In this interview on ARISE NEWS Channel, a former President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, spoke on the chance of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party to retake power in next month’s presidential election. The former Kwara State governor took a swipe at the ruling All Progressives Congress, describing the party as a failure and warning Nigerian against rewarding it with their votes in the poll. James Emejo brings excerpts:
What is Atiku Abubakar’s path to victory, and what are his chances and that of PDP?
First, I strongly believe that the 2023 election is a referendum on the performance of the APC government and the party and I believe that a country like ours, a very progressive country with a lot of progressive individuals would never reward failure.
The question that Nigerians must ask is: Has this government and party failed or done well in the last seven years plus?
And let’s take the indices one by one because I want to stay on issues and move away from sentiments. In 2015, their promise to Nigerians was that we would fight insecurity, we would improve the economy, would create jobs for the youths – those were the major issues.
In 2015, if you can remember very clearly, issues of insecurity were limited to the North-east. Since then, till today, we’ve seen insecurity in the North-west – farmers cannot go to their farms, people are being killed and kidnapped; we’ve seen herdsmen and farmers clash in the North-central and we’ve seen the highest level of oil theft in the South-south – and we’ve seen kidnapping. So, on the issue of security, they have not performed, they have failed.
Let’s take the economy, and again, I will take them one by one and I would challenge you, because you are all well- knowledgeable on these issues; let’s take inflation – the inflation level today is about 16 per cent which was never like this in the time of PDP in the single digit. You have the highest number of Nigerians below the poverty line at 133 million; it was not like that. Unemployment under PDP was about six per cent to seven per cent; today it is 33 per cent; youth unemployment about 40 per cent. Foreign Direct Investment if we are lucky may be just about $2 billion compared to $8 billion to $9 billion.
These are facts we cannot run away from; on the economy as well, the exchange rate was N200, the official rate was probably N195, and the parallel market N230 – today official about N450 and the black market N735. It’s never been like this. And these are facts.
When you take all these issues, they have failed and as they’ve failed as a political party, we cannot reward failure. So, I don’t even think that the race should be about APC; they’ve had an opportunity to make Nigerians’ lives better but they have not.
The question now goes as you’ve all asked – who next? Some would say oh, do we want to go back to PDP? Let’s talk about that back to PDP- the PDP days.
The PDP days as I said, we had insecurity limited to just one part of the country. In the PDP days we are talking about, we had GDP growth of about six per cent to seven per cent. Now, we are seeing GDP growth of about two per cent, less than the population growth.
In the PDP days, we talked about, we had Foreign Direct Investment into this country – about $8 billion – and the largest economy in Africa. These were the PDP days, the exchange rate was not N700 inching to N1,000 at a time, these were the PDP days.
PDP days, the country was more united but now it is no more; now, it is normal in democratic settings that the populace has a choice, especially when you get tired of a party and you say oh, I want to try another party. But when the party has failed, you come back to those they call the good days and that is what PDP offers under Atiku Abubakar.
When you talk about other parties, with great respect to them, to the individuals, particularly Peter. But don’t forget again that what we run in Nigeria, we run a presidential system. When you go to that ballot box on election day, you are voting for the party. Now, a party where from day one, you don’t have candidates in all the parliamentary seats; so, already from day one, there’s a recipe for disaster because you know that the executives and legislature are not going to have a majority. And a lot of people when you ask them what is their concern, they tell you restructuring. These are things that need constitutional review. These are things that need you also to have a majority in the National Assembly.
Investors are no longer satisfied with Executive Orders. They want to see legislations to support investment. So, if as a small party, you don’t have a spread; we’ve seen our experience in 2015 – let’s move away from internship to reality and practicality.
The practicality – why APC has failed is because APC really was a special vehicle party to win elections, not a party that was built with cohesion. And so, a small party that does not have the spread across the country, even if it has a president and doesn’t have parliament from day one, we are not going to see what Nigerians what to see. The laws that would change the country, the laws that would make the country move efficiently
Now, that takes me back to Atiku Abubakar. In Atiku Abubakar, you have a candidate that is ready from day one to run, and you’ll say what do I mean by that- the experience he has is even at a federal level not sub-national. All the other candidates, with due respect to them, have been at best governors at the sub-national level. I have been a governor as well; but I will tell you from my experience as governor for eight years, and my experience as president of the senate, presiding over Nigerians from different parts of the country, different languages, a different religion, and different culture. That experience, you don’t gain it at the sub-national because you’re a governor because if you’re a governor, it is not multi-ethnicity.
