Saturday 30 March 2013

Why opposition parties failed to pick Buhari as consensus candidate in 2011—Utomi

Via - The Sun
Perhaps, the most authoritative account of what led to the collapse of the planned alliance of presidential candidates before the 2011 presidential election is Professor Pat Utomi’s. He was a presidential candidate who met with other presidential candidates to decide on who to present as candidate against President Goodluck Jonathan of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) few days before the election. There was hope in the opposition camp. But it snapped. What went wrong? Professor Utomi, in this interview, gave an insight.

And when one of the prime movers of the present merger arrangement, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, requested that Professor Utomi to go round with him to see some people late last year, Utomi replied: “I am tired of talking to the same people on the same issue.”
He also spoke extensively on why he is committed to the goal of making sure that Nigeria progresses like other modern states in the world.
What is your attitude to the merger of some political parties in Nigeria?
It is something that I have advocated for a very long time. It is something that I have invested a lot of my time, my energy and my passion. It is a bit of a shame that our country lacks the sense of yesterday history. The media have been a big failure in analyzing this process. It is as if this is the first time we ever talk about this in Nigeria. But in the last two elections, that was my primary purpose of being involved-to bring together a progressive opposition and give Nigeria the opportunity to be able to go from one party to another. The bottom line remains that it is a good thing, whoever is doing it and, however, it is being done.
I am not going to argue here that this one is better than the other. I am going to argue on the logic of how society is improved. If there is a dominant political party whether it is a good party or not, the country will pay a dear price on it because there is no competition of ideas. It is competition of ideas that leads to a better society.
I give you a classic example of Mexico. There was a dominant political party for 70 years until eventually people were able to get their act together a couple of years ago. If you look at the failed states index and look at the way Ghana is, look at where Nigeria is; Ghana is separated from Nigeria by nearly a hundred states. We ask: how come?
Ghana has had two three-election circles in which power went from the government in power to the opposition. It gives a sense that there can be continuity if changes take place. If you don’t do well, the people can change you. In the Nigeria context, most Nigerians have become inoculated to the political process. They feel that they don’t matter. It doesn’t matter what they do, a group of characters would get what they want. So, what does it matter? They have defeated themselves. They stop being citizens.
I used to say that if the PDP were intelligent people, they would engineer the PDP losing election. That is if they are really smart.
Engineer it at the presidential level?
At whatever level, if they are really smart. But you see we are not given to being smart in terms of long- term interest of our people. We are given to being smart in terms of what we can share. That is what has been the tragedy of Nigeria.  If really they were smart, they would realise that they, as PDP, would be respected more in the world if they could lose election and come back and win it again. That is the primary reason I wanted to bring about a strong political party – whether it is progressive or unprogressive or whatever.
The second other reason is that people should force politics to move away from persons to issues; force it to move away from how much money do I have to share. Does this guy have the competence, character and the commitment to be a person of service? Even if he is not a genius but is driven by a sense of the common good and have sense of a vision on how society should be governed, then we will create a political process that will enrich the society.
Those two primary things have been behind the work that I have done in the last seven years to try and create a formidable opposition. Many people have asked me in the last few weeks: ‘we don’t see you active in this merger talks…’
Indeed, are you part of it?
I am part of the party that is part of it. I think part of the crisis of Nigeria is people who own parties or people who are the chieftains of parties. I am not a party chieftain; I am just another person who is a citizen, who is a member of a political party who want to see to it that things are done properly.
One of the things that I have chosen to do, after my experiences after 2010, 2011 is to commit myself to my purpose for being in public life – poverty and rural people. This might sound strange, coming from a city guy. But I have looked at the societies that have got into trouble and the primary source of it is the revenge of the poor. The poor of Nigeria have a bigger reason to come to revenge on the political class. So, I keep my politics deliberately at the village level. That is where I am involved.

What is the difference between the attempt to form a mega party before the 2011 election and the merger now taking place? I ask because you used to be one of the arrowheads in 2010.
