The Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM) national chairman, Bashir Yusuf Ibrahim, an apostle of the late political icon, Mallam Aminu Kano, served as Special Adviser to both President Olusegun Obasanjo and Vice-President Atiku Abubakar. He was also a member of the Justice Niki Tobi Committee on the 1999 Constitution. In this encounter with KUNLE ODEREMI, he speaks on the spate of killings in parts of the country, ongoing political alliances, money politics, high cost of governance, among other issues. Excerpts:
THE PDM predates the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Why is the party struggling to take the front row despite the pedigree of its founder, the late General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and his associates?
As you have correctly stated, PDM is the only oldest political movement in Nigeria today; older than the PDP and the APC and all the others, and probably the only one that may have predated it is the PRP. Let me also observe that PDM started with a bang. It dominated the political environment at some points; it was poised to be the alternative political party to the PDP until the APC came along. The only reason we are in this situation today is because unfortunately, Nigerian politicians don’t want to invest in the future, and the Nigerian politician always want to ride on the back of the momentum of the moment. So, when the APC came along, and got registered with nine governors with a lot of money to spend, most of the people that were our comrades decided that APC should be the leading opposition. But to make matters worse, some of the founding fathers of the PDM that we started up with, now struck a deal with the PDP and went back to the PDP and were even calling for the deregistration of the PDM after they had been with the PDP for personal and pecuniary reasons. So, we started with a lot of challenges. But nonetheless, by the time we came to the 2015 elections, the five political parties with the strongest presence across the country after APC and the PDP, as you rightly said, at that time, it was poised to be the most formidable political party after the ruling party. But everybody knows that we had two choices during the 2015 elections, especially as regards the presidential election. One was the status quo at that time which former President Goodluck Jonathan represented. The other was Muhammadu Buhari, who represented the change paradigm at the time, and for any well-meaning Nigerian left with those two choices would find no difficulty in deciding what to do. So, instead of going for presidential elections ourselves, knowing at the time that we were only three years old, and struggling to overcome our challenges, we placed the interest of the country above the interest of our party and decided to support the candidate of Buhari in order to bring about the change that all Nigerians yearned for at the time. Now, this worked well for the country, but it didn’t work well for the PDM, because after the elections, many people found it difficult to separate us from the ruling political party, having supported the APC candidate. But were very clear in our mission; were not supporting APC as a party; we were supporting Muhammadu Buhari as a presidential candidate. But it was so complex for so many ordinary Nigerians to understand and therefore, when the APC won the election, and came into power, the PDM actually as a result of our patriotic action, we became weakened as a political party. Having supported the party that came into power, even some of our members felt obliged to continue supporting the APC. So we became weakened and then along the line, there was also conscious and orchestrated plan to dismantle the PDM, leading to a very senior politician creating crisis in the party by instigating a section of the Executive committee of the PDM to declare that the EXCO had been dissolved. And that of course, did not work because it was unconstitutional; there was no process in our party other than through elections for the executive of the party to be removed. So that precipitated crisis in the party because someone wanted to hijack the PDM as a presidential candidate and he taught that the only way to do it was to neutralise the exco of the party and bring machineries to take over the party so that they hand over the party to him. That didn’t work and I remain the only recognised national chairman of the party. What we are now doing is to rebuild the PDM and reorganise it towards our forthcoming convention, which will be on November 1, 2018.
Usually, parties go into alliances ahead elections not for fun but for the purpose of winning and political patronage thereafter. What is the experience of the PDM after supporting the APC candidate to win the 2015 presidential? What are your major regrets, given what a lot of Nigerians consider as the lacklustre performance of the APC administration?
We have no regrets; there is always a price to pay for every action taken in life and that was the price we had to pay for the action we took. We have no regrets because the alternative would have been for the PDP to continue to rule Nigeria at that point in time, and you and I know that if the PDP were in power by this time, this country would have ceased to exist, and we must have a country first before you can have a political party.
If you have to compare what the PDP claim to be its strings of achievements to the worrisome state of the nation in key strategic spheres of life today under the APC administration, don’t you think the PDP ought to have been given the benefit of doubt on its promise to consolidate the gains of its 16 years of being in power and make amends where they were shortcomings?
Well, most of the things we are going through now is the fire that was started by the PDP. All of us (Nigerians) are still trying to put out that fire. The economic crisis you talked about; the security challenges you talked about, they are all as a result of bad governance, which we suffered during the 16 years of PDP administration and for the last three years, we have all been trying to tackle and overcome those challenges, and we have been able to achieve some measure of results. In some areas, they are sterling achievements and in others, there is need for improvement as the APC administration hasn’t done so much. But, this is a work in progress and we hope that by the time the PDP stays out of power, maybe, this country would have been back on track.
With PDM as a possible alternative because of the pedigree of its membership dating back to the era of the founder regarded as many as political master strategist, with associates with intimidating political careers, do you know feel it would could create an upset if it had its own presidential candidate in 2015 and the country would have been better for it?
Really, there was party really like PDM that was barely two years old about the time with no war-chest to win the presidential election. Secondly, our main concern was not to divide the opposition; our main concern was that the opposition should be united so as not give any opportunity for the PDP to return to retain power. And I will give you an example, as of the time we went into the 2015 elections, the PDM had 5.6 million registered members. If we had contested the election, assuming if 50 per cent of those members voted for our candidates, the APC would not have won the election, and we would have returned the PDP to power with ourselves winning the election. So, it would have been counterproductive and that was the kind of arithmetic that went into the election.
Why has been difficult for your party to bring back such personalities and associates of Gen Yar’Adua back to PDM; such power brokers are in the leading parties in power across the states, with one of them being former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar now seeking a fresh bid to become president?
