Isyaku Ibrahim: PDP zoning, electioneering, and the sanctity of Nigeria.

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Ibrahim Isyaku
Ibrahim Isyaku

Malam Isyaku Ibrahim was the power behind the throne in the Second Republic, having propped up Alhaji Shehu Shagari to win the presidential nomination of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) and later as president.

He is not just a member of the ruling PDP, but also supposedly a member of its Board of Trustees (BoT).

However, Ibrahim stopped attending the BoT meetings because of irreconcilable differences between him and ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo and Chief Tony Anenih. The group, he said, harbours bad and corrupt people.

The former NEPU member, who also campaigned for the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, spoke on President Goodluck Jonathan’s ambition, zoning and the North-South political dichotomy. He said the North does not owe the South South any debt which the Jonathan presidency is meant to pay.

On the contrary, Ibrahim said northerners sacrificed and shed their blood to liberate the South South from Biafran occupation. That war (the civil war), he emphasized,  was fought with proceeds from groundnut, cocoa, tin and not oil money.

And he warned: only the retention of zoning could preserve the sanctity of our nation and protect the interest of the minorities.

Could you give us an overview of the political situation in the country today?
It is unfortunate that in Nigeria today, we don’t have good politicians; we have some  chop-chop politicians who don’t believe in anything. They are in politics in order to enrich themselves; only very few politicians still remain and the few that still remain are not talking. So, it is a most unfortunate situation.

So, what is your view on zoning by the PDP?
For those of us who participated in creating zoning, the principle behind it is a concern for our nation, I mean nationhood. But because we do not adhere to this principle, we now talk about our ethnic groups. This one is from South, this one is Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa. All these are coming up because we have no nationhood, like Americans do. So, that’s why we decided that. It was not the first time. During the Second Republic, there was rotation – South, /North. Our southern brothers gave us the opportunity, that the North should take the first. That was how Shehu Shagari emerged. And mark you, NPN was a national party; it was not a tribal party; it was formed by Nigerians from all the ethnic groups in Nigeria . But we agreed that, in order to entrench confidence in the minds of people, we had to do rotation, to ease the problems and possible conflicts.

Then in 1998,  several parties came together to form PDP. And we have about six zones in Nigeria. So, because we wanted to restore confidence in the mind of every Nigerian, that we must have nationhood and to sustain that confidence in the minds of every Nigerian, we in PDP came up with the zoning. This time we said okay, zoning will go again, like a rotation between the South and the North. This time round, we in the North agreed that our southern brothers should take the first shot. So, people from the South, like Graham Douglas, Philip Asiodu, Don Etiebet from South-South, and Jim Nwobodo, Dr Alex Ekwueme from the South-East, and Obasanjo from the South West were in the race.  We went to the convention in Jos, and Obasanjo contested against these other people, and emerged. The convention was conducted under the chairmanship of the late Chief Sunday Awoniyi. It was acclaimed as one of the most transparent conventions. So, Obasanjo won.

There is one impression I want to correct- that Umar Yar’Adua and Jonathan were given eight years. A point of correction. Zoning was not based on personality. That’s why, in the year 2003, the second term of Obasanjo, Dr Alex Ekwueme came out to seek for the nomination, and I was the director of his campaign in 2003; so zoning is not based on personality. Zoning was given to the people from the South; that’s why Dr. Alex Ekwueme too came again when Obasanjo was still the President. So, for somebody now to say Umar Yar’Adua and Jonathan were given this thing for eight years is absolutely not correct.

What about the fact that Gemade and Rimi also contested?
But the North did not vote for them. They came out, but because we respected zoning, they did not get votes from the North logically. You know if the North supported them, they would have got votes.

Any moment from now, President Jonathan is going to come out and that would sound a death knell for zoning…
If he comes out, that means he is not going to win.

How can you be so sure?
I am so sure, because it has never happened in the political history of the world, where a minority will override the wishes of the majority.

But what of power of incumbency, which he enjoys and which will give him an added advantage?
It is based on zoning. There is no power of incumbency; it is zoned. It is zoned to us from the North; we have the right to produce a president. Jonathan is an interim President.

