Former Minster of National Planning, Professor Abubakar Olanrewaju Suleiman, is the Director-General of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Campaign Council for this year’s general elections in Kwara state. Prior to this appointment, Suleiman had participated in the PDP governorship primaries alongside nine others and lost the bid to clinch the party’s ticket to Rasaq Atunwa. He spoke with UMAR BAYO ABDULWAHAB on the sideline of a press conference on the recent attack on members of the PDP and the residence of the Senate president in Ilorin.
Ilorin political violence and attack on PDP members
We, members of PDP in Kwara state, especially, the stakeholders and indeed the government of Kwara state, were saddened by the development that took place recently when in the course of their illegal procession members of the defunct APC; I used the word defunct because as far as we are concerned, they are no longer recognised. In the course of their illegal procession within the metropolises of Ilorin, they attacked our teeming members in their various meeting points, wrecked havoc on them, stabbed most of them, and shot most of them. As we speak to you, most of them are in hospital, we have one member of ours who received eleven bullets from gunshots and they were able to retrieve about seven. Attempts are being made to remove others, some were being stabbed, and some were being stoned on the head.
This is uncivil; in Kwara state we are peaceful people, we are loving people. The PDP as a party is out and ready to conduct this electoral process without recourse to violence and as such we want to appeal to security agencies, the electoral body and indeed the Nigerian people that the peace that Kwara is known for is being taken for granted by some desperate politicians who believe the only thing they can do to wrest power from Kwara state is to instil fear in the minds of Kwara people, especially the electorate, and indeed our party members. This act of violence, this act of attack, this act of hooliganisms is condemnable.
Our appeal, therefore, is that the law enforcement agencies, the APC government-led government should allow due process to hold sway in the course of electioneering process. Campaign process should be a sportsmanship affair, it should be a brotherly affair; it shouldn’t differ to violence as a way of changing government if the need be. Let the will of Kwara people come to play by February.
No doubt, this act of violence by the defunct characters in the APC was carried out as a way of intimidating our party. And to us, therefore, as a party, it was nothing but a sign of defeat. We, as a party, will not condone any act that could militate against the peaceful existence of our people.
Again, we will not fold our arms and watch some characters in their self-seeking ambition to constitute real threat to our members and our good people of Kwara state. That this incident happened in the Senate President’s country home and environs speaks volumes.
When the first incident happened on Thursday, we complained to the law enforcement agency, addressed the press and issued warning to our members to remain calm. Our party is a peaceful party. Our party is a party on ground in Kwara state. Our party is not scared of any party at all.
Our party is set for the elections in February 2019; therefore, we have no cause at all to engage in any act of violence.
We, as a political party, PDP, remain resolute and will not engage in any act of brigandage and violence. And again, we want to appeal to the APC-led government, especially the law enforcement agents, the police in particular, to be on top of this job.
This is not the country of our own dream. This is not democracy we all fought for. It is unfortunate that today the people that were not part of the struggle to enthrone democracy are the beneficiaries of democracy. That is why they wouldn’t know the value of democracy.
We appeal to the IGP and other law enforcement agencies to assist Kwara people from these invaders, who want to turn Kwara to another theatre of war. There is no doubt that the act was premeditated.
Causing violence before an election is to create an impression that Kwara is not conducive for any election.
We urge President Muhammadu Buhari to do the needful, to follow the footsteps of his predecessor by ensuring that his own ambition should not worth the blood of any Nigerian. Violence should not be tolerated. What is happening in the last five days in Ilorin is an unusual scenario.
Those incidents of violence happened a few days after you flagged off your campaign in Kwara north; there was outcry over insecurity in the area following a botched flag-off by the opposition party. From what you saw, how would you describe the security situation in that area?
(Cuts in) Insecurity in Kwara-north?
I think I am happy with that question; the flag-off was not just the sign post that suggested that in Kwara-north there is no of disharmony, there is no case of violence. Before that flag-off, we had been to Kwara-north about two or three times. It will interest you to know that the Senate president was there himself two weeks ago; he was in Baruten, he was in Patigi, he was in Kaiama and before you get to Baruten, you have to ply all these roads. There was no incident of attacks, no incident of any mayhem throughout the period the Senate president was in Kwara- north and thereafter our gubernatorial candidate, Hon. Abulrasaq Atunwa, in company of the party chairman, went back on the same route. There wasn’t any incident of violence, we were well received and you needed to see the mammoth crowd that welcomed us to the city of Kwara -north. People still love the PDP, we went to Bode- Saadu to do the flag off another local government in Kwara-north, and you saw the mammoth crowd yourself, we went there peacefully and came out peacefully.
Your party lost in the Ekiti, Oke-ero /Irepodun bye-election for House of Representatives; what would you say are its chances in this year’s elections considering the popular slogan of O to ge (enough is enough) which has become a household song in the state?
First of all, let me correct an impression about that last election Irepodun, Oke-Ero Isin; I want to tell you that that election was not lost by the PDP. The election was won by the APC in the collation centre, where thumb-printing took place, where changing of figures took place.
