Senator Ahmed Makarfi is a two-time governor of Kaduna State and former Interim National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He is one of the presidential aspirants for the 2019 election. In this interview, he declares his readiness to reform and restructure the polity for efficiency. He also speaks on the factors that will aid the defeat of President Muhammadu Buhari in his key stronghold of North West. Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa and Northern Bureau Chief, MUHAMMAD SABIU present the excerpts:
You have been on a tour of states for a number of weeks now for the presidential race of the PDP. How challenging has it been?
First of all is that we were received warmly by each of the states we visited. The challenge has only been physical because of movement and because I’ve chosen to travel mainly by road. I used the air as less as possible and I mentioned that it’s a policy to travel mainly by road, so that I can appreciate the situation that people are living under. If it is bad road, let me feel it.
If it is security or whatever it is, let me see how people are living, how children are taken to school and whatever. That in my opinion should make me a more responsible leader when I get nominated and elected. Of course, visiting a state and addressing delegates does not hundred percent guarantee you anything. But from the questions they asked you and from the responses, you know if one was well received. All the places we went, we were warmly received and the discussions we had with them were interactive. We are very happy with what we have seen.
Going by your campaign train experience, what do you see as the main concerns of the people across the country?
It depends on where you go to. If you go to the southern part of the country and part of the middle belt, it’s the issue of restructuring. If you go to the North-East and the North-West, it’s security and economic issues. Of course, there are areas where it is both. It’s a mixture of issues depending on which part you go to. So,
you can summarise it nationwide and say the issue of restructuring this country, the issue of economy, the issue of security, the issue of unemployment, these are key issues that you can sum up as the common issues that needed to be faced very squarely if one should be nominated and elected as president.
It’s interesting to see that you’ve been travelling by road. This government particularly prides itself to be the one that has spent the largest sum in terms of capital votes. It claims each year to have spent over N1 trillion on infrastructure. How much of that did you discover on the roads?
I didn’t see anything. Maybe the roads they completed or they are completing, but not roads they initiated. Again, this question that they have voted more money than the PDP, let them not blindfold us and think that we don’t know what we are doing. The largest budget under the PDP government was maybe about N4 trillion. Now you have budget over N8 trillion because of the devaluation of Naira. They devalued the Naira. So, in terms of quantum, you know the volume of money increases. But in real terms, it’s less than half of what PDP did when we were in power. So, you have to actually bring it in real terms. They are not really performing to the level that even PDP was performing in terms of capital budget. They are only quoting devalued volume of money to show how big it is. But when you bring it back to the level of the rate of exchange that PDP did, you will see that it’s a much lower level of performance than we recorded under the PDP
But this government claims that they have ongoing 69 road projects and bridges in the South-East?
They should publish them. It’s not quoting the number. Let them publish them and when they were awarded.
Actually, they did and some of them dates back to 2006.
Now, that’s where I’m getting at. Is that their project? They should publish how many they completed. If they inherited that number and have failed to complete even 5, 10, that’s not performance. So, whatever they publish that relates to projects they inherited from previous government, they should tell us how many of those projects they have completed. As far as I know, there is none that they have completed.
The APC has been creating the impression that the PDP is no longer wanted by the people. The president himself said it when he submitted his form for the 2019 that PDP should not be allowed back to governance. Do you see the people warming up to PDP again?
People are warming up to PDP and what we are requesting is for the APC government to conduct a free, fair and credible election and if they had conducted a free, fair and credible election in Ekiti, we would have been declared the winners.
So, for you, the PDP is not only challenging but its ready to take the crown?
All we demand is free, fair and credible elections and I’m absolutely sure that the PDP is capable of sending the APC government packing in 2019.
You have 12 aspirants vying for the presidential ticket of your party and we have seen the party pushing towards the emergence of a consensus candidate. How do you see this panning out?
The party is not pushing towards anything. The party is encouraging the aspirants to talk to one another. If it is possible for the aspirants to negotiate among themselves and reduce the number, fine. If that is not possible, the whole number will go before the convention. It is not new. It has happened before. But the party is not taking the position that somebody must drop out of this race. Never at any meeting, whether BOT meeting or any meeting that this was proposed.
But the party itself held a meeting with the aspirants a while ago. The impression we had is that it was to lay the basis for a consensus candidate?
No it was not. It was basically to create a forum where there will be interactions among the aspirants and the party so that concerns can be raised and attended to and also to bring togetherness that it’s one family. But again, as I said, the party encourages aspirants to talk to one another. If we can negotiate among ourselves, the better for the party. Otherwise, the party has made its position. All of us would have to go before the convention.
What do you make of this doomsday prediction that the PDP will scatter as a result of fallouts of the presidential primaries?
We are used to talking. This is not the first time we’ve had a large number of aspirants. Of course, challenges will be there, but we are democrats and that’s why we are talking. I believe we have the capacity to discuss and deal with this matter within ourselves without causing any serious disruption. This process has just started. Remember you can reach some agreements even a few days to the
convention. It’s not that you have to reach it right from the beginning. So, talking to each other is important in politics.
