In this interview, LEON USIGBE takes on the chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) National Caretaker Committee, Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, on his task in an era of leadership crisis in the party and other important issues affecting the opposition.
TO say it’s been a turbulent time for you as the chairman of the National Caretaker Committee of the PDP may be stating the obvious. Tell me about the experience so far.
Well, it’s a simple but difficult question. As you said, it’s been turbulent. But, I’ve gone through more turbulent times than this. This, to me, it’s storm in a tea cup compared to turbulences I have gone through in my life. But, I wouldn’t say it’s too challenging in the sense that I really don’t have any personal agenda. It’s not like I have set for myself this chain of personal agenda that I want to achieve other than that the party has given me a task and am trying along with other members to do my best to deliver on that task. Pure and simple! People may make their insinuations. They are free to do so. But you can see. By setting a convention date, everybody knows that am not a candidate for any elective office. I mean, it’s very clear that we are here to carry out the mandate of the convention by organising a national convention to elect the national leadership of the party. And then, we go. Yes, challenging but not as turbulent as so many events I have passed through in my life.
What is the mood in the party concerning the chance for a new national convention?
You can see people have started campaigning even before the forms for the convention are being sold. People have been writing to state chapters; they are visiting; they have been going round. You know, we are beginning to see people. So, it’s getting vibrant. You see people wanting to be involved. That’s a very good sign and indication. You witnessed the inauguration of the zoning committee and of course, a lot of people were even out of the country and because of distance, they couldn’t come but by today (Monday) when the inaugural meeting of the committee will be taking place, it will be a full house. People have been coming in since Sunday in order to attend the inaugural committee meeting.
How would you describe the level of interest in the national chairmanship post?
We are just starting. Until we close the sale of forms, you can’t really say. Some people have come out; some people are consulting to come out. So, it’s too early to say. But, the fact that we have opened the political landscape; that it’s zoned to the South, not a particular state in the South at this moment, not a particular geo-political zone in the South at this moment because you know, the zoning committee may make some recommendations which the caretaker committee may approve or not approve as the case may be. There are a lot of things yet to develop that may shape the race for elective offices. So, it’s too early to say, really. Maybe, we have to wait for the zoning committee to send their recommendation. But, we advised that they should make the political space wide open for everybody aspiring for any office to feel free to aspire for that office. So, I can’t say because they have not made their report. Its report we will consider and approve and also take to a larger caucus of the party for wider endorsement before we come to its implementation.
What kind of person are you looking at to emerge as the new national chairman, given the lingering crisis and the fact that the party is in opposition?
I am an umpire. I should not be defining what I want. It will make it too personal. As an umpire, I am to provide a level-playing field, and my prayer is that the party men and women that will be delegates to the convention will choose the most capable. All of them will be capable but I pray that the delegates will reflect that and select the most capable among all the capable men and women that may present themselves, not only capable but a uniter because we need all to be brought on board so that we can actually serve as an effective party in opposition. But, the choice is really not mine; it’s that of the delegates.
How do you hope to avert or control any fallout that may arise from the contest?
If you open the political landscape, which we have done, which we said we are going to do to a logical conclusion, and we run an open, free and fair election, nobody will have any reason to actually complain. People will complain when they are intentionally excluded from a process and we will not exclude anybody from this process.
How do you assess the damage done to the PDP by the months of leadership crisis?
