'IBB COMMITTED TO NORTHERN PRESIDENCY'
According to spokesman of General Ibrahim Babangida. Prince Kassim Afegbua, if not that the consensus arrangement entered into by four presidential aspirants from the North did not favour the former head of state, he would have easily picked the PDP ticket.
He however, pointed out that PDP chiefs adopted a system of voting that gave room to what he called 'technical rigging.' He argued that it was wrong of Jonathan place surveillance on governors, to see who would renege on the agreement reached with him to deliver the votes.
Afegbua is, however, happy that his boss kept faith with his promise over the consensus arrangement and delivered all his strongholds, including Minna, Sokoto and Kano to Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
He said that Babangida resisted pressure from his followers to join another party and contest the presidential election on the ticket of a coalition of political parties that has sympathy for him. According to him, the retired General told his followers that he would respect the decision of the Northern Leaders Political Forum because he is a man of honour.
Afegbua spoke on these and other political issues.
The PDP presidential primary election has come and gone. With its outcome, is the consensus agreement entered into four presidential aspirants, which includes your principal, Ibrahim Babangida, still alive?
There are dynamics that can still play out. But the interesting thing, what we can take home as Nigerians, is the humility, honour and integrity of those who participated in the consensus arrangement. Whether we like it or not, the consensus was a game reminding Nigerians that there are people who can play politics, making it look like a sport. That also made the players look like good sportsmen.
General Babangida went into this consensus and he voluntarily and willingly endorsed the whole process and the outcome. Even when we, the foot soldiers, complained, his magnanimity and leadership were calmed our frail nerves and we bought into the consensus. Members of the NLPF they took a decision based on their own idiosyncrasies and perhaps, other factors. But today, we saw the outcome of the whole process. I am not going to be crying here over split milk, but I want to remind Nigerians that the convention of the PDP was flawed from inception.
How do you mean?
The voting pattern, which was done state by state, was like sitting before the president and knowing the psychology of the federal might in the country. The president was waiting to see governor A or governor B, who will disappoint after giving their words. Now, you see the president rolling on his seat and watching how the voting was going, state by state. The result would be different if they had adopted other method of voting; even the ballot papers were serially numbered. You could almost conclude who voted for A and who voted for B. That is what is called technical rigging and they perfected the art and delivered it at the Eagle Square. The rest is history.
In the interest of the country, somebody has emerged and he has just crossed the first Rubicon. We are now going into the second phase, which is the general elections. So, the issue of consensus can also play out at the general election.
The purpose of the consensus was that it is the turn of the North. Even court verdict, prior to the convention of the PDP, said that because the agreement had not been breached, the court could not rule on it. But the court said there is zoning binding on the party because it is in the constitution of the PDP, section 7, subsection 2c. The same PDP invoked article 21 to remove its chairman recently. But they find it convenient to invoke article 21 and the president hurriedly embraced that because it suited his purpose. He has forgotten that article 7(2)c is also very instructive in the same constitution.
So, you don't deploy or fight convenient wars because it suits your purpose. You don't deploy selective amnesty in the application of provisions of the constitution. It has to be holistic. On that bases, the North may now go back and reassess the scenario and say well, because it is like this, we are going to vote for one of our own. There is Nuhu Ribadu in Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Muhammadu Buhari in Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and Ibrahim Shekarau in All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). They may say OK, let us rub minds and support one person for the election. It is a possibility. I know there are processes to do that. If that happens, it will be the second stage of consensus. I will want to see how one person can deliver 24 states. It will be near impossible in Nigeria. If there is a run off, the dynamics of the consensus will become very fundamental.
You said the pattern of voting at the convention was flawed. What option or system was adopted in the past? What could the party leaders or organisers have done?
What they would have simply done was to say: Abia State, it is your turn to vote and delegates would vote at 10 different ballot spots. Just to allow people to vote in any of the 10 polling booths would have been OK. The delegates would still have to write the names of their candidates. Only two people were contesting election. The other person was an addendum. Sarah Jibril was an addendum. That way, you mix the votes and you don't know who voted for whom. It is because the North was courageous, that is why you see Babangida delivering Niger, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Kano and other strongholds of IBB. If Babangida were to be the consensus candidate, the dynamics would have been different. It would not have been easy the way it was. This one was remotely controlled technical rigging. Do you remember the election that brought in Barnabas Gemade as chairman of PDP? A newspaper captioned it transparent rigging. It was wonderfully scripted. That exactly is what took place at the PDP convention.
Why did Babangida submit himself to the consensus arrangement?
When you have a consensus, you avoid depleting the number of votes you have. You could imagine if the four of them had gone into the race. They would be depleting their chances of winning. It was a wise political calculation.
Did he think that the choice of the NLPF was fair?
You know Babangida is a leader and that is why I call him prophet. You can't offend him and you can't provoke him. The man is never angry. Somebody stabs him at the back and comes back and he accepts the person with warm hands. He gives people food to eat. He embraces people. That is General Babangida for you. He is too magnanimous. He is magnanimous to a fault. That is why I, as a young man, can't behave in such manner.
How did his followers react when Atiku was announced as the consensus candidate?
