A former governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Sule Lamido, talks to ARMSTRONG BAKAM about the issues surrounding the PDP’s presidential primary, emergence of Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, as the running mate of the party’s flag bearer, Atiku Abubakar, for the 2023 presidential election, the grievance of the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, among other issues
You have been in the PDP for many years, what convictions have kept you within the party amidst the lingering crisis?
One, I am coming from a background that is defined by political ideologies, beliefs, convictions, and by ideals as epitomised by the late Malam Aminu Kano. So, in our tendency, there is no ambiguity as to what we stand for; there is no hesitation about what we do or what we don’t do. It is simply because convictions and commitment are total and are given by human compassion and human feeling. This was what made me go into politics – the belief that human beings are the highest level of creation by God, and God says that if I give you power, even in your normal interactions, be good to your fellow human beings, be kind to them. Those who have should be able to help those who do not; those who are healthy should take care of those who are not healthy. This captures our human essence and that is what defines my politics. And therefore, in any political party which shares the kind of views I have, I’ll be with it because it’s not about something temporary, it is something that defines me as a human being and as a person.
With the emergence of the New Nigeria Peoples Party, do you think the block vote that your party usually gets from the North may be balkanised?
Look, I don’t have time to discuss such political parties which emerged out of sheer opportunism, which four months ago were not known in Nigeria. How do you want me to start discussing it? How? I don’t think I’ll even dignify it by making my personal opinion on it. I have no time for that because it is a political party which I think came in handy for those who have no political base; that’s all. That’s their problem, not mine. I don’t want to discuss it.
You and other core members of the PDP recommended Governor Nyesom Wike of River State as the vice-presidential candidate, yet his Delta State counterpart, Ifeanyi Okowa, was chosen. Considering that this has created a crisis, do you think that the PDP presidential candidate will be able to mend fences before the election?
Let me tell you, even Atiku who won the presidential primary cannot claim a monopoly over what is called the PDP. Making him the candidate doesn’t mean he owns the party. He doesn’t own it and nobody owns the PDP, but it has Nigerian ownership. So, if anybody aspires for any position in the PDP, it doesn’t make him the owner of the party. He’s just privileged to aspire within that political party. So, the idea that somebody will claim he owns the party doesn’t even arise. The PDP has been there before all of them and whatever they are today, it is the PDP that made them. Whether they are former presidents, former vice presidents, former governors, they are all PDP’s inventions; they are PDP’s creations. That somebody enjoys a particular status given to him by the PDP doesn’t mean he owns the party or most of the party. He has no monopoly over it and it is the party that should control him. Atiku emerging doesn’t make him the owner of the PDP or somebody who is seen to literally appropriate it. It is about giving the Nigerian people a ticket.
The issue is about what we can give the Nigerian people, and what they can look up to. By the time you pick the ticket, it is now beyond the PDP’s control. It will now be under Nigerians. So, we may fight, we may be angry within the party because it is the party within the party where a person is trying to make some claims that it is their right but then, it doesn’t make them the owners of the party. By the time the party decides on whoever it is, it is now left to the Nigerian people to say whether they want it or not. So, the issue of running mate is an issue within the PDP where people feel aggrieved and it is their right to feel aggrieved. Those who wanted Okowa or Wike or (Aminu) Tambuwal or (Emmanuel) Udom or Bala (Mohammed) or (Bukola) Saraki are free, but then, it is now beyond the party. It is outside the party for the Nigerian people to elect the next president and his running mate. Therefore, the issue of making the issue very localised within the PDP is not fair to the PDP. We can put anybody we want, yes, because we own the process; we own the product. When you own the process and the product, then you can do anything you want within the party but when it is beyond the party, after going through the process and producing the product, then you’ll give it to Nigeria and at that time, it is beyond the PDP’s control, or emotions or sentiments. Get this very clear. What we did was to think: What do we do in our wisdom, based on the means of the PDP within the culture and tradition of the PDP to give Nigerians a ticket and not what will give PDP members a ticket within the PDP?
Would you then say that the choice of Okowa was the best the PDP made?
That is for Nigerians to decide and not for anybody else. It is in their wisdom to see whether we chose the best or not and not for anybody in the PDP to decide. You see, those who are pained are still dancing within the PDP bedroom.
The dust raised by the outcome of the PDP presidential primary has yet to settle, with some leaders of the party faulting its refusal to zone the presidential ticket to the South. What is your take on that?
