Senator Ahmed Makarfi is a former governor of Kaduna State, who also served as the Chairman of the National Caretaker Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and now one of the over 12 presidential aspirants of the party. In this interview, the two-term senator speaks on issues surrounding his party’s presidential ticket, his chances at the polls, and others. Excerpts:
Daily Trust: It appears that the PDP is reaching a point where a candidate will emerge. We’ve heard that Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso is an option…
Sen. Ahmed Makarfi: At this moment, Kwankaso is yet to join the PDP. He is a friend of mine, and we interact. We don’t know who will join or not yet. Some governors may join, as will some senators, members of the House of Reps, and so on. What the terms of their joining PDP would be, I am not in a position to say anymore. I know a committee has been set up under Liyel Imoke, and has met with over 30 political parties and other groups and it is supposed to submit its report to the national chairman, to be deliberated upon by the working committee. It is a long process to adopt any recommendation of this committee, so it may be far-fetched for now to say anything.
But I will be very happy if Kwankwaso decides to join the PDP. It would be a fulfilment of one of my efforts if he joins the PDP. In an interview [Kwankwaso] recently granted, it didn’t appear that he has any specific promise from the party because one of the things he said there, is that he intends joining, but he would call on the party to run open and transparent primaries in its nominations, not to impose. I am only drawing from what I’m reading and what is happening, but of course we welcome him anytime.
DT: We’re hearing all kinds of meetings by various retired generals who have influence within the PDP. Can you share with us what they’re trying to put together?
Makarfi: Well, I am not a retired general. I am an active politician and I don’t belong to their circle to know what they are doing. Every responsible Nigerian should take interest in the elections. So, pressure groups, whether they are retired generals or permanent secretaries, comparing notes shouldn’t be surprising. It is totally democratic if that is going on. But I don’t know if it is going on.
DT: Many defections to PDP are being whispered of. Recently, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar met with retired Gen. Ibrahim Babangida in Minna, and people say it was to impress on him and many of you to actually draw back and support the candidature of Kwankwaso. Is this true?
Makarfi: I also read in the papers that IBB endorsed Atiku. But I think we should run away from permutations and deal with reality. And the reality is that primaries would be conducted; and the party has promised open and transparent primaries. But it is good if the party and those aspiring can come together to try and see how they can make it less complex. But it is up to the aspirants, as you can’t force anybody out of contesting. That would be undemocratic, and as our name indicates, we are the People’s Democratic Party.
I have not been invited by anyone to talk about my aspiration. I have no idea that I would be invited and I am not aware that any other person has been invited in that respect. Let me relate the question you have raised to other developments. It is possible that the Senate President Bukola Saraki, and the Speaker of the House of Reps, Hon. Yakubu Dogara would want to come back to PDP as well. They must have an interest and the minimum is to retain their position. Do you foresee a situation where returnees to PDP are given presidency ticket, senate ticket if we win? Does that add up?
The PDP is welcoming everybody, and is opening the political space to all; all opportunities would be open to all. It wouldn’t be surprising if anybody that joins the party within the time allowed becomes anything because that is what is in our constitution. The national chairman has repeatedly said that the party would run open and transparent primaries.
DT: On the issue of waivers, which is very central to people coming back or joining the PDP, will such people require one?
Makarfi: They wouldn’t require a waiver; it is one month before a given primary that you would require a waiver. We are just in July, so definitely I don’t expect the primaries in August. Anybody joining in July wouldn’t need to apply for a waiver.
DT: In an interview sometimes ago, you told us that you were not bothered about the exodus of PDP members, that the one that would interest you would be the movement in 2018. With this exodus also comes the burden to cover all other interests. Does it bother you that this may also scuttle your own personal ambition?
Makarfi: Collective interest is always better than individual interests. I have never been self-centered in my political pursuits. The collective interests of Nigeria and that of my party supersede my personal interests.
DT: Observers are questioning the wisdom of the PDP waiting till the last minute for such a monumental event like their convention. What’s your take on this?
Makarfi: Has APC done its own? Has any party done theirs? The INEC guideline is that primaries commence mid-August to the first week of October. So, if that is the electoral guideline, what is the issue? Nomination must take place at the convention.
DT: But for the APC, which is the ruling party, it is practically fait accompli that it already has a presidential candidate in the upcoming elections. The PDP has so many aspirants, making people wonder if late preparations may have an adverse effect…
Makarfi: What is late in it when the law says we can’t even begin primaries yet? Remember there would be primaries for state assembly, National Assembly, gubernatorial and then the convention. Even the law says that we can’t even begin that process until mid-August.
DT: What should Nigerians expect from the PDP in that convention?
Makarfi: A very democratic, competitive, open, transparent convention. One where the choice of the people will emerge. It would not be imputation by whatever means.
