Member of the Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mohammed Abba Gana has said that information available to him shows that national leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu will rather back PDP presidential candidate in the 2019 elections, Atiku Abubakar than support President Muhammadu Buhari . In this interview with WILLY EYA, he said that the former Lagos State governor, will support Atiku in the poll because of political exigency and current realities.
What is your assessment of the primaries of the political parties and their activities ahead of next year’s general elections?
In Nigeria since 1966, the longest democracy that we have had is from 1999 to date. We are still in the learning curve. Something always happened to scuttle it from 1979 under Shehu Shagari to 1983 when democracy went to sleep. From then, the military came under Muhammadu Buhari through IBB to 1993 when we had the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC). So, this Fourth Republic is the longest democratic experience that we have had. Also, in 1960, we got independence and after spending six years, the military came. From 1966 to 1979, we had democracy and in 1983, they came and so really, they have never allowed the political class to learn from their mistakes. So, from 1999 to date, we are still in the learning curve. We have not really matured because democracy and development go together. Democratic order cannot really mature without also economic development and prosperity. So, now, we are on the right trajectory in the learning curve. The idea of direct and indirect primaries experimented by the APC was quite effective so that the shortcomings of direct and indirect primaries are all known now to the parties. I am sure in the next four years, most of the political parties would innovate and see how both the direct and indirect primaries can be improved upon. We have not yet reached the optimum. So, the political class should learn from their mistakes and continue to improve to make things better. Democracy takes time to mature. You can see that even in America, they are having problems. You know in the UK, the former Prime Minister, David Cameron threw the country into a referendum and he did not expect the outcome that he got. It is the same with Scotland which wanted independence but it never worked. In India with about 1.2 billion people, the largest democracy in the world, they continue to improve on their democracy too. In Nigeria, let us try and nurture our democracy judiciously and also democracy should go hand in hand with economic development and prosperity. But there are a lot of arguments about which comes first. The Chinese for instance tried to develop their country before they democratised their institutions. But in Africa, we are trying to carry on the two at the same time. Practising democracy and also trying to develop the country is not easy though.
Looking critically at the candidates of the two major political parties, President Buhari of APC and Atiku of the PDP, what do you consider as their comparative advantages?
You know I am a member of the Board of Trustees (BOT) and former Minister of the FCT. The way to look at it is that the PDP was in government for 16 years. We were overconfident, made our own mistakes and we lost power. If perception became reality in the case of PDP in 2015, right now the APC is in the same situation as the PDP in 2015. They came with the promise of improving security, economy and fighting corruption. This time, we in the PDP will be just like external examiners to a university. For us in the PDP, we will look at how far the APC has performed in fighting corruption, how far the APC has done in improving the economy and how far they have done in security. In 2015, the major security issue is the Boko Haram but now if you even say that the APC has contained the Boko Haram, you have all kinds of security issues in Taraba, Zamfara, Benue, Borno, Kaduna and several parts of the country. So, instead of security improving, the situation is getting worse. For us in the PDP who are the external examiners, the APC has failed. Even Boko Haram is still killing and harassing everybody. So, instead of containing and eliminating Boko Haram, the problem is still there even though it is slightly contained. On the economy, when former President Jonathan left, the dollar was about 190 to the Naira but now how much is it. The worst thing is that the price of fuel increased, food prices and most commodities increased because of the exchange rate palaver. When Jonathan was in power, fuel price was about N85 but now, it is about N145. So, they have failed in both the economy, security and anti-corruption. One of the distinguished Senators and my junior brother, Bukar Ibrahim recently told his colleagues in the APC the truth. He said that right now, things are not as good as they were in 2015 when the APC took over power. So, 2019 is going to be easy for the PDP because the APC has failed in the three subjects of examination including security, economy and anti-corruption. The subjects are too difficult for them. They chose the subjects for themselves and they ended up failing in all of them. And we are happy because man to man, Atiku would address the economy better than Buhari. Now, we are on the learning curve on security management with the issue of terrorism in the country. Atiku is from Adamawa in the North East and I am sure that when he emerges, he will know how to handle the problem. He will not waste time like President Buhari in appointing ministers. He has already said he would appoint his ministers as quickly as possible. I am sure he is already preparing the list of his cabinet and I am sure he will have a better team than Buhari. You know that Atiku is good in recruiting people. He was the one that recruited Soludo, Okonjo-Iweala and others when he was the vice president and in charge of the economy as the chairman of the National Economic Council. Atiku is more experienced in recruiting a good team that can work for the nation. Currently, even the grading by the international community of President Buhari’s administration has really been very disappointing. I am 75 years and Buhari is 76, so we are just like age mates. He had a lot of goodwill when he came both from the international community and Nigerians. During his inauguration, he said that he belonged to everybody and to nobody but along the way, he missed it. He could not get a team which could score goals. If a team cannot score goals, no matter how good they can play, there is a problem. President Buhari and the APC are not scoring goals. People are hungry, poverty is widespread, unemployment is increasing and so on. Insecurity is increasing and the anti-corruption fight, Bukar Ibrahim said, it has become a witch-hunt. If more than 90 per cent of their efforts in this direction is against the PDP, that is not good enough.
