‘Babangida Aliyu Can’t Force Me Out of PDP Chairmanship Contest’

Tanko Beji

Tanko Beji is a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party in Niger state. He was first the Legal Adviser of the party before becoming the state Secretary and later the deputy chairman He has already served one term as chairman and is aspiring for the second term. Beji told Laleye Dipo that nothing has changed in the past five years of APC administration in the state

 The issue of zoning at the state and national levels has been a very contentious matter. What is the position in Niger state as far as zoning is concerned

The issue of zoning in the PDP in Niger state has come to stay, you don’t need to ask anybody before you know where and what is going to anybody or any part of the state. In our first 8 years the governorship was zoned to Zone A they had it successfully, the second time it was zoned to  Zone B they also had it successfully, the third time it was moved to Zone C. In the two primaries that were held it was a Zone C man that contested but unfortunately we didn’t win the election. So by right the governorship moves to the next zone which is Zone A.  If you look at the people rearing their heads that they want to be governor all of them are from Zone A because everybody knows that naturally the governorship is moving to Zone A. This thing(zoning) has come to stay, it is enshrined in the people already except you want problem you cannot jettison it. Even when a Zone A man wanted to scuttle the arrangement in 2019, what happened? He got less than 20 votes because people know that that is the direction. This is why it is always good to enshrine things.

What is the zoning like at the National level

I don’t Know and I don’t want to comment on what I don’t know about

You are one of the contenders for the chairmanship position of your party, the PDP in the state, how has it been with the party?

I think the best way to answer your question is to start from where we are coming from. You know my tenure expired 10th of May, and because of the COVID 19, elections could not be held due to the restrictions here and there, and according to the party constitution we couldn’t stay office a day longer.
The National Secretariat in compliance with the constitution of the party decided to put in place a caretaker committee to oversee the affairs of the party pending when elections would be held. And again this is not peculiar to Niger PDP alone.
However, now that the COVID-19 pandemic is gradually going down, we hope that a new timetable will soon come for elections to be conducted in states where elections could not be held.

Your party seems to be divided ahead of the state congress, why is this so?

PDP in Niger state is not in anyway divided, that is not true. However let me clarify this. Prior to this moment, the PDP in Niger state met and took a decision to say look because we are now an opposition party there is no need for us to open ourselves for attacks therefore except it is extremely necessary or where death has occurred, there is the need for the Exco to carry on.
It was as a result of this that all local government councils were directed to go back to their LGAs and Senatorial zones to take a decision. They were given three weeks to look at issues and sought them out themselves. At the expiration of the three weeks, every local government reported to their zones and every zone reported to the state Working Committee.
Again in the state, an expanded State Executive Committee meeting  was held where these reports were received. After that we conveyed a state caucus meeting where the state Executive Committee, comprising 29 members reported to the caucus for ratifications.
At the meeting all the zones affirmed that there was the need for the state Exco to continue. It was only two local governments in zone B, that is Suleja and Chanchaga. But then it was only two out of nine local governments, so it was a majority decision which ordinarily should be binding on them.
So you can see that it was a clarion call from 23 out of the 25 LGAs, with this I don’t think the party is divided.

There are mounting concerns  that because of the forthcoming state congress, the party is sharply divided along ethnic and tribal  lines, what do you have to say about this.

I think it is normal for anybody to insinuate anything There are three major ethnic groups in the state, the Nupes, the Gwaris and the Hausas. We have all been living together peacefully we have done things together not minding which ethnic group or tribe anyone belongs to.
Did the Gwaris not support former Governor Babangida Aliyu, a Hausa man as governor of the state for eight years? In fact I was the Director General of his Campaign Organization against a fellow Gwari man. Can only Hausa votes make him governor, today he is the state representative in the  Board of Trustees, we elected him unopposed. Again another Hausa man from the state, Maibasira from the same local government with the former governor, is the state representative at the national working committee of the party, did the Gwaris or the Nupes complain, and right now the Chairman caretaker committee of the party is a Hausa man, did anybody complain. PDP has gone beyond politics of tribe and ethnicity, especially in Niger state. Let us talk on issues because no single tribe can do it alone.

With the sacrifice you have made for the party at a time when the party was in disarray both at the national and the state, do you think you deserve the current opposition to your re-election?

Yes, opposition is part of the game of politics, there is no politics without opposition. Again except if you are God, people must pick hole in whatever you do. You can not have 100 percent no matter how well you tried. People must find fault in you, and when people find fault in you, it provides you an opportunity to make amend. For instance when we went to a local government during this campaign someone raised his hand and said he has a problem with me as a person. I said what is it, and he said his problem with me is that he met at a filling station, even though I paid for his fuel, I refused to speak Gwari to him and that he felt very bad to the extent that he felt like returning the N5,000 for the fuel back to me. And I told him that I am sorry, even though himself when he was thanking me for the fuel I bought for him, he spoke Hausa and not Gwari.
Another person told me that his problem with me is that I don’t smile, that he has never seen me smile and everybody laughed. So you can see why everybody must not like you.