Do you think PDP has done enough; if elections were to happen today, where do you think the party and candidate are so strong to get the results required?
The PDP again as a party and with the candidature we have with Atiku Abubakar, we will easily get our 25 per cent constitutional requirements across the country.
If you do any polling, or any discussions, you’ll find out that we are either coming first or we are coming second in most of the states; South-south has always been a strong PDP area, and we will do very well in South-south. South-east – the challenge we have over there, of course, is Labour Party but we would still do well and take our 25 per cent.
We would do well in North-central, we will do well in North-west and North-east – you need four zones and by the time you have four zones, you will win the election. So, the four zones that we would win – we will win North-west, we would win North-east, we would win South-south and we would win North-central – those are the four zones and we would take our 25 per cent in more than 24 states; here’s no doubt in my mind about that.
You talked about the failure of the APC government on security, and economy. Why you believed that the PDP coming into power would make a difference? You were elected on the platform of the APC in 2015 when you were as senate president. Was that one of the reasons you left APC because of their ideology and how they handled the economy and security situation?
Yes, you can come in with the news but it has to be comprehensive. In France, when Macron came in, he was not part of the structure; but the movement there was not just on the executive, the people voted for even parliamentary candidates of that party. I am not saying there is anything wrong with that; what I am saying from what you’ve seen – the party itself started in April/May – these kinds of movements should have started earlier where it’s not just the president – that’s the point I am making – that it must also be the House of Assembly, National Assembly, where a party from day one, does not have candidates filing all the positions in the National Assembly, it’s already a problem and that’s the point I am making. I am not saying, I am not talking of structure in that sense. So, from day one, and based on my experience, and I am sure you’ve seen it – it means that government would not be functional, because definitely, it would not have that support to be able to drive, because all this is for what, to be able to drive these changes. So, what you’re promising as a presidential candidate – oh, when I get there, I will make sure states have powers, I will make sure that this happens – it can only happen when you have the support. And so, that’s the point I am making there.
Going back to the other question; as you can see, and you all know the history, I parted ways. I’ve said I was one of those that came and sold APC to Nigerians but I realised very early on that we are not going to deliver on the promises made and this was not what we promised Nigerians. We’d promised Nigerians as I said, that we would bring employment, we would fight insecurity and we would ensure we create enabling environment for investments – and these are not happening. And as such, there was no way my conscience would continue to stay at that party. I have said it many times, even those who are in that party cannot tell Nigerians that they have performed because the indices are there.
Of any of those things that I have said this morning if anyone can fault them – but for as long as you cannot fault any of those things I have said, that party has failed. And if it has failed, are we going to reward failure? I don’t think, in our lives, we don’t reward failures, in our homes, we don’t reward failure, in our offices, we don’t reward failure – they have failed.
The same way in 2015 when Nigerians taught PDP had failed, they voted for another party.
So, I am saying that no matter the propaganda, we must go back to content. Have they performed? If they have failed, then the agenda or discussion we should be holding for the next four weeks is where do we go as Nigerians? Do we go to any of these small parties that are offering a dream or their own vision or do we go to safe hands? I am saying that Atiku Abubakar is a safe hand today and because of the precarious position this country is in, we cannot afford an experiment in 2023.
There are conversations that politicians have the penchant for jumping ships when they think things are not going right but that’s what they should be doing as it is done in other climes – stay within the boat and try and create the change. A typical example that was given is that Tinubu – that in spite of whatever might have been the errors of the current Buhari administration, he stayed there and contested so as to change whatever had gone wrong. Why wouldn’t you stay with APC and be part of the change within that would ensure that APC performs and delivers on its promise?
I am not saying they shouldn’t. The point is that the party has failed. Yes, he is asking for an opportunity to be given a chance to repair. He says ‘I will continue where Buhari has left off’, that’s what he is saying to Nigerians. But I am saying that with what Nigerians have been through, the pains, the hardship, it is not the time to go through that; Nigerians are looking for a better time; they are looking for a much fruitful future and so, it is a choice they have to make. What I am saying is that as Nigerians, we should still ask ourselves that this party has failed, and the candidate is saying I will improve on the failure, I will make it better but there are other options for Nigerians. The other option for Nigerians is to go to that party that in their time, the economy was much better, the country was more secure and we should go back to that.
As a Nigerian, do you think it will be fair in terms of equity to have another Hausa-Fulani as the next president of Nigeria?