Again, I think it is useful to look at my political history to understand why I got involved, why I was part of the mega party and where I am. I thought my place in life would be social enterprise. My expectation when I was leaving graduate school to return to Nigeria late in 1982 was that I would be an important voice in the country. But I didn’t think that that important voice would come from politics.
Earlier today, in another interview, I was referring to an experience I had when I went to Europe African summit. Former French Prime Minister – Barr, called the summit somewhere close to the Switzerland border in France. So, I was flying through Paris on Air France. I had to go to Geneva, catch a flight in Geneva into Paris. As I was getting off the plane to go towards my connection to Lagos, I ran into one of my classmates in the graduate school. I had not seen him since 1981 when he left to return to Thailand. When he saw me, he screamed: “What happened to Nigeria?”
That really is the pain that I came home with. Why did I leave the United States on the very day that my PhD thesis was accepted? It was accepted in the morning and by the evening, I was on my way back home. That was because, I believed that the world can be changed and I believe that we could change the world. By the time that I was coming home, I did not think that I would contribute to changing that world as a politician. I thought that my legacy or my contribution would be in what is called civil society.  As a citizen, I never thought I would necessarily run for office. It is not that I think anything was wrong in running for office.
I was shamefaced when I was asked what happened to Nigeria. Why Thailand has gone up, my own country has gone down. Things like that made me to fight in the civil society for liberating Nigeria from military rule. For that, my life was put on the line; I was a target of assassinations by regimes and all kinds of things. But I thought that it was a price we had to pay for our children and grandchildren.
The military left. But in 1999, Nigeria again experienced that tragedy. The kind of people that the Awolowo’s raised who should have moved in and continue his philosophy of service were not quite sure the military would leave. The kind of people that followed the Mike Okparas who understood that public life is about sacrifice such that Okpara, in his last years, did not have a house. One was built for him after the civil war. Whereas he (Okpara) distributed plots in GRA Enugu and he didn’t give himself one. This is the kind of politicians we used to have. Those who came to Enugu nearly 20 years after gave themselves 200 plots.
The political sons of the Sadaunas had few babarigas when they were killed in 1966. The political sons were not sure that the military meant to go. They held back and the people who have nothing to lose but ambitious to grab power for the sake of power and not for the service of the people took over the political arena. When they took over, they pillaged the Nigerian state and with the money they took from the Nigerian state, they created barriers of entry to people of service.
So, people who had genuine intentions could not access the political arena. It was the charlatans; the people who were contractors under the military that occupied the political space. By the end of the first post-military elections in 2003, it was clear to me that Nigeria had lost the compass. Deciding to enter the political arena was, in a sense, returning to the trenches – going back to life against the military now in civilian form and using electoral process because it was the only legitimate, reasonable means available.
I had options of what I should do in 2007. I saw my role principally in 2007 of actually setting an agenda. The political class did not have an agenda. The only thing that mattered was power, not purpose. Did you hear anybody discussing intelligent issues in campaigns in 2007?  There was this clowning around in which you pay people N1,000 and fill the stadium and you do Alawada in the stadium for as long as you could do and that was considered political campaigns.
I understand political campaign to mean going from village to village talking to 200 or 300 people and telling them what is wrong with their lives, how it can be changed and the philosophy that is guiding all of that. I found that it was not being done. So, I felt that my entering the arena would be to help frame the question. My goal was very clear.
It was further defined by the fact that I realised that the arena was very fractured. Honestly, if we had election in 2007, it was impossible to have a winner in the first ballot. Atiku Abubakar would have taken the northeast because of the sentiment of the time. General Muhammadu Buhari would have taken most of the Northwest, the PDP candidate would have done very well in North central and pick up some votes in maybe South-south and Southeast. APGA candidate would take some portions of the Southeast. The Southwest was questionable. It was AD going to share the vote between Obasanjo and Atiku. However, you try to do the arithmetic, nobody was going to get more than 15 per cent of the vote in 2007.
