Alhaji Sule Lamido, 71, has been a member of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) since its inception in 1998. He served as governor of Jigawa State between 2007 and 2015 and before then, Minister of Foreign Affairs under President Olusegun Obasanjo. Lamido was at the 17th Daily Trust Annual Dialogue. He spoke on the theme of the dialogue, ‘20 years of democracy in Nigeria,’ opposition politics, the leadership style of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC), the rule of law, among other things. Excerpts:
Daily Trust: What is your take on the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities of Nigeria’s democracy from 1999 to 2020?
Sule Lamido: I will start by saying that I am coming from the old school of thought; so politically, I can say I am analogue. There is this kind of value chain delinking. So, when you come to assess any situation being political or whatever, you need to, first, see whether the assessors share some basic things in terms of standards or ethics. If, for instance, we have what I may call defined national moral benchmark which we subscribe to, then we can talk. But then we are at different levels, we have no moral benchmark. There are some things we should say or we shouldn’t say; there are some things we do that we shouldn’t do. And so, today in Nigeria, the pursuit of individual interest is ephemeral. We can say anything and do anything, and by the time you attain what you want to attain, it will be difficult to speak because these things would come and hunt you. But then, if we subscribe to the minimum standard, our own minimum benchmark, then we will begin to see how we can assess ourselves in a more rational way, in a more sincere way, but then the assessment is done by interest. If I say something, they will say don’t mind him, he is PDP, or don’t mind him, he is APC. So, if you want to look at the journey so far from 1998 to date as a government under democracy, you should look at the key players. Have they been constant on principles? Are they being very firm about issues in the country? Are they pursuing the interest of the country instead of their own interest? If they are angry, do they contain their anger and think dispassionately so that they don’t harm the bigger picture? So, when you are making assessment, it all depends on who is doing it.
To me, I know what Nigeria was before 1999; the political division in the country, the political tension, and the lack of trust arising from June 12. After the annulment, when Chief Ernest Shonekan left, and General Sani Abacha took over, there was a kind of direction. But after he died, and because he tightly controlled Nigeria, it was his persona that was keeping the country united by the capacity of power he had of whatever it is, either to control or to unleash or whatever. There was peace. After he left, where was Nigeria then? What were the agitations? What was the feeling in Nigeria after the June 12 consequences? So, the formation of the political parties was more of what would the parties do to restore trust in Nigeria so that people would believe in each other as Nigerians and as brothers and sisters, and then forge ahead to build the strong leader of the black race. Therefore, the issue of our democracy and its formation in 1999 is not about power, or infrastructure, or even the economy. It was about how we will restore Nigeria. How do we bring back Nigerians to believe in the country because if you know what NADECO was doing at that time…If you know what happened when Shonekan took over when a governor of a state tore the speech of a head of state during the NYSC graduation ceremony; do you remember a former SDP governor in the South West? Normally during the passing out of NYSC members, the governor of a state will read the speech of the head of state or president, but that governor publicly tore the speech of Shonekan and said ‘this speech from your interim nonsense, a president who was not elected, I don’t believe in him because I was elected.’ By the time the symbol of authority in your country is lost, it then means there is no country call Nigeria. If a component says it doesn’t believe in the leadership, then it means that component is simply defecting. We were on the verge of total collapse when Abacha came in and then after he died, what do we do to restore hope in Nigeria? That was the philosophy behind the formation of the PDP.