I think it will be fair. The issues are that what is fair is a better Nigeria. Now, if you look at the number of years when power has been between the North and South between since 1999, particularly under this present republic, there hasn’t been that much difference, it is a difference of four years that’s still on to the north to balance. So, there’s no large discrimination on one side. But what is fair now in my view – I sit down and I talk to Nigerians – it is a better life. Atiku Abubakar will provide that better life. Unfortunately, the reason why we got to where we are; where ethnicity and religion have become so paramount is again part of the failure of APC. Atiku Abubakar does not belong to that. Here is a man who if you look at his career, he’s lived in the North, he’s lived in the South, he’s surrounded by people from across the country – his focus would be pan-Nigerian and he’s been like that. And another issue against other candidates who have played regional politics mostly, he’s always put Nigeria first. So, what is fair is will we get a better Nigeria? I think we would get a better Nigeria with Atiku because he would be transparent, and he would not have a lopsided appointment; what has raised issues like this that people like you ask ‘is it fair?’ It is because of what we’ve seen the APC party do in appointments; you do appointments with disregard to certain parts of the country; you take certain actions as if certain parts of the country do not matter – that is what has aggravated why Nigerians feel like this. But more important than that is who would make Nigeria better? Who will unite this country? Who has friends across this country irrespective of tribe and religion? Because his antecedents have shown that.
Let’s talk about making Nigeria better…let’s look at the economy – N77 trillion debt profile. The next president is bound to inherit it and an economically weak nation and we have a revenue challenge. What are the plans of the PDP presidential candidate to revive the economy, shore up revenue base and tackle the debt burden?
That’s huge, I mean if you can recollect, when PDP was off in 2015, the total debt profile was about N10 trillion, today as you rightly said, maybe they will tell you it’s N40 trillion but if you add Ways and Means, it’s about N77 trillion and you’re running at about 90 per cent of debt to revenue. That is because I remember when I was president of the senate when we had an economic recession. We organised a meeting with the private sector and one of the things we were driving then was investment, looking at assets where we can allow people to invest but this government discontinued it and decided to go on one line which is borrowing. There was no opportunity given to people to come and invest. So, the only opportunity if you don’t have the revenue was to borrow. Under Atiku Abubakar who has always said he would be private sector-driven, you would see investments coming in because there are lots of people that still want to invest in this country. But the language and attitude of the APC government has not encouraged them. So, three things are key; one, oil theft needs to be dealt with precisely and that’s why we’ve lost a great opportunity – oil-producing countries during this Russia-Ukraine war have had a great time; look at Angola, they’ve benefitted from this, it is not acceptable and despite this, we are still having oil theft. That would stop and the corruption there would stop.
On the issue of foreign exchange, he has also said multiple rates would stop and that would encourage investments and people coming in. There are people who want to bring currency into the country but they are not going to come in when they know the official rate is not realistic. So, you are trying to ensure that funds come in so there would be more money available. Thirdly, if you have the private sector leading infrastructure development, some of the private sectors can take it off your hand and these are ways you can create jobs and then you start reducing your level of borrowing, and the only way to do that as I said where some of those projects can begin to look for other sources of finance which is equity, investment of the private sector. The reality is that until you build confidence in the private sector to invest in this country, this pathway which they are going, which is reckless – I mean you have a budget deficit now which is 4.76 per cent. The Fiscal Responsibility Act that exists now, I am sure a lot of you don’t know; I remember I was SA Budget when I went to meet Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and I said I saw this law in Brazil to do fiscal responsibility and he said bring it to me and he moved for that law to be passed. And that law said you must not go above 2 per cent to 3 per cent of fiscal revenue; this government is running 4.76 per cent – that would not happen under Atiku Abubakar. He’ll bring down the level of borrowing and so, there would be some level of discipline. Now, if you also remember, under the PDP government that there was a lot of engagement with the private sector; I remover I was a young SA at that time – every Saturday, the president and the vice president, because he was chairman of the economic council, he used to meet with leaders of different sectors and business community that would come and tell them what were the issues they had that was affecting business. And they will address them with technocrats. This is the kind of government that you are going to have with Atiku Abubakar – hands-on, private sector driven that will bring confidence for investment. Look, Africa is still the continent for investment, we are lucky about that and so, if we get the message right – the body language if this government does not encourage any private sector person bringing in money and so the government has to fund everything but immediately you create that, the government would have to fund less, your foreign reserves would pick up, you would borrow less and also your revenues would go up. He has also said the issue of fuel subsidy is something that we have to let go of so your revenues will pick up.
And you were part of the people that left the PDP government and moved to APC; you said the government was better and then you left, isn’t it?