I agree we took things for granted; we made mistakes and we have said so. But, we want to learn from the mistakes that we have made. There is no damage that is forever. We understand in life, once you have the chance and opportunity to actually correct what was wrong, you rise and run again. Not only rise and run but rise and fly and that’s what we are looking forward to. But, we must acknowledge where we erred as a party, as a party in government, as individuals. That is the beginning of atonement. We have to atone for our mistakes, whatever and not to pretend that they didn’t happen and Nigerians will take us serious. And how we conduct ourselves, Nigerians are watching. They will make assessment and desperation for power is not the thing. Even when we criticise, we should criticise with decorum, with facts. We can criticise by making so much noise and not based on facts. It can give good headlines but you may be turning off voters. So, we must learn from the way we were communicating before we lost the election because I honestly believe we were communicating wrongly and we thought that we were impressing people, not knowing that we were turning people off. In a large part of this country, we were turning people off by the way were talking, by the way we were bragging. So, we should talk politics having learned from those mistakes and really begin to connect with people in a manner that they will know that we are a reformed party prepared to take Nigeria to a greater height.
Not much has been heard from the claimant of the office of the national chairman, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff. What’s the situation concerning him? Is the crisis over yet?
I hope that this crisis comes to an end. It should have ended long ago as far as I am concerned but, I was never the problem. I would never be the problem and we have said that we are always prepared to accommodate to work together. But to accommodate to work together must be based on some legal foundations. If we take any political position now that is not based on any legal foundation, nothing stops another party man from going to court or tomorrow challenging all that had happened to say it was against one judgment or the other. And then, the vicious circle repeats itself again. So, I am calling on all engaged, trying to create this political settlement to know that with legal pronouncement by court, if you do anything contrary to that now, you may be starting another round of legal palaver and conflict in the party. Whatever we will do or we may do or we can do must be based on existing legal pronouncements unless they are reversed. Then, we will be sure of stability now and in the future. If not, even the party we want to take power from can use that against us. What we have done, let’s say, nomination of candidates for election, they can come and challenge us saying ‘that’s not what the court said. Those who did this were not what the court recognized.’ And so, everything done is a nullity.’ You can’t rule that out. Before the court made any pronouncement, we could have done anything politically. Having reached a point where the court has made a pronouncement, whatever we just do to achieve peace must be based on that foundation laid by the court.
Project the immediate future of PDP. Can it be in a position to regain power in 2019 as all of you seem to be thinking? What is the way to achieve this?
One, it is to bury the hatchet and put the party’s interests above any personal ambition. Yeah, some people may have been hurt intentionally or unintentionally! If we are hurt and think that we should bring the roof down, that’s not the way forward. But, I agree we should not continue with the culture of hurting people. We bury the hatchet and come together. As I said, we must acknowledge where we erred and say ‘never again.’ We must work to bring back people we have lost and bring new followership into the party. We must develop programmes that we can sell to the people that the people can say this programme is better than what they are getting now from government at the various levels in Nigeria. We must be modest and realistic. We must communicate effectively and efficiently with the people. These are the sort of things that we must do. We must be fair and just to all party men and women. Impunity must stop. Imposition must stop. If we do all of this, the sky is the limit for PDP.
There are suggestions that because the party’s image is too battered, associated with corruption, it should simply change its name. What do you say?
You see, it’s neither here nor there. Psychologically, it may affect some people. But if you change name and you don’t change attitude, of what use?
And this issue of corruption, I have said publicly that yes, there was a lot of corruption in the system but, it was not restricted to PDP. It’s because we are looking at government at the national level and it was only PDP that was at the national level. By the time you say look at the states, irrespective of the parties, you are going to end up most likely whether APC or the parties that formed APC or PDP, you are most likely to find out that the same thing at the centre was what happened at the various state levels, irrespective of the parties.
And if you want to really deal with this situation, it should be surgical; it should be comprehensive enough, not just dealing with the centre and ignoring the states. And that’s where the issue of political balancing will even come in so that people know that the issue of corruption is not restricted to only one political party. Except all of us- political parties and politicians -resolve to say ‘enough of this nonsense, we have all made mistakes, let’s stop going that bad way,’ we will just be doing superficial corrective measures.
