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Chief Yomi Edu, an astute businessman and close associate of Vice President Atiku Abubakar, is not given to much talk......
Chief Yomi Edu, an astute businessman and close associate of Vice President Atiku Abubakar, is not given to much talk. The former minister of special duties is a political strategist who knows when to act. The Epe, Lagos, born politician, in this interview, appraises the performance of the present government. Edu,a chieftain of the Advanced Congress of Democrats, ACD, also puts President Olusegun Obasanjoís attitudinal behaviour in proper perspective. Itís vintage Edu. Excerpts:
HOW would you describe the political space in Nigeria today?
That is a wide question. But I think that anyone who is observant would agree that things are not as one expected because elections are due in about nine monthsí time and only about two days ago did we have two candidates who now declared openly that they are contesting the presidential election. I mean General Muhammadu Buhari and Buba Marwa. So, one would have expected that at this stage, there would be a lot of activities. Rather, for the past one year, there is nothing but third term. However, I am sure that you will see a lot of activities in the next couple of months.
Your party, Advanced Congress of Democrats, is more or less seen as an opposition party.
No, ACD is not an opposition party. We in ACD strongly believe that the country will be better governed democratically if there are two strong parties on the ground. That is, two parties that are equally as strong as a thousand. I think if you recollect the NRC/SDP situation, either party had the chance of winning elections. And we in ACD are hoping to be able to galvanise every other party onto one side and bring them together under one roof. That is why things seem to be quiet because we are now at the stage of negotiation and hopefully in the next couple of weeks, activities will pick up. By then, we may be able to announce an alliance.
To what extent do you think that the alliance would be able to form a strong structure against the PDP when many of the parties you are proposing merger with have been factionalised?
PDP has already broken into three factions. There is now the Ali-led faction, the Solomon Lar-led faction and the third faction arose few days ago. The old NPN adherents have now gotten together and I believe Alhaji Umaru Dikko and some prominent politicians are leading the faction. So, donít say there is faction in ANPP and AD, there are also factions in PDP itself. But what we hope to do since it is now apparent that PDP has failed the nation is that those of us who want to uphold the essence of democracy have now formed the second alternate party. I wouldnít say because there are factions in the parties, we could not work together. We should come together to form an alliance to oppose the PDP.
At what particular point in time did you realize that the PDP has failed the nation, given that you served as a minister under this government ?
I served under Obasanjoís government and I have no grudge against President Obasanjo. As a Yoruba man, I am aware that we donít fight our elders. Obasanjo is my elder and our president, so I cannot fight him. That is how we were taught in Yoruba land. But I was against third term from day one. There are two different issues here anti-third term and anti-Obasanjo. As to your question regarding when I realized that the PDP has let us down, it began with the sacking of Audu Ogbeh. That was when what I would call garrison democracy started creeping in, I mean dictating what needs to be done by certain individuals and that is when PDP lost its way democratically.
We now have executives who were not elected by anybody but by affirmation and yet they take delight in dictating what will happen without allowing other people to be heard. That is the point we realized that this is not the way to go. We felt that we should go back to the drawing board and plot a way forward.
You are talking about PDP failing the nation. How has the party failed the nation? Is it because of the internal wrangling within the party or are you saying that the government at the centre has not delivered enough dividends of democracy to the people?
No, the government in some ways has done well. And in many ways it has failed. Reforms being carried out are very good for the country but I cannot think of any time that a government embarked on many reforms at the same time like this present government.
Ushering in democracy
So, in some ways, the reforms are good and at least we have to give the devil its dues. But when I said it failed, I mean democratically they have failed. We hoped to usher in democracy when we fought Babangida and Abacha. But what we have now is not what people expected. It is not only the PDP that has failed, democracy has failed.
I have told you how Obasanjo sacked the whole executive of the PDP without election and put new ones there by affirmation and without elections. I have also told you how several courts ruled and he said no, it is by affirmation. Is that democracy? You are a Nigerian and you must be aware of all what happened. In a nutshell, what we hope we could achieve is not what we saw and that is what we are fighting against.
What then would you say is the difference between Abacha government and the present government?
The only difference is that Abacha came into power through a coup díetat, Obasanjo was elected democratically. That is just the difference. But the way the country has been governed, there is not much difference. Even Abachaís government, as bad as it was, had some good points. It was then we had PTF. So, democratically PDP has failed the country.
What was your experience like serving under President Obasanjo as a minister?
I am thankful and grateful that among 140 million Nigerians, I was given a chance to be a minister. My experience was an eye opener because that was my first time in government. I learnt a lot; how government works, how decisions are taken. It was a useful experience personally, I had a very good relationship with the president when I was in government and I was grateful to him for appointing me as a minister.
