As the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, gets set to name a new chairman on Wednesday, one of the key contestants to the office, Wilberforce Juta, said the young generation of members seeking to take over the reign of leadership should still allow the “old brigade” to correct the mistakes made which led to the failure of the party in the 2015 election.
In an exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES in Abuja, Mr. Juta, a founding member of the PDP and former governor of defunct Gongola State, said he was asked to come and help rebuild the party.
Q: Many people outside the PDP may not know who Ambassador Juta is. Can you give us a brief biography?
A: I come from Maiha Local Government in Adamawa State and I am about 71 years old; very strong still, doing so many things.
I was one of the founding fathers of the PDP in 1998 when Abdulasalami (Abubakar) lifted the ban on politics. I was one of the G34, that is the great people who started the PDP in 1998.
When the PDP was established, I became the first national vice chairman for north east. I remained the national vice chairman until 1999 when we won the election and then President (Olusegun) Obasanjo decided to send me to Zimbabwe as Nigeria’s High commissioner there.
I was recalled in 2003 and the same Obasanjo sent me to NDDC, representing the north east. I voluntarily resigned from the NDDC, but I have been a member of the Board of Trustees of the PDP since then, holding many other responsibilities.
Q. The PDP lost the general elections in 2015. As a result of that, a lot of factors came up leading to the resignation of the former chairman, Adamu Muazu. Now, the party is poised to replace him with someone from the north east. We understand you are one of the major contenders. The youth within the PDP appear to belief that now is the time for them to take over the running of the party. Why should you be the next chairman after Mr. Muazu?
A. It is very important for the new breed to be mixed very well with the old brigade if they are to succeed. If you remember, the founders of this party began with Ekwueme, who was a very experienced man, then Solomon Lar, at the age of about 70, also very experienced, then came Gemade, another experienced individual, followed by Audu Ogbeh and Ahmadu Ali.
The truth is to chair a big political party like the PDP requires people who are experienced; who have known the progress of the PDP from the start, if possible. These are the people who know how to manage things. That is not to say that the younger generation cannot, but we saw what happened when we brought in Muazu. PDP lost in his hands. Even with an acting chairman, Dr. Bello in 2011, we were able to win. But when a younger person took over, he was bombarded with so many things. Don’t get me wrong, he was a very capable individual, who performed excellently well as the governor of Bauchi State. However, that patience, that elderly patience required to handle affairs within the party was missing. So many people took advantage of that to come to the national headquarters to install themselves instead of going to their various constituencies where the people will nominate them.
The power which belonged to the people was seized by the national headquarters by imposing people on others; an elderly person would not allow that. That is why I offer myself because I feel that as one of the founding fathers of the PDP, if this party goes down completely while we are still alive, some of us will be blamed. Some of the people I mentioned earlier like Solomon Lar, has gone to meet with the lord. We were the young ones among them when this party was founded and now we are the elders after they are gone. It is our duty to make sure that this party survives and then the younger generation would have a good party to contest for the House of Assembly, House of Representatives, the Senate, Governors and even the office of the President.
We are not for elective positions, but we want to keep the party strong and leave it as a legacy for the next generation yet unborn
Q. There are organs of the party responsible for selecting who becomes the next chairman of the PDP, such as the national caucus, the PDP Governors Forum, BoT and NEC. How confident are you that you have the support of these organs to emerge as chairman?
A; I really have very good support because I actually did not just apply to contest. In fact, it was peoples’ voices saying please Baba come and help us. From my state, my zone and I always believe the saying Vox Populi, Vox dei. The voice of the people is the voice of God.
When I was called upon by the people to come and salvage the party, I feel that it would be irresponsible of me to say no. If people didn’t ask me to come, I would not have come. I have never just come out looking for power, especially at this age. To come forward and head a party that has no government is a sacrifice and I feel that I should give that sacrifice in order for the party to survive.
As a member of the BoT, I believe my colleagues know my worth and I have confidence in them. As a member of NEC also, I know that most of those with elective powers in NEC, such as chairman of various state chapters are people we have worked with in various capacities and they know me very well.
Also, the two PDP governors from my zone also deeply know about me, they know my worth and I believe they have also given their support to my candidature.
Q But have you reached out to them personally?
A: Yes I did, if I did not, I wouldn’t say that they are with me. I personally met with them. I was the governor of both Adamawa and Taraba as Gongola state governor, so that one there is no problem at all.
The chairman of the party would of course need the support of the other governors too, because it is not just a north east affair, we are only given the chance because the chairman who resigned comes from our zone. I have reached out to quite a number of them including former governors too. So, I believe I have no problem with the governors too.
Q. The PDP is known for settling for consensus candidates to fill up positions and only resort to election if that effort fails, what is your position regarding the choice of a consensus candidate and going for election?
A: I have no problem at all with any of the options. I believe and I have confidence that I would emerge under any option the party structures decide on. I am confident on both ways. I have no fear or doubt of my capability or acceptability at all. But remember it is not a general convention; we are only trying to fill a vacancy and we don’t have to go through congresses and convention. So, if the structures (Caucus, BoT, and NEC) decide to come up with consensus candidate, they are free to do so, our constitution allows that. If that happens. As I said earlier, I have no fear. Whatever they decide, provided it is in the interest of the PDP, I would be at home with it.
Q; There are rumours that at the end of the day, a caretaker committee may be what would be formed to run the party until the time for a congress and national convention to elect new set of leaders. Also, when is the tenure of Muazu expected to end? For how long would the new chairman to be appointed be in office?
A: Again, this depends on the structures of the party and their preparedness. The tenure of Muazu ends in March, but that is not our concern. Our concern is how to get a good structure that would conduct very credible congresses and convention. That is what is important. As far as I am concerned it doesn’t matter when the tenure ends provided we sit down with the structures and plan how to get credible people who would hold this party for the next term. That is what I am after.
If the structure feels there is need to extend the time, may be for a month or two, so that we prepare very well, that is acceptable to me. If, they also feel that there is enough time for us to do everything before the end of March, that is also okay with me, but it depends on what the structures will do.
If I am elected chairman, one thing I want to see done is not to do haphazard things that would allow people hand pick and impose others. I will not allow that. I would make sure that people really determine their leaders from the ward up to the national levels.
As a chairman, I will not be there when someone will come and say ‘here is the chairman, here is this,’ No.
So the structures may decide to put in place caretaker or a chairman, but the most important thing is to put in place plans that would produce a good set of people that would hold PDP together, this would of course require us to update our membership register because many have left. You know in third world, some people play politics for bread and butter.
Now that we are not in government. Many people have left, hoping to get something in the government, so, we need to know how many members we still have and how dedicated are these members. These are the people that would form the delegates, who would elect leaders of this party for the next four or more years.
These are my reasons of wanting to be the chairman; to restructure this party very well, so that we are poised to take over in 2019.