JUNE 26, 2016
Chairman of the Caretaker Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party, Sen. Ahmed Makarfi, in this interview with JOHN ALECHENU, speaks on the crisis within the party, peace and reconciliatory efforts, as well as other national issues
Your committee took office at a very difficult time; how far have you gone with the assignment given to you especially in the area of reconciling aggrieved members?
We came in not because we sought for this position and not because we had any ambition. Our coming can be compared to that of the fire brigade service to put out the fire in the party. Unfortunately, the fire is still raging. Our mandate was to try to bring peace to the party and provide a level playing field where all disputes could be settled among those seeking for party positions or elective offices at the national level. We were also to conduct congresses in states where they could not take place or where there were parallel congresses and try to resolve their differences. That’s the mandate we had and it was a rather general consensus, not that it pleased everybody definitely, but you and I know what has been happening which has hampered our work for quite some time. Up till now, we are not there. We will not rest on our oars. Judicial pronouncements are helpful but they don’t cure political differences. Judicial pronouncements to show who may be right and who may be wrong will leave a deep scar and we want to avoid that as much as possible.
How is the committee dealing with the series of litigations pending in court and what efforts are you making to ensure that they do not ruin reconciliatory efforts?
When we came in, we met a number of litigations in court; some were pending, while some judgments had been entered and some with certain orders. Since our appointment, more court cases have been added to the old cases. This is not helpful. We have been making approaches not as a committee; because as a committee, we are representatives of the Board of Trustees, we are representing the National Assembly caucus, we are representing the Governors’ Forum, we are representing the overwhelming number of members of our party. I won’t say all because, I have not taken a census; maybe we are representing not less than 80 to 90 per cent of the membership of the party. We are not representing ourselves; we are representing organs of the party. The methodology we have adopted is that we, as a committee, we really don’t have anything to negotiate; these organs should constitute committees to approach the remaining aggrieved side — that is, Sen. Ali Sheriff’s side. Whatever resolutions are arrived at, we, as a committee, are ready to abide by them even if the resolutions require us to step down from our positions. We are not going to argue for one minute in the interest of the party. We are working for the party. For us, it is not a do-or-die matter. For us, any time the party requires us to step aside, we will do so without saying we were appointed by the convention for three months and the three months must come and go. That is the approach we have adopted. These organs have constituted committees; individuals on their own have been making vital contacts with the former chairman and those around him with a view to getting them to come to the table to find a political solution to this. That effort is on but it is regrettable that while this effort is going on, you see more cases being added to the ones we already have in court. That really is not in the spirit of finding a political solution. But we will continue to ask these stakeholders to continue to seek an amicable solution through peaceful dialogue. This matter is not between this committee or a high-handed Makarfi and Ali Modu Sheriff. No, we are representing the party. Whatever decision the party takes, we will implement. Like I said earlier, even if the party should today say, ‘In the interest of reconciliation, step down, we are doing something new,’ we will step down, and that is life. We will not be the first to step down if it gets to it. There were others who gave way years before us in the interest of the party. It will not be the first or the last. It is in this spirit that I am calling on my colleague, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, and those around him, to take the path of peaceful resolution of this issue.
With the benefit of hindsight as a foundation member of this party, at what point would you say the PDP derailed?
The party derailed when we stopped consulting widely, when a few of us started usurping the authority to preside over everybody. You can’t know it all, no matter how old you are. If the organs of the party are allowed to perform their functions and we consulted widely, we would have avoided this. But we learn from our mistakes and we will not continue in that direction.
Some argue that former President Olusegun Obasanjo is to blame because he literarily handed over the party structure to state governors, who handpicked party leaders at the state level and also insisted on doing same at the national level. Having served as governor yourself, do you agree?
