…Says party ’ll defeat combined forces of APC and PDP
You were a national chairmanship aspirant in the last stormy national convention of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). You left the party for the Social Democratic Party (SDP). What actually did you find offensive in the party that compelled you to leave?
I, by the grace of God was a foundation member of the party, had a clear vision and mission for the PDP and, of course, we felt that overtime, we would be moving in a clear direction that will lead us to the attainment of the laudable goals of the party. But we discovered along the way that some members were deviating from the goals and principles of the party that are fundamental objectives of the party. We did not keep quiet. We made efforts at each point to correct what we felt was wrong with the party. What happened in December last year was the climax of going away from the goals, vision and mission of the party. At that time, people seemed to have become addicted to impunity, imposition and all those ignoble things that can derail democracy and, in fact, the absence of internal democracy in the party had reached the climax. One of the things that attracted me into the race for chairmanship was that I felt that there was need for the party to demonstrate to the world and other parties that Nigeria could be a model by showing how parties should be run, by demonstrating the full tenets or principles of democracy, which are fundamental in guaranteeing meaningful democracy. Unfortunately, people were not ready to yield ground.
People felt that the party could be converted and did make efforts to convert it to personal property. They turned themselves to emperors and that the way some of them had conquered their states could be extended to the party by disregarding all norms, due processes and without any regard to morality. I thought that a shameful display of arrogance of power should have no place in our political culture and indeed it did send wrong signals to our generation and, of course, future generations of Nigerians if we continue that way. We saw the signs. We saw it coming and we were fighting it all along the way. We kept on challenging them, explaining to them that what they were doing will lead to disaster. They kept on assuring us that we should not worry, that everything will be alright.
That was what kept us waiting, hoping and expecting that things will turn out better that they will keep faith. What mattered most were the party, and the principles behind the formation, and above all, to keep faith with the Nigerian people.
Some of your critics have argued that you would have stayed put there to right the wrongs and put it on a proper footing given the imminence of a crucial general elections?
I am aware that some people felt that way, but that feeling was borne out of ignorance. They did not have enough information to realize that for more than a decade, I have been fighting within the party to achieve such goals. So many things happened in the party that are not salutary and there are those who felt that I stayed too long.
Stayed too long, how?
For instance, let me cite one example of when I won a senatorial ticket of the party. That ticket was taken away from me and I did not leave the party. I wanted the party members to take the ticket and utilize it, but they refused. They took the ticket, went outside the party and gave it to someone who was not even a member of the party to use. And that was how the person became a senator. So, in spite of that, I did not leave the party. So many other things happened. I was determined to fight it to the end, and of course the opportunity to change the system would have come if I had become the national chairman. There were too many atrocities. I have always believed and maintained that the worst form of corruption is political corruption, because it poisons the entire system. If you don’t get it right within the political framework, you will not get it right anywhere.
As a democrat and academic, do you think you fit into this picture because many see what you are saying as normal political practice?
They see it as normal because they have been indoctrinated into it and have lived with it. So, when you insist that certain things should be done properly, they don’t feel comfortable. It is either you play by the rules or you check out of it, because these things have consequences and the consequences are grave for our country in modulating our process of governance today and creating a legacy for tomorrow.
How do you look at PDP as a force in the 2019 general elections?
As far as I am concerned, I look at PDP as a party that is dying. The soul is gone. I don’t see it as a force in 2019. I see the SDP as the real force that will battle the combined forces of APC and PDP. My concern is to work hard to strengthen the capacity of the SDP to rise up to the challenge before it and takeover to clean the rot, because the other two parties have failed the nation and we dare not allow them to come near power again.
What gives you the confidence that SDP will be a major force in the next election given that it is largely still amorphous and lacking in the ingredients of political mobilization?
