A former caretaker committee chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, speaks on national issues, in this interview with GODWIN ISENYO
W hat is your reaction to the gale of defections from the All Progressives Congress to your party, the Peoples Democratic Party?
I predicted these defections many months ago. When we were going through difficulties and people were losing hopes, and I was asked a similar question as far back as last year, my reply was that the time for defection from the APC and other parties to the PDP was coming and it happened. I predicted it correctly and I’m not surprised. I feel happy about it. It is also not the end of it (defection). We have seen the first wave and we expect more defections to follow, because of the reaction of the APC and its government. Some (defectors) will bide their time and do it at a later day. It happened to us in the PDP; it is a matter of time, the APC will also feel the heat.
Personally, I am happy that we are getting returnees back and getting new party members, especially new people that have never been in the PDP before and the party should be prepared for a lot more to come in. Of course, every positive thing comes with challenges. The challenge will be integrating all the party men and women (the returnees and those they met in the party). But I am equally happy that the National Working Committee of the party has set up machinery, which has been working day and night to bring a smooth integration and harmonisation of interests of party men and women in states that are more heavily affected by the defection. That is how politics is played —constructive engagement, which is still going on and I believe at the end of the day, people will accommodate one another in the overall interest of the party. It is a challenge but challenges are there to be overcome. I am confident that the national leadership of the party is up to the task to see to the integration.
A former governor of Kano State and one of the presidential aspirants in your party, Dr. Rabiu Kwankwaso, said for the PDP to win the 2019 presidency, it should pick its presidential candidate from Katsina, Kano or Kaduna. What is your take?
That’s his personal view. One can only try to imagine what his reasons could have been. I have not discussed it with him. Maybe his thinking could have been the high voter registration and turnout in most cases in those areas. But that is not the position of the party. The position of the party is that the Presidency is zoned to the 19 northern states and the Federal Capital Territory. So, it is open to 19 northern states and the FCT aspirants from the zone. So, whoever the party men and women find suitable from the zone as their presidential candidate, we will support him. It happened before where we found a presidential candidate who came from a small state and he was widely accepted; we supported him. So, Kwankwaso is expressing his personal opinion. It should not be misconstrued to mean that it is a right that is only exclusively preserved for certain states. I don’t think he could have meant that, but for me, the position of the party is very clear — that it is open to the 19 northern states and the FCT.
There are many presidential aspirants in the PDP and recently the chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees, Senator Walid Jibrin, was talking about bringing all aspirants to a roundtable to discuss the possibility of a consensus candidate. What is your reaction?
You don’t rule out anything in politics. First, I have not read that statement of the BoT chairman. I have not even discussed it with him. Even if he made the statement, politics requires discussion and dialogue. Such dialogue and discussion may produce what the BoT chairman is alleged to have said.
It may also just reduce the people in the field, and in my going round, I had also propagated the need for us to come together to talk to one another and see how we can bring unity among all of us because we are stronger if we are united but if divided, we will become quite weak and that is something that we must avoid.
How we will get there, I can’t say. There are many ways we can get there. I am not asking or forcing anyone to pull out of the race. But I am, of course, for dialogue among ourselves and other leaders and to see how, irrespective of who emerges the candidate, all others would rally around the eventual candidate to work as one. It is only after dialogue and discussions that that would be determined. Interests can be discussed and balanced and then ultimately how we go forward is decided. If all of us have to do primaries, let’s go with the understanding that we will all work together for the eventual winner. So, it is good to talk; I will be prepared to participate in any discussion that will bring unity among us. I can’t say what I will or will not do at this particular stage, but I have not been summoned for any particular meeting. Maybe it is just an idea that the BoT chairman is saying out loud for others to hear, but politics is full of a lot of things, and in the next few days, we will see what will happen.
How would you react to the assertion that the selection or election among the presidential aspirants will destroy the party ahead of the 2019 presidency based on interests?
When I was answering a similar question in relation to what the BoT chairman said, I did say it is good to talk and encourage dialogue before the D-Day to ensure that there is unity among all party men and women. We have done that before. We should continue to discuss among ourselves. This way, we can reduce the trouble. The fact that we are talking and, we are in constant dialogue will make it easier, fair and transparent. If you look at the (PDP) primaries conducted in Ekiti and Osun, nobody will say they were not free, fair and transparent. In Osun, look at the margin between the winner and the runner-up. It is only in a free and fair contest you get such margin. The party is living up to its worth by ensuring there is a level playing field for a credible primary. So, I don’t foresee any problem. At the end of the day, we will have a single candidate through a democratic way and that candidate will generally be acceptable to all of us.