Like I said earlier, most Nigerian politicians don’t want to invest in the future. They always want to rise on the momentum of the present, that’s one. Secondly, there was a time the PDM was a time PDM was registered in 2013. Most of these PDM you are talking about were already in another political party. So, it was going to be difficult to get to abandon their parties and come back to our fold. We, the young folks who registered the PDM took a great risk because we were the first people to get away from the PDP, even before the New PDP broke away. We were the people who created the foundation for the breakup of the PDP and for ensuring that it didn’t retain power. Two years before the election, we registered PDM; we pulled out of the PDP; we took a great risk but how many Nigerian politicians are capable of taking that kind of risk? So, that is the kind of situation we have found ourselves. Then unfortunately, there was this very erroneous impression that the PDM was the property of one particular politician. This is totally untrue; you cannot have a party of more than 5.6 million members and continue to say that the party belongs to that particular individual. That sole individual was never a member of the PDM. He was a member of the PDM as organisation and never a member of the PDM as a political party. It is some individuals in the media who promote that kind of impression, and because of the political baggage of that this particular politician carries, that negatively affects the kind of image that the PDM has and we are still struggling to erase that. Of course, we don’t have the kind of money that is required to buy publicity in Nigeria but we are doing that through our hard work and actions on the ground in our different constituencies.
Given the affinity of Atiku with Gen Yar’Adua, your party can leverage on that factor to create an upset in the political space. Why is the PDM not keen on bringing him back to the fold as the general election approaches?
PDM is a political party; it cannot exclude any person from becoming its member. But, such a person must take a decision by himself to be a member.
Does it include the PDM?
Obviously, that is why we are not in any kind of merger or coalition as you suggested earlier. We have not seen any of the political parties in Nigeria that would make us surrender our identity, ideology and philosophy in order to merger if any of such party exists, we would be glad to merge with it. But for now, haven’t seen any.
Nigerians seem tired of the era of recycled politicians hence the frenzied campaign for a generational power shifting to younger persons of under 60 years in the next political dispensation. Where does your party stand on the issue in view of the inherent huge potential benefits?
Under the Nigerian Constitution, every adult of 18 years and above is entitled to vote and according to the offices in the country, certain minimum age is prescribed for each of those offices. Anybody who attains that minimum age can aspire to any office but, that should not prevent others from who have attained the minimum age from running. As far as I am concerned, being young can be an advantage because it may go with fresh ideas, energy and so on. But age by itself should not be a criterion for running for public office. As long as you attain that minimum age, you are entitled to run. Now, it depends on the quality of the character of the person, your integrity; spirit of patriotism. You have to factor all these, as age has its advantages and also its disadvantages. It can be a draw back in certain places because age is normally associated with deep experience.
Don’t you consider the raging disquiet over the Electoral Act amendment diversionary, as the issue of reordering of election has suddenly become a seed of discord between the Presidency and the National Assembly?
One, I do not support position of the National Assembly on the issue because the 1999 Constitution empowers the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organise, elections and that power includes to choose the date of elections. That is one. Secondly, I don’t think politics should interfere with the independence of INEC. Members of the National Assembly are interested parties in the elections. I think they should hands off the issue of elections and allow INEC to do its job. I am not particularly concerned about which election comes first; I am just concerned about the principle of interfering with the independence of INEC, one. Two, the potential for undermining our constitution by taking away the power of INEC to organise elections. So, I am very unequivocal, very clear in my mind that the action of the National Assembly if not illegal, at least, immoral.
There has been a lot of bloodletting in the land with thousands of people being killed in the in mostly in clashes between hers and farmers. What does it portend for the unity and future of the country, as well as coming elections, especially in 2019?
Everybody looks up to the Federal Government in order to stop these killings. But unfortunately, while I agree that the Federal Government has a very crucial and important role to play, I truly and sincerely believe that this violence is merely about some lapses about the failure of local leaders. I will give an example. I am from a local government area in Kano State, and we are talking about true federalism, why should I expect the Federal Government to be sent down to the level of my council area in order to secure my people? They have a district head in the local government; we have a Divisional Police Officer (DPO) in that local government; we have a member of the National Assembly from the local government; we have a chairman for the local government. We have a member of the state House of Assembly from the local government. What is the primary responsibility of all these people? Why can’t they organise themselves to secure their area? Why should they wait for the Federal Government to come down to their area in order to secure their immediate environment? I think we are just shying away from our responsibilities and blaming everything on the side of the Federal Government. I agree that the federal Government has a very important role to play but it alone cannot secure this country of 200 million people. We also have to play our party by being vigilant by securing our own local environment.
But, is the Federal Government is doing enough in this regard, since the primary function of a sovereign state is to secure lives and property?
I think the Federal Government can do better. The Police are not properly equipped; they are not properly trained; training has virtually stopped in the Nigeria Police. According to one Police source, about 70 per cent of the Police budget is spent on the level of Police Commissioners upward. And if you count such people from the commissioner of Police upward, they are not up to 500, and for a Police Force that is made up of more than 300,000 personnel, for 70 per cent of the budget to be spent at that level, you can imagine what would happen to the rest of the country! These things have to be looked into seriously. Therefore, there is an urgent for a serious reform in the Police, especially in terms of training and equipment, as well as motivation, as they are at presently poorly motivated. This is the only country where you give an adult gun and ammunition and train him for only three months to become a policeman. The division you see in the civil society also permeates the security agencies. There is a lot of sectarian, ethnic and sectional sentiments within the security agencies, and that trend has to be addressed, also. But, it cannot be addressed unless we confront the issues frontally in the society as a whole because the police and other security agencies are a part of the larger society. They did not drop from Heaven, and what affects us also affects them, and unless we change our attitudes and become Nigerians first and foremost, the security agencies will also remain divided along the same line of divisions we have in the civil society.
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