As a person who has served under the present government, would you say Obasanjo is vindictive or a good leader to follow?
The president is not tolerant. He seems to lack compassion. He often assumes himself to know it all. The president does not repay loyalty. He has many weaknesses like many other human beings. Likewise also, he has many good points too. He is firm, focused, and I think generally I could say he means well for the country, we may though, not agree with the way he is going about it. Unfortunately, because of his mannerism, his style of governance falls short of expectation. This is a president we are hoping will come and be a man of consensus, he hasnít done that. The country is more divided than before. You know during the third term thing, the North was on one side and the South went the other side. When we first got him elected, we were hoping that he would be a father to all, a bridge builder but he hasnít shown that. It is so unfortunate.
He doesnít let many things go. From my own personal experience, I worked very hard in 1998 for his campaign and General Muhammed Gusau, former NSA, the president himself, Atiku and General Danjuma all know the role we played in raising fund for the president to ensure that things were done properly. Indeed, I went round with him on many occasions to campaign. And I thought we had done enough to show him our loyalty. But, from my personal experience, after he was elected, as president-elect, I met with him in Aguda House and Vice President Atiku Abubakar was there with him. And he (Obasanjo) was telling me about my personal role in the coming government and how he would like me to be something or the other, not in his cabinet, saying moreso that Chief Sarumi and I are both Lagosians and from the same ward and all that. And I said to him congrats for being elected and that I was happy that our work didnít go in vain.
But instead of saying, ďyes thank God,Ē he simply responded by saying that our job was easy because he was a good product. I laughed. No matter how good you are, somebody sold you. And here was Obasanjo who saw himself as a good product and for which reason our job was made easy.
Then I went on to make comment that he and I had similar problems among our people. That is we are not seen to be Yoruba enough because we have friends in the East, the North and the rest of the country. Often Yoruba donít like us. But I did not know that I had already committed a crime by comparing myself with Obasanjo. And how dare me thinking that I and him were the same. I didnít know I had committed any offence. Later on General Haliu Muhammed told me that the president complained that I was rude to him and that he was going to report me to my father. I laughed because this is a man (myself) who is a grandfather and he was going to report me to my father. But he punished me for that.
When I was appointed as a minister, he put me as a minister of state for commerce under a much younger person than I am, Mustapha Bello. That to him was a punishment for me daring to compare myself with him. I complained to Atiku that I was going to resign the job. In fact, I wrote my resignation letter but he advised me to keep it. A day before the swearing in, I was told I had a different portfolio and overnight the president himself changed it without letting anybody know.
What portfolio were you expecting
I think it was Aviation Ministry. Overnight it was changed without anybody knowing it and I walked up to Atiku to say that Iím going to leave the hall before swearing in. Atiku advised against such move and I stayed on. At the end of the day, the only reason he had for taking the action was my statement comparing myself with him. That was the first taste I had of Obasanjoís vindictiveness.
When I was in the ministry of commerce, both myself and the minister were comfortable, because he knew I was not supposed to be there. Luckily, the portfolio was changed the same month. But I have seen a lot of Obasanjoís vindictiveness. I saw a lot of it in government. That was rather unfortunate because as a leader, people would offend you and when such happens, you move on, you donít pay it back. That is how to be a leader.
What was responsible for your exit from government?
There was nothing. I did four years and the president had said that anybody who had served for four years should leave. So, after the first term, we all left, because that was the policy.
To be frank, will you say Obasanjo is a good leader to follow?
That is a very trickish question to answer. As a president of the country, he means some good things for Nigeria but as a leader the answer is no. I wouldnít follow him as a leader.
I have given some examples. He is vindictive, he doesnít know loyalty and he is deceptive. Looking at this third term issue, he allowed confusion to rage on and at the end he said he did not assign anybody to do it. How can anybody believe him for Godís sake? For one year, he was using House No.7 in the Villa for meetings on third term. You are aware of this and adequately funding the campaigners. Anenih and Mantu moved round the country scheming for the elongation of tenure, the president didnít stop them. After the whole thing had failed he now had to tell the world that he was not part of the scheme. Who would believe him? He is deceptive.
But for once he never told anyone that he was interested in third term?
Why didnít he stop it? We are not kids. Why didnít he call Anenih, Ojo Maduekwe, Mantu and others and say to them, stop this nonsense you are doing? Of course, he was aware of all their activities. The whole country was aware of it. Even my little boy was aware of it. He could have said, ďyou guys, please stop this nonsense, I am not interested in third term.Ē And everything would have ended immediately but he never did that. In fact, he encouraged them. After it failed, he now had the courage to tell the whole country that he never had interest in third term. Who would believe him for Godís sake? So, I say a leader who is deceptive, I will not see him as a good leader. As a leader, I canít follow him.
