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Lamido: APC’s paralyzed arm of PDP

In a matter of days, Nigeria will be celebrating 25 years of interrupted democratic rule and it is a time for stock taking. In this chat, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, and also former Governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido, shares his thoughts on political developments in the country and tells ONWUKA NZESHI and ONYEKACHI EZE that the fault is not in the political system but in the character of the people

You were part of those who fought hard for the enthronement of this democracy in 1999. Is what we have now the kind of democracy you dreamt of?

Any human endeavour requires what you call a process. Before us, we had our own forefathers, who founded Nigeria. They include the likes of Obafemi Awolowo, Tafawa Balewa, Ahmadu Bello and Nnamdi Azikiwe, all of blessed memory. They were really the people who dreamt about this country. They fought for, and got our independence because they were educationally and culturally grounded. In their vision, they saw the future of a country, which was endowed by God with a lot of natural resources, and above all, human resources-population. Therefore, we were expected to harness those resources for the development of our people.

Now, you cannot develop as a country if you do not follow a process or what we call rules or a constitution. So, we must have abiding faith in our Constitution, which serves as a guidance. By following its provisions and doing the right things, we can develop our country. It requires patience, commitment, sacrifice and patriotism for us to build for the future.

We had our first coup in 1966, went through a civil war and somehow, God spared Nigeria from disintegrating. We returned to democracy in 1979; it was truncated again in 1983, and once more, we returned to democracy in 1999, at the end of General Abdulsalam Abubakar’s regime.

Now, the question is: between 1960 and 1998, what transpired? Why couldn’t we grow as a nation? Why couldn’t we harness our natural and human endowments to develop our nation? What went wrong?

It means that it is not about democracy; it is about the management of democratic processes by the people. No matter how good your constitution is, and no matter how good your political party might be, if the application of the rules are in the breach, you cannot achieve the goals of democracy.

So, on the average, we have practiced democracy more by the breach than by the norm. If you look back between 1999 and now, I tell you it could have been much, much better, if we had been more patient, more patriotic in observing the rules we gave ourselves, not more in the breach.

By and large, there have been some rough areas, some potholes here and there. There have been some ills such as greed, avarice, and the ordinary people have been manipulated through religion, region and tribe. Once the ordinary people are subjected to that kind of manipulation, we will move but at a very very slow pace. I think we could have moved faster and got to somewhere higher than where we are today.

Many citizens tend to blame the constitution for the problems of the country. Do you agree with this position?

You see, that is a very lazy way of thinking. The Constitution is a document we made for ourselves but it is not a perfect document. It is something that when we notice problems here and there, we review it to address the issues. But the people managing it, are you doing it properly? Are you applying the rules correctly? So, it is the operators of the Constitution that should take the blame. If there are impediments in the constitution, we can sit down and address it, but if after that, the problem remains, it means the human factor is responsible.

You’ve changed the constitution several times, but have you changed your own character? So, no matter how many times you change the constitution, it will not make any difference, if the operators remain who they are.

I told you that we operate the Constitution more in the breach – the political parties, executive, judiciary, the National Assembly, the clerics and all other stakeholders, exploit the loopholes in the Nigerian system.

What do you think can be done to reset Nigeria and place her on the right path?

People are more worried and more consumed by the happenings of the moment. Yes, there have been some frustrations in the last 25 years. There have been some obvious mistakes; moral mistakes and a number of breaches. Both in the political parties and in the government, a number of things were done which began to question our moral authority. Things were going wrong in the political parties and there were no sanctions for bad behaviours. The government too did a number of things that were not right. Those in government manipulated the people to think and act in a certain direction. So, the whole thing has matured at some point and produced the results we see today.

By 2014, Nigerians were ready to vote for any party but the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Even some of us, who were members of the PDP, were castigating the PDP. Then, some rushed into an alliance with other parties. Alliance for what purpose? After the PDP had been demonised and called party of evil, they also went into an alliance with people they had nothing in common with except the greed for power.

So, what happened was that a lot of wrong things happened in the past which were not addressed, and over the years, the breaches became the norm. Some people shamelessly went against their own party; an institution that made you what you are; something that dignifies you, you go out openly to kill it. Or if you’re privileged to be a governor, you go about boasting that you’re financing the party; therefore, everybody must be in your pocket. But even before you became a governor, there was a party. It is just like a child boasting in the neighbourhood that you bought a wrapper for your mother. Before you were born, was your mother walking about naked?

You see, there is something called culture of respect, decency, honour and character. If the leaders breach their trust, then the followers take inspiration to do the wrong things. If the leaders observe the rules more in the breach, their followers will take a bearing from there.

Some Nigerians blame our challenges on the presidential system of government and are clamouring for a return to the parliamentary system. What do you make of this agitation?