Now, if you look at the centre, go to the $2.1billion arms money. $2.1billion is about N700 billion. If you total the money that was said to have been diverted into politics, it’s not even up to five per cent of this money. So, you have 95 per cent that the military and the bureaucracy should account for. Give credit to President Muhammadu Buhari, he’s the only one looking at the military and the bureaucracy. And that is why when you see one General, what he is being charged for may be a totality of the majority of the politicians put together. And people don’t see that point. They will only look at the politicians. Mind you, it is this military and bureaucracy that really knew right from the beginning that, that money was for arms. Those politicians were only given a task.
In 1999 when we took over from the military, nobody gave us money from the centre. But since 2003, the centre has always been funding elections nationwide. So, how will one, a politician know that in 2015 that it was not the same party that has been in place since 2003? They are not in a position to know. But those members of the Armed Forces and the bureaucracy knew exactly what the money was for and they diverted a lot of it. So, Nigerians should really think; the media should really think. Let’s even know where the problem lies and stop thinking that ‘oh, it’s PDP!’ I agree, where we did wrong, we will accept. So, this matter of corruption is not an issue limited only to PDP. If you continue to look at it that way, you will be missing the point.
We have heard that your committee has reached out to some founding fathers and other people who left the party some of whom are now active in the APC, with a view to having them back. How far have you gone?
I won’t tell you what I have been doing or what has been happening. That’s our secret. So, let it remain our secret.
How do you see the APC as a ruling party?
To be honest, I have been too busy dealing with the internal affairs of the PDP. Let me correct myself, let me be in the right shape rather than trying to find the fault of party in power. If we were in the right shape, I can pay a lot of attention to what’s over there. Right now, we are not even in the right shape to constitute an effective challenge to whatever mistake or whatever good the APC government may be making. We are not in the right shape to challenge it. So, I shouldn’t have a divided attention. My attention has been and for some time to come, will continue to be first of all on the effort to reform ourselves and be in the right shape. If the government does well, the people will tell at the right time. If they have not done well, the people will tell at the right time.
Assess Buhari’s fight against corruption. Is he really unduly harsh on his opponents?
You have to have a lot of details before you know on whose authority a lot of things are being done. It’s possible some things are being done without the knowledge of the president. Maybe, his own position is that corruption should be fought but how you go about fighting corruption? There could be a lot of interferences by people in government for different reasons altogether. And naturally, since they are dealing with the issue at the centre, only PDP was at the centre. So, apart from the politicians you see at the centre that will be at the forefront of this issue, there will naturally be PDP members. But when you look at the bureaucracy, they are not party men and women. The permanent secretaries, the directors, when you look at the chief executives of companies, maybe they were given contracts which they did not carry out. When you look at the military, they are not PDP card-carrying members. So, where do you place those ones? They equally are being investigated and called to account.
But I had said before and I want to repeat it that where correction has to be made is that 99 per cent of the PDP politicians being called, in my opinion, they are people that could not have known where the money that got to them for political activities came from. If it came from illegal source, they could not have known that. And that’s why I said it has been the practice since 2003 to fund elections from the centre. So, it was not something new. And nobody from 2003 had ever asked where the money come from. Those who did the approval, the initial disbursement must decidedly know where the money came from if indeed it was public fund. Only the authorities may know exactly where it came from. Of course, it’s wrong to take public fund for politics, whether at the federal, states or local government level. But go to the states. If we are to look at the states, whether PDP or APC, what we are seeing in the centre, we are going to equally see in the states, irrespective of parties.
By the time you handover on August 17, 2016, if you have to look back, what would you say would be your most significant achievement?
We lost virtually two months. I believe we will be able to handover successfully on August 17 and really, by the time we hand over, it means we would have been able to do everything within 30 or 40 days, not even 90 days. And that’s not a mean feat to achieve, and more united than we found the party anyway.
What are PDP chances in the forthcoming Edo gubernatorial election?
We are very confident. Our spirits are high; we are confident that we have a good candidate. We are confident that our party is on ground and the people will vote in large number for the candidate of the PDP. We are very confident.