Ali Abare, Gombe
Senator Saidu Umar Kumo represented Gombe Central in the fourth senate on the platform of the defunct All Peoples Party (APP). He was also National Secretary of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Congress (ANPP) before his appointment as a Special Adviser to the late President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2007.
He explains why he thinks Atiku Abubakar remains the best option for the PDP in next year’s presidential contest.
There was outrage across the country following recent abduction of about 110 girls from Government Girls Technical School Dapchi in Yobe State as well as the attack on Kalabalge in Borno State where UN workers were reportedly killed. Do you see this latest Boko Haram attacks as confirmation that the insurgents still pose a threat contrary to initial claims by government?
In the first place, the insurgency in the north-eastern part of the country is something new entirely. We have never experienced it before. This is the first time this thing is happening in Nigeria. At the beginning of the insurgency, leaders in the country took it for granted. Later it developed to become what it is today. It is now a serious challenge to the entire nation, both to those in authority and the governed. Unfortunately, when the Chibok issue came up, after all the effort and up to this moment, some Nigerians thought we have learnt a lesson and taken security measures in all our schools. But the Dapchi issue has embarrassed the country, embarrassed its leaders because nobody expected that at this time, there will be a re-occurrence of students abduction.
This Dapchi issue has drawn the country back. Even the international community has been taken aback because they had expected our leaders to be on top of the situation by providing adequate security in schools in the trouble states. We cannot continue to blame the military always. The military cannot be everywhere at every time. What about other security operatives who are supposed to compliment the efforts of the military, the military are expected to recover areas from the insurgents and move on. Other security agencies are expected to take over and maintain law and order. Had it been there were some policemen or even mobile policemen stationed in various schools, they would have alerted the military for support or even rescue. Unfortunately, that did not happen.
The Nigerian government never told anyone that they have finished with Boko Haram completely; they merely crippled them as they are no longer a threat as before. They cannot say they have stamped them out completely because it’s not an easy task stamping insurgency out. The Boko Haram do not have peculiar identity, they enter the society and mingle easily. It takes time for security agencies to identify them. It will take a time before it ends completely.
As 2019 general election approaches, there is agitation for the presidential candidate of the PDP to come from the north- east geopolitical zone. Do you think this is possible?
Yes, it is. By God’s grace, we are going to realise it. We are working very hard to make sure the party gives us the opportunity. Of course, some other contestants from other parts of the country are free to show interest but time is coming when we will appeal to them to consider us. Moreover, the person we want is the Wazirin Adamawa, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. By the Grace of God, he will emerge. However, we have to work together with our colleagues from other parts of the north and other parts of the country. The position has not been micro-zoned to any part of the north. It’s still for the entire north. But we hope to either micro-zone it to the north-east or we would appeal to others to slow down and allow someone from the area to emerge.
Recently you opened the north- east zone Atiku Abubakar Solidarity Office. What makes you think that Atiku could be the best choice for the PDP?
I opened up the zonal solidarity office for Atiku Abubakar to mobilise support for his presidential ambition, which we are part of. I’m telling you, Atiku is long overdue in the PDP to become its presidential candidate and be elected as president. Nigeria of today needs someone like Atiku; there are many challenges that we require someone like him to step into the leadership to bring about an all inclusive administration with focus. He is going to be the right choice for Nigerians. But first, we want him to be the choice of the PDP, when the PDP choose him to become its presidential candidate, then we can sell him to Nigerians.
Talking about presidential aspirants from the north- east, in 2015, you were Director General, Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo campaign organisation. There is indication that he too is gunning for the PDP presidential ticket. Why are you angling for Atiku to pick the ticket?
I really don’t know that Dankwambo is angling for the presidential ticket. Because he never discussed the issue with me, he never discussed with someone that came to discuss with me, he never sent someone to inform me. My party leadership never called me to say Gombe governor is angling for the PDP presidential ticket. Nobody told me until this moment. I’m not the one to push him and say, ‘come out and contest for this position.’ If he is nursing such ambition, maybe he told those that matter. Maybe they are aware, maybe he didn’t come to our level. But already there is another person that saw us and considers us important in this project and we are for him. That doesn’t mean he cannot gun for the ticket, he must work for it. But for me, I have made my position clear; everybody knows I’m for Atiku in the north- east and Nigeria.
In the north- east, only Gombe and Taraba States belong to the PDP. Do you see this as a challenge to Atiku’s presidential ambition?
Is there anywhere in the north except the north- east where you find PDP government? That’s more reason the PDP should reward us for standing strong when other states in the north were swept away in 2015. We should be considered because there is no PDP government in North West and North Central. For that, we should be considered.
Recently, the lingering crisis within the PDP took a turn for the worst with the defection of some founding members of the party like Profs Jerry Gana and Adeniran to the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Do you see this as a challenge to the chances of the PDP in the 2019 presidential election?
When parties lose election, particularly big parties, like the PDP that was in power for 16 years, what people don’t understand is that, if care is not taken, the party will go into disarray. People are yet to know what it meant to be in the opposition, how the opposition suffers. They don’t know how to build an opposition. They expected the thinking to be rowdy. Although, we know the convention has come and gone, with all that happened, at least, we want to put it behind us. As family members of the party, there should be deliberate effort to pacify people but that is what is lacking today or it’s not as we expected. That’s the reason some of them are moving away. Today, in the political terrain of Nigeria, there are only two good platforms, either the PDP or APC. All the rest are weak, they cannot carry the burden of promoting contestants. I also moved out but I came back because some people prevailed on me. We need to prevail on them to come back. They left out of annoyance not because they sincerely prefer life outside the PDP. We need to include leaders of the party, supporters and stalwarts of the party to prevail on them to come back to the party, not only them, but to open our doors for others to come in. It’s unfortunate this is happening at this material time. We all knew what happened during the convention, which resulted in this crisis. Whether we like it or not, this is a challenge to us, which points the way to build and bring up an opposition party. There is nothing PDP can do today to deny the fact that we are in the opposition. We have to behave like the opposition and not to carry on as if we are still in power. We should stop thinking as if we are still in power. Nobody owns this party; PDP belongs to all Nigerians and board members of the PDP. It’s sad; we cannot afford to lose a member not to mention those with influences. I believe the party leadership would look into it and see how we can reunite ourselves as one family.
Coming back home, Gombe State since its creation in 1996 has evolved into a model for others to emulate. However, it’s obvious there are still challenges facing the people. What can you say are these challenges and how do you think they can be surmounted?
Gombe is supposed to be a model and is still is to some states created at the same time with us and even some older states. By God’s Grace, Gombe is today ahead of even some older states. As of today, no matter what you do, there are still some issues of development. No matter what, particularly in terms of infrastructure, you cannot get it all, you have to start and finish some and start initiating some. Don’t forget, we had only three administrations on our own. The first was under Hashidu, which was not given the chance because he ruled for only four years. Since it was the first civilian administration, it came with its peculiar challenges. Hashidu could not perform because of the prevailing situation. Secondly, Goje came and tried his best. He started to put up some of the things we have today. Then Dankwambo came and he did very well in terms of infrastructure. Nevertheless, he cannot have it all as there are funding challenges. What the state used to get has gone down. He had to slow down to do mostly those projects that he deemed necessary. In that respect, I don’t have quarrelled with that, Gombe has gone somewhere and we want whoever is coming to build on that. This second tenure, the pace of development has slowed down possibly because of the shortfall in revenue. Things changed and you can see how the prices of everything skyrocketed. All these are part of the challenges. We believe he will be able to do something before the end of his tenure and it’s our hope that whoever is elected will come to build on it.