Erstwhile National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur became governor of the defunct Gongola State in October, 1983 and following the General Muhammadu Buhari-led military coup of December 31, 1983, Tukur returned to business, capping his endeavours as the president of the African Business Roundtable.
Tukur was also a presidential aspirant on the platform of the National Republican Convention, NRC in the early 90s and served in the Sani Abacha government as minister of industry until 1995. Ahead of his 80th birthday anniversary, Tukur sat down for an enlightening interview in which, he, for the first time opened up on issues that trailed his chairmanship of the PDP, his relationship with Governor Murtala Nyako, his in-law and his relationship with Chief Tony Anenih among others. Excerpts:
Was it not belittling for you, who had been a governor in the 80s to have become chairman of the PDP at your age?
I was one of the founders of the PDP and I was very happy to show what PDP should be; to put in place the principle of inclusiveness, the principle of making sure there is equity and justice in election and democracy.
So when I say election and you say selection, when I say internal democracy and you say imposition, we will not agree. PDP doesn’t belong to anybody, it belongs to Nigeria. PDP is not only a Nigerian party, it is a West African party and African party, so it has to be inclusive.
With strong political party I can assure you, you will be assured of a strong government. If you get a strong government, then I can assure you will have a strong economy. If you have a strong economy, I can assure you, you will have peace and security.
But no one believed in your plans. You even planned to do the e-registration but you didn’t get support and not even from the president.
But you can see that finally they agreed; it is better late than never. I know why they didn’t want e-registration because e-registration means an open platform for everybody, so that people can come.
When people know that this is the party they belong to, they paid their money because they want to be there and therefore they have to be listened to when the time comes. So I think that was the reason people who want control, who do not believe that the whole of the party is to be owned by certain people or certain level of whatever. So me I don’t believe that.
But you were the national chairman of the party, did you take these ideas to the president?
Of course I took it to the president. I will give you what I told the highest ruling body of the party which is the NEC, I will give it to you so that you can read and understand what I said.
But why did he (president) not heed you?
Well, you know it is a human organisation. If you come strongly, you want to bring in discipline, you want to bring in fairness and so on; some people don’t believe in that; they want to do the same things they have been doing. So if you continue doing the same thing you will end up with the results you have always had.
You have been saying some people, some people. Who are these people that really hijacked this process that didn’t want it to work?
Governors. The governors felt they like to have implicit control of their states and they can only do this when they control the party and if they control the party’s fortunes that you can be able to do whatever they like. So, I told them no need for the party to have any patronage from governors or the president, and that the party should be able to generate its income because we are just like a company, we can do that.
But we (party) don’t want reform. Once you can go to somebody and ask him to support you, you are more likely to bend down also when they want to ride you. So it is not my philosophy.
What they said was that I am too strong, I want to have my say and my way, I said no, they are ideas, I am not bossy only that I have a better idea as far as I am concerned, so let us see the ideas.
Matter of personality
So it is not a matter of personality, it is a matter of ideas. It is not a matter of individuals; it is a matter of institution. Are we building a party as an institution which each and every one of us will really come and go; like we say, soldier come, soldier go and barrack remains.
Sir, did the governors come out openly to tell you no on this issue or did they use subtle means to come?
No, not all of them. Some saw that what I wanted to do was the best way to build a party. But there were some few ones who were so strong beginning with my governor (Murtala Nyako of Adamawa). He was the most vocal, he even wanted a situation of appointing chairman of the party from his ward.
I said look, our constitution made it very clear, governor and the chairman of the party of a state, should not come from the same senatorial district.So I said I am the chairman and you and the present chairman of yours, coming from the same ward, is not acceptable to me and that was the beginning. He came and told the president that ‘I know that this man is my elder brother, I know his character, he wants to take our structures.’
He (Nyako) went and told Amaechi at that time and said I know Bamanga Tukur, he is my elder brother, we come from the same place, he is going to take all our structures and at the moment we are responsible for making sure we appoint our chairman of the state. We are responsible for making sure that nobody comes to the Senate except we the governors want him or in the House of Representatives or the House of Assembly.
