Former Deputy Senate President, Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu, was recently in Calabar, Cross River State. He granted an interview to select journalists on crucial national issues, especially those pertaining to his party, the PDP. Bassey Inyang presents the excerpts:
From your assessment of political events in the country, what is your view on the future of the PDP and its quest to return to power at the federal level in 2019?
I believe that PDP remains the largest party in Africa because despite the fact that it is in the opposition now, it has more ordinary membership-followership, the largest in Nigeria because after all, PDP defeated itself. I believe that the victory of the APC was facilitated by the PDP. Those who were disgruntled decided that, ‘okay, if you deny me having my right because you use your control and power over the party, you are not going to use your power over my vote. So, PDP members voted against PDP. And that was why APC actually won the elections.
For that reason, I believe that the lesson the PDP as a party ought to have learnt, they have now learnt that lesson. You must actually subject yourself to the will of the people, you must always respect the voice of the people, and you must always ensure that you play the game in accordance with your party’s constitution. In other words, due process must be followed, which was of course thrown to the dogs because for 16 years of our being in power, power now went into the head of the PDP and they became power drunk.
So, when you are power drunk, just like anybody who is drunk, you will definitely misstep. That was what happened to the PDP. The hangover of being too long in power made them to begin to feel that the people no longer matter; they will always have their way and they don’t have to rely on the votes of the people. But the Nigerian people have spoken and have proven to them that their votes are the ones that actually put them in that power.
Having realised that, we are now like, we have purged ourselves, we have now realised that we must respect the views of the people, we have now realised that our constitution must be followed, we have now realised that things must be done in accordance with our party guidelines and so on. In other words, due process must be followed. So, if we demonstrate that in the way we conduct our congresses and convention, and people see a great departure from what we used to do, then they will now trust that yes, we have learnt our lessons.
You know Nigerians are very forgiving. Once they realise that you made a mistake and you say ‘look, I made a mistake, I am now born again forgive me’, Nigerians will forgive you and give you another chance again. We are hoping, like you said rightly, that the forth-coming conventions and congresses would make or mar, and Nigerians will see whether we have truly learnt a lesson from our past mistakes. If we do it well, then we shall now earn back their confidence. They will now get us back to the Villa in 2019.
The congresses and convention would require instilling internal democracy in the PDP from the ward level to the national level in electing delegates and party officials, perhaps even if it means adopting the option A-4. So, how prepared is your party to ensure internal democracy prevails at the congresses and convention?
Whether option A-4 or whatever option, the fact is that the guidelines of the party must be religiously adhered to. The people must, you know, elect those they want. There should be no imposition or some powerful people just having their anointed ones as the leaders of the party at different levels. As long as we demonstrate to the Nigerian people that we have learnt our lessons, and we are going to do things in accordance with our party’s constitution and guidelines, we are going to follow due process, and they see that being demonstrated at all levels, then like I said, we are going to restore the confidence of the people to the PDP.
What explanation do you have for those who argue that it is too early for your party to zone its presidential election ticket to the north for the 2019 general election?
Whether it is too early or too late, that is not the issue. The issue is keeping faith with whatever decision we have taken. An intention – if the intention is genuine and sincere – can always come to fruition. But if an intention is not sincere, then no matter what, no matter how long it takes, it will not actually come to fruition. So, what is important is that we realised that the north was short-changed in the last dispensation and that led to our losing elections because everybody expected constitutionally that Jonathan Goodluck would complete the unexpired term of (President Umaru) Yar’ Adua, which is constitutional. But having completed the unexpired term of Yar’Adua, he should have allowed the north to complete their four years, which he did not agree.
Of course, with the backing of a powerful group in the PDP, they agreed that the incumbent president should go in for the remaining four years of the north. And of course, that proved negative reaction from the northerners. So, this time around, we are saying that we should not make the same mistakes again, particularly now that the APC presidential candidate is from the north. We must correct whatever mistakes we made in the past by going back to the north to source for our presidential candidate so we could use that to pacify the north and also win votes.
How do you place the decision of the PDP side-by-side with years of agitation from the South-east for the presidential ticket in 2019?
In the PDP constitution, zoning is a cardinal principle and one of the most important policies of the party. But even in doing that, key positions are zoned between north and south. So, each time the presidency is zoned to the north, all three zones in the north are entitled to aspire to that position. Whoever gets it, fine! If the presidency is zoned to the south, the three zones in the south are also entitled to aspire to that position. So, the fact that the South-east has not actually occupied that position is not anybody’s fault because since 1999, the South has had twelve years.
The first opportunity was occupied by South-west. Another opportunity came and went to the north. Yar’Adua came, but he died. Then Goodluck completed the unexpired term. Now, after the constitutionally required period was over, the north should have followed. So, in this particular case, the north was short-changed. So, we are being fair to everybody. I don’t think there is any part of the country that can blame the party for not getting it. Remember that (Dr. Alex) Ekwueme was a candidate. If he had won, the east would have had it.
Plateau State where you hail from is one of the places PDP suffered defeat in the hands of APC in 2015. Do you see the PDP bouncing back in Plateau too in 2019?
