By Lekan Bilesanmi and Bashir Bello
The emergence of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar as the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as the standard bearer of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has put zoning afresh on the front burner. Recall that Yoruba group, Afenifere, Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and Igbo group, Ohanaeze, have been at the forefront of the campaign for power shift to the South in 2023 when Nigerians elect President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor. In this interview, a senior leader of the PDP and former governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido, speaks elaborately on why the PDP came up with Atiku as its presidential candidate contrary to the southern groups’ expectation.
Your party, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has produced former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, as presidential flag bearer. What is your take on the primary and what are your hopes about your candidate?
PDP has got a very long history. In fact, the history of Nigeria in the last 25 years is purely PDP. And before then what were we having and from where are we coming? For you to answer what Nigeria is today, you have to know what were we before today and the history. This will give an idea on the kind of wisdom and sacrifice made by people based on what they think is good for this country. PDP leaders are leaders in their own right…coming from the first generation political leaders of Nigeria. And those leaders believe intensely in Nigeria. Whatever they do, they don’t consider personal interest but the larger picture. And even if at all they have interest, they try to pursue everything through Nigeria. But, today, people are ambitious and so they forced Nigeria to follow them. The country has been serving Nigerians and the interest of… It is now fatigued, it is tired. Why can’t we for once serve the country? We are producing people, why can’t we build the country first? The cow has been milked over and over again; we are now milking the blood of the cow. What I am saying is this: There were lots of maybe concerns, worries, curiosity or whatever before our (PDP) convention. Non-state actors (regional formations and organizations) were making noise outside on political matters. They were not speaking with the political parties but began to talk about the parties. And people wanted to know what was going to come out of the PDP and I said “look, PDP is a political party which has got a history and therefore whatever might be the case, when it matters most we will be there for Nigeria. No matter what we do, how we fight, when the critical time comes, we will bury everything and put Nigeria first”. And that is what we did. People were busy saying all sorts of things that, because of crisis in PDP, the party might likely fall because the leaders are very weak or divided. Yes, at the end of the day and when it matters most, we will turn up and be there for Nigeria.
You played a critical role during that convention especially in terms of getting Governor Aminu Tambuwal to end his presidential ambition and support Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. How did it happen?
When you say Mr. A or Mr. B played a role, then you forget the essence of PDP and what it was as a history. Members of PDP are families of the PDP. North, South and East, we are all PDP (members) and are all very important. Our own interests, maybe regional, tribal, religious or sectional, it is normal but again it is within the bigger party called PDP where people should pursue them. So, when you say I played a role, why could I have played the role when there are other key players of the party (senior people in the party) who are part of the entire process? The party, using its own history and wisdom to say “look, no matter what first, because of APC misrule, the only hope for Nigeria is PDP, because it is the only party that is organized”. APC is house for renting, AC in their own room, CPC is their own room, others in their own room and those who also came from PDP are in their own room. When the rent expires, no one is paying for the rent again…unlike the PDP where there is structure. Because APC has failed Nigeria and, therefore, you are looking up to PDP, you begin to think for us that Mr. A did this while Mr. B did this, who told you that? You are just speculating or guessing, you are putting your mind in our head. You want us to think the way you think.
Did you play a role in ensuring the emergence of Atiku or not?
Look, you are talking about a party that has organs and structures. You have a level of ward executive, local government executive, state executive, zonal executive, national executive, working committee, BoT and caucus, so you have so many organs within the party who come together when there are critical issues and endorse the issue…but not Sule Lamido or anybody else. We are in this party to address situations no matter how tough they are.
Governor Wike after the election complained bitterly about the primary including the fact that Tambuwal was given a second chance to address the people and he spoke strongly. What is your reaction to Wike’s comment?
Wike was an aspirant among 14 others. And most of them came to me physically and at times we had closed door meeting. I told them “please you are aspiring, so are also fellow brothers. Now, it is a single family of the PDP, so make it easy for us by coming together and talking to each other. In the process, you minimize the division in the friction and acrimony. And wherever you go, whatever you say should be seen as family thing. We need all of you”. Secondly, I told them that “because you are aspiring doesn’t make you own the party”. I told Atiku and others that “whoever you are, the party is our own but you are one of us and therefore you want to lead the party as flag bearer. So in your action and conduct don’t try to appropriate it”. Not only about Wike, my general call on the aspirants was “please and please wherever you are, you are talking first because you are PDP. This party has good history, it has produced three Presidents and so many governors”. From 1998 to date, remove PDP, in fact Nigeria will collapse because there is no history. We own Atiku, Wike, Tambuwal and so on. Whatever they are doing in terms of contribution is because PDP made them first.
But in terms of his critical comments, his sense of betrayal and all of that, how do you take his reaction?
