A former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Umar Na’Abba, who is currently the co-chairman of the National Consultative Front, in this interview speaks on the role of internal democracy in political parties in Nigeria’s democratic journey and development status, among other things. Excerpts:
Nigeria just clocked 60 years as an independent nation; what is your general overview of the development and democratic status of the country?
It’s a sad commentary on the country that we are still grappling with issues on how we can provide, for instance, power for our country. Economically, this is the 20th year we have been running an uninterrupted democracy and you will agree with me that the promise of democracy has not been realised.
Democracy is supposed to, amongst other things, confer on us safety and prosperity. None of these is available today.
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Whenever we want to travel, we have to be thinking of safety and even in our homes, we are not secure and then we are experiencing a situation where massive poverty has been staring at us and democracy is supposed to bring prosperity, which simply means that people must be economically well off.
Today, many people who come to me will be contented with asking me for something just to buy food. This is very alarming.
The combination of poverty and lack of democratic mobility have convoluted to stultify our growth.
We have refused to allow democracy to grow and this is due to the obliteration of internal democracy in our political parties.
That is the singular reason we are not seeing growth in our democracy; politically, economically and socially.
The National Consultative Front co-chaired by you and Prof. Pat Utomi has brought you back to the limelight in recent times. What do you intend to achieve with this front?
The National Consultative Front has been in existent since before the 2019 elections.
It was only being operated on a low key.
When we came out and held a press conference to expose our plans, we just decided that the time had come for the Front to be active and it was not just me and Pat Utomi in the Front; there are lots of people, old and young.
The objective of the front is to, from time to time, come out and discuss policy issues and wherever we feel the government has erred or there is a need to draw the attention of the government on issues bedevilling the country, we will come out and voice out our opinions.
The intention ultimately is for us to maybe transform into a political party or join other groups we feel have the same mind-sets in order for us to be able to contest for elections because there are many people interested in contesting for elections within the organisation and we must provide them with a platform.
So, that is our ultimate objectives.
Where does the Front stand in the call for regional restructuring?
We have been discussing on how best the country is going to look.
There are people who are championing regionalism and there are those against it.
There are also various ideas being put out by members of the group and eventually, the group is going to come up with a position that is acceptable to the majority of its members.
However, what is incontrovertible, according to what I observe, is that there must be some devolution of power in this country.
The federal government is too powerful and the presidency has become a polarising institution.
Every part of the country wants to have a taste of the presidency and the debate and infighting over the presidency is sharpening considerably and I don’t believe that Nigerians must fight themselves in order to have a shot at the presidency.
I believe what is contributing to this tendency is that so much power is concentrated in the centre.
The federal government had acquired some of these powers over time because there was a time when the federal government didn’t have most of these powers as they were at that time residing with the regions.
So, these powers should go back to the states since we have states today as against regions.
That way, I believe we can live in peace and harmony.
You were invited by the DSS following your press conference…
I honoured the invitation and we discussed the problems bedevilling the country and also discussed the issue of lack of internal democracy in the political parties because these things eventually end up as a security problem.
Since your invitation, not much has been heard from you, with many thinking you have been cowed into silence…
Well, I have not been cowed into silence. If you look at my history, you find out that I only talk when I should talk.
After that press conference, what more will I say?
There is almost nothing I did not say then. I cannot be a parrot. It is not in my nature.
What is your assessment of freedom of speech and association under this administration?
Freedom of speech is guaranteed in our constitution but anyone speaking should speak responsibly.
To a large extent, this administration has not stifled this freedom.
Where that is concerned, the previous government was more tolerant but even under this administration, I have not seen any extreme situation of gagging. Freedom of association is relative.
Some protests have the potential of escalating and becoming violent.
I have not seen any violent protest that led to anything positive.
As the 2023 presidential election approaches, the calls for the zoning of the presidency has gathered more momentum. Are you for zoning or competency regardless of the zone?
I have been asked this question severally and my appropriate response should be that the decision as to what zone should produce the next president should be left to the respective political parties.
My view may not be important in view of the fact that I am not a member of any political party now.
From 1999 when the country returned to democracy, you have moved from one party to the other several times. Why these movements and what do you think this says of your integrity?
When I first left PDP, I left with some prominent politicians from Kano State like the late Alhaji Abubakar Rimi and Musa Gwadabe and we left because of the great injustice done to us.
We left and established what we called Peoples’ PDP with two main objectives; first is to scuttle the third term agenda of then-President Olusegun Obasanjo and secondly to ensure the actualisation of the agreement that the presidency should be zoned to the North in 2007.
When we came to Abuja and met with other politicians across the country with like minds, we established the Movement for the Restoration and Defence of Democracy (MRDD) chaired by Alhaji Gambo Jimeta.
This metamorphosed to ACD first and later to AC when members of AD from the southwest joined us.
Then-Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar contested for the presidency under the AC.
We did not just wake up one day and decided to leave PDP.
We believe it was because of what we did that Obasanjo saw the necessity of allowing a Northerner to run as the presidential candidate of the PDP.
After Yaradua won the election, he formed a reconciliatory committee chaired by late Alex Ekwueme and they invited us back to the PDP.
Then in 2014, I left the PDP again because there was no internal democracy in the party and there was what we called political exclusion at that time and I joined the APC.
I campaigned vigorously in bringing the current government to power. After the election, the APC became worse than PDP and just before the 2019 elections, I left.
Now, I am partyless.
There are arguments that Nigerian politicians cross carpet with ease to remain relevant or be on the winning side, and because of that the political ideology they supposedly stand for cannot be identified…
When I left PDP, the party was in power.
When I joined APC, the party was not yet in power. It was with my efforts that the APC came into power.
So, that question of joining a winning party and wanting to be relevant does not refer to me.
I am not one to leave a party because my personal preferences have not been realised.
My motivation is that democracy must be allowed to develop and where that is not allowed, I leave and that is why today I am not a party member.
Do you see yourself as a natural opposition member?
I always oppose what is wrong.
Whether I belong to that organisation or not, if something is wrong, I oppose it.
The House of Representatives you led from 1999-2003 was almost at all times at loggerheads with the executives while the current legislature has been described as a rubber-stamp for the executive. What is your assessment of them?
In 1999, many members came in with their own independent mind and they were allowed substantially.
I was lucky that membership in the House that time was sufficiently independent and that was why the House was very vibrant.
But from 2003, because of the obliteration of internal democracy within the political parties, things changed.
Many members of the legislature are there by the grace of their governor and they will not dare do what the governor does not want them to do unlike in 1999 when the governors could not tell us anything because we weren’t at the legislature by their grace.