The PDP assembled people who knew Nigeria very well and also served Nigeria, in the persons of Alex Ekwueme, Adamu Ciroma, Bola Ige, Abubakar Rimi and many others. We sat down and thought of how we would restore hope in Nigeria. And when the party was formed, the focus was on what we should put in place to restore and stabilise Nigeria. And that was why we brought out Obasanjo from prison and made him the candidate, with a feeling that he was best suited for Nigeria. He was a former head of state, a general and whose philosophy was pan-Nigerian; a patriotic Nigerian who refused to be sacked into tribal cleavages. Therefore, Obasanjo was used in 1999 to keep Nigeria together using his profile, his military background, his national network, his standing in the society, and of course, being someone from the west to appease the Yorubas using their own brother. This informed the formation of the PDP. And in other political parties, even in AD and the APP then, they saw the wisdom in the PDP. After they had their convention, and having put Ogbonnaya Onu as the candidate for the APP, AD also had their convention and had Olu Falae as their flag bearer, but the two conventions were collapsed. Olu Falae from the AD ran on APP platform. Ogbonnaya Onu was pulled out and sacrificed for national security, stability and reconciliation. So you could see, Falae who did not participate in the APP primaries became the flag bearer, and the one in APP was pulled out so as to have people from the Yoruba area as candidates. Whoever wins will be able to pacify the Yorubas; that was the wisdom. Three years into the new democracy, Nigeria was stabilised and fully reconciled to be able to meet the problem of human development in terms of infrastructure, power and employment. This is because the government is about human development after stability. And so, what you are saying about the gains and challenges of democracy should be seen from this background because there was a commitment to the country and there was sincerity to the country and its people.
DT: As an opposition leader, what difference did you see from how you in the PDP ran the government for 16 years and what is happening now?
Lamido: Again, I am old fashioned, to be honest. Opposition means parties that are very distinct in their formation, with very clear programmes on what they stand for, and how to run a government, and then giving Nigerians choices. When you say an opposition, opposing who? APC government is the creation of PDP because minus PDP members, there is no way APC could form a government. I have been saying it that during the 1999 elections, if you put all the votes of the opposition parties, they can’t beat PDP. In 2003 elections, the number of votes PDP received, no matter what you do, there was no way the other parties could beat PDP. The same thing happened in 2007 and in 2011 because PDP was one family. By 2013, 2014, and 15, something happened, and there was this mass movement of the leadership of PDP to APC – governors and what have you all moved to APC. So, the government formed is also half mine and when you say an opposition in the normal definition, what do I oppose? I should be an opposition to my own party men?
DT: What stopped you from following your party men to APC?
Lamido: Thank you very much for offering that invite belatedly. Opposition means a party with a very clear background, with identified philosophy, ideals and programmes. All the key players of the government in power, the APC, were members of the PDP. Most of their ministers were from the PDP, and in the entire APC family, minus Tinubu, every other person is from the PDP and you want me to oppose my paralysed half? They are my other half and you want me to oppose them?
DT: Is it because most of the people in APC were from PDP that things are not moving the way they should in the system?
Lamido: I don’t know.
DT: From what you are saying, your party, the PDP, should be held responsible for the problems facing the country.
Lamido: No, some of our people that left felt the PDP as a party was not doing well, but I remain in our house and we were flushed out from power by my own people. And because they are my own people, I think they should do better owing to the fact that they were part of what we did in the past. I am not trying to dance around; I am trying to be deep; it is very difficult today to talk of something called opposition because the key players in the APC are PDP.
DT: But President Buhari has never been in the PDP, why are you saying everyone in APC is PDP?
Lamido: Buhari was as nomadic and itinerant as any other PDP member who left. He went to APP and hijacked their ticket after displacing Rochas (Okorocha), Lema Jibrilu and others who were the founding members of the party. He only went to the APP to get their presidential ticket. And then from there he went to ANPP and then moved on to form his own party, the CPC, but couldn’t make it. He came back together with other political parties including some people from the PDP and formed APC.
DT: Are you comfortable with his leadership style?
Lamido: Don’t ask me, ask Nigerians. We were there and were removed. We were called inept, we were called corrupt, we were called evil, and we were called people supporting Boko Haram. Everything evil was PDP; so what will I say? Don’t ask me now because I was seen as evil. Ask Nigerians about what they feel about the APC government and the PDP government. It is not about me.
