By Fred Itua, Abuja
Professor Suleiman Abubakar served as Minister of National Planning in former President Goodluck Jonathan’s government. Since he left office, he has been one of the key members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) calling for the restructuring of the party. He was also the leading voice among the former ministers who wanted former governor of Borno State, Ali Modu Sheriff removed as PDP chairman.
In this intervie, Professor Abubakar spoke on a number of issues. He spoke on the crisis rocking the PDP, anti-corruption war of President Muhammadu Buhari and the unjust persecution of the Senate president, Dr. Bukola Saraki.
Are you worried that the crisis rocking the PDP could send it to its early grave?
The development in PDP was expected from a party that was in party for 16 years. You should expect this kind of altercation, disagreements and squabbles here and there. The centre suddenly disappeared. The centre that held everything together fizzled out. From 30 PDP controlled states, we now have only 12. We do not have government at the centre. So, things like these should be expected. The only major mistake the party made was by bringing in Ali-Modu Sheriff. He was never part of the PDP. His antecedents are not good. He was always on espionage mission for the government of the day. For years that he claimed to be in the ANPP, he was working for the government of the day. He was working for Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan. If that antecedent is anything to go by, it means he is not somebody we can rely on to lead the party.
There are some PDP members who believe that former president Goodluck Jonathan imposed Sheriff on the party
Jonathan has never come out to say that he supported Sheriff. Nobody had come out to say that Jonathan spoke with him. I confronted Jonathan and he denied that he ever told anybody that he was supporting Sheriff. If Jonathan wanted to support Sheriff, one of the best ways to do that was to speak with his own ministers. We, the former ministers of Jonathan are at the forefront in opposing Sheriff. I want to take Jonathan by his words that he did not support Sheriff. Everybody wants to exploit Jonathan’s name to enhance their legitimacy. It is normal in politics. Personally and as someone who is close to Jonathan, I asked him and he denied ever speaking with anybody about Sheriff. I want to believe him.
Now that Sheriff appears to be out, it is still as if the crisis is far from over. Do you see a way out of this?
The development in the PDP is temporary. It is not something unusual. It is unfortunate that the judiciary has not put its own house in order and it is giving conflicting judgments. I want to believe that the solution to the problem of PDP is political and not legal. We shall get it right. The setting up of a caretaker committee is alien to PDP and is not in consonance with what we believe. It was a decision taken out of confusion. The caretaker committee, the governors and the Mantu group which I belong appear to agree on one thing and that is on the expulsion of Sheriff from the party. Again, some people also agreed on the dissolution of the committee. We are also in agreement on the re-conduct of the congresses for the ward to the national level. These three key issues are more fundamental to me. Majority of members of the party have agreed that they want a new set of leaders. Sheriff cannot impose himself on the party. Sheriff was able to deceive governors and some people in the party. He claimed that he had money to spend. And they keyed into that stupidity.
What about the recommended zoning arrangements? Do you agree with that too?
The main problem is Sheriff and the people that were deceived by him. Out of desperation to perpetuate himself in power, Sheriff manipulated the zoning system. It was now done to favour Sheriff. That is why in the history of PDP, we are now employing geopolitical parameters as basis for zoning. It is either you zone to North or South. To now say that you are zoning to North-East is alien in PDP. They did that just to ensure that the whole arrangement favours Sheriff’s emergence. That is the main problem. Everything was geared towards getting Sheriff to remain in power. We told them all these things. They have realised it. Fayose and Wike have realised it now.
With the current crisis, do you see the PDP taking a shot in 2019?
PDP coming back to power in 2019 is dependent on so many variables. One of them is the determination of the leadership of the party to do away with impunity. Another factor is our readiness to allow inter party democracy in our party. It also depends on the performance of our PDP governors. More importantly, it depends on the kind of convention that will produce the next presidential candidate of the party. To a large extent, these factors will determine what our chances will be in 2019. I want to believe that if these things are considered, nothing stops PDP from coming to power in 2019. From the performance of APC, both at the states and at the centre, I think Nigerians are already yearning for a better change. What we had was just change.
Do you think that the anti-corruption war of President Muhammadu Buhari is fair?
One thing that is very clear is that, wherever there is corruption, the society cannot grow. Corruption must be fought. We must get it out of our system. I support any government fighting corruption. I support Buhari’s intent to fight corruption. But I am against the methodology. I am against the procedures he is adopting. The agencies he is using to fight corruption were set up by the PDP government. Obasanjo lost his credibility in fighting corruption because he used the anti-graft agencies to persecute opposition members. Buhari should fight corruption but the way and manner the EFCC is going about it suggests so many things.
