‘Jonathan must negotiate with the Middle Belt to win’
One of the leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the Middle Belt and a delegate in the last National Conference from Kwara State, John Dara, sounded a note of warning in this interview with our Abuja Bureau Chief, MADU ONUORAH, that if President Goodluck Jonathan must win the votes of the region in the March 28 elections, he has to negotiate with the people to regain their support. Excerpts:
The position of the Middle Belt
Since 2011, the Middle Belt had become a critical game changer in the politics of Nigeria as the massive support they gave to President Goodluck Jonathan has measurable and direct impact on his victory. Unfortunately, the president has been very negligent in dealing with the people of the region. In fact, he took their loyalty and friendship for granted and our people feel betrayed. They are bitter. There are many who are talking about voting for the All Progressive Congress (APC) because they don’t care. Nothing could be as bad as the way Jonathan has treated us. Most of the key benefits that used to go to Northern Nigeria went to the Hausa/Fulani group under Jonathan. So, maybe (Gen. Muhammadu) Buhari will be better. This is the mood of the region.
But for us as leaders, we are sensitizing them about our strategic interest and the need for us to stay focused and look at the big picture and vote PDP, not only because of Jonathan, but because we can re-negotiate our relationship with Jonathan and be sure of a better deal. In 2011, Jonathan was given support on a platter of gold. Nobody negotiated anything with him. But this time around, the Middle Belt leaders are determined to sit him down and negotiate with him and be sure of where their interest lay. We want him to understand our real interest and why our interest is related to the people of all the other regions in the country.
I don’t think Jonathan understands this. I think the leadership must make him to understand and make definite commitments. It is on that condition that he will get the support of the Middle Belt. If he assumes that he has the support of the Middle Belt for now, he is day-dreaming. The reality on the ground today, is that Middle belt can go in any direction. But we do hope that the president will be properly briefed about the mind-set of the Middle Belt people and in the process, will make commitments that are acceptable to the Middle Belt people and then they will go with him. Once he does that, Jonathan is assured of landslide victory in this coming election. Without that he will lose the election.
Initiating the process
The Middle Belt leaders are already meeting and discussing. But I was shocked at the level of anger towards Jonathan. But again, I am happy at the level of openness and the willingness to discuss and negotiate the future. That itself gives me a lot of hope. As a leader, I have no doubt in my mind that the best bet is Jonathan. However, you must carry your people along in such a way that you are not seen as working out of sync with them. You must work with your people.
I also believe that by the end of our on-going consultation, we would meet with the President. I am aware that the people handling the presidential campaign say they would like to meet with Middle Belt leadership. We are simply saying wait until we are sure we are all on the same page. Definitely, before the elections, we would have taken a position on where to go and how to go about it. But I am positive that at the end of the day, Jonathan and Middle Belt relationship will be redefined and it will be mutually beneficial.
Resolving post-primary elections crises in PDP
I am very disappointed with some of our governors especially in the Middle Belt. The whole Middle Belt movement is about creating equal opportunities, avoiding tyranny of the majority over the minority and avoiding injustice and unfairness. And if Governors of the Middle Belt should ignore such values, it means they have not imbibed the spirit. They have created unnecessary problems, because it does not really matter who wins, what we want is good quality leadership from each of these states.
Unfortunately for many of the outgoing governors, their self-interest was the priority. And that has created problems which we now have to manage. But you cannot cut your nose to spite your face by saying that because somebody has done something that is obviously wrong, we would now lose focus on our larger interest. Our struggle, which started in 1950 with the creation of Middle Belt Forum, was for posterity. You cannot afford a situation where you will reverse and create a set back and obliterate the gains and the achievements of the past, which led to some of the older leaders being called emancipators. You cannot throw us into reverse gear because you are angry with an individual.
So, we are in the process of consulting, appeasing and appealing. It is not only in the states of the Middle Belt that imposition took place. In Adamawa state, for instance, what PDP did to the people of Adamawa state was uncalled for, as they should have allowed a genuine democratic process to throw up the candidates. Now, PDP is in a dilemma. People are angry. This same problem exists in many parts of the Middle Belt. These problems will be solved within the next couple of weeks so that when we are going into the presidential elections, we are clear in our minds on how we want to vote.
National Conference reports as campaign issue
The truth is that the Middle belt played a critical role in fashioning out the direction of the 2014 national conference. Many people acknowledged the pivotal role some of us played in shaping that direction. We believe that Nigeria needs to be restructured to a position where there would be equal opportunities; there would be no super class, second-class and inferior class in this country again. We believe that Northern Nigeria will become prosperous again when there is mutual respect and cooperation.
The national conference addressed issues including that states should have more autonomy, power should be rotated, new states should be created and that solid minerals should be given pride of place in the economy. These are of strategic interest to Middle Belt. So, no region values the national conference report more than the Middle Belt.
President Goodluck Jonathan has expressed the willingness to implement the report. Whereas the leaders of APC were hostile to the conference itself and the outcome, their pronouncements have been hostile to its implementation. We also know that the segment of the country that is most passionate about Buhari and regarded as his primary support base, was hostile to the outcome of the conference.
So, it will be naive to expect APC to implement the outcome of that conference. There are people who expressed reservation that Jonathan is just using it as campaign gimmick and will not do anything about it. There are those who are saying he will submit it to the National Assembly. But if you do not have an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly, that is not the way to go. The option of national referendum is still there and it is legitimate. If they say there is no enabling law, there was no enabling law for the national conference itself.
But it became a reality because there are provisions in the Constitution that gives the President certain executive powers. And on the basis of that, the President, using such executive powers can decide to present the national conference report to the people of Nigeria through a referendum. INEC, by law, is empowered to conduct a referendum. So, all that we need is the will of the executive. So, whichever way you look at it, either by a national referendum or the National Assembly, there must be the political will to get it done. Definitely, Jonathan has that will. Whether he has the capacity to follow through, I cannot say.
Therefore, those of us who believe in the outcome of that conference, whether in the Middle Belt or in any part of the country, have every reason to say Jonathan will be our best option. Apart from the basics of governance, we believe that most of the problems we have in the country are structural. It is based on the fact that the states are not functioning the way they are supposed to function and the Federal government is given the latitude that it is not supposed to have. This is why the conference report is more important than even the details of how the economy will be managed.
PDP’s strength in Kwara
The party in power in the state, APC, is in an awkward situation, as they have not performed at all in the last four years. They have to resort to media propaganda to be claiming what does not exist on ground. The people outside may be fooled. But the people of Kwara are not because if you say there is a road and we see that there is no road, everyone would naturally know you are lying. So, the strength that we have is the fact that we are not guilty of non-performance. We are the alternative saying, give us a chance, we will do better. An unprecedented transformation would happen.
A lot of state assets have been converted into private properties in an illegal manner. This will be re-examined as there is a difference between privatization and expropriation. What we are having in Kwara state is expropriation of public resources at private interest and that is going to stop. The PDP appeal lies in the fact that the people are tired and aware of the fact that pensioners are not getting their money because somebody has been pilfering pensions. They are aware that SUBEB (State Universal Basic Education Commission) is not delivering in spite of the grants the Federal Government is releasing, that loans are being taken with no feasible projects being executed. That alone, is uniting the people behind PDP as the alternative, and the PDP candidate, an experienced Quantity Surveyor is determined to make sure that every naira that Kwara State receives is made to work for the people.