Yes, I did. Sometimes in life, you do take decisions, and it was done out of the interest of this country. But, one was also bold and manly enough to say we made a mistake, this cannot take us there because the promises and expectations were not there.
So, you are acknowledging that all of you that left PDP in 2015 made a mistake…?
I can’t speak for everybody. I can only speak for myself…And the last was education. These are the core agenda that Atiku has put in and so when talking about a lot of noise, I think he’s the one that is speaking about what he wants to do from day one and that’s what separates him from the other candidates. He’s had the opportunity to sit down with two of the big three television channels where he sat down, they asked him about his policy and he responded for two and a half hours telling Nigerians what he wants to do. Let the other candidates, particularly the other leading strong party – until they do that in my view, they have not even started campaigning. Campaigning through proxies is different from you sitting down and telling Nigerians this is what I intend to do so that Nigerians can judge you. I hear people talk about teams, yes, but there must be leadership, and there must be a vision. Nigeria needs leaders that are hands-on; if you are not hands-on as we’ve seen in the last eight years, it would not work because the work that needs to be done is a lot. We need somebody who knows what he expects, who is ready to chase all that he expects, and who has an idea. Your team is as good as where you lead them to. So, this is why I believe strongly that going forward for this country from where we are now; I hear you on some of the issues but I think and I believe strongly that he is best prepared to take us to where we want to go.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had said to a group of students last year that one of the mistakes he made was picking Waziri Atiku Abubakar as his as his number two candidate…if someone he worked very closely with for eight years comes out to say picking him as his vice president was a mistake…should Nigerian be heading to the polls on February 25 to elect such a candidate?
But Obasanjo in 2019 when we were campaigning, also said Atiku was a good candidate for Nigeria…but, the issue is this, let’s leave out what Obasanjo said and let’s look at what he did when he was vice president. As I said, as vice president, he was head of the economic council. He drove a lot of the privatisation, he addressed the issue of the economy; did PDP do well on issues of economy during that period? The PDP government did well.
So is Obasanjo supporting Atiku this time?
Obasanjo has said his own view, from what I hear, that he strongly believes that there should be a southern president. That’s his view and I will say he said that because I ran for presidential primaries and I went to see him seeking support and he said, my son, my view is that I think that there should be a southern president. So, that’s his view and he is entitled to his view. That doesn’t mean because he thinks or believes there should be a southern president, Atiku is no longer good. And I am saying that let’s go by the records that exist for Atiku Abubakar. You see, this is why I keep on coming to those in the media – let us stand and stick to the issues; you talked about health – all we know is that Atiku Abubakar was in London to attend a meeting with the UK government; it was some propaganda trying to raise the impression that oh most of the candidates are not health. We know those that are not and have health challenges. So, Atiku Abubakar does not belong to that category. Atiku Abubakar is ready to debate the issues, he’s come to tell Nigerians what he wants to do. A leading party that wants to rule this country is not doing that, they are sending proxies, and that sends a bad signal. And it’s not just the president even people running for governor, are not talking to their people, then when they become governors and they don’t perform, we are surprised, why should we be. I believe that any candidate that is not ready to tell the people that want to vote that this is what I want to do, is not fit for that position. Tell us, it might not be perfect but let us know what…and I think it’s wrong for voters to go and vote for somebody who has not even sat down and told you what he wants to do. So, my take is that Atiku is very fit, and as I said, look at his discussion on his policy – that is somebody that knows and not somebody that was given a policy and is reading it out. He is ready to come out and take questions. Today, we are here in Lagos before the Economic Summit Group, he’s having interviews with different media organisations, he wants to talk about policy and what he wants to do, and that’s a candidate that is prepared from day one to be up and running.
A lot of people have said that in politics make as many friends as you can, and avoid very strong enemies because they would come out with all kinds of troubles. Now, unfortunately, Atiku Abubakar and PDP seem to have an enemy that used to be within. What is the level of damage that the G-5 led by Governor Wike has done to the PDP and your candidate?
