Nothing wrong with PRP alliance with PDP — Batagarawa

As a party that is known for its ideological purity, the Peoples Redemption Party(PRP) stands out of the motley crowd of the over 50 odd political parties in Nigeria, for its history and consistency. However, the party is now trying to open up and accommodate what may seem like strange bedfellows into its fold. In this interview with IBRAHEEM MUSA, former Minister of Defence in the Obasanjo administration, Alhaji Lawal Batagarawa who is the chairman of the Review Committee, sheds more light on the proposed new PRP.

You were Minister of Defence during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo but recently, you chaired a meeting of the Review Committee of the Peoples Redemption Party(PRP). When did you defect to PRP?

Now, defection is a wrong word to use. The fact of the matter is that a lot of movements have taken place in the Nigerian political landscape; people have moved from one party to another, so the word defection sounds negative. But the reality of what has happened is that PDP no longer represents those ideals for which it was established.

Some of those ideals have already been achieved. One of the major ideals was the provision of a strong political platform that can take on the responsibility of government from the military. To that extent, that objective has been achieved. Democracy has been around for the last 16 years, going to 20 years. Elections have been held and a sitting government has been defeated by an opposition party.

A sitting government has succeeded itself; one party has succeeded itself and an opposition party has succeeded a ruling party. To that extent, we can say that that objective of the PDP has been achieved.

Now, having achieved that main objective, many people have different readings of what PDP should be doing after that. There are disagreements as to whether it is going in the right direction.

As a consequence of those differences of opinion, some people have moved to APC and others have moved to other smaller parties. But we have decided to move over to PRP, which is the original platform on which I started politics in the 1970s.

So, what is the attraction of PRP?

When I joined the PRP four decades ago, it was on the basis of the commitment that we are going to offer public service. And that public service is to emancipate the bulk majority of people all across Nigeria.

We have achieved components of that from 1979 to 1983, when we ran and managed the governments of the then Kaduna state, which is present day Katsina and Kaduna states and former Kano state which comprised present Kano and Jigawa states. We recorded a lot of success in the area of infrastructural development and education.

If you will recall, it was at that period that Kano State Agency for Mass Education under the late Umaru Aji, won the UNESCO award of international learning in1982. That was a major cardinal programme of the PRP.

We believe that as at now, those ideals which Northern Elements Progressives Union(NEPU), which preceded PRP, was established are still required.

However, the circumstances between that time and now have changed, the environment has changed. So, those objectives that were achieved will now be replaced with others.

That is why we decided to go back to where we belong. We are working very hard to link up with people of like-minds, people of similar beliefs and commitments to come together to push PRP forward as a major national party.

In the second republic, PRP was the rallying point of virtually all radicals and most intellectuals as well as idealists across the country. Now, what are you going to do to expand the horizon of the party? Is it why you held the Review Committee meeting in Kaduna three weeks ago?

The whole idea of having a holistic review committee is to look at all aspects of what PRP was and what the party should be. And in that case, we tried to look at its history and see how its ideals can be replicated under the current circumstances as I had said earlier. Some of the major objectives of NEPU which transformed into PRP have been achieved. But new challenges have come up in the country but our core values from NEPU to PRP, is public service and we are committed to one Nigeria. We need to strengthen what remains of its national unity by trying to provide service for the people, so that every single Nigerian can develop to his maximum capacity. In order to achieve that, two major components must be present.

One, there must be adequate security of lives and property. After all, one of the guiding principles and foundations of Nigerian constitution is that the primary responsibility of government is to provide security of lives and property. As you know, security is a major challenge in Nigeria today. Insecurity comes in different forms in different parts of the country.

Whereas in the North east we have an insurgency of Boko Haram, in the North west you have the issue of banditry, where people who are holed up in the forest, come out and kill people at will and disappear. They also engage in massive, massive cattle rustling. In the North central, we have the herders/farmers clashes. And in the South south, we have the problem of Niger Delta militants.

In the South west, you have a major issue of kidnapping. Also around the creeks in the South west, you have major security challenges of banditry which is very similar to the North west. In the South east, again it is the same issue of kidnapping. All these insecurities are very distracting and they do not allow for an effective human activity for people to achieve their maximum God-given capacities. It’s a major challenge now.

The second is that you cannot expand the frontiers of your capacity without education. Education is a major challenge.

In a number of states, enrolment into primary schools is about 23% and transition from primary to secondary schools is also very low. In other words, in a number of states in the federation, for every 100 children of school going age, only 23 go to primary schools.

Out of these 23, only 4 go into secondary schools. This is a major challenge. For us in the PRP who are totally committed to the empowerment of the human person, it is a major problem.

