For almost an hour penultimate Thursday, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar spoke to LEADERSHIP’s KUNLE SOMORIN and AUWAL SA’ID MU’AZU. In a very frank manner, he bared his mind on topical national issues, including calls for probe of the government he served, his participation in the APC presidential primaries, his political struggles and the PDP challenge, among other sundry issues
We just had an election which has been widely regarded as the real transition, because an opposition party has taken over from the ruling party. How do you see it?
Well, I will disagree with you because the real transition to democracy was when the military got out of power and we had a democratically elected government. The fact that in about 16 years or so we now have an opposition party taking over from a ruling party should not be seen as the real transition to democracy. For sure, it is healthy for our democratic process but certainly I will disagree with you.
Do you see the new PDP which you led as being critically instrumental to this change that we now have?
Of course, many groups were instrumental to this change because it required the coming together of political parties to form this viable opposition and alternative to the PDP. So, everybody played a role.
There are names that have been mentioned as those who played a great role to bring about this change. What role do you think the Yar’Adua group played in bringing about this change?
The Yar’Adua political group is almost in every political party in this country; even Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was part of the Yar’Adua political group. So, whichever way you look at it, coming from the PDP, I was part of the Yar’Adua political group. Asiwaju from AD, AC and then ACN, I mean we scattered kind of but it is not surprising that we are all regrouping into one big political family.
People still see the hand of Yar’Adua in the president’s emergence because he was a classmate of the president elect. Was that a consideration in your support for him even after the primaries?
No, the consideration was the fact that I really wanted to see a change of government. I wanted to see a viable opposition and my struggle for a viable opposition started even when I was in the PDP because this is what I wanted to see.
You know since the time I joined politics, I have always been an advocate for a two-party system and this is really what I will want to see for the country.
Are we running a two-Party system?
De facto two party system, tell me which party again apart from PDP and APC.
But we have APGA with a sitting governor…
APGA, I believe, is part of the PDP and sooner than later, they will join PDP. They worked with the PDP in the last election. So I think what is likely to emerge is that after this transition, since the PDP is reorganising itself, it’s most likely that APGA and Labour Party will join PDP to make it a stronger.
Looking at the mass defection from the PDP to APC after the elections there is the fear that the PDP might fizzle out…
No, no, no.
What kind of opposition do you think PDP will present?
I will like to see a very viable opposition, so that Nigerians can have a choice. If you don’t like the performance of APC, you vote PDP and vice versa.
So it is a word of caution for even your party?
Oh yes. It’s very exciting for me. But we should not take the electorate for granted.
You have always reinvented yourself. No matter how tight the system is, you manouvre and bounce back. What is your staying power?
It’s just because I enjoy what I am doing.
The public will really like to know because people always wonder, what keeps you going?
Why should they wonder, I am still active and I am still in politics. And you never write off a politician except he decides to write himself off. Any politician who does not reinvent himself has, maybe, decided to go on retirement and I have not yet decided to go on retirement.
You have no doubt carved a niche for yourself in Nigerian politics and in the build up to the 2015 polls, you came across as one of the most prepared presidential aspirants. It wasn’t your first outing. What has been the driving force?
It’s because whatever I set my mind to do, I like doing it very well and I like preparing to do it well. This is the difference between me and others.
What was your immediate reaction to the primaries after the announcement of the results?
To be honest, my immediate reaction was that I recalled Jos in 1993. Some people didn’t want me to emerge and I did not emerge. But they did not stop me from my destination. In 1998, six years later, I became what they did not want me to become. And when the results were announced I said to myself that it was just a repeat of what happened in Jos and I clapped.
Was the outcome surprising or shocking to you?
That brings back the memories of 1993 to me. Between this election and that of 1993 can you draw a parallel?
Well, I will compare them in the sense that the political chess game that took place in Jos and what happened now is almost the same. And that is why I said, if you are destined to be something, nobody will stop you. You will still get there no matter how people try to stop you from getting there.
You seem to be a strong believer in fate, does that mean that no matter how one prepares, preparation alone cannot take one to his goals?
No, not even in business. I have been in business for over three decades now so I can tell you that. There are some businesses that if I touch, I will lose money and there are some businesses that will yield profit.
How do you know the ones that will bring money and those that will not?
Don’t worry (laughs), it’s some trade secret.
When the result of the March 28 presidential election was finally announced on April 1, many people especially former President Goodluck Jonathan’s supporters felt it was a conspiracy between the North and the South West that played out and not that people didn’t want Jonathan? Was there any conspiracy?
No. There was no conspiracy as such. If you look at the votes, you will find out that 82 per cent of President Buhari’s votes came from the North and about 18 per cent from the rest of the country. So I don’t think it is a conspiracy.
Do you think it was politically correct for the South East and South South to choose to ignore the wind of change that was blowing across the country?
No. Again you are wrong. It’s a question of choice. You don’t expect Buhari to win in the South-South because President Jonathan comes from there. And by reason of neighbourliness, the South East is also close to the South South. So, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. Why do you think they were wrong? Don’t they have a right to their political positions? Why should we all move towards the same direction? Then, it will not be healthy for this country or our democracy.
There is the fear that now that the South-South and South-East are in the opposition, they may be marginalised in the leadership scheme in the 8th National Assembly. With this gap created in the political equation, what sort of National legislature are we likely to see?
