National spokesman of the Atiku/Obi presidential campaign organization, Umar Sani has said the outcome of the petition filed by the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar will determine the zoning arrangement of the opposition party in 2023.
In this interview, he spoke on various issues.
The PDP national leadership recently extended the suspension of the minority leaders of the House of Representatives for going against its instruction, do you think this approach would be counter productive in the long run?
The leadership of the party believes that party loyalty is supreme. If the party believes that someone has erred and the person is given the right to fair hearing by allowing him to appear before a disciplinary committee to explain why disciplinary action should not be taken against him for infractions of certain norms of the party, I think the party is being fair. The one month suspension that was given is in line with the constitution of the party. If the party is confident that you have committed any infraction, you would be given a one-month suspension and that one-month can be extended from time to time until such a time that the committee set up to investigate has completed its assignment and submitted its report before a decision is taken. So, we are very hopeful that the members that were suspended will have the benefit of expressing themselves to the satisfaction of the party.
One of your members who voted for Femi Gbajabiamila said that the party did not consult them before trying to impose their choice of candidates on the PDP members for the leadership of the House of Representatives. Don’t you think that the party goofed by not asking for their opinion?
The members themselves got to that position by virtue of the party; the party didn’t ask for their opinion on whether they wanted to contest or not. They went and bought forms and contested on the platform of the party and won their poll and represented the party at the election. In the House of Representatives leadership, the only positions you seek votes for is for the speaker and deputy speaker, but for other positions like the majority leader, minority leader, chief whip and others, it is the party that selects those to represent them. If the PDP was not the major minority in the House, it would have been a competition between the PDP and the party that also has minority. However, consultation is not ruled out; the party can say that members should consult among themselves who they want and then give the party and the party will write to the House.
When the APC was in opposition, the PDP created an enabling environment for everyone to express their opinions freely without harassment; the rule of law was at its peak, we respected the rights of Nigerians and no one was harassed for their views. But now, it is a battle between the people and the state. If you have any dissenting opinion, you will be accused of treasonable felony. When Goodluck Jonathan was president, Gani Fawehimi square was used for 14 days for protests against his government; musicians were hired, food was served but no one was arrested and the security agencies were not used to harass anyone. But this administration has no such tolerance for dissenting opinion and it has made the expression of human rights very difficult. What do they want PDP to do? Do they want us to go the NADECO way and open a radio Kudirat in a foreign country and then be bombarding your country? We won’t do that; our strategy is to appeal to the minds of the people because we are loved. PDP is playing mature politics and has refused to overheat the polity like the APC did when they were in the opposition. You saw this attitude in the 2019 elections in Lagos where if they suspect that a polling unit voted for PDP, they would organise thugs and burn the ballot papers. An entire collation centre was sacked because they assumed that PDP will win that local government.
Here in Kaduna, Igbos who came to vote were blocked at River Kaduna bridge and they were denied entry into the town to go and vote where they registered. It took the intervention of a senior military officer who allowed them to pass through, but by then, most of them had gone home. These were some of the tactics that were used to stop people from exercising their rights.
There are also allegations that within the Kaduna PDP, there still exists dissenting groups that sabotaged one another during the elections which prevented the party from winning. They were allegations that the Namadi Sambo group, the Makarfi group and the Hunkuyi group were all working at cross purposes which led to the failure of the party. Is this fact of fiction?
Those who didn’t want to remain with the PDP went to the opposition party but the PDP itself remained intact. You mentioned Suleiman Hunkuyi but he cannot afford to behave otherwise because he was also the senatorial candidate of the PDP so he couldn’t have worked against himself. I was with Hunkuyi immediately after the elections; we drove to Abuja in the train together and appraised the entire thing. He was also not happy with the losses and he and Ashiru our governorship candidate are at the tribunal at the moment challenging the election. There are some people who didn’t win the governorship primary who felt aggrieved and defected to the APC close to the election but apart from that we didn’t have any issue. Makarfi really worked tirelessly to ensure the victory of the party. The Kaduna election was clearly rigged so it was not a case of sabotage within the PDP.