That is exactly why he (President Jonathan) wants to utilize this opportunity.
Let him take it then if there is no zoning; he knows where he came from. He has the right, Jonathan has the right to contest, as a Nigerian but when you talk about zoning, if he decides to violate the due process that brought him to that position, he should also realise that politics is a game of numbers.

But you talk as if the North is speaking with one voice, as far as this zoning is concerned.
No, I am not. You asked me my comment, please. You didn’t ask me if I am talking for the North.

So, if a minority is able to break the rank of the majority and get some of them supporting him, can’t he…
That is why I said if he decides to contest, then he is not interested in zoning, right? Okay, if he is able to convince people who believe in zoning that there is no more zoning, so be it.
Why are you so convinced that Jonathan will lose if he contests?
Definitely, he will fail if he contests.

Is there anything you know that we don’t know because from what we are…
(Cuts in) Because you don’t know anything, you are not a politician. I am a politician. Okay? Politics is a game of numbers; you understand? That is why in America, when you want to contest as president, there are four states you must  grab. There is California, because it is the biggest state. You have to capture Texas, because it is one of the big four. There are New York and Illinois, because of their population and of course, their voting power. If you don’t understand the voting power of the populace, then you are not a politician.

So, which are those states you think will swing the votes against Jonathan in Nigeria or in the North?
Even the North-West, by their populations, can change things. Kano and Kaduna states are more than the whole of South-South; go and check the statistics.

But Kaduna is in support of Jonathan.
Kaduna? Who make up Kaduna? Is it the governor alone? A governor is only one person. Is he talking on behalf of all Kaduna people?  Are you saying in Kaduna there are no other political parties?

No, that is not it.
So, because the governor gives a statement, everybody in Kaduna follows. Is that your understanding of politics?

Okay, you have given us Kaduna and Kano. Give us more examples.
No, I said Kano and Kaduna are more than the South-South. So, if 70 million are going to be registered, tell me where Jonathan will have clear 20 million votes to back him?

Some are of the opinion that the understanding is that the presidency rotates among the six geo-political zones; that once one zone takes its turn, it moves to another zone. It could move from South-South to South-East or North-West to North-East and not one South, one North. That even if it moves now from the North-West to the South-South, it is still rotation. Was that the understanding?
For somebody to come out to say so, and for you, as an intelligent person, to listen to that rubbish is surprising. So, in that respect, why didn’t all the zones go to Jos to contest, in the first place?

Are you still a member of the PDP Board of Trustees? If yes, why is it that you don’t go to their meetings?
Because I promised I would not attend a meeting, where Tony Anenih is the chairman of the Board of Trustees. My understanding of Board of Trustees is that it should be the conscience of the party and you have to be morally sound to be there. But I don’t think Tony Anenih, whom Obasanjo made the chairman of the Board of Trustees qualified. I know his antecedents.

Okay, but he is no longer chairman of Board of Trustees.
What is the difference between the two?  Obasanjo is … and I know him and he knows me. There is no way Obasanjo will be  chairman of a political party or a Board of Trustees, and I, Ishyaku Ibrahim, will sit there.

But how do you correct a system if you are not part of it?
I cannot correct a system where bad people are the leaders. So, I will not go.

Are you still a member of the party?
Yes, I am still in PDP. I have been a politician for 52 years; nobody needs to tell me anything. I had been in politics before most of them.

But do you attend the general meeting?
Which meeting? I don’t attend the meeting, where I am going to see the same characters.

You are supposed to be a big man in the party, but you don’t attend meetings.
But when I make comments, people listen.

If you don’t go, how will you influence…
No, when I make comments, people listen.

If you don’t go to meeting, you will not be able to…
I don’t have to attend meetings. I do pass comments. Do you understand? And people who go there, I do put the idea to tell them on what I want.
So, you have your foot soldiers?
No I don’t have soldiers. I am a politician, don’t equate me with army. When you are talking to me, talk to me strictly as a politician, okay?

