A former Governor of Plateau State, Amb. Fidelis Tapgun has said state governors are the architects of the crisis facing the country’s ruling party, APC and the main opposition party, the PDP. For the PDP, he said the party needs to be returned to the people at the grassroots to own before it can take its rightful place again. Delving into the June 12, 1993 election debacle, he said until the Federal Government declare late MKO Abiola as elected President of Nigeria, celebration of democracy day on June 12 would have no meaning. Tapgun in this interview with GYANG BERE in Jos, noted that he told President Muhammadu Buhari two years ago at Aso Villa that Abiola should be declared president posthumously and listed among Nigeria’s Presidents.
He blamed PDP Governors for the state of things in the party and said the implementation of the report by the Alex Ekwueme Committee set up by late President Umar Musa Yar’Adua will end the party’s challenges and put it on the path of victory in 2023.
People believe that like-minded individuals conceived the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Your served in the Alex Ekwueme PDP reconciliation committee, has the party implemented your recommendations since then?
They have not been addressed. This is one of the greatest things that have been disturbing my life in this world. PDP is very solid in this country, there is nothing you can do about it, it has its ups and down, yes, so there is nothing you can do to uproot PDP. It was formed from the grassroots and not from the top. After it was launched in Abuja, we had the first elections, it was local government elections and we swept this country. There was no money anywhere and people were asking us how did we do it. Anywhere we were going for campaign, the people there will contribute their money to entertain people, they took the party as their own property and that was what we meant when we said it is the people’s party. That was how we went into that election and when we won, some people started running into PDP, so it is a solid party. Obasanjo was the first President himself and Atiku as VP under the party. Mistakes came up when the Executive started interfering in party politics. It started during the Obasanjo campaign, he had coordinators all over the country, I was his Coordinator here in Plateau State, and we were campaigning before the primaries for the Governors, when the Governorship candidates emerged, so how Obasanjo and Atiku decided that the Governors would become the coordinators of the party that is where the problem started. We protested, we were just working and clashing because we refused, in Plateau state, Joshua Dariye became the Coordinator. When the Government established itself, the President who was voted on a platform of a political party and instead of working with the political party, he was working with the Governors, instead of asking the party what do we do, they will ask the Governors and the Governors started giving instructions to the party which was the first major mistake and it continued like that. During SDP and NRC period, Chairman of the party was supreme at the national level and the Chairman of the party at the state is supreme at the state, so also at the Local Government and Ward level. The Governors were answerable to the chairman of the party in the state and the President was subject to the National Chairman of the party. When we were Governors under SDP, we went for meetings in Abuja, it is the Chairman of the party that sits to conduct everything and not the President, the President and Governors will sit down with everybody. Infact, when you want to ask a question, a governor will have to wait until the party Chairman gives you chance to talk, and that was what was happening in the states. The chairmen of the party were the bosses in the states and not the governors, we will go for meeting with our party chairman, he will decide that I should talk otherwise I can’t talk, anything they wanted from the national they will call the party chairman and then he will call us and we will discuss the issue and then take a decision and send to the national. The party was raising own money by itself, the national level was sending money to the party in the states to function, to maintain the office and pay staff and so on. But the mistake that was made this time was to turn the whole thing the other way round by the Governors and it became a big problem and that was how we were moving. At the national level, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo became the leader of the party, there was this clash between him and the national chairman of the party, at the state level the Governor will say he is the leader of the party, at Local Government level the Council Chairman will say he is the leader of the party and at the ward level the Councilor will say he is the leader of the party, how do you do that kind of thing for heaven’s sake. It continued like that until Umar Musa Yar’Adua came as President; Yar’Adua was a foundation member of PDP and we were in SDP together, when he came, he said the system that brought him to power was flawed, he didn’t believe in the system that brought him to power, that was why he said he will set up a committee to look at why PDP is behaving like this, this is not the PDP he knows. He set up the Alex Ekwueme committee, which I was part of, he asked us to go round and find out what was the matter. You know the committee was very powerful, all the prominent people were there and we were lucky we served in that committee, we went round the six geopolitical zones and people expressed their views and we discovered the terrible things that were going on in the party. One of the issues was about the leadership of the party at the national and the state levels, where the Governors will say they are the leaders. We said if PDP must function, all these things must stop, it is a political party and not an executive party. Part of what happened was that it was the Governors that were funding the party, if something happened, Chairmen of the party will run to the Governors and say we want money, the party Chairman at the local government level will run to the Executive Chairman at that level, they were controlling and the party became toothless.
Did the recommendation of this committee actually address these issues?