Before the convention of the PDP, it was an open contest for all of them who participated. Anybody who ran in the primary knew that it was open. That was why they ran and, therefore, what you are talking about now is an afterthought; it is after-primary emotion, considerations, and sentiments. For those who ran, both northerners and southerners ran under an open environment that was open for all PDP members in Nigeria. And if they won, would they still talk about zoning? Even Wike who ran and who was there said that the process was very transparent and that it was very credible; he said so. Is there any other better testimony than from somebody who took part in the primary? That’s the biggest testimony you can ever get, a very powerful testimony coming from Wike, which eloquently testified to the PDP’s ability to do the right thing at the right time.
Many believe you were one of those who strongly kicked against a southern presidency by backing a former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, to clinch the ticket. Why do you think the party would not have stood a chance with a southern candidate?
If you go by my antecedents, I have never said northern or southern candidate or zoning. I’ve always talked about the Nigerian candidate in the PDP who can be northern or southern, and he can come from any religion or any tribe. That has been my principle and even up to now. Now, those who are now talking, who are now pained, when we stood by (Goodluck) Jonathan in 2014, they went for (Muhammadu) Buhari. Even (Samuel) Ortom, in 2014, with the southern candidate, didn’t support him (Jonathan) but supported a northern candidate. In 2014, all of us stood for a southern candidate then, but those supporting a southern candidate now were supporting a northern candidate. To me, people tend to easily forget what they said yesterday; it is all about today. But then, before today, there was yesterday and there will be tomorrow. We should be able to understand: What was yesterday, what were the issues yesterday, and how are they able to define today? Are the issues seen in the proper context? Have the issues of yesterday defined today? How would they define tomorrow? That’s all.
In a recent interview, you said Nigerians, not the PDP, lost the 2015 presidential election, citing the growing hardship in the country under the leadership of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) who is a northerner. With millions of Nigerians calling for a regional shift, don’t you think the PDP’s quest to return to power will hit another brick wall, having given its presidential ticket to another northerner?
In 2019, Nigerians had a lesson to learn from what happened from 2014 to 2019; most of them were talking about our shortcomings, about our failings, not how we were devilised. Nigerians had four years to look at whether what the APC said in 2014 about PDP (we are now in 2019) is true or false? Was the APC sincere or were they not sincere? Were they genuine or dishonest? Looking back now, the APC has miserably failed Nigerians on all the issues that they came in with to do. Is it improving security, improving the economy, and the fight against corruption? They have failed miserably in all of these promises in the first four years. To me, Nigeria lost (the 2019 election); it wasn’t the PDP because the suffering today is in you, it is in everybody in Nigeria, and the economy is in shambles.
Since Buhari, who is from the North won, in which way has the North been any better? No, tell me. If it is about having anybody from your location, how have we (in the North) fared under Buhari? What we want is how Nigeria will fare under any leader, not how a region will fare. This issue of my own time, our own time, should be Nigeria’s time, Nigeria’s future, Nigeria’s general security, that’s all, not about allocation. Even a tree has a location because there’s a northern tree and a southern tree and that’s why in the equatorial forest, there is mahogany, iroko tree, and what have you. In the North, there is no mahogany because of the temperature and climate. You see, the same timber you find in the South in the iroko, mahogany, is used in making furniture in the North. You see, it doesn’t matter where the person comes from so long as he would be there for Nigeria and Nigerians. When we keep talking about northern or southern, Muslim or Christian, we’ll keep dancing in one spot because I have not seen any particular benefits to any religion, or any zone because Mr A or Mr B is from my part. And in any case, it is part of Nigeria’s hypocrisy and doublespeak. At the higher level, we talk about zoning, which is a mega problem. Come to the states and see how they are fighting even about local government positions. When it comes to the governance of a state, they are fighting. So, it means that the whole thing is about interest. When they say North, they’ll say no, it is about senatorial (district) A or B or C, or it is our own time, which means that the issue of service is not there anymore. This is because the micro-zoning is also a reflection of the bigger zoning which is also part of our failure. So, it doesn’t matter to me who emerges, it should be a Nigerian who has a love for the people and who believes in fairness, justice, and equity; that’s all.
How would you rate the chances of Atiku and the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Bola Tinubu, who even some chieftains of your party see as a master strategist?
I’ve been saying this over and over and over, first, you believe in your party, in your party policy, and its manifesto and its programmes, then you work hard to promote it as being the best. Then, it will now be left for Nigerians to decide. When you set out on a journey like a political party, you make sure you define the direction and what you design for the country and then you work hard to convince Nigerians that this party is best for them.
The Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, expressed disappointment at Atiku’s decision and said he would consult God on who to support. What is your reaction to that?
