Interview By Saxone Akhaine.
Chairman, Caretaker Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi
Chairman, Caretaker Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, spoke in this interview on its plans to ensure the emergence of credible leaders during its next convention. He also spoke on the nation’s economy, the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC’s) war against corruption and revelations coming out of the probe of former Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Allison-Madueke. Saxone Akhaine reports.
What is your committee doing to ensure that credible persons are elected at the next convention of the PDP?
Well, the convention has extended our tenure by four months. It also reaffirmed the decision of the committee on Anambra by dissolving the three factional structures in the state to allow the setting up of a unified structure that will enable us participate in the elections. You will agree with me that with three factional structures, we were virtually shut out of participation in the election. So we took a decision to dissolve all the three factional structures to come up with a unified structure involving everybody to allow us effectively and legally participate in the election. The convention reaffirmed it is resting on the recent judgment of the Supreme Court that said convention is supreme and it can dissolve and remove at any time.
Equally the convention dissolved some state structures where they were found to have made it difficult to make peace; where there are parallel structures existing and they refused political settlement. The party thought it should use the power of the convention to dissolve all of them, forcing them to come and sit down and make peace and accommodate one another to conduct all-inclusive unified congress.
This is also to stop all the legal wrangling where everybody comes with his own court judgment but none of which prevents the party from dissolving them. We used that power to bring sanity to the states where it has been difficult to bring political solution with the entrenched divisions among factions.
Another thing is to pave way to smoother environment for electing credible national officers of the party in December. So it is part of the cleansing process to bring some unity and sanity in states that have defied political solution, resting on each side having one judgment of the other. Having done that we have written to the caretaker committees of those states and I am happy to say that all the factional divisions in most of the states from the reports I have received, have been sitting together and accommodating one another. So that is the first step to bringing factions of the party to be united. I heard reports from Lagos and Kebbi and they all were doing fine. Other states are meeting based on the report I am receiving and at the end of the day we will be better.
On the issue of electing credible national officers, we still stand on zoning the presidency to the north and national chairman of the party to the south.
In the north, we have not said any particular part of the north and in the south we did not say any particular part. Any other arrangement is local and the national headquarters is not bound to stick by that. The aim is to open the political landscape so that at the end of the day, the best political material can come up and if found competent and suitable by the party men and women, they will be elected either into party offices or for nominations to fly the flag of the PDP to contest for various political offices.
Just before the convention, we inaugurated committees; reconciliation and discipline. That of reconciliation is to reconcile all aggrieved members since the formation of the PDP and also to try and bring in even those who have never been in the PDP before. So their mandate is wide and we are happy they have started well. Their progress is our strength. Of course we set up a disciplinary committee because anything without discipline will not last. We are not trying to be vindictive but it means that nobody should go with the Supreme Court judgment and start saying you did this you did that. The point is, after the Supreme Court judgment, what are you doing? If you are doing anti-party activities, you will be disciplined according to the constitution of the party and the laws of the land, but the past is the past. Anybody you see us looking at must be somebody who has tried to undermine the party one way or the other, not for actions done before the judgment.
You said the party has zoned the presidency to the north but some leaders of the party in the south have started campaigning. Is that not going against the decision of the party?
Yes, that is the position of the party and anything about the party must come from the party leadership and not from any other person. That is why I am reaffirming that the party’s position on zoning has not changed. It was the decision of the Port Harcourt May 21 convention and the decision of the convention is supreme. But let me also remind you, when the presidency was zoned to the south in 1999, some people from the north contested in their own right but the party went with the decision it took.
President Muhammadu Buhari has returned, but with his health condition do you think he can cope with the challenges of running the country?
The party has made several statements praying for his quick recovery, even at the convention, I mentioned that. One of our governors, Wike, was at the airport to welcome him. Remember he is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he is not the president of the APC and should not be seen as one and we must not have negative feeling towards fellow human beings. We wish everybody good health whether they’re in PDP, APC, Labour, APGA or any other political party but it will not stop us criticizing government based on policies that are not working. We cannot wish anybody in the government ill in terms of personal health or other issues. We issued a statement thanking God for giving him the condition of health to return and we will continue to pray that God gives him good health.
Secondly none of those demonstrations against the president’s continued stay in London was sponsored directly or indirectly by PDP, though there is freedom of assembly or expression. If they had come to us we would have advised them against it because one can be well today and be unwell the next day. The constitution has provided that he can transmit power and he transmitted power. We made a statement that the Acting President should not be made to feel that he doesn’t have the constitutional power to carry on as the president. That is running away from responsibility. The Acting President has the full power of the president and as far as PDP was concerned during that period, Buhari was not in charge of Nigeria but Professor Yemi Osinbajo. I also made a statement that we should not be talking about Buhari other than praying for him. Constitutionally Buhari was not in charge and if some cabals prevented the person in charge from doing his job, he has the power to fire them. If the government is trying to run away from responsibility and find reason to hide under why they couldn’t do certain things, the return of the president has removed that cover. But we should not politicize the health of the president or that of anybody.
One of the charges against the PDP is that it allows for corruption, some say you’re not doing enough to change by allowing people who have been convicted of corruption at your convention.
