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2019: PDP will reclaim power easily if… —Wabara

Former President of the Senate, Senator Adolphus Nduneweh Wabara is the Acting Secretary of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview, he dissects the recent statement by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to President Muhammadu Buhari and declares that while Obasanjo was right in his assessment of Buhari, the idea of a third force at this time would drag Nigeria back. Group Politics Editor, TAIWO ADISA presents the excerpts:

HOW did you receive the recent statement by former President Olusegun Obasanjo on the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari?

I was impressed with his courage to speak loud to the conscience of our political leaders when the need arises. If we had one or two more of people of his kind that could speak the way he does and monitor what is happening in the country, I think Nigeria would have been better politically, economically and in total development. If he had taken keen interest in the choice of his successors in office, we would have obviously gone farther than where we are now.

Yes it is true, the situation is very clear that Nigerians are suffering. When the populace speaks, of course you know that it is serious. I don’t know if it was because of the health situation of President Buhari or it was in his character to turn deaf ear to the yearnings of the people. I choose to believe that his bad health situation affected his capacity to perform. So, the observation of President Obasanjo, to some extent, was correct: even the reactions of APC and people in power show that they were hit below the belt and I expected a punchy response to those accusations on their way of running the country. But they accepted virtually everything the ex-president said. Maybe they are afraid of him or they don’t want to join issues with him. They were even thanking him for such observations. That might, perhaps, force them to sit up and deliver the dividends of democracy to Nigerians. When I was listening to the interview by Prof. Oyebode, he stated that Obasanjo was not the first person to highlight these failures. Bishops John Onaiyekan, Mathew Kukah, former Speaker Ghali Na’Abba and others have previously reminded the President of these things. But then when you hear such a thing coming from such a colossus like Obasanjo, then it was true.

What actually one does not understand was that while the former president accused President Buhari of performing below average, the AU heads of state adopted him as the symbols of anti-corruption war. They unanimously endorsed him as one who has made Africa proud in the way he has fought corruption. The AU assessment of Buhari might be right or wrong. One thing we must know is that corruption is not fought by an individual but by institutions. But Buhari is the only one that is fighting corruption in this country and that might be the reason the level of success we have made in that regard.

What do you mean by saying that he has been the only one fighting corruption?

He is the only one fighting corruption. I don’t want to be too explicit. The fight against corruption should be systemic and not individualistic. The system has not accepted the fight against corruption.

But he has allowed EFCC to do its job.

Yes, it has enjoyed a level of freedom in its operations but many Nigerians see them as being selective in the fight. The recent arrest of the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal after Obasanjo’s statement was seen by Nigerians as a smokescreen. You don’t fight corruption by placing your cronies at the head of critical government agencies and control them your own way. The EFCC is obviously not independent. The EFCC is still being controlled by the Fulani oligarchy in this country today. I don’t want to talk about what they are doing with my party. That is the selective nature of that fight. But when it comes to individuals, it takes a lot of pressure on Mr. President, a lot of pressure on EFCC before they will do something outside their game plan. Their game plan indicates they are selective, and are determined to deal with PDP and their members who are perceived to be corrupt. The Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Tukur Buratai, should have been sent packing, because it was brought to our notice that he has houses in Dubai but he was neither invited nor questioned by the EFCC. The fight against corruption ought to be systemic, no matter whose ox is gored. Look at what is happening in America, Muller’s investigation is still going on and they would talk to President Trump. They will invite him and talk to him. Forget about what he is saying about no obstruction, no collusion and what have you. They are doing their job. They are independent. He cannot fire Muller. He can hire him, but he cannot fire him. But here, the system has not even accepted Magu. Magu probably could be the best man for the job, but he is still in acting capacity and that is unconstitutional. You cannot be acting in a position for infinity. The system has not accepted the fight against corruption. Corruption is not only looking for dollars and oil money. Even government policies could be corrupt and as far as Buhari’s policies are concerned, he is corrupt. How do you explain three security chiefs coming from his state? That is corruption in a diverse society like ours that ought to promote equity. It is not only when you say you caught Wabara with $3 billion or something. It’s not all about money. Your policies should also be looked into.

The former president accused PDP and APC of being deficient ideology-wise and that the two parties cannot be relied upon. He advocated the creation of a coalition for Nigeria. How realistic is this arrangement?

That is the area where I differ with former President Obasanjo. Any time we have a problem in this country, we always refer to America because they are running a presidential system of government. I will expect former President Obasanjo to know that in America, that cannot happen. What happens in America is that they have a two-party more or less system where if one party does not perform, the people will vote out that party and go back to the other party. Here in Nigeria, talking about coalition, Nigerians cannot be fooled again. We had what he suggested now in APC. Who are those going to form the third force? Are they not the same disgruntled faces from PDP and APC? What I expected Obasanjo to say is that he has tasted the two parties. When a man tastes two different foods he or she will know which one is better and not to start cooking another one. There is no time for his suggestion to come to fruition. The implication is that we will go back to square one. My suggestion is for Nigerians to look at PDP and see whether they have rebranded with a concrete evidence to justify their claims and that will inform their decision on 2019 elections. Obasanjo is, undoubtedly, an elder statesman that is expected to put his ears on the ground and listen to the cry and complaints of Nigerians. Nigerians are now asking questions; they are tired of APC. They are tired of Buhari. They said they will want to go back to where they are coming from.

And you think that destination is PDP, where it seems to nothing has changed, even with the last national convention?

That is an unfair judgement of PDP. The party has obviously undergone transformation. What most Nigerians were expecting after the convention that took place last year was that PDP would scatter; by now, court cases all over the place. But that did not happen. There is no convention that does not end up in one form of disagreement or the other and we have been able to cage that within the PDP. Even those who were aggrieved are coming back. They have accepted the fact that PDP has a future and the party is bigger than any individual. The outcome of the convention really shocked Nigerians that the party is still intact.

