Saturday, 23 May 2015

Lai Mohammed is a poor student of history –Prof Alkali

In this interview with OLALEKAN ADETAYO, the Special Adviser to President Goodluck Jonathan on Political Affairs, Prof. Rufai Alkali, speaks on the fate of the PDP after its electoral loss at the centre among other issues. Excerpts

Many people are of the opinion that the slogan of “change” of the All Progresives Congress worked for the party in the last election because of the poor performance of the Peoples Democratic Party in the last 16 years. What is your take on this?
The PDP has a long and rich history. It was formed sometimes in 1998, at a time when the country was in a difficult situation. Our elders in this country came together and felt something should be done quickly to stop the drift. From the beginning, PDP was formed as a party with roots nationwide. The people who formed the backbones for the party that time still remain highly respected in this country. Some of them have died but a number of them are still alive. Most of them, if not all of them, held senior positions in government, politics and even business. The primary concern then was to create a national party that would move the country away from where we were. As God would have it, we were able to form government in 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011.
At least, PDP has achieved many milestones. One, that we were able to create a party that is truly national and is not owned by any person or group of persons or based on any cultural sentiment. Two, we were also able to have a party that was able to reunite the country and then set the pace for democratic development of the country. For the first time, you had a party that was able to run a transition from military to civilian rule first and then subsequent transitions. You know that transitions in this country are always very difficult. All the time there is a transition from one government to another, there are always difficulties because of obvious reasons. Changing government is not an easy thing, but everything went on smoothly.
I do not see any government that can solve all the problems of any country at a given time. Another major achievement is the institutional change. For instance, if we are talking about events that took place in the past five years, you will find that it is the PDP government after the elections of 2007 that sanitised the electoral system. People are unhappy that we always have problems anytime there is election. There is this perception that our elections are never free or fair and are never credible. President Jonathan said it many times that he was always embarrassed that he was always being confronted with this whenever he travelled out of the country. He initiated the process of electoral reform and you are a living witness today, we have an electoral system that is unparalleled in any African country.
One, because we have an electoral machinery that is completely independent of government. I mean that it receives its own resources or funding from first line charge. That is, they do not have to wait for anybody to sign cheques for them. They take it directly from source. You also find that the umpires, both the chairman and other officers, are not PDP card-carrying members or those of other political parties. In fact, PDP virtually removed its hand completely from activities of INEC. They are just like any other political party outside the government. The usual complaint of influence by either inviting officials of INEC was not there. They do everything independently. I think that is one of the prices this government paid for. I believe even at the level of registration of political parties, ruling parties in Africa and in the world, they don’t yield space to the extent that they completely become irrelevant.
What we are saying in this case is that PDP has set the pace and we have today reached the point where our President accepted the verdict of the election before the results were announced. Now, people are hailing this country. This is a time for us to also appreciate what the President has done, appreciate all our leaders in government and party for supporting him to take this position. Today, the country is calm except of course that the incoming political party is still making more noise than is expected of a party preparing to take over authority.
How will you react to the calls on the National Chairman of the PDP, Alhaji Adamu Muazu, to resign or be sacked because of the party’s poor performance in the elections?
Failure, they say, has no mother or father. Nobody wants to be associated with failure. Whenever you go on a campaign and you lose out in the election, there is bound to be a lot of anger and frustration from everybody. Instead of people looking inwardly and asking themselves whether there is something they themselves could have done or should not have done that might have led to this situation, it is easy for people to shift blame. It is very common and easy to shift blame.
I think if we are to follow the mood of our leader, the President, by accepting to concede to the incoming President, then it means we too should have to look at ourselves, examine ourselves and assess what we have done and what we have failed to do collectively. This is because when you go into the market and begin to throw stones at one another, people who are not supposed to be hurt will be hurt in the process. That should not be the culture of our party. No matter how painful, difficult or uncomfortable it is to us or to our party, we have to accept that it has happened and that it is up to us now to put our acts together.
So you do not share the belief that Muazu should go?
I don’t want you to drag me into that controversy because I don’t know who said what. I don’t know when they said it. What I can only say is that no matter what happened, when you have an election like this, there is bound to be some bickering. In my thinking, not only as a political adviser to the President but also as a political scientist and a teacher in the university for many years, there is no way you will have a situation like this that there will be no backlash. But the issue is that we must put our acts together so that we do not lose sight of the bigger picture, that is to bring back the glory, respect and dignity of the party in the eyes of Nigerians. I think the best way is for all of us to remain focused.