I am very confident because I am aware of what is going on. At the moment, across the nation, a lot of mobilization is going on. But what is going on is not centered on the elite few. We are mobilizing the youth, the professionals, the people at the grassroots whose future is involved, is at stake. These are the people we are focusing on. The women, the rural folk. We believe that when we mobilize these people and they rise up to the challenge, and particularly when we succeed in raising their level of consciousness for them to know that their future is at stake, they will rise up to defend that future and ensure that nothing impairs their individual and collective goals. It is going to be a positive development. I am also confident because when I see various groups collapsing into SDP, I am encouraged. We also have many people in PDP and APC coming in because, they too cannot take what is going on in those parties. The values have crashed and people are just leaving in droves for alternative platforms that can match their dreams and aspirations. People are now self-seeking and self-serving. They see the SDP as a worthy alternative where they can actualize their potentials and at the same time contribute in building an ideal society and nation. I am also confident because we have at the core leadership, people with unstinted character and who are determined to change things without compromising. When you have such people at the helm, it gives hope. It is very encouraging because we have a template and we can use that to the irreducible minimum. As social democrats, we center everything around the citizen and will not allow things that are convenient to individuals but are harmful to the nation.
Talking about electoral values, there are growing fears that the country may not harvest free, fair and credible polls in 2019 going by the signals from the ruling party, and the INEC. How do you see this picture in the context of the vision of your party?
I am not worried about that. I do not expect that the APC with its current perspectives on governance and government of the people and orientation to do the right thing. Self preservation appears to be their goal. But I believe that the people will be conscientized enough and reoriented in the sense that those in INEC and other organizations charged with election management will not be able to get away with whatever they are planning.
They will be able to resist whatever that is not in the constitution and the electoral laws and defend democracy. If they want to ground this country, or bring the country to an end, let them continue. If they want to wreck and destroy our nation, let them continue with their plans. It is important for them to appreciate the fact that where their patriotism lies is in their commitment to the goals of the nation, it’s future and the future of the coming generation. They should serve the nation and not individuals. Their own patriotism is defined and definable in terms of their own commitment to the nation, the constitution and not to a particular leadership.
When will SDP begin the process of building structures, having congresses to elect their officers?
Consultations are going on. We believe that what is worth doing at all is worth doing well. Structures are being put in place nationwide. We do not believe in imposition. We allow the leadership to evolve from the grassroots. That is why it seems to some people that it is taking longer than it should. We are not anointing particular leaderships. Those the people want to be their leaders are the ones that will lead and unless where there are discordant voices we will set up a reconciliation committee to look into them to ensure that justice and fairness prevail and that they are practiced at every level. Most importantly, the popular choice must prevail. We have been doing that. We are building the party gradually and opening up to others to join. We are working hard to make sure that there is still room for leadership positions for those who are coming at all levels. There is window of opportunity for those who are coming and when they come we will treat them as equals.
The PDP, APC have zoned the presidential slots to the North. Where is that of SDP zoned to?
The presidential candidate of the SDP will come from the northern zone. You know we have three zones in the North. All the three are qualified but, of course, wisdom, common sense and political calculation will have roles to play.
Would it not have been better that since PDP and APC have their slots in the North, that the SDP should zone theirs to the South to take their bloc votes and battle in the North with the others?
We are not copying the others. We have done our own calculations and based on our calculations we are not in it for the fun of it. We believe that our presidential candidate must come from the North.
But the North has dominated power since 1960. Why all the predilection to the North today?
We had so many things factored into it before we decided to go to the North. By the time our candidate emerges, you will give credit to us and you will say that this is the right person to win the presidential election.
Who do you have in mind?
We are thinking of a patriotic Nigerian, a popular Nigerian, a Nigerian that is committed to the welfare of the people. That Nigerian will protect the security and lives of Nigerians, he will not give preference to religious and ethnic issues, he will be able to galvanize the nation towards development and ensure that the fundamental objectives and principles of the constitution are met. Above all, we are social democrats and we must put premium on social development and will be committed to the people. That Nigerian will bring education to the doorstep of every Nigerian and make it free and compulsory. That Nigerian is one that every Nigerian will be proud of and will not be having sleepless nights about the country. That Nigerian will emerge in a few months from now.
Is that Nigerian an ex- military general or technocrat?
We are not going to impose, but by the time that Nigerian emerges, it will be clear that this is indeed the person Nigerians have been waiting for.
How do you feel about the state of insecurity in Nigeria, especially the endless bloodletting?
