In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Lois Ugbede, the National Secretary of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Shehu Gabam, speaks on the party’s preparation for the coming Ekiti and Osun governorship elections, ongoing discussions with some governors and over 60 senators, the visit of its officials to former military president, Ibrahim Babangida and other issues. Excerpts:
PT: There are two elections coming up, namely the governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun States. How prepared is your party for the elections?
Gabam: We are well prepared because there was an INEC guideline guiding Ekiti State and Osun State elections. But before then we have been on ground in EKiti State. If you have your agents on ground in Ekiti State, they will tell you right now in virtually every local government that we are very strong. We have four gubernatorial aspirants who purchased their forms and returned it officially yesterday and there will be a screening committee to screen them before they go back to the field to commence campaign. We are working tirelessly. We know what the situation in Ekiti state is quite very fluid we are exploiting such situation to our own good as SDP is a major force that has come on stage. And of course, we are applying off on it in all our elections including the presidential election. So, we want to make a paradigm shift from the tradition of delegates who are always used to take away decent, credible and responsible people from occupying responsible positions and mediocrities and criminals always having their way by buying delegates so as to get to those positions. We felt that we should restore a community-based democracy, a participatory democracy. People should vote from their polling units, from their wards, from their local government areas and the state so that no community will say that somebody was imposed on them. They must have known a particular person they are bringing forward to vote for, who understand what their challenges or what their peculiarities are as a community so that when he gets there to either state or national assembly, he would able to protect and work for the interest of the community. This is a restoration of participatory democracy.
PT: Do you see SDP winning the elections considering the fact that two major parties are presently in power in the two states – PDP in EKiti and APC in Osun?
Gabam: I am over-optimistic we will win EKiti and Osun States. PDP is very weak. Forget about the rhetoric of Governor Ayo Fayose which is his tradition. When it comes to clear operation, I have been to EKiti and I have seen the enthusiasm. We have the pulse of the feelings of the people of Ekiti State and I know that they are desperately looking for a change. They are looking for a new face, someone who can deliver whatever he promises and by the time we unveil our new manifesto and constitution, you will be shocked. We have captured the mindset of Nigerians, what Nigerians are feeling and what they are looking forward to. So, we are working on such document. By our next convention we will unveil all those things for Nigerians to see all those promises. What we intend to do to transform the country are also there. So I can tell you that my expectation in Ekiti State is 85 per cent and that we are going to win Ekiti State. The PDP is weak. There is this tendency to sort of have a collaboration to see how we can work together as a team. Those were the issues we raised before leaving PDP and fusing into SDP. Democratically speaking, the space is becoming very competitive, very intimidating and we must work together to ensure that the environment is free of all intimidation and all tendency by government that is in place to silence virtually everybody. We fought for democracy, we negotiated the exit of military and restored democracy in Nigeria in 1999 and therefore there are some of us that cannot be intimidated. We have been there for a very long time and we know the dynamism that is involved in the system.
We are very sure by God’s grace of taking Osun State. So far we have about two strong persons that are eyeing SDP, one of them is out, Senator Omisore that joined the SDP. Also there is one of them who is very strong that is coming on board and we are expecting about six other people from Osun State that are soon going to join SDP. So I am sure you have been reading on the pages of newspapers the serious crisis going on between the PDP and the SDP in Osun State – the tearing of so called posters, offices being converted into SDP and so on and so forth. This kind of political frictions between the political gladiators is already going on in Osun State. So, the political environment is really very charged and I am sure in the next one month you will see those physical changes. As far as the political parties are concerned, the pictures will be clearer.
PT: There are speculations that some APC chieftains are planning to join the SDP and notable among them is a former Kano State governor and the senator representing Kano Central Senatorial District, Rabi’u Kwankwaso. How true is that?
Gabam: We are interfacing with a lot of senators. I won’t call names. We are interfacing with over 60 senators and a lot of governors as well and other VIPs across the length and breadth of Nigeria. So the discussions have gone very high, processes are ongoing. We have provided hope, just the way we restored hope in 1999 when hope was lost. We restored democracy to Nigeria and the fundamental reason why we left PDP back to SDP is to restore the hope that Nigerians have seem to have lost again and we have restored that hope in SDP. We have reinvigorated the SDP, We are repackaging the SDP, and we are relaunching SDP as a major fundamental platform for all Nigerians to key in. Don’t forget we had a very unique history at the time during the military regime when the two party system were being promoted, SDP and NRC were registered. NRC has fizzled out, but SDP remains. SDP is the only party in the history of Nigeria that has produced a president and vice president of the same religion. Nigerians have not gone into religious, ethnic or sectional correlations when they are voting. They had policies and programmes that were so dear to the Nigerian people. So these are issues that we looked into and were very clear in our thoughts that we need a party that will serve as a rallying point to every Nigerian irrespective of tribe and religion, irrespective of where you come from. It will be a platform that will accommodate, that will give you the opportunity to vie for whatever position you want to vie for. We were very specific in our terms when we said SDP will be a platform for all Nigerians and the logo is quite catchy. It is a household hold name – a white horse, very daring, very powerful. Every community knows what horse is all about because what markets a party is the logo and also the manifesto of the party and the ability to capture the sensibilities of Nigerians. There is a breakdown of law and order virtually in every part of this country. There is the loss of confidence in the system. There is abuse of the system. There is a gross incompetence as an act of governance and you have a lot of issues that are related to misfit in providing leadership. These are the issues we are re-positioning strongly and also providing a protectionist system. What we saw in the National Assembly, a kind of attack by thugs led by somebody who call himself a senator is one of the greatest disservice the country has gone through. We must protect institution of democracy. The parliament must be protected at all cost. We will not condole an act by any individual being covered by whatever elements either in government or outside government to ridicule democracy. We fought for democracy. Some people died in the process of fighting for this democracy. So, no responsible, patriotic citizen will support what happened in the National Assembly. It is one of the most dastardly act carried out by some set of people and I believe the law enforcement agencies must do their job. If we want to have one country, nobody should be above the law and no society should condone an individual exhibiting a very bad behavior as if he an omega of things. Anybody can decide to employ a criminal behaviour to do whatever he wants to do. It is easy to be criminal than to be decent. These are some of the things we detest and as a citizen I detest it and as a Nigerian who has the right to talk about it.