What does it suggest?
It means the EFCC is now an instrument in the hands of the government of the day to persecute the opposition. It shows the government of the day does not have respect for the basic rights of the Nigerian people and for the rule of law. It shows that it does not have respect for the judiciary. If people are found stealing, prosecute them in a transparent manner. Allow court rulings to hold sway. That is why we talk about separation of powers. But a situation where people are granted bail, but you do not allow them to go, is bad. It is not civil. A situation where people that participated in a campaign process of the former government are persecuted is unfair. Their images have been maligned. That is not war against corruption. People are now asking why the other side are not facing the same thing. Those being persecuted did not steal from the treasury. They got funds to campaign for the elections. They went to the banks and cashed the money. My question is whether a similar thing did not happen in APC during the presidential election? If what the EFCC is doing is to impress the president, they need to be cautioned. This is the height of injustice. The country is heading towards anarchy. It is a global practice to collect money to prosecute elections.
Presidential elections all over the world gulp billions. President Buhari during the campaign claimed that he did not have money. So, the billions they spent, where did they get it from? Are we now saying that Fashola and Amaechi did not contribute billions to Buhari’s campaign? Why is the EFCC not looking into that? God will only spare APC if only President Buhari did not benefit from the loot of Rivers, Lagos, Kano and other APC controlled states. I challenge Buhari that as a Muslim, he should swear with the Qoran that he never received billions from Amaechi, Fashola, corporate organisations and others for his campaign. These monies he received are for taxpayers. They were gotten from treasuries of state governments. They are funds for security votes in the states. I challenge Buhari, Amaechi and Fashola that they did not use states’ resources to finance their presidential election. If they cannot do what I am asking to do, by invoking God’s name, using Quran and the Bible to swear, then the wrath of God will be upon them. What they are doing amounts to injustice. What they are doing is selective fight. What they are doing amounts to blackmail. The way they going about the fight against corruption, amounts to corruption. Corruption cannot beget corruption. They can put people in cell. Maybe tomorrow, I may be next. Everything in this life has its own time. But what is clear to Nigerians is that, if you are looking for people that are corrupt, you will be wrong if your searchlight is only on PDP members. The people that have looted the treasuries of this country are in APC. People that have destroyed Nigeria’s economy are in PDP. Who were the members of PDP in the last 17 years? They are El-Rufai, Amaechi, Kwakwanso, Goje, Audu Ogbe, Gemade, Baraje and others. Where was Obasanjo for years? He was in PDP. Why are you so particular about the people that served during Jonathan’s governments?
There is this clamour that Jonathan should be invited and possibly prosecuted. Do you think it will be a good move?
Jonathan is not running away. If they feel that they want to prosecute him, they should go ahead. He is not afraid of being prosecuted. After all, corruption was not domiciled in Jonathan’s government alone. We have had in this country where a sitting president was busy sharing N50 million. Abacha’s loot for the past 18 years is still being recovered. During Buhari’s time as minister, over $2 billion was missing. Corruption is not domiciled with Jonathan’s administration. To just single out Jonathan is wrong. This is the man that handed over government peacefully. Despite the insecurity in the North, he ensured those in IDPs voted. If that is the prize they want to give to a man who did a lot for Nigeria, they should go ahead and do it.
Do you see the move as a bad precedence?
It is. If you do it, you are setting a bad precedence. You are saying that the next time I become the president, I will never hand over to anybody. I would rather die there than hand over. You will be encouraging a sit-tight syndrome. Only a fool will then rule and hand over to a successor. That is the message they are sending to the entire continent.
You are from Kwara State. Do you think the ongoing prosecution of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki is fair?
If there is anybody that has fought Saraki so hard, I think I am one of them. Yes, he has committed a lot of mistakes. In terms of bad administration, he has done so much. In terms of perceived tendency to steal, yes, he has done so much. But the way they are handling his case shows clearly that it is a mere persecution. Even though we believe that he had done some things wrong in the past, what Buhari’s government is doing to him does not suggest a fair trial. If Saraki had agreed not to become the Senate President, would they have done this to him? If he had agreed to key in the principal officers they wanted, would they have done this to him? You do not do this kind of political persecution and you want people to respect such a programme? It will not last.