From Desmond Mgboh, Kano
Ambassador Aminu Wali, elder statesman and former Foreign Affairs minister, is one of the founding fathers of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Wali who will be 81 years next month in this interview spoke about the intrigues at the party’s national convention, Aminu Tambuwal alleged betrayal of his friend, Nyesom Wike, APC’s attempt to lure Governor Wike into the ruling party, why the PDP threw open its presidential contest, Rabiu Kwankwaso’s attempt to derail PDP in Kano, Peter Obi’s candidacy and why the North will not support an Igbo/South Eastern presidency in 2023, Muslim-Muslim ticket controversy rocking the APC and how President Muhammadu Buhari failed to use his authority to avert the religious controversy exploding on the face of Nigerians. Excerpts:
Let’s have your thoughts on the recently held PDP convention and the challenges that emerged from the exercise, especially the Wike issue that is raging at the moment?
People who are not conversant with our party, the PDP, I mean observers who are not deeply involved in the formation of the PDP, may not understand the complications on issues of this nature. But since we started the PDP, so many things have happened that are more serious than what is happening today. But by the process of consultations we are able to resolve a lot of issues that are even worse than the Wike issue that you are talking about. Historically, because you have to go back, Wike belonged to this party way back from the beginning. He became a local government chairman, he became chief of staff, he became a minister of state and he now became a governor, all on the platform of the PDP. People who are talking are making it look like it is one easy thing for Wike to wake up one morning and say I quit. That is going to be very difficult for him because he has his stakes in the PDP. Like one of my friends had said, how can you go and take away what you gave to your mother. That is the tight position of Wike. The PDP made him what he is today. From a local government chairman to what he is today. So, whatever the people are talking about how he sustained PDP, well that is true. But they should know that your mother cannot give birth to you and then you turn around and say that you cannot take care of her.
So , it is going to be difficult for Wike to leave the PDP, given his stakes in the party?
That is exactly what I mean. But secondly, his followership, till date, are all in PDP. Okay, look at it this way. He wants to win the governorship of Rivers State and his followers have already filled their candidacy on the platform of the PDP. Are they going to throw away everything? Is Wike going to sacrifice all of these and all that we have been through with him simply because what happened, happened. In politics, you win and lose. What I have gone through in Kano by the grace of the then national leadership of the party, I should have quit, I should have left the party, but that is not the option. I took every kind of humiliation as far as the party was concerned, but I bid my time and today things have changed.
The issue of betrayal was one of the things that played out at the convention especially from people like Tambuwal who did what they did. How do you see his action?
Well, I don’t think I will call that a betrayal. Yes, back in 2019 , Wike was a champion that led the charge on behalf of Tambuwal. That was done, they were friends. But this time around, Tambuwal declared that he wanted to run for the president and Wike now declared that he also wants to run for the president too. So, obviously they would have to be opposed to each other unless they sit down and agree on how to resolve it, which never happened and eventually bad blood was created by people from both sides because this is politics and this is the survival of the fittest. At the end of the day, they fell out.
At the convention…?
Even before the convention. They were not as paddy, paddy as they used to be. Each one of them was seriously pursuing to be the presidential candidate. So, I am sure that there wouldn’t be any love lost under those circumstances. So, betrayal or not, it all depends on which side you are. As far as Tambuwal was concerned, he realized that the chances of winning and they probably had not come to terms between him and Wike or some of the other aspirants. So if Tambuwal decided to throw in the towel, the aspirant that he feels can win the election might be his choice. I don’t think that is a betrayal. That is probably his calculation to his own survival. I don’t think that I can call it betrayal. If Wike found himself in the same situation that Tambuwal found himself, maybe he is going to take steps that would preserve his own political survival.
Let’s look at the choice of Okowa, at what point did he come in, he was never one of the gladiators, but he was chosen ahead of many others?
Everybody has got his own way of assessing people and trying to see how best they fit into a context. I don’t know Okowa personally. I only met with him at the National Executive Council meetings. He passes and I pass. But his demeanor and that of Wike are some of the things that those who decided in his favour noted. Wike is somebody that is dedicated to the party and he goes out of his way to do whatever it takes to assist the party, especially financially. But in the process, he creates other problems, which are what people don’t even say. He went about his campaigns and the kind of dust he raised and leaves behind in everywhere he goes left people in scare. What would happen if this man becomes the presidential candidate of the party? He has more or less quarreled with everybody in the party. His language, his demeanor, the way he approaches people and all that. Yes, you can be as blunt as you want, but the language you use should not be offensive. And this is unfortunately what trailed after Wike and I believe that this must have been the main cause for a lot of people to turn against him. He is a very decent human being, one-on-one, when you don’t have any issue with him, you are bound to like him, but he lacked the finishing. We served in the same council even though I didn’t stay long with him. I came in and three or four months after he left to go for his governorship race. And for me as Foreign Minister, mostly I was never in council.
