•No difference between ruling party and PDP
Ahmadu Adah Ali is a retired Nigerian Army Colonel, a physician and a politician. Born in Idah, Igala, Kogi state, Ali served as the Deputy Director of Army Medical Services and Chief Consulting Physician of the Military Hospital, Kaduna. He was pioneer Director-General of the National Youth Service Corps, a position he held until he was appointed Minister of Education. A three-time Senator, Ali also served as Chairman of the PDP National Working Committee from 2005 to 2007. He recently clocked 82. In this interview, conducted in Abuja by IHEANACHO NWOSU for Saturday Sun, he speaks on his roles at various times; relationship with ex-President Obasanjo, tenure as PDP Chairman and herdsmen killings among others.
Can we talk about your recently released biography?
I don’t know what aspect you want to know because as you can see in that biography; there was less of my political activity because as I told you, if you read the book, I started writing this biography almost 40 years ago. Each time I wrote, I stopped and say there is something coming again in future. Then it would come and I would start again, stop again and then I kept doing that until I said after I celebrated 76 and I started saying yes since then. I kept saying that there is a book. The author insisted on my own notes and I refused. It is after we finished as much as possible, I now gave him the notes I was making before, then he tried to weld them together.
What would you say about medical practice?
I will tell you four or five of my classmates were professors in University of Ibadan, two of them, my classmates that we graduated the same year in 1963 as doctors, two of them taught Isaac Adewole, the present minister of health, he was their student. When he was Vice Chancellor of UI, we did our 50th anniversary of graduation and he took us to the senate chambers and there he flaunted his lecturers who made him a doctor and I was not in academics so whatever you expected of my knowledge in medicine, it was all exhausted serving in the army and in private practice because those who went into academics became professors.
I could say I was likely better then because some of them dropped in one of the exams and had to repeat it six months later and I was already six months ahead. They became professors because they remained in academics and I didn’t, so there is nothing else you could have had on that line.
When I look from Kaduna here, I ran only a clinic because if you read my book, I mentioned there that private clinics and hospitals may all not be doing justice to patients because of this giving people drips immediately. The most dangerous thing is to invade the human body direct into the blood, that’s what drip does. So if by mistake when you are even puncturing the skin, some organisms went in and that organisms will multiply into millions within a short time in the blood and that is serious, that is what we call septicemia. Those invasions are not necessary, a patient who can take by mouth, why put him on a drip, you don’t have to.
I remember in clinic, some people used to wonder what kind of medicine I was practising, somebody comes, it’s not diarrhea, he said he was vomiting and I gave him something to stop the vomiting. Get normal saline, glucose saline, pour it in glass for them; they drink it and finish a whole bottle and take the other bottle because there is no need putting the drip into him.
In the name of medical practice, people are admitted for frivolous reasons because that’s how you can increase your bills because an admission of a patient is a heavy responsibility, you have taken over his life completely, he is at your mercy, so; you too must be a good servant at that time. You should be available any second they look for you for anything and you should be conscious that this patient that you have trapped there, anything can go wrong or anything can develop.
I wasn’t treated like that, if you take my days in Ibadan, between a radius of almost two to three miles from UCH Ibadan, we had a small button that we wear and put in the pocket. If you are wanted by any of the wards in the hospital, they tell the operator, the operator reads that number of that equipment in your pocket and you are sitting in the public and the thing will keep reading until you look for a phone and ring back to answer them, it would never stop reading. So even if you are with your friends or in a bar or club, people will say that is a bad doctor and he is wanted in the hospital and he’s not answering them, that’s the way I was trained.
To put somebody in hospital, the responsibility is enormous. So, I ran a clinic but I was also a consultant to the military hospital, Kaduna because I retired as a chief consultant physician, graduated as salary GL 16, which was the highest professional level. GL 17 was Permanent Secretary, so I retired as a chief consultant and I started my own clinic, the army insisted on my continuing to run some wards and have patients for them. So, thrice a week I reported there, younger doctors were trying to assist them with my personal equipment.
Those I needed to admit, I admitted them there and the military hospital Kaduna during my time had more than a hundred and something nurses, the doctors were about thirty something. If you take a patient there you are quite confident, any time there are people there.
