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‘Why I dumped my presidential ambition’

Why did you set aside your presidential ambition?It was not an easy decision. I had to weigh a lot of issues. First of all, I…

Why did you set aside your presidential ambition?
It was not an easy decision. I had to weigh a lot of issues. First of all, I have said from Day One that it is not about naked ambition. The journey from 2010/2011, when I indicated my interest for the presidential position in 2011, is based on the fact that I believe we could move Nigeria in a new direction; we could provide the necessary reforms that is required, as well as a commitment to governance, and a commitment to ensuring that people get the dividends of democracy through good governance. Going by the experience and the achievements while I was governor, I feel there is need to translate these things at the national level. In 2011, in the consensus agreement, I was not successful.
In 2015, some of us, as you know, were in the PDP and based on a number of issues with great concerns – issues regarding the party, government, some of the ways we thought government was doing things that were not in line with what the aspiration of Nigeria should be. In 2011, when we were raising some of these issues, many people thought it was because I wanted to contest election in 2015. I got a lot of blackmail, intimidation. They are about national issues for a better Nigeria. It has to all be about a better Nigeria; a better future, not necessarily a Saraki Presidency. If it meant that I had to contest, yes, I will; if it meant that there was a platform on which others can meet those aspirations, I will support that.
Coming to 2015, if it comes to the election programmes, which is some of the things we need to review later, it really doesn’t give room for people to sell their programmes and agenda to the public. In other countries, at least, one year before election, candidates, particularly opposition candidates, who have rarely been known, would be going round the country.
 A scenario where a candidate, from when he starts campaign and when he is voted for is not more than three or four months will not enable him to explain his plans in tackling the issues that are key. For instance, what is your plan for job creation, security, education, etc? If there is enough time, you can actually challenge and know the capacity of the presidential candidate.
For those of us in the All Progressives Congress (APC), we truly believe that we need to save this country; there is need for change in the way we run government. If I believe in that, then I must be part of the solution, rather than the problem. Experiences of presidential primaries this late, at times, makes or breaks political parties. In APC, we need to have people who can deal with these issues, not necessarily with personal agenda.
I looked at the terrain, I said, by the time you have General Buhari, Atiku, Kwankwaso, Sam contesting, and people like me left to provide the necessary support, like a facilitator. I think it’s better. Is it important for Saraki to emerge as a candidate or for APC to win the election? At the end of the day, I took a decision that, I’m a young man, I have to choose between an APC government that would change the country or choose a Saraki presidency which may not bring about unity in the party because of the fallout of the primary.

What was the process of taking this decision?
I consulted family members, friends, followers, party leaders. I took my time to really do the consultations in reaching this decisions. It will help the party if there are others, too, that would do the same thing. We should all stay focused on the big picture. We all know that things are going bad in this country. We have to come out boldly and take a position.

There is the thinking that new faces should come up for presidency – like Senator Saraki, el-Rufai, etc. It would have been better than the old faces?
Many have asked that same question. I have said that the Governor of Kano is a new face; Sam Nda-Isaiah is a new face. But where we are today, as a country, at this point that we need to rescue this country, in order to simplify it and say it is just a new face that  can solve that problem, it is wrong.
What we need the most is a bit of both. The wish is that we need a much younger person, but my own view is that any of  Buhari, Atiku, Kwankwaso will be okay. It is better for us to unite the party and move ahead, focused on addressing the key issues in the country. The key issues are insecurity; unemployment, and corruption.
Any of these three can unite the country. For the first time in this country, we’ve allowed religion and ethnicity to go deep into our politics. I grew up not beginning to believe that religion or ethnicity determines how things should be done. Unfortunately, in the last few years that is where we have found ourselves. We’ve allowed it for small gain, and we pray that it does not continue.

What do you mean small gains?
Small gains, where it is being promoted for selfish reasons, like saying APC is Boko Haram, the North does not like me, this is our son, things like these can’t help unite the country.