It means you’re running from your own failure. Why you keep looking for conveniences is because you failed. We were running the parliamentary system before the advent of military rule and by 1978, when the military was preparing to exit the stage, a panel of 50 wise men was set up to give us a new constitution. They were 50 but ended up as 49 wise men because Chief Rotimi Williams was made the Chairman. Chief Obafemi Awolowo withdrew from the assignment because he said he cannot serve under Williams, who was his Attorney General when he was Premier of the Western region.

The feeling at that time was that the parliamentary system was the problem that led to the collapse of the First Republic. Now, they sat down, the likes of Aminu Kano, Inuwa Wada and others. After much deliberations, they came to the conclusion that for a better and more united Nigeria, the presidential system with broad based national parties will serve the nation better than the narrow ethnic based political parties. They didn’t want political parties formed based on local emotions of ethnicity and regions.

If that idea had been followed to the letter in terms of the application, the system would have improved tremendously by now. So, if we, on our own, metaphorically urinate on the bed we lie on, we cannot blame our mother but ourselves for the condition of the bed. Between 1979 and now is about 45 years. Are we saying we want to go back to where we were 45 years ago? Is there any other country around the world trying to go into reverse gear? What others are doing is to find out what is wrong with the system they are operating and what they can do to make it better. In our case, what can we do to make our democratic processes work better? If the man in Jigawa State is not properly developed, it will affect the man in Osun State. If the man in Osun is not safe, it will affect the man in Jigawa.

When you look at Nigeria, you’ll find that the whole place is filled with human beings but there is so much agony and pain on their faces. The question should be: what should we do to wipe it away?

The system is working but then, it is manipulated. So, those who want a change of system, let them change their character first and become people who are more patient, more tolerant and more truthful to themselves. We need people with human empathy because we need each other.

It is not about system change but change of character of the people.

Are you saying that when you change the constitution, those who are stealing money from the public treasury won’t steal again? A former Accountant General of the Federation stole over N100 billion. Is it the Constitution that will stop such acts? Is it the Constitution that is responsible for the amount of theft by those in authority? Is it the Constitution that is responsible for the insecurity and banditry that is going on across the country? The way we fight one another like animals, is it the constitution?

Don’t you think Nigeria is under state capture; the institutions of state such as INEC, Police, Judiciary seem not working?

Good. If you change the constitution, would INEC stop being bought to declare the highest bidder as winner in an election? Would it also stop some of us from claiming what is not ours? The constitution cannot stop you from doing wrong but it takes the operators to sanction bad behaviours. The fact is that those in the executive, legislature, judiciary, civil society and private sector are all a single family of Nigerians. Why are we waiting for a document to work for us? Why? If we can make the document by ourselves, why can’t we follow it? If we make another one, where is the guarantee that we will follow it?

Your party, the PDP is in opposition today. But is it playing that role of an opposition party to keep the ruling party in check?

You see, sometimes, I get amused by some of the things people say about PDP. In 2014, the bulk of those in government were of the PDP. We had the president, governors, Senate President, Speaker House of Representatives, ministers and so on. In fact, everything was PDP in 2014. But we lost power to the APC because part of us went and joined the then opposition party. There was no way APC could have won the election on their own because of its configuration. The PDP was the dominant party in Nigeria and won elections in 1999, 2003, 2007 and even 2011. If you put together all the opposition parties we had at that time, they can’t beat PDP. No matter how they tried, the votes of the ACN, ANPP, CPC and all the rest put together can’t beat PDP. Which means, it was PDP which defeated PDP; a former President, a former Vice President, (some) governors, (former) ministers went into APC. So, if I’m to oppose, whom do I oppose now? My own party man who destroyed his own party? My other half which is paralysed? Right now, the Senate President is who? He’s Akpabio, the ‘Uncommon Governor’ of the PDP. He is not the ordinary member of the APC. The current Chairman of the APC, who is he? He’s a former Deputy Governor of Kano State under the PDP. So, when you say opposition party, who is opposing who? Tell me who else has been in position of authority since APC came to power who doesn’t have his roots in PDP, except for Tinubu and his men from ACN,. Who were the ANPP people that joined them? Only about four of them were governors in 2014.

In fact, the entire government machinery in 2014 was PDP. Yet, some left the party and joined APC, a small tiny party and breathed life into it. So, when you say opposition, whom do I oppose? Akpabio or Ganduje?

Are you saying that PDP as the main opposition party in the country will not criticise some policies of the party in government that are injurious to the people, at least for the interest of the masses?

You see, by the tradition of all societies, you simply follow your leader and believe in him. He should be your radar, your moral compass because by tradition, leaders don’t usually deceive. They are like fathers; a father would hardly deceive his family. If a father is so heartless that he would kill his family, then he is not worthy of being a father or leader.