In making this aspiration as human beings we have expectations and emotions. And, therefore, where the expectations are not met we are going to be a little bit emotional. It is normal and natural. I mean if I cut your hand, it will bleed. But then time will come when the blood will stop and it will heal. So, it is normal in any contest to react. But then, as a family we should know it is not the end of the day. We will pacify, pet and love you because you are one of us, don’t feel angry. Because if you feel angry, where do you end up? You don’t get angry with your own political party. There are interests but, of course, at the end of the day, we will look at the bigger picture called Nigeria and say what do we do? And that is what we did.
Don’t you think there could be implosion in the party as a result of this?
No, no, no. Luckily, implosion is when the process is not transparent and credible. The process must produce the product. The process must be very credible, transparent, fair and all-embracing, a level ground field. Luckily enough, Wike himself testified that the election was transparent and credible. To us, he has passed a satisfaction on the party. Now, what happened behind the scenes in terms of persuasion of the aspirants is something else. Deal between Mr. A, B and C. Whatever it is, when they were making the deals, it was okay for them and when the deals do not manifest well as part of the process, you became angry, it is normal. So, for me, so long as the process is transparent and credible as confirmed by Wike, the behind deals don’t mean anything to me…because all of them went into deals.
You said Atiku’s emergence satisfies all Nigerians and in the interest of Nigerians, but at the background there is power shift struggle by people in southern Nigeria and where do you place the emergence of Atiku, a northerner, against the wish of southerners?
You see, I am a PDP member. I look at PDP as history. I reflect, since 1999, how power was moving. The last President from the PDP was from the South and not from the North if we are going by power shift. But, today, people are taking their own reference from the APC government. The APC government is the government of the APC. If we are to go by power shift, in PDP, power has been moving. We in PDP as a political party have been loyal to power shift. The power shift clamour is from the APC and that is their own problem. Therefore, you can’t force me to take my own bearing from the APC because Buhari is from the North. I didn’t vote for Buhari, in PDP we voted for Atiku and we lost.
One would have expected that since Atiku lost, whoever is going to emerge next should be from the South?
No, no, no.
Before this convention, Atiku, in one of the chats, was asked if he is going to win the party ticket and he replied if there was any time he ever contested and won.
No, no, no. I am not here to speak on what Atiku told anybody. I am not his mouth piece. I am not his spokesperson. I am simply saying what I know in PDP as somebody who is part of the PDP. When in 2011 Jonathan contested, I was then a sitting governor and we were all for Jonathan and he won the primary against Atiku, a northerner. In 2014, I was working for Jonathan and he lost. Even in 2019, we worked for Atiku, he won the primary and he lost at the polls. Going by the power shift because it is all about winning the presidency, is it because Buhari is there that you are ignoring the PDP sacrifice? And because of Buhari’s mis-governance, that is why you are saying all these? Buhari is a Nigerian creation from both North and South. The Ngiges, the Okorochas, the Amaechis, they are the ones who produced Buhari. It has nothing to do with me. Why should I take my own bearing from Buhari? Because Buhari is a northerner and, therefore, because he is Nigerian President, in PDP I should be compelled to say because Buhari is there, I should go somewhere else? What is my business with that? Yes, in the APC zoning process, they had Buhari from the North. Is he mine? He is an APC phenomenon and not PDP. And so I refuse to take my bearing from APC.
You always speak for Nigeria and you said PDP is for Nigeria, for justice, for fairness. Within this PDP and in the light of what we have on the ground, what is your take on the cry of south-easterners for a President of Igbo extraction? What is your take and how soon are we going to get that part of Nigeria to also feel that sense of belonging?
In a political party comprising of all Nigerians, we are one and single family. Whatever you have and your own needs, go to the political parties and it will be discussed. But apparently, non-PDP actors are now trying to dictate to political parties on what they should do. The Edwin Clarks of this world, Niger-Delta Forum, Afenifere, and Ohanaeze when they met saying give us power, who were they talking to? Was it political parties they were talking to? They were talking to themselves. You see, they should have said, “in PDP do this” while “in APC do this”. You don’t sit outside and say “do this”. How can that be effective? It is a lazy conversation. That is why when people in ACF are talking, I will say “don’t talk for me. You are talking for the North but then I am PDP and you are not PDP. So don’t talk for me, these are purely political issues. They are not region or tribal. But if you include region or tribal, then you are compounding our problem”.
In any case, those who are talking, if you look at their history, they had their own time and Nigeria was there for them. Chief Edwin Clark was Minister at the age of 30; he and Chief Ayo Adebanjo are now in their 90s, how can they begin to think politically for Nigeria? They can only guide. When they make statements which are very categorical, that is incitement. By now, they should see us as their own children from both North and South because Nigeria was there for them during their own time. Therefore, the conversation in regional, tribal formation is a lazy one because in APC and PDP there are northerners and southerners as well as Christians and Muslims.