Nobody can be ambassador from our state without us saying so. Nobody can be a minister. You want to collect all these powers and reside them in the political party headed by somebody whom I know? It will be a disaster for all of us. We are just going to lose control of the states.
Amaechi came to the National Working Committee and he said to me, you know Mr Chairman, these members NWC all of them were brought here by us the governors. You are the only one here who was not brought by us, you were supported by the president. But all these people we are the ones who decided for them to come.
I said well, I am the Chairman, they should know as far as I am concerned we have a party constitution, we have got our own manifesto; anybody who wants to be PDP member must abide by that, if they don’t, I suspend them.
It was alleged that you now went to the extreme and suspended Governor Wamako because he didn’t pick your phone call. Was it true?
No, how can I do that? I am a disciplined person. He was asked to come and report to the party, but he didn’t come. Not to me, to come to the party. If you are called by the party, whoever called you…NWC, has the right to do so, even has the right to discipline you.
It was alleged that the aides you brought along with you did not see the same vision and that your political adviser, Senator Gada a rival of the governor from Sokoto State instigated the suspension of Wamako and that Wamako never felt happy you appointed Gada?
It was not only Gada. You said you don’t want Senator Idah, you don’t want Fari, who then do you want? Because all these people as far as I am concerned, they didn’t dictate anything to me. I was implementing a policy that all of us agreed with.
You mean the NWC?
I mean the party. After all when I told them in the NEC they said they agree, they gave me a standing ovation and as far as I am concerned, that was an approval and it was implemented.
Your ideas of e-registration, taking the party back to the grass roots were good but again your aides were taking the prominence over the NWC leading to the petition against you and your aides. Fari and Olagunsoye Oyinlola had a clash and as a follow up to it, when the lower court removed Oyinlola, you immediately asked the Deputy National Secretary, Onwe O. Onwe to step in as the acting secretary, but when an appeal court reinstated him, you refused. Sir, what is your take?
None of my aides influenced my decision honestly speaking. The bulk stopped with me. I don’t take responsibility without authority. The mandate is my authority and therefore I cannot blame anybody. The moment they don’t do what I believe I show them the way.
As I am in leadership here, you have to follow. I don’t compromise that at all with any of my subordinates. I consult, you advice me, but if you advice and if I agree, I go, the credit is mine. Mind you, if you advice me and I do the wrong thing, the blame is mine. So why should I only blame you and take the credit, no. I rely on you, you advice me I take it, if I don’t agree with it, I go. On Oyinlola, I was not responsible, It came late because you see after Olagunsoye left they came out.
They cannot say somebody who left the party even went to another party, again you want to have him back without the proper process of coming back no. Olagunsoye left the PDP before the verdict came. He was the one who left with them.
Sir, the new PDP was not a party, it was like an association
But they left. If you are rebellious I deal with you.
Your principle of no imposition was disregarded when the party printed only one form for the president and governors were imposed without real primaries. Now the party is going back to your views with the Raymond Dokpesi committee on e-registration and the plans for democratic primaries in Kogi State. Do you feel vindicated?
Dokpesi is my son but Dokpesi must do the right thing. To me he is a senior brother to Awwal. My wife if I travelled will say, ‘did you see Dokpesi? She will say this your son again, find him and bring him back.’ I am telling you. So Dokpesi knows me, what I can do.
So since he is there, he knows my character and that is what he has to follow. I believe Dokpesi will do a good job for them because I learn through age now. When I left Port Authority (to become governor of Gongola State) I made him chief of staff. They said oh, he is from Bendel.
So he was your chief of staff?
Oh yes. I ran the government with him because I believed in him. I brought commissioner of health from Benue State. I said I didn’t come here to appoint people based on political support they gave me. I am here to appoint people who can now help me run my manifesto, my promise.
If I give you health, give me health. If I give you local government, it is the one I want. So this is what I want. So it is too late for me to change.
What do you think made your party lose the presidential election?
You cannot sow sorghum and want to reap rice. So since you know what you have done, you have pushed yourself to a corner whereby you will be humiliated, simple.