I figured that if I enter the fray, I would define the issues and force people to define the issues. That was my main, primary goal. The second goal was the fractured nature of the politics then led to the kind of outcome and people started sitting down to say how do we see things moving forward? Nobody would miss the guy who defines the issues. That was the basic thing, with which I was going to negotiate myself into the centre stage. Unfortunately, it was clear that General Obasanjo did not want the election to take place and it didn’t take place. The evidence is there. Ask any observer. The consensus was that no election took place in 2007.
As the long painful story goes, I think nobody sacrificed as much as I did in that process for many reasons. Apart from the fact that it took up a lot of my energy and time, more than all of them, I was the only one that needed to earn an income to support my family. They had political power economic related basis.
Including Buhari?
He had party machinery that was linked to powerful people. I am sure that some things may have been happening.
And Falae?
Chief Falae suffered a lot because he was a pensioner. Quite frankly, he suffered. Even his car knocked engine. He suffered in terms of that stretch and in times of resources. But you see, he is a pensioner. He doesn’t have school fees to pay. I have children in secondary school and the university.
But you have your businesses including banks and financial houses.
Show them to me. You see that is what people don’t understand. I should give you a book entitled Business Angel as a Missionary. My primary goal in life is to help entrepreneurs. So, a group of young people with an idea runs to me and I give them the use of my network, my advice and I help them through. It is not my business. It is their business.
Are you telling Nigerians that Professor Pat Utomi is a struggling man like we ordinary Nigerians?
Absolutely. Ask my bank managers; my accounts sometimes get down to less than N100. I am just a professional.
Sir, let us go back to the mega movement…
I was not even complaining about the money spent running around and it was a lot of money, but I needed the time to earn an income. I had no contract coming from anywhere. So, we came to a point where we were determined and one generous governor helped to pay for the hotel we used in Abuja, where the meetings were taking place. We paid for our accommodation, but he (governor) paid for the venue of the meeting and the food. There was always food and all of that and the meetings held frequently. We believed that we were making progress and we began to develop ground rules. The general direction of the rules was responsible for how I became a presidential candidate. Let me explain that. When we started out, my intention was not to run for any office in 2011 because I was convinced after 2007 that it was thankless running, unless we got the proper change in rules and arrangements.  I wanted to be a good citizen and I wanted to be part of the process of trying to build and bring various parties together.
Along the line, because of the nature of the process, you may not know this, but one of my best sources of income is as a public speaker. That is where most of my income comes from and that is why I am often out of the country, as I speak around the world on a number of issues. One of the biggest complaints of General Buhari was that I   was hardly in Nigeria. I will go and come back today and after tomorrow or next week I am gone again. They did not understand that that is livelihood for me, my daily bread.  So, when I came back from one of those trips, I received a call from Chief Falae, who told me that the best way to organise this thing, was to have a registered party. They decided to register Social Democratic Mega Party (SDMP), which is now Social Democratic Party (SDP). Falae said they decided that I should be chairman of the party. That was how I became chairman.
I traveled again and on my return I got a call from Wale Okuniyi saying that they had decided there must be an arrowhead, a candidate and that the various candidates of all the parties could meet and decide who the main candidate would be.  To give us a credible voice, it was decided that I should be a presidential candidate. That is how I became a presidential candidate. We began to have these meetings in Abuja. The game plan was that in the final round, all the presidential candidates would, literarily speaking, be locked into a room and they would decide who, among them, would be the consensus candidate.
That was two weeks to the 2011 election?
In one of the meetings, (Governor Ibrahim) Shakarau came in and we got together. Nuhu Ribadu (ACN candidate) came with Fola Adeola, his deputy. Chairman of ANPP, (Ogbonnaya) Onu, was also there and for CPC, Tony Momoh came with Sule Hamman. Buhari did not come that day. There was one other meeting and he showed up.  Then, it was decided that at the final meeting, all the others would leave and only the presidential candidates would meet and agree on a common candidate. The election was very close but I can’t remember how many weeks or days to the election.
On the day of the meeting, I had my plan and I had a private discussion with Governor Shekarau because two of us were the first to arrive. I told him we must work towards not necessarily the best candidate but a common front.  We agreed that because of what General Buhari has come to symbolise, we should systematically have him as the consensus candidate. We said that maybe one of the other candidates could become deputy if it was possible to substitute. Governor Shekarau, in principle agreed with me. The others began to arrive. But somebody did not show up. I don’t want to be accused of saying anything bad.
