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When Senator Joseph Kennedy Waku made a veilded call for military intervention in 2000, he, indeed, ruffled feathers. He was roundly condemned for what was seen as his reckless statements.
When Senator Joseph Kennedy Waku made a veilded call for military intervention in 2000, he, indeed, ruffled feathers. He was roundly condemned for what was seen as his reckless statements. Over five years after, Senator Waku says he has no regrets for his utterances and that he has been vindicated by the goings-on today. In a very explosive interview with FESTUS OWETE, he dissects the state of the nation and concludes that the north has the wherewithal to stand up to what he calls the south’s aggression over power shift. Excerpts of the interview:
It does appear that you have identified with the Movement for the Restoration and Defence of Democracy (MRDD), the new political movement in the country? What informed this?
Politics is dynamic. When you find out that there is compatibility somewhere and that is where you feel you can contribute your best to the nation’s building, you join. Apart from Gambo Jimeta, who has not been a practising politician or card carrying member of any political party, about 99 per cent of MRDD were members of the various political divides. The MRD, to which I originally belonged, was purely a northern resistant group to President Olusegun Obasanjo’s third term bid. We didn’t intend to make it a political party. It was a pressure group. Then we discovered that going by the antecedents of this government, as vicious as it is, if we didn’t quickly transform the group into a political party, the government might find one way or the other to detain us and accuse us of planning a terrorist organization. So, when we sent a delegation to meet with the MDD in one of their meetings in Lagos and had a chat with them, we found out that we have almost the same ideological belief.
Their leadership also held a meeting with MRD and that was the time we both agreed to come together. And from that time, the marriage began with that world conference that we addressed in Abuja. I can’t deceive you by saying that there are no problems here and there about who did what in the past. Every member, particularly those from MDD, narrated all the stories about what happened before their exit from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Like I said politics is dynamic. Ariel Sharon, as a prime minister of Israel before he took ill, left his party to form a new political party. The PDP, which we founded was based on no ideological belief. It was formed in order to send the military back to the barracks. So, there were no real people of like minds holding meetings. During the military, the tendency was more of removing the military. Unfortunately, in 2003, the elections were massively rigged. And the greatest offence that you can commit against the electorate is to steal their mandate. Some of us who have been in this game for close to 40 years couldn’t believe in that. I don’t believe in the saying in Nigeria that ‘if you can’t beat them, then join them.’ I read the Bible and it tells me in Exodus 23: 1-3 that I should not join the majority to do wrong. I believe in that and that is why I pulled out.
I asked this question because of the strange bedfellows in MRDD. I am aware that there was no love lost between you in particular and the former chairman of PDP, Chief Audu Ogbeh. The same goes for others. But suddenly, you are working together. Do you think this marriage will last?
It will last and I will tell you why it will last. Each of us has learnt from our mistakes. This is the best marriage because we are now coming together based on ideological belief. We have come to give Nigerians a new life, new democratic principles, and democratic dispensation. We have come to give Nigerians democracy by the rule of law, democracy by the wishes of the majority. This is what informed this movement. We don’t say that there are no problems in starting an organization that will come to remain. Let me not tell you that it is rosy. It isn’t. But we have been holding meetings, disagreeing here and there. This question you raised has even come up in our meetings. Some of our people accused one another of this and that. But we have put everything behind us. We know why we took a decision to come together. We are going to shock Nigerians by working together as never before.
Do you see the possibility of INEC registering the MRDD?
We have alternatives. Whether we are registered or not, we have alternatives. We have several political parties on the ground. We can dissolve into any of them. It is human beings that win elections. It is not the name of a political party that wins elections. It is those behind the party.
One major thing that has thrown up crisis in PDP, your former party, today is the issue of where the presidency goes in 2007 – north or the south, even though there are other problems. As a founding member of the PDP, was there really any agreement in 1998/1999 as to where the presidency should go after eight years? If there was, who and who signed this agreement and where?