No. If that was the case, in 2007, when governors were asked to choose a successor (for the then president) they chose a successor but the then president did not accept that. He picked the person that he wanted and we respected leadership and followed. If it was true that the president gave governors too much power, how come the president did not accept the people (the governors brought) and (he) brought some people else? Look, President Obasanjo was and is a good man, no matter what anybody says. He had and still has this capacity to negotiate; his doors open very early in the morning and remain open till late into the night in meeting different people and balancing various interests and that is what politics is all about. But when you have a situation where the minority will shout and have nothing and the majority will have their way, then there will be a problem. When Obasanjo was at the helm of affairs, people were accommodated, you might not have got all that you wanted, but people were being accommodated and I think that spirit of accommodation is what we require over time. I am not saying he was a perfect human being, I that am speaking to you am not perfect. We all have our imperfections and of course we can look at our areas of imperfections and make the necessary adjustments.
Sheriff and those around him have also accused you of having a presidential ambition which they claim is responsible for the standoff. What is your position on this?
Like I mentioned earlier, if the organs of the party say Makarfi, step aside, I assure you that within one second I will step aside. Will that be the attitude of someone who wants to use the office to further a presidential ambition? I went to Port Harcourt with my luggage in the car of my friend who came to pick me from the airport. I did not even have a hotel accommodation; I was late for a meeting. This thing (chairmanship of the caretaker committee) was entrusted with me unprepared. Is that how somebody who wants to use the position to pursue a presidential ambition goes about it? Is it how it works out? You and I know that is not the way it works. Let’s look at it, who between the two of us appears desperate to remain as chairman? I am not insisting on remaining, I have said I can give way if that is what is required to bring peace to the party. I am not desperate for this. From his own reaction, who appears more desperate for it? I am not insisting, I have said I can give way, why is he not giving way? How can one say that it is because I have any kind of political ambition or aspiration? Remember the mandate is to stay for three months but I can do this in less than three months if given the chance.
Sheriff recently accused you of importing thugs to take over the party secretariat. How do you respond?
I am not a violent person and those who know me can testify that I have never been associated with violence in politics. He is the one who is known to have a history of political violence. He is the one known to have played a role in the creation of Boko Haram. He made the same malicious allegations before the former Inspector General of Police and the Director General of the State Security Service, which was disregarded after it was found to be baseless. I was there and then given additional official security (aides). You can check; the police had withdrawn his security (aides) because of his actions. They were returned after he pleaded and agreed to take the path of peace, a promise which he has reneged on.
You will agree with me that since the inception of the PDP, no chairman has been able to complete his tenure. All the chairmen have had to leave under controversial circumstances; either they were asked to resign or arm-twisted into doing so. Is this not what is playing out now?
Honestly, it was unfortunate. I am sure it must have contributed to where we are now. It shouldn’t have happened but it happened. We should draw a line and let the past remain in the past and move on. When you talk of a term said to be given by a court judgment that has not been appealed, I don’t know who went to court. We are just reading the declaration of it (in the media). My understanding is that Bamanga Tukur was the one elected by a convention. Adamu Mu’azu was approved at a convention to complete the tenure of Tukur. Thus, it was not a fresh election. Sheriff was appointed by the National Executive Committee of the party, not even by the convention, to complete the tenure which began from Bamanga Tukur which Adamu Mu’azu could not complete and that tenure should have ended in February or March this year. The NEC extended the tenure for all organs because we could not hold the convention on time to enable us to go to Port Harcourt to hold our convention. Thus, administrative loopholes must have been exploited by some people with political interests to rush to court to secure certain judgments not really with good intentions, in my opinion, in order to cause this avoidable confusion. It is the convention that elects; it is the convention that removes. Anything in between is actually to hold until the convention ratifies.
What came out of the suggestion by the now retired Inspector General of Police, Solomon Arase, that both your committee and Sheriff’s group should nominate four members each to serve on a peace committee?