It’s simple; he said he is praying and fasting and then he said that Atiku should go and meet Wike. Can you see the two positions? Okay. Which does he stand on? If you are praying and fasting, then, you should have waited for God’s direction. Atiku should not do anything. If he (Ortom) is praying and fasting for God to show him direction, if God shows him to follow this, he should follow. But then, he said Atiku should go and meet Wike, then it means he doesn’t believe in God or (doesn’t believe) in his prayers because there is no way you’ll begin to evoke God’s name and then bring other considerations. When you say “God,” it’s total; it’s conclusive, so it’s either he (Ortom) stands by God and prays for him or asks God to guide and direct him, and God will guide him. Or, on the other hand, he should not fast, he should not pray and ask Atiku to go and meet Wike, but the two of them cannot be combined.
But interestingly, Wike has maintained silence since Atiku rejected him as his running mate. Do you find that suspicious? Wike’s like boiling pot, free to talk to opposition
No, no, no, he’s angry; he’s just like a boiling pot. When the pot overboils, it will spill over. And what will happen? It will mess up the body of the pot. Now, for those who love Wike, people like me, we should make sure we remove the log from under the pot which is the fire. When that is done, the temperature of the pot will come down first. But then, people around him are the ones adding the log into the fire because, naturally, with that kind of temperature, it will spill over. But then, in doing so, he is also messing up the body of the pot. I think, the problem is not about Wike; it is about those who are trying to cry more than the bereaved. And for people who think that they love and like Wike more than we do, beyond these emotional things, what can they do? Can any of them, Ayo Fayose and Ortom, take him (Wike) around Nigeria and support him to win the election, can they? Even Atiku cannot win the election (alone), it has to be the Nigerian PDP members who will go and tell Nigerians that they have the best candidate, to vote for him, we have to all come on board. But when you take a personal position and you say, Mr A must do this, can those saying that sell anybody? If they can, why didn’t they sell him during the primary?
Why has it been difficult for Atiku and the leadership of the party to reach Wike and pacify him?
There is wisdom in life. We’ve been through it. I am a former governor, so I know the psychology of serving governors because I was once one. We are waiting for those who have monopolised the political space around him to finish ranting and raving. The space is now totally being occupied by those holding political positions given to them by the PDP, so it is not them talking, it is the office talking. All these people talking, it’s not them, it is the office; remove the office, (and) they’ll be like Sule Lamido, a former governor. We are now saying that we will take it easy by allowing the pot to cool down and then you’ll find out that it is we who love the PDP most. And even though we have been seen against Wike, ultimately, you’ll see that it is we who love Wike.
Will it not be too late, considering that there were reports last week that he met with the APC presidential candidate in France, though it was later dispelled?
There is a saying in Hausa that, during the dry season, when you see clouds gather, it won’t yield any rain because it’s not the season for rainfall; the main cloud comes during the rainy season. What I am saying is this: whatever they are saying and whatever they want to induce into anybody, there will also be tomorrow and between now and the election, which is about six to seven months, a number of things are going to change and in any case, there is a difference between you and I talking and the ordinary voter. There are some areas where no matter what you do, they know exactly what they want. I do not think that in Benue, Ortom is more important than the National Chairman of the PDP, (Iyorcha) Ayu, or a former Senate President, David Mark. I don’t think so but because he is now holding the political office as governor, of course, it’s the office talking, it’s not him talking. You see, I mean no disrespect to him. I am just saying the obvious. If you are not a governor, you can’t talk like that. I am not a governor now. Do I talk like that? Do I blow hot and cold? I don’t because I know my limitations. I don’t have that kind of political authority to talk like that because I don’t have the platform to talk as a governor. I am only talking as a former governor.
There were reports about Wike receiving the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi, and that of the New Nigeria Peoples Party, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, with some suspecting that the Rivers state governor may broker a deal between the two and consider a defection. Should the PDP be bothered about this?
Let me be very clear, Wike is free to talk to anybody he wants but then, they are talking to him because he is a PDP invention, because they see him as someone produced by the PDP and therefore, by getting to him, they’ll hurt the PDP. He’s also very angry and, therefore, if he wants to vent out his anger by doing what he’s doing, he’s free to do so but ultimately, at the end of the day, he’ll come back to his family, which is the PDP. Like Ortom, wasn’t he (Ortom) in the PDP before? He went to the APC and burnt his fingers. Didn’t he come back to the PDP? Even Atiku was in the APC before he also came back.
Many PDP chieftains believed that Obi’s defection from the party was a big loss that would affect its chances in the South-East. Do you agree with that?