I didn’t need to build a hospital for myself and that’s what I have always advocated to government, they should allow government doctors to do private practice, use the facility of the government hospital, so the government hospital will charge them for the occupation of the bed, for the services, for the drugs and everything. You’ll charge the doctor, the doctor is going to charge that patient and he will pay back what the hospital supplied him. It will make the doctor available every time, but because they call it private clinic, they disappear when they leave the hospital and they go and be doing their own private practice. Just allow them access, tell them a certain percentage of beds under their care, they can fill it with their private patients, but they will be charged for everything they use including the bed occupation.
What can you recall about ‘Ali must go’ demonstration?
I was the fall guy; they just looked for an alibi, that’s all. What made the students to demonstrate was actually increase in feeding. The Ministry of Education did not do it directly; it was the National Universities Commission (NUC) because it used to get money. You have to read my book, I established the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) to take care of problem of multiple applications to universities and multiple admissions because one good student can be admitted in three different universities and he is going to pick only one, so it blocks two chances. If there is JAMB, after they have done the exam, the professors, vice chancellors and registrars would come to the JAMB office and will sit down. Department of History, they said those who chose university XYZ as their first choice, they bring out their list, the university wants those who make them first choice and they give them priority.
If they cannot get enough to fill the class, they go to those who made them second choice. Faculty of Medicine, the same thing, you will choose Ibadan as first choice, Ife as second choice, you choose ABU as third choice and that is how they will go and cascade until one of them admits you, but the people who will do the admission are the people from the university themselves.
That was why when they gave rise to JAMB; I had to remove the registrar of ABU. I removed him and made him the registrar of JAMB because he knew how to operate that system and I had to call all vice chancellors to assist me before we could even produce the decree for JAMB. When JAMB met and in order to get money from the masses, the NUC was established by decree a year before I was appointed minister.
Regarding NUC, even if it’s a new faculty, you cannot during my time just start a new faculty without government approval because it might be producing manpower that we require; not a question of my cousin is coming because that was what was happening before, my cousin is coming, he’s a psychologist and I’ll create a faculty of psychology so that he can come and head it.
With NUC, the government tells us this is the area we want more manpower, so we look for universities that would be able to produce those manpower and we give them approval. The NUC collects all these bills together, they bring it to me as minister of education and I go to the executive council and argue it out, get approval during budgeting and that approval, the money is released direct to NUC and NUC is disbursing it to each of the universities according to their requests because they are supposed to be supervising the universities directly. It’s just a parastatal of the ministry of education. This was the way we administered education and that was why I was only three years in education but we achieved a tremendous lot.
What were your challenges as PDP national chairman?
Quite honestly, I stood for election as PDP National Chairman in 2003 and I lost. I even lost my best car when my Peugeot gave too much problem, I took my best car; eventually I lost it during campaign, driving round the place. I lost the election.
So in 2005, they invited me and the chairmen of PDP in the 19 northern states had met under their overall Chairman, who was the Nasarawa state Chairman and the man just came and said we have come to the conclusion that you must be the chairman of the PDP. I said you can come to your own conclusion but that is not my own.
I have tried before, I lost two cars then Obasanjo rang me and said I should listen to those people who came to see me. He said we would be campaigning down to the middle belt to north central states because that is where the next chairman is supposed to come from. So, reluctantly I agreed and went because out of being kicked out at that time, I only need a concurrence of the National Executive Committee to be made protem Chairman until the convention.
So, my contest in spite of that, I still campaigned round all the north central states that they are not foreign to me because Obasanjo’s election, he and Atiku had summoned me, I wanted to stand for governor, they said no I should forget that and come and campaign for them in the north central zone and they have problem and many of those places are not ready to vote for them in their second term.
I said but I told you this is my ambition and he said you know, you want us to lose the election. He said by the time they made all the consultations, he said that’s the only person that will deliver the north central to the party and I forgot my ambition.
I did hell of a campaign for them and won in all the six states in north central. Although, many of them including their emirs, they told me what they did to them, the promises they made but didn’t fulfill. I came back and warned Obasanjo and his people that this is what you people promised but didn’t do. When they came again, it was easy for me but the stakeholders have to meet and decide because six of us were standing for it and one by one they withdrew for me. One by one like that they left me alone, so I was presented to the National Executive Committee and everybody hailed me. I became the protem chairman until the convention confirmed me as the chairman.
