against his own party that brought him up, that I think would be a tall order. I don’t think so, and in particular, for him to go and contest in the APC. For me, I will never forget the vitriolic attacks that we got from the APC, particular on him as a person. They even termed him the sponsor of Boko Haram. Some of us were vilified in our won states. They said that we have recanted our religion because we were supporting Jonathan. My house nearly got burnt at a time. So, he knows all these things that happened and it was not anybody’s doing at that time, but the APC’s doing. So, I don’t think that he would succumb to any pressure from the APC. That is number one. This is all rumour! It is rumour!! But how about the stalwarts of the All Progressives Congress that are gunning for that same position? Are they going to sit down and say okay we accept somebody from outside to come and take it? Does it make sense to you that those gunning for the presidency in APC would come and say okay we are settled for an outsider to come and take over?

It is not your party, but what is your take about the current struggle between Vice President Osinbajo and Bola Tinubu for their party’s  presidential ticket?

The truth is that I know less or little about these people, to be honest with you. To some extent, yes I know Bola Tinubu, but  Osinbajo, I have never met him since he became the vice president.  Even since he became the vice president, I have never met him officially, not even once. So, I am not too much attached to the politics of the Southwest and most of the people that I am attached to in the region are not from the APC and even though some of them had moved to the APC from the PDP, when they move, they cut off automatically.

Seven years down the line, how would access President Buhari’s  leadership bearing in mind the three major promises that he made to Nigerians when he was canvassing votes?

This administration took over from us and I know how far we went… all those projects that they are now claiming that they have done. Yes, we initiated them. Even the institution fighting corruption, it is our making. On security, what will I say? Let you or any other Nigerian compare between then and now. I don’t have to comment. This is something which is known to all Nigerians. Today, no part of Nigeria is spared. At least in our days, maybe we can say that it was limited to the Northeast But today, no part of Nigeria as far as security is related is secured. People dare not travel by road today to any part of Nigeria. Talking about security, I don’t want to comment. In those days, we all travel by road. But today the roads have all gone bad and secondly you dare not because the roads are not safe. So, what security are you talking about?

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