You talked about Bukar Ibrahim but do you agree with his recent statement that Buhari and the APC may lose the North East zone of the country? Again, considering that President Buhari and Atiku are both of the Fulani extraction and of the muslim faith, what would likely influence the choices of the voters?
There is something many people do not know. Some say that ordinary people of the North would vote for Buhari but is not true. Now, the North East is mobilising; we have not been president for decades. The North West where Buhari is from, Sardauna, to Shagari, Abacha are from there. And even in Katsina from Yar’Adua to Buhari, they have been producing presidents. In Zamfara, Kaduna and other places, when Jonathan was there, there was no problem. In Benue, Taraba and all those places where you have problems between farmers and herders, there were no problems when Jonathan was there. So, there is no way the people of the North East will abandon Atiku this time around. This is because we have become sensible. Really, there is no overriding reason to leave Atiku and support Buhari. The reality on ground is that Atiku will be better. He has been Vice Presidentt for eight years and even his former boss, Obasanjo has said Atiku would do better than Buhari. Again, Obasanjo had supervised both of them. Obasanjo as Head of State, had worked with Buhari as Minister of Petroleum and Obasanjo also worked with Atiku for eight years and he has said he would perform better than Buhari. He could be a very good external examiner for both of them. So, the idea of the external examiner in the person of Obasanjo should also apply in this. Eighty per cent of the votes of the North East is for Atiku. Also, a lot of people do not know that Atiku has a lot of followers in Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi and he also lived in Kaduna; then you come to the North Central including Niger, Kogi Kwara, Benue, Nasarrawa and Plateau, he is very popular there. Atiku would get about 70 per cent of the votes in the North Central. Do you know that in Nasarawa in 2015, Jonathan won Buhari. In the South East and South South, we expect about 80-90 per cent. Atiku has been ordained by God. You know he is polygamous. One of his wives, Jennifer is from Onitsha in Anambra State, another one from Oyo State and other wives from the North. So, he has been prepared by God. Already, Afenifere has endorsed him. Ayo Adebanjo and others have endorsed him. Obasanjo who used to be his number one critic has endorsed him. And also, you know that Atiku is very friendly with former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. They formed the APC government together.
But in the present circumstance, even if they are friends, they belong to different parties and in politics, friendship does not override political interest.
Forget about that. I am sure that Tinubu may realise that he faces less danger with Atiku as president. They have common businesses and I am sure they would work together. Tinubu has more things in common with Atiku than Buhari. So at worst, in the South West, President Buhari and Atiku would split the votes. Otherwise, I would give Atiku 60 to 65 per cent of the votes in the South West. In the North West where Buhari comes from, the votes will be split between him and Atiku. Buhari has no chance against Atiku in the coming election. I am being very conservative in my analysis. People are really being mobilised against Buhari. You see, this is the problem of the APC; in 2015, they used Buhari as Mr Integrity without knowing the consequences and considering whether he would perform or not. Integrity is the tool they used but how has it helped in the development of the country. So, after about four years, Mr Integrity did not perform in the three subjects they chose for themselves. They are already difficult subjects for them. So, the tool of integrity for them has not been politically useful. You cannot, after four years, present only your integrity as an achievement. In 2015, we did not know him and we dwelt on integrity but in 2019, we are now looking at performance. We are talking about what is on ground and how the people feel in terms of security, economy and anti-corruption. The feeling of the people is that things have got much worse than they were in 2015.
In some quarters, there are fears that the election may not be free and fair considering the controversies that trailed the Ekiti and Osun governorship polls. Do you share such fears?
That is the danger. I think we assume moral high ground because former President Jonathan said his re-election ambition was not worth the blood of any Nigerian and he walked the talk. If Jonathan got the appreciation of the whole world by congratulating Buhari even before the conclusion of announcement of results, and accepting defeat, he has set the pace. Jonathan was very democratic; he appointed Prof Jega from Kebbi State as the National Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) without any second thought. Now, Buhari has got Professor Mahmood Yakubu as his INEC chairman and we will see how they are going to do it because he (INEC chairman) is from the North East. So, if Yakubu who is from the North East is going to rig against Atiku from the North East, we will see. And Atiku is not an ordinary man like that as he is a former vice president. He is a tried and tested politician. And how can Yakubu rig against Atiku in favour of somebody who is not performing. When the campaigns start, we will know what to say. We are going to push the facts to the rest of the world. Democracy is taking roots in Nigeria. We should not allow rigging of election again. Massive election rigging cannot be tolerated. And I cannot also see how the United States president, Donald Trump after describing Buhari as lifeless would endorse him again. Those in Europe feel the same way. Above all, anybody who likes Buhari would tell him to quietly accept defeat. He has been Head of State and he has been president. He should go with his honour and become an elder statesman. I think that is the best thing for him to do. Ernest Shonekan was Head of State for about 80 days, less than three months and he remains with his respect. If he has done well, he could stay but he has not done well and that is the problem. You cannot impose yourself on us if you have not done well. Nigeria now is like a smokey room.
There is too much anger and division in the country now and we need a leader like Atiku who is very cosmopolitan and has enough governance experience to unite the country. We need a leader like Atiku who is very well connected and nationally accepted to douse the anger and bitterness in the country which Buhari currently is not in a position to handle. Atiku is detribalised and has enough experience to unite the country.