MR John Darah, presidential aspirant of the National Transformation Party (NTP) exudes a lot of confidence. He has been a grass-roots politician right from his days in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He believes the politics should be about service to the people and not an avenue for corrupt enrichment. During his recent visit to Vanguard he bared his mind on his mission and vision for Nigeria and why PDP cannot be reformed
What is your background in politics and who are the prominent politicians you have worked with?
I managed Dr Chris Abashiya. He was the Registrar of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and he was also a Commissioner in Kaduna State. He was famous for blacklisting contractors for even coming to say thank you at Christmas. He would say to them “I don’t need your thanks, I just came here to serve.”
He probably holds the record of being involved in every Constituent Assembly that has involved in making past constitutions for this country. He is a Fulani man by the way, but he is highly respected in Northern Nigeria as an intellectual and a man of integrity. Another politician whose campaign I managed was that of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Every structure around Obasanjo’s campaign was put in place by me. So every time he was en-suite, I was the man who used to be in the suit with him. I was really pulling the strings. Of course that was a successful one because it was concluded. The other one that was aborted prematurely was that of Prof. Jerry Gana.
When I told my friends in the media, they said no way; but while it lasted I had to build it up and it became larger than life.
The problem is that we all suffer from the illusion that big names are what we required
for the job of a president. It is not about being a big man but competence and strength of character. Another thing is because we focus wrongly, we end up with the wrong people.
This is the reason why we have don’t get the right people elected as leaders. We are saying no way, it is not going to happen again under our watch. We are going to give this country what the people really need in terms of qualitative leadership.
I hope you know I managed the campaign of the former Governor of Lagos State Sir Michael Otedola. He was an underdog; nobody gave him any chance but he won.
I ran for the Governorship ticket of Kwara State in 2002 on the platform of PDP.What was well reported in the press was that I was by far ahead of Governor Bukola Saraki during the party primaries in PDP. He had only 25 delegates out of 150; I had 107.
My lead was unassailable until the leadership hierarchy of the PDP said no and locked out all the delegates.
They knew that majority of those delegates were ready to vote for me. They went ahead and announced Saraki as flag-bearer for the party in Kwara state. There was nothing I could do. This was because at that time, the law stipulated that the party had the final say on the candidate to present for and election and the party could use any method to select a candidate. But I shattered the Saraki myth in Kwara State.
The myth had made many people to believe that Saraki could get whatever he wanted in the state. But he didn’t get the ticket on his own. There was no department in which I did not have an answer for what he represented. This is because once you have the people behind you, nobody can intimidate you.
This time around, if I am not around, the people would end up electing a PDP presidential candidate. The average Nigerian easily gives up. We tend to think in predictable ways; that is why we are not sufficiently exploratory, adventurous or inventive.
This is why we stagnated as a nation. I always believe in possibilities. I would be fulfilled that Nigeria has the capacity to re-invent herself and compete with the best in every department.
I am tired of writing programmes that they have no intention of implementing. I am tired of writing speeches that they can’t even read well. Finally, I have decided to get it done myself.
I didn’t consider it as a failure but as an experience that exposed the weaknesses in the politics of Kwara State. When any good man runs for an office on the platform of the PDP he is doomed to lose. The PDP instinctively settles for the worst of the worst.
It is a nest of dangerous people. While I was in PDP, I tried to be different. I was so different that some of them told me openly that my puritanical politics would not work in the party. Finally I accepted that I was singing the Lord’s song in a strange land.
That is why I opted to move out. I had to listen to the inner voice in me that said come out of them. The voice told me I could beat PDP by creating a different platform where people of quality can emerge. Now, I feel unstoppable.
After I completed managing Obasanjo’s campaign, I worked with him briefly in the presidential villa before Gen. Danjuma invited me to come and be his Special Assistant in the Ministry of Defence. At Abuja, people thought I ran the Ministry of Defence for four years. But that is impolitic to say.
But what put me off was when I was denied the PDP governorship ticket in Kwara State. I then asked Obasanjo “So you mean that under your watch they could steal my mandate?”
I reminded him that I didn’t need money from any of them for my campaign, but yet I beat Saraki fair and square. He replied by saying it was the party caucus that took the decision. I then asked which party caucus?”
I left PDP in December 2009 after another platform that I felt was more credible was created. That is the National Transformation Party (NTP). From 2002 to 2009, I found myself actively agitating for reform and change within the PDP.
I experienced first hand and I saw other people suffer as victims of manipulation by the party leadership, imposition of candidates and lack of internal democracy.
My initial position was to try and promote change from within the party; but it didn’t take long for me to come to the position that PDP is damaged beyond repairs. I came to the conclusion that people who can see beyond the immediate comfort of operating within the so called ruling party should endeavour to build a viable alternative to PDP or else the future of Nigeria will be in jeopardy.
In seeking for like-minded politicians to come together, I found that most of prominent politicians were too far-gone in the way of PDP to embrace radical change.
That is why most politicians who leave the party crawl back to it. They are not committed to any ideal or principle. They are only looking for an opportunity to be in office and perhaps make money at the expense of the people. Those of us whose mission in politics transcends personal consideration will find it inevitable to move out and build a viable alternative.
When you say you tried to effect change within the PDP, what does that mean?
I was constantly in touch with the party Chairmen like Ahmadu Ali, making suggestions and recommendations. In fact it started in the days of Audu Ogbeh..
Ogbeh was more inclined to take instructions from Atiku.. Atiku is not a democrat; I know that from experience. He accepts no dissenting opinion as long as it is not in conformity with his personal vision. Anyway, Ahmadu Ali was more interested in his selfish agenda than doing justice.
