In this interview, a former Deputy President of the Senate and a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, Senate Ibrahim Mantu, says the PDP lost the 2015 presidential election because it allowed impunity to grow within its ranks. Blaming former President Olusegun Obasanjo for starting the impunity in the former ruling party, Mantu also speaks on the anti corruption war of the APC- led government and the chances of the PDP in 2019.
Excerpts. How do you explain the events that led to the Peoples Democratic Party losing power after 16 years in government?
Every serious Nigerian politician should thank God that, for the first time in the political history of this country, the military has allowed democracy to survive for 16 years, uninterrupted. There has never been a time in the history of Nigeria that the military allowed democracy to survive beyond one term.
The first republic lasted only one term, the second republic lasted another one term and three months, the third republic was dead on arrival before this fourth republic came on stream. Many people will say we have not achieved much but, honestly, we should not only be counting our woes.
We should also be counting our blessings. Almost 17 years of democratic rule has given us an opportunity to establish some democratic institutions that can promote and deepen democracy. For instance, the National Assembly has been able to establish the National Assembly Service Commission which hires and fires its staff. Before then, the National Assembly was dependent totally on civil servants deployed by the executive to work for it.
When we came in in 1999, we had lots of problems with President Obasanjo because many of the assembly staff were loyal to the executive arm of government; so any time we were to do anything that would put a search light on the executive, the staff would tip the executive off. But now the National Assembly Service Commission has the power to hire and fire its staff; so the question of double loyalty no longer arises. Secondly, from 1999 to 2007, once the National Assembly embarked on an action that the President found not palatable to him, he would direct the Accountant General not to release the money ear-marked for the National Assembly.
That was a way of forcing us to abandon some of the things we were trying to do. So many times, people like me, who happened to be close to Mr President then, would have to go and beg the President to change his mind. This went on till we were able to put the National Assembly on first line charge like the judiciary.
The anti-corruption agencies like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Offences Commission were the creation of the National Assembly. Today, people don’t look at things holistically. They are only looking at the down side of events in the polity. I am saying all these to let you know that because the military did not interrupt the polity, we were able to achieve some of these things. Of course we have amended the Constitution successfully twice; new laws have been introduced into the system. We still have a long way to go, but, gradually and steadily, we will get there. Democracy is certainly deepening and I know that we will get there one day. All these that you have enumerated were achieved when the Peoples Democratic Party was in government. But when PDP is mentioned today, what comes to mind is how the party introduced impunity, fraud and corruption into governance.
How did the party get to that level?
If you go back to history, the founding fathers of the PDP meant well for this nation. If you recall, the PDP was founded by people who were political antagonists. There was no way, before the formation of PDP, that you could have someone like Abubakar Rimi and Adamu Chiroma in the same party. Adamu Chiroma was in the defunct NPN while Rimi was in the NPP and the NPP people called themselves progressives.
The NPN and the NPP were like parallel lines. But after General Buhari put all of them in prison after the collapse of the second republic, some of them shared cells. They realized that there were two parties in the country: the military and the political class.
That experienced in 1984made them realize that the political class must work together to ensure that the military did not take power again. The PDP is a product of this experience that the politicians had in Kirikiri when they realized that the only thing that will prevent the military from seizing power was to ensure good governance.
The founding fathers of the PDP decided that, in order to make progress, regional politics must be dispensed with. They decided that there must be a mega party that was truly national in character and in spirit. We had a party that was acceptable across the nooks and crannies of the country, so that it would be truly national. That is why the slogan of the PDP is “Power to the People”.
The people were supposed to be the power behind the party. It was meant to be a people-oriented party from the beginning. A party that depends on the people is supposed to do that which the people want at any given time. It was supposed to subject itself to the verdict of the people. But power is like an intoxicant.
When somebody is drunk, you see him stagger. The PDP was embraced by the people; it was embraced at every section of this nation. Nigerians from all walks of life, from all religions, tribes and ethnic groups embraced the party in 1999. But as time went on, we were getting drunk and more drunk on power and impunity started setting in. I must say, with due respect, that President Olusegun Obasanjo laid the foundation for the impunity that we saw in the PDP because governors became too powerful and started feeling untouchable
. How did this start? Obasanjo was a military head of state and the military system of government is unitary; one line order. The military governors in all the states at that time were like ambassadors of the head of state. In the second republic, when the NPN was in power, anything the President wanted, he would ask the Chairman of the party.
If the President wanted to appoint a minister, he would tell the Chairman of the party who will pass the message to the states using party structures. It was the Chairman of the party and the President that would decide finally who will be made a minister. The criteria for choosing somebody for ministerial appointment or any other appointment that would require the approval of the National Assembly was the responsibility of the party because the party would look at those people who contributed so much to the growth of the party.
It wasn’t how much money you had or how many people you had bribed. In most cases, those that found their names may not have any idea about it because it was usually based on their relevance and contribution to the success of the party that qualified them for government position.
As a result of that, everybody would struggle for the success of the party with the hope that he could also benefit. Loyalty was strictly to the party. But when Obasanjo came, instead of asking the party to submit names to him for Senate consideration, the governors were the ones sending names to Obasanjo for ministerial, ambassadorial and board positions. Invariably, the governors became like the Alpha and Omega.