The running mates have become key factors in determining who wins the presidential elections in Nigeria. Can Okowa bring real voting value to Atiku and the PDP come 2023? Does he have the huge followership in the South-south or among the Igbo people where he tribally belongs just like you had with Peter Obi?
He may not be able to do that. But even when Peter Obi ran as a deputy to Atiku, the votes we got did not translate to what we had expected in 2019. Yes, Atiku got his 25 per cent in most of these states, but I still believe that Atiku would be able to get the same 25 per cent even from the Southeast without Obi. That is my belief, but I may be wrong. But Okowa by his demeanor is somebody that is peaceful, he is never controversial and for a presidential candidate, somebody that expects to be president, you will want to have somebody that is peaceful, knowing that there would not be a lot of problems in his absence. I think that this is what went for Okowa, because I think that generally within the party, both North and South, Okowa has respect from everybody. He may not be the sort of crowd puller that Wike is, but for the presidential candidate and for those senior members of the party, I know that they would be more comfortable with somebody that would not create a lot of problems wherever he goes and would leave the president to spend most of his time trying to sort out little problems wherever he goes rather than facing administrative problems. This is what, in my assessment, went against Wike. But for me, I don’t have anything against Wike, even though he created my own problems in my state. Him and Kwankwaso, they connived and created the internal party problems that we are facing in the state. But for me this is politics. I will not take it against him.
The national chairman of the PDP is from the North and the presidential candidate of the party is from the same North, What is the party doing about this situation to accommodate the diverse nature of Nigeria?
You see this rotation thing in the PDP is being overblown. I am a founding father of the party . I was a deputy to Solomon Lar. Yes, Solomon Lar came from the North- central and the president came from the South. But people tend to forget that either by accident or by God’s action or will, that was derailed when Yar’Adua died. As a Northerner and a founding father of this party, we believe in trying to be fair to every side. But when Yar’Adua died what was expected by our people here was for (Goodluck) Jonathan to complete Yar’Adua’s tenure and step aside. So, this never happened. Still, they went ahead and elected Jonathan to do his first term. It is only that he failed in the second term simply because of the crime of not leaving after that first term to allow a Northerner to continue the tenure of the rotation. These are some of the issues that people tend to forget. Now, we in the PDP, we have had 16 years of power. Out of the 16 years, how many years have a Northerner from PDP governed this country? Tell me. Two years and bit! It was only Yar’Adua. So people should not judge me using the values and template of the APC. You should not judge me and say that Buhari has spent eight years in power. Don’t count me under APC, Don’t count my party there. We are not there. It is another arrangement by another party, not my party. It was an arrangement by another party which is now trying to force it on us. They have done their eight years and they are now trying to blackmail us that we too would go along with them in this power shift. The power shift is for them, not for us. For us, power has never shifted to us.
But there is this understanding that if the presidential candidate of the party is from a particular section of the country, the chairman should come from another section of the country?
Not the candidate. If the president is elected and he is already a president, then maybe given two, three months, the chairman would have to give way. After all, what the party chairman is doing now is to go out and fight and ensure that we win the elections. The booties are coming in after you have the president in place. Now, once you have the president in place, then the chairman would move to another place. That is exactly what happened when Ahmadu Ali delivered Yar’ Adua and then left.
There is this allegation that because of the old relationship existing between Atiku, Ayu and some of the older members of the PDP, you subtly undermined the zoning process of the party to pave way for Atiku, is this true?
Look we did not. I personally did not. I was a member of the zoning committee of the party. We had a few sessions when (Governor Samuel) Ortom was the chairman. And we argued from angles. I remember Sule Lamido standing up to say that you cannot enforce what is now for the APC for the PDP. He said that as far as I am concerned, I am closer to somebody in Arochuchukwu in PDP than I am close to somebody in APC in Jigawa State. I don’t have anything to do with them, I don’t belong to them. How can you now tell me that we have to zone it to the South simply because APC has been ruling for eight years. For the eight years of the APC, I am still in court. For the eight years of the APC, what has the North gotten out of the eight years of the APC. We have our ways of doing things. If it were the PDP that I have been there for eight years , I am sure we would have something to show. So, the argument still goes back to the fact that they are two distinct parties, with different approaches, with different principles and different reason for being formed.
