Professor Abubakar Olanrewaju Sulaiman, a political scientist and former Minister of National Planning, is one of the aspirants vying for the position of the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party. In this interview with TOPE SUNDAY and ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU, he speaks on his aspiration, his selling points, the party’s preparations for the 2019 election and also clarifies the issues he has with the Muhammadu Buhari-led APC government.
From the academia and as a former minister, why are you interested in becoming PDP National Publicity Secretary?
If democracy must survive and we must sustain it, its substance depends on the functionality of other parties in the waiting. As a political scientist and former minister, I think I have my role to play in nurturing democracy in Nigeria. I also believe that I need to nurture the opposition such that Nigerians will see the alternative in opposition, and that is the role, I am about to play now.
What stands you out among other contestants, and what are your selling points?
My selling point is very simple. In the last 28 months, when our government (PDP) exited from power, I remain the only person that have been constructively engaging the Buhari’s government. I remain the only minister, who served in the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan that constructively defends the PDP. Other contestants now that are on board by accident, where were they before now? The office is not for the boys, the game is for the men. And when we are talking about the men, we are not talking about rhetoric, we are not talking about career professionals, we are not talking about being a journalist. Out of all the aspirants for the post of the National Publicity Secretary of PDP, besides being a Professor of Political Science and my experience as a former minister, which gives me an institutional memory above any other person, I remain the only person courageously, daringly challenging this government (APC’s government). None of the aspirants has such record. My track record is unmatchable by any one of them.
The PDP currently has a battered image following series of allegations against it while in power. How do you intend to court the people’s support again?
We lost the 2015 Presidential election not on the basis of non-performance. But the APC was bringing in what it had, occupying Nigeria’s landscape, lying to Nigerians, when PDP was not there to promote what it had done. We need people that will say look what you are doing is wrong. And now that we have discovered our mistakes, the next thing is to search for who could be a good marketer, who could be a good promoter.
To do that, we have to go back to the past to let Nigerians recollect the good things that the PDP has done for them: how the PDP institutionalized democracy and how it has reformed the electoral system in the country. How it has revolutionized the telecommunications sector.
All those tags, all those stigmas, nuances and the blackmails of the APC were because we lacked the people to point at what the party has done and say all the allegations were wrong. This is not about accusing or abusing anybody wrongly, but it is about constructive dissemination of information with facts and figure. Go back to my pedigree in the last 28 months, when I challenge you, I will come with figure and facts.
People have argued that Kwara, where you hail from is not under PDP’s control. Won’t this affect your aspiration?
There is no state in the North Central that is more qualified in terms of our intake and output to the fortunes of the PDP than Kwara state. When people say Kwara is not a PDP state or it has not done anything for the people, I try to disabuse their minds. In 2015, Kwara was a non-PDP state, we did not have a governor, we had only one Senator, who refused to follow Bukola Saraki, that time, to the APC. It was purely to a large extent, an APC-controlled state. All we had was a minister who just came on board barely just a few months without any empowerment for him to work with.
But then, what was required of our presidential candidate then was 25 percent and I gave former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan over 30 percent votes. Niger State that had a seating governor, three Senators and members of the National Assembly, gave Jonathan 18 percent votes. So, who is more qualified? They had all the resources and they could not deliver. Kwara delivered the required percentage of votes to Jonathan. Kogi State that had a seating governor, all the members of the National Assembly, when you compare our (Kwara’s) performance with it, we are still better off. So, that benchmark of not coming from a PDP governing state should not be used for me because Kwara did well during the last election more than so many states in the North. I am very proud of this feat.
You kick-started your campaign on a controversial note, accusing the APC-led government of selectivity in its anti-corruption war. Why that stand?
You see what I said during my declaration was not new. One cannot claim to have integrity as Buhari claims and yet is being selective. You can’t claim to be a Muslim, as Buhari claims and you are being unjust. You can’t claim to be a leader for everybody and you are making a lopsided appointment. These are issues we need to look into, in terms of lack of inclusiveness in administration and we have to address that. And when you see a leader or government treading on the path of injustice and reprobation, it is high time for us as opposition party to call his attention to it. I am not abusing Buhari, I am only constructively engaging the government of day. I am a Muslim like Buhari. I am a Northerner like him. I am Abubakar Sulieman just like he is Muhammadu Buhari. And nobody should use religion to whip up sentiments, what Buhari is doing is not in Islam.
As a major player in the last administration, how will you compare this administration with yours?
I don’t like flogging issues again, whether we are better than them or they are better than us is in the public glare. In terms of employment generation, economic well being, cost of living and in terms investment promotion, it is very clear for everybody to judge. You can’t compare the two, where we were then, is not where we are now.