But they have their representatives in the PDP. They have chosen to be in the opposition, so they will be in the opposition. At some point, we were in the opposition too. There is nothing unusual or strange there in a democracy.
When the 2015 election results were trickling in, there was some kind of tension in the land. As a stakeholder, what was your feeling at that time and were you expecting the results to come the way they did?
Well, I expected the results to come out the way they came t. Yes, I agree that before the elections, there was a lot of tension, there were concerns because before the election, the campaigns were very unhealthy, there was too much uncertainty in the air and that led to a lot of apprehension, fear and anxiety but that did not change my expectation about the results that came out. I knew APC was going to swing the elections.
Now that there are tales of empty treasuries, how will your party tackle the problem of accumulated debts, vis-à-vis the delivery of the campaign promises it made?
If you look at our current position, especially, the price of crude, we were worse off in 1999 than today. In 1999 when we came in, the price of crude was just about 20 dollars. So, all that is required of President Buhari is prudent management of our resources.
Of course, I will caution Nigerians that they should not expect miracles overnight but for sure, the government will try to make sure that the resources are very well managed and that the dividends of democracy trickle down to the lowest person.
We have pledged to fight corruption which is one of the most fundamental problems we have. It breeds waste of resources and anti-development. I believe that in a few months’ time, people will begin to see the difference. People are already adjusting themselves because they know what is going to come.
The issue of corruption has become endemic and you are one of those who have been accused severally by Nigerians, who are already calling for the probe of the outgoing administration. What do you make of President Jonathan’s statement that “if you want to probe me, it’s fine but probe others too?”
It was an unnecessary statement.
Do you think he (Jonathan) is afraid of probe or better still, are you afraid of probe?
Even the government I served probed me. So, the issue of me being scared of being probed is not there.
Many have described President Buhari as the Abraham Lincoln of our time; do you see any similarities in their political sojourn?
Well, I don’t understand the similarities they are trying to draw because Abraham Lincoln contested about 12 times and Buhari contested for three times and won on the fourth. Is it the age?
Maybe the perseverance…
Yes, he may have persevered, but he is still short of Abraham Lincoln. However, I commend his perseverance and courage to continue.
What is your relationship and personal knowledge of the president?
I have known him for a very long time now. When he was head of state during the military administration, I was still in the Federal Civil Service and I implemented some of his policies at that time as a civil servant. Since then, I have known him as an astute leader and a tough one for that matter and I think we should brace up for that kind of tough leadership.
Tough leadership, but politicians may not find that funny?
Well the point is that he is a leader, he may not be a politician but certainly he is a good leader and he can lead well. And that is all that you are looking for in politics.
You are a politician, any difference between you and him?
Quite a lot!
What are these differences?
As a politician, I may see things in different perspectives from him and vice versa.
Is there anything that can sway you from playing politics, and what are those things?
Maybe when I am old and not able to run around, then I will retire from politics.
Away from politics, how do you relax?
I go on vacations a lot; I love travelling, reading and swimming.
Talking sports, football has become a game for both the high and low, do you watch football?
Yes, I enjoy football quite a lot.
Do you have a team you support?
Yes, I have been a fan of Arsenal Football Club for more than 20 years now.
Were you impressed with the performance of Arsenal in the just concluded season?
Well, in the last couple of seasons, the team has not been at its peak but that is how sports are. Sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t and you drop to certain positions, the most important thing is for one to remain consistent and not try to move from one winning team to another just because they are wining, that is if you are a real fan.
You have had both high and low points in your career, which do upou consider the highest and lowest?
The high point of my career was when I was the Vice President; I was in charge of the economy. I enjoyed how I liberalised and opened up the economy to the private sector. My lowest point was when I saw the PDP disintegrating. I was really sorry for myself.
Why were you sorry?
It’s because when we formed the PDP, we formed it with good intentions to transform this country but overtime, most of the founding fathers were relegated to the background, some moved out of the party and instead of them to allow orderly generational shift of leadership from one generation to the other as it happens in matured democracies, they couldn’t wait.
Do you see the party bouncing back?
Yes, it’s quite possible. I want it to bounce back because I am scared of a one-party system. I want two parties that are almost at par with each other, so that they can give Nigerians a choice every time elections are held. If one party does not fulfill the promises it made to be voted into office, then Nigerians should be able to look towards the other party for hope. That is the kind political arrangement I hope to see in this country; that is the best.
Are you likely to be seen mounting the soapbox again?
I am a politician and as long as I am a politician, I will mount the soapbox and talk. Either I will be talking for somebody or for myself. Am I not talking for myself now?
What do you consider as the best legacy that you have bequeathed this country in your almost 40 years of service?
The best legacy is what I have been able to do for my immediate community in the area of education and job creation; I want to believe that is my best legacy so far.
Are you fulfilled?
Not quite, I am still moving on
At what point will you be fulfilled?
At the point when I will see that there is relative prosperity. You see the kind of poverty that I see when I go to the village worries me a lot.
What is your take on the crisis of Boko Haram which is ravaging your region, the North East?
You know I have always spoken strongly about the inability of government to contain this insurgency. It is unbelievable that a country as powerful as Nigeria that is rich in all manner of resources will allow such insurgency to fester for five years.
What is your charge to Nigerians as the APC-led government takes over?
I will appeal with Nigerians to give APC a chance and like I said before, they should not expect miracles overnight because it’s going to be a very daunting task since the APC government is taking over with such huge challenges all over the country. I will appeal to Nigerians to give APC a chance.