Are you worried the campaign now is about Christians (represented by Jonathan) and Muslims (represented by APC)?
That is exactly the issue right now; it’s the kind of propaganda being put out for the purpose of winning election. When you get to a certain level, there are some lines you don’t cross because you want to win one election. We should not divide this country for that purpose. That is a selfish, short-term politics which can’t help anybody. I was governor of a state that has many Muslims and Christians.
Decisions were not taken on the basis of religion; we didn’t see religion when I was governor. It is very dangerous to do so, and unfortunately that’s the kind of things we’ve seen in the last few years. There is a need to bring everybody back on the same level. If somebody has not done well, whatever part of the country he comes from, we must be able to stand up and say ‘You have not done well’. Not because you’re a Christian or Muslim; Northerner or Southerner, it’s that you’ve not done well.
Secondly, I think our democray should reach a level of maturity in which we should be able to have a process where Nigerians should decide whether somebody has earned the right to continue to serve them. Years ago, in our democracy all sitting governors won elections. There was a time it was unheard of that you could defeat an incumbent governor. When I came in in 2003 I defeated Governor Lawal, who was an incumbent. But today, whatever you say at the state or subnational level, governors know that they can lose election, despite all the paraphernalia. The level of accountability that engenders is enormous.
But for our own democracy, at the national level, is disturbing. If you go round, a lot of people tell you that they are not satisfied with the performance of government, but they believe the power of incumbency will ultimately be used to win elections. They talk about the fact that government has police, army, to muscles their way back to power. It means the general position of the country is that government has not performed, and I think it will strengthen our democracy, if a PDP government has not performed (like we’ve seen in other countries),we shouldn’t let the fear of whether we can do it or  not deter us from doing what is right. Some would say, ‘I don’t know who APC is coming out with.’  If you vote out a government that has not performed in 2015, if a government of APC comes in 2015 and does not perform, then you vote it out in 2019. Then our democracy has now come to maturity. Then, the people are truly in charge of Nigeria.

What will APC do to tackle the religious propaganda going on in the country?
It’s a propaganda, which is being repeated so that it sticks. No doubt government has the resources to execute such propaganda. That’s what we’ve seen. In the last four months, if you count the number of adverts that we see on television, they cannot be spending less than N20 million to N30 million daily. Ask yourself, how is this possible? Government has the machinery to spend that money, if not, who are these lovers of government that are spending so much money? But has this propaganda improved the popularity of government? No, because people are seeing through it.
But by the time we start our campaign, you will see that the presidential candidate of APC will be driven by the agenda of the party. You must provide security, address the issue of corruption, address the issue of job creation, and you must provide a united Nigeria, and be seen as somebody who can do that. For one, when we were choosing the national leaders of the party, we could have voted for Chief Bisi Akande to continue as Chairman, because he had performed creditably.  But we had to zone the party’s chairman to the South-South and ensure the emergence of a chairman who is a Christian.

With the exit of Chief Tom Ikimi, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, and Nuhu Ribadu, the message sent out is that the party is not yet in good form. It is still feared that the presidential ticket could further divide the APC. How would you comment on this?
The three examples you gave left for personal reasons. Nuhu Ribadu left because he wanted to run for governor in Adamawa under PDP. He didn’t leave because of any disagreement with APC as a party. Tom Ikimi left because he wanted to be chairman of the party. If he had been made chairman of the party, he would be in APC today.
All that came after is medicine after death. Senator Sheriff left because he felt the candidature for Secretary of the party before now was from his camp and the candidate he was supporting didn’t get it this time around. Secondly, he was beginning to have problems with his governor. It was more of the local politics than national politics. They have parted ways, and it is clear the governor would have the structure of the party at the state level, so he had to move to another party to fight his governor.
The decisions taken by them were not based on issues with the party. And this is not uncommon in party politics. By the time PDP begins its primaries you will see these issues in the states. And it has begun to show, where at the national level, they have endorsed the president. The state governors have begun to endorse, and the party is opposing them. You can see governors are endorsing their successors. In APC I’m confident the presidential primaries will not dismember the party.

Have you crossed the level in which Tinubu or Buhari could impose their candidates on the party at the various levels in 2015 election?
Apparently, we’ve passed that stage in APC. If not, you wouldn’t see a vibrant primary that is leading to Atiku, Buhari, Kwankwaso, Sam Nda-Isaiah coming out. If they felt it was concluded, these persons would not come out to seek the presidential ticket. Nigerians should be patient with APC.  
There have been predictions of the collapse of the party, but it has not happened. We know some people will be disappointed after the exercise, but we have to see the big picture – to ensure a change in the country.