As the President’s political adviser, how will you react to the belief of many people that President Jonathan frittered away his goodwill?
I don’t know who are saying this. If it is the popular criticism from the opposition political party, you will never expect them to say anything good about the President or our party or our government. In fact, to do that will be counterproductive for their overall objective to defeat government in elections.
I know that the President has done his best for this country. There are so many milestones that he has achieved, it is only posterity that will judge him. In the moment of this passion, we tend to forget where we are coming from. I have always been saying that Nigerians must remember where we came from; we must also note where we are and focus attention on where we are heading to. Unless you know where you are coming from, you will never appreciate the journey. If you begin to forget every step you have taken yesterday or the day before, you are only looking at what is happening today, then you will never assess what you have achieved and what you could have achieved and assess the obstacles in a very rational and scientific manner.
The President has done his best in various sectors of the economy over the period and you also know that this country faced various huge challenges at so many levels. Some of them were unexpected. The security situation is a very big problem for this country. Virtually all countries have their own share in terms of security management and we had our own. Whenever you have security challenge in a country, it also has a way of undermining the fundamental objectives of a country because a lot of energy will be spent on addressing the issue.
We also have the issue of bickering from the opposition. Instead of them cooperating with the government in certain critical areas, they kept criticising. If you look at the culture of opposition in history, there is time for collaboration, there is time for bipartisanship. There are issues which should not be politicised at all. The security matter would have been much easier for government to handle if it has not been politicised. It became a political tool in the hands of politicians. Instead of reducing the burden, they ended up increasing the burden of management. They will soon come to realise that whenever you allow sensitive issue to be politicised, it will always be difficult to manage.
I can say confidently that the President can go a happy man, being a deputy governor, a governor, Vice President, and President. Few Nigerians ever have this kind of opportunities. Of course, he would have done a lot in his second term because that would have given him the opportunity to consolidate on his achievements. All the same, he has also achieved another feat by being an international statesman that a country that bookmakers have concluded that it will come to an end by this year, now they are singing a different song. Leaders worldwide are congratulating the President.
In a short time, it is going to be a painful situation because he will be asking himself questions whether the fault is from him or from us. But since we are his handlers, we should all accept responsibility and then see what we can do for our party. That should be the spirit. The President has done his own part, he has transformed and moved on.
There are reports that some of the President’s men will be running away from the country for fear of persecution. Are you planning to run away?
Under normal circumstances, I do not think anybody with good conscience has any reason to be worried about the change of government because this is not the first time that government will be changing. I had the opportunity to be a commissioner under a military government in 1997-1999 and we handed over to a civilian government. I also had the opportunity to be a part of the party that led to the victory of the PDP in 2003 from the ANPP government then. I know the difficult circumstances of transition. There is always impatience, anxiety, anger and frustration. There are many people who believe government must do things immediately. But running a democratic government is different. No matter what you do, if you are guided by the rule of law, there should be less acrimony. The incoming government needs all the stability and atmosphere of goodwill so that by the time they start working, they will not be frittering the goodwill by creating enemies from the first day. This is because everybody has a say, everybody is important. If people do not know that everybody is important, it is when we are approaching elections that they will know. Elections will come, no matter how long it takes in coming. Even without elections, you need the goodwill of Nigerians to work for you. There will of course be temptations from some people who will say do this or that, it is expected because the new government also has its own agenda. But I believe that the new government will need to take a deep breath and look at where we are.
Fortunately, he is a former Head of State in this country. He was in power for about 20 months. He knew why he came that time, he knew what he met and what he left. After several years and a generation now, Nigeria has changed. Nigeria has become more sophisticated. This can be a plus or a minus. I believe with the kind of situation in the country, what we need now is to close the gaps, carry everybody along and see what we can do in the shortest possible time. That may appear as my own personal view. The country has been going through transition, now is the time to face our activities. For the past one year, we have been on transition mode. Once we begin to open another old wounds, they will continue like that and the acrimony will continue.
The APC has said that there is no big deal in the President conceding defeat in the last presidential election. The party at a point also described the President as a bad loser. How will you react to this?
I felt very sad when I first read those comments. We did not react to it because the comment was not expected from somebody who knows the dynamism of power and politics in Africa. You know what happened in Liberia about transitional politics; you know what happened in Sierra Leone; you know what happened in Cote D’Ivoire; you know what happened in Libya; you know what happened even in Tunisia, Algeria in some years back and in Egypt more recently.