Secondly, I said it before their joyous mood is going to be temporary by February 16, when we are going to have first election that will be a replay of that election. Don’t forget that apart from the change of figures in the collation centre and thumb-printing, the federal government used its position to harass people with security. You were aware that helicopters were used to hover over major cities in Omu-Aran and Oro, scaring voters away while they were doing so many of the hatchet job on ground. You were aware that so many of our members were arrested just a few hours to the election including political office holders that are special advisers to the governor of the state.
Prior to your appointment as the Director General of the PDP Council in Kwara state, you were also governorship aspirant. How comfortable are you working with Dr Bukola Saraki considering where you were coming from; you have been critical of the Saraki’s Dynasty.
I want to tell you with pride and sense of belonging that I am more comfortable where I am today than where I was before. At times it is not good for you to judge from a distance. Where I was before we are lacking one thing and that is leadership. Even when I was a minister and by virtue of being the Minister of Nation Planning from Kwara sate ordinarily I was the leader of the party, I was not accepted to lead the party and that was why at that time there was rancour everywhere, everybody laying claim to the leadership. You may have all sympathy, you may have all the followers, you may have the ideology, where you lack leadership you cannot get anywhere. A leader must lead; a leader must provide the direction. A party without leadership is a party that is vulnerable to doom. So, I can tell you that one good variable that keeps the leadership in Kwara state on now referring to Dr Bukola Saraki is the fact that in his camp, in any political party his people there, the followers, accepted him as the leader and that keeps the team on. So, when I lost in my bid to ascend to the gubernatorial candidate of the party because they have a leader that could just mobilise people and say just accept this, let’s forge ahead.
Out of the 10 of you one person must be the gubernatorial candidate of the party; so because of that sense of direction provided by his leadership, we all caved in and that is today none of the nine that lost in that bid has defected to another party. We are all working together and that was why all the aspirants then nominated their people into the campaign team for Atunwa and others. So, I am more comfortable where I am by that sense of direction. I keep on saying one thing that by my experience, observation and what I have seen in the last few days, what I can tell you is that it is only God that is perfect; even the prophets of God were not perfect; not even prophet Muhammad was perfect.
Therefore, Bukola Saraki is human, he is not perfect so because of that imperfection which God has made us; so whatever his shortcomings and weaknesses, they are something we can beef up, they are something that can be corrected. For now, in Kwara state, there is no substitute to his leadership; there is no alternative to his leadership. Let anybody tell me who that alternative is; the gubernatorial candidate for APC today never attended our PDP meetings when we were in the opposition, never for one day. The gubernatorial candidate in APC today never sat down with us to discuss party issue; the gubernatorial candidate in APC today never impacted on the life of any Kwara people; I stand to be corrected. So, where is pedigree, where is the antecedent, where is the record?
The PDP at the national level seems not to be having it easy; just recently the former deputy national chairman of the party was suspended and he defected to the APC. Don’t you think that that will have a serious implication for you party in the general elections?
What I know and which we must admit is the fact that every political party has its own challenges. The man that was suspended with due respect to him; his resignation and subsequent suspension is a fallout of Bauchi PDP crisis. Don’t forget he aspired to be gubernatorial candidate he lost out, don’t forget that Mu’azu Adamu, a one-time chairman of our party who has been on the run for almost three and half years, all of a sudden surfaced without any law enforcement agency apprehending or ask him questions.
Nigerians should ask the question why did Adamu disappear since 2015, what was the issue, what was the allegation? All of a sudden he has re-appeared. Who is giving him that succour, who is giving him that solace, why are they condoning such? These are questions that border on integrity; these are questions that border on credibility, the same party that tends to flaunt integrity as its mantra, the same party that cherishes incompatibility; that condemns corruption.
So, if by any error of omission or commission, we fail to do the thing, we are in to serious problem, kidnapping will continue, Boko Harram has not stopped, you can say yes, during the PDP government some villages were occupied by terrorists, it is not about occupation, it is about death toll, it is about insecurity, it is about threat to security.
Some people say the PDP is overheating the polity by playing politics with the issue of security, Amina Zakari and INEC. How would you react to this?
It’s not overheating the polity and I want to believe that if journalists do their work very well, you will know who is overheating the polity. Don’t forget that in the build-up to the 2015 elections, every second Lai Mohammed was on air to say yes, the occupation of Ojota was because of Jonathan. So, in terms of overheating the polity, the PDP has been very, very civil; we have conducted ourselves in a much civilised manner. What we are doing is that these three and half years of deceit must come to an end; we need to let Nigerians understand the issue. A party, a government will not lie to Nigerians that the economy is growing and they want us to keep mute, a government will not lie to Nigerians that there is no corruption and they want us to keep mute, a government in power will be so ineffective, incapacitated not to have addressed insecurity. We have lost so many Generals to Boko Harram terrorists, to bandits; we have lost so many police officers to terrorists, bandits and you want us to keep mute? What we are doing is to address issues, and where they believe the issues being addressed are not in tandem with reality, they should come out and defend themselves. It is not about coming out to say we are overheating the polity.
Thank God, in the last four years, they have not alleged that PDP as a party is trying to sponsor some hoodlums against the government of the day. What we do most of the time is to come out and address the press about the state of affairs. If that is what they meant by overheating the polity, we are ready to do more and more of that. Nigerians must know the problems and Nigerians must know that APC in government is not a solution to Nigerian problems.