We did, we suggested that the party should find sources of raising fund by itself, we said membership of the party should be established from all the wards, we calculated and said even if it is N50 people were paying it will help because people want the party to be their own, we calculated and what we were going to raise that will make the party comfortable from the national to the states and to the local government, we said the party should be supreme and we gave guideline on what should be done. We asked that the subscription of membership should be immediate and we gave Yar’Adua the report, when he read it, he said PDP is the ruling party in the country and that the party must lead by example and he ordered that the online registration should start because of that, the Governors ganged up and got the National Chairman of the party removed at that time and that has been our headache till today. If the Governors are not happy with something, they will just gang up, because the online registration was not done, the report was dumped, the issue of the leadership just continued and the report was collected at the national and they just kept it. Unfortunately for us, Yar’Adua died, if he was alive there was no way that report would not be implemented, they continued in the line until we failed election in 2015. The national leadership again set up another committee headed by Sen. Ike Ekweremadu, if you look at the report, it is a carbon copy of what we submitted and we said you have a document at your disposal and you don’t want to use it, you keep on setting up committees just to waste money. If we don’t correct this issue, we will always be in problem and the correction is that people should own the party by subscription, that was what we did to conduct the first local government election, people raised money by themselves, until we do that, we will be messing up.
How do you think the PDP can get out of the mess it has found itself and take over power again?
For me, we need to go back to the basis, people should own the party and make sure it is their property, they can defend it anywhere and the unfortunate thing that has caused us this problem is money. If you don’t have money you can’t do anything and that is our greatest burden and if we don’t get people involved at the grassroots, and it is they who decide who become what, we will still have problem. Now, if the Governor wants somebody from a local government, he will ask the Local Government Chairman, he will go and pick his own cronies, all those people that are working with him and they have left the party outside, if the party is approached, the party knows who to nominate so that they can encourage him to continue, even during the Alex Ekwueme committee, that was what we found throughout in the country, the people that are working for the growth of the party have been marginalized, it is the Governors that are in charge, they nominate their cronies, their friends and families, nobody will caution them, and until we go back to the basis, it will still be the same. The party must take its rightful place.
This problem is obviously not peculiar to PDP alone, it is in all the political parties and currently that is what is causing problem in the ruling APC
That was what I was telling you from the beginning about the Yar’Adua issue. He told us that PDP is a ruling party and that it must lead by example and if he was alive, I know he would have shown the example for other parties to follow, he would have done that because he was a determined man, if he says something, he makes sure it happens.
Can we say it is a little different in APC because the leader of the party is not the President? A former Governor of Lagos state Bola Tinubu is addressed as leader of the APC
Listen, I don’t want to talk about APC and you know that Tinubu gave himself that name and you know that at a point last year or so President Muhammadu Buhari was telling him that he is not the leader of the party, so I don’t want to talk about that, that is their problem.
The issue of insecurity has continued unabated in Nigeria, what do you think can end this problem?
This issue is a problem; all hands must be on deck because the issue of insecurity is a serious problem. There are complaints all over on the issues of lopsidedness in appointments, there are genuine complaints because it is one section of the country that is doing everything, the security forces are all headed by people from one section of the country, I don’t think that is a wise thing to do in this complex country called Nigeria unless there is a sinister agenda that people want to implement. The constitution talks about a federal character, positions must be shared all over and there is no part of this country that you will not get a credible person to hold one position or the other. We have competent people in different parts of the country that can handle everything, positions should be spread, because other parts of the country are saying that since everything is in their hands let them handle it, even if something went wrong they will keep quiet, we should look inward and correct some of these things because there is a great danger in the way things are being done now, we can’t just have people from one part of the country imposed on others, there are complaints all over the country about this, it should be looked into.
As a prominent figure in the June 12 struggle, what will you say Nigeria has gained and lost 27 years after?
We have so many things that we have lost 27 years after the June 12 elections. The June 12 stands out as the most important day in Nigeria apart from October 1, that is the date for our independence, so June 12 stands out as the next most important day in the history of Nigeria. This is because we have been battling with so many things, military intervention, politics and we came to June 12 and it was a period that Nigerians decided that they want to move forward because we have been crawling since independence. When politics came up, all those who contested that election went into the primaries, under the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC), the military was still in power and Gen. Ibrahim Babangida was following his transition programme gradually and that looked very serious to most of us, it looked very genuine because we have been elected as Governors in the states, that is the executives in the states were functional, the legislature at the national level was in place, it was just the executive at the national level that was the problem, that was just the last thing to be done and we have these two major political parties who were to go for their convention; the military was still in control, they decided that the NRC should hold their own in Port Harcourt and asked us whether we will host that of SPD in Plateau and we said yes, we will host it…
So, how did it go?
We hosted it here in Jos and I was the coordinator of SDP Governors, two major candidates came up for the primaries; that is MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe and we the SDP Governors, some were supporting MKO Abiola, some were supporting Kingibe and the legislature at the National Assembly had the same thing. The Convention was done at the Rwang Pam Township Stadium Jos. As Governor, I made sure that the convention was live on Plateau Radio Television Corporation from the beginning to the end for everybody to monitor. At the end of the day, Abiola emerged the winner of that primaries and we were all happy because it was hotly contested, even though you cannot rule out people saying that there was rigging and so on, it was transparent, clean and the man emerged the winner and we started campaigning but first he needed to have a running mate and all the SDP Governors were summoned to Abuja and a decision was made that Kingibe should be made the running mate since they contested together and they all have backing from both the Governors and the legislators from the National Assembly. A decision was taken that Kingibe should be the running mate but there was this fear that both of them were Muslims and we should not have a Muslim/Muslim ticket but some of us were determined to go beyond that kind of thing; in fact our leaders in SDP were trying to go beyond such thinking, that religion shouldn’t be a factor and it shouldn’t cost us what is good for the country. Abiola was a credible man and Kingibe was also a capable person and we believed that they would take the country to its destination. So because of the fear of some people Chief Solomon Lar, myself, Jerry Gana, Dan Suleiman and all the leaders of SDP decided that for us to douse tension because the pressure was from the Churches, we decided to go into the Churches to explain to the people why they should vote that ticket. Chief Lar led us and we did a marvelous job, we went round and the people were convinced. Anywhere we went to, the people knew that Abiola was not discriminatory at all in terms of religion; if he is called to the church he will come and donate and so the people agreed that it was okay, it was on that basis that people went out to vote that ticket. Although as campaign was going on, the military started a lot of intrigues but we were committed that the election must succeed and when the election came, we saw how it went. We were coasting to victory, and suddenly Babangida stopped the result.
