A former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Senator Ahmadu Ali, speaks with OLUSOLA FABIYI on the crisis in the party and other national issues
How did the Peoples Democratic Party find itself in the current internal wrangling?
We wanted to elect a new national chairman from the North-East to complete the tenure of Adamu Mu’azu. For months, we couldn’t do anything. We were told that the former President (Goodluck Jonathan) said Ali Modu Sheriff should be given a waiver to come and run, and he won. When any leader is elected, he needs a convention to confirm (him as the chairman) – that was the convention he called for. No convention has confirmed him. He cancelled the convention because there was a court judgment that said the convention should not elect some officers, including the national chairman. But the rump of the convention decided to set up a caretaker committee to prepare a convention because the deputy chairman acted as the chairman at the Port Harcourt convention. That was the beginning of our crisis.
What’s the way out?
The way out is what they are doing now.
The two factions are saying they can’t work together. The court has recognised Ali Modu Sheriff, while a faction of the party is behind the Ahmed Makarfi-led national caretaker committee. Where is the meeting point?
The courts were warned a long time ago by the Supreme Court that they should be weary of deciding on political parties’ problems because they would be charged with running the parties for the owners. If the people say this is our leader, and another goes to court and says he’s the leader, and the court says this is the leader, you can see that the court is interfering in a way. It is not right. People who lose election even at the state level of the party go to court, it is not right.
So, when a section or faction of a party does not follow the party’s constitution or when they misinterpret it, who should interpret?
We may have aggrieved people, do we allow them resort to self-help? The Supreme Court passed that judgment when I was the national chairman. It said the courts in Nigeria should be wary in taking on these political cases because they will take over the running of the party for the owners. That is what is happening now because as long as the court keeps taking all the injunctions, all the suits, then there would be no peace. Leave them to run their thing the way they want it. The problem is what we are seeing now. The Makarfi faction has ended up with more than 80 per cent of the members, but the court says Sheriff is the national chairman.
What is the solution now?
The only solution is not by courts. What we need is a political solution. Leave us to fight it out politically, and then we would find the solution. The court can’t find the solution.
But the political solution you are talking about seems to have failed. The governors met with former President Goodluck Jonathan and they agreed on a way forward. Yet, the Makarfi faction said only the Supreme Court could settle the matter. Jonathan has met the Makarfi group. He has also met with the Sheriff group, has this produced a solution?
That is it – he recommended Sheriff to join the party. He (Jonathan) should therefore be (held) responsible for all that is happening in the party. That is the truth; being our presidential candidate (during the 2015 presidential poll), he should still have the power to bring peace to our party. But he has not done that. He keeps listening to both sides and both sides are continuing in their ways because nobody has been told, ‘You stop there, come this way’; ‘You, come here, this is what you are going to do’. He has not done that.
But what of the governors who persuaded Sheriff to be chairman of the party?
The governors also drove us to this (problem). Olusegun Mimiko and his group, the governors, contributed (to the crisis). They thought that someone of his (Sheriff’s) stature like them would be in a better position to run the party. We in the Board of Trustees called a press conference three times to reject him. We said he was not suitable and that we couldn’t have him. But later, the National Executive Committee of the party voted him as the chairman. Even without the courts making this pronouncement, I know he was the national chairman because he was elected. We haven’t elected any other person. The problem he has is that he hasn’t had a successful national convention that would either confirm him or reject him.
But before the law today, who is the national chairman?
Sheriff is the national chairman.
Why has it been difficult for Jonathan to call Sheriff, whom he brought to the party, to order?
Only he can answer that. I can’t read his mind.
How then will the political solution you suggested be achieved?
Political solution by consultation; they are still consulting. If the consultations are genuinely carried out, Sheriff – who is recognised as the national chairman by the court – should convene a convention. The court went further to say that we should return to status quo ante, May 16, 2016 national convention. This means that all the national officers in the National Working Committee should be returned under Sheriff. He would then call a convention and the NEC would approve it. Everyone would come from their zones to the convention. And what will happen there is that the national officers will resign at the convention. Then new officers would be elected. That would be the new executive. If Sheriff is accepted again at the convention, he will return as the national chairman.
It was learnt that some officials had resigned voluntarily.
What do you want them to do? If the next national publicity secretary is going to come from the South-West, while the occupier of the office is from the South-East, he has to resign.
It was also alleged by Dr. Cairo Ojougboh, Sheriff’s deputy, that about five of those who resigned were paid severance allowance.
That they collected money from the party? Well, I don’t know of that. Cairo was not part of them. He is an imposition by Sheriff. Sheriff handpicked him. He was never elected and was never confirmed either at the NEC or anywhere. That’s why the court said we should go back to where we were before; whether you resigned or not, come back. That’s what the court said.
Is the BoT talking to the two sides?