Why are you compelling me to talk about personalities? I don’t want to talk about personalities, I want to talk about issues but you are pushing me to talk about personalities, mentioning names, you are not being fair to me. We have to be honest to have the courage to say the right thing. Was (Peter) Obi a PDP member? He ran under the All Progressive Grand Alliance and won the election as a governor and at the end of his tenure, he came to the PDP. He was then made a running mate to Atiku in 2019 even though there were people who were in the PDP and were older than him as members of the PDP.
They were jettisoned and abandoned and he was picked, this is a very clear history. So, the PDP dignified him, The PDP honoured him because of what he got. In terms of contribution, in terms of reward, many others deserved that better than him in the South-East. He ran in 2019 as VP and this time round, he tried to run for president under the PDP, and then, he left. Ideally, he should have gone back to his former party, APGA, if you are talking about principles, honour, and character because that is what made him what he is in life. If he abandoned the PDP that made him a VP in the election, gave him a bigger platform, and made him known in Nigeria, he should have gone back to APGA and run under APGA but then, he felt that his fortunes cannot be under APGA, so it is not about Nigeria but his personal interest.
The Labour Party’s popularity has grown since Obi joined the party, with millions of youths rooting for him as a young candidate fit to fix Nigeria’s problems. Do you think he will make a good president?
You see, the youths believe in fancy; you see that in the social media and beyond the social media, there is what we call the local environment where if you are hanging, you have to be dropped. Go to Kano and mention him (Obi’s name). Go even to Anambra where he served as governor; go there and mention his name, or go to Benue and drop Obi or go to Lagos and mention his name there. You see, these are a younger generation moved by passion and fancy. It is what they fancy in their minds that they write (on social media). Many of them on social media, if you look at them in terms of percentage, how many are they? That they are also coming from a particular environment, their location, villages, local governments, and states, and some things define the political directions of those areas. For example, a boy who is from Sokoto and fancies Peter Obi, what does he do about Peter Obi in Sokoto beyond writing on social media and fancy? You see, I don’t want to be discussing names but then, you are compelling me.
So you don’t consider Obi a major threat to the PDP and the APC in the 2023 presidential election?
What I am saying is that, as far as I am concerned, I, Sule Lamido, don’t see any threat to the PDP. Even in 2014 when we lost, I stood firm because I knew what I was doing because I was in the right party, doing the right thing, saying the right thing, not because of anything but because I had a very strong conviction. If you want me to abandon what I believe in or what I am doing, give me a superior argument. And I have been saying that those who left the PDP in 2014, 2019, and 2022, are not giving me any superior argument other than they are pursuing their personal interests.
Insecurity has continued to worsen across the country, what do you think is the main issue here?
Lack of sincere leadership. Leadership is supposed to be sincere and honest and the truth. When this government came on board in 2014 with nothing but their bag of lies, using youths who were very naive and innocent, they manipulated their emotions and sentiments and deceived them. So, the APC came with impossible promises and the youth believed them. Naturally, when leadership has no sincerity and honesty, there is going to be a big problem. We must have a very sincere and honest leader who will be able to stand on his authority for the people and who they see as their own, somebody who is fair, just, and who will be there for them. I have said it over and over again, as a political opponent and as a party in the opposition, I will not go to the mosque and begin to pray for this government. I will not do that. No, I will not go to the mosque and say, “God, please deliver this government”. I will not do that. Let them pray for themselves.
Is that your general assessment of the APC in power?
Ask Nigerians not me. Those who are voting who have the power to change the government, ask them not me. I’m offering them the PDP, the best party Nigeria has ever seen, the organic party, the party that was there for them and will continue to be there for them, the party that was able to stabilise Nigeria in 1999 and get us back into the comity of nations as an elder brother in Africa. Only the PDP could do that and not the APC.
Nigeria has huge potential. We are well-endowed both material and human. We have very strong traditions and good history, people who are hard-working, industrious and god-fearing. We should be able to understand that God has destined Nigeria to play a role within the comity of nations as a leader of the black race. Let us wake up to that kind of responsibility given to us by God and behave like the leader. Therefore, all of us need to understand that as a country called Nigeria, whatever and wherever we are, we should do the right thing, and even during the elections, we should look at people and a party that believe in Nigeria and one that has the capacity to lead, guide and inspire us for the challenges ahead of us. Nigerians should be able to know those who are talking for them, those who will be there for them, those who believe in them, who believe in national unity, and those who will remove anger, division and hatred and make us a single Nigerian family. That is what we should look forward to.