DT: The PDP government is being blamed for the woes of Nigeria. Do you think PDP has failed?
Lamido: If you were very young during the PDP days, and could be swayed because of your innocence, and therefore, manipulated by lies and propaganda, those who were old enough at the time would not be deceived because they know we built the railway, we built the roads, and we built the economy. It is not possible to say the PDP was a failure. I have not seen anything new from the APC government beyond poverty. They confounded poverty among the people. We now have cattle rustlers, kidnappers and what have you. Before the APC came, they didn’t have any real programme for Nigeria; there was nothing on the rail, there wasn’t anything on power, nothing on roads.
DT: Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, a former national chairman of the APC and former governor of Edo State said Nigerians are angry, not necessarily with the APC, but with all subsequent governments. What is your take on this?
Lamido: Fine, Nigerians should keep on changing the governments.
DT: What do you think is responsible for the dissatisfaction of Nigerians about their governments?
Lamido: As a political party, we formed a government and we did our best. And people said we did not do anything; the people were aggrieved and they changed us. Now, why are you telling me that Nigerians are aggrieved? They should feel happy by replacing me. To me, Nigerians are very happy and I am not being sarcastic. They should be happy because they got the government of their choice.
DT: Sir, was it that you were misquoted after the 2019 general elections when you reportedly told PDP members in Jigawa State who were aggrieved by the defeat they suffered to leave the party?
Lamido: You see, in Nigeria, somehow, politics is now a profession or means of livelihood where people work to form a government and then make a living out of it. And when they fail to form a government, it becomes difficult to adjust to their new-found status. And if in their own wisdom, it is more of their own survival first, and then they could be right because when we formed the government they never left. What I am trying to say is that if you think because we have no power now you cannot remain in PDP, you want to go to the political party of our opponent; you are free to go to him. If you don’t feel ashamed of renouncing yourself, if you don’t feel ashamed of crawling out of your own skin, you prefer to go to your opponent who will confer his skin on you, feel free.
DT: What is your take on the issue of insecurity in the country?
Lamido: Again, the government came with a very big and clear position on security and a number of things. I assume that there was no security during the PDP because that was what they said. They said they would secure the country and improve the economy, but if you are still saying that these things are still a problem, then it means there is a problem.
DT: But as the opposition, you have the responsibility to put the ruling party on their toes
Lamido: PDP is APC. It is about people for God’s sake. When you say PDP, who is PDP? After voting me out, pointing out all my failures and calling me names, you are telling me to go and help you? How?
DT: It seems you are still very angry for leaving power…
Lamido: No! Power is transient, power is ephemeral. I told my friends in APC that even if I want to follow you, my soul will not join me because of my political background, my days in PRP. I know something called honour. There are certain things that I cannot do even if I want to because I don’t want to put my background to shame. I can’t shame my political history. So even if the vagary of life in terms of poverty will make me dizzy and drowsy, by the time I want to move I will wake up, my soul will tell me that you can’t go.
DT: Your posters on Facebook indicate that you are interested in vying for the presidency in 2023, is it true?
Lamido: You see, if someone says he will make you a governor, would you not like it? Let us be honest. Do you know what they call power? I feel careerist. I feel flattered that despite all the things done to diminish me, some people still see hope in me. I am happy. I mean if that is their desire, so be it.
DT: But there are agitations within the PDP as to which zone should produce the presidential candidate in 2023. Don’t you think this will be an impediment to your aspiration?
Lamido: Again, let me give you the background. The zoning mechanism came on board because Nigeria was going through a very difficult political process, and we had to resolve it first. So, we were looking for a way to get out of trouble by pacifying a group, and that was why we said zone a, b, c, d. We will deny you your right despite the fact that you have the right to aspire; we will not give you in the interest of peace and reconciliation. Therefore, the zoning mechanism was put in place to rescue Nigeria, and if we feel we are now safe enough, people should begin to look for the best material as Nigerian President.