There were allegations of bribery during the third term issue. Uptill now nobody has been brought to book over this.
To prove corruption is a very difficult thing unless you catch the person involved red-handed or probably see a cheque written in the name of a particular person or take a picture of the giver and the taker when the act is being carried out. That is, however, difficult. But we have friends in the National Assembly who are men of integrity both at the Senate and the House of Representatives who have made it open that they approached them with money. I donít think this is a lie. Whether the president funded the thing by himself, I wouldnít know but the so-called third termers were part of it. Money was moved around. No doubt about that.
For quite sometime, the crisis of confidence between the president and his vice has been an open issue. What do you think is responsible for this?
If I give answer, people would say, what do you expect? He is Atikuís friend. Atiku and I have been friends for more than 20 years or thereabout. So, we are friends, we are brothers. I know him in and out. But I only got to know Obasanjo in 1998. So, while I see Atiku as my age group and a friend, Obasanjo is much older than I and therefore cannot be seen as a friend.
All the same, I think he (Atiku) must have known him well enough. But talking in terms of loyalty, Atiku knows loyalty, and if anything, he shows loyalty to his friends. Atiku enjoins his friends to be loyal. Atiku has time for everybody, not because he is my friend but I have seen him at close quarters. He is a compassionate man. Obasanjo is not his kind of person . So, loyalty to me, I am sorry, if your friend cannot say you are loyal, I donít know where loyalty stands.
I know Atiku was totally loyal to Obasanjo throughout the first four years. He was so loyal that at a point, even in the North, he was losing his constituency. Atiku was losing his base in the North because of his support for Obasanjo. Sharia issue was an example. Atiku, however, does not give in to blind loyalty. But where the cord was broken, from my experience, was the day the president announced he was seeking re-election and he didnít name Atiku. That was the beginning of their misunderstanding because as a man who had served the president so well, no one expected that he could announced his re-election bid without mentioning his vice even once. So, there was that rumor that he wanted to replace him. That was the beginning of the crisis.
Today, Atiku has assumed the status of an opposition leader.
Atiku is not an opposition leader. He is the number two man in the country. He is still with the president. He does not obey blind loyalty. He is not a military man. The same oath Obasanjo took Atiku also took. That is to protect the constitution of the country and wherever there is any attempt to breach that constitution, he has to stand up and say no. He saw Obasanjo trying to break the oath he took over the third term issue and so he had to stand against that. That is not being disloyal.
Is presidency all about a matter of life and death?
I have told you that presidency, to him, is not a matter of life and death. But he is fighting for democracy to survive. He has said that over and over again. Presidency is not about life and death to him, but for democracy to survive. That is what he has done. He has criticized the policies but not the government.
But he is part of policy making
He has the right to personal opinion as it is done everywhere else. They cannot agree all the time. He is still in government but he is entitled to his own opinion. And even in cases where he has had cause to criticize the policies he never mentioned the presidentís name, check your record. In doing this, he was working against what he thought was illegal. He was fighting against what he believes was anti-democratic. He believes Obasanjo was doing a wrong thing and he was fighting that. He was fighting for Nigeria.
Under what party is Atiku contesting the presidency as the probability of him getting the PDP ticket is nil?
As of today, Atiku is still in PDP but tomorrow is another day. I am in ACD, he is in PDP. When it is the time for him to declare as General Marwa and General Buhari have done he would tell us under which party he wants to run. But, as of now, he is still in PDP.
In the event that he wants to come out under a different party, what will happen to his position?
You are full of so many ifs. If this, if that, we are dealing with too many ifs. All the same, I donít think there is any law that says both must belong to the same party. Many senators have defected to other parties and yet they are still in the Senate. I donít think there is any law that says he must resign. As far as I know, there are three reasons why he can leave office: if he dies, of course he leaves; if he is impeached he resigns his position. But I pray he joins ACD because most of his friends are in ACD and why he is still in PDP I donít know. If you go back to history, when Chief Olu Falae contested presidency, he was in AD, he chose an ANPP member as his running mate. If they had won the election one person would have been AD and the other ANPP.
In the event that he joins ACD, do you think Atiku would be able to muster enough support to challenge and defeat Babangida, Buhari or Marwa?
What confidence do you have on his success at the poll?
