Few S’South Politicians Support Jonathan’ – Interview with Atiku Abubakar (This Day)

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THIS DAY 

Few S’South Politicians Support Jonathan’

12.06.2010

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW 

Prologue 

Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar is a political cat with nine lives. Ever since he made his entry into national politics in 1993 as a presidential aspirant, he has remained a permanent fixture one way or the other. 
He came third at the presidential primary of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), behind Chief MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe, and chose to support Abiola in the second ballot that eventually gave the party’s ticket to Abiola. He was at the 1995 Constitutional Conference, won the governorship election in Adamawa State in 1999 before ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo picked him as running mate and was Vice-President for eight years, famously falling out with Obasanjo in the last few months of the administration. He unsuccessfully contested for the presidential position in 2007 as the candidate of the Action Congress (AC). 

Today he is back as a presidential aspirant in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ahead of the 2011 general election. At the one-hour interview session with THISDAY Board of Editors in London on Tuesday, he looked at home with every question as if he saw the questionnaire ahead of the appointment. He looked relaxed and battle-ready. But not until after he had confessed how “tough” it was for him to emerge as the consensus candidate of the Adamu Ciroma-led Northern Political Leaders Forum in the PDP. “At a stage, it was difficult knowing who would support you and who would not. Believe me,  it was a very tough battle,” he said.  He spoke on several key issues, such as his public falling-out with ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, the corruption tag on his head, his controversial return to the PDP after being “pushed out” (his words), his flirtation with the opposition and the forthcoming presidential primary of the party. Excerpts: 

Tell us the story of the comeback to PDP?  
I think it is a matter of destiny. You know I was forced out of the PDP towards the end of our administration and one thing I didn’t want anybody to get away with was denying me my right under the constitution. So I moved over to the Action Congress (AC) because from what I understood, the motive behind my being pushed out of the PDP was to ensure I did not contest the presidential election because if I was allowed to contest, maybe I could pose a threat or an upset. 

I therefore decided to exercise my right in AC. Having done that, we now initiated how to give Nigerians a viable alternative to PDP by creating another platform. So within the AC and other parties that came together, I was made Chairman of the steering committee to realise that objective. And we did a lot of work. 

My recommendations were accepted at the inter-party level and then each political party was asked to go and ratify it. It was in the process of that ratification that the break-up came. Major General Muhammadu Buhari went ahead and announced the formation of his party. AC went and met in Benin City and repudiated the guidelines recommended for integration. And that was the collapse of an attempt to form a viable opposition. 

Then, of course, I now summoned a stakeholders’ conference of my supporters all over the country to know what next to do. We consulted up to local government level, held a series of meetings and they said, Look, we did not walk out of the PDP; we were pushed out of the PDP and it didn’t look like the opposition is prepared to give Nigerians a viable alternative. Let’s go back to PDP, but before then, there were attempts by the PDP to woo me back because immediately after the late Umaru Yar’Adua came into office, I received a delegation who said, ‘Oga come back, come help us in this party.’ They said let Umaru concentrate on governance while you (Atiku) help us to rebuild the party. I said okay, go do ABC, they went ahead and did ABC. Then the next meeting, they met me in Paris and said, Oga, come back, we have done ABC. I said okay, go and do DEF. 

They were all processes in the party, I mean reverting to the original constitution (of the PDP) and other issues. The delegation met me in Dubai and said, ‘Oga, we have finished everything you said we should do, come back.’  I said okay, but I now wanted an appointment to make it more formal. And they gave me the impression that they had met with Umaru and that it would help reform the party and all that. So, then I think I was in Singapore and I got a call from Aso Rock that the late President wanted to see me. So I rushed back. But the meeting was shifted and the President took ill, travelled and never came back. So I brought the whole scenario together. By April 6 (2010) we passed a resolution that we had returned to the PDP and we wrote to the party that we had resolved to return to the party and that our membership should be allowed to stay at various levels. 