Actually, the IGP didn’t suggest that. As a matter of fact, the suggestion came from me and it was accepted by all. The government did not close our national secretariat by force; we suggested it and, of course, you know the government is concerned about the security situation, especially if you have an uncontrolled influx of youths from all over the country. If allowed to continue, only God knows what will happen. All of these were discussed when I suggested that the security agencies should keep all party property safe and we should all keep away from the place. That was the number one suggestion. The second suggestion which I made was that we should be encouraged to find a political solution and that we should constitute a committee to sit down and resolve this issue politically. The party organs had since constituted their committees; up till now the Modu Sheriff group has not constituted their four-man group. Now who is looking for peace and who is not? Who is seeking for a resolution? The last suggestion was that if all these fail, we should wait for July 4 when the court in Port Harcourt will give their verdict as to whether the convention was valid or not and if the decisions reached there are binding — whatever the decision, we have to abide by it. These were the recommendations I made and it was debated and agreed on. Hence, it is not right to assume that the government used fiat to close down our secretariat. We all agreed to it in order to keep the place safe and to prevent a situation where things could go out of control.
Only a few days ago, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission blocked the personal accounts of one of your members, Governor Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State. Some have described this as part of a larger plot by the governing party to destabilise the opposition. What are your thoughts?
As I speak to you, I don’t have details of this issue. We have asked two members of our committee to find out and get back to us so that we can give an informed response. But, of course, my own call here is for extreme caution. Fayose is a fiery member of the opposition; you may like his style, you may not like his style, but if certain actions are taken, people will naturally begin to think that it is because of one’s political views or opinion. Whether it is based on a court order or a legal issue or if there is evidence of any wrongdoing, I am not in a position to make an informed comment on all of this. When our members come back with all the information we require and report back, I am sure we can then act accordingly. What I can say for now is that we must exercise caution to avoid meanings being read into them.
The caucus of your party in the Senate just announced that it has withdrawn the support it earlier pledged to the President Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress administration because of what they described as the persecution of the opposition, especially on the issue of an alleged forgery of the Senate rules. What is your take?
The timing of the administration’s pursuit of the case is not wise. If this had happened at the time this (the forgery) allegedly took place, no one would raise an eyebrow and with all the things happening now, I don’t think, politically, it is wise, even if the allegations have any element of truth in them. We have far more serious problems in this country and these problems require the cooperation of all the political parties not just the PDP. The other parties too have followership, the media, the judiciary and the private sector. We need all hands on deck to address all our problems in this country. As I said earlier on, we must exercise extreme caution before we take certain actions.
Do you think your party has what it takes to bounce back to reckoning?
Yes. I believe with sincerity of purpose, we will get out of our problems and forge ahead.
Some have said the party has fallen so badly and is so badly fractured that some are even suggesting a change of name for it. Do you share this sentiment?
Who knows what will happen tomorrow? Right now, as a party, we are going through our trying period; other parties are likely to go through their own. Somehow, we will come out of it; we will survive and see how we go forward. We have to wait for others whose time will come and see whether they too can survive it or not. All these issues occur in the life of political parties. Any political party for that matter, whether in government or out of government. If the PDP will continue as a party until 2019 or if it will be a conglomeration of a number of parties including the PDP, that is for time to tell.
Looking at the Nigerian economy, will you blame its woes on the global economic meltdown or the country’s missteps, considering how it fared in the past?
Our economic problems did not start now. These problems had been there even before this current political dispensation came in 1999. You have to be fair to this government that the challenges are not entirely its making. And of course, different administrations have had to confront their challenges. You should also equally note that it is not entirely the making of the PDP administration. If you observe, we were able to pass through the meltdown under President Obasanjo, we did what we could under Presidents Umaru Yar’adua and Goodluck Jonathan. Be that as it may, the government of the day, in my opinion, will need to be more apt in dealing with the challenges that we have now. These challenges are so enormous that we need to come together as a nation; we may have our political differences but the economy affects all of us. It is not good if the legislature is not working as one, it is not good if the polity is not united to confront this economic meltdown. It goes beyond the strength of one political party in my opinion. The country is sharply divided politically and in terms of ethnicity and religion. When you are dealing with this kind of society, you need to build consensus across these lines when you are in power. This will enable you to deal with the issues.