INTERVIEW: How we convinced Jonathan to concede defeat to Buhari – Osita Chidoka

Former Minister of Aviation, Osita Chidoka
Former Minister of Aviation, Osita Chidoka

Osita Chidoka is a former Minister of Aviation, Corps Marshall of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) and currently a governorship aspirant in Anambra State.

He recently spoke with PREMIUM TIMES’ Musikilu Mojeed, Festus Owete, Abdulaziz Abdulaziz and Idris Ibrahim on his years in the Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan administrations as well as his chances in the November 18 governorship election in Anambra State.

Excerpts:

PT: When you left government, you went to study law. How are you combining that with the plan to become Anambra governor?

Chidoka: Tough combination! I took some time off school to pursue the election. Elections are here between now and November and so in four months it will be over. If I win, I will put the law programme in abeyance for another four years. I am already in my third year, so I hope to conclude it.

PT: Well, you can then be described as a dropout?

Chidoka: Well, I’m in good company because all the dropouts from all the major schools in the world, like Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook), like Bill Gates (founder of Microsoft), all ended up doing wonderful things. So, I am in very good company.

PT: One thing that baffles everyone is that you left PDP and joined UPP to actualize your ambition, but some people feel that UPP is a relatively unknown party. How do you hope to realise your ambition on that platform?

Chidoka: Let me take two issues here. Let me take the first one – relatively unknown. So, whenever I hear that from people, it then means to me that they still live in yesterday.

Yesterday was the day for the Northern People’s Congress or the Action Group or the NCNC to campaign in the North. They travelled from Enugu to Kano, a journey that will take you about two days. By the time you get to the villages and get to the village head to transmit the information to the people, it takes you about three months.  Before, when you decide to leave Enugu and by the time information gets to the last person, say Birnin Kebbi…. So, information and symmetry was the reason you needed large organisations to be able to get things done.

Even think about it. When you publish in Lagos, sometimes the trucks leave in the night and travel to Ilorin, then another set of trucks will take it from Illorin and travel to Kano to go and deliver. Delivering a newspaper was such a tedious task. Now fast forward to this period. How many years old is PREMIUM TIMES? It is one of the most widely read. It has more followers and has more people reading it than Daily Times had at the peak of its power. So that is the power of the changes in the society. That is why an Emmanuel Macron can leave a socialist party, form a new party and within two years win an election in France. That’s why Barack Obama, a senator from nowhere could come defeat major democratic candidates like Mrs. Clinton, who were all relying on yesterday’s strategies.

Let’s bring it back to APC. It was an impossible feat when the UPN, NPP, PRP came together under the PPA alliance. The party couldn’t find its rhythm. It couldn’t even face NPN because it didn’t have the capacity to put the structure that NPN had on ground. If you go back to the 1960’s, UPGA was the same. But today, APC came and within two years, defeated a behemoth called PDP in an election. It happened again in Ghana where you saw an opposition party defeating the ruling party. It’s all over the world. Information is no more asymmetrical. Information is now possible to move. If I grant this interview today, by tomorrow evening over a million people can read it.

So, if you introduce a party like UPP today in Nigeria you can within the next one week make the party well known to everybody. You can pass information on YOUTUBE, Facebook, WhatsApp and others.

When people say relatively new, it then mean to me they are in the old world. So, I want to say that the election we are going to be facing in Nigeria will be a test between the old and the new. It will be a test of those who still stand between what I called the stakeholders’ approach to politics and the person who drives a mass approach to politics.

On the second part of the question – PDP is a great party. I worked in the PDP. I was a key member of the PDP. But like every political party, PDP needs a rethinking; it needs a refresh; it needs to be reprogrammed and as I can see, the crisis that came between Sheriff and Makarfi-led faction was a test of the need to refresh the PDP brand. I don’t know whether the refresh is going to happen sooner or later but it is not going to happen before the Anambra election definitely.

On the second stage, Anambra State has an endemic problem of multiple factions of PDP in the state. The state has a bad history of PDP. The court cases following the 2015 elections over the senatorial and House of Representatives election are still on in the Supreme Court. So, Anambra has endemic problem in the PDP that the Sheriff-Makarfi problem does not resolve. So, I have to figure out if I have to run this election, I have to create a platform and I have to deploy the three factors I named earlier on to make it happen.