When I got there I found problem, President and Vice President shortly after that started quarrelling and Obasanjo is a very methodical man. He took his pen and wrote a petition to the National Chairman of the party about the disagreement he is having with the Vice President, then as the National Chairman, I should do something about it.
I looked at the book and I said no problem. I summoned Atiku Abubakar to my office; I didn’t expose it to the whole of the NWC. I called in Chief Tony Anenih, Chairman of Board of Trustees, put Atiku down and opened fire on the table that his behaviour was irresponsible, unacceptable. How can you belong to the party; you went to give a lecture at MUSON Centre and you run down the party and the government.
We don’t run party that way and I am not going to have that under my regime. I said he must write a letter of apology to Obasanjo and make a copy available to me, but he left and said I was partial and was already judging the case that he was guilty.
I come from a culture where if a chief and his subject are quarrelling and elders are called to settle, you tell the subject that he dares not do a thing, shout at him and tell him to get out of here. When he goes, he would turn around to say look you don’t rule this place that way, make sure you don’t do that kind of thing again because you can’t treat yourself the way you are trying to treat this man. You have just told me that you agreed you made the mistake and it was not in your speech but your side comment and the newspaper took the side comment as the headline.
I said go and explain all these which he did and after some time the troubles started again and he started breaking the party into pieces; more than 15 governors were already in his camp, so I summoned him again and some governors who were with him and I gave them a warning that if they don’t talk, I am going to take more drastic measures because they want to destroy the government.
Eventually, I ended up suspending them for three months, governors and Vice President and I said if you behave yourself, you come back and apply and you will be readmitted. All the governors went back, Atiku refused to come back and that was how we managed that situation. He went to Supreme Court and they said he’s still the Vice President irrespective of whatever party he went to.
It was a headache but I solved it because by the time Obasanjo and I put our heads together, we decided because the election for the next president was coming, we didn’t know again how many people were in the party because of the division he created. So, we decided to re-register the whole party, all the members from ward level right up to national level.
I decided to get the Nigerian Security, Printing and Minting Company, I know them because they used to print certificates for NYSC for me with security mandate. I got them and they produced PDP cards with security markings. If you don’t know you will think it looks normal and there are ways you will put it against the light and you will see all sorts of security markings in there. We gave them out to all the 774 local governments in this country and then they started registering, anyone who says he belongs to PDP should come and take a tag, old cards are no more useful. In doing that registration, I took powers away from the state chairmen and the governor, I appointed what I called link men, they are in charge of these cards and people that go from ward to ward; they appointed them.
Many governors protested and I told them if you belong to the party, go and register, you won’t lose your governorship, even if you are chairman of the party, go and register, am not tampering with your election, but am doing my own registration centrally from here. All the cards are numbered serially, they tried to sabotage it but it didn’t work and by the time we did that exercise, every governor that was following Atiku returned to the party, that was how we went to 2007 election and we were sure of it and we brought in Yar’Adua and most of the problems I had, I had to solve it using our cultural norms, traditions.
All these things you call democracy, government of the people, by the people; this is just English. In any community, there are people who own that community more than others and in this definition you will think everybody is equal, it doesn’t work that way, God never created the world that way.
Beyond this, how were you able to hold the party together?
Most of the states that gave me problem were from the southeast; Imo, Abia. I used to get the list of the elders, even church elders, local elders, I get their list and invite them to Abuja and I tell them this confusion that is going on I don’t like it, it’s not good for my party, so you people too it’s not good for you and I used to quote what Aristotle said 2,000 years before Christ, that if you are too wise to rule, you should be ready to suffer the rule of fools because when fools take power, they will make laws for you and if you don’t obey it, they will deal with you, it doesn’t matter how wise you are.
I said you elders are sitting down and these people are doing what they are doing, court case after court case, I said by the time you know where you are, if the wrong person emerges, he’s going to be your boss, so you people should join me in finding solution.
Some said we don’t belong to your party, I said you don’t have to belong to my party because if my party happens to win, you are going to provide a ruler and that person would rule over me. So, we must go back to the African mix, which we are. Forget this definition that makes everybody feel equal, help me solve the problem.
