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The Presidential Candidate of the National Transformation Party in 2011, Dr. John Dara, has predicted a tough political battle during next year’s polls, declaring that the electorate will shock the political class during the general elections.
Dr Dara who is again eyeing the plum job in 2019 on the platform of Social Democratic Party in this interview accused the incumbent administration of misleading Nigerians. The former PDP stalwart also spoke on other national issues. Excerpts:
A lot of people were surprised to see you quickly dump the PDP to join the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Were you fed up with PDP or you were eager to grab the new opportunities that SDP, popularly described as Third Force offers?
In many ways, I’ve been feeling like a misfit in PDP. I will say as far back as 2005, a group of us called PDP reform group under the leadership of Senator Ken Nnamani and I as the Secretary came together to see how we can effect some reforms in the party. We used to meet at AIT and other places. Our concern was that PDP was not living up to the avowed ideals of democracy and good governance on which it was founded. There were moves by the party leadership then to demonize all those who were demanding for reforms. Eventually, the group was banned, and the members were suspended.
You left the party shortly after, was it because of the ban?
I moved on to form the National Transformation Party in 2009. But the project did not work out the way I wanted. But what was done was that we formed a party that was to be a revolutionary platform for national transformation. It was formed on ideals, ideas and values, but it didn’t quite catch on. I was the presidential candidate in 2011 elections. I belong to the Middle Belt Forum where I served as a principal officer for 19 years and collectively, we took a decision to support Jonathan in 2011. That meant my candidature was not endorsed. The various other interest groups that I belonged to similarly endorsed Jonathan. I was not disappointed, I was not bitter. I felt okay, let’s go ahead with Jonathan. I did not withdraw from the race because I hate to be labeled a quitter. All I did was to lie low, cut my losses and stayed on the ballot. But subsequent events in PDP have shown that nothing has really changed.
Why did you return to PDP after your attempt at presidency failed?
Immediately after the 2011 elections, I came back. I was really out for about one year. However, though I came back , I was always seemingly swimming against the current in the PDP because most of their decisions were always inconsistent with my understanding of democratic ideals. So, as I said, I’ve always been like a misfit within the PDP system.
At what point did you start having strong feelings to leave the party again?
After the aborted convention of 2016 in Port Harcourt, I saw all the drama, all the shenanigans first hand. Then I realized that not only that nothing has changed, nothing was ever going to change with PDP. PDP needs to be consigned into oblivion for a long time and then people will become sober and rebuild it from the scratch. That was my conclusion in 2016. That was when I took my sabbatical from PDP again.
Why did you settle for SDP?
Eventually, in December last year, I settled for SDP and what was the basis for the choice. I went through all the existing political parties. I wanted a platform that was ideological. And the ideology has to be a progressive ideology, if you like a little to the left. I believe in democracy, I believe in free enterprise, but I believe that government has a responsibility to intervene in favour of the weak and the vulnerable in society. So, I don’t believe in a free-for-all kind of free enterprise; a laissez faire. I believe that government has responsibility to provide welfare for the needy and the poor in the society.
Are you saying that the APC which is the ruling government does not have these qualities that attracted you to SDP or do you have something you do not like about the ruling party?
APC could never have been an option for me. APC was a joke from the beginning. We had people like Senator Bola Tinubu who is really a progressive going into alliance with a bunch of feudalists from northern Nigeria. We have progressives in northern Nigeria, but the progressive elements were not in APC. It is the most conservative, the most rigid, the most reactionary group that he went into alliance with and was labeling it a progressive party. That was a misnomer from the beginning. It was a joke. It was a marriage of strange bedfellows. So, I could not have gone to such a party. After my search, I found that PRP had a humanistic ideology which I considered inadequate for my vision. I came to the conclusion that PRP was too regional and will not serve my purpose. Labour party was divided, the labour movement in Nigeria was equally divided. So, again, that will not be effective for galvanizing the forces for genuine change. SDP was more of an ideologically correct vehicle that was almost an empty shell. It existed, but it was weak. I concluded that all it needed was enough people of vision and pedigree to build it up and move it forward. I felt that was good enough.