People like Tony Anenih, Edwin Clark are now with Jonathan and are rooting for him to contest, you started with them, what is your assessment of this their present position?
Started with them as what?

In the PDP, they are all members of the PDP.
So, did you ask them whether Ishyaku had any iota of respect for them?

Yeah, that is why I am asking you, sir.
So, I have no iota of respect for them. That is why I don’t attend the Board of Trustees because Tony Anenih is there. He is not a politician. He is a mercenary. He doesn’t understand what politics is.

Okay but what do you make of Chief Edwin Clark’s combative attitude that it must be South-South?
He has the right, but he has to produce the figures (chuckles). Does the South-South control the whole Nigeria?

Okay I was reading…
Listen, if he thinks that because the South-South has oil, then the Texans should have remained in power in America over the years.

That is a good logic.
Isn’t it? Politics is a game of numbers. Look where the people are. If 70 million Nigerians are going to vote; if you are intelligent, you want to contest as the president of Nigeria, first of all you must look at your background, where are you coming from? Do you have any votes?

This your emphasis on background, etc worries me. Are you saying there is no hope for the minorities?
Background on what? I am saying you must have people. Which hope? Listen, the hope for the minority is zoning.  If not because of zoning, Jonathan Goodluck would not have been there.

That is true.
We created it because we wanted Nigeria to belong to all. During the NPN days, I was the brain behind (the choice of) Joseph Wayas to become president of the Senate; a minority from Ogoja as number three. That shows how far a minority can excel because when you build nationhood, everybody has a feeling of belonging. Otherwise, tell me arithmetically how Jonathan can be president, if not zoning. If a man from Kano is contesting or a man from Anambra or a man from Oyo; from these biggest tribes, the three biggest tribes can negotiate for one to be.

And Jonathan is negotiating too.
With whom?

Northerners, South westerners, etc.
Who are the northerners? You mean these characters that are hired? No, no, these are the characters you talk about, and you are talking about northern politics. You say you are from the North, you don’t even know the people from the North.

No, sir, my own is just to ask question, I know.
But you know the characters, people who try to promote Obasanjo’s third term and failed. Are they not the same characters? So, they can promote him to be President in Nigeria. So, in politics, you have to be realistic. Yes, Jonathan wants to contest, yes, he has got the support of the whole South-South? Is he in control of them? When it comes to voting, will the Itsekiri and Ijaw, whom we know were killing each other in Warri, now compromise to say Jonathan is their man? Or Okirika, man who is fighting with the Kalabari? Within the South-South, we know the ethnic (conflicts); so where are you going to get the chunk of the votes if 70 million Nigerians register to vote? Can you be honest to yourself?

If PDP goes ahead to field Jonathan as its presidential candidate, what happens?
If they manipulate it and say no more zoning, then me too, I am free. No zoning, I will decide what to do. Isn’t it? Can somebody deny me my own right?

But the North we are talking about, how homogeneous is it still?
In the North, in the past we had five political parties; all northerners  have never been in one party. As a young girl, I want to educate you; there was NPC, a large political party, there was NEPU, I was in NEPU, there was United Middle Belt Congress led by JS Tarka; there was Borno Youth Movement, led by the late Ibrahim Imam. Five political parties in the North, but always when there was a national interest, people would vote for NPC. That is why NPC formed a coalition government with the NCNC. Everyone doesn’t have to agree. In politics, if you talk of principle of democracy, people have different opinions and ideological beliefs. So, you can never have a group of people being in one basket.

The like of Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar are very active now and they want to contest.

What is your assessment of each of them and their chances?
Buhari went to Kano some five weeks ago. Over one million human beings came out to see him; that is politics; he is a politician of the grassroots; he communicates with them.  Buhari went to Kontagora, people came out to see him. Buhari went to Minna, people came out to see him. In my state, in Lafia, people came out to see him. So, he has a communication in the grassroots. I have not seen Babangida going round; so I can’t possibly speak until I see his engagement with the people and the grassroots.

The same thing with Atiku.

