Senator Jonathan Zwingina needs no introduction when it comes to Nigerian politics as the Adamawa State born politician was once a Deputy Senate Leader in the 5th National Assembly, campaign manager in the presidential campaigns of the late Chief MKO Abiola in 1993 and Chief Olu Falae in 1999. He was also a member of the campaign train of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the 1979 elections.
In this interview culled from the Guardian newspapers, he speaks about the current crisis in the Peoples’ Democratic Party at the national level and his home state, the threat posed by the All Progressives Congress, President Goodluck Jonathan’s chances in 2015 and why he thinks former military ruler, General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), should quit trying to contest for the highest seat in the land.
YOUR state, Adamawa, seems to be going to the opposition, APC, as indicated by Governor Murtala Nyako. Is he carrying all of you along?
Let me say that it is not entirely correct that Adamawa is going to the opposition. What is happening is that the governor and a few of his supporters have indicated interest to go to APC.
For those of us who know the politics of the state very well, the governor had always actually been in the opposition because as of fact, I know that in the 2011 elections, while all of us were running round fighting for the president, he was very actively supporting Gen. Buhari’s presidency, together with his commissioners and permanent secretaries who came down to the local governments where we were working. So, we have always known that he was there.
But soon after that election, he was the first governor to come to Abuja, to greet the President and we obliged him. If after the election he had seen the light to come back, we were ready to welcome him. So, he will not be a stranger in the APC, as he’s just gone back home.
As to whether some of us are with him, I will like you to observe what happened in the last bye-election that took place in his own local government for one of the two House of Assembly seats.
In that election, the PDP defeated the candidate of the governor. He had a candidate in one other party whom he fielded and all his commissioners and officers in government campaigned for that gentlemen and he brought a section of the law enforcement agencies that were loyal to him in that election.
But we mobilised effectively and defeated the candidate of the governor; we had 14,000 votes and the governor’s candidate had 7,000 votes. The PDP candidate emerged the elected candidate. That is the measure of the size of Adamawa population behind him.
I agree that he has supporters but they are not in the majority and he is not going with the state; he is going with a few of his supporters. I can tell you, as a fact that most of his key operators had declared support for the PDP and they are not going with him.
He has the right to go where he wants and I give him that right, but he also should be aware that we, who are the majority in the state, have the right to pull the majority in the direction that they want and that direction is the PDP, which is where we are now.
Among the stakeholders in Adamawa, I make bold to say that 90 percent are with the PDP. He’s gone with some but they are no more than 10 percent.
Isn’t former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is in the same boat, expecting to take a chunk of the Adamawa electorate to the other party?
I would also say that may not be really accurate. Right now, I am not sure whether they really are together. I have seen a number of meetings of the APC together with the G-7 or G-5, but I have not seen the former Vice President. I do not know to what extent that one can say they are still together.
But I would also want him to know that Adamawa has been consistently PDP. People have left and come back, but the bulk of the state has been consistently PDP. Even at a time when the former Vice President left, the PDP won the elections.
Nyako’s victory on the platform of the PDP is not his own making but the tradition of the state that is predominantly PDP. People can exit and re-enter, but the bulk of the majority of the state is PDP.
Some other governors are reportedly likely to join the aggrieved New-PDP. What does this mean for the stability of the PDP ahead of 2015?
Let me grant the right of anybody, including the governors, to choose the political platform they are most comfortable with. If the seven of them desire to move away from the PDP, you cannot deny them the right to do so.
But I will also like to say that the PDP is a national party and that it has overwhelming majority in the state and that it is not in all cases that the state belongs to the direction of the governor. So, the fact the seven of them are moving in the opposite direction doesn’t mean that they will all end up in that direction.
There are already discordant tunes coming out of the G-7 where a few of them want to retrace their steps. They have looked at their situation and what they have at hand in the PDP is what they are actually begging for in the APC and they are not even sure of getting what they are asking for.
For example, they have their own structures actually in their hands in the PDP. Out there in the APC, they do not have that guarantee. So, we’ve seen some of them coming back.
The second stage of the development is that most of them will go without their support base. Thirdly, we are likely also to fish in the APC camp. If they can fish in the PDP, who says that we cannot fish in their nest?
As they are planning to have a few of the G-7 and even one or two rumoured others interested in them, we also have credible evidence that there are some of them who are actually desirous to come over to the PDP, apart from those who are rethinking their movement away from PDP.