I want to be very honest with you. There was an agreement that in 2007, the presidency should come to the north from the south. It was unanimous. Tony Anenih did not deny it. Obasanjo did not deny it. Bode George did not deny it. Victor Attah did not deny it. Nobody denied it. But because of the deceit of the PDP, they couldn’t come out to say, ‘we agreed to do, but because of some circumstances, we are appealing that this should be so or so now.’ It is not to come and show some level of arrogance. It is provocative. To hell with whoever thinks he can threaten the north. They may say, ‘After all, we have oil.’ Oil is a perishable commodity. It will soon go. The north has vast land. In the whole world, how many countries have oil? It is only about seven countries. And this is a world of over 200 countries. What about the other countries that do not have oil? Are they not existing? We have vast land. All we need is to have good leadership and then, we can go back to agriculture. So, if the south goes, then we can do what you call trade by barter – give us your oil, we give you our food. We are not losing any sleep over this veiled threat from Bode George. (George was quoted in a recent interview with a national daily (not The Punch) as saying that he would back President Obasanjo for a third term if the constitution is amended to accommodate that). It gives Nigerians some concern. We have friends across the world outside this country. They call us and ask – ‘how could a one time general speak the way he is speaking?’ Somebody who is a national deputy chairman of a ruling political party says such things. Is it not the agenda of the party?
But there is the issue of one north. You are from Benue in the middle belt region and you are talking about north. Even within the north itself, there is division already. The middle belt, to which you belong, has been angling for some form of independence or self determination. So, where will the north derive the strength and unity to resist the southern ‘aggression’?
There is nothing like the middle belt. There is nothing like that. The middle belt is an agitation, it is not a region. And several years ago, it has come and gone. General Gowon killed what they called middle belt by giving us states. It is not an Hausa-Fulani man that is the governor of Benue State. It is not an Hausa-Fulani that is the governor of Nasarawa State. It is not an Hausa-Fulani that is the governor of Kogi State. It is not an Hausa-Fulani that is the governor of Niger State. It is not an Hausa-Fulani that is the governor of Plateau State. Well, you can say a Fulani is the governor of Kwara because Saraki is Fulani. So, what are you talking about middle belt? Look at another example. During the recently concluded National Political Reform Conference, where did the so-called middle belt pitch tent? Did they follow the south-south delegates when they walked out? Why? Because they know they are from the north. In-fighting does not make you deny your root. Are you not a southerner, whether south-south or south-east? Those people promoting this thinking that they can divide and rule will fail. And it has failed.
Are you suggesting that the likes of Isaac Shaahu and Solomon Lar, who are champions of the agitation, are not fighting the right cause?
They are not. They were members of the constitutional conference and they didn’t walk out with the south-south delegates. That shows you the level of coherence that we have in the north.
Let us go back to the issue of the presidency. The argument of the south is that the north has had its fair share of governance, having ruled for about 35 years, and that the south should also have that opportunity to be at the helms of affairs for some more years. You don’t agree to that?
I sympathize with the south. I sympathize with them. Whom did the southerner vote into power to rule for those 35 years or so? Among the leaders that ruled in these 35 years that you are claiming, how many times did you vote them into power? These people seized power. We didn’t ask them to seize power. We didn’t vote for them. They are an illegality. We are talking about Tafawa Balewa/Nmamdi Azikiwe, Shehu Shagari and Obasanjo. That was when Nigeria was Nigeria. We are not talking of these rebels who seized power. So, we are talking about when you and I put our votes for somebody to come to power. We are not talking about rebels snatching government here and there. We are not supporting illegality.
So this on-going agitation for the presidency, where do you think it will lead us to? What are the implications?
The implication is that the south needs the north to build this country and the north needs the south to build this country.
Let us return briefly to the PDP matter. With the formation of the MRDD, what is the fate of the PDP? What is the future of the PDP?
I am not in PDP, so I cannot know their future. I can only talk about the future of the MRDD. Imagine a national chairman of a party, highly intellectual academically and professionally, a retired colonel in the army, a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, sitting down in his office and saying, ‘in the barracks, we respect garrison commander.’ That shows that the PDP is gone. PDP has been completely militarized. There is no democracy in PDP. They no longer respect their laws. How can you say a convention is no longer important? It is the National Working Committee where a few people will sit down to take decisions. That means someone else is making the party a personal property. And here is a man that was promoted to the position of a national chairman. He was not even elected. Ahmadu Ali was not elected. If you pick a messenger and promote him to the position of managing director, definitely, you are promoting him to the position of incompetence because he doesn’t know it. By the time we put MRDD together, Nigerians will find a place to exercise their free democratic norms. No one man is going to call the shot. In MRDD, there will be no godfather. Whichever political party we may dissolve into, if we are not registered, there will be no godfatherism there. The people will decide who should lead them.