These allegations of sabotaged have also been made by some of your members and volunteers against the presidential campaign organisation. The allegations are that some PDP governors secretly worked for President Buhari, by ensuring that he got at least 25 percent of the votes in their states. In former PDP states like Gombe, your party was completely annihilated even though the immediate past governor was one of Atiku’s coordinators. There are also accusations that some high profile members within the campaign were only after what they could get from the party and were not committed to the party’s victory. You were one of the Atiku presidential official spokespersons, give us an insight into how things played out?
I cannot comment on Gombe because I wasn’t there, so I don’t have any privileged information. However, let me state clearly that we would not have been talking about a rigged election if there was no commitment. Atiku has given tons of evidence at the tribunal how the votes in Borno, Yobe, Kano, Kaduna and other states do not add up, so blaming each other will not help our case. As far as we are concerned, every stakeholder participated actively for the election and if the PDP didn’t work hard, there is no way that the PDP would have gotten the votes it got and be a serious contender. There was no sabotage, people really worked hard for Atiku. In most of the states that people were expecting that there would be sabotage, Atiku won there. People said Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi will not deliver Enugu but Atiku won there,; they said Dave Umahi will not deliver Ebonyi, but Atiku won there as well. People also said Cross River will sabotage Atiku but he won there also. Where then was the sabotage? In fact, PDP broke into new grounds like in Oyo, Adamawa, Bauchi and even Ondo. Will you then say the APC governor in Ondo committed anti-party activities to help Atiku because PDP defeated APC in the state? Even in Lagos where APC has the strongest hold in the South West, the PDP and APC were going neck to neck; so I don’t see any sabotage. If the true results were allowed to manifest, no one will be talking about sabotage.
It is the Supreme Court that would decide Atiku’s fate and many Nigerians feel the judgment can go either way. If at the end of the day, the Court judgment doesn’t favour Atiku, where would that leave your party?
PDP is a law abiding party but that is not to say that we would not express our grievances; we will express our displeasure if the Osun type of judgment repeats itself where technicality was used to rule against us, whereas the Supreme Court had previously ruled just recently the merits of a case should be considered while giving a ruling and that technicality should not be a consideration. We won’t accept that type of judgment. If the judgment is very clear, lucid and discountenances our arguments without any shadow of doubts, then we may say their lordships have done their best. But if we believe that judgment based on technicality was given because the court has been coerced using instruments of government, then we would definitely reject the judgment.
It is barely two years into this administration and already, people are positioning themselves for the 2023 presidency. The governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rfuai recently said 2023 should not be about zoning and some high profile members of the ruling party has said that zoning is not in the party’s constitution. What is the situation in PDP? Will zoning be a factor on who will get its presidential ticket in 2023?
The PDP started and entrenched zoning even though its neither in the party’s constitution nor is it in the country’s constitution. We started the culture of zoning in the interest of justice and equity where everyone has the right to aspire to any position. PDP produced the first president from a minority tribe and if we were to vote based on numbers of votes in different zones, that may never have happened. But in the APC, their struggle has always been about personal interests which they have always masqueraded as national interest. The current battle for the 2023 presidency in APC is from two blocs; the Tinubu bloc and the El-Rufai bloc. Tinubu is positioning his people in strategic positions so that he will be able to manipulate and get the presidential ticket of the party. He was able to get his man, Adams Oshiomhole to become party chairman, he was also able to get his men, Ahmed Lawan and Gbajabiamila to become National Assembly leaders. So presently, he has control over the national party structure and the National Assembly. The El-Rufai bloc is trying to discredit Tinubu as someone with questionable character and they also want to use the numerical strength of the North to get the ticket. They are also selling themselves as being more competent and they believe that power should not be surrendered, that it should be struggled for.
In the PDP, we have already entrenched the zoning system. The last PDP president we had was from the South and because Atiku contested as a northerner, it does not still preclude the fact that the last person who was president was from the South because Atiku hasn’t been sworn in. If Atiku had been sworn in and he has had his four years, naturally, the presidency will go back to the south. If the court says Atiku is now the president, the south can now start clamouring for the next presidency. But if we are not successful at the tribunal, the argument within the party will now be whether Atiku should continue or some other people should challenge him. The narration would change depending on the outcome of the judgement.