The popularity of President Buhari in the North-West, where you come
from, has been described as legendary. How can you deal with that? We will also present a candidate that is equally credible. The country as matter of fact, in terms of capacity and integrity, people look for this kind of ingredients and especially in the North-West, it is not noisemaking they look at. They like capable, humble, respectable people and once you bring somebody that has same characteristics with President Buhari, the votes will be evenly shared, if not he being squarely defeated.
But his loyalists are said to be fanatically loyal to him.
They are, if you don’t present a credible option.
For somebody like you, do you see yourself defeating Buhari in the North-West?
I believe I will give him a run for his money, not just in the North-West but in the rest of the country.
Let’s look at your programme. What have you been telling the people that you will do if you become president?
Initially, I mentioned the issue of restructuring of this country. We have to restructure in such a way that every Nigerian feels at home. Secondly, we have to address the issue of security challenges. There are different forms of insecurity in different parts of this country. We have to address the issue of unemployment. We have millions of our youths that are not gainfully employed. We have to
comprehensively deal with the issue of our economy. The private sector must be made to grow. We have to make policies and programmes that are good for the ordinary citizens. We should not make policies that are only good for the corporate entities. These policies have to be at the end of the day, good for the ordinary citizens, reduce inflations and all these taxations that stifle small, medium and large scale enterprises. We must make it easy for our students to study by creating students loan scheme. We must restructure institutions so
that they serve the people and not only political leaders. Right now, what you have is that they are at the beck and call of political leaders. This must stop. We must know where their responsibilities to leaders stop and their responsibilities to citizens start. These are some of the issues that one will address without wasting time, should one get nominated and subsequently elected.
One other issue that is pending is the electoral law which the president is yet to sign. The law legalises the card reader, among other innovations. Your party has said that the present government doesn’t want to sign it because it doesn’t want to use the card reader. Do you see it as that?
My position is that the use of card readers should not be selective. If you want to use card readers, it should be universal. If you are not going to use card readers, it should be universal. In 2015, we used card readers where we wanted to and didn’t use it where we felt we shouldn’t use it. For me, that is just what has to be
But so far, the President has not signed it. So, it remains as the 2015 situation.
Even if it is, it is administrative decision to use and not to use. But it should never be selective.
But the INEC Chairman recently said that the card reader will be used in 2019, whether the Electoral Act is signed or not?
All I’m saying is that if it is going to be used, let it be universal. If it is not going to be used, let it be universal. Whatever choice they make, they must stick to it 100 per cent.
The fight against corruption has been one of the standpoints of this administration. You have been an administrator, and you have watched the situation. How can you rate the fight against corruption by the current government?
That’s what they came into office with and Nigerians and the international community believed them. But there is derailment because it is politicised. It is a lot more when you are in opposition that you are deemed to be corrupt. When you are in government, even if a matter comes up, it dies a natural death.
But a minister just resigned from the government?
She resigned. Where is she? There is a sitting governor that they said he should not travel, that he will be arrested. How did the minister fly out? The governor has immunity and the minister doesn’t have. That is the double standard that we are talking about.
So, you don’t think that they have done much in terms of anti-corruption fight?
I don’t think so. They missed the opportunity. All of us, including PDP believed initially in what they were saying. But from what we have seen happening, it questions the rationale behind a lot of things that are going on.
In your home state, Kaduna, some people will say that after your governorship and tenure in the Senate, you’ve lost control of the state and that the APC is completely in charge now. It is believed that that was why they were able to stop you from returning to the Senate and that, going by this you may not have a strong home base to support your presidential ambition?
First of all, I knew I was not going to win that Senate election because I knew the situation on ground. It was not about me. It was about a given situation; people were angry because of certain factors not related to me. It wasn’t a personal issue. It is like a collective issue and anybody caught in that will suffer the same consequences. But let me also remind you; you know local government elections are completely under state control. Our state government couldn’t successfully conduct local government elections because we won most of the councils.
But they announced different results?
They announced, but even with the announcement, they couldn’t announce some up till now. Some they still had to announce as we won. Tell me which other state in the federation that the state government did not win all their local government elections.
Maybe that is because states used to write results of local government elections?
It became impossible in Kaduna because we are ground and people have woken up to say no. So, PDP is fully back in Kaduna State and we are going to win all our elections.
So, have you sorted out the issues that made you to lose the Senatorial election?
The people have tasted and they know better now.
You think the North is no longer monolithic in its support for President Buhari?
The situation now is not the same as 2015. All the same, it doesn’t mean that we should field any candidate. We have to field the best material and competent candidate.
So, you won’t be intimidated by forces of APC…
Everybody that knows me knows that I cannot be intimidated.
Talking of the caucuses in the party, you have the caucus of former leaders; you have the caucus of governors and the caucus of the National Assembly and the House of Reps and the party chairmen in the states. How are you appealing to these causes?
I have been meeting them. I will continue to meet them. As I mentioned earlier, it is not that they will give you their vote in advance. You just have to continue engaging them, believing that you will convince them the most and I believe I’m not doing badly with each one of those causes.
Do you have the buy in of people like former President Obasanjo and Gen IBB and others?