There is this belief that those of you in MRDD are frustrated people who either could not win elections or could not get appointment; hence, you gather together to fight this government. This is the opinion of some people.
They are entitled to their opinion. But I will ask, if it was to stay in PDP and play sycophancy in order to get something, don’t you think they would have remained? But they are principled people and that is why they left. Were these people sacked? Each of them wrote his letter of resignation from PDP. Up till today, they have not challenged them for doing so. They left because they disagreed. It is only in religion they will tell you that your reward is in heaven. Come to think of it, if they even leave because they were denied the goodies, is it not a good reason to leave? It was a bold decision. So, I congratulate those who left. In my own case, nobody accused me of being denied the opportunity before I left. I could not stay in PDP to stomach those things. Six months after he took over power, I studied Obasanjo and I cried to Nigerians. Will you say it was because I was frustrated? Well, if you say I was frustrated, so be it because what I saw Obasanjo do was not what I bargained for. I bargained for a democracy and a president that will not breach the constitution. I know that posterity will ask me tomorrow what I did when I saw what he was doing wrong. They will say that when you disagreed with him, why did you stay till the end? Posterity will judge all of us. We didn’t bargain for dictatorship. If it was dictatorship we bargained for, then why did we fight the military to go back to the barracks? The military didn’t pretend to be dictators, but we pushed them away.
So, you feel you were right by calling for military takeover in 2000?
I was right. I have been absolutely vindicated.
To be specific, what informed your opinion then?
Because I worked with him.
In the PDP and as a senator. He was a president produced by my party then; PDP and my vote brought him to power. His vote didn’t bring me to the Senate, but my vote brought him. I worked with him as a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And as the same party with my president, we needed to work together. And finding him as a political novice, that he is, I thought he was a man that will give Nigeria the confidence and hope that we didn’t make a mistake of pushing the military boys back to the barracks. I was very close to him. Let me reveal this to you: Whenever there was a PDP Caucus (meeting) and they found me there, they would just call it off thinking that discussing with me in that meeting was as good as discussing with Obasanjo directly. That shows you how close we were. And I was afraid of Nigerians accusing me of not advising this man. And that was why I let the nation know that this man cannot be advised. This man has the tendency of absolute dictatorship. Obasanjo is an aircraft engineer, an architect, oil engineer etc. He claims to know everything. If a leader makes that claim, the nation suffers.
Let’s talk about the Oyo crisis. How would you assess the entire situation?
Oyo crisis is a disgrace not only to the PDP but to the whole nation. In fact, Obasanjo is the cause of this because he provided the instrumentality to perpetrate illegality. Two-third of 32 is not 18. If you are taking a decision that needs 2/3 of all members, whether they are on vacation or suspension, you will have to wait until the House is full. The acting chief judge and the 18 members of the House should have been charged for treason. The so-called governor is impersonating. He took power that does not belong to him. He should also be tried for treasonable offence. It is a coup.
But who can do this?
That is why I said Obasanjo provided the security cover for them to perpetrate an illegality. He has a way of dealing with people he hates. But I pity my colleagues who were not elected but now dominate the parliament, particularly the Senate. They were brought in without running elections. They just sat before Obasanjo. After signing the bill into law, the President right there committed a crime by saying he was not going to implement the budget one hundred per cent. And they clapped for him. I watched that night on the television and I felt sorry for this country. I felt like crying. How boldly can they tell their children that during their time this happened? I, Waku, can walk in any part of this country with my shoulder high. If I wanted to be a sycophant, I would have remained in the Senate.
Are you suggesting that we have wrong people in the Senate?
Ninety percent of them, particularly those in the Senate and those from the PDP. The only legitimately elected legislators are in the ANPP and the AD. Ninety percent of those in the Senate were appointed. They failed in their various constituencies.
That is to suggest what?
They are misfits and Obasanjo did it deliberately. Don’t underrate Obasanjo. As crafty as Obasanjo is, he is very intelligent. He knew what he was doing by bringing people that would say ‘yes, sir’ to everything. Look at the way he treats the governors. No one in Nigeria today wants to be a governor because governors have lost their respect. How can you impeach a governor and the next day, you handcuff him when he is not a robber? You prepare the impeachment of a governor less than 24 hours.