How did PDP push itself to a corner?
They did by accepting selection and imposition of candidates, that is it because if you do that, you know very well people will rise against it.
Did President Jonathan contribute to his defeat?
Maybe people don’t understand Jonathan. He wanted to be fair. I always say to them, I said look, party is not a tea party, where you have to please everybody, it is not possible.
You have to understand the responsibility you are taking and not to allow yourself to agree with everyone you want to please. He is a simple person, really and sincerely. He wants to make sure he does not offend some.
I don’t believe that if you are in government you cannot offend people because people may come with their own selfish interest and if you want to allow them to do it, then they will mess you up. To me, Jonathan was really sabotaged in a way or betrayed.
By people around him.
As national chairman, did you have the opportunity to tell him of the points of weakness for him to address such weaknesses?
Yes, I can tell you. I told Jonathan straight forward. I said run your government let me run the party by principle because I knew that the party that would mess him up or build him up.
Well, he did very well in terms of helping to narrow our deficit in education, deficit in infrastructure, deficit in this and that, he tried. This is what a government should do, not talking about party. Party should be left for the party managers and I was the manager.
So did he give you a free hand?
More than a free hand.
Were you privy to an agreement either written unwritten that Jonathan was not supposed to go for second term?
Because a former National chairman of the party said recently that 2011 led to the defeat.
That is not true. Me, I haven’t seen and I was a proponent of Jonathan continuity. I believed in continuity. It could have been if they agreed also to do the needful in terms of working together with the people. But if you are separated, there was a disconnect between him and the people who were supposed to elect him.
Sir, it was alleged that while you were going round as national chairman selling the party, the former chairman of BoT, Chief Tony Anenih was also doing same and some said that there was clash between the two of you.
Well, if somebody wants to clash, you cannot stop them from clashing. The job of BoT is different from the job of a party chairman.
But if you decide to dive into it, then you expect clash of interest.
But did you see his action, meeting with state executives as clashing with your job as the party chairman?
Of course it did. It was not reconciling, let us call a spade a spade. I think the governors wanted to use him so that they can soften my position that is all.
Since you were both veterans of the NPN (defunct National Party of Nigeria) did you not seek to address him?
Oh yes, ask Chief Anenih. I always told him that both of us are responsible to make sure this party works and the government continues. I am sure he meant well.
But my own perception was that maybe they wanted to use him to soften my own position, to try and tell them, work with the chairman knowing full well that me if they say selection, I would not agree; I would say election.
Sir, did you in your heart ever forgive Nyako for not supporting you to become the national chairman?
He was not a factor. What could he do? One governor when the governors, 36 states wanted me. He was not a factor. He may have prejudice. To me, an individual going against me. If I like I can call Nyako…after all, my son is married to his daughter.
You see I always divorce my own idiosyncrasies, if you like put it that way in terms of relationship with people. I can tell you what I believe, hold to your own. I believe the superior idea will always win as we are rightly seeing now.
With the two of you fighting in the open, how do your children really see it?
It was unfortunate, but my son comes and my own daughter comes to see, with my grandchild I play with them. I always say, please remove politics and relationship because politics is a game of chance. Not my wife, not my children, not my relation will enter into my political philosophy. They all know me. After all, my wife is APC. So we must teach our people to remove all these external things.
After you stepped down you stopped attending NEC meetings even though you are a permanent member of NEC?
They were not inviting me, they will say they sent a letter to me. I am in Abuja here, they will use Jimeta address.
Sir, where exactly was Atiku Abubakar on the Adamawa PDP crisis because he apparently moved positions?
He has the better answer himself because me I am as constant as the Northern Star. Ask him.
Could you reflect as a governor in 1983 what is the difference between the mood and bearing of governors in your time and the governors of today?
Complete difference. I can tell you when Chief Richard Akinloye (NPN national chairman) entered all of us including Shagari (president) would stand up which is what I call discipline. We waited for Akinloye together with the president until they came in. We believed in the supremacy of the party. You as a governor, you as are a president, you have only one vote.