PT: So, you were not afraid of the people contesting on the platform of PDP?

Chidoka: I would have been the natural winner of that primaries. There is nobody in the PDP that would have defeated me in the primaries.

PT: Do you think there is something wrong with the judgement of people like you with the way the PDP has gone, given that as far back as the Ahmadu Ali/Ojo Maduekwe days, you were one of the brain boxes of the party, writing policies, and designing framework and all that. And you continued that even during the Jonathan days. How come you didn’t see that the party was going to face defeat?

Chidoka: I saw that clearly. I saw that the party had the potential to face defeat in an election because of two reasons. One, there is the voter fatigue – 16 years of a party being in power can create voter fatigue. Sometimes people reject parties around the world. People tend to get tired of a political party except if the party itself get into a refresh mode. We’ve never seen a party in America sustaining itself in power beyond 12 years or in any other advance democracy apart from Japan where you see the liberal party lasting long. But they will eventually lose power. So, there was that issue of voter fatigue. In the 16 years of PDP, the party suffered too many heats that by the time you present it again in 2015, there were too many issues that needed to be dealt with. It needed a re-imagining, a rethinking.

The second one was the electoral reforms introduced by the PDP. The voters became empowered. And after they became empowered, the government of the day needed to have determined the voter demographics in Nigeria and chose which one they should align with. So, PDP was not a party for labour. The labour unions were not in alliance with the PDP. If you go to the ANC they have the labour union with them.

The party was not aligned with the middle class even though they aided the middle class. There was no careful policy to align with the middle class and the middle class were also few.  All we needed to do as a party was to find out which of the groups to align with – be it social, economic or religious.

Now APC came and went to the lower masses of the society and promised them salvation. They sold fear to them of a country that had left them behind. They sold fear to ethnic groups that felt they had been marginalised in power. So, they mobilised them against the same government.

In reverse, the PDP did not sell anything to them. They just wanted to continue in office. We didn’t sell anything to the masses. We neither sold hope nor fear. So, we just kept attacking Buhari, attacking the APC. So, we were reacting to the APC. There was no formidable plan to sell to the country why continuity was in their best interest. And many of us sounded that note of warning that the party had to sell something to the people who believe in this party. If you noticed, PDP, from 2003, has consistently lost election in the north.

In 1999 President Obasanjo won more votes than Shagari did in 1979 in the north. In 1979, Shagari lost Kaduna, Kano, Borno, Gongola but in 1999 Obasanjo won all the northern states and won with a vote margin larger than the ones Shagari won with.

In fact, many Nigerians still do not remember that the story of 12 2/3 is because Shagari did not get the 12 2/3 votes cast in Kano. Shagari was struggling to argue that he got 2/3 of the 1/3 of the 2/3 in the 13 states. Obasanjo was clearly accepted in the north and the south-east, the south-south but he lost woefully in the south-west. He couldn’t make 25 per cent in the south-west states. But by 2003, Obasanjo won 96 per cent of votes in Ogun and then lost in all the key northern states. He got the whole south-south and southeast. He got the whole middle belt and got Adamawa and Taraba and lost to Buhari in the key northern states.

My take is that Sharia and Obasanjo posture as being anti-north aided the 2003 defeats in the key northern states. PDP did not go back to themselves to find out what it did wrong to the north to reverse it because the north was a major platform of the PDP. They voted for PDP in the governorship elections, but PDP lost in the presidential election – Bauchi, Katsina. All the governors came back but Obasanjo lost.

By 2007, we presented a northern candidate, Yar’Adua against Buhari again. He lost in the key northern states. He got his votes from southeast, south-south, southwest, Middle-Belt and made some votes in the north and defeated Buhari. By 2011, Jonathan lost in all the key northern states again and won with the southern combination with the middle belt and Kaduna and Adamawa. So, by 2015 he lost the whole 19 (northern) states; he lost the whole Middle Belt together with the north. He lost almost 60 per cent of the southwest which used to be the party’s base. PDP was a party without base. It kept retreating until it became a south-east, south-south affair.

In the south-east, there was large voter apathy. They didn’t feel that the government, despite the top Igbos in the administration, represented their interest. So, all these were clear to me in the analysis, in the frame work I had.