Of course, when you establish a secure environment and provide education, then the diversification of the economy for people to thrive and grow to their maximum potential becomes an easier task to achieve. We are absolutely committed to growing the Nigerian economy and developing it. Of course, there is a major difference between economic growth and economic development.

Running a modern political system requires money and with the decline of ideological politics in Nigeria, which was the fulcrum of the PRP in the second republic, how can a masses-oriented party like yours mobilize resources to run PRP?

Are you going to sacrifice your leftist ideology to a more centrist one?
As I said, we are committed to certain core values and our core values are, service to humanity in a Nigeria where national unity is assured, where people are secured.

As we move forward, the issue of money to run the party will be an unending question. I do not want to be dragged into this issue because it can be diversionary.

So, I will rather say that we will do whatever we can, based on our principles, to raise finances to operate within the Nigerian system, in spite of how much is involved in running political parties. But we do not believe that we need the same kind of money that other parties require to run their affairs, given the commitment of our members.

Yes, you cannot run a party without money but if we make it the central point of mobilization, then we have lost it.

But will you open up the party so that the good, the bad and the ugly will join the PRP?

The Nigerian constitution provides that every political party should be a voluntary organization for all those who come. Once we set the criteria for membership, anybody who wants to join, for as long as he has met that criteria, we are duty-bound to accept that person.

Because that is the provision of the Nigerian constitution. You cannot have a party which excludes certain people, that is unconstitutional.

Then, on top of everything, we are totally committed to defend the Nigerian constitution. In spite of what anyone will say about its weaknesses, that is the grund norm of Nigerian politics. We are committed to rule of law, sanctity of contracts and agreements. That is why, in spite of the core values of the PRP, if we make a commitment voluntarily, we are bound, duty-bound, morally-bound to stand by it.

The major document prescribing the laws of politics in Nigeria is the constitution. We have to abide by the constitution and we are ready to defend it and the constitution gives every Nigerian the right to join any party of his or her choice.

How true is it that PRP will enter an alliance with PDP?

In politics, like in everything else, you do not exclude anything. If you remember, in 1979 after we won the election, PRP went into an alliance with Great Nigeria Peoples Party(GNPP), the Unity Party of Nigeria(UPN) and Nigeria Peoples Party(NPP). That was the genesis of having the meeting of Progressive Governors, which comprised nine governors initially. Subsequently, they became 11.

From the beginning, NEPU itself went into an alliance with National Council of Nigerian Citizens(NCNC). So, going into an alliance with any political party is not new to PRP; we have done it before. We are not excluding an alliance with any political party.

But people say that PRP and PDP are strange bed fellows…
You see, parties enter alliances for different reasons. During the second republic, PRP went into an alliance because we felt National Party of Nigeria(NPN) was trying to annihilate all other political parties, leading to a one party state, which is undemocratic. So, the circumstances that will determine you going into an alliance are dynamic.

Don’t forget, way back in history, Mao Tse Tung, the leader of the Communist Party of China, went into an alliance with Kuomintang in order to fight the Japanese invasion of China. They believe that the freedom of their country superseded ideological purity. So, circumstances dictate what decisions you take in a dynamic political environment.

How true is the report that former governor of Kano state, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso will defect to PRP?

I am not the spokesman of Engr Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso. But he is a Nigerian and he is free to join any party of his choice. This freedom is guaranteed by the constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria.

If he wants to join the PRP, he is entitled to that, if he wants to remain in APC, he is also entitled to that. And if he chooses to return to PDP, he is also entitled to that. So, let’s look at these things on the basis of freedom of association of the individual and the exercising of that freedom the way he deems fit. So, it is his choice. I am not his spokesperson.

But will you welcome Kwankwaso if he decides to join PRP?

As I said, the constitution provides that anyone who comes, for as long as he meets the basic entry criteria, he is welcome. Its not just Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso; anybody who believes in the core values that we are committed to, and he is prepared to work hard for us to achieve the objectives of providing service on the basis of these values, is most welcome.

When will PRP hold its National Convention and unveil the new PRP that your committee is working on?

There are processes that need to be followed and we will follow them and it is the National Executive Committee(NEC) that will ultimately fix the date. The processes that need to be followed include notification of the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC), notifying the security agencies. These processes must have to take place before NEC will sit down and say, this is the date that we have fixed for the convention.

Is there a possibility of retiring Alhaji Balarabe Musa from politics, seeing that age is no longer on his side?

You never retire from politics but the fact of the matter is that we are going through a process leading to the convention.

New leadership of the PRP will emerge and it is the responsibility of that convention to determine who these new leaders will be. Alhaji Balarabe, as democrat, may or may not submit himself for re-election for National Chairman. As at now, he has given all indications that he will not stand for re-election as National Chairman.

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