Inflation rate has gone up, the price of fuel has gone up. Here is a government that says it wants to reduce the cost of governance, ‘oh, I want to prune down the ministers, oh, I won’t use more than 36’, and the same government today is talking about adding more to the cabinet. Does that government know what it’s doing? The APC and Buhari government are lacking policies, most of the things they claimed they want to do are just campaign gimmicks to deceive Nigerians.
With the calibre of personalities vying for various national offices in your party, don’t you think, the PDP might be on its way to another crisis?
That the party was in crisis and is still in crisis is not something we should celebrate over. It is normal. This is a party that was in power for 16 years and suddenly, we lost out. The centre that used to bind everybody together is no longer there. Some of the party members, out of their feeding bottle politics had to leave the party. So you expect this type of fragmentations, which is part of the evolvement of Nigeria’s democratic process. And when people talk of the PDP crisis, I just laugh, because the worst crisis is in the APC.
A government in power could not have NEC meeting for years. So what we are coming up with now? Is this another encyclopaedia, is this another guide for Nigeria’s emerging politicians? So, I wish Nigerian students of politics will see what the PDP is doing in terms of managing post-election crisis. I think it is something that we have to appreciate, and not what people should celebrate. It is normal in politics and Nigeria should appreciate that we set the pace in 1998 and we are setting the pace again. Nigerians should appreciate the maturity in which PDP leaders are managing the crisis.
From the way things are going, it seems the December convention could further polarise the party?
It will polarise it if there is a tendency for any act of imposition. If there is no tendency for imposition, I don’t expect any polarization. If anybody so decides to leave the party thereafter, then it means such a person has an agenda before. What the party has decided now is that every contestant that has duly applied to contest and followed the normal process is eligible to contest.
They are not going to hold anybody down. So if the elective convention is transparent, if is fair and free, no case of imposition and if there is no case of manipulation, I don’t expect anybody on an account of such transparency and fairness in the process to decide to leave the party.
Beyond that, PDP has an internal mechanism in place to reconcile all disenchanted factions. That internal mechanism is still there, the mechanism will be at work to ensure that we manage the post- convention issues should there be any.
What’s your reaction to the PDP National Caretaker Chairman, Senator Ahmed Makarfi statement that all party members undergoing trial for alleged corruption, including you, won’t be barred from contesting? Isn’t this weighty?
What is weighty there? There is nothing weighty there. You see, Nigerians, we are so gullible, including the journalists, we don’t read in-between the lines. If somebody said I was corrupt and took me to court and Nigerians just believed like that because of what happened three days to the election, which was nationwide, in all the 36 states of the federation and the FCT; and involved all the ministers and coordinators of Jonathan (re-election) and because of that, Nigerians believed. We are gullible, we are naïve.
And you think, I will lose sleep over that? And you think our party will, on account of that play into the hands of these charlatans called the APC? No. Makarfi is an experienced person, a seasoned administrator and the PDP itself is a matured party.
We will not be stampeded by the APC. They (APC members) are at liberty to malign our characters. I have said it even corruption in Nigeria is not a life sentence, and how much more, we are not corrupt. Up till now, they have not found anything against me. They (APC) have failed in their quest to decimate the PDP and Nigerians have seen and known that the APC is fighting a war of extinction of its opponents. To us as a party, we care less, let him come tomorrow and arrest all us of us, it doesn’t bother us. What I said a year ago when I was arrested, I am repeating it again Buhari must be ready to face God and account for all his injustices.
Every of your party’s aspirants has promised to dislodge the APC come 2019. Are you saying President Buhari doesn’t merit re-election considering his fight against corruption?
Buhari and the APC are not fighting corruption. Buhari is only fighting the perceived enemies using the corruption toga to decimate them. Where is the fight against corruption? Has his war against corruption stopped the police from collecting bribe on the street? Has it stopped electoral sorting? Has it changed anything? Go to Tertfund and see what is happening there. Tell me the programme he has in place to fight corruption. He is not out to fight corruption, but to fight perceived enemies and derogate his predecessor as being bad. So, Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade is not working.
Are you now saying that in the last two years, the APC has not recorded any achievement to seek re-election?
I am not saying there are no achievements. Perhaps, they are able to improve our government’s fight against the Boko Haram. Jonathan was able to push Boko Haram out from the North-Central. Don’t forget what happened in Niger State, don’t forget what happened in Nyanya. We had an election and there was no attack. I could say he was able to improve on that. But while he was able to improve on that, it has not solved the Boko Haram attack. That has not stopped the herdsmen attack, has not stopped the killing of Shii’tes. That has not stopped the killing of IPOB and insecurity is still on the increase. But on the micro level, it has improved on the Boko Haram level.
On physical development, I have not seen what they have done. May be the only thing they claim to have done is the runway of the airport, which to me, it doesn’t make sense. So, on comparative basis therefore, I don’t see any credible achievement of Buhari’s government that is enough to get him back to power in 2019 except their desperate move to stay in power.