Number two, we also find it very displeasing the comment of the president about the youth. I have been to several countries. Perhaps, it is only in Nigeria you see people struggling, selling pure water to survive. On the streets you see people selling banana, selling groundnut, just to meet the basic needs of life. If they can’t be encouraged, they shouldn’t be discouraged. And I am sure at the time of the election I know people who are pushing wheel barrow, selling water, selling recharge cards, selling groundnut, selling sugarcane who contributed to the election of the president. Perhaps, he was misquoted. If he was misquoted then he owes Nigerians a lot of explanation on what he means by that statement. I think there is need for him to expatiate clearly. I saw a bit of an attempt to explain it by his media man. I think that is grossly insufficient. The president who made the statement needs to make a lot of clarification. He is the president of Nigeria and we must respect him as the president of Nigeria. We are respecting that office as the president and the commander-in-chief but making derogatory statement is uncalled for irrespective of our shortcomings. No society is perfect, Nigeria is not a perfect society, America is not a perfect society and crime is not new to any society. America, as organised as it is we are recording daily crimes. People go to school to kill innocent children that are in secondary school and primary school. So it is not about crime, it is about standing for what the country stood for, protecting the image of the country, linking the global community, defending the integrity of the nation. That is what leadership is all about.
PT: You said something about the old SDP and new SDP and you were trying to link them up. The old SDP was banned and it can’t be the same with the new.
Gabam: No, it was re-registered by INEC.
PT: But as a different party entirely?
Gabam: They are bearing the same name; it is just that the time differs. Yes as at that time the election was annulled the parties were banned. People find the name so interesting and the manifesto of the party and the ability of the party to mobilise Nigerians to vote in a very unique way despite our diversity makes it a very historic political party. So, the group of people led by the current chairman Olu Falae went to INEC did all the necessary formalities to make sure the party was registered again. So it’s the same, an old wine in a new bottle.
PT: So, are the manifestoes the same?
Gabam: The manifesto is being modernised to meet up the challenges of the younger generations like you. I don’t know how old you are. If you were there when SDP was registered you need to know the history of SDP. It is a party that the younger generations need to read its history. Perhaps, you heard about June 12. You need to know what led to June 12. These are the issues Nigerians need to be reminded about. What really cut us off as a people is because at a certain time history as a subject was stopped from being taught in schools, which is a great disservice to the country. It is a party that we feel it is critical for it to be strengthened this time around given the breakdown of law and order, sectionalism, the killings and also the barbarism going on in the country. We cannot condone such kind of exercise at all. We want to build a nation that is accommodating, that is self-preserving.
PT: With the election coming up, are you zoning your offices, particularly the presidency?
Gabam: There is no official position of zones but the presidency is most likely to come from the north. I think I am very certain about that.
PT: PDP recently made a statement about reaching out for an alliance or merger. Did the party reach out to the SDP?
Gabam: It didn’t originate from the PDP, it is a collection of people who feel there is a need to have a broad-base of coalition. The country is under threat. The crisis is rocking the country very heavily and what we witnessed in 1998, this kind of segregation, this kind of agitation has bounced back to the system. So, there is the need for the political class that always makes the sacrifice to once again come together to see how hope can be restored, have sense of purpose, sense of rationality above any other thing. Yes, we belong to different political parties but we felt that there is the need to come together as a major force to create the balance, the sense of belonging and the sense of participation. So, for this reason the parties are interfacing in these areas and of course there are other areas of interest that have not been defined yet but as time goes on, we will define those areas specifically and will see how we can come to terms and work alongside, preserve and defend democracy throughout the country.
PT: Is it true IBB has joined the SDP?
Gabam: It wasn’t a rumour. I was part of those who went there as the national secretary of the SDP. We went to pay him a courtesy call and also to thank him for the efforts he made in the past and also to solicit his support as father figure of the country who has ruled the country and has done excellently well. The reception was quite overwhelming and he went memory lane to talk about the party and his belief that party system should be very strong and that other parties can exist but there is need for the country to have two political parties. Of course we presented a gift to him which he cherished while he called on all Nigerians who believe in democracy and want a very strong and virile democracy to register with the SDP. He called on the younger generation to register with SDP and he said in specific terms that if he was a young man he would have registered with the SDP and champion the course of marketing SDP. So, yes by and large he is completely telling everybody SDP is the way out giving the situation we are in right now.