Some prominent PDP members are defecting to SDP at present, are you not afraid that the same people who made PDP what you complained about are also likely to take over the structure of SDP?
One of the problems of success in politics is that it attracts all kinds of people. All those who have come so far from the PDP are the tolerable elements within PDP. Some of the really bad guys of PDP will not leave PDP . They are going to be in PDP as long as the party exists. But a few of them who are discontented are speaking out , they are not happy with the shape of the party. Look at someone like Ibrahim Mantu; he is very unhappy with the way PDP is conducting its affairs; he says he is now a born again politician. If after a while he discovers that PDP is not willing to change, he will cross over. People will say but he was in PDP before. It is not everybody that is in PDP that is happy with the way PDP is conducting its affairs. So, some of them will surely come to SDP. In fact, I believe that quite a number may cross over from APC too . I mean those who discover that they are in a strange place, trying to promote progressive ideas in a vehicle that is definitely unprogressive.
Many feel that the Third Force which the SDP is now associated with is exaggerating its influence and appeal , is the party working to change this growing feeling? Can SDP dislodge APC and PDP that are clearly number one and two in terms of ranking?
You are right that being number three is not the same as being number one or number two. You have to be number one to win power. So, SDP as number three today has not reached its destination. For me, SDP has to become number one and the way for SDP to become number one is for it to conduct its affairs with integrity, abiding strictly by its constitution. I already see some of the PDP elements bringing hands of arbitrariness, bending rules. I already see that happening. But for those of us who are in SDP before them, we will defend the idealism that attracted us to SDP. We will not allow impunity to become established in SDP. What destroyed PDP is already being imported by a few of the newcomers. But we will checkmate them because once SDP remains a credible alternative the whole story will change. You can see the confusion going on in APC. You can see the hopelessness that is beginning to envelope PDP. A lot of people are going to migrate. We say in politics, one day is a long time, not to talk of the fact that we have 10 long months of a lot of drama. Between now and February next year, there will be a lot of drama.
You talked about working together to stop APC in 2019, is SDP considering merging with other parties as APC did in 2014?
The approach this time may be slightly different, but the result will be the same. The result will be that the incumbent government will be thrown out. SDP is aiming at producing a candidate with mass appeal. The electorate in Nigeria were under mobilized and under motivated in 2015 elections. If you look at the figures, I’m sure you are also shocked that of 180 million people, only 62 million or so were registered voters and of that number, only 31 million came out to vote. That’s not a good result. But it’s to show you that the electorate in 2015 were confused. The politicians may be united in saying we will kick out Jonathan; the electorate were ambivalent. So, they did not come out to vote. But this time around, the electorate are angry, bitter. They are looking for a new leadership, a clean man who is not carrying the baggage of the past. They are looking for a man who has capability. Therefore, even if somebody is not a politician, he comes from the private sector and he is rightly positioned, the electorate in Nigeria will come out massively to vote. What we had in 2015 was a unity of the opposition politicians. But what we are going to have in 2019 is a unity of the voters and I’m telling you that the political class as a whole is in for big shock.
Does this government actually represent mediocrity?
Nothing has been as embarrassing to Africa and Nigeria as the government of Buhari. He started with promising so much and ended up delivering nothing. I mean nothing. It failed in every department. This government promised a diversified economy, it has not been able to do so. This government promised security. You have a worsened security situation. This government promised to fight corruption. Corruption is still rampant in Nigeria. But beyond all that, the basic elements of administration and good governance is non-existent.
But the argument some of them have put up is that some of you who actually supported PDP are yet to come out of the shock that you were pushed out of government and that is why you don’t see anything good about the government
Then, you tell me what they have achieved. The truth is that achievement does not need searchlight. You don’t need microscope. If they have improved power supply beyond their propaganda, all of us will say ah, don’t say that one, look at the improved supply of power. If there have been increase in the number of kilometers of road, we will say ah, no be them do this one, are you blind? If the railways are operating, why are you having to struggle to prove that there is achievement. Let those who support this administration honestly tell me If Boko Haram has been contained, If herdsmen are no more on rampage.
Your party has not talked about the zoning arrangement for presidency . That means contest for presidential ticket is open to every section of the country. How do you hope to emerge as the presidential hopeful of the party?
