Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Senator Grace Bent is from Adamawa State. She represented Adamawa Southern Senatorial District between 2007 and 2011. In this interview, she spoke about her frustrations in the PDP and the party’s chances in the 2023 elections. Excerpt:
The 2023 general elections are around the corner, and people have begun to align and realign politically. What is the fate of your party, PDP, given the recent defection of the Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi to APC?
It’s normal in any political space, particularly in Nigeria where individual interest drives any political decision. I know Governor Dave Umahi very well, and I am not part of the people that would condemn him for defecting to the APC. His decision was based on his own personal conviction. For him to have taken that decision, he must have consulted widely, weighed all options and made some considerations. In politics, especially in Nigeria, individual interest is always at the centre of any decision. The questions are, what do I stand to get being in this or that party? What about the interest of my supporters? So his defection is not strange to me. After all, his second tenure as Ebonyi govenor is ending in 2023. He knows his ambition and political plans ahead.
But there are indications that more PDP govenors from the South might likely defect to APC before the 2023 elections. Won’t that be disastrous for PDP?
I am so worried that we focus more on the govenors, perhaps because they control crowd due to the fact that they are in power and control state resources. We should fight for the soul of every member of the party. Ordinary members of the party make up the party and not govenors or any other political office holder. I warned our members at the recent Board of Trustees (BoT) meeting that they should stop attaching big importance to these governors because the more we attach importance to them the more they cause us harm. Saying that a governor is the leader of the party in a state is a conventional decision and not constitutional. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo started it few years ago and it has become a norm. These governors see themselves as demigods because they control task payers money.
What do you make of the agitation for zoning of the presidency in 2023?
I am strong advocate of the meritocracy. I am always in support of the emergence of the best candidate to succeed President Buhari in 2023. It pains me each time I hear people suggest that we jettison quality, experienced and committed leaders, for zoning. Howbeit, we must consider our peculiarities. Because of the delicate nature of our togetherness, it has become a precarious situation for a particular set of people to continue to occupy political offices. I don’t blame people who are agitating for zoning because it will be counterproductive for political power to remain in one region, among same religion, tribe, at the expense of every other person that is part of that union. For instance, in PDP, zoning is not constitutional, but conventional. It gave everyone a sense of belonging. Fairness, equity and justice to all is what guarantee peace.
In your state, Adamawa, PDP is fractured. Why?
It’s simply because we have a govenor and party state chairman that are not team players. They don’t understand what it means to be leaders of the party. They are neither dynamic nor team leaders. And that’s the reason for the fracture in the party that has continued to widen each passing day. They forgot that a political party is all about the people. I don’t want to be prophet of doom, but PDP in Adamawa State is heading for disaster. This is because they have no regard for people that brought it to power; 2023 is not far anymore, the opposition party in the state which we took power from is warming up to possibly reclaim the power if necessary steps and changes are not done by the govenor and the leadership of the party in the state.
Many people have predicted massive political realignment ahead of the 2023 general elections. Do you forsee that?
You must know that Nigerian politics is about interest. Politics is highly dicey. You can’t determine what will happen in next few days, hours or even minutes because of the constant changing nature of politics. Things unfold every minute. Events and decisions are changed without wider consultation. No one even know how many people would be alive in that 2023. Interestingly, political activities would start fully by the end of next year. By 2022, political parties would conduct their primaries. Before then, there would be a lot of political alignment and realignment just for individual interest. I am not an apostle of cross-carpeting, but it’s normal in our political system in Nigeria. Howbeit, I forsee such movement for whatever reason. I have been in PDP since year 2000 in spite of injustices, betrayal and humiliations that were done to me. For me personally, the essence of being in politics is to render positive services to the people. For some others, it’s for the purposes of hijacking political power, even when they have no precise agenda for the people. So, if you see me cross carpet then know for sure that’s the last option.
Are you considering cross-carpeting any time soon?
That’s not in the plan for now. But by the end of next year, it will begin to get clearer. PDP will hold national convention next year and my state will hold its own convention late next year. So, it’s the outcome of the two events that will inform my decision as regards my political career.
Are you concerned about the way political leaders emerge in Nigeria?
I am not satisfied at all. Women are constantly being kept in the back seat as regards political offices in Nigeria. Many male politicians see women as threat. I suggest that the “zebra policy” being practiced in Namibia should be replicated in Nigeria. That would give women more opportunities to participate in political activities. In addition to that, we must consciously and deliberately enshrine it in the constitution on how the leaders of political parties emerge. Women should emerge alongside men. I have been in the party administration in Nigeria and I know that until this emergence process is enshrined in the constitution, we may not go far in terms of involvement of women in politics.
In 2015, three things, namely, Chibok girls, corruption and Boko Haram, were used against PDP in the presidential election. What’s your assessment of the situation now?