PT: In all of this, did you also sense the feeling generally of the socio-economic crises the country faced in terms of poverty, corruption etc…

Chidoka: I will come to the existential issues because PDP had a historic moment. And I will tell you three things I think conspired against the PDP.

First was Yar’Adua’s death and the quest for Goodluck Jonathan to become president. We introduced something we called the Doctrine of Necessity. The governors came and got the president to get the National Assembly to pass the Doctrine of Necessity. And in passing the Doctrine of Necessity, the government started to woo different groups. So, they increased the salary of civil servants. In 2010, the salary of civil servants went up. If you look at government’s recurrent expenditure, it ballooned around 2010-2011.

They also drew out from the Excess Crude Account and I suspected in agreement with the governors in order to pass the Doctrine of Necessity. I don’t have evidence to that. And then the Boko Haram challenge became intensified. So, government stopped most of its capital projects and spent its money paying the new wage bill, which had tripled, started paying for the war against Boko Haram. So, poverty increased. In that existential moment, Nigeria needed to have pressed a reset button. We needed to have halted to say: What are the fundamental issues affecting us and how can we address it?

For instance, I thought the Boko Haram issue presented an opportunity to reset our security architecture. The one that was done under Babangida when we created the SSS, NIA and DIA was already too old for the country. The country had changed in its method, in its process. Yes, the country felt a sense of ruthlessness arising from the government at that time because the government suddenly had many multiple battlefronts open. It was struggling to pay wage bills that were too high, struggling to maintain a democratic culture, governors were continuing to demand more and more of sharing of the money in the excess crude account and then struggling to fight a war in the north-eastern part of the country.

That was a terrible thing for any government to sustain. But instead of taking the rightful decision because an election was coming, they decided to manage it to at least conduct the election. The height of it was when the government went and removed the fuel subsidy on an inauspicious date in January 2012.

PT: Following the defeat of PDP you played a key role in convincing the then President Goodluck Jonathan to concede. How did you get to achieve that?

Chidoka: Like I said in some fora, the president was keen on conceding defeat. When he called me and I came back to Abuja from the East, he was the first person that told me that the election had been lost. And then I thought there was still hope, but he said we had lost. So, I said what do we do now? He said he will accept it. That was his first reaction. He said draft something for me to say that people should calm down, the country should move forward. That was in the night I was with him till about 1 a.m. When I left him, definitely I was sad. I think I came back in the morning, (Godsday) Orubebe had gone to the National Assembly. A lot of people were coming to say ‘no you can’t concede, you have to go to court, no one would preclude you from going to court.’ So, I came back with the speech and I said ‘this thing is getting out of hand, this is what we agreed yesterday.’ He said yes, he will still make the speech but the part that says he had called Buhari and conceded defeat, maybe we should put that away let him make the statement first.

So, that was when I invited the then attorney general to come. And I called Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to come. And the attorney general said ‘no, even if you concede defeat, you can still go to court. PDP can go to court and you can’t refrain your right of going to court by conceding defeat but that will calm down the tension in the country.’ So, we kept talking to him and then at about 5:10pm, I remember correctly, Waripamowei Dudafa (SA on Domestic Matters) came and said ‘you have to make this call. We have to leave here on May 28, no matter what people say.’ He was quite bold. He said to him ‘no matter what anybody says here, May 29th is certain. We will leave here. So, let’s leave as heroes.’ So, Dudafa went in, got Buhari and came and called him. So, he went in and had that conversation with him.

So, at about 5:17 p.m., if I remember correctly, I tweeted that the president had just called Buhari and had accepted defeat. I said ‘I have to say this to the world and he said yes.’  He was convinced that there was no room to wait for Borno and Yobe results to be announced because at that time I knew we had lost and so if we waited for that announcement to be made, the whole media and everybody would have turned to Buhari and whatever you were saying at that time would have been like ‘ok, it’s done and its an afterthought’.

So, I felt that he needed to take the moral high ground because two things were important. This president set up a process that made him lose an election. I thought history would remember that more than the weaknesses of his government. I thought that whenever the history of Nigeria would be written, in the next 50 or 100 years, the most significant issue will be that the first government opposition election victory was done under President Jonathan. History is such a strange story, it doesn’t quite record little things. It takes the high marks of society. So, even all the arguments of how he ruled and didn’t rule would have become an issue if anything had gone wrong and he had rejected the result. So, he needed to claim ownership of that results. He took ownership of that result and said ‘I set up this process that led to this and if this is the outcome, I have accepted it.’