Tell us why you think you deserve to be re-elected for the second term in office as the party chairman.

 Since 1999 when the country returned to democracy and PDP came on board, I have never crossed carpet to any party, and I don’t intend to cross carpet anyway. I started in PDP as legal adviser, then to the state Secretary, to the Vice Chairman and then to the Chairman, so nobody can take this away from me, the experience of party administration. Again my ambition in life aside being a lawyer, is how to administer a political party to an enviable position, and that, to the glory of God I have been doing for the past 20 years. I want to make a mark in party administration. People have offered me to contest for political office but I said no, this is what I want. And I believe that I have acquired sufficient experience over the years to lead a political party like I have done in the last four years as the Chairman of the party.
Again I have seen the two sides of the coins, that is to lead a party in government and to lead a party outside as opposition. As an opposition party Chairman I know what I have gone through in the last four years

How have you been  able to weather the storm especially at a time when party was in crisis both at the National and at the state level when you had factions

That is where experience comes to bear. You have to apply experience and wisdom. If we had a leader who had no experience at that time it would have been a disaster, so I applied experience that I have gathered over the years and that was why we were able to weather the storm and remain relevant. We thank God we were able to overcome it.

Why is the former governor Dr Muazu  Babandiga Aliyu not supporting your second term?

Former Governor Babangida Aliyu who up till tomorrow remains my boss is a human being. He has the right to say let my interest go this way or that way, nobody can force him to support me, and he can not force me not to contest the chairmanship position of the party. He has the right to support whoever he wants, it is normal in democracy. Whether he supports me or not, he remains my boss.
As the leader of the party in the state, did you inform him of plans to recontest?

Absolutely, I did, in fact he was the very first person that I informed, he even signed my nomination form. If you see my nomination form, he is number one to sign. You see interests matters in politics so he has his interest in someone else, so there is no problem about that, it’s ok by me.
Despite the opposition from the former governor and leader of the party, how are you sure that you will win the forthcoming state congress?

So far we have gone to 19 out of the 25 local government areas of the state, remaining six and I can tell you that the response and supports is overwhelming. I told you before that all the local government in the three Senatorial zones except Chanchaga and Suleja, had agreed that let the state Executive Committee be allowed to continue. However from what I have seen and the supports that I am getting,  I can tell you that the people want me back. I don’t need a soothsayer to tell me that I will win the election.

If you emerge victorious what should the people expect from the state PDP under your new leadership?

From the experiences we have gotten in the last four years, we will make sure that we make correction of things that were not done correctly in the past four years. One of the few things that we have lined up is to take the party back to the people. It is one of the major reform we want to do. We will allow the people decide what they want. The era of allowing some influential people to decide what happens in the party is over. Let majority of the party members at rural areas have a say in the affairs of the party, that is the only way we can win the trust of the people.
Again we will ensure we improve on our party primaries in subsequent elections. The last governorship primaries was very peaceful with none of the six aspirants complaining or going to court to challenge its outcome. So we hope to build on it in future elections.
Finally we are going to change the reward system in the party because we have discovered that it is one of the major things that is affecting us. Anybody who has put his best, his wealth and his time in ensuring victory for the party in elections must be rewarded. If the party wins, we have to look at those people first in all aspects.
We will longer entertain what was obtained in the past where they will tell us that they want to bring in technocrats who never invested or suffer for the party victory in any way. These technocrats have no stake in the party,  you can see what has happened in the last dispensation. Today where are the technocrats, they have all left us with the party, they have gone back to where they came from. Some of them have even decamped to APC, so the party did not derive any value from them.

It is five years that the APC has been in government in this state are you happy with their performance, has anything changed

Nothing has changed.  I am happy because I can afford three square meals, but what is there to be happy about when your brothers and sisters are being kidnapped. When we went to Kagara and Tegina if you saw the displaced people how they are living you cannot be happy. Yes they have done their best but they should have done better, everybody expected they should have done better.
I think the state government has not lived up to expectation they have not done well they should have done better.

One of the few things that we have lined up is to take the party back to the people. It is one of the major reform we want to do. We will allow the people decide what they want. The era of allowing some influential people to decide what happens in the party is over. Let majority of the party members at rural areas have a say in the affairs of the party, that is the only way we can win the trust of the people. Again we will ensure we improve on our party primaries in subsequent elections. The last governorship primaries was very peaceful with none of the six aspirants complaining or going to court to challenge its outcome