Who didn’t show up?
The bottom line was that General Buhari was the one who didn’t show up. I was really pained. I won’t even be talking about the sacrifice I made to be there. Chief Falae begged me because I needed desperately to be in Lagos. So, we contacted his (Buhari) people and they apologised and said it was because of some campaign commitment. So the meeting was moved to the following day. I felt for Governor Shekarau because he had campaign commitments that next day. He flew back to Kano the following morning and flew back into Abuja that night. Again, we all sat and waited and waited till mid night and one person did not show up. At that point, I said this patriotism business has cost me so much. What am I doing here? I flew back to Lagos, called a press conference and endorsed Shekarau and withdrew from the race. That was the plan from the beginning that one will withdraw once we settled on the candidate who I did not expect to be me.
Anyway, what is happening on the merger of the parties?
When this new round started, I said glory be to God, if it works. I will just be a loyal party member, cheering and providing support and all of that. Sometime last December, I was with the leader of the ACN, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and he said:  “Look, immediately after the New Year, you and I must get on the plane and fly to go and see somebody in this place and somebody in that place.” I said: “I’m willing to, but really, I’m tired of talking to some people.”
Is it the same people you dealt with in the past?
Many of them are the same set of people. So, he said to me: “How can you? You cannot afford to be tired. You who has been in this struggle, how can you be tired?” I said: “No. I am not tired of the struggle. I am just tired of talking to the same people about the same thing over and over again. But if you say I should come with you, I will follow you. However, I am tired.” So, that is the position that I have been in.
Your participation is on the basis of not losing hope and the need to remain optimistic?
Once man is alive, there must be hope. Without hope, you are dead for all intent and purposes. Secondly, because it has also happened and worked out well, in places where it was thought impossible. It worked in Kenya.
It was alliance in Kenya and not merger.
Whatever it is, alliance or merger, it comes down to politicians working together. The first trial was a disaster.
The difference is that merger means to surrender your identity while alliance means retaining your identity while working together.
It is even easier when you submit your identity than when you are working together in an alliance. So, Kenya happened and then Senegal. People said it was impossible. Yet they got together and won. In Zimbabwe, even though the struggle was truncated, they were able to get together to give Mugabe the fight of his life and made him agree ultimately to some kind of accommodation. So, it is possible for this thing to work. I am all for it. I am cheerleader for whatever the outcome would be. It is not about what role I play and what I get. So long as Nigeria makes progress, that is what matters.
Apart from your meeting with Asiwaju, have you attended any meeting on the merger?
I have not attended any meeting. The whole party does not have to go to meetings. So long as the people nominated to do it, whatever they decide, as a loyal party member, I will support.

Which side are you? Are you for SDP or APC?
I have to go back to the history of my political involvement. When I decided to get involved in partisan politics, my choice of party was AC (now ACN). I registered in Asaba in AC in 2006. Sam was chairman of the party. Tom Ikimi was the leader of the South South of the party. Some of the best advice I got came from Tom Ikimi in his house in Benin. He advised me to be careful because they are taking money from me from every direction. They use to tell me to donate to AC Delta, AC Edo and every South-South AC states. The money I raised from my friends I started by giving one and half a million to the AC States in the South-South.
I gave Edo in Ikimi’s house. Tom Ikimi said to me, look, cool down, they will just keep telling you these things and finish your money. So, I am very grateful to him for his advice. The people who were giving this advice are very good friends of mine. But they said that is the only way to do it. That is how to become known in the South-South AC. I raised some money and was distributing until I got the wonderful advice from Tom Ikimi.