Of course, some had it smooth in their states, some had it rough and I was one of them. But we moved en masse and then returned to the party. My state was one of those states fragmented. You know before the 2007 election there were eight gubernatorial aspirants (in Adamawa State ) and no primary was conducted. All of a sudden, a candidate was brought from outside and imposed on the people. 

Ever since then, the party has broken up in pieces. I went to register with one (faction) and they said no, that is not acceptable. I went back and registered with the group that was acceptable and then the process of return began and then the rest is history. 

You said you were pushed out of the PDP. Were you also pushed out of the AC?
No, because I did not see a viable alternative. You know I told you and I mean it. Honestly, I would recommend that we don’t need more than three political parties. 

There is nothing I dread like one single powerful party. I dread it so much. I am scared of it. This is because if you get somebody who gets to power, he would use it, amend the constitution and become a life President. 

Yes, the issue was that you were a founder of AC (cuts in)?
You see, there was ACD where we moved into first and then there was another political party which we registered. Then the two came together to make AC. 

But were you pushed out of the AC by a domineering character?
Not really. It wasn’t that I was pushed out by any domineering character. I was just frustrated by the inability of the opposition to come together and to provide Nigeria with a viable alternative. So the failure in the provision of that alternative was what pushed me out. 

But your people in AC were and should still be your political allies?  
Yes, they would continue to be because there are a number of things we hold in common and because we came from virtually the same political family (Peoples Front, Peoples Solidarity Party, the Social Democratic Party) since we started our political career. It would always remain like that. 

Before we came to SDP, we were more or less children of maybe the same father but with different mothers. 

So given that you came from that political family that was generally led by Shehu Musa Yar’adua, and then you now had an Umaru Yar’Adua who was supposed to be your younger brother, yet you ran against him and never supported him. Why?
Democracy! 

During the run-up to your emergence as the consensus candidate, your campaign organisation came up with a lot of programmes. Corruption is an issue in the country today, but in that your campaign, you are not strong on that. Beside that, there are other issues like your indictment in the US . What is your agenda on corruption? 

My position on corruption is very clear. I have always stood against corruption, even when we were in office.  I participated actively in putting together the Act that eventually set up the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). 

In fact, we (President Olusegun Obasanjo and I) wanted a tougher law, but when it went to the National Assembly, it was watered down. When it came to the issue of appointing the head of the EFCC, I also played a key role. The original Act provided for the appointment of an officer not below the rank of an Assistant Inspector General of Police and I went to the President and told him that we could get somebody not up to that rank who could the job. 

I advised we look at the ranking thing. I know I ensured that that aspect of the law was tinkered with to give the President the discretion to appoint whoever he felt was fit and that led to the appointment of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. 

He started extremely well, not until when I felt that he ran into misuse by the President. And there was a time I called him and told him that, why should you (Ribadu) be doing the President’s bidding instead of doing your work? 

He (Ribadu) said, ‘Look, it has become a power game.’ I said good luck to you and hung up. I have always been tough as far as corruption is concerned, even when I was in the Nigerian Customs. 

So, I would continue to be. And my view about corruption in Nigeria is that the way corruption cases are being handled… if I had my way again, I would insist that no corruption case should last beyond six months. You either convict the fellow or you let him go. But today we have corruption cases pending for over five years in court. You know this adage which says that justice delayed is justice denied. That is one. There was no indictment in the US. There was investigation about money I was regularly sending to my family based in the US and the source of the money. 

They investigated up to the source of the money and there was no evidence that there was anything wrong I did. If there was evidence, I or my wife would have been indicted in the U.S, but none of us was indicted. So I want to correct that impression. Yes, investigations were conducted for more than two years. We gave them every bit of information they wanted. You must know that I had been in business and I did not come into this party (PDP) a poor man. I came in as a very wealthy person. I was responsible for funding this party right from the beginning. 