Yes, the BoT is talking to them. Because that’s the only neutral body left and we are listening to them.
Is the BoT actually neutral? Your chairman has openly identified with the Makarfi faction.
The BoT is neutral. He (the BoT chair) associates with Makarfi and also associates with Sheriff. If he calls a BoT meeting today, Sheriff will be there as the national chairman and Makarfi will be there as a member of the BoT. The BoT can’t go either way. We have to remain neutral. The BoT never wanted him (Sheriff) and we didn’t hide it. I personally opposed him as the national chairman. I didn’t want him. On the day of the election, I resisted him. At the NEC, I said no.
What then happened?
I nominated another person for the position. I nominated a former ambassador for the position at the NEC. His name is Wilberforce Juta. That is the candidate I wanted. I did so because almost all the big names from the North-East had issues with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. We needed a chairman for just three months, and we needed someone who was never involved in any crisis. I refused to support Sheriff and when we voted, Juta got just one vote.
He didn’t vote for himself?
No, he didn’t. I was the only one that voted for him, while Sheriff who was supported by the governors got more than 50 votes. As far as I’m concerned, Sheriff is the national chairman of the party. I’m a democrat. The election was not done behind me. I was there. My candidate failed and he (Sheriff) succeeded overwhelmingly. I told him when he visited me a day after the election that he remained the chairman. So, all the things happening now are a matter of ego. That’s the problem.
But the Makarfi faction said it would never attend any convention called by Sheriff.
That is neither here nor there. Makarfi definitely said that because the convention made him the chairman of the caretaker committee and the convention is the most superior organ of our party. That’s the final arbiter and the convention has the power to set up anything. The question now is this: Did the Port Harcourt convention hold? It did not hold before the law. The Court of Appeal said so. It was summoned by Sheriff and Sheriff also suspended it. He called it off because a court in the South-West said no election should be held into some offices. So, was there any convention? If we follow the premise that the court said there was no convention, we then return to the status quo ante. We have to start the journey all over again. Sheriff still has to call for a convention.
Are you talking to some of the party members about this argument of yours?
If they come to me, I will, because you see, I have met Sheriff and I have met Makarfi and I tried to let them know what they should do. That’s what is expected of an elder in the party. But unfortunately, whatever they tell you and you think you are reaching a level where there is a solution, as soon as you leave them, they do another thing.
Maybe the party has not been able to recover from the loss of the 2015 elections.
Yes; the problem of the PDP is because we lost the election and the leadership brought this problem. When I protested as a person to Uche Secondus, who was the acting national chairman then, he said Sheriff was the best candidate. The 12 governors said he was the best. We in the BoT still said no; up till the last day when we held the NEC meeting and when the NEC voted. The BoT has no powers; we are (an) advisory (body). People are saying the BoT should take over the party and run it; that is unconstitutional. The constitution doesn’t give us that power. If we had that power, we would have got rid of this problem. We would have called them to order.
Maybe this couldn’t have happened during your time.
During my time as the national chairman, when the (former) President (Olusegun Obasanjo) and his deputy were having issues, many governors were casting their lots for Atiku Abubakar. We were coming to the 2007 election and we were not sure who our members were. We felt that the best thing was to re-register our members before going to the general elections so that we could know our strength. We did that exercise effectively and many of the governors quickly returned to the party and abandoned Atiku because they knew if they didn’t do it, they were gone. It was difficult but we used a political solution.
Was that achieved because the PDP was in power then?
Yes, PDP was in power then and we had the chairman and the leader working in tandem. That was how it ought to be.
You don’t have such a leader now. Do you?
But we have someone who was the presidential candidate. He should complete the task by coming in to show us direction and putting his foot down and showing us the way out. He hasn’t done so. He has been talking to both sides.
Why was he unable to put the party in shape after losing the presidential election and before leaving office?
Only he can answer that. Maybe by recommending Sheriff for membership, that’s what he thought was a way to put the party in shape. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked.
The Governor Seriake Dickson reconciliation committee has recommended that a national convention be held. What do you think about the committee?
I don’t believe in the committee. You know why? Dickson’s committee was set up on the eve of the convention that failed. We were going to the convention and many of us said we should postpone the convention and wait because about seven states had yet to hold their congresses and produce delegates. But he said there was no problem; that it would be sorted out. In any case, if at least two thirds of the states had produced delegates to the convention, then its outcome would have been valid. So, without seven states, the convention was valid. But we said that we needed to find out and sort out the problems in those states. Some states in the South-West and North were part of it – that was the purpose for the Dickson committee. What is its relevance now? We have gone beyond that.
But Sheriff said he accepted the recommendations for the convention.
Well, we have gone beyond that. He set up the committee for another problem and now, we have passed that situation.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo said you had left the PDP.
When? He never said so.
But he said the PDP collapsed when you and him left the party?