DT: Are you also for the clamour to jettison zoning?
Lamido: I am for the best material as Nigerian President. It is all about human dignity, human decency, human honour, human security and whoever will secure you, you should go for him. Democracy should not imprison us; it should be used as a means of solving our problems. Democracy should be able to address your peculiar problems. In Nigeria too, while we have issues in north and south, Muslims and Christians should be able to say we can get someone who should be able to give us a feeling of oneness. But if we feel we are still not ripe, that we have to keep on pacifying emotions, people saying my own man is there and I don’t mind dying, I don’t mind suffering, fine. It is your choice because in Nigeria today, we are not after personal wellbeing of the people; we only talk of ‘my own is there now’ and because he is there, to me that is okay, let me go to hell, let me go to bed on empty stomach, I feel consoled, I feel comfortable psychologically even though I am in deep pain and agony.
DT: In 2015, there was this insinuation that the PDP failed because its leaders jettisoned zoning. Don’t you think there will be a repeat of that failure in 2023 if you jettison the arrangement again?
Lamido: You see, zoning was a carryover of a programme. Look at the sequence, look at the history first. Yar’adua was there for two years only after the south benefitted from the zoning arrangement for eight years. When it came to the north, they were only there for two years. So as a carryover programme, we felt that the north should continue in the presidency. But then, zoning is a local political party arrangement and by the time you elect a president, he becomes a Nigerian president, he is no longer for the party, he is for all parties. Therefore, you don’t pull him out to fulfil a local political party arrangement and replace him with somebody because there would be some problems either way. The north felt somehow after it was pulled out after just two years while in the constitution, you have the right for a second term. So, it was about using some skills to manage a crisis which was very complex and delicate. It was a carryover programme and so, by the time Jonathan finished the remaining two years (in 2011), some people felt it was time for him to give way for the north to continue. So, you are right, maybe the breach of zoning might have caused some of our losses. But then for me, I am more for the Nigerian nation than anything.
DT: Do you see the possibility of PDP coming back to power?
Lamido: You get to power by wish and desire of the Nigerian people. We were out of power by the same desire and wish. We now have a very clear two-page history. Page one is PDP and the second page is a cocktail of political actors named APC. They have no origin, they have no chemistry and they are not organic. They are an assembly of people who are very itinerant and nomadic who assembled in one ruga called APC. There is nothing original about APC, they all came from somewhere. Now, it for you the Nigerian people want to read the history, page one is PDP, a party founded by elders who believe in Nigeria and who are working hard to restore Nigeria and get Nigeria stabilized. The second is a post-stabilization APC who found a very stable and united Nigeria.
DT: From what you said, what do you expect to see in 2023?
Lamido: I want to see if Nigerians have leant any lesson. That is all.
DT: Can you briefly comment on the rule of law by the President Buhari-led government?
Lamido: You see, the judiciary has been thoroughly intimidated and blackmailed. First, by breaking into the houses of judges in the night, they arraigned them in court and then trailed their bank accounts. If on account of one person or political power we trample on the laws, it will come to hunt us tomorrow.
DT: The president has made some promises, including ending the Boko Haram, securing the country and revitalizing the economy. How will you rate his performance so far?
Lamido: Did he?
DT: The government had tamed recession.
Lamido: Fine. Look, they said we in the PDP have made some mistakes but is it right for him to keep on making the same mistakes? Can’t he change the direction of things? If you are saying he made promises, did he succeed in fulfilling them? I was in power, my party in government and we were flushed out for the reasons you mentioned but the problems are still there. This is a reference point. First is your pocket, and second is the issue of your own personal security. You know what you are going through. These are things for people to judge whether they are better off today than they were under the PDP. If they feel they are more secure now and more prosperous and more united, fair enough, don’t vote for PDP; continue to vote for APC forever. And if you feel you are insecure, you are hungry, you are divided, you have no hope, and then the PDP is there for you, simple.