But some believe that the PDP is fast losing its ground, especially in the South-East and even the South-South, with prominent members leaving its fold. Are the leaders of the party’s BoT not worried?

There is no place for APC in the South-East and the South-South. They might have strong structures in the South-West and Northern states but not in the South-East and South-South. Those prominent people who are moving out of party might be doing so for reasons best known to them, because Nigerian politicians don’t like to suffer. But there are rugged politicians who are determined to stand the storm. Politicians always set a standard for themselves. In America, how many people have you heard moved from the Democratic Party to the Republican because the party lost power in 2016? No, you stay there and fight and correct the ills within. You cannot correct from outside. This is what we should strive to get at and not just our own personal interest. The party will outlive all of us. We are all growing and we will exit one day. But your legacy is the contribution you have made to the party and not what the party will give to you, because the party has won an election. All those people who have left PDP in the South-South and the South-East are obviously looking for political positions and, unfortunately, Buhari may not even be looking in their direction.

Look at all those he made the board members, how many South-South people or South-Easterners are there? Look at the promotion going on in a little place like the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence corps (NSCDC); there is obviously no Igbo man who is a state commander. All of them are Northerners. So, why will you waste your time joining the party that does not take care of your interest?

We also have a situation where even some governors in the South-East publicly endorse the president, campaigning for him. That should send some worrying signals?

That is not correct. There is no South-East governor that is openly campaigning for Buhari. The only governor of the South-East that is expected to do that is Rochas Okorocha who is from Imo state. You must always respect your president, whether he is of your party or not. It does not mean that you are a member of that party or you intend to go to that party. I don’t see and I’m speaking authoritatively that there is no PDP governor of the South-East that is thinking of defecting to APC. No way. APGA is even stronger in the South-East than APC. They are a bigger threat to PDP than APC. Governors are expected to respect and support the president. No wonder they doled out $1 billion to him –all the governors. The president is their boss more or less. They sacrificed a billion dollars of their money more or less to fight Boko Haram. But that does not mean that they want to move to APC for one reason or the other. They gained nothing so far from Buhari. The Igbos are the big losers in this administration. Even Imo that is an APC state has never benefited anything and we are going to reclaim Imo in 2019.

There is this notion that many Nigerians still doubt the strength and readiness of your party to reclaim power at the federal level in 2019?

I am not sure you are listening to the right people. I am a true representative of the people, even though I am no longer in the National Assembly. I listen to the people and you will be shocked at the outcome of the election. If the card reader machine works well as expected and INEC did not compromise the system, you will be amazed at the outcome of the exercise. I even disagree somehow with my oga, Obasanjo that APC should not field Buhari. Nigerians did not vote for APC in 2015. Nigerians voted for Buhari and voted out Jonathan not PDP. They didn’t want Jonathan for whatever reason and they wanted Buhari as a person. If Buhari was an independent candidate, Nigerians would have voted for him. Now, the same Nigerians are saying we don’t want him anymore and they believe in the two-party system. They don’t know any other party other than APC and PDP. Now, they will be asking for the umbrella. It will be an advantage that APC re-presents Buhari in the 2019 elections. It will be very clear to them that Nigerians would speak using their Permanent Voters Card (PVC). Nigerians will vote for any northerner who definitely will come from PDP.

Are you saying any northerner that PDP fields will defeat Buhari?

As I said, Nigerians wanted Buhari as a person, that was in 2015. So, there was no way Jonathan could have won that election. They wanted Jonathan out completely and now that Jonathan is not in the reckoning and he is out, anybody that PDP fields in 2019 with very strong campaign strategy and message will definitely win the election. Nigerians must know that PDP has been rebranded. We have learnt our lessons. We were there for 16 years; we made mistakes, but we have learnt our lesson.

There is the talk of so many prominent Nigerians especially from the APC defecting to the PDP at a time the 2019 general election is by the corner, what is happening?

It is not time yet. People come and go. They have not done their convention. As we speak, I am not sure APC has held two or three BoT meetings since they came into power. They have not met as we speak. So, there is enormous problem in there and at the fullness of time, it would boomerang. Once the convention is done, then you will see the mass exodus from APC to PDP. Not that we are inviting them, they would come because that is where the people now want to concentrate. So, forming a third force would not work. There is no time. People would not know as suggested by Obasanjo. People would not be conversant or comfortable with such a new party. They might believe that it was formed to deceive them the same way APC was formed few months to election and it deceived Nigerians. We have learnt our lessons and we are going to do it right this time round so that we could get it right always.

So, as soon as the APC convention is held, aggrieved party members would dump the party. The Jerry Gana committee is putting finishing touches to the restructuring package and other things that would excite the electorate. We are hopeful that INEC and all its systems would work well this time. It will guarantee our success in the polls. The international community will be very much interested in the election and they know that Nigerians are suffering. Just that they respect our sovereignty as a country. If not, they would have intervened in different ways to save Nigerians from the untold hardship.

What is your reaction to the accusation by supporters of President Buhari that criticisms against the president on herdsmen and some killings were politically-induced?

Buhari has turned Nigeria into a colony of cattle ranch with the Fulani as the president of the cattle ranch. And neither him nor his interior minister has reacted to the unending killing of people in local communities. But they were quick to deploy the army to execute operation python dance in the South-East. But nothing has happened to any Fulani herdsmen, not even a statement of condemnation from the government, because the man at the helm of affairs is Fulani. So, he has virtually turned Nigeria into a colony of cattle ranch, headed by a Fulani. We are uncomfortable with the approach used thus far by Buhari to pilot the affairs of Nigeria.

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