Posted by By FEMI BABAFEMI on
Vice President Atiku Abubakar has given a graphic account of how his once chummy relationship with President Olusegun Obasanjo went sour.
Vice President Atiku Abubakar has given a graphic account of how his once chummy relationship with President Olusegun Obasanjo went sour.
Atiku who turns 60 today said he fell out with his boss because of the president’s failure to adhere strictly to the tenets of democracy.
Though the Vice president painted a pathetic picture of how he has been turned to a captive in Aso Rock since 2003 due to his principled stand on national issues, he however vowed that he is going to defy all the ploys by the presidency to block his chances in the 2007 presidential contest by flagging off his campaign in Abuja today.
According to him, President Obasanjo’s military background must have been largely responsible for his dictatorial tendencies which in turn created a wide gap between them, especially during their second term in office.
His words,” . When he (Obasanjo) picked me as the Vice President I didn’t really know him much. I think I only met him two or three times in my life before then. Of course we worked quite closely in the first four years, but of course in the second term this is not the case. So I think you have to get somebody with whom you will be compatible. You have to choose somebody who you want as your vice so you can achieve compatibility, you can achieve unity and stability to be able to forge ahead while implementing your programmes.
“There are a number of incompatibilities, particularly in the political arena. You need compatibility in virtually all the arena to be able to move on smoothly and in a united front. For instance between me and the President is an extremely large political gap.
Maybe it is because of his training and profession, he doesn’t believe in dissent. You cannot disagree with him. While me as a politician I will prefer somebody who will disagree with me, who we will debate vigorously with on the table and then we will come to an agreement. So you don’t disagree with him maybe because of his training as a military man.
Politically, we have huge disagreements. It is fundamental because it is politics that has brought us together and once you have disagreements on that level then there is problem,…there will be mistrusts and some people will now begin to come in to cash in on the differences and then you will find it very, very difficult to work together. And by the time you realize, it you would have lost focus.”
Atiku spoke with a select group of journalists in his residence in Abuja.Excerpts:
There are two schools of thought about your presidential ambition: one says your ambition is driven by personal aspirations, while the other says you have done well to continue. So what in actual fact drives your aspiration, the quest to the presidency of Nigeria?
Thank you very much. I think basically there are two or three reasons why I am in the race. One, I have the feeling in me that I should give back to the public what the public has given to me, because but for the public and public policy in terms of education and other things I would not have been where I am today. So I should spend the rest of my life, dedicated to the cause of public good. Secondly, of course, is my commitment to democracy as a way of really enabling the public to empower themselves because democracy provides the liberty, the freedom and the right, the rule of law and constitution for people to bring out the best in them for their own personal advancements and to the advancement of the general good. So it is not really an issue of personal ambition per say.
Certainly, if it were really an issue of personal ambition I would not have had the ability to make several sacrifices in the past when I have an opportunity to dodge them somehow – in cases where I stepped down twice for Abiola and even campaigned for him to enable him win. And then of course I had also the opportunity in 2003 to hearken to governors – who wanted me to contest for the president – yet I decided to allow Mr. President have a second term. So I think it is not a matter of personal ambition. It is out of the two reasons I gave.
There are those who look at the situation and wonder why you’re aspiring to the highest office in the land. What would you want to continue with in terms of this administration’s reforms?
Not entirely. I think by the time I am doing my programme you will see where I agree with the reforms, what sectors of the economy I agree the reforms should continue; where we believe we need a reform. Every reform, after implementation, requires a review to see how it has impacted on the quality of living of the people. So I believe it is time for us to be doing some of the policy reforms. For instance I certainly will continue with privatisation because it is a good reform. We have seen the effects of privatisation. I believe also in the banking sector reforms. It was okay, and I really was a strong advocate of that except that I now realise that we also need medium-size banking.
We have the community bank as the lowest bank, but I believe we need a medium-level banking. So we may need a review to that extent. So quite a number of the reforms are good. But the only thing we have missed, you know the reforms have not been implemented over a period. We started them just on our resumption of the second term. I believe that yes, we have achieved a level of micro economic stability like interest rate and exchange rate stability and so on and so forth. But then, that has not impacted on the quality of lives of the ordinary Nigerian people. How do we get these reforms to impact on the quality of lives of the ordinary Nigerians, how do we bring back the Nigerian middle class, which is almost a gone issue? I think these are areas we need some reviews as far as the reforms are concerned.
How would you respond to charges that you were part of what had happened in the last eight years and so can not possibly claim not to have been involved in what is on ground as per this government?