You are talking about Alamieyesigha. But it was not Obasanjo that handcuffed him, it was the Police.
Whose police? Was it not the same police that snatched ballot boxes and gave victory to Obasanjo and later on he sacked the Inspector General of Police and sent him to jail?
Do you really trace the Oyo crisis to the alleged third term ambition of President Obasanjo, as some people have alleged?
Obasanjo is a four star general. I keep telling Nigerians that Obasanjo is not going for third term. There is no general that can be a coward. Obasanjo would have come out by now to tell the whole world that he wants third term. Have you ever heard Obasanjo say I want third term?
Why are you so convinced?
I am convinced because as a four-star general, he would not be a coward. He would have come out by now to say it. Even if this thing is there, it is a mission impossible.
What if he does it?
He won’t do it because it is a mission impossible.
Would you favour the amendment of the constitution and if you do, what advice do you have for the National Assembly Joint Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution?
That is why I told you that Obasanjo picked these ‘boys’ and as a result of that, he would tell them, ‘Just do my bidding (because) you know you didn’t win the election.’ That is why I told you that you have a blackmailer in government. Obasanjo has the authentic certificates and results of those that won the election in 2003. They thought Obasanjo is doing them a favour by bringing them to the Senate and then give them such responsibility. But I can assure you that there are a few senators that will not allow two-third to pass will not pass. In the House of Representatives, it cannot pass. So, where will you get the two-third to amend the constitution? Let me tell you, I am not against constitutional amendment, but constitutional amendment is too late. Let the constitutional amendment be done in 2008 by the in-coming government. That will make it more credible. What is Obasanjo amending the constitution for? To help him do what? Obasanjo has only one Christmas to spend in office.
So, what advice do you have for people like Ibrahim Mantu who, it is being alleged, is fronting for the President?
Mantu should hold his integrity. He knows why he is in the Senate. It is very sad that such a nice and experienced politician has found himself in a cage that is difficult for him to wriggle out. But with this going around (nationwide tour of the committee), the people will say they don’t want the amendment of the constitution.
Some northerners are reportedly backing the proposed amendment of the constitution to favour the extension of president’s tenure?
There is no northerner in his normal senses that will support that. And no Nigerian in his senses will do that. The south-south does not support a third term. The south-west itself does not support it, if there is any such ambition. So, it is not a question of northerners not supporting it. Certain individuals have tried to tell Obasanjo to do so. They think he is a fool and, therefore, they want to get money out of him. When the thing does not work, they will say, ‘but oga, we did our best.
Let’s look at INEC. You are a politician of over 40 years. In your opinion, do you think the INEC, as presently constituted, can conduct credible election come 2007?
I suggest that political parties should nominate members into INEC, like what is happening in South Africa. In South Africa, it is purely independent. If that is too cumbersome, then INEC should adopt Option A4. People should line up. That is the best election in Nigeria. Everybody sees the figures written there. All the parties pick their copies. That is the best way Nigeria will run free and fair elections.
On power shift in Benue State, you are Tiv. Shouldn’t the Idoma have a shot at the governorship seat of the state?
I have no quarrel with Idoma governor. But Benue has no Idoma governor, neither does it have a Tiv. Benue has a governor that can be of Idoma extraction or Tiv extraction. And we say we want democracy to prevail. If zoning is to bring stability, I have no quarrel with it. So, if there is a compromise, bring people to agree and the Idoma are Benue indigenes. They are entitled to good things in Benue like any other person.
How will you assess the performance of the governor, George Akume?
I am not in a position to assess the governor because I am not involved. Why I am not involved is because he has never invited me to go and have a look at the projects he has done, unlike some other governors. The governor of Jigawa State invited me to come and see his projects. The governor of Sokoto State did; the governor of Bauchi State did; the governor of Zamfara did; the governor of Kebbi State did. So, I can only speak about those governors that invited me to go and have a look at what they have done. More so, as a journalist, if I were you, I will take a trip to Makurdi to see what is happening there. But it baffles me that Akume has spent close to seven years in that office and Obasanjo has not gone to Benue for any project commissioning. Is it because Obasanjo has an absolute dislike for Benue or is there nothing for him to commission? As I say, I have not been able to sit down with my governor to discuss and he has not invited me for any assessment or project tour. So, whatever I say might be wrong.
SUNDAY PUNCH, January 29, 2006
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