 I can tell you that there is absolutely no evidence. But you know that the President (Obasanjo) would not have spared me if he had any evidence to indict me in Nigeria . He would not have spared me. And there is nothing he has not done. He wrote letters to Presidents, to Prime Ministers and described me as a corrupt Vice President to some of them. I met some of them and they told me. So, you see, this corruption toga was deliberate because early in the day he realised that I could be a threat. 

Before Ribadu even became the EFCC Chairman, he was like your aide, always in your office. Mallam Nasir el-Rufai too was like your aide. You brought el-Rufai, you brought Ribadu. How come they turned against you? 

Ribadu was not all that my aide. He came to me with a complaint when he was a Chief Superintendent of Police and said that he wasn’t promoted for several years. I told him I also faced the same thing in the Customs, that there was a time people (at the Nigerian Customs) saw me as a threat and I was left on one position for eight years, that sometimes it can happen. And that the moment they realised that there was injustice done to me, that in one day I was promoted three times. I told him (Ribadu) that I would investigate. So I called the permanent secretary who was in charge of Police Service Commission (PSC) and told him to go and look into Nuhu’s case. That was how he was promoted. It was not that Nuhu and I were very close. 

On the issue of el-Rufai, when I was Vice President elect, there was a conference in London and then myself, el-Rufai and Dr. Rilwanu Lukman were in the panel and I was impressed with el-Rufai’s presentation. I then called him to know if he would like to take up an appointment with the government, and he said he won’t mind. 

So I came back to Nigeria a­­­­­­nd met with the President and said I didn’t  like the then Director-General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) and that I met a young man who I felt was brilliant and I wanted to recommend him and the President said I should go ahead. So he came and we worked together for four years. After the four years, we came back again and the President said he was looking for a Minister for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) who could jail his own mother.
I said the only person I can think of is el-Rufai. 

I said so because I worked with him for four years and so he was shortlisted. He had problem with the Senate and I quickly moved in there and helped him. Of course, he lived up to my expectation. So one day when he met me in Dubai for reconciliation, I said Nasir, after four years as DG BPE, you had a press conference that there was never a time I instructed you to do something inappropriate.
How come you now said I am a thief? 

He said no, I didn’t call you a thief. I said no, I was watching the television. You came on the television abusing me. But he denied it and said he came for reconciliation. I said okay. So we have reconciled. 

Since you came back for this Presidential project, you have been busy attacking Obasanjo. The impression you created was that you are attacking (cuts in)…
No, I disagree with that. 

The point I am making is that in that government, you were the Vice-President for four years and for those four years, you were a very active Vice-President. So whatever was wrong with that government, there is no way you can absolve yourself from it.
I think you need to be explicit. If I attacked Obasanjo, i did not attack the policies of the government. You need to be very careful on that. If I attacked him I would say we had a political disagreement and would say what he wanted to do and I disagreed. As a President, he could overrule me, as he frequently did and tried to do what he thought was right. 

Let’s take it this way, for instance, you were attacking him on internal democracy (cuts in)…
Of course yes. I did that. 

But when you were in power, one could not say that the PDP at that time had internal democracy?
It had. It did have. There was no Chairman that we elected that we did not vote for. I disagree with you. 

Would you say that the emergence of Barnabas Gemade over Sunday Awoniyi was democratic?
Yes, it was and I would like to tell you what happened. When Awoniyi wanted to become Chairman, he came to me. I said you deserve to be Chairman. And I said to him, sir, I will go and meet President Obasanjo. When I met the President, he said over his dead body. I came back to Awoniyi and said you have a problem with the President. If he supports you, I will campaign for you. My own is to campaign. Obasanjo went for someone else. There was even a threat by the entire National Assembly members not to vote and I sat down, calculated the votes and said I could deliver even without the National Assembly. But by the time I got to the National Assembly, I spoke to Umar Ghali Na’Abba and they changed their minds and they voted. In AC, when they said ‘you (Atiku) are our candidate,’ I said no, we have to vote. Go back to vote. 