Do you want a contest or you want to settle for a consensus arrangement?
I am open to either. It is not what I want but what is achievable. We should subject ourselves to anyone that is widely acceptable to all of us.
You said harmonisation and integration of defectors is ongoing. How has it been, especially as some of them have already joined the presidential race?
You see, it depends on the way you look at this particular issue. What I have been made to understand, which is the true position of the party because I discussed with the committee on the harmonisation and I discussed with the party leadership, is that, where you have a sitting governor coming into the party with all his apparatus of government, certain parameters of integration were agreed upon to do with the state. It’s not something to do with the nation. Where he is a senator, certain parameters to do with his senatorial zone were agreed upon or state assembly or even House of Representatives. But I think some are misinterpreting this to be wider than what the intended purpose is.
For example, if you are in the House of Representatives looking for (a seat in the) Senate, it does not apply to your ambition for Senate, because it relates to your current position. It does not relate to any other position that you are looking for beyond your current position. This is worth discussing and ironing out issues with all those involved. Even here in Kaduna, later today, I have called for a meeting of key leaders of the party that are around so that we can see how politically we can bring about a hitch-free integration of returnees into the party without causing any unnecessary disruption that can be counterproductive.
What would you do if you were not picked as the party’s candidate for the 2019 election?
It is not the first time that I have failed to realise this ambition. Whatever is the outcome, I will accept it in good faith — whether I emerge as the candidate or not. Anyway, I can contribute to the success of the party, what I can do, I will do. But the question is, will I leave the party and go to another party? I have said repeatedly that if I leave the PDP, I will politically go into semi-retirement. By semi-retirement, it means that you won’t find me contesting for elective office. I may still be a political player, playing whatever role that I could play but at my age, if I don’t get nominated now, you can imagine what my age will be at another chance.
I don’t belong to those who think you should continue to seek electoral office irrespective of your age. What is the essence of the Not-Too-Young-To-Run Act in that case? It would defeat that purpose. And the President just signed it into law; beyond just signing the law, we should take every step to actualise laws that are good for our country. So, definitely, you may find me playing not the active politics I am playing now, but definitely not leaving the party that I am in. If I say I am leaving politics, I am leaving it for good. I won’t move to another party.
What is your view on the election in Taraba State and the suspended one in Rivers?
I spoke about it when I went to inaugurate a project in Rivers State, where Governor (Nyesom) Wike has been under continuous siege, intimidation and harassment by the Federal Government. It is uncalled for and this must stop. The election in Taraba went on fine, but in Rivers, look at the disruption with the connivance of the security agencies involved. And we all know who in the Federal Government is responsible for this crisis in Rivers State. I watched a video of the Resident Electoral Commissioner in charge of Rivers; where he said the security agents responsible for the crisis were not those engaged to secure the election process. If it is true, according to the REC, that certain individuals were going round polling units with platoons of security men unchallenged, then the President should do something because that is injurious to our democracy. Nobody should be beyond being cautioned. The person in the Federal Government that is consistently causing security breaches and crisis in Rivers must be cautioned. The government knows him; we all know him. The President holds it as a responsibility to this nation; that individual should be cautioned; otherwise, the havoc he can cause to our democracy and to our country could be disastrous. The Independent National Electoral Commission did the right thing by suspending the election. But beyond that, correction should be done. The security agencies must not allow themselves to be used by an interested party in the election to hijack the political process, whether in Rivers or any part of this country. But the siege on the people and government of Rivers must stop.
One of the allegations against this government is the selective fight against corruption. How will you fight the war against corruption if you are elected president?
Fighting the corruption of the past is important but stopping the ongoing corruption is a lot more important. The only way to do it is a national conference on corruption. The way I would approach it is a national conference on corruption on how to deal with all facets of corruption.
Many people say you appear to be too soft to handle Nigeria. How do you respond to this?
On the issue of being soft, I was frailer as a governor but we handled Kaduna very well. You can achieve good results in governance or be a good leader without necessarily intimidating or insulting anybody but by ruling based on justice, fairness and equity. That is what can make any man strong. If you are guided by these principles, you will be a strong man and people will give you all the necessary support you need to succeed. No matter how strong you are, if you are unjust or unfair, you will become weak. I have been tested and my seemingly frail body did not give way. I assure you that if you follow me on campaign, you will collapse. I can do with an hour or two of sleep a day, and with that kind of capacity, I am good to go.