You are going to overlook the fact that the Vice President is not in the driver’s seat and is not driving. And the vice president is only relevant to the extent the President wants him to be relevant. So it is very, very difficult to say that I will not do many things different if I were in the driver’s seat. If you look at the Constitution all what it says about the Vice President is that the President may assign certain responsibilities to the vice president from time to time if he wishes. I will give you an example in my own case. During the first term when the going was good I had so many assignments given to me by the President to undertake. In the second term I actually took the back seat and I was just an observer, so I personally cannot say because I was the Vice President for seven or eight years there is nothing new I am going to bring to the country. After all you also have a head of state who spent eight years and wants to rule the country again. What questions would you ask that one?
Nigerians believe that you were in charge of the economy in the first four years and nothing really moved?
I think it is not true that I was in charge of the economy even in the first term because at the very best I was the chairman of the privatisation council and we had no activity in the first four years of this administration. So you cannot say I did not perform in that respect. I am chairman of the Economic Council. Of course we had enough meetings, enough coordination as far as economic policies are concerned, together with the state and local governments…because what we have had in the second term is that the second economic team took over all the responsibilities of almost everybody, and then carry on like that. So I don’t think it is right for you to say that.
When you look back, would you agree that in 2003, you made a mistake by not running?
Almost everyone tells me I made a mistake. I have not met anyone who said I did the right thing. Believe me sincerely. But I only say and insist that I did the right thing by not succumbing to the pressures of the governors because, believe me, sincerely, I did it out of nationalistic commitment because in 1999 one of the worst fundamental political crisis in this country was the alleged dominance of political power by the north.
And then we came back in 1999 power went back to the South. Four years after North said they wanted to take power back from the South and I said that will not be good for the unity of this country. So believe me, this was my real consideration. I felt it would not be fair and that we are not going to address one of the worst fundamental political crisis in the country if we allow the power to return back to the north again in 2003. You may say I was wrong but I still believe in what I did and I am committed to what I did.
You are supposed to be at the Federal Executive Council, FEC, Meeting today but you are here, why?
Supposing I were on vacation and I am enjoying myself? So there is no big deal about it. Whether I am there or not, it would go on. So how many times have I had the opportunity to meet people like you in the last one or two or three years?
On the issue of corruption, how would you handle it?
I would fight corruption very well, very, very seriously. But I will fight corruption within the rule of law. I don’t think we need to get out within the ambit of the rule of law to fight corruption. It is something else we have to do differently against what is going on now.
With your quest for the presidency and what has gone on in the last three years about the relationship between yourself and the President. Some people have argued that now that you are aspiring to that post you must have observed certain things that have been done by the person in the driving seat which you do not agree with. If you were to be in that position (president), how would you conduct yourself in relation to your deputy?
Well we may take the issue of the Niger Delta: I certainly would handle the issue of Niger Delta differently from the way it is being handled. You see the Niger Delta is one of the most difficult terrains in the world. And to develop Niger Delta would require the partnership on a number of levels…and the private sector. I will give you an example like when we wanted to reconstruct the east-east road in Niger delta; that road alone cost more than N300billion to reconstruct. The budget of the entire Federal Ministry of work in a year is about N70 or N80b for the whole country. So you can imagine if the federal government alone were to do it. In my own promise what we have advocated is what we call …synergy where we will have a partnership of the federal government, state and local governments and even the oil companies to be able to undertake infrastructural development within the Niger Delta.
Now if that is agreed, then we will now also have to consider how our policies fare: you have to start from bottom up, meaning that you have to evolve the stakeholders from the bottom to all those development programmes. And if they decide this is what they want at the State meeting then that is where we are going to go. So this is just an example of how I will address the Niger Delta problem. But what has happened, when we came in 1999 the President said there should be a blueprint; we had concerns from all over the world, they were invited they came and when they produced something that is completely alien, completely out of context with the environment in the Niger Delta then at the end the day it is clear we have not done it right. So this is just an example of how I would have handled the crisis and there are quite a number of things I would have handled differently.
What would be your attitude to your deputy?
I think here you have to be able to get a Vice President who you will be compatible with. When he (Obasanjo) picked me as the Vice President I didn’t really know him much. I think I only met him two or three times in my life. Of course we worked quite closely in the first four years, but of course in the second term this is not the case. So I think you have to get somebody with whom you will be compatible. You have to choose somebody who you want as your deputy so you can achieve compatibility, you can achieve unity, stability to be able to forge ahead while implementing your programmes.
Are you saying that the problem is just because Mr. President and yourself are not compatible?
There are a number of incompatibilities, particularly in the political arena. You need compatibility in virtually all the arena to be able to move on smoothly and in a united front. For instance between the President and I is an extremely large political gap.
Maybe it is because of his training and profession, he doesn’t believe in dissent. You cannot disagree with him. While me as a politician I will prefer somebody who will disagree with me, who we will debate vigorously with on the table and then we will come to an agreement. So you don’t disagree with him maybe because of his training as a military man. Politically, we have huge disagreements. It is fundamental because it is politics that has brought us together and once you have disagreements on that level, then there is problem,…there will be mistrusts and some people will now begin to come in to cash on the differences and then you will find it very, very difficult to work together. And by the time you realise it you would have lost focus.