The political space is wide open, more are coming, and more are likely going to declare and join the race for various offices, nobody will be short-changed in that process. The party men and women will be given the choice to elect their candidates for all elective offices.
DT: Things change on the political landscape. Are you still in the race?
Makarfi: I am in the race. That doesn’t mean I am not open to dialogue with anybody under the leadership of the party. As I said earlier, even if I am qualified to be president, it isn’t a position that I must get.
DT: Speaking of that, what are you bringing to the table as an aspirant for the presidency?
Makarfi: Any political party wants to win election. They classify some of us as those who don’t have money. But which president elected in Nigeria had money? Can you mention one president since Nigeria gained independence that had money? When people come together to make something happen, whoever gets it knows that he is there because people expect good leadership from him and you can hold someone responsible for his or her actions.
As we did in the past, PDP should be able to produce legitimate funding to go through the election and win. If we do otherwise, the appeal might not be there for Nigerians to vote our candidates for any election. The key issue has to be electability and the ability to pull things from all directions. I believe I have that ability to pull different persons from different perspectives either religious, ethnic, elites, lower individuals and also building of consensus. People think that we wouldn’t be able to build consensus heading to the convention but we did. People thought that Kaduna was going to be ungovernable under my leadership (as governor) because I was too young and unexposed to govern it, but I was able to build consensus between different people from different backgrounds.
One other thing is uniting the country. You have to be trusted. Most, if not all of us, in PDP believe that we must listen to Nigerians calling for restructuring, and put Nigerians together to discuss the framework. That is a win-win situation for everybody, but for you to be able to do that, the North, South, East and West have to trust you. If they don’t, you can’t do that. If only one side trusts you, there isn’t a way you can bring the other side to talk. I believe I have that element of trust, based on my record in the past. Another thing I can bring to the table is electability.
DT: In 2007, the then National Chairman of the PDP, Ahmadu Ali, said you were the party’s most qualified candidate but never got the party’s flag. As at this moment, new candidates who never aspired for this office have joined the race. As someone who was rated so high sometime ago by the party, do you still see yourself having that capability of being rated by this new PDP which you engineered?
Makarfi: No matter how highly I am rated, if it isn’t God’s will, I would not win. Power comes from God, I am very conscious of that. I would be glad to be so highly rated but that doesn’t take away my faith in where power comes from.
DT: Over the years, the PDP has had more than its own fair share of baggage, as all political parties do. How will the PDP’s baggage, good or bad, affect the party’s chances come 2019?
Makarfi: First of all, part of the baggage is PDP being associated with corruption. But corruption did not start with PDP. It has been in Nigeria for a very long time. There is still corruption in Nigeria. You have to leave office before you see the realistic assessment of how high corruption in the system might have been. We have to evolve new ways of fighting corruption. We must make this system of fighting corruption completely independent and self-sufficient. Any kind of political interference would ultimately lead to the failure in fighting corruption. We should evolve preventive measures rather than just concentrating on the punitive measures. The punitive is clouded politically in a number of times.
We must listen to Nigerians on the best way to fight this cancer that has been drawing us back in the march towards greatness and development. I want to see Nigerians being united. We shouldn’t be drawing daggers at each other. We remain different parties with different philosophies but there should be common things that bind us. Such as security, unity and economy of the country, better life for everyone, and so on. Once elections are over, the government should be a government for all. We all have rights and we expect those rights and privileges to be protected and served.
We have to do much more than we did because under PDP, we even brought in more political parties. Now the ruling party is finding it difficult to even accommodate itself, not to talk of the opposition, which is not good and it adds to division and crises.
Impunity, usurpation of public power to convert it to private power must stop. We must reform our institutions so that they would serve the nation, not political leaders. The institutions can be the armed forces, the paramilitary, security agencies and the like; they should serve the people not those in power at whatever level. When you are in power, whatever you say is right and whatever you want must be done. That is not right, as it should be done only if it is lawful.
DT: In the fight against corruption, a lot of major PDP members in one way or the other have been affected. What’s your take on this?
Makarfi: Fighting corruption requires all of us to collaborate and cooperate. If I were the president, I would have called a meeting of all the political parties. Let us discuss and agree that we must all fight corruption. How are we doing it right? How are we doing it wrong? Nobody has monopoly of knowledge. What we deem to be political, let us do away with it. The courts are there to adjudicate, let us draw the dos and don’ts of public office. Working together, we can make this fight far more efficient. We should remove this coloration of many seeing it as politically-driven. It beclouds even those that are legitimate. We have to be careful, so that we don’t pollute the good intentions.
DT: You are in the race. Do you feel the PDP is formidable enough to take back power in 2019?
Makarfi: As long as free and fair elections will hold, I remain highly optimistic that my party will come out successful