The governors were the ones who nominated ministers, ambassadors, members and chairmen of boards, chief executives of parastatals, etc. So, instead of party members being loyal to the party, they became loyal to the governors. Naturally, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Absolute power intoxicates absolutely. It gives birth to impunity, disrespect, abuse of ideas and gives you the impression that you don’t need anybody. Governors did not stop at forwarding names for people to be appointed by Mr president.
In 2007, governors extended their areas of influence to include who was entitled to go to the House of Representatives. The Senate is supposed to be for elder statesmen so that we will have people who would be able to reconcile the governor and any other person in the state working against the governor.
But this time around, the senator was usually a former aide of the governor who could not disagree with the governor not to talk of calling the governor to order when derailing. Same thing in the state House of Assembly. That was why a budget will be submitted to the state assembly and, same day, it would be approved.
At the national level, though President Obasanjo was not able to manipulate the National Assembly as he would have wanted, he saw the National Assembly as nuisance. He felt their was no need for the National Assembly; so there was no need for him to court their. That is the reason some people wanted to impeach him, but some of us felt that doing so would be heating up the system and providing an alibi for the military to come in again.
Even when Obasanjo left office, the impunity that the PDP was known for continued. What happened?
The impunity increased. It’s like planting a tree. As it grows, it becomes stronger. The tree of impunity was planted by Obasanjo. By the time he left, the tree had mature and became a monster beyond control. Even the President that was in power could not control it because it became a monster. President Godluck Jonathan was at the mercy of the governors. The governors became the Alpha and Omega. Even the selection of delegates during our conventions was no longer through elections, but the governors were the ones who hand picked them. Since the governors became so strong, the President had to subject himself to their authority.
Do you see the possibility of the PDP bouncing back?
Yes. I have told you how we lost the dreams of the founding fathers of the party. A party that was supposed to be driven by the desire and will of the people was no longer in a position to do what the people wanted again. It was imposing its selfish wishes on the people because of the power of incumbency.
The voice of the people was no longer heard. During the presidential campaign, many of us who were supposed to know what was happening in the political terrain were marginalized because they did not want to hear our advice. They were living in delusion. Those who were advising that we would lose election if we continued in the path that they had taken have been vindicated.
It was clear to some of us then that the PDP was going to lose election if we continued on that unfortunate path that they had taken. Our people were clearly mad. It was as if God wanted to destroy us; so He first of all made leaders of our party mad. We have paid for our sins.
Those who committed the offence and even innocent people like some of us are all now victims. That not withstanding, all hands are now on deck to rebuild our party. We must go back to the dreams of the founding fathers of our party. We must go back to the people and apologize for betraying the mandate that they gave us. We must go back and tell the people that we now know that power belongs to them. 16 years in power made us arrogant.
The leaders of the party must go down on their knees and beg the people for forgiveness. We have seen the consequences of impunity, the consequences of selection and not election, and we must resolve that never again will we go the same path. Once we do that, and we are seen to be sincere, Nigerians will forgive us of our sins. If Nigerians see that we allow our congresses to be freely and fairly conducted, if they see that the powerful people amongst us are no longer imposing their in-laws and girlfriends as candidates of the party; if they see true repentance, then Nigerians may give us a second chance.
What is your reaction to the revelations from the Office of the National Security Adviser under Col. Sambo Dasuki?
Corruption is a universal disease. Whoever may have been in that position might have done even worse. That is not to say because members of the Peoples Democratic Party are the ones involved now, we have to support corruption. Corruption is an evil and all hands must be on deck to fight it.
It does not matter which political party those involved in the act belong to. Corruption has denied us God- given blessings and prosperity that we are supposed to enjoy. This country has no business with poverty. There are few countries in the world that God has blessed as He blessed Nigeria.
We have abundant human resources. God has blessed us with quality human resources. There are countries that human capital is their main source of revenue. We can pave the streets of our cities with gold if not for corruption. I am totally in support of what President Buhari is doing because I am a Nigerian.
Even though I am a privileged Nigerian, I know that I can live a better life if not for corruption in the country. If my friends and relatives are living comfortably and don’t come to me for one assistance or the other, I would have been living a more prosperous life. Nigerians have been shortchanged by corrupt people.
Every well- meaning Nigerian should join the crusade against corruption. We must fight it to a stand still. We must reposition our country so that we can benefit from the resources that God has given us. The people who have been arrested so far are related to only the Office of the National Security Adviser.
By the time the searchlight is beamed on the ministries and governors , you will see that corruption knows no party affiliation. There are some business men who connived with politicians to steal public funds. By the time we beam the searchlight on other sectors, you will see that the people acting as if they are saints would be exposed. We must join hands with the President to fight corruption.
There is corruption in every part of the world, but the problem with Nigerians is that they are greedily corrupt! Civil servants are the worst culprit. We must extend the fight to the civil service. They are the ones that corrupt politicians. Me must get retired civil servants who are unblemished to come and cleanse the civil service. Unless we do that, we will not be able to achieve much in our fight against corruption.
What should we expect in the next three years?
As I said before, with a repentant spirit, PDP will bounce back in a very strange manner. Nigerians will forgive us because we will have an opportunity to showcase that we are born- again through the way we will conduct our national congress.
When Nigerians see us doing things that we were not doing before, they will believe us. I have no doubt in my mind that there is nobody today in PDP that would want us to lose the election in 2019. As I said, it is now time for us to go to the people to ask for forgiveness and be determined to do the right thing
culled from the www.vanguardngr.com