So, it will be a diffusion of movements that at the end of the day will balance out. We may end up having lost G-7, but in the process maybe gained G-9 and the end of the day, we have the majority.
Let me say something that is also obvious but maybe it has not occurred to you being very active observers and maybe not participants directly. I took part in the preparation of the last elections in 2011 and I can tell you that apart from Governor Amaechi, all the other governors from the G-7 did not deliver the president in 2011.
So, they are not saying anything new. They are simply saying what they themselves and the electorate had done in 2011. That is why I am telling you that I’m not worried because they are simply repeating the old song. It is only in Rivers that we may suffer a setback. But in the other states, there will be no setback as we will only repeat a setback, but not suffer a new setback.
Besides a so-called agreement Jonathan had with the North, the G-7 governors, six of from the North, want power to shift to the North. Should it actually shift?
I concede the right of the North to want power to return to them, just like I concede the right of the president to want to run for a second term for which he has a constitutional right.
However, it is the zone and the president that strike the most alliance and the larger support base that will eventually get the ticket. It is not by threat or by compulsion that that alliance can be built; it is through persuasion, dialogue and give and take.
The language of some elements in the G-7 is a language that is very anti-northern interest because you seek to scare away people rather than to endear people to their cause. You seek to threaten rather than to seduce; you seek to compel rather than to persuade.
As a politician, I do not think that majority of the politicians are happy with the language coming out of G-7. It is not a language that draws sympathy for the cause of the North; it is a language that does disservice to the cause of the North.
If that northern group, which never supported the president in the last elections, decides that for change, let’s support the president, why won’t the president be sympathetic to their cause in 2019, for instance? He would and that is a power change that would be smooth and that would be credible without rancour.
But if you insist that you must have it now by force of argument and force of compulsion, of course, which you can’t enforce and you lose it, what you have done is to demonstrate to Nigerians that you do not have the capacity to compel that power change. So, after another four years, they will test you with another alliance with a different person, to see if you really can do anything about it.
You are actually exposing your vulnerability and the G-7 is exposing northern vulnerability more than assuaging it and that is where I see that they have not really been political strategists. Far from assisting the northern interest, they are actually doing a great disservice to it because they are scaring away the northern allies.
The South-South used to be their allies, but they are denying a section of the South-South, which used to be the traditional ally with the North, a chance. That is not a correct strategic thinking.
If President Jonathan decides to seek re-election in 2015, what are the things he would rely on to convince Nigerians and market his ambition?
The things the president needs to do will be to consolidate what he has started and I think the most important would be the power sector, which he really has concentrated upon and deliver it. It’s all clear that it cannot be fixed in a month or in a year.
If he can concentrate on that and be remembered as the president that eventually resolved the power question — you know the power sector has a spin-off effect for industries, for agriculture, for infrastructure and for everything — once that is fixed, I’m sure many Nigerians will not forget that.
There are other reforms waiting to be consolidated, like the Petroleum Industry Bill, which will reform the petroleum sector and in the Infrastructural Bill, which is going to turn round the infrastructure of the country through PPP. These are the things that should be continued.
I do not envisage new projects or new programmes for the president but the consolidation, expansion and completion of the ones that he has started, not biting too much and being unable to chew.
What do you make of Gen. Buhari’s alleged forth attempt at the presidency?
Gen. Buhari, with all due respect, is not a viable presidential material because he has lost the Presidency thrice. In the US, if you lose once, nobody allows you to come back. For Nigerians to resolve three times and reject you and you keep coming, then, you need another interpretation of the resolve of Nigerians.
I’m sure if his advisers are honest, they will advise him that look, the electorate that rejected you three times must have a good reason to do so.
I respect him as a leader, but I do not think that these are the times for a Buhari presidency. These times require a younger and more vibrant president that will connect with the kind of leaders that are coming out of the world.
Gen. Buhari did well when he was a military president, but he served better when he is in the military. I don’t think these are his times. You can see examples in the CPC. Even in Katsina where he comes from, there were two candidates and he could not resolve the two of them.
Buhari went into election with four CPC candidates, not even aspirants. If this is the kind of inability to organise the home that will be visited on Nigerians, it’s no wonder that they have said no three times and I’m sure the fourth time will be a more resounding No.
You should not humiliate a leader like that with too many nos. You should save him the honour of being a former president and not repeating too many nos at his face. It doesn’t do him any good because he could go to his grave very unhappy.