In our system of today, people are taking inspiration from their leaders. When leaders do wrong and don’t forgive, their followers will do the same too. If you’re a governor and you do the wrong things, how would you then moralise an average voter?

What is PDP doing to right the wrongs and return to power?

We’re doing a lot. You know we are doing some consultations with key players of the party. Anybody, who has been with PDP since 1999 and who knows how PDP was formed, the philosophy behind the formation of the party; the vision and the dreams, is now being contacted. We’ll sit down, discuss and brainstorm on the state of our nation. Here we are today, don’t you feel guilty? Is this the country you so much believed in and worked for all these years? What do we do? We want to appeal to our moral conscience. Maybe, in the next two years, we should be able to come up with a very strong position, having reflected on the events of the past years. We should be able to forgive one another for the wrongs done and mistakes we have made in the past. We should do that for the sake of the future generations.

You know, forgiveness, patience, tolerance, understanding and above all, sacrifice is what we need at this time.

Is it possible to bring back those members, who are part of the government of the day?

No matter your position in the place you are, are you comfortable there? You’re in government but you’re sitting on a time bomb? Is the country at peace now? Whatever I have now, I need the country to also be in peace for me to be able to enjoy it. So, they’ll come. We’ll talk.

Since the exit of Dr. Iyorchia Ayu as National Chairman, PDP appears to have become stagnated, and recent attempts to resolve the leadership issues has triggered another court case. How can the party overcome?

It is really pathetic, really sad, for a Commander-in-Chief to use a proxy to sue your GOCs. You’re the Chairman of a political party and you use some proxies to sue your key supporters. So, who are you leading in the party? They took PDP NEC and NWC to court. Now, how can the party function? It means you want to cripple the party. Who is the beneficiary of that suit? It is the same person who approached the courts.

What should the party do now to extricate itself from this trap?

Once you apply the rules in the constitution of your party; there have been so many breaches in the past. When the first Vice Chairman, Iro Dan Musa, left the party, I think in 2004, he was replaced by (Shehu) Shema. Iro Musa was from Kaduna. I was initially announced as his replacement and I was in that position for two days. But then, some elements in the party said no, Sule is too clumsy for us. We don’t want him. So, they went to President Olusegun Obasanjo and said: ‘Look, any vacancy that emerges in the party should be filled by a person from either the same state or zone.’ He told them that Deputy Chairman (North) can come from anywhere but they said no. So, Obasanjo was forced to pull me out and replaced me with Shema from Katsina. Isn’t it? Why do you now say we can’t do it like that now? It doesn’t make sense.

Do you believe that external forces, such as the APC are behind the crisis in your party; to weaken the PDP, so that it will not be able to compete in the next general election?

APC is allowed to come and interfere because they will benefit from the crisis. It’s their right. It is up to us to say: Hey, you can’t do it! I mean, what is wrong if you want to benefit from a crisis? It is left for us to say, no, you can’t do it. But, if we cannot, then so be it. They can hire mercenaries from PDP, give them positions in their government and then, they’ll come and fight PDP. Then, the people who are now in the PDP will be running with the Hare and hunting with the Hounds. You don’t blame APC at all. You know in American wrestling, they ask you: Did you win? Not how did you win? Nobody wants to know how you won. Did you win? But they won’t also ask, how did you lose?

You just told us that you’re holding meetings and consultations to chart the way forward for the party, but many more members of your party are leaving the party. How do you reconcile this?

Listen! You need to ask: Why are they leaving the party? It is because the party is not being run by its own rules and its constitution. A political party is a common property owned by every member of the party. It is not a monopoly. If you’re the chairman, it doesn’t mean that you’re bigger than anybody. So, if the party cannot stand up and face its challenges and operate by its own rules, then, it will face the consequences.

But don’t blame those leaving. If things become right, they’ll come back.

Will the PDP be able to put its house in order before 2027?

We have the capacity, the commitment, the discipline and the will to do so.

Are you comfortable with the role the PDP governors are playing in the party right now?

I think they’re trying as long as you don’t use your hand to destroy something you produced. I mean that if you’re a creation of PDP, you should be dedicated to the PDP. You should ensure that you abide by the rules of our party.

How are you going to handle the Wike factor in the reconciliation efforts?

You see, it is larger than what you see on the surface. What is there that Wike has done that has not been done by others in the last 25 years of PDP? Tell me! Show me the crime he has committed, which has not been committed by others in the past. Agreed, he is serving the APC but he is still with PDP but what about others who left completely and are fighting us? You’re at the war front fighting the enemy; the enemy is shooting at you and then some of your troops are also shooting at you.