No, he didn’t say so. You journalists didn’t listen to him very well. He said, when I was the chairman and he was the president, everything went well with the party. But when I left as the chairman of the party and he left the party, the fortunes of the party dropped. That’s what he said. I only left as the chairman; I didn’t leave the party. So, to him, the highest peak of the party was when I was the national chairman and he was the president. That’s what he was trying to say: that when I left as the chairman and he also left the party entirely, there was nothing left in the party again.
And you agree with his claim?
Almost; we can all see it. Although he has left, Sheriff goes to him and Makarfi also goes to him as well.
But he keeps telling them that the PDP is dead?
He didn’t tell them that. He only said that during his 80th birthday. And when he said it, I grudgingly said that he is not God. But that is his own feeling. You know the former president has a way of saying his mind. It was his support that gave birth to the All Progressives Congress. He and (Bola) Tinubu have never been friends, but when he and Tinubu agreed, APC stood. They both produced General (Muhammadu) Buhari and they won the (presidential) election.
You are close to Obasanjo. Don’t you think he left the PDP because its leaders failed to abide by the zoning formula agreement?
Which one are you talking about?
There was an agreement that Jonathan was going to serve a single term of four years and allow a northerner to pick the party’s presidential ticket.
That is a hypothesis. Wasn’t he (Obasanjo) also accused of promising one term when he came? Why did you think Atiku challenged him? They were the people who went to beg him (to run) when he came out of prison. Politics is not like that. When you reach the bridge, you cross it. Jonathan promised one term and he ended up not doing that. I supported him because I’m a minority man and I don’t believe that this country should be ruled by Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa alone. As a minority man, I supported him.
What do you think of the electoral reform committee?
Okay, headed by that restless character (Ken Nnamani) that is looking for what to do? He ran away to the APC and had to lobby to get something.
He (Ken Nnamani) was appointed to head the committee before he declared for the APC.
The APC won’t give him if he was still in the PDP. He sold the idea to them when he joined them and they bought it. By the way, he is one of the persons who want to be the (presidential) candidate, if the South-East would produce the candidate. So, he is just gathering his momentum. But that is neither here nor there – good luck to him. Whatever he produces now, if it is not also implemented, it will be a waste.
Have you ever thought of leaving the PDP?
Me? My intention was, at my 81st birthday – which took place this month – I would leave partisan politics and be in a position to comment on any issue provided it would benefit all. But with my party in this situation, I have decided to stay until my party gets back to its feet. If not, it will look like as a captain of a ship, I’m deserting it. In the navy, either merchant or military, when a ship is sinking, the captain will sink with it. He will be the last to leave.
You will either swim or sink with the PDP?
Yes. At the moment, I can’t do what I wanted to do; leaving the PDP now is not the right thing. But I will not join them in castigating anybody. I keep telling other elders to let us settle the crisis.
Does the APC really have a hand in the crisis?
Why not? They will benefit from it. What brought Sheriff? We can say because he was a friend of Jonathan. But it is beyond that now.
How did the APC come into the picture?
Are you sure he (Sheriff) is 100 per cent with us? The APC was formed with him. The fact however is that the APC will take advantage of the crisis. This makes me to say we are not operating a proper democracy because there must be a strong opposition – not the one in disarray. It is to the advantage of the APC that we are in disarray. The APC itself is in disarray. It is because they are in power (that things seem to be fine with the party).
Did you see the crisis in the APC coming?
I predicted it. I said the APC was an amalgamation. Different metals were melted together. When heat is applied, each metal would melt away at its own melting point. When it reaches the amalgam, it will melt away and they will all scatter. That process is happening slowly but because they are in power, you don’t see it. In 2009 or so, after I left the party as chairman, I said that all the pronouncements they were making that we would rule for 50 or 60 years, small political parties would amalgamate and throw us out of power if we continued to do what we were doing – imposition of candidates and unilateral decisions by the governors as if they were the owners of the party – I predicted it and it happened; nobody was listening.
You were able to call the governors to order while you were the chairman. How come people that came after you were unable to do the same?
I don’t want to praise myself, but I ran the party with all my energy and I never went to any governor to beg for contracts for myself, my family, and friends. They came to my headquarters and I used to tell them to get out and go back to their states. If they were coming to me for party issues, they would come with their state chairmen because if I didn’t do that, I would be undercutting my own people. Because they control the purse, they were already manipulating the state chairmen. I never went to look for contracts from them. If they showed me kindness, I thanked them – I went on state tours, they entertained me. They provided accommodation for me in presidential lodges. Sometimes, I paid for my hotel accommodation and I did not care. With that, I had no difficulty in maintaining discipline. When the vice president then decided to criticise the party and the government, I summoned him and warned him. The (then) President (Obasanjo) wrote a letter to me saying his deputy (Atiku) was running down the party and the government and that this should not be. I agreed with him because he asked me to intervene. So, I summoned the vice president and decided not to involve the National Working Committee but invited the (then) Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Tony Anenih, and I opened fire on him.