Even on the policies. Our roads are terrible. We don’t have power and (cuts in)…
Don’t hold me responsible for why we don’t have power. I was not the President. I was only an adviser to the President. On the issue of power, we disagreed. I said this power thing, we are supposed to have short, medium and long term plans and that we should diversify, but he said no and said he was going head-long for IPP. I said this gas thing, it won’t work, but he refused. I said let us plan like what President (Fidelis) Ramos of Philippines did and by the time he left office, the problem had been solved. They had the same kind of situation we have in Nigeria – blackout all over. And he built power stations all over the country to supply immediate environs. But the President insisted on IPP, and we are still on it today and it is still not going to work. 

I am aware that the core of the success of that administration was engineered by you. And if you can accept it was a success, you just must accept it was a failure. You brought el-Rufai, you brought Okonjo-Iweala and that winning economic team, for the Obasanjo presidency. So what went wrong? 

What went wrong that I found out later was that Obasanjo tried to lord it over us and he also believed that for the economic team to remain, he had to remove me as VP and I said it is not a one-man thing, but that it was an issue of succession. In fact, when I suggested that after the second term, let the two of us leave, it was Obasanjo who said that he doesn’t want to make the mistake he made in 1979. And when I wanted to know what happened then (1979) he explained to me that when he left (in 1979) and came back (in 1999), he met everything in the same position. He said ‘we must have a succession plan that would ensure continuity. If I spend eight years and I go and if you spend eight years, nobody would come and reverse Nigeria again by the time we have gone.’ But he deviated from that goal. 

Was third term real?
That was his plan. That was what he told me. And then along the line they said you have done well with the reforms you have initiated, and then again came the issue of constitutional amendment. And we had a heated argument and he came with the same excuse that 20 years ago, he left Ghadafi, he left Eyadema and others and said why can’t he continue. But I said you cannot compare Nigeria with all those countries. So that was the departure point and that was also the beginning of derailing the reforms that we started. 

Now, what do you consider as the lowest moment of the Obasanjo years and what do you consider as the highest moments?
The best moments were the first four years and the lowest were the last four years. 

But most of the reforms, such as the debt relief, took place in the last four years?
Hmmmm… well, that was true but they were initiated in the first four years. What happened was that when I met with the World Bank and the IMF, I said I was very concerned about our debt office in the Ministry of Finance and that I needed an expert to come and help us, and then Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala came, we worked together in my office for about nine months, and together we set up the new Debt Management Office (DMO).
We drafted the legislation together. So after working together, towards the end of the first term I now constituted the economic team – led by Professor Anya O. Anya, Fola Adeola, Charles Soludo. 

Now, Jonathan, is he a good President for Nigeria?
Honestly I don’t know. I have not worked with him. 

No, you are outside, but as a citizen of Nigeria . He has now been President after Yar’Adua. How would you rate the Jonathan presidency after Yar’Adua passed on?
I would rather see it as one presidency, not Jonathan’s presidency, because it is continuity of Yar’Adua’s administration. From the beginning, the administration was bedevilled. 

 Bedevilled by what?
A lot of problems. First of all, if we are to go by the issue of credibility, the electoral process.
When that one was settled, then we had to contend with the sick President and then constitutional issues on whether there should be Acting President, with doctrine of necessity. I think there isn’t much to say about the whole thing. 

But you once described it as Clarus and Gringory (of the New Masquerade drama)?
(Laughter) Did I use that language?
 

Do you still think so?
All what I can say is that there is nothing different. 

You said it is continuity and that is what President Jonathan has also been saying?
They are two different things. Here you have a constitutional thing and there is also a party agreement which was not reviewed and then you say all those don’t matter. 

So are you going to challenge it in court because at the end of the day if the zoning arrangement is going to stand, it points to the fact that you are going to be the candidate of the PDP?
It is already in court and well, it depends on the constitution.  