Basically, we have to prepare for competition in a democracy because democracy thrives better when there is competition. Remember one of the problems PDP had was that it seemed as if there was a pathological fear of competition. So, PDP was always saying we are electing our officials by consensus. If in a competition, all the aspirants withdraw voluntarily without coercion, then you can have consensus. So, between you and me , I am prepared for competition. Since I joined the SDP, I’ve concentrated my energy and resources on building party structures around the country and in every state, I’ve strengthened the existing executives and brought so many people into the party. That, in my opinion is the way to prepare for the competition ahead. The delegates are going to come from the states and when they come, you will discover that the hard work that we have done in the states are paying off. Some people who want to challenge us are negotiating at the national level. They are negotiating for position or advantage at the national level. I am struggling to build the party on a state-by-state, local-government-by-local-government, and ward-by-ward basis. Most of the jamboree that is going at the national level, I only show my face once in a while and pay my dues . But for now, my strategy is to build the party from the grassroots up and I do believe that when it is time for primary, this approach will pay. I have overwhelming majority of the party members on my side.
For some time now, you’ve insisted on vying for presidency. Why are you not giving other positions a trial?
You are absolutely right. I received inspiration to serve at the highest office of the land long ago. Because I was privileged to work with a lot of the top people, I learnt from them how to get things done. I worked with President Obasanjo very closely. I worked with General Danjuma, I worked with Gen. Babangida. Working with these people have developed me tremendously. I have the capacity to improve on what our past leaders have been doing for the nation. Not only that, most of them are encouraging me and saying things to me that we know you have the capacity, which is good. Many of them have been busy trying to build successor generations. I happen to be one of them they look at as a potential solution. I believe it is such encouragement that has kept me focused on this job. I’m basically a leadership and management professional. I run consulting services, training people for leadership and management. But a few times, I’ve had opportunity to demonstrate my theories by turning around companies, by turning around government and serving in difficult situations as aides. All that has again shown that I’m a technocrat who is not talking theories.
I am a gifted, skillful, charismatic leader. What Nigeria actually needs is somebody who is capable but also charismatic enough to inspire others to follow, because you need a mass mobilization of Nigerians in a new direction and you need people who can communicate, who can manage.
The face of SDP, as today is Obasanjo . What impact has this had on the party especially as some believe that the former president does not have rich democratic credentials ?
First of all, I don’t know how you came about the idea that Obasanjo is the face of SDP. Obasanjo has never joined SDP or any party since he left PDP. Obasanjo’s name is being mentioned in Accord, in so many parties, which is to show that he is indeed a father to all. President Obasanjo will support SDP because SDP is the most viable vehicle for the actualization of the goals he has recently highlighted and therefore we are confident that he will end up supporting SDP. Otherwise, you have recently General Babangida openly declaring support for SDP. I believe that at the end of the day, SDP will be the darling of all those who are conscious of the fact that we’ve made mistakes in the past. Obasanjo is the first person who will admit to you that mistakes have been made. But before they die, they want to rectify the mistakes. So, there is nothing inconsistent about that. They want to be part of the solution. That’s what Obasanjo is saying to the nation.
But the same Obasanjo is forming his own coalition which is not aligned to SDP as you talk now. Are you not seeing that as a kind of dissipation of energies?
Obasanjo started the idea of coalition movement, but he says when it joins a party or becomes a party, he will step aside because he has said bye-bye to partisan politics. Quite a number of members of his coalition are in SDP already and I will not be surprised if all of them end up in SDP. But some may choose to go elsewhere. I’m aware of some members of Obsanjo’s coalition saying they will go to Accord. There is nothing wrong in that. But the coalition is united in the objective of we are going to vote out the present government and vote in a new government. Whether they are in SDP or in Accord, they are united in that common purpose, there is no confusion in that.
Will they produce different candidates?
At the end of the day, what I believe will happen in 2019 line up, there will be a Buhari in APC, somebody in PDP, somebody in SDP, maybe somebody in Accord. Outside those four, every other thing will be a joke and will be ignored by the electorate. So, we are going to have a four-legged race at most. It may even be a three-legged race.