What went wrong with Jonathan’s re-election bid in 2015?
As Director General of the campaign, I could smell that some things were going wrong, that the person I was working for did not see it. So, there is a limit, I am not the candidate. Yes, I advised him, I did it even when he was President. I sit down here, I was not even Chairman anymore when he was President, but he still calls me Chairman because I met him as the deputy governor. He will come to my house he will sit down and I will sit, I will give my advice, then he will leave, I will hear on the radio he has done a different thing.
Next time he will come again, and I don’t know how many times but I was not discouraged; I wanted him to get deep into that, you are the Executive President of this country; you have 160 million people from whom you can take advice. Whichever advice suits you, use it and I don’t mind.
I look at the real picture so I had to argue my advice that way. Even when there was slight misunderstanding with Obasanjo; I warned him and I said stop that, never reply that man again. Don’t you ever reply him and don’t even show you are angry because all that the man is looking for is respect like any old man.
So what will bring you to quarrel with him, you are in charge and the thing went up until Obasanjo came here and told me we must go and see Jonathan. Two of them sat down, bantering and I told them that the two of them are dangerous people. Those outside here will take sides, they will start killing each other, the moment you people come back to this same Aso Villa and start bantering, people outside will not know, so I don’t want to hear this at all.
I don’t know what you people see here in Aso Villa; I have never lived there. I said you should stop this at once, it’s not good. Jonathan said it’s because both of us are friends. I said you are not a good boy, if you are a good boy, you will know that what this man needs is just some recognition. You will call him on phone and say I am coming for launch, take a plane away to his Ota farm. The topic you are discussing, only God will know, with that people will say they are comfortable. After we lost the 2015 election, which really was unbelievable, but again it happened and I was one of those who said they should throw in the towel because these people were coming to ignite fire in this nation. I was in charge, I had my situation room and I was getting my report.
How do you assess the APC government?
Because the people were not ready to rule, they came here and didn’t know where to start. Six months, they didn’t know which minister or no minister, one year they didn’t know which boards. Up till now, they are still feeding on running down PDP, that’s the only thing they have to offer.
Railway that they are making noise about, we were the ones who laid the track, which one has he (President Muhammadu Buhari) done? …So, definitely, one thing that we lack very badly is political parties that have got ideologies because there is no difference in the ideology of APC and PDP.
What about the emerging coalition?
The Coalition for Nigeria Movement; it’s just an idea that perhaps the young people should get involved more in politics of this country and run the thing and see and the elders will just remain behind directing them where possible, that’s the whole concept.
But your close friend is involved
Which close friend am I to Obasanjo? We met in Germany, we are friends and that doesn’t mean it could be anything. He lives in Abeokuta and I live here. I read it myself; I didn’t know anything about it. This nation has never been more divided than this time, we are suffering something called Boko Haram, now we are entering another phase and we have been living with these herdsmen for centuries. Suddenly herdsmen have become dangers now, they are killing people about, they carry guns and it appears you were not able to solve it. Is it the Boko Haram that has become herdsmen or are herdsmen another form of revolt? I don’t understand whatever they are doing, because this is senseless, you go and devour all the food in the farm and then kill the people and set fire, what are you looking for?
What’s your take on Gen. Danjuma’s allegation against the armed forces?
TY Danjuma is a straightforward, unbendable man and from his character and my knowledge of him, he says things the way they are, he doesn’t do any corner, corner at all.
It’s out of frustration and he has always argued that he doesn’t belong to any political party so he is free to comment the way he wants. You know that the prerogative of violence is vested in the government, that’s what you and I are paying for; armed forces, police, by paying them to retain that prerogative about us.
The moment the prerogative of violence slips away from the hands of government into an unknown body, there is no government, because people tend to forget that all your taxes are paying the armed forces. You are paying it because the prerogative of violence in the society should be made permanently in the hands of these people you call the government in place.
Any other person challenging it successfully means that government is failing and we have been challenged with Boko Haram for so long and now it is so called herdsmen, so when Danjuma said what he said, it is typical of him, he is a straightforward, blunt person, I know him. So you can say perhaps like most of us believe, if you feel so strongly, you should have said to Buhari, I want to see you and you go and see him or write him a letter, which you will deliver that this is your feeling and you don’t like what you are seeing.