I don’t understand. Are you the candidate of the PDP and do you see Jonathan as your opponent?
Of course, if I win the primary of the PDP, I would become the candidate of the PDP. 

Now, what are you going to offer that is different?
Quiet a number of things. I am going to offer experience. I am going to offer capacity. I am going to offer vision. I am going to offer a leadership that is ready to be President, that has experience and that can be President. 

Now that you are campaigning for the presidency, may we know your state of health because you said that one of the things that bedevilled the late President was his ill-health? Are you fit to be President?
Yes I am fit. Before I came out for the campaign, I just came back from normal medical examination in Geneva.
I normally have medical examination twice a year. I am fit. I don’t have any major organ problem. Nothing really and at the appropriate time, I would release a report on my medical examination. 

And would you make your VP do the same thing?
I believe whoever is going to be VP should be fit to be President.
I am not the kind of person who would go and pick somebody who is sick to be Vice-President. 

So if you win the nomination, will you be open to appointing President Goodluck Jonathan as your running mate to unite the party?
Well, I am for the unification of the party; there is no doubt about that. I am for the reform of the party, no doubt about that. You know right now, we have what is called the G4.
In our new organogram, you have the candidate and then G4 and then you have other structures of the campaign organisation. It is not my decision alone. 

 However, in the G4, are you looking at the South-East or the South-South or even the South-West?
These are all options and I don‘t think there is a foreclosed option. 

Do you fear, for instance, a scenario where when you emerge as the candidate of the PDP, where your opponent in the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) teams up with the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), which as you know is a strong political machine right now? So if you have a strong Buhari in the North-West and a strong ACN in the South-West teaming up to defeat the PDP. What would you do?
A strong ACN, I will not dispute in the South-West, but there is no strong CPC in the North-West.  

But the dynamics is that most of the popular support right now is growing towards Buhari (cuts in)…
You are not right, sir. I am on the ground. 

Okay, you don’t see a threat from Buhari?
No. I am on the ground and I have gone round. There are pockets of Buhari supporters in Kano, but the main battle is going to be between the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the PDP in Kano and then followed by the CPC. 

So how do you assess Buhari as a candidate?
Unfortunately, Buhari relies just on himself. There isn’t any structure on the ground and there isn’t any strong funding base. Funding base is completely absent. When we were trying to put together the credible opposition, the whole budget was being shared between Bafarawa and myself and maybe to the South-West. At a point in time, Buhari was calling us thieves at our back. I called Bafarawa and told him to ask Buhari which court of law declared us thieves. 

Now how do you assess Buhari’s vision and legacies beyond perception? Can he govern?
Buhari has not always governed, even when he was Military Head of State, others were governing for him and when he was Chairman of the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), others were doing it for him. 

So should Jonathan win the nomination of the PDP, are you likely to support Buhari?
No, I will support the PDP. 

You said we have always had zoning since 1960, but I believe there is a difference between zoning and power rotation and power sharing?
Yes, I interchangeably use all the three. I use zoning, power sharing and power rotation. You know in the debate that framed the constitution, you would see that in our preamble, we were talking of zoning, power rotation and power sharing. I was using them interchangeably. To me, they connote the same thing. 

If you say they connote the same thing, that means nothing has been damaged so long as the President is from one zone and the Vice President from another zone.That means the power sharing or zoning you are talking about is still in place?
Yes, I am not saying it is not there, but it is the reverse. 

You were at the heart of the post-military era where agreements were reached that you would give power to Obasanjo and power would come back to the North. And now that things have turned out this way, do you also see a risk that if the South-South feels aggrieved, that could lead to more problems?
No. I don’t see that. I hosted one group called South-South Unity Forum, just before I left the country. They comprise of all the ethnic groups in the South-South and they said that they do not support or agree with what Jonathan is doing. There was even an Ijaw man who said that he doesn’t support what he (Jonathan) is doing because he is straining the relationship between the North and the South-South. So, I don’t believe in that because Jonathan, up till now, has the support of just a few.
 
