As the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) crisis festers, former presidential aspirant of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Prof. Harry Iyorwuese Hagher, has said that the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike is gambling with his political future.
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, Prof Hagher, who served twice as a minister and an ambassador and also a former senator, stressed that party chairmen cannot be changed like a pawn in a chessboard. in reference to Governor Nyesom’s insistence that Iyorchia Ayu, the PDP national chairman, must resign, for peace to reign.
The presidential campaigns have started. What are your expectations?
I believe the three major contestants— Atiku Abubakar, Peter Obi and Bola Tinubu —did not wait for the whistle to blow before they started. They emerged from their primaries and choice of running mates to capitalise on the momentum of their followers. They have traversed the country and participated in state elections and held mega rallies, like in Osun State. They met with traditional rulers and attended birthdays, installations, and wedding ceremonies, all to gain visibility. But now that the dateline has arrived, I expect to see each candidate present their manifestos and tell us what contract they wish to engage with the Nigerian public. Nigerians have suffered greatly for 23 years since post-military democracy. They have expectations and need urgent answers to several existential problems. The candidate who provides the greatest hope for all Nigerians will deserve to be elected.
Prior to the campaigns, we saw the campaign spokespersons engage in brickbats. What should be the campaign issues?
The topmost issues that the campaigns should converge on are who can best unite and secure Nigeria. This is the existential need and most pressing agenda. Our lives and property are circumscribed by imminent terror. Our country is ruined by virulent tribalism such as has never been experienced before. Ethnic and religious wars have polarised the people. Diversity has been sidelined by exclusion and nepotism. We expect all the campaigns to focus on how we can engage in nation building. We need to have a country first, even before we secure its borders and build the institutions of state to secure property and guarantee freedoms.
How do you think the presidential candidates should approach these issues?
All the three candidates have the misfortune of being defined by ethnic affiliations, geography and religion. They must prove to us that we are stronger together, and not collapse like the 1964 elections that led to the 1966 military coup, by pulling outside their ethnic enclaves and congregating pan-Nigerianism. We need a strong nationalist as president. Atiku Abubakar must prove that he is a different Fulani man from Buhari and win the confidence in being a Nigerian (Fulani) president like Shehu Shagari and Yar Adua, and most certainly not like Muhammadu Buhari, who did not know or care that he became a Fulani rather than Nigerian president. Peter Obi must prove to Nigerians that he was not just another Igbo great hope to be president and capture Nigeria for Biafra. His constant reference as Igbo candidate robs him of his national credentials.
In the same way, Bola Tinubu’s campaign must be freed from the caves of Oduduwa and Islamic fundamentalism. He needs to try harder to win the confidence of nationalists, who desire religious tolerance and plurality. His Muslim-Muslim ticket is an albatross and aberration from the traditional norm. He and his running mate are at pains to prove that, like the time of Abiola, religion does not matter while they are all the time playing religious politics. This duo must understand that 2023 is a referendum on the seven years of APC’s broken promises and misrule. They must navigate the maze of insecurity, corruption, and brazen ethnic racism.
Generally, a presidential candidate’s health should be a trivial pursuit of the campaign. In this campaign, however, the health condition of Tinubu is visible. It has brought the issue of the candidates’ health to the front burner. His incoherence and tremulous legs and hands do not inspire anybody. The experience of the late Yar’adua’s ill-health and death in Aso Villa and President Buhari’s near death scare have made the president’s health a critical campaign issue. We need a president who can work long hours and be available for Nigerians. Such a physically robust president will be expected to rise to all occasions to address the needs of Nigerians.
PDP is still unsettled as there is a gulf between the presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike. Don’t you think it may affect the opposition party that had dreamed of taking over from APC?
In 2015, some PDP governors and senators demanded that President Jonathan drop the party’s secretary as a condition for them to remain in the PDP. Jonathan rejected their demand, and they promptly left the PDP and swelled the APC votes which won a landslide in 2015. Today, Governor Wike and his supporters are making similar demands as conditions for supporting Atiku Abubakar’s campaign. It is much more worrisome now that the failed ruling party, the APC, looks like the likely beneficiary again. But I believe that 2023 is slightly different. In 2015, the break-away faction of the PDP that helped the APC to victory was not acknowledged or recognised by President Buhari and the APC. The case of former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, is an excellent example of APC ingratitude, and how this PDP faction equally deserted the ruling party and came back to the PDP.
Wike and his group are better in the PDP if they hope to be relevant in the future. History does not clone or repeats itself precisely. Wike is gambling. The Wike saga is also a challenge to Atiku and a test of his ability to build a united PDP as precondition to building a united Nigeria.