Still on the relationship between you and the President, what happened last week…?
I was spending the weekend with a friend.
The Presidency has come out to say it was a rumour?
You know the whole issue of insecurity came from abroad. I was told it was from the Internet; it was not from here. When it came from the Internet you guys, some of the media, published it. But actually this is not the first time I am spending my weekends with friends. I very, very occasionally do that, especially if I have to spend my weekend in Abuja…I cannot move without the permission of the President and in most cases it is refused. In the last three years, the only place the President has allowed me to visit is when I go to Lagos or Adamawa to see my families. And that is a ploy to separate me from my political constituency all over the country.
On the issue of relationship between you and Mr. President, do you advocate different roles for the Vice President in the Constitution…?
Don’t also forget that I was one of those who drafted this Constitution in 1994-1995. We debated this very, very seriously and extensively whether the Vice President should be given a role. Considering the complexities of Nigeria. If you give the Vice President a definitive role in the Constitution we will end up having two Presidents. So we decided not to. And I still support that position. But I also believe in delegating a lot of authority. Those who have worked with me, whether in the public service or here in government, know how I like to delegate authority and give people worthy independence. So I believe I will not have the same kind of attitude, especially in relationship between my vice president and myself if I happen to be a president. Certainly not!
There are feelers out there that Governor Yar’Adua of Katsina State who is also seen as a member of the Peoples Democratic Movement, PDM, is in the presidential race to checkmate your ambition. How do you react to this?
There is a lot of misconception about the PDM. Governor Umaru Yar’Adua was never really a member of the political family.In Peoples Front, when Shehu Musa Yar’Adua and some of us put together that political party, Umaru was reluctantly dragged into it. Of course no sooner you know we moved into the SDP and we had elections and he either lost or that it was taken away from him, he moved out. The political associations formed by the late Yar’Adua, Umaru was never part of them all through till today.And that’s why you cannot see any prominent member of the Yar’Adua political family around him. None! We are all together so it is no masterstroke anywhere.
Maybe it’s because of the name?
The name is the name of quarters in Katsina. It’s not the name of a family. Yes.
Having been part of this administration, what would be your policy thrust?
On policies, we have a number of national priority policy issues and from these we have the ones we believe should be treated as national emergencies.In other words, these are sectors of the economy that we would treat as if they were national emergencies so that we can achieve maximum result for the people of Nigeria. So to that extent, we have already identified five sectors.They are employment generation and wealth creation, agriculture and food security , energy and infrastructural development, education and social services, the Niger Delta/security, War against corruption and good governance. We have identified these areas as requiring national emergency treatment.
Inspite of all the funds that have been pumped into the energy sector, the sector appears to have just been a drain on government resources. What would be your response to that sector of the economy?
Let me tell you this story. Around year 2000, based on a study, I proposed to the president that we should set up captive power stations – and that was based on a number of studies I have read. So I took the proposal to the president. The then minister of power and steel took a different position and said if we rehabilitated our existing power stations, we could get the quantity of power we wanted. Then, I argued, based on those studies I had read that even after rehabilitating those power stations, they were not going to last more than one to two years and then they would break down. But the president appeared to be convinced by his minister and government went ahead with the rehabilitation of those power stations until we spent $550 million and then behold, what happened?
After a year, some didn’t even last a year before they collapsed.
When they collapsed, this issue came up and the president sent for me. He said ‘VP’, I said ‘Mr. President’. He said why didn’t you force me to implement this captive power stations? I said ‘Mr. President, how can I force you. I’m only an adviser. If you like, you take it, if you do not like you leave it. But then, I got humourous about it and said ‘am I a woman to force you because only a woman can force you to do something. I joked about it and it ended there then.Today, that is where we have finally come back to and just like I proposed in the development of the Niger Delta. I said we need to bring our resources together at various levels to be able to build these power stations and that is exactly what we are doing now with these seven power stations, where we pull resources from federal government, state government and local government and also the oil companies to build these things.
Most of these power stations will be ready early next year and some these year and then, of course, alongside, we are also implementing projects as far as distribution and implementation are concerned. The generated power, if you can’t transmit it, it is as bad as not even having power generated at all. So, we will definitely continue with this policy but with a diversified framework. Today, most of these captive power stations are located in areas of gas production. In our next phase, we would diversify to hydro and coal. That is how we want to continue with the development of the power sector. We would have a 25-year programme on that.
Mr. Vice President, we have had the opportunity of listening to aspirants talk loftily about their programmes and how well they mean for Nigerians but once they get to office, nothing happens. What should Nigerians look out for and which you think would set you apart?