The only thing I was surprised about is that Nuhu Ribadu came out to say that they should not contest and I am surprised at Nuhu Ribadu as a lawyer. He forgot that Nigerians have the right, under our constitution, to exercise their fundamental human rights; you cannot possibly say that XYZ should not contest; unless he, Nuhu, is afraid. Perhaps, he wants to contest, and he feels that these people are too big, so he wants to eliminate them. So, they should believe in justice; these people are exercising their own right; let the Nigerian people decide. No individual can decide the fate of anybody, do you understand? Just like Jonathan, they too have the rights.

The fact that people, like Buhari, Babangida and Atiku are still in the race is an indication that there is no hope for the youths.
Why can’t we encourage younger people to come into politics, just like the ones in America?
I am so disappointed by the youths of this generation. I was a youth in my generation; we were very loyal to our leaders. I participated in campaigns in 1959. I worked with Zik. I was in his campaign in 1959. We started the electioneering in Asaba on September 29, 1959. We ended that electioneering on December 11, 1959. I was young, but I had confidence in myself that the future is mine because I was young. Nowadays, the youths are fighting where there is no need. You say you are fighting, who stopped you from contesting? Why are you complaining?

Well, maybe because they don’t have …
No, they don’t have any confidence, we had confidence; I had confidence as youth.

They don’t have money.
I promoted Shehu Shagari at the age of 40. I was 40  years old. I was not  afraid of these big people. When you have confidence and you know what you are doing, you move forward. When  I carried out Shagari’s campaign in the convention, it cost me N1,600.  We articulated whatever it was. I organised, I went round this country.
I knew Maitama Sule more than Shagari; he is my big brother; he wanted to be president. I said no to him, I knew the late JS Tarka; he was my big brother. I said no to him; Adamu Chiroma, we were childhood friends, very good friends. I said no to him.  I said no to Olusola Saraki; I said no to Prof. Iya Abubakar, Datti Ahmed. So, you have to articulate and you must have moral standing. There should be decency in politics.

What role should we expect from you in 2011?
Let’s finish our zoning problem in the PDP first. And let me warn, zoning is a PDP problem; now I hear so many people making comments on zoning, even religious leaders. Where were they when we created the zoning policy?

During your time in NPN, the party had overriding power over elected representatives, including the president.
What has gone wrong?

(Interrupts) Because of Obasanjo, that is what he wanted. It is Obasanjo who polluted the party.  They first ganged up and brought  Gemade against Chief Sunday Awoniyi,  because Obasanjo was afraid of Chief Sunday Awoniyi.  So, Obasanjo wanted somebody subservient, but he equally had had his own programme.
In our time, the late Adisa Akinloye was the chairman of the party, and if there was a meeting, of course, he presided, and Shagari called him, sir, because he was the chairmen of the party. So, there was respect – the party respected the government; we didn’t interfere and people in government respected the party. But Obasanjo had dictatorial tendency to manipulate. If he is not the one to preside over any meeting, you will not see him there. That’s why he had the intention to stay in power; that’s why he came with the third term agenda. And that’s why he destroyed the PDP.

But now he’s back in the party, strong and influential
That’s why I don’t attend their meetings. It doesn’t matter. I have freedom to say anything.

On October 1, Nigeria will be 50 as an independent state. How would you assess these past 50 years?
Well, we have not accomplished anything; it’s sad. After 50 years, we cannot understand the meaning of democracy. Because if we do understand the meaning of democracy, we wouldn’t have been in this mess. I pity our leaders who fought for our independence, and after 50 years, we cannot give ourselves light, cannot provide jobs for our young people. Some have become armed robbers, not because thy are not educated. They come out, no job. Those who are privileged and they go and do their masters, they come out, no job, and they’re in a society where they will open the papers and read where somebody has stolen N10 or N20 billion.  All the industries in Aba, Ikeja, Kaduna, Kano, Jos, Maiduguri and Port Harcourt are closed, and nobody thinks about reviving them. This is not the kind of country we dreamt of, more especially my generation.