PT: You talked about his weaknesses and in the last few weeks there have been tales of corruption in the Goodluck Jonathan administration. What are these weaknesses you alluded to and what is your general assessment vis-a-vis the kind of revelations that are coming out today?

Chidoka: Basically, there is one sickness. There is something I am very much interested in seeing happen in Nigeria. I want to see us go to a single term presidency, single term executive office, be it six years, be it seven years, whatever. I don’t think this country can afford re-election of executives every four-years. We can’t afford it.

Two, it is what causes the major weakness of people in government. Once you are looking to the second term you will tend to keep your real personality in check, trying to please everybody to be able to be re-elected. So, when I talk of weakness, it’s a systemic weakness. A weakness that saw Jonathan whom I know to be a different man. He has a logical mind, he is not a greedy person, and he is not avaricious. He is really not interested in the expensive things of life that fascinate people. He really has what I will call a middle-class approach to life as a person. I haven’t seen things of greed in him. He exercises every day; he is very empathetic but he was in a situation where he thought, I believe, that getting a second term is dependent on how far he manages other people’s interests. So, the scientific mind of a scientist that he is, the ability for him to logically deduce what is right did not seem right. If you look at Jonathan, in person he is an exquisite chairman of a meeting. I can’t quantify his patience in listening to counter opinions, in managing contending forces. Sometimes when people get haywire, he will say ‘hey, everybody calm down.’ I have seen this happen in national executive council many times, whether we go regional or divide meetings. He manages to bring everybody back to the centre. His greatest strength is his greatest weakness. But in trying to win a second term, he allowed that ability to create that consensus to be a dominant force in his government.

So, he wanted to work with both tendencies until after the elections happened. And I know with certainty that Jonathan in his second term would have been a totally different President Jonathan; like the Jonathan that people don’t see. The one we see in cabinet, at least for the one year I was there. First of all, he comes to council early. He was always there by 10am. The maximum delay in council is 5-10 minutes. And he sat through the meetings. I have never seen him rise up from the meeting to say ‘I want to go and do something and come back.’ He never called for intermediary.

The President of Cote d’Ivoire, Alassane Quattara, came for a meeting of ECOWAS. He received him at the airport. As we were driving to town he told me that ‘I hope this meeting ends early because your president (Jonathan) has such great patience that he listens to nonsense.’ I said ‘yes, that is his style, he hears everybody out.’ So, I think that the Jonathan that people finally saw in Nigeria was a Jonathan that started looking for a second term. The Jonathan that would have been the president was the one that came and in the first one year of his governance he initiated so many policies. I am sure this present government was shocked at the quantity of policies and programmes that the Jonathan government had done that was not in the public domain. Whether you go to the area of water, to the area of power to the area of agriculture to the area of aviation. There were immense tune-ups of policies in those areas.

But when it came to the integrity of managing contending forces, he was, I think, too eager to get pass the second term hurdle that he let things slip under the grass.

PT: Does he regret all of this?

Chidoka: I don’t know if he does, I haven’t asked him. This is my own personal assessment of what I thought was the problem.

PT: But given what has happened in the last two years, do you regret persuading Jonathan to concede?

Chidoka: No, I don’t. I knew that the APC government was not going to work. I had no illusion. Because it fundamentally sold something I knew it cannot offer. I have been in government long enough to know that they cannot offer what they were selling. They cannot deliver on it.

Secondly, I knew that President Buhari, fundamentally, had ideological differences with the people that he formed government with. He wasn’t a free market person. He wasn’t a believer in what I will call the quality of Nigerian inclusiveness. He didn’t have the mindset to include. So, I knew that a time will come when the tension in the government will rear itself. And those are the tension that strange bedfellows coming together will create. There was no ideological consistency; there was no ideological uniformity. Even the ANC with its ideological coherence, is beginning to lose grounds in South Africa. In every recent election,the percentage of votes for the ANC mhas continued to drop. So, I knew that without ideological coherence, it was strange bed fellows working together. I knew an Obasanjo and a Buhari will not agree over time. I knew that Tinubu and Buhari will not agree over time because they came from different ideological schools. It was going to be a matter of time when those will rear its heads in the government.

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