Atiku contested in 2019 and lost. What is the guarantee that he won’t lose again in 2023?
Fine. Now, I can’t blame God. You see, what becomes of tomorrow is not in your power or mine. We may discuss, propose but who will dispose? So, when you begin to bring hypothesis, then there would be problem. I am saying this in the light of reality. When you intend doing something, it is a process of life, no matter what, you have to plan and work hard to achieve your own goal. Life is full of challenges, if there are no challenges life becomes useless.
The demand for President of southern extraction goes beyond regional bodies. If you remember, governors of southern extraction also said this is their own turn and these are people that are current, not in 90s and across parties. How do you take their own statement?
Fine, if southern governors now would say they are all going to APC, let them say so. And then let’s have somebody like Amaechi as President. Do you think Wike will agree? Right now, Tinubu is going through hell from whom? His fellow brothers! Afenifere doesn’t like Tinubu and they have been saying so openly. The governors of APC also don’t like Tinubu. They say he is too domineering and he is a dictator. I mean, he is their own son, why can’t they make him? So, let’s have some degree of honesty and sincerity to what we are doing. If southern Nigeria is going to come together and say “we want to produce President from the South”, then they should collapse their own political boundary into one political party and then say, for instance, Amaechi emerges as the candidate, I don’t think Wike will agree. Mark my point, Buhari will never ever support Tinubu because I know the man’s mentality and psychology. He will never ever support Tinubu. People didn’t believe me and I say wait and see. Right now, APC governors are against Tinubu. So this issue of having our own as the demand from South…APC governors are the first to gang-up against Tinubu. The whole thing is all about interest, it does not have anything to do with the South per se. Issues of poverty and security cut across the North and South but people don’t talk about it. It’s all about power, to do what with the power? Buhari has the power and in what way is the North and the Fulani better off? But some few individuals, it is interest, not the bigger picture called Nigeria.
Now the reconciliation going on, how far have you gone in that regard, particularly, with those who are hurt?
Yes, it is. An appeal is a very simple thing but you know that the key players or actors in PDP are not southern people. If you look at this group, all of us have been something in this country. Therefore, this country has been there for us. What then do we do by the time we age out? When we were young, the Ahmadu Bellos, the Aminu Kanos, the Awolowos, the Tafawa Balewas were there for us working hard to keep the country in peace and stability for us to grow to what we are today. But today, what do you have? Hate. I have been saying this over time that you can’t build a country if there is no trust. We don’t trust and believe in each other anymore. Now, if there is no trust, obviously there can’t be peace and stability. Therefore we are not united and so we have problems. The country cannot be stable unless there is trust. There cannot be trust except there is peace.
Buhari has been accused of elevating this distrust by being favourable in appointments to people from his side of the country at the expense of others. Do you agree with this assertion?
In which way is he favouring me as somebody who is a Fulani man, a northerner and Muslim like him?
You see, all of us have close friends. Then if you rely only on your friends, it means you are not fair to Nigeria.
But would PDP be anything better than this because that is the fear of Nigerians?
We have two-page history. Page one is PDP and page two is APC. PDP was in government for 16 years, whether we are like Buhari, whether we are fair, you know it.
Your son has emerged as PDP governorship candidate in Jigawa State. People are curious. Sule Lamido was governor; now his son wants o be governor, is it a family property?
You may not believe me, but I swear by God, how he did it, I have no idea. I never for one second told anybody in the party to do this or that. When I was governor, he was doing his master’s degree. I told him he couldn’t do anything until he had his PhD. So by the time he completed his PhD, he didn’t even consult me for anything. The first thing I heard was that some party chairmen came together and asked him to contest. I saw it just like any other news item. I know people will not believe me. In fact, already people are saying my son is running for governorship, I am running for Senate, my other son is running for House of Representatives, my wife is running for House of Assembly and my daughter is running for councillorship…all sorts of stories. That is my own fate. People have feeling of revulsion towards me. But then, I believe in God intensively. I (also) believe in fate. And no matter what my opponents say never stopped God from making me what I am. So if God is fighting for me, why should I say “God let me help you”. So, my only crime is being a father.
What are his chances from where you are standing? Can he beat the incumbent?
You see, what I am saying is that he ventured into it without telling me. When I went into politics I never asked my father to come and help me. But he prayed for me. And naturally every father will wish his son success. So, why do you think I, Sule Lamido should not wish my son well when it is normal for every other person to wish their son well? Of all the gifts of God, the biggest is a son. So, why did they make it personal to me that having a son is a crime? I am the only person that committed the crime while it is normal for others. Tinubu has his wife in the Senate and his brother, Osoba, has his son in government; Bafarawa and Aminu Wali have their children in government, but it is only Sule Lamido that committed the crime in Nigeria.
What are his chances?
I can only pray for him and the future belongs to God.
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