I feel very worried about it. I feel that Nigeria should be brought back to the stage where you can travel at any time of the day without being afraid of accident due to bad road, without being afraid of being kidnapped, without being afraid of robbers and all forms of dangers that we now witness on our roads. I believe that what is going on now is creating problem for the survival of this nation because we now see a situation where communities are rising against communities, groups are rising against groups and confidence is being shattered by the day. And this is unacceptable, dangerous, and worrisome, and cannot lead this country in the right direction. The sanctity of the human life is being debased and we must not cheapen it. We talk about development; nobody will come here to invest in this state of uncertainty. When there is no stability, people will not have confidence. We will have confidence by ensuring that lives and property are secured. A government worth its name should rise up and do something fast about it.
Why do you think it is difficult for the government to contain this security challenge?
My reading of the situation is that there is a serious lack of political will. The existing capacity can be improved upon, but the political will to confront the problem is lacking.
As ex-minister of education, what would you consider as regrets in office?
I have a few regrets. If I had stayed in office longer, I would have put an end to strikes in academic institutions. I was very active in ASSU(Academic Staff Union of Universities). I was chairman when I was at the University of Ibadan. I was part of the negotiating team with government (Shagari government) and I discovered that one of the things we were asking for that we did not get was university autonomy. That autonomy, I was working towards it under President Obasanjo and he was giving me all the backing that I needed. I would have achieved that goal ultimately if I had not left. After I left, quite a number of things went wrong that I wouldn’t waste time going into them now. But I feel bad that I didn’t have the opportunity to complete that process. I also feel that if I had stayed longer in office I would have been able to achieve the goal of education for all. It may not have been in 2015, but we would have set the pace that will lead to that. I came up with some initiatives while there, and Obasanjo was a leader that was very passionate about education. He gave me all the supports. That was why we were able to have Universal Basic Education (UBE) programme which was launched in September 1999. If we had continued with that momentum, by now education would have become free and compulsory. This country has abundant resources. There is so much wastage here and there. Without education, the country is going nowhere. Finally, while I see the National Open University (NOUN) blooming, we cannot claim to be the initiators. It was begun during the Shagari administration, but it was halted. We resurrected it and we thank God that Obasanjo was keen about it and it took off. Another big regret is that the goals of education would have been cemented. Today, we have people who have university education, but are unemployed or unemployable simply because we did not factor in the essence of that education. In other words, I was brainstorming with some groups to ensure that when people go to the universities the goal must be realized, not just training and giving people certificates to be roaming the streets. The greater percentage of the people would have been graduating and employing themselves and getting engaged in the private sector. These are issues that bother me for which I regret I did not achieve while in office.
What is the place of Obasanjo and Babangida in your party? The other day, you paid a visit to Babangida in Minna and he spoke glowingly about the party. Obasanjo has also been exposing some soft spots for your party.
As for Babangida, he made it clear to the Nigerian people that the SDP is where his heart is. In other words, that he believes in the concept, principles and philosophy behind the party. He also made it clear that he believes in those who are at the leadership of the party as clear-headed enough, patriotic and principled to drive the wheel of the nation. He expects the very best for this country. He made it open that he identifies with the party. We appreciate it and will not let him and Nigerians down. Obasanjo doesn’t want to be partisan, and at the same time he is involved in a movement – coalition that we are also involved in. We believe in him and he believes in us and we trust that since we are trying to correct the ills of the society, he will give us his blessings. Our goals are similar and we are all united in the pursuit of change for the sake of the future and ensure that today does not block the way of tomorrow.
You don’t have political office holders like governors and senators. You don’t have moneybags and structures that can give you money. How are you going to fund the party to confront big parties that were or are in office?
It is not correct that we don’t have a member in the National Assembly. We already have one who moved from PDP. Many more are on their way to SDP in the coming weeks. That is the process that has kick-started. Governors, very soon, by the grace of God we will see them joining. That apart, we are not depending on moneybags because we are not operating a bazaar system of party system. We believe in the people and a cost- effective system that will not put premium on how much money individuals have. We believe that party members will rise up to take up the challenge of footing election and party running bills. Those running our party are not living the kind of life you see in the other parties. So, to run our party, will not be a burden on anybody. We will continue to send the message to the people that politics is public service. When you don’t spend your earnings or borrow to put into politics, chances are that when you get into office, the tendency to loot to recover the expenses will be minimal. We want to deemphasize the role of money in politics. We believe in the people and the people will be with us.