How do you see the election coming up in 2011?
What kind of election? Jega may try his best. At least he can create a level-playing field. But  you say you are going to have free and fair election; how do you have free and fair election in a country where a governor or senator is using  public fund to campaign? You could be a good person from your area, but because you don’t have the facilities you cannot contest against your governor. So, it is no longer free and fair; we talk about free and fair only in theory, but not in practice, because in practice, you must create a level playing-field.
How do you have a free and fair election, if Jonathan, supposing he contests, will be using the Federal Government’s plane to fly to Port Harcourt, to fly to Kano? But in America, it will not happen.

Did Shagari not do so when he was in power?

We did not agree. So we are saying that you have to create a level-playing ground. In America, you cannot use Airforce One as an incumbent for campaigns. How do you hold a free and fair election when there is no accountability, when you see every weekend people are having parties, their children are wedding, and you see government cars, consuming fuels. Who pays?

If Jonathan were to call you and ask for your candid advice as an elder statesman, what would you tell him?
I will him that ‘first all, you must be grateful. You should be grateful to the Almighty God, who has arranged through stages to bring you to this position, being a minority’ Second, that zoning has given you the opportunity to get here.  That zoning is about commitment, and if you are a gentleman, you should keep to the commitment on which that zoning stands, and of which you are now beneficiary.

I will tell him that if Umar Yar’Adua had not died, he may have decided that you, Jonathan can no longer be the vice-president again; that he would look for somebody else from the South-South. All these are possibilities; therefore, in a nutshell, zoning is not based on personality. My advice to him is that he should conduct a free and fair election. He should be the referee; and if you are able to conduct this election successfully, you will make name for yourself, and worldwide people will respect you. That you are either a gentleman or you create problems, and create confusion; it is left for you.

Tony Anenih has been reported as saying that now is the time for the North to reciprocate the gestures and goodwill they had enjoyed from the South-South politically and all this while, and that the North can reciprocate if Jonathan is allowed to continue till 2015.

Tony Anenih and co do not know  historical background and politics of Nigeria.  Let me begin from where he comes from, Edo and Delta. I don’t know the pay-back he’s talking about. I know there was a coalition government between the NCNC and the NPC. In 1960, when they were to form the coalition government, NCNC demanded from NPC, their coalition partner, to support the creation of Mid-Western Region. The NPC agreed and there was a resolution in the Federal House by the majority to create the Mid-Western Region.

I was a young secretary of NEPU in the Western Region. We campaigned for the creation of the Mid-West. So, when the Mid-West referendum was taken, the NCNC won; so the first premier of the Mid-West was Dennis Osadebe, who was of the NCNC. Okotie-Eboh,  the minister of finance, was from Warri, (he was) NCNC; Omo-Osagie, who was the parliamentary secretary for finance, was from Benin.  NPC was a political party from the North where other political parties existed. It was not a question of the North.  NCNC was a political party from the East, and there were other political parties; so it was not a question of East because there were other opposition parties.

There was   Cross River, which was in alliance with the Action Group. The only area where I know the NPC had alliance was in the Yenagoa  Native Authority, where Melford Okilo came from. His congress was in alliance with the NPC. When  Biafrans invaded the Mid-Western Region, it was the Nigerian Army, led by Murtala (Muhammed) that liberated the Mid-West and the soldiers were predominantly from the North. So, they liberated the Mid-West. The same Nigerian Army, headed by Col.

Adekunle and dominated by northerners, liberated Port Harcourt, Rivers State. And that war was executed with the money from groundnut, cocoa, cotton, tin, etc, because the oil area was cut off. So, the North executed war with resources from the region and the West. So, I don’t know where Tony Anenih got it from that we are indebted to the South-South.

On the contrary, they are indebted to us. If you go to Port Harcourt burial ground, 80 per cent are northerners who were killed to liberate that area. So, tell Tony Anenih that he and his people are indebted to us.

With all their talking, they were not in a position even to defend the oil. So, they in the South-South, are indebted to us for the next 1000 years.

Source: Sun Newspapers