But the ordinary Nigerian on the street expect that if the North has tested power, let it go to the next region after eight years for the sake of balance?
But we are not quarrelling with that. I asked you a question, in the 16 years that the PDP has ruled, how many years has the North been in power. Out of the 16 years of the PDP’s rule, how many years were ruled by a Northerner? You cannot come an lump me up with Buhari and his criminals and say that you people have ruled. After all, all of us in the PDP, we suffered. The North did not gain anything. The North is in turmoil. I could have expected that Southerners say okay this guy has badly messed them up, let’s get some cool headed person among them to sanitize that side of the country. With the atrocities that my people went through under the APC, you can’t come and tell me – no, no, no, no!
Still on the PDP, what exactly led Peter Obi to leave the PDP?
I really don’t know. I am being honest with you .Peter Obi is a very decent person. I like him. I like him and I remember telling Doyin (Okupe). That was before Peter left. I told him that I have listened to Peter and I have known him for sometimes. He is one of the best materials that we have. But unfortunately, where he is coming from, we have a problem. If they the leadership of the Igbo cannot contain this IPOB and the rascal called Kanu, how can I take my fate and give it to somebody from there? Well, I can’t take my fate and my people’s fate and give it to people that cannot be able to put their house in order.
But we have Boko Haram in the North and yet Nigerians took their fate and gave to a Northerner? How can the people in the East take their fate and give to Atiku?
Yes, we have Boko Haram…
(Cuts in ) And bandits too!
We do, we do. But we have to look at the underlining situation that brought about IPOB and that brought this other people. This is important. The Boko Haram, the ISWAP, they are all imported. This is as a result of the revolution in Libya. We can trace all these problems to Libya. When it sparked off, it affected the Sahel region and eventually affected Nigeria. Yes, we have a problem. It is not people like me and you in the North that are involved. We are still able to control the responsible people. They are not part of these atrocities. But in the Southeast, how somebody like Kanu, gives orders that there is no work on Mondays and with all the paraphernalia of power in all the states in the Southeast, they cannot contain that situation.
Let’s get back to your impression of Peter Obi?
Peter Obi is somebody… as I was telling Doyin about six weeks ago, I said that even if Peter did not become the vice president of this country, from what I know of Peter’s capacity, whatever government that comes, if it is the PDP, he must be in charge of the economy because that is where he is good at. I listened to him , not once, not twice and not three times, he knows his onions and I think that his approach will bring solutions to this country, economic solutions. He is worthy of praise. But the political solution which is the basis on which the economic solution would survive, it is what is causing the problem.
Getting your thoughts clear, you are saying that the Igbo, the South Easterners and the Igbo generally from wherever – Rivers, Delta states and wherever – as long as there is the IPOB problem, cannot be president of Nigeria?
No, no, no! I am not saying that. It maybe there…, but if it is contained to a manageable proportion… you have five states in the Southeast. Now, in every single state, the IPOB has more control…,it is just as you say in Sokoto or Zamfara, Katsina and a bit of Kaduna…in every of the five states of the Southeast, who calls the shots? And once you have an active secessionist tendency in any part of Nigeria, you cannot afford to now allow a leeway for those people to succeed in the succession. Nobody is saying you cannot. If you follow the constitutional way of dissolution of the country, nobody can fight you because it is there in the constitution. Follow the constitution, down to a referemdum. Fine.
Sir, what are the chances of the PDP in the 2023 presidential elections given the fact that Kwankwaso appears to be holding you people to ransom in some of the key northern states?
I am not very sure of that claim, but what I will do here is to make my own assessment.
Yes, let us have your assessment?