I will be very honest with you, like any political party, you want everybody to be on board and move in one direction. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen but the election is not tomorrow. Let’s say it’s still another six weeks to go, and you know politics and as they always say, that 24 hours is a long time, we were in Plateau yesterday to commiserate and condole with the people of the state over a ghastly motor accident and we paid a visit to the former governor of the state, Governor Jang who you all know three weeks ago said, I would not support Atiku. Today, we are happy to hear he says it’s PDP, it’s top to bottom, he’s supporting Atiku. So, a lot of stuff is being done. I told you at the opening that I believe that we will do well in the North-east, with the exception of probably two states, we will do well in the four states in the North-east, and we will do well in the North-west, and I am confident that we will take five to six states in the North-west. We will do well in the North-central and it’s fast being a PDP state; and despite the issues, we will do well in Benue, despite the fact that the governor is not…you see, don’t forget that with the new electoral Act, with the technology brought in, we are still looking at politics as if it is a command and control that one man…no, it’s changed. People now have voices; people now have their views. I am not saying they are not important; Benue is PDP – let’s say we are going to score 400,000 because of this issue, yes, we would lose some votes, but I still believe we would win Benue and we would win Plateau. The point I am making is that even in Oyo State, you saw people of Oyo State are saying, governor, we hear you, we understand you but guess what? We are voting Atiku. So, the point I am making is that we’ve still got 40 days to go and we will see more and more of some of the members come on board. It’s unfortunate, it could have given us a bigger margin; but what I am saying is that between now and then, we would likely bring back most of these voters onboard. You saw them, and they told you that by the first week of January, they are going to tell Nigerians where they are going, we are now in the middle of January and they’ve not told Nigerians where they are going and if you read into that, there’s something going on. I am saying that we have the capacity that come the time of the election, you would see that the situation is not…so, I cannot predict something that I cannot – because I know that there are some things happening that I don’t want to share with you.
The agitation of the G-5 Governors is that the presidential candidate of your party and the chairman of your party are from the same zone. You have also talked about the nepotism in the particular administration and what Nigerians are saying is that if you are not able to handle it within your party, what is the assurance for Nigerians that you wouldn’t address such issues in the event that your candidate becomes president?
In addition, people are saying if you cannot manage your internal leadership crisis in the PDP, how then would you manage the diversity and complexity of the politics of Nigeria as a whole?
I think first, the solution that the G-5 wants is not something that is easy to do without addressing the constitution of the party and processes. It is not something he can do just by his own decision. That’s one; it is different when you’re an executive president of the country, those are within your powers but these are strictly party issues. But I can assure you that it is an issue of timing. What the G-5 are asking for in terms of equity balancing; everybody is on the same page with that and it’s all about when it would happen. Those were the kinds of things we were talking about. Nobody is against what they’re saying, it’s about timing – when should it be done, how should we go about it and I promise you that we are working to make sure those issues are addressed.
The chairman himself did not say he wants to sit tight and do this, but what is important before us is this election. We hear those cries, we hear those issues. I don’t want to see a president Atiku from the North being sworn-in in March 2023 as president and in the same year we continue to have a northern chairman, I don’t see that. It’s all about timing and how best to go about it. So, the fears of Nigerians that oh, this is a party that doesn’t care or listen to those issues, it’s not that, it’s how to go about the processes to ensure we don’t break laws in trying to do that. I can assure you that I will be back here in 2023.
Even the chairman has said that if Atiku emerges president which we are hopeful he would emerge, the issue of chairman would be addressed. That has already been said but the G-5 are saying no, we want it now! So, we are not that far apart and I can assure Nigerians we are not that far apart and that’s why some of them are beginning to understand and say you know what, let’s go and win that election and we would come back and address it. The point I am saying is that as we continue to engage with Nigerians, we see the bigger picture that there are 200 million Nigerians that are waiting to see a new government, a new direction for Nigeria. That issue is more important, I am not saying that the issue of the party is not important. They want to see better life, better security; they believe that through Atiku Abubakar that would happen. So, a lot of us at the party say you know what? Let’s think of the future of Nigerians; let’s go and vote for Atiku Abubakar and as we do that, we also address the issue of the chairmanship of the party.
Every politician has something they are looking for and that’s why they are into politics. Nobody just goes into it and says for the general good of the nation and I am being altruistic about it. More often when you hear politicians say for the general good of the people that they are called to serve, the assumption is that it is not true. What is in it for you if Atiku Abubakar were to become President of Nigeria because you’re not in the National Assembly so what’s the deal for you by supporting Atiku?
The deal for me is to reverse the unfortunate eight years that this country has gone through. And I will say it categorically when I ran for president, people said go to the senate; I am not interested and I don’t have to be in public office but I am desperate for a new direction for this country; I believe that Atiku Abubakar, with what I have heard, his background and what he has done, would drive the economy which is key. Even when we talk of insecurity, we must go back to the issue of the economy, I know he would drive that economy, he would create private sector investment, would plug the issue of oil theft, he would address the issue of subsidy, he would bring in investors. If the country begins to get better, people will begin to say thank God, we made a mistake a long time ago but the country is now moving in the right direction.