All the charade of setting up the Ekwueme Committee and other committees was just to buy time. Most of the aggrieved persons in PDP always ended up being frustrated.
But beyond that, I had access to the President; I made my concerns and views known and I have always been a bold advocate of change. I have found that most of these leaders really do not think that politics and justice go together. They don’t believe that politics and national development go together. It is all about winning elections and making money. This is why I gave up on PDP. And I tell you that PDP is going to be neutralized.
PDP has as members, the most influential and affluent people in Nigeria today, if it cannot be changed from within, how can anyone change their politics from outside the party?
Though we need PDP to change for us to change Nigeria, real power in democracy is with the people. People often say they took our power. No, you can only surrender your power in a democracy.
Nobody can take away the power of the people. It is one man, one vote and everyone has a right to cast his vote in which ever way he deems fit. And if there is a general perception or even a consensus that PDP has been a negative influence on our aspiration to become a great nation, then the people of Nigeria have the power, the right to reject PDP.
The question of people having influence and money is a question of how politically conscious the populace is. Some of us are hoping that we will wake up the people of Nigeria and give them the opportunity to free themselves from the handful of exploiters and oppressors who masquerade as political leaders. So, PDP is the loser, not the people.
The people will teach PDP a lesson in general election.
Coming to the formation of the National Transformation Party, was it just you or was there a group of people that felt they needed to be in a different platform?
Initially, it was a group of intellectuals, professionals and it didn’t take long before I emerged as the arrowhead. Most of these academics and professionals are not prominent politicians but they are more intelligent than many of the politicians.
We were bound together by our common determination to remove corruption from our national life. We were bound by our common determination to promote excellence by recruiting the best of our human resources and motivating them to participate in the political arena.
By encouraging them to bring out their best so that we can achieve the best for Nigeria.
This is the party that will be the surprise in this dispensation. People are in for a shock. This the first time I am beginning to talk to the press. I have spent the last six months building structures around the country.
It is like when you want to demolish a building that has outlived its usefulness; you don’t start making noise about it. What you do is to plant dynamites in strategic locations of the building. When it is time to detonate it you do so and the building would start to come down. PDP is coming down.
This party is based on certain core values. One of it is the issue of integrity. We are not ready to field just any candidate. A candidate who has an inclination or a record of abusing public trust is not welcome no matter the money he is bringing. We are not ready to accept him. We emphasize it to the extent of making it a strict code of conduct for our members that we will turn against you.
The party will work hard to get you out of office once we see that you are compromising on integrity. The second thing is that we are determined to eschew anything that brings division like religion, tribalism and sectionalism. Unless our people are united as a team and motivated to move together, we have lost so much time that we will not be able to catch up with others.
We need that unity, so nationalism is one of the core values. It is not just about being united as a nation, but also being passionate about our nation. The top component of our own value system is compassion for humanity. We call it humanitarianism because for us, politics and governance are all about people.
Anything that is not enhancing the dignity of man, anything that is not enhancing the well being of man is not worthy in politics. The type of politics in which human life has been cheapened and crime rate has risen sharply is because political thugs are the ones who laid the foundation for criminal activities in the society. Such people are unfit to lead Nigeria and we should not allow them back.
Ultimately, those who have reduced our children to almajiris, beggars on the street and drop outs including those sleeping under the bridges in urban centers.
All such persons have no right to ask us to allow them to continue in office. We believe that if you recognize the dignity of man, you will make sure every child is given the right to quality of life and to have a different life.
With recent developments in PDP, will you consider going back to the party?
You must be joking. First of all, those who know my character know that once I set myself in a direction, I pursue it unless there is a superior, better alternative.
But that better alternative can never be PDP. I once said in a public statement that I can never go back to PDP. But the truth of the matter is that there is nothing to attract me back into PDP.
You were witnesses when they started the PDP reform group. Most of the people that started the PDP reform group are my friends. They invited me to come and be part of it.
In fact, I was to play a leading role in the movement and I told them that PDP can never be reformed. PDP will not be reformed. Those who are in control of PDP know that reform is inimical to their interest.
They will stop reform. And you know that the PDP reform group was disbanded. In fact, the initial reaction was to suspend them and then they reinstate them; they disbanded them.
Then Nwodo came in under the delusion that he can promote reform. But he has been called to order. He has been told he can’t register people on line; he can’t do this, he can’t throw open the gates of PDP. It is not a democratic party. PDP is not for the people; PDP is for a cabal. It is for a clique and we know what they are up to. The people of Nigeria should say enough is enough.
You say your party is based on ideology but the average Nigerian voter responds more to popular individuals. Does your party have any popular figure that can sell the party to the Nigerian voter?
Right now, we have branches in every state of the country. Our branches are now getting into every local government area. Party men are now renting offices. At the state and local government levels, they are now putting up flags. So, within the next three weeks, you will see the NTP flags permeating the skyline.
What we did is to build a network through the youth and the young people are the power of any nation. They have had to bear the brunt of neglect of past administrations. Now you are talking about popular people being usually elected, I would say it is charismatic leaders with a message.
When you have a charismatic leader who has a message, if a new prophet starts teaching today and his message is timely and appropriate, the nation will rise and follow that prophet. Nigeria is waiting to hear a voice that will restore hope.
Will the party be presenting a candidate for the presidential election?
We are presenting candidates for every position in every state and certainly we are presenting a candidate for the presidential election. I am one of those aspiring to be president on the platform of the party.
I will definitely run. I will participate in the primary and if I win, Nigeria should prepare for a new charismatic, hardworking and honest president. We need a crop of leaders. We need more than good luck make Nigeria great. We need dedication.
Vaguard Newspaper: By Dayo Benson, Political Editor, Okey Ndiribe & Clifford Ndujihe