But in 2003, you wanted to run against Obasanjo despite the agreement that power should be in the South?
It was a political game. 

 Somebody was trying to say you are politically irrelevant. Now what would be your reaction to show that you are politically relevant? And when the fellow realised that you are politically relevant, he said okay, I now agree. Then, there was actually no intention to follow through. This question was asked to me by the consensus candidacy selection team, because I was grilled for two hours. One man asked me that question. 

 He said why didn’t you run when we wanted you to run and take away this thing from the South, I said, do you see me like somebody who would break an agreement? And then the Chairman of the Consensus committee said if I had done that they would have disowned me. So it was a political game. 

Going back to the consensus issue, there is this belief that it is an index of the under-development of our polity because three of you involved in it had played at the national level of our polity and that at a point you now became sectional leaders and that with the way it is being pursued, you have reduced yourselves to sectional leaders? 

No, we haven’t reduced ourselves to sectional leaders. We are only trying to achieve stability in the polity. That was what was foremost in our mind. It wasn’t the sectional issue. And if you see our electorate base, none of us is confined to the region. We all have national spread. We were actually trying to ensure national cohesion. 

You must remember that at the end of the 1994-1995 political conference, we look at all these issues. In the draft we gave to Abacha, we made provision for one term Presidency of five years because we wanted to see that before 30 years, each zone would have produced a President. We made provision for two Vice Presidents, one from the North and one from the South. In the event of something like what happened to Late Umaru Yar’Adua, the man from the North would have completed his (Yar’Adua’s) term. But when General Abdulsalami (Abubakar) came, he set up a review committee and they were so influenced by the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) that they didn’t want anything from Abacha and the review committee made provisions, which is where we are today. Whether you like it or not, we are still developing politically, we are a developing democracy and we are just about to have 12 years of continuous democratic governance in our country. It is too short a time to begin to compare us with developed countries that have practiced democracy for over 200 years, 300 years or centuries old. We are just beginning.  

You have told us you are going to give experience, capacity, vision and leadership. Should you defeat Jonathan, how would you placate the people of the South-South? 

South-South is where we call the Niger Delta. You know because of my passion about the Niger Delta, I have conducted more study about the Niger Delta than any other Presidential candidate today.
The idea of the Niger-Delta Ministry was my own; the idea was of course from my policy paper. So, clearly, the South-South or Niger Delta is going to have a high priority in my administration. 

In specific terms, what plans do you have to solve the problems of our country, which you are well aware of if you are elected?
In specific terms, the problems of our country are power, infrastructure, job, creating the necessary environment for investment. You know you cannot create jobs if there is no power. Unfortunately, we don’t have all the resources needed to make immediate impact, you have to open up the country for direct foreign investment, and you have to create very favourable policies for conducive investment. For instance, I intend to reduce Company taxation. At 33 per cent, it is too high. You want somebody to come and invest in your country and you are asking him to pay 33 per cent taxation. I want to really liberalise the economy so that I can absorb direct foreign investment in addition to create jobs. These youth unemployment is a very serious issue. If you go around and you see these youths, you would be frightened. 

Since you have put power at the heart of your agenda, what would you do with the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP)?
The NIPP is a long term project, but where is the gas? 

I asked a gas expert to tell me how long it would take to gather these gas and he said three years and there is this community issue that they would not allow you remove the gas unless they are compensated. So, first of all, you have to invest massively to remove unemployment. My target is the Niger Delta in particular. You know that was why I said I would establish a course that would redeploy the militants. I would make it 70-30. You see, our Navy is trying to operate in the deep sea, not in the creeks and not in the swamp, because the Navy does not want to lose ground and then the army is not trained in that kind of terrain. So you need a medium intervention force to deal with, one, to bring about security, two, to create employment. How many of them?

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