Hon. Bitrus Kaze, former member of the National Assembly.
Hon. Bitrus Kaze, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, represented Jos South/Jos East in the 6th and 7th National Assembly. In this interview, with Marie-Theresa Nanlong, he spoke on the political issues in Nigeria ahead of 2023.
Q. Political parties have concluded their primaries and candidates emerged, as a stakeholder in the nation’s politics, where do you think the direction in 2023 is going to be? Which Party do you think would carry the day?
A. There is no time in the politics of Nigeria that it has become so difficult to define in very clear terms where the politics of the season is gravitating to. The APC is a ruling party, from their primaries, the local, state and national levels you hear a lot of complaints. At a point they were talking about 22 senators decamping from the APC, that is massive. 22 senators mean 22 senatorial districts. In PDP, once a ruling party that made their mistakes at all the levels, one would have expected that by now, PDP would have learnt its lessons and if there was anybody that would be careful to ensure nobody decries any primary, it should have been the PDP but PDP is not totally without problems at the state, the national and local government. That has given opportunity for new entrants, third force if you like in the likes of Labour Party to pop up and they are really making impacts particularly with the younger generation of Nigerians. Like the Governor of Edo state, Obaseki rightly said, there is lots of loss of confidence with the major political parties, this is obvious and people are actually looking for something new.
Q. Looking at what is happening in the PPD between Wike and the stakeholders of the party, what danger does the situation portend for PDP in 2023?
A. It portends serious danger but let’s be honest, when you mention Wike, that necessarily entails the post-primary election. For me, PDP made a mistake before the primaries. If you check, in 1999, the National Chairman of the Party was from Plateau state, the candidate of the Party was from the Southwest, the Vice-Presidential candidate was from the Northeast, it was a mix of religion, tribe and regions, carrying everyone along. In 2007, that kind of thinking was maintained, the presidency left the Southwest to the Northwest, the Vice presidency left the Northeast to the South-South minority. The national chairmanship left here to the Southeast, again, all sections of the country were carried along. When Jonathan became President by virtue of the death of Umaru Yar’Adua, being from South-South, he considered the Southwest and shifted the chairmanship in the manner that carried everybody along. That was lost in the 2022 PDP arrangement. The National chairman is from Benue state in the North central, the candidate of the party is from the Northeast, naturally you will expect the Wikes of this world, the Obis of this world, the Southwest, the Southeast to feel aggrieved. This is not what PDP stands for, PDP was formed out of the coalition of like-minds, people who wanted the majority and minority tribes, Muslims and Christians and all sections of this country to have a party that commands their confidence and respect. I think that was lost the moment PDP decided that anybody can go for its ticket without zoning. One of the nuclei that defines PDP was lost by that single mistake and that mistake is what has given birth to what we see as the Wike’s struggle.
Q. Some persons have argued that from the first time, PDP zoned it to the Southwest, to the North and after Jonathan, they lost it along the line and the North has not had its own share so this time, let them complete it. How do you see it?
A. It is not the north losing the ticket for second term, we are not talking about tickets; we are talking about the presidency. President Muhammadu Buhari is from the North whether he is in the PDP or not. The greatest price for politicians is the presidency and it has been handled by Buhari for eight years, what loss is anybody talking about? The natural thing for the PDP to have done was to sit and say this time around that the north has taken a shot for eight years, we will take this ticket back to the South and it will then be in the contemplation of the Southern coalition of PDP members to look at the Southwest, Southeast or South-South. They appointed somebody that was interested in the presidency and asked to lead the committee on zoning and of course he recommended what suited him that everybody should be allowed to contest. Plateau state in the context of Nigeria is a minority, even within Plateau, I am a minority, the basis on which the PDP was established was to make sure that the minutest of the minority feels protected and that the majority is not shortchanged. Right now, because PDP made that mistake, it has now happened that the presidential candidate from the Northeast and the chairmanship of the party is from the Northcentral. That is a terrible mistake and that is why you are hearing of the crisis to the extent that some people have attempted to remove the chairman because there is an imbalance. You cannot explain that a crude party (forgive my word) that was formed only to take over power with no agenda like APC thought it wise that the presidency should go to the South but PDP that has zoning in its constitution made a mistake of saying anybody who could muster enough dollars could pick the ticket. Okay, they have taken the ticket but is there peace in the party? Without peace in the party, what is the prospect of the party?