We may have a tough thing going in Kano, but that is the only state that I will say we may have a tough thing going on. But from all indications, every educated voter simply knows what he is doing, simply knows that if you are talking about the presidency, you will be risking your votes if you vote for NNPP because the candidate would not make it. So, for those informed voters, we will try to inform them that don’t waste your votes. Give it to whoever is going to win. I supported Atiku. I support him and the last time, I supported him. I was not looking for anything. I supported him because I believe that we started this party with the man and he has more exposure, more understanding of the national problem that we have today more than any other candidate. So far, he is more qualified than any other candidate to face our problems which we inherited from the APC. And it would take another three years or four for any new comer to come in and understand the problems. But for Atiku , he has been there for eight years as the vice president and he was in charge of the economy mind you; like what Osinbajo is supposed to be doing, which is a farce. Because even if the guy is capable, he was never given the chance. But Atiku got the opportunity, thank God for Obasanjo and he brought good people. People who manned those parastatals. He brought good people who knew what they are doing and they were able to help Obasanjo’s administration. By the time Obasanjo left, we had no debts. Today, our total income in this country would not pay for the interest of the loans that we have collected.
Kwankwaso has been accused of controlling the Kano State executive of the PDP under the leadership of Shehu Sagagi despite the fact that he was no longer in the party and, therefore, creating a bulk of the problems affecting the PDP from flying in the state?
That is a fact. When Kwankwaso was leaving, he deliberately left Sagagi and his team to stay put in the party to create as much havoc as they could in the party. Their intention was to have crisis going on whereby we would not have a single candidate in Kano under the PDP. That would have been a hundred per cent success for Sagagi and his group. But thank God it didn’t happen that way. Why because we didn’t give up. If I had left, going through what I did, then they would have succeeded. But I refused. I was a founding father. When I was funding part of this party, none of those people was around. And I was committed to it and I am still committed to it. The only time that I will now throw in the towel is hopefully and hopefully I pray that we take over power in 2023, then I will totally withdraw, not to be part of the party anymore. But for now, we are in very, very difficult situation as a party and as a country.
Kwankwso’s hold on the party in the state through these characters, what will be the solution?
The solution will soon come by the grace of God because there are cases in God. One is the dissolution if the executive by the national working committee which was nullified by Justice Taiwo. It is still there. This is a party’s decision and the court cannot tell the party who to run its affairs. And there a few cases too. We are still waiting for these cases. If Abuja court overturns that Taiwo’s decision, then Sagagi and his company are gone and whatever they had done within that time is illegal, including the Abacha, including congress and including whatever INEC might say, they are all illegal.
One last question, the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the APC seems to have polarized the political space. What is your take on this?
Well, I have always believed in not getting too involved in this religion thing because I have always been a very liberal person. I will still go back to when we formed the party. Up to the last minute, I have always been an (Alex) Ekuweme man, not a (Shehu) Shagari man. I staked my support and everything for Ekwueme, not Obasanjo. And I have always had very, very close friends from all over the country and religion has never played any key role in my political relationships. It is very, very unfortunate that this thing is taking a bigger dimension under the APC because whatever problems that we now had is being exasperated by the seven years or so of the APC. We are not like this before. But because Buhari has not done what he was supposed to do as the leader of this country, which is to be transparently liberal as far as religion is concerned. He is not. He has never been liberal about religion. Religion should not be playing a role in our political development because politics is something that keeps evolving and improving as it evolves. But when you come to put religion into the equation, you are complicating things a lot more because you are forcing the religious divide and unfortunately, unfortunately Buhari has 80 per cent of the blame in what is happening today. He should have had the courage to be the leader of the APC and say yes Bola, we have gone to the convention, yes, this is the person that won, but you go and bring a Christian as your running mate. After all, when Yar’Adua was elected, Obasanjo called all the aspirants, including Peter Odili, who would have won, he said all of you go and withdraw for Yar’Adua. The man never bought any form. That is what leadership is all about.
So, you are largely blaming Buhari for the wave of controversy bothering on the choice of the same faith ticket in his party?
Yes , because he is the leader of his party. He is the leader of the party and he is the leader of the country and he knows the implications of same faith ticket, especially coming from particularly an institution like the military, he knows the implications. So, he should have taken a firm decision and say this is what he wants done to avert this from happening. But he did not. And he is the only person in the APC that has that authority and power to enforce the right decision, but he did not. Well for me, we have picked a Christian as our running mate. Those that are not satisfied with the Muslim-Muslim ticket in the APC are very much welcomed. You too, you are welcomed to PDP if you are not satisfied.
Do you see Nigeria surviving the kind of faith- based crisis that would rock the country should Tinubu emerge as the next president of the country?
Well, I thank God… God loves all of us. He would not make Tinubu win this election because He loves Nigeria.