Wike’s group is insisting that the National Chairman of PDP, Iyorchia Ayu, must vacate office for a southerner for peace to reign. What’s your view on this?
This smells like vendetta to me. It feels like demagoguery. We can’t change party chairmen like pawns on a chess board. It is too whimsical!
I feel it is time the parties sat together and amicably resolve the matter. It is possible and can be done. The press seems to be weighing in and expanding cleavages to make reconciliation impossible! The principal actors need to reconcile. It is time to reconcile, forgive the past injustices and march on.
The presidential candidate of APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is still battling with ripples arising from his choice of a Muslim running mate. Some Northern Christians also remain angry. How should he pacify the Christian community?
I frankly don’t know how he can pacify the Christian community and animists. It is too late to drop his running mate. He knows what to do. He can find out what the needs of other faiths are. He could assure other faiths of government enhancement of freedom of faith and protection from violence from Islamic extremists, without the Muslims feeling he is conceding too much.
If a Fulani Muslim succeeds Buhari, assuming Atiku wins, does it not send message to other ethnic groups? Is it not a situation like this that breeds mutual suspicion, and agitations in the country?
If Atiku Abubakar wins, he will have the onerous and arduous responsibility of uniting the country. Rwanda has proven that good leadership that unites a diverse populace under common goals makes the citizens blind to identity politics and tribal racism. I am looking forward to the time in the future when asked which tribe we belong to when we can say we are just Nigerian. There are practical steps we can take in fostering unity. For instance, we can eliminate asking people what tribe they belong to by filling official forms now.
Before now, not many people believed that the contest was among APC, PDP and the LP, but we are seeing what political pundits described as a “Movement” from the Labour Party, and which they say may spring a surprise. What’s your take on this?
The ‘Obidient Movement’ has added colour and spice to political campaigns. They will definitely spring a surprise. They already have. However I personally see the movement as a rehearsal for future relevance. If the APC and PDP fail to win at the first ballot and there is a re-run, the Labour Party will become very important. Any party it aligns with at that stage will win the presidential elections in 2023. That is, if there is a re-run. It is easy to gather mammoth crowds today and march through cities causing a great din. This shouldn’t cause any political upsets. Curiosity and hunger are major motivations. But if the crowd of ‘Obidients’ begins to organise door to door campaigns, penetrate the polling booth, and become an organised movement for political action, then I will know the Labour Party has captured the zeitgeist of Post-Buhari Nigeria.
The Southern and Middle Belt Forum (SMBF) has insisted on a power shift to the South. Do you align with them?
I never heard of them. I know that, in general, the Middle-Belt Forum had been a cheer-leader for a power shift to the South. No, I do not align with them. I have gone past the North-South dichotomy. It is a ruse, a political redherring, alienation and amorphous device in which the South-South and South-West oppress the South-East and the North-West dominates the North-East and North-Central politically. I believe that we have transcended this 1914, Amalgamation, North-South Lugardian umbrage. I have transcended the colonial mentality that is holding us down. Let the zones stand alone! The North-South dichotomy is a creation of colonialism cooked up from the boiling pots of hatred and defended by powerful politicians, who benefit from this colonial mentality, and who continue to reproduce this imaginary ruse to feed unsuspecting populace to become ignorant and hateful.
In a country where ethnicity plays a great role, surprisingly, Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-cultural organisation has declared support for Peter Obi, the LP candidate, instead of Tinubu. They are insisting that, for the sake of equity, fair play and justice, that South-East should produce the presidency. What’s your position on this?
The Afenifere leadership is composed of the crème-de-la-crème of Yoruba land. They have reasoned beyond tribalism and their usual Yoruba proclivity. But they might do better to also accept North-Central and the North-East as requiring equity, fair-play and justice to produce a vibrant president. These zones have never produced a president in post-military Nigeria. This is a tradition that has taken root and become hallowed. The Northern elders, in the run to the PDP presidential primaries, had properly asked the North-Central and North-East candidates to contest, and required the North-West to sit down and wait since North-West had been president twice and vice-president. Atiku’s emergence as the North-East, Nigerian presidential candidate of the PDP, is a deserved choice and not a usurpation of the South-West, South-South, or the South-East slot.
What is your advice to Nigerian politicians during this campaign period?
Watch your words. Be respectful and civil to one another. The elite class is so small, and we will keep bouncing into each other. We should listen to Martin Luther King Jr. that “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. Therefore, whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” Let us focus on the pains of saving Nigeria and focus less on individual pains.