The situation is worst now and it’s there for all to see. Propaganda, deceit and conspiracy were used by APC in 2015 to deceive many Nigerians who never asked relevant questions. The opposition then went into so many “dirty” things to acquire political power. The reality is done on all. Insecurity, economy, corruption and other indices are against us, and I hope Nigerians have learnt their lessons. You don’t need anyone to tell you the state of the economy, security and corruption in Nigeria today. It’s worst now! All the indices of democracy are against us. You have to master the game of politics, its language, tactics and thoughts before you can succeed. Politics is not a dirty game as many believe. It’s the politicians that are dirty through their deadly actions. They decieve people, cheat and conspire against one another, and the electorate are gullible.
Were the electorate gullible in 2015?
Yes! And that was because of the high level of poverty in the land. People are so impoverished in Nigeria that they are unable to see beyond few naira notes that are given to them by politicians. I suggested that the poverty situation in Nigeria should be a wake-up call for the masses to demand for good governance and not what it has been for years.
How has it been for you out of the Senate years ago?
It has been great for me. I have been doing well. I returned to my personal work after the Senate. I was never in politics for bread and butter, but for human service, and that was why I always advised politicians to always have a second address because financial sustenance from politics may not be guaranteed.
You seem to have been silent in the political circle, why?
I am not really silent, you may not be following me closely. In life, you must understand the principle of time and season. I speak when necessary. However, I belong to a movement where like minds from across different sectors of the economy are working on how to rescue Nigeria from doldrum.
Is it a political movement, economic or otherwise?
It’s a political movement. It’s called National Consultative Front. Its members consist of former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Na’Abba, Pat Utomi, Obadiah Mailafia, and several other like minds. We are working on a way to rescue this nation. Under the platform of that group, we have made several proclaimations as regards our stand on national issues. Personally, I am a principled politician and I believe in this country called Nigeria. But it pains me as a mother and grandmother to see things degenerate to the level it has in Nigeria. People are living in pain and agony in today’s Nigeria. But the fact is that we are paying for the choices we made particularly as it concerns political leaders.
How realistic is this dream without a foundational shake up in Nigeria?
Obviously unrealistic. I am more than convinced that the problem of Nigeria is beyond the surface dressing that are being done. It’s more of foundational and fundamentals problems. It’s not something that you can solve overnight. So many things are working against us, and as the Bible says, ‘if the foundation is faulty, there’s nothing the righteous can do.’ Nigeria’s foundation is faulty and building anything on it is unwise because It cannot hold. The best suggestion at this point is looking at the Constitution of Nigeria. Our current constitution is highly deficient in many ways, and not capable of bringing Nigeria out of the underdevelopment. It has a lot of lacunas that the National Assembly has to look into holistically and not clause by clause considerations.
But past efforts to amend the constitution failed. What was responsible?
Past efforts failed because of selfish interest. Besides, the process of constitutional amendment/change is extremely cumbersome. The power to make constitutional changes does not solely reside with the National Assembly in Abuja. So many parts of the amendments and changes must go through the state and local governments system. In that process, people would begin to consider their own personal interest instead of bigger picture, and that’s where the problem comes. People would start to foot-drag when the proposals clash with their individual or regional interest. The way out is to look at the constitutional amendment with broader picture and not selfish reasons. The process of constitutional amendment has commenced again in the 9th National Assembly. The lawmakers must know that the constitution will surely outlive them, hence the need for more seriousness in the exercise. People involved in the process at all levels must purge themselves of selfishness and also ensure that the process is not hijacked by strong political or interest groups. It’s unfortunate that the current 1999 constitution was successfully done because of military involvement.
But the 2014 confab seems to provide answers to some of the constitutional issues. Why is the government not considering that?
It’s still the reason we are struggling with constitutional amendment, selfish interest and high politicization of important national issues. Another thing is the caliber of leaders we have. By this I mean his or her political or leadership perception, views and understanding of issues, mindset and interest. Ordinarily, I expected the report of the 2014 confab which had the input of all Nigerians to had receive speedy attention from the government. They would have set up a committee to work on modalities of implementation of the report. That would have greatly saved us from herculean and bureaucratic challenges that constitution amendment would have created.
There’s a limit to what can be achieved without political power, particularly in driving any change agenda. In 2019, you attempted to return to the Senate, but failed. What was the reason?
The 2019 experience was what I have been used to for long. Experience is injustice, deprivation and selfish interest. It’s neither new nor strange terrain for me. However, I am seriously worried about the political process in Nigeria. For instance, when political parties fail to consciously consider the overall interest of the masses in the process of making candidates emerge, then there’s a challenge. The implication is that we would continue to have inexperienced and incompetent persons in the political leadership system, people who have no integrity and nothing to offer to the people and the country. Something should be done urgently to ensure transparency, equity and fairness to all. That practice has done so much damage to the psyche of women in Nigeria. I happened to be the only female in PDP that contested the primary election in 2019 and won the election, but the political party withdrew the ticket and gave it to someone else.
You mean that your party, PDP, was responsible for your not coming back to the Senate?
Exactly! My governor, Ahmadu Umaru Fintri, played a key role in that regard. Perhaps, because of his personal interest. He worked against my emergence as candidate for that election for whatever reason, but I believe that it was for nothing but his personal interest.