The problem in Plateau State is not different from the problem the PDP had in the country. Like I told you earlier, PDP defeated PDP. In the case of Plateau State, the governor having spent his eight years in office brought his cousin to continue whereas a particular zone in the state, the southern zone had not had a chance since 1999. So, it was the turn of the southern zone to produce a governor. But the governor, who comes from the northern zone, having spent eight years, wanted his cousin to continue because he believes he could use the power of incumbency to get that done and the people said no. That is why they elected an APC candidate, who comes from the southern part of the state.
So, and again, it was the PDP that voted for the APC candidate because the APC now picked a candidate from an area that was disadvantaged, which was likely to produce the governor. Our politics is not one that shows that APC is more popular than PDP. No! If the PDP does things right, it will definitely bounce back. Plateau State, Benue State, all these are very strong PDP natural constituencies. But again, you know the case in Benue. After the governor asked the minister to resign his position as minister to come and pick up the ticket, you now came and ditched him at the last minute and the same person now went to the APC and was elected. So, you can see clearly that the party was definitely on ground, but they messed themselves up by doing the wrong things.
A lot of founding members of the PDP have left the party to join the APC or have chosen to become non-aligned or bi-partisan, what is your party doing to get back some, if not all of them?
For your information, I am the deputy chairman of the National Reconciliation Committee of the PDP. We are staring our work. We are going to be inaugurated as a sub-committee. We believe that most people, who have left the PDP didn’t leave the PDP because they were not in love with the PDP, but we found ourselves where the characteristics of the PDP as a responsible political organisation that respects the constitution of the party, and does things in accordance with the expectations of the people; we found out that over the years we were deviating from and conducting ourselves not in accordance with the party’s constitution and this never went down well with a lot of the people.
This impunity, imposition and all those sorts of things were responsible for most people ditching the PDP. So, even those, who have left the PDP and joined other parties, their spirits are with the PDP; their bodies are there, but their souls are with us. We believe that if we go and give them assurance that we have now learnt our lessons, realised our mistakes, and are born-again, and should be accepted as a brand new party that is going to do things in accordance with the constitution, I am sure they will listen. But I think it was one of you that said it that the convention will make or mar PDP.
Definitely, I agree with you. If we demonstrate that we have learnt our lessons in the conduct of the congresses and convention, it will go a long way in restoring confidence in the people that we are a brand new party. But if we continue in disagreement, nobody can say how it is going to be. We are hoping that it will not end in confusion. If there is a change, definitely most people will come back. If there is no change, perhaps those people are gone for good.
At the moment, PDP appears the party that is firmly rooted only in Southern Nigeria, where it did very well in the 2015 elections. Given this scenario, what is your explanation to those, who have concluded that the party is a southern party?
The PDP remains the largest organisation in black Africa, even in opposition. One-on-one, the PDP enjoys the largest membership today, even more than the APC. Forget about the fact that the APC is in power. But, in terms of one man, one vote, I am telling you that in terms of membership, the PDP has the largest. Now, apart from that, let me say it clearly that the PDP is the first political party in Nigeria that has its membership in every nook and cranny of this nation.
Before this time, our parties were regionally based. In the Second Republic, even though the NPN was National Party of Nigeria (NPN), if not for the fact that Cross River State and Rivers State were in the NPN, the NPN would have been a northern party. But these two states now gave it that national colouration. Now, it was only from 1999 that we had a truly national party that was certainly in the west, in the east, in the south, and in the north. This is the PDP.
The fact is that in the year 2015, the north did not vote the PDP. Like I said, they felt aggrieved that Jonathan short-changed them; he took their turn. And so as a reaction, they voted for APC. If Jonathan didn’t take their turn, there would have been no change. But, this time around, if we correct ourselves, definitely the membership is there.
Like I keep saying, PDP defeated PDP. Our people voted against PDP because of the impunity demonstrated by some people in the PDP. People said ‘look, you can force me in your primaries to impose people, but you cannot force me on voting. I will go and vote whoever I like’. That was what happened. So, what you are saying does not have a place now at all. The truth is that the north, the entire north felt short-changed because Jonathan took their slot.
Do you really hold strongly that a presidential candidate for the PDP from the north will be able to garner more votes than the APC, if Buhari runs for a second term in 2019?
It all depends on the calibre and quality of the candidate. You know it depends. You cannot just go and bring a ‘maiguard’ (security man) and say you are a northerner. No! The calibre and the quality of the candidate determine whether people will want the person or not. After all, Buhari contested with other southerners apart from Goodluck. Is it only APC and PDP that are parties in Nigeria? Other parties fielded southerners too. Why didn’t southerners vote for them; why did they vote Buhari? It is just because of the quality of the candidate you are fielding.
What is the proof that PDP is the largest part even in opposition?
Since 1999, it has actually occupied more territories, and is visible in every nook and cranny of Nigeria. Up until now, there are some villages in the north that they only know that APC exists in terms of tablet that they used to take for headache.
When you are power drunk, just like anybody who is drunk, you will definitely misstep. That was what happened to the PDP. The hangover of being too long in power made them to begin to feel that the people no longer matter; they will always have their way and they don’t have to rely on the votes of the people. But the Nigerian people have spoken and have proven to them that their votes are the ones that actually put them in that power