Some of us were very bitter. I must tell you that. I don't like hiding my feelings. On television, I had said that I am not one of the fans of Atiku. That does not mean he doesn't have his own credentials and potentials to lead the country as a former vice president. But because I am not one of his fans, you don't expect me to be celebrating when my own boss lost out in that arrangement. The same would have applied to Atiku's followers if he had lost out. Many of IBB's followers said we should jettison consensus and we should go to another party, build a coalition and run election because General Babangida is very, very popular in the country. I saw that when we were going out and when we were traveling out. What I saw was different from what I read in those sponsored negative media reports in the papers. People want to see this man called General IBB. He is charismatic. He has the aura and he has courage. When he speaks, you will see the mind of a great man.
So, followers were mounting pressure. But because the man is a man of honour, he is very magnanimous. He has integrity. He said: 'No. I voluntarily and willingly endorsed this process ab initio because it is a win or lose situation. Let me abide by it, no matter how painful it is. Please, let history record it for me that I accepted the outcome of the consensus arrangement. Even though I was initially angry, I am today fulfilled. I am happier for it because I am learning something. In leadership, you have to deploy and use sacrifices. You have to close your eyes to accept it.' If Nigerian politicians could behave the way IBB behaves, you will not be having all these crises of litigations that take three or four years. Before you say Jack Robinson, four years is by the corner. Somebody else would be on stream and the country would remain the same country for years.
Do we still expect IBB to run in future?
Well, I am not the man to speak for tomorrow. I speak for today. I am not God. If there are opportunities when he is called upon to serve his country in whatever capacity even as a councillor, considering his magnanimity, he would do it. It is not an issue for IBB, but an issue for his followers that are spread all over the 36 states of the federation including the FCT.
When Atiku went round the country to campaign, what role did IBB play?
It was an amalgamated campaign. It was not a matter of IBB or Atiku. It was an amalgamated campaign. Our campaign office joined the Atiku campaign and some went round the country with him. Somebody like me couldn't go because I am Babangida spokesman. We have a defunct campaign office. Since we bought into the consensus arrangement, when the outcome was announced, we had to dismantle our structure and we teamed up with Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. We graciously did that and you could see the result.
Some political parties publicly offered the ticket of their parties to IBB. What was his reaction to the offer?
It was a good thing for you to sit back and be invited. That means you are a sellable material. It is different from what you Lagos axis journalists would want us to believe. Parties showed interest, but he said he is a man of honour and he does not want to be seen like any other market day politician who would jump at every party available to make some political meaning out of it. He said no, he was going to remain in PDP as one of the founding fathers. He said he did not want to be seen as jumping from one party to the other. It is not a do or die thing. He has been president before. He was worried because of the crises in which we find ourselves and there is absence of governance. There is lack of capacity to deliver on electoral promises and there is insecurity in the country and we need experience to address these issues.
You know, you need political goodwill to pursue any policy you want to pursue. When a man, like IBB speaks, everybody listens. It is not the same with what we have today. So, that is the cutting edge.
Since President Jonathan won the PDP presidential primaries, has he contacted IBB?
I wouldn't know. It is the preoccupation of the president to reach out to people who he feels would add value to his electoral campaign. I am not a fan of President Jonathan. I don't pretend. I don't hide it because I don't know how to hide my feelings.
Are you aware if he has reached out to him?
There are overtures being made. Naturally, every aspirant today would make overtures to IBB. So, there are overtures from all quarters.
By implication all other presidential aspirants are reaching out to him?
Of course, yes. They are all reaching out to him. IBB is an institution. He is a phenomenon that you need to understand. It is not about him as an individual in the frame of his humanity. It is about his supporters nation wide. Go to facebook and see the way people are taking issues up. Go out there and mention Babangida. We are still carrying his emblem. If you are in politics and you don't consult him, you are doing so at your own peril.
Is IBB still committed to working NPLF?
IBB is the chairman of the forum. He is the chairman of the G4 and the G15. That is the caucus.
So what is Adamu Ciroma in the set up of the NPLF?
I don't know.
But is he committed to working with the Forum?
Of course, he is committed. It is in the interest of the country. The issue of zoning cannot be removed from the body politics of the nation. If zoning is not an issue, let Jonathan drop Namadi Sambo as his deputy and choose somebody from the Niger Delta as his running mate, so that they can come and deliver other constituencies. When people talk, they just talk absent-minded. There is nobody who can remove zoning from the body politics of Nigeria. It is like that all over the world. America will not choose the president and his deputy from the South. It is a shared political strategy. Anybody who says zoning is not a good way of getting stability in the system, the person should go back to the classroom and learn what is called political balancing. It is not a matter of give and take. It is a matter of essence.
Does that imply that IBB is still committed to a northerner becoming the next president?
Of course, yes. It is their right. It is their due. It is necessary. We cannot run away from it because it is share injustice that you allow them to complete their tenure that was started by the late Umar Yar'Adua. It was not by accident that he died. Having said that, you don't have to exploit that opportunity and think you are taking advantage of others. So, head or tail, we are watching and we are going to vote. We hope that our vote will count.