I wouldn’t want to go to that extent. All I know is that I talk to everybody and I will continue to talk to everybody.
How are you dealing with the influence of the governors?
Governors are important members of our party. They have remained committed. They’ve done wonderfully well. I believe they will continue to do wonderfully well. I don’t want their relevance to be concerned to the archive or whatever. Of course, they know that it is a collective issue. It’s not a one group issue and as a family, I believe that we will work together to ensure that PDP returns to power.
So, you don’t have any fear that they will want to impose a particular candidate?
You don’t impose yourself except it is acceptable. Even if they come with an idea, until that idea is generally acceptable, it cannot work. People have one idea or the other. What ideas they may have now, I don’t know. But it’s a continuing engagement and this engagement is ongoing.
One governor was quoted as saying some people are being sponsored as presidential aspirants in the PDP. Don’t you have that fear of fifth columnists going into the national convention?
Equally, some people can also be tainted in order to get rid of them. You know in politics, anything happens. If you don’t like somebody, you try to find something to attack him. It may be so. It may not be so, it can be all political issues. But my own take is that we should as much as possible try not to divide ourselves. We should as much as possible see how we can work together as one family.
So, in case the result of the primaries go either way, how acceptable will it be?
If I don’t win, what will I do? I will accept the outcome and decide whatever political thing I need to do.
It was in the news sometimes ago that you and the PDP governors had an agreement that they will support you, which we are now being made to understand that they are now trying to reneged? How is true is that?
First of all, I never sat down with the governors’ forum to reach any formal agreement. Before the convention to elect the national leaders of the party, the governors were sharply divided, and I sensed danger, because the governors are our generals. Whether you like their faces or not, they are very important to the party, they have contributed enormously, and I believe they will continue to do that. The governors are, of course, not the only people contributing; everyone is contributing in his own way. But the governors cannot be wished away. We will continue to respect them, value them, because we need them now more than ever before if we have to win the election, as we need other people to come in.
Yes, I did a lot of legwork, reaching each and everyone of them to try to bring them together, and finally I succeeded in bringing them all together, and that is how we succeeded in having a rancour-free convention, that is responsible for bringing us to where we are now that PDP is now seen in positive light. But, I didn’t get any agreement or promise. But, of course, you hear political statements, maybe from individuals saying, ‘haa your efforts will not be
forgotten,’ Well, time will tell if the statements were just statements or they meant what they said. But to assume that I sat down and reached some agreement, that is completely false. Up till now, some of them look at me and tell me the same thing, that my efforts will not be forgotten. But we will wait and see what actually happens. Politics is dynamic, so if some have said so and do another thing, that is their own cup of tea. For me, I take things as they come, but to be specific, there was no any formal agreement between me and the governors’ forum. Individually, some might have made statements to suggest that at the time of my need they will try to be supportive, but I don’t take that to be a written promise.
Are you satisfied with INEC and security agencies’ preparation towards the 2019 elections?
I was shocked when I saw the news that the 2019 elections may be postponed, but thank God, I later saw INEC coming out to deny making such pronouncement. That notwithstanding, that was the most dangerous news I ever read, that was very reckless. You see, the interest of Nigeria is larger than interest of any of us.
How we conduct these elections and how we manage this electoral process will largely determine the fate of Nigeria. INEC and the security agencies must know that, the fate of this country squarely lies on their shoulders. It is not even about history being kind to them; it is about how they will end up. Therefore, they must conduct free, fair and credible elections.
So, for me, I think INEC and security agencies have a lot to do and so far, I am not impressed. PDP and other political parties will do what is right. I am cautioning APC, they should not be smiling and grinning, we must never burst this bubble. They should not be carried away by the comfort of power, and think that they are immune from calamity. We are all not immune from calamity; nobody knows when calamity will come. We all have a stake, we all have responsibility, be you PDP, APC or any other political party and especially INEC and security agencies and other agencies that are used to muscle down the opposition, they must remember that the country comes first, not any government or political party.
Recently, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar visited you, after which he also visited former Jigawa State Governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido, where Atiku asked him to step down. Did Atiku also ask you to step down for him? Or were you the one that asked him to step down for you?
That question never came up between us. We only discussed as democrats, as people who started PDP together. There is a lot at stakes; we need to be comparing notes and working together in the interest of the country, democracy and our party. So, nothing like that was actually discussed, but I believe he is eminently qualified. He also expressed that, I equally eminently qualified, but among several qualified people, it is only one person that will emerge. So,
I don’t have problem if he emerges, and I believe if I emerge, he will willingly accept my candidature, but nobody made any specific request.
Even as you have gone far in your presidential ambition, there is this rumour that you will soon dump PDP for another party. Are you planning to dump PDP?
First of all, you see, I think this is coming from two sides; it is coming from both PDP and APC. My take is that, I think the APC fears me most and they are day-dreaming that I will be in their party. That is my take, because the first thing that drew my attention on social media trending is that, the people that are reacting to the rumour are members of the other party. Maybe it is their calculation and thinking that, from all of us in the PDP, I am one candidate they fear and they will not want to face at the general election.