So, as a card-carrying member of AC, and a very good personal friend of Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, I saw a problem. The structure of arrangement was simply to hand the candidacy to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. It was evident that there won’t be a primary process. My primary goal was to frame the agenda. Remember I said so at the beginning.  But how can I frame the agenda when there was no primary where I could go around and campaign? I put it before my friends in the Concerned Professionals. There is a small party that we can use to do the traveling around and frame the agenda with the understanding that at the end of the day, that party will agree to merge with AC. That is how I then began to run under the ADC platform. But my registration number is there in AC. The day I launched my campaign in Asaba, Sam, the chairman was there and he handed me the broom. Incidentally, AC is the first political party card in my life. It was the first time I carried a party card.
When the election ended that year and the whole business of bringing that party under AC did not materialise, I saw myself out of the party system before Chief Enahoro made that call I talked about. So, after the 2011 debacle, I said to Chief Falae and others that I don’t think our people are ready yet for a merger of political parties. I don’t believe in all these small, small parties. Let us go and talk with Bola Tinubu. He said he never had any problem with that and that he couldn’t understand the other side and the game. He said I should go and talk to him since Tinubu talks to me.
So, I got to Bola Tinubu. He said he had always wanted to step out of the car and let Falae sit in his position one day. He was ready.
Tinubu said that?
Tinubu was telling me. Who do I take now? They both said they are ready and nothing is happening. So, I said to my friends, Concerned Professionals, they are always there for me since 1993.
I said see trouble o. So, we agreed that the only thing that makes sense is for everybody to go back to his or her original party. So, I announced after the election that I am going back to ACN. So, I went back to my village and began to organise ACN in my village. People still say they were surprised I am in ACN.
So, who is playing pranks between Falae and Tinubu?
I don’t know. I don’t know if they are pranks. I just know that there is a problem of will generally. And this is something that we can resolve. It is the same problem that I had over the Mimiko issue. Mimiko is a very dear friend. I just kept saying: Why can’t we reach accommodation with Mimiko and all of that?
What was Tinubu saying to that?
I don’t know. I don’t know the details of that one. You know there is a point in which you are tired.
Back to the merger of parties, all the characters involved in the first move are the same except that Falae is out and Tinubu is in.
There might be right time for something to happen. To tell you the truth, I am not sure that it was the disposition of Falae or Tinubu that affected the last one. But if the timing is right, things will go well. My hope and my prayer is that the timing is right.
I have also been talking with some of my friends who are ACN governors. At a time, it is good to look beyond party to create a movement of Nigerians who are committed to building a movement, no matter what they call themselves as party members. To create a movement, they all agreed with me, they all talked about it. But it hasn’t quite happened yet and it needs to happen. I have repeatedly talked about All Politicians Conference. Let us speak the truth to each other. With our petty wahalas, we are sacrificing the future of our children.
Is it proper to merge before picking party officers and those contesting for elective offices?
The important thing is a principled commitment to being one. Don’t forget that even the PDP is a merger of different parties. It includes the PDM, which is a Yar’Adua-dominated movement. There is one that Dr. Alex Ekwueme brought. I think it is PNC, which was mainly Southeast-based. I can’t remember the names and acronyms of the parties. There are groupings within the PDP.
What is the difference between the mega movement and the merger?
The difference is time and timing. They (principal characters involved) are getting old and they are getting desperate to be on the winning team and that might force them to subsume their ego for a change in the hope that they will be able to take glory for saving Nigeria. It is not a bad thing.
A PDP chieftain told me that if you combine the votes of the parties involved in the merger, it would not be up to that of the PDP in the 2011 presidential election.
I think that it is an asinine comment. It is stupid in terms of understanding what happens at elections in Nigeria. Why do I say so? First of all, you should remove the manipulation of votes. What happened in 2011 was not a function of the popularity of PDP anywhere at all. It was a function of a few national issues. Why would the Southwest have gone massively to the PDP even if the governors were all ACN? That has nothing to do with voting pattern. There was certain anger in the South as a result of what was perceived as the arrogance of a part of the country. That was what was voted against and not the popularity of the PDP at all. In spite of that, the votes were also highly exaggerated. In what election do voters turn out 98 per cent? Registered voters voted for only one candidate. There is nowhere in human history that such has happened. We can pretend that that is what we want. It probably reflected a pattern of anger and the direction people focused on. It has nothing to do with reality.

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