Most of these countries are in turmoil of various degrees: massive deaths, destructions and all kinds of atrocities. Nobody will like to do anything that will bring this kind of things to this country. The President kept on saying during and after the campaigns that his ambition did not deserve the death of one person in this country and he kept to his word by accepting to congratulate the President-elect almost immediately before anybody even knew about the outcome of the result. I think this is something that cannot be taken away from him because without being too personal, Lai Muhammed knows that this has been the tradition on the side of the PDP from the beginning since this President took over.
When the then ACN took over Edo State, the President was the first to congratulate Adams Oshiomhole. When Peter Obi took over Anambra State on the ticket of APGA, the President was the first to congratulate him. It also happened in Ondo when Olusegun Mimiko won under the Labour Party, the President congratulated him. In every state where there was election, including Osun and Ekiti, wherever we lost, the President congratulated the winner. The last time that Mimiko was re-elected, he actually contested against our man who is the former PDP National Legal Adviser, Olusola Oke. Everybody knows what Oke did for our party but the President said since a winner had been declared, let us support Mimiko. That has been the pattern. Apart from that, in all cases where we have court cases whether at the Appeal Court or Supreme Court, where our own governors’ election were annulled or set aside when re-elections were ordered or when the seats were handed over to people from other parties, the President and the party always accepted the verdict. That is why you will never hear of any post-election violence or post judicial judgement violence.
But in every state where the opposition lost, Lai Muhammed will be shouting. For example, last year, there was an election in Ekiti State and we won. They fought and kept on fighting. The governor there accepted the verdict, he is a hero. As we were celebrating, the party said no, they would not accept that and they went to court. When we lost Osun, they accepted the verdict of Osun. If you are a leader, you must be a leader. There is time when you will know that you are a leader and not just a politician. You must also accept the verdict of history.
Even in this 2015 elections, in all the states where there are bickering, they are where the PDP won. When election result was announced in Kaduna, the governor accepted the verdict and congratulated the governor-elect. I don’t know why this kind of thing cannot be acceptable to them. Saying that the President is a bad loser shows that Lai Muhammed is a poor student of history.
The danger in this claim is that if Jonathan is not treated well or celebrated for his historic concession of victory, in future, nobody will want to concede. They will prefer to go out and fight.
The President recently met with PDP stakeholders over the post-election crisis in the party. Can you say confidently that the issue has now been resolved?
These are steps being taken: consultations to chart a way forward. I think it is too early for us to come to the market and tell people what we are doing. I know that the opposition political party that has now primed itself to take over is still behaving like an opposition party up till now. Even after taking over, I know they will not leave us alone. They will always want to know what is happening. That one, I can give it to them, it is legitimate. But we will also not make it available to them to know where we are headed. What they should know is that PDP is very solid, strong and deeply rooted. We may have suffered a setback, but I want to assure them that this is a temporary setback. When the sun rises, they will see the brightness of the day.
As we approach May 29, what are your expectations from the incoming government?
Like we said, we are doing all these that we are doing for our country and our people. Democracy is not an end in itself, it is a means to a further end, therefore, the further ends cannot be achieved without democratic institutions and values fully entrenched in the system. The ultimate of democracy is what it can bring about for the ordinary citizens. Nigerians have been promised change, they have been promised so many changes and they seem to have accepted this. There should be no room for disappointment.
When you promised that you are going to bring about employment, people will be checking their time. After one, two or three months, they will ask where you have provided the employment. If you want to reduce poverty, after some months, they will ask you how far you have gone in that area. If you want to deal with the issue of generalised security which I said every country of the world today faces, after some months, people will ask what you have done.
Everything that has been said during campaigns or in their manifesto will be used as the basis for assessing their performance. When Yar’Adua took over, he used the seven-point agenda. When Jonathan took over, he more or less globalised it and tagged it transformation and gave it a wider application. Whether it is in energy, education, urban and rural infrastructure, agriculture, health care, sports or other sectors, the impacts are there.
As it is now, the challenge is to show the people that this is indeed time for change.
Do you think that PDP can recover from the loss and stage a comeback in 2019?
For the PDP, we are going to reorganise ourselves and prepare for the journey ahead. Let me assure you that PDP is going to return very strong in a way and manner that will surprise most people.
SOURCE: punchng