How did he (Atiku) feel?
He felt very bad. He said I was biased and I said his statement was irresponsible. He said it was not in his written statement. He said it was a passing statement that he made that you people (journalists) used as the headline – that’s how the press is. I said he should go and write a letter of apology to the president and that he should bring a copy to me. He did so. When the problem came up again, he was actively involved in recruiting members from all over the country. I identified them and summoned them for disciplinary measures and suspended them, including the vice president, for three months. I told them, ‘When you show remorse, come back to the party.’ All of them, including Jim Nwobodo, all ran back to the party within three months. Atiku refused to come back. He continued and I didn’t care. That was when I ordered a re-registration (of PDP members) and they did not register him in his state. He complained to me and I came out to apologise on behalf of the party and I registered him with my own hand.
What do you think about your party being unable to pay its workers’ salary?
When I came in, there was no kobo in the party. They were accusing my predecessor of having stolen money. I said they should leave him alone because there was no money to be stolen. We hardly paid salary to my staff. I had a friend from the North-East that was always giving me money to pay salary. My NWC had no kobo; no allowance. I managed to do one thing for them – they wanted cars – we managed to get Peugeot which sold second-hand cars to us which I gave to them. But by the time I was leaving after the election and payment of nomination fees, I found out that my party had over N1bn – that was what my director of finance said we had. I was surprised. One billion naira! I couldn’t believe it. I was told that we owed N35m for Wadata. I said it should be paid immediately. I followed up with the application for land for the party to build its headquarters. They gave me land, and I summoned Jonathan, who was then the vice president, to tell him that he should be the chairman of the building committee. “This is N1bn, go on and raise funds,” I said. I also called the NEC and I told them that we would build a national secretariat and that I would not pay one kobo as consultancy for engineering, designs, architecture, quantity and land surveyors because they had all of them in their midst. That was how Namadi Sambo’s firm volunteered to do the design. He was the governor then. That is the 12-storey building that we have now. The intention was that we would use four floors and rent out the others. The party won’t be broke again. No need to run to any governor. I told Jonathan during the (2015 presidential election) campaign that we had launched funds for the building and that we should open it. He said, ‘No, when we come back (win re-election); don’t worry’. We never came back. Now, we are in trouble. Nothing is being done there now. We don’t know what has happened.
Is formation of the APDP the solution to the PDP crisis?
They are wasting their time because it is not the same as the PDP. At a meeting, I said those who are leaving the party are fools. Here we are, we have a property that is worth over N12bn and you people are leaving for a party that has no shed to call its own. Nobody does that. We are the party of the future. We are the party that other people should find a way to accommodate. The building has four floors for underground parking. Why should we be in this mess? Unfortunately, it is not a military setting for me to say, ‘Eh, all of you, shut up. Here we go.’ I would have done that, but it doesn’t work.
The present government keeps blaming the PDP for the woes of the nation. Do you agree with that?
It is a case of giving a dog a bad name and hanging it. That statement is not 100 per cent correct but it should be partially correct. If we have ruled this country for 16 years uninterrupted, that is a record in Nigeria’s history. We have changed government from civilian to civilian three times. If something went wrong, we should be able to take some blame. I believe that. We can’t be clean; we are not angels. But they (APC) have forgotten that they did not come in to rule – they thought that the PDP would be announced the winner of the election and they would set the country ablaze. They were hoping to do that. They thought the PDP would be announced the winner and they would be burning everywhere. They wanted a civil war. That was their intention. We foresaw that and that was why we said the president should throw in the towel, let’s move on. Now, they came into power and they didn’t know what to do.
They said you emptied the house before leaving?
Which house? If we emptied the house, where did they get $2bn as excess crude money immediately they came into power? Is it not the money we left? Couldn’t we have spent it?
Why were you unable to convince Obasanjo to support Jonathan’s second-term ambition?
They were quarrelling. I kept myself out of their quarrel and the article he wrote about his quarrel with Jonathan, he said I was a witness. Because they called me, three of us sat, and I knew everything.
What was the cause of their quarrel?
It was neither here nor there. I am not interested in that. What is my own? But he wrote it in the paper and embarrassed me because many people said, ‘Eh, you witnessed it. What happened?’
President Muhammadu Buhari just returned to the country and he said he needs some rest. What do you think?
Allow him to rest. Because you made him President, does it mean he should not rest? He is a human being like you. For God’s sake, why are people so heartless in this country? Nigerians are so heartless. If you make a man a president, he has the right to fall sick. Does he not need rest?
If he finds the job to be too tedious, does he not need to resign and face his health challenges?
It has nothing to do with the job being too tedious. A job that he has a deputy and minsters; does he have a super-brain? He is there to coordinate and show direction.