Was there any crisis that warranted his action?
There was no crisis anywhere, but they probably had their crisis in the military from what we read later on and what we are reading up till today, we are still to know what exactly happened that time. The military had their own issues, some said Abiola will not be President, some said he will be President and some of them wanted to be President after Babangida, these were issues that were going on. Apparently, we didn’t know that some of our leaders betrayed us at the end of the day because from what transpired later, they knew what was going on and they didn’t tell us, they preferred to go with the military because they were promised positions; that the military will not accept Abiola, it was later we got to know that they were part of the betrayal. We risked our lives by traveling all over the country by road and by air trying to negotiate but Babangida cancelled the election to everybody’s dismay but as far as we are concerned, that election was free, fair and credible, the results were free but it was just the military intrigues, some didn’t want Abiola to be President, some wanted him to be President and some were scheming for themselves to be President of the country, so they have to scuttle that election and cancelled it.
How do you react to the adoption of June 12 as democracy day by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari?
Well, for me, it is one step forward; they have not done the whole work as far as I am concerned. They summoned people that are concerned on this June 12 to the Villa two years ago, the present government summoned us and we were all there, the former governors of the SDP, the National Assembly members were all there. Some of the people have died but those of us alive were all there in the Villa and we had hope that certain things will be done about the June 12 because of the cry all over the country, that the day should be recognized and that prominence should be given to that day. Beside October 1, the independence day, June 12 is the next important day in the history of Nigeria because Nigerians came out enmass to vote Abiola and Kingibe irrespective of their religious belief, they didn’t think about religion at all and if the military had allowed this thing to take off from there, we would have gone far, 27 years is no joke, this country would have developed, we would have gone very far but here we are. The present administration adopted the day and Kingibe was given GCON and Abiola was given GCFR but why have they not said yes he was President so that he will be recognized as President of Nigeria that died and his name will be written among the Presidents of Nigeria. That they have not done. I think to make this thing complete, government must recognize that Abiola was President because he won the election, Kingibe was his Vice, to me that is why they will make June 12 complete but giving them national honour and recognizing June 12 as democracy day has not solved the problem. It’s democracy day but what democracy are we celebrating, something must happen. What happened is that Abiola was elected President and that makes it democracy day, people freely elected him, so I think government still have that to do as far as I am concerned to make it complete otherwise it is a paper work.
I was going to ask if adoption of June 12 as democracy addressed the injustice that was inflicted on Nigerians?
That is what I am saying, if they declare Abiola President, then they have done justice to that date but for not accepting him as President then you have not done justice to the date. If they said yes, June 12 is democracy day, there was election and somebody won that election, his name is MKO Abiola, he was President and the name of his Vice was Babagana Kingibe but the President died so he should be recognized as former President of Nigeria, then the injustice would be seen to have been addressed but as far as I am concerned that injustice has not been fully addressed yet.
Recently, former Governor of Kaduna State, Balarabe Musa called for the prosecution of Ibrahim Babangida and others over the annulment of June 12 election, do you think that is necessary?
There is no need for that; so much water has passed under the bridge. There is a government in power now and the government is a democratic government and it has accepted there was injustice by accepting the date as democracy day. People who made the mistake, some have died and some are still alive, prosecuting IBB now is not an important thing now, the important thing is that the date has been accepted as democracy day.
Looking at the June 12 election where Nigerians voted for a Muslim/Muslim ticket willingly compared to the current politics where religion, ethnicity and regional issues are the focus, would you say Nigerians have really learnt any lesson from June 12 elections?
That is exactly what I am telling you now, if we had moved from there. You know when we went to the Villa with all the former Governors, I was asked to speak on behalf of the former Governors and what I said was, that election showed that Nigerians have gone beyond religious politics because the ticket was Muslim/Muslim ticket, and despite that, people went out and voted for it. If we had gone from there, if the military had handed over to MKO Abiola and Babagana Kingibe, we wouldn’t have been where we are today in politics, talking about religion, talking about tribe, where are we going with that? I told them that day, I said if June 12 was allowed, we would have gone far, today we are still talking about religion, we are not talking about competent persons, I think they still have one step to take, that is to recognize MKO Abiola as former President of Nigeria.