In 2015, who defeated the PDP? It was the PDP people. So, the crime some other people committed against PDP in 2014/ 2015 is what Wike is doing now. Isn’t it? Don’t just judge from what is happening at the moment. There is something called history. This is why I said that when we meet now, we must learn to forgive each other for our various mistakes. The message is that we’ve all made mistakes but can we please forgive each other for the sake of Nigeria? If we can’t forgive, then, there is no party. It is your family or party members that are running to the other party; you won’t blame them and you must forgive them.

What plans do you have to protect the party from money bags hijacking it again?

The PDP was formed by people, who were independent (minded) and who were free from any particular encumbrances. So, it means our problems were self-inflicted. So, these are the things we have to look at when we meet. By the time we come together, we will reconcile. You know money is very important but it is not all about money because others made sacrifices in forming the party. Why should supporting your party be a problem?

What are your impressions of the APC and its impacts on the political landscape?

The All Progressives Congress ( APC) is a formation of hate; a formation of evil; a formation of malice and envy. The amalgamation is a combination of all these things put together. There was nothing like a Nigerian vision or ideology behind it and they knew that no matter what, they couldn’t defeat the PDP in a fair contest. The party had no philosophy beyond just grabbing power, and that is why in 2015, the nucleus of Buhari’s government was PDP; all the big shots were products of PDP. I said that APC is the paralysed part of PDP because up till today, most of the key elements in government are from the PDP. Even the current National Security Adviser, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, who is he? He was discovered by the PDP and made the pioneer Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. So, you can see that with the exception of people like Bola Tinubu and Adams Oshiomhole, who came from ACN, the bulk of the other key actors since 2015 are from the PDP.

The Tinubu administration will soon be celebrating its one year anniversary; do you think it has done well?

I am in opposition and for fairness and justice, you don’t go to an opponent and ask ‘how is your opponent doing?’ You don’t do that because whatever I tell you could be taken as the opinion of a man, who is not happy because he is out of power. They will say I’m talking because my party failed and was voted out.

I think it is better you go out on the streets and ask the Nigerian people, whether they are better and happier under the APC, than they were when PDP was in power. So, it’s not me that should rate their performance. Let Nigerians do it. Don’t ask me whether they are doing well because I was in government and they accused us of failing. Now, Tinubu is there. So, go and ask Nigerians if their lives are better now than when they were under the PDP.

What is the performance of the legislature under the Tinubu administration? Is the National Assembly doing well in the task of checkmating the executive?

You see, the word is not checkmating. You don’t checkmate. It is the same Nigerian government. The President is like the Chief Executive of Nigeria and therefore, our sovereign symbol. So, you don’t checkmate him. The principle of checks and balances is what is enshrined in the constitution and every arm of government has a role to play in maintaining the balance of power. There are clearly defined roles for the executive, legislature and judiciary under our Constitution. Now, if one arm of the government allows the other to oppress or suppress it, what can I say? If the executive has a lot of appetite for power, it is going to consume the judiciary and the legislature. It is not for me to say don’t do it. No. It’s for them to assert themselves as separate arms of government with distinct constitutional roles.

How would you rate Tinubu’s economic policies in the last one year?

Again, I’m in opposition and would rather leave that too to the Nigerian people. However, all I can say is that before a policy is pronounced, the government must have a clear purpose for it and should be able to anticipate the likely impact of that policy on the people. Now, in the event of some repercussions following the announcement or implementation, what is the arrangement put in place to be able to contain it?

So, as a government, you should plan with foresight and ensure that you also plan on how to address the likely consequences of your policies. This is because anything you do should be in the interest of the people. So, in the event of that policy hurting Nigerians, whom you’re trying to lead and better their lives, you must put measures in place to mitigate the pains of that policy before it matures.

I feel that whatever the government is doing today is simply ad hoc. There is nothing like deep thinking behind it to be able to plan and mitigate the impact of the policies on the people and the future.

Nigeria will be celebrating 25 years of uninterrupted democracy by the end of this month. Don’t you think Nigeria should do away with zoning of offices and adhere to merit in the choice of leaders?

I beg of you, don’t be detached from Nigeria because you’re part of Nigeria. The way you’re talking, it is as if you’re outside talking about Nigeria. Your generation appears impatient and thinks that everything should have been achieved between 1999 and now. Democracy needs time to mature, from generation to generation. This is why when people say Constitution, Constitution, I say give it some time because if we have the right leadership with commitment, sacrifice and capacity to be able to meander through these difficulties, we will make progress.

Instead of changing the Constitution, changing the processes of government because you encountered a small challenge, why don’t you try to change your attitude first? Let us be united, do the right thing and maybe, in the next 50 years, the next generation will build on what we have done. But, if you are too impatient, you’re not law abiding, you can’t make sacrifices and you’re not disciplined, how do you build a nation? You don’t believe in your own laws or you’re obeying it in the breach. You’re impatient, you’re intolerant, you’re not disciplined, how do you hope to achieve your goals as a people? Let’s learn to be patient.

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