How can APC defeat Jonathan in 2015 presidential election?
Already, based on the activities of government and the opposition party, they have won the election for us. Ask a fundamental question: am I more secured than I was in the last four years? The APC and its candidate will show what we’ll do in tackling insecurity. Tackling insecurity takes political will, and I’m not convinced that government has demonstrated a strong political will to deal with the situation.
We’ve allowed politics and short-term benefits to take a frontal position. The level of corruption in the country is enormous. In the country today, it is difficult to comprehend that, when the oil is selling for $100 per barrel, we’re struggling on the issue of our saving capacity. We’re beginning to see now, with the dip in oil prices, that there’s something wrong with the management of the oil money.
The level of leakages is too severe, and this needs to stop. It’s inexcusable that our level of production is still at about 300,000 barrel per day. We’re talking about oil theft, and we don’t think that something urgently should be done? This is a challenge to government. Government talks about budget benchmark to be $77 dollars per barrel. That’s meant to deceive Nigerians and the international community.
In reality the benchmark is not $77 dollars per barrel. It’s close to $100/barrel. We’ll have contract with the Nigerian people on what we consider to be our deliverables. We must give deadlines to how we’ll stop these leakages. A serious APC government will bring back into the revenue coffers of government between $4 billion to $8 billion in a year. If you look at oil theft, importation of petroleum products, subsidies (like kerosene that nobody is getting). The loses from these will be between $5 billion to $8 billion.
This money should go to states and local governments. Even if that is what APC government achieves in the first one year, a typical Nigerian would benefit from this clearly. You can build schools, hospitals, etc. These are facts, things that can immediately be done. APC government will be more accountable. We can’t do things that we’ve criticised. These are the things we’ll sell to Nigerians. Don’t vote for me because I’m from the North or South, a Christian or Muslim. Vote for me if you believe that the country you have today is not good, and there’s need for us to have something different.
Let me tell you, the capital votes for this year are not being released. As at now, in October, some states are just awarding contracts. Many local governments are not paying salaries. States are just managing to do so. Instead of allowing states to raise money from bond, it becomes politics, especially if you’re in the opposition.

But the Senate, where you belong now, is not doing enough to put government on its toes?
If I’m going to be honest with you, I think I have to agree with you. We have not and some of us have tried out best to do as much for us to realise that we’re the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But people see it more as a party thing. We could have helped the president more if we had played a bigger role by being firm on issues.
There’s no point mumbling that something is wrong, but we go out to give lip service. The president would have appreciated it. We would commend him for those things that are good, and raise issues on what is not good. But now, if you speak out on things that are wrong, you’re labelled as anti-Jonathan. The system allows that to strive. The senate has not helped Nigeria and government in the last few years. Being a collective body, one must take responsibility. I accept that we could have done better.

When you moved out of PDP to form the New PDP, one of the issues was that Alhaji Bamanga Tukur should be removed as Chairman. He’s been removed and your friend, Alhaji Adamu Muazu is the new Chairman. What are the other big issues that you can raise with Mu’azu to say ‘this is why I can’t return to PDP’?
It is clear that some of the issues we talked about have to do with the performance of government. Look at what is happening in NNPC! In 2011, I moved a motion on the issue of oil subsidy, and I said we were losing N1 trillion on it.
They raised an alarm, saying Saraki did not like Jonathan; Saraki wants to be president. Later on, when Finance Minister Okonjo-Iweala provided the Aig-Imoukhede report that confirmed the losses, everybody forgot. That is the truth. Today, we hear the Minister of Finance saying, due to the reform in the industry we’ve not saved N500 billion. But they forget the man that took the risk to raise the alarm!
I was being chased about by all agencies of government. There are examples of corruption everywhere. People say I have the opportunity to talk to Jonathan. But government is not about being a nice person, but about delivering results. It’s not about your person. You might be nice, but if your government is not delivering, you have not done well.

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