It is the aggregate of the votes that made me chairman and you president, so why should you boss it over others.
Do you think the PDP can reinvent itself and win back federal power?
Why not because it is a party dominated by the grassroots. It only lacks maybe management.
Besides the fact that you locked Nyako out of the special national convention, was there any other reason that the five governors who left demanded from you?
It is all rubbish. As an elderly person and the chairman if you brought in a superior argument it won. I never disallowed anybody to express their wishes and opinions, why must I deny them, tell me why? My job as chairman is to win election. What do they want to do, is it not to win election? I came with a programme you agreed with, there was no departure at that point. You did not tell me anything I have said or want to do which was wrong.
I forced the ministers to come in, before they didn’t come to the party secretariat to brief them. I told the president that these are ministers and they are supposed to implement our own manifesto. So if the party don’t know what they are doing, it is wrong; you are the one who appointed them.
In fact as far as I am concerned Minister of culture must come and tell me, Minister of communication must come and tell me, in fact every minister; tell us what you are doing, is it in conformity with our programme that is all.
Why was Nyako not allowed to enter the convention ground?
We had an elected state chairman but he said he wanted his own chairman who is not an elected chairman to be there. It is not him they refused, it was Kaigama (Nyako’s PDP factional chairman) that they refused, let us be fair. How can you tell me that the elected chairman should be the one not to come, could that be right? Madaki was elected and therefore he should. But Nyako said if and unless Kaigama comes with him, he is not going to come in. It was his choice, not mine.
How true is it that the quarrel with Nyako was compounded by the fact that you both wanted your sons to be governor in 2015?
Awwal before he intended to become governor, was also a member of the House of Representatives, chairman of committee on aviation. Should I tell Awwal because I am the chairman of the party not to vie for the position of a governor? Will it be fair?
Nyako was the one who went round and promoted his son with the emir, he was using government apparatus. I did not use party apparatus. I never went on campaign with him, never. I did not campaign, I did not tell anybody in the NWC or anybody else about my son. After all somebody who is over fifty can make a choice.
Is it true you resigned as national chairman under duress?
If I found Jonathan insincere, then I would have refused to resign. I resigned for peace so that PDP will remain. He didn’t want me to go.
That is the president?
Yes. I said the pressure on him was too much. Sule Lamido called me a virus and I replied him and said, yes I am a virus for good governance, democracy and fair play and I hope it will catch you.
So what happened, I told him, I said look Mr President, I know when the two women came before king Solomon, the wisest king, he asked them what is the problem; they said one child that both of them delivered the child.
So he said oh yes, let us divide the child into two so that each of you can take half of the child. One of them said no, me I won’t agree to that, rather let the child remain so that when the child grows up, he can then determine who is his real mother. King Solomon knew from that moment that the real mother is the one who wants to spare the child, the other one who wanted the child divided, did that out of jealousy.
So I said to him, let me get out, let PDP survive. Let me stand aside. The letter was there which he refused to submit.
I want you to get the tape of those of you who attended. All of them, all the governors praised me. For I did nothing but because they were happy I was going and I did because I wanted to save PDP.
Do you feel embarrassed that the party you presided over formed a government is regularly being indicted for corruption?
So far they are allegations. Of course I will feel embarrassed because the people they alleging against (unless they prove otherwise,) they are people that I know.
So I feel embarrassed definitely, they are friends, they are associates, so on and so forth. So nobody can pretend to you that he is not embarrassed by these kind of things. I am not only embarrassed because of my party, I am embarrassed because of my country. I love my country. I am a Nigerian. So I am embarrassed really.
Sir, you will be eighty years tomorrow. What has life taught you?
Four scores, in health and vigour and still counting! I want to thank my God. Whatever I arrive at is with the cooperation, it is not me alone; I am part of those who, including all of you, who encouraged me either in my endeavour or by goodness.
I can say try to do good. What you need is to be remembered for your good deeds not your bad deeds. And please understand whatever you do today becomes a history and it would be read, it will be there. So if you do bad, it will be there, it will become a history, people will read it. So please make sure you try your best to do good things.