You have to be specific.
A former governor from the Niger Delta…
He has served his sentence and it doesn’t mean he should not participate in politics. The law prevents him from holding public office for some time and that’s the law and if we apply the law we should not deny him his constitutional right to participate in active politics. Participating in active politics does not mean occupying public office, so don’t do overkill, follow the law. Why are prisoners allowed to vote? It is because they have the constitutional right. So an ex-convict has the right to participate in anything the law allows.
On the issue of corruption we will be able to assess APC government when they leave office. By 2019 when we take over, we are not going to be vindictive but the truth will prevail. Who told you there are no petitions against them as they are in office right now?
When they leave office, we will see what will come up. We will know whether corruption is something limited to one political party. We are not doing justice to the fight against corruption when we try to politicize it. Take a look at the private sector, no politician has been tried or taken to court for anything near the alleged corruption of those the EFCC has charged to court. Go to the private sector go to other the public service even some of the security agencies, but if you try to just narrow corruption to only politicians from the opposition parties, we are undermining the fight against corruption. We should look at it holistically together as Nigerians.
I am also referring you to an official government report from the National Bureau of Statistic, which has pointed out leading agencies or institutions on the corruption index and they are all public institutions and they’re not politicians. So if I say we should fight corruption we should not politicize it. Everybody has a role to play in reducing this to the barest minimum.
With the revelations coming out on former Petroleum Minister, Deziani Allison-Madueke recently, why did the committee you headed in the Senate clear her?
We did not investigate her; we investigated NNPC and the proceeds of sale of crude that NNPC was supposed to have remitted to the federation account for the period of either 15 or 16 months, a limited period of time. Our report made it clear there are several aspect under her ministry that we did not look into because we were not mandated to look into them like swaps, strategic alliances, sale of oil blocks, investments and all hordes of issues. But still, within the area we investigated, our report was clear that over a billion naira was not accounted for even though in our report, some agencies such as NPDC accepted that some hundreds of millions were in their account waiting for reconciliation before they would be remitted.
But that still left hundreds of millions not accounted for and our report was clear. It is a matter to do with NNPC and we said that every cent should be accounted for and that it should be a continuous process. We were asked to follow up when the Senate approved that report, so we wrote them series of letters to confirm whether the remittances have been done, but maybe because we were leaving office, our letters were ignored. Be that as it may, the report is there, we never cleared anybody, we were not asked to investigate her as a person but NNPC as an institution. And they did not present before us anything that will amount to the fact that she gave some kind of approval, they owned up to everything, only that they could not account for everything and our report showed that. Even when the current APC government, through the governors, insisted and appointed Price Water House, a national accounting auditing firm with a wider mandate that the one we had to investigate, their report was not far from the one we had. Though we did not say 20 billion dollars was missing. If 20 billion dollars was missing the government of the day will not be talking about two billion and forgetting twenty billion, that is not to say that some money might not have been missing, and our report did not say that every cent was accounted for. People should refer to our report, we did what was expected of us within the limited time.
Do you think that Nigeria should be restructured?
Incidentally we issued a press release to counter what the Publicity Secretary of APC said when he alleged that we in the PDP are not for restructuring. I want to remind you that we are the first to address national conference and endorse the issue of restructuring and talk on other national issues. I want to remind Nigerians that Channel television ran a programme that first day the Governor of Kaduna State (Mallam Nasir el-Rufai) and APC National Publicity Secretary were talking, it was a live programme; they went against restructuring. The following day I was taken up by the station and we made a position on restructuring but we also observed that restructuring means different things to different people. Some are looking for political restructure, some are looking for financial and economic restructure, and nobody is talking about institutional restructuring. If the institutions are restructured, the institution can function efficiently and it can affect us positively.
And I mentioned this aspect that Nigerians need not forget. Some are talking about the combination of these. There is need for us to sit down and agree on what kind of restructuring we want and the modality and time frame for that. As PDP governments, Obasanjo had a national conference so also was Goodluck Jonathan and they gave Nigerians that chance to say how Nigeria can be made better for all of us. If the APC government wants to build on that, all it needs to do is to present the recommendations of all the national conferences to Nigerians.
They may not address all issues, some of the issues may be stale; but through legislative processes it can remove what may have been staled, and incorporate what is reasonable and rational. This is because there will be opportunity again, by states assemblies to bring their inputs in and then there will be a final decision where Nigerians will have opportunity to enrich on that report before the National Assembly takes a decision. With this, we can actually move forward.
How do you see the current agitation for Biafra?
People have the right to agitate their positions. My own understanding is that the general view of the Southeast must be approached and studied. Their objectives have been stated and you can see that not all the leaders are in support of Kanu. With the positions of other leaders and what they are saying, it will be unfair to ignore the leadership of the people of the Southeast if we tend to give more credit to what the IPOB is saying. So also, the ultimatum given to the Igbo resident in the northern region cannot also be the over whelming view of people in the north. But two wrong don’t make a right. I did say that we allowed different part of the country all kind of agitations and because we allow this to go unchecked, this has given rise to national counter reaction and that is what brought us to where we are today.