Q. From the much you have said, does the PDP have any prospect?
A. If there was any good prospect, would you hear of the Wike crisis? Would you hear of any crisis in the party secretariat? Do you honestly think gauging the mood of this country that the South is happy with the PDP? Do you think that Southern Nigeria feels comfortable that somebody from the North has sat on the seat of Aso Rock for eight years and now we are proposing that another person from the North should continue for eight years? Even some of us in the so-called North are not happy because what this portends is that nobody in Plateau state can command the number of dollars that we saw at play at the presidential primaries. It means nobody from Plateau can ever become President. This is not the PDP our founding fathers dreamt of, some of the founding fathers are still alive but have not been able to exert that virtue of the PDP.
Q. When you look at politics in Plateau and in Nigeria, it is fraught with sentiments. Do you think Nigeria is ripe enough to have a Muslim/Muslim or Christian/Christian ticket at the national?
A. What in the first place is making people talk about Muslim/Muslim or Christian/Christian ticket? That trend of argument has become prominent because it is in the subconscious minds of Nigerians that if the President is Christian, naturally, the Vice would be Muslim, and vice versa but we have so gone arrogant to the extent that we are pretending that that doesn’t matter. Is it proper in a country like ours with several tribes and religion, for a Muslim to be a President for eight years and then you bring up another Muslim, north, west, south or east to continue as a President in another eight years? As a Christian, I feel short-changed and I will not yield to that, I will never because it is not fair.
Q. Does it mean it is morally wrong for a particular religion to rule back-to-back?
A. We have never had a situation where this country ran a Presidential ticket, the President being a Christian and the Vice President the same. There has never been a time in Nigeria that there is a Christian/Christian ticket, the Muslim/Muslim ticket happened over 30 years ago when I was elected a councilor. Christians tolerated; canvassed votes for Abiola notwithstanding that his vice was a Muslim. I want to ask you; will there ever be a time in this country that a Christian will run as a President and pick another Christian as a running mate and then we have peace?
Q. You have been missing in action in the politics of Plateau State. Are you having issues with your political party, the PDP?
A. The issues I have with my political party is not so much about Plateau really, the PDP in Plateau has many serious court judgments and, in some cases, I know of one case that they went on appeal but the appeal was dismissed. I know of another case in which the PDP could not participate in the local government election; that case had gone to the appellate level and has been determined against the party, it is now at the Supreme Court level. Whether you like it or not, these are germane issues because Professor Shown was thrown out by the Prince Ogbulafor chairmanship at the national level, we in Plateau State went to court up to the appellate level, the national quickly reversed their step and brought back Shown. Shown willingly resigned to make way for another person which was our choice not the choice of Abuja. When we had crisis and President Yar’Adua appointed General Emmanuel Abisoye to come and arbitrate on a local crisis here, we took the federal government to court because it was a matter on the residual list, within the competence of the Plateau State House of Assembly, covered by the law that the State alone can tackle. We challenged President Yar’Adua on why he should appoint for Plateau somebody to come and take control of something that happened in Plateau, because of that court case, Emmanuel Abisoye never stepped here until he died, that committee never took off. What tells PDP on the Plateau that the pronouncement of the court would be swept under without any injury? I have no quarrel with anybody, during the congresses, I did not want to participate but I was persuaded to participate and I told those who persuaded me that whatever the result, I will accept and publicly, I accepted. But the appellate court had said even those congresses, whatever was done by the Tunde Ogbeha chairmanship is null and void, it is not Bitrus Kaze speaking but a court of law, why won’t I be cold-shouldered knowing well that we are coming from a history that has fought the federal illegality successfully? What makes them think that their own illegality cannot be pronounced upon by the court of law? This is what bothers me, I am PDP fully but I have chosen not to be as noisy as earlier. During the primary, I waited to pronounce my acceptance and after then, I wrote the secretariat, took it to the Chairman, Chris Hassan, I raised issues that he should take care of so that when the primaries come, our candidate will not have a backlog of any court cases. Whether they have listened to that or not, the records are there.
Q. Would these cases affect the participation of the PDP in the 2023 elections?
A. I don’t have the authority to be that conclusive. What I can tell you is that the courts, up to the appellate level have determined that the congresses held which I participated in and accepted the result are null and void. Whether that has any implication for the PDP, the court would determine not me.
Q. What is the future of PDP in Plateau like?
A. What I know is that apart from all these court issues, there are issues, people are feeling that after the primaries, a cogent network has not been created sufficient enough to unite. I heard this comment that people believe that the person that emerged as the gubernatorial candidate for the Party ought to have allowed the other interested camps, I don’t want to use the word faction, to bring a deputy, whoever they chose. For the gubernatorial candidate and the deputy gubernatorial candidate to come from the same camp is not very healthy for politics. The mistake PDP made in 2019, the deputy General Useni took was without recourse to the other family members, the other group of the party, they did not take cognizance of that, they picked the late Dr. Dalok, the consequences of that was well known that is why I said it would appear to me that our party finds it very difficult to learn lessons. We decried a lot about how Dr. Dalok emerged deputy, history has certainly repeated itself. The person who has been chosen, I have no issue with her but the process ought to have been an all-encompassing process, a confident building process, a person that would have made everyone feel a part of the victory, a process that allows the winner to give the impression that he is magnanimous in victory and the loser to feel gallant in the loss.