There is a difference between me and them. They are not in government but I am in government and I know the practicability and the workability of whatever policy we’re talking about.
Some of you would recall in 1993 when I was debating with Abiola and Kingibe in Jos. Abiola said in six months he was going to remove poverty. In my own submission I said no, I completely disagree with that. There is no way you can remove poverty in six months and I said we should be honest and practical about these issues and then I gave my own programme of action. Those people who call themselves presidential aspirants who come and talk in a flowery manner often do not have experience in implementing government policies and how it can be implemented and that is where I have an advantage over them.
What would your policy on education look like?
I think we have this policy on education which would be provided free for nine years. Education is a concurrent item on the list in the constitution. No matter what you do, if you do not have the support of the state governments and local governments, you are wasting your time. There was a time we had this programme of compulsory education but if you do not provide the infrastructure to admit as many people as possible and to train as many people as possible - and this is what the states should be involved in - you are not likely to have the type of result you desire. So that’s why, because we had a Supreme Court judgement which says we cannot build, we had to convert that money into a sort of grant for states and local governments. When they build a particular number of schools, then you are entitled to so much grant to help you.
I’ll give you an example: In our first term, I convened what was termed, Northen Educational Summit. We caused Arewa House of the Ahmadu Bello University to conduct a study in the Northern states to come out with the standard of education and what it should be. I called all the 19 state governors in the north and we met in Kaduna for a conference after which we handed every governor a copy of the blueprint and in that blueprint we said every government should spend at least 26% of their budget on education. After a couple of years, we went back to re-assess what the situation was and we discovered that only about three states or four were able to spend about 26% on education. You cannot force them; so what can you do?
Here again, you need the commitment and the patnership of the various levels of government to advance education. Because really, without education, you can not develop and for me, there is nothing dear to me other than education because I’m in it publicly and privately because I have built so many at the community level, not to mention my chain of schools.
During the Ramadan, somebody saw you and wondered why you had reduced in size and wondered whether it wasn’t as a result of the crisis you are facing. What keeps you going?
Well, it’s true that during the Ramadan I expect every Muslim to lose weight. It wasn’t really the Obasanjo palava.
What keeps me going is my faith in God. Yes, I am the most investigated Vice President in this world. Yes, I have a so called indictment, and I’ve been suspended from PDP. But then, all that one will not stop me from becoming a president and if the Nigerian people say I should be president and this had been my attitude to life all along and if you do not go through these challenges, it would not prepare you for leadership.
There is a planned rally for Monday with a view to stopping you as Nigeria’s vice president by some students?
No, they have planned that before several times it didn’t materialise, the youths didn’t turn up.
In the last seven years, what would you describe as your happiest moment?
Someone once asked me and I said my happiest moment is when my wife gives birth to a baby. Because I love children and do you know why I love children? It’s because I am an only child.
What is your lowest moment?
My lowest moment is when I see democracy threatened. Not that I was not offered appointments in military governments but I did not believe in them.
Do you still talk with the president?
Of course we talk any time we meet.
About your aspiration, how is it being taken now that your declaration is coming up?
I said I wrote him and he replied that ‘I wish you goodluck and I will support any candidate of the PDP who emerges. I don’t expect anything more than that. That was okay for me. When somebody else wrote him, he sent back eight pages of abuse.
Finally, with your faith in God, what do you think can happen that would make this problem or situation go away?
As far as I am concerned, I do not have any hard feelings. If there is an opportunity to reconcile with the president, it is very welcome, except that our path can never cross politically again.
On the PTDF scandal?
In the case of PTDF, I never had any transaction with PTDF other than three. One memo from the Executive Secretary was when he sought approval to put the money in ETB and TIB. The investment in ETB brought them an interest of N1.3billion, with their investment returned. The investment in TIB, was not lost because it has been acknowledged by Spring Bank and they have started paying them even with interest. In those two transactions, there was nowhere public money was lost. Not to talk of that money coming to anybody’s pocket. They don’t talk about ETB now because ETB came with a clear statement where they got their money to pay for their telecoms business. They talk about TIB because of the relationship between Otunba Fasawe and the bank and he has been a customer for 25 years.
So they try to say that because he obtained a loan and the loan he obtained, was gotten six months after the deposits were taken in by TIB. I don’t know whether when you deposit money in a bank they would keep it there and then when somebody comes to take a loan, it is the same money that the person would be given. It is absolutely false and fraudulent. They went and concocted some flowchart by... There is no fraudulent person like that boy. He went and constructed a chart how money linked like this and this. If it is true that I have taken public money, where is the public money? You went into my account and you did not find any public money and you did not tell Nigerians that you did not find any money in the account or any account connected with me.
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