We are politicians, optimism is our trait. Again, Atiku, as a politician, has formed a party before and he is still very popular. Rightly or wrongly, we now see Atiku as a champion of democracy. Recently, somebody prominent in Yorubaland called me and said, íaburo, this your oga keeps sacking Atikuís aides, but this is a good thing because the more he does it, the more sympathy Atiku gets.í I was surprised. I have no doubt that Atiku is a popular candidate and in a free and fair election, he will beat Obasanjo anyday. If he(Obasanjo) has his nominee, Atiku will beat him. Rawlings brought forward his vice, Attah Mills, in Ghana, yet he lost the election. In a free and fair election, Atiku will beat Obasanjoís nominee and all others. The only reason Atiku can lose election is if they can cause the SSS and the INEC. In a free and fair election, they cannot beat Atiku. Atiku will defeat Obasanjoís nominee anyday. Mind you Obasanjo is not popular. Up north, he is not popular. Anybody he (Obasanjo) backs is a liability to him. Go up North and find out. Ask northerners, they will tell you he is not popular. Again, anybody Obasanjo backs is a liability to him(candidate) not an asset. Obasanjo is not popular as a president.
How do you mean that a whole president of the nation is not popular and what is responsible for this lack of popularity?
I have told you. The deceit, the arrogance. Nigeria is a funny country. You can be doing the wrong things and be humble and people may still love you. And somebody else may be doing the right thing and be arrogant and at the same time be deceptive, Nigerians would not love you.
Earlier, you said the only reason Atiku can lose the presidential election is if INEC and SSS were coaxed to rig. There were instances of this in the past, wonít this repeat itself come 2007.
Never. It wonít happen. We will give them no room for election rigging.
How sure are you that Atiku would win the election?
Iím very sure. He is going to win based on all termsó loyalty, performance and others.
Perception is a strong factor in politics. Many people perceive Atiku to be corrupt.
Perception is cheap. When people say Atiku is corrupt, I laugh. Before he came into government, he was a wealthy man. It is not as if he cannot make money in government but he doesnít need it. Atiku has been known for his generosity. Even the president himself knows this. I know his source of income. He does not make his money in government. Atiku has never controlled any ministry and he has never been in a position where he awards contracts. He doesnít control any ministry, he doesnít control finance or ministry of defence. So, where is he making the money from government?
But many people do point at the privatization of government enterprises.
Show us an evidence. They have the machinery of government at hand,SSS, EFCC, ICPC, let anyone show us the evidence that Atiku is corrupt. Nothing was approved that Obasanjo didnít have his signature. I challenge anyone to show us any evidence. Nobody has come out to prove allegation of corruption against the VP. Talking is cheap. Everybody can talk. Like Obasanjo said about two years ago that he doesnít listen to market talk when asked why he had not probed Babangida. This is purely a market place talk. Nobody has shown us any evidence of corruption, because it is not just there.
Yet the government has all it takes to bring out evidence if it ever exists. They said he could not go to USA, that he would be arrested there. For two weeks, he has been there on vacation. It was alleged that one congressman bribed him with $100,000. I just laugh. That is money Atiku will just give to a friend to settle his bills. When we come out to launch our campaign, we would correct that impression. Nigeria is a very funny country, people just take whatever they hear without questioning it. It is a major issue and we would address it at the appropriate time. Atiku is in BPE, but Obasanjo has the final say. Yes, Atiku has so many friends, but most people like Aliko Dangote, Transcorp and others, are they Atikuís friends? We will present the facts at the right time. All I know is that Atiku is not corrupt.
Come 2007, will your partyís flagbearer be able to match PDPís candidate?
Without being immodest, I would say, as of now, after PDP, which is in government, ACD is a very strong party. Other parties too know that ACD is very strong across all zones of the country. Well, Marwa as a person is a fine gentleman. I canít see him going anywhere. Marwa is not an issue to us. He is not. Babanginda has had his own share of governance. When I spoke with him last in Minna, I said to him he should not contest the election. We respect him as a statesman and he should stay out at the stage. At that time, he told me he would not contest. He can only make impact if he gets the PDP ticket, which is unlikely.
The only chance he has is coming out on the platform of PDP. So, I donít see him as of now as a threat to us. As for Gen. Buhari, he is very popular in the North. I have been in the North and seen how he is loved for his principle and integrity in many ways. But in the South, he is rightly or wrongly seen largely as a muslim fundamentalist. To me, that is wrong. I cannot see him carrying much vote in the South and winning overall general election. I like him as a person very much but I canít see how he can win a national election. I like him as a person but I donít see him going anywhere. I know first and foremost the president is coming from the North, no matter what anybody says. So, for me, really, I say the fight is between Atiku and any candidate presented by the PDP. That candidate can be any governor, but definitely Atiku will beat them hands down.
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