Q. As a party man, what do you suggest should be done to remedy the situation?
A. Reach out. If I were in the shoes of the gubernatorial candidate, the day I carry the ticket, I would have looked for the other camp and plead with them that under the circumstances, I want to work with you because the government is about our government. I would plead with them to give whoever they believed can serve Plateau best. That did not happen, with the person they picked, they should have still gone and said, we made a mistake, we emerged, we didn’t come to you, please forgive us. It may not be deputy but other positions are there, let’s see how we can midwife this process to victory and everyone will be carried along. As I speak, I have not seen that happen with other key stakeholders. They have given me the privilege of visiting me but what about other stakeholders? The J. T. Useni, the D. T. Sango, the Emmanuel Magni, the Fidelis Tapgun, all of them. What stops them from giving the impression that they want to carry everyone along? If the party is not able to carry everyone along, when we eventually emerge as a government, will we be able to carry everyone along? If within PDP, you cannot manage everyone, to command their confidence, what will an APC person feel when PDP emerges?
Q. What is your advice to the perceived cabal?
A. They should learn from our mistakes, what happened in 2015? It was the winner takes it all. My advice is this is our party, why should there be a cabal? The other time I heard the former governor complain about the way Atiku picked his Vice, former governor Jang is correct but how can he speak to somebody who has done exactly what he has done? In 2015, on the scale of 17, 16 wanted zoning to happen but the former governor alone said no zoning, we lost. The content of his message is good but the messenger is guilty of the same infringement so the message has been lost.
Q. With all these, would you be happy if the APC retained power in 2023?
A. How can I be happy? How will I want terrorism to continue? When we left office, we were exchanging a dollar to Naira at N197 but the last time I attempted to exchange a dollar in Abuja in the black market, it was N607 to one dollar. A bag of fertilizer was N5,000 to N7,000 and people were crying, it is now about N30,000, in those days we were afraid to buy the local rice N6,000, N8,000 to give the people because they will not accept local rice, we bought the foreign rice N8,000. Today foreign rice is N33,000, how can I be happy? Let me borrow from Obasanjo, if I am happy for APC to come back, God will not forgive me.
Q. With the internal squabble over the choice of Okowa as the running mate to Atiku, many former governors are aggrieved, what do you think can be done to right the wrong?
A. Let me be honest with you, the mistake the PDP has made is not the issue of Okowa or Wike, it is the issue of the Presidency, Atiku or anybody from the north ought not to be our candidate. I won’t work for Atiku because it offends our social, our religious and even our economic sensibilities that somebody from the northwest has been a President for eight years and you expect another person from the northeast and the same religion as the former to be there for another eight years. It will be a betrayal of trust for me to commit myself to such a project.
Q. Will you do anti-party?
A. You call it anti-party but when the PDP refused to zone against the constitution of the Party, what do you call that? Did they do an anti-party? As a person, I am at home with Peter Obi and this is what I will suggest to our people, look forward to giving Peter Obi your votes because that is justice, it will carry every section of the country along. I am not afraid to say it, 2019, I was firmly with Atiku because of Obi, now Obi envisaged what would happen in the PDP and was forced to leave. If the PDP is ready to take the ticket from the north and give anybody from the South even if it is a dog, I will support it but with the extent that the PDP has infringed its own constitution, how will I be faithful to the PDP constitution.
Q. Looking at the four Presidential candidates, what are their chances?
A. You have to look at their character as individuals, look at the histories of the political parties whose flags they are flying, look at the feelings of Nigerians, what are Nigerians saying, what do Nigerians feel? You can be a diehard PDP or APC, Peter Obi’s movement is raging everywhere, he stands out simply because Nigerians feel that both the PDP and the APC on the Presidential tickets disappointed Nigerians. I don’t discuss what PDP will do with Okowa, I don’t discuss Muslim/Muslim ticket, Christian/Christian, atheist/whatever, my own is simple, the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria provides this country must be administered in a manner that commands national loyalty, the constitution of our party is that they shall be zoning… in the case in Plateau, they learnt from their mistake and zoned the gubernatorial seat to the central, we will support that but in the case of the national, they made a mistake if I did not support the PDP gubernatorial candidate on the basis of zoning in 2015, I will be unfair to the late GNS to support Atiku in 2023, I will not.