Alhaji Sarafa Tunji Isola is a former Minister of Mines and Steel Development. He is also a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party. Isola, in this interview with SEGUN OLATUNJI, speaks on the crisis in the PDP, the violence in the Niger Delta and other sundry national issues.
Your party, the PDP has been embroiled in leadership crisis in the past few months. As a chieftain of the former ruling party, what’s your thinking about the problems confronting PDP?
The crisis has to do with the fact that after the loss of the election in 2015, for a party that had been in power for 16 years and whose leadership at the national level revolved around the Presidency, of course, PDP was not prepared for this opposition role and that’s why it’s been difficult to adjust to the new reality on ground. In the past, when there was crisis, the Presidency always rose to mend fences and then served as a stabliser and now that the Presidency is gone, that is all that the challenges are all about-the leadership to galvanise people together- I mean the leadership that will provide the focal point is non-existent as at the moment.
Some opposition politicians and even PDP chieftains have predicted that the party may not survive this current crisis. Do you see their predictions come true?
Well, I think what we should look at is a transformation. The party is transforming from a ruling party to the party in opposition and that transformation would come in different forms, either through alliance with the other parties but PDP in its original form can never be again. In its original form, PDP was formed and in less than a year it assumed power and for 16 years it was in power as the ruling party. But now, as an opposition party, there would be a transformation and that transformation, definitely would not be in the original form that the PDP is at the moment.
Are you foreseeing some alliances coming up?
Oh, sure, definitely, because we have too many parties within the context of the opposition and that is not good for our democracy. So, I foresee a situation whereby parties would have to come together with a view to providing a credible opposition, which is the bedrock of democracy in many civilised parts of the world.
Do you see that happening under the aegis of the PDP, the major opposition party in the country now?
PDP, by its happen stance now, I told you, would transform; that transformation, whichever way it’s going to take, I don’t know. It might be through mergers; it can be through alliances but definitely, it can’t be through acquisition. I don’t know whether you know what I mean. Alliances, mergers but not through acquisition. That means you expect other parties to now come and then submit to PDP or PDP acquiring other parties. No! It would not happen. Democracy is about providing participation for all stakeholders and even the new party that would come into the merger must be assured of participation, depending on the level of what they are bringing to the table.
Don’t you see any hope in the ongoing negotiations between the Sheriff and the Makarfi groups over the PDP leadership crisis?
The two groups are fundamentally opposed to one another and I’ve not seen a compromise. Sheriff says he’s still the chairman until the convention is conducted and another chairman is put in place; Makarfi is saying that the exco has been dissolved and he doesn’t remain the chairman. So, where is the compromise? You know, before you can talk of compromise, you’ll see that nobody is having a kind of extreme position but middle of the course, options. If you are going to the negotiation table, there must be options and the options must be pragmatic, it must be workable and it must come with sincerity of purpose. When you don’t have confidence in one another, how can there be sincerity of purpose?
So, what then should be the best way out of this logjam in the PDP?
Well, I’ve told you, the PDP would transform and that transformation, how it would happen, I can’t tell you. But that would still depend on some other factors. The fact remains that the two groups that are opposed to one another now, they are sharply divided and I can’t see a compromise and whatever compromise that would come, although I’m not God, at least within the context of what is happening now, except if there is a shift and you know in any conflict, you expect shift; you don’t expect a 360 degree shift. You expect shift on both sides, that’s a compromise you can make in this circumstance and how do we negotiate to move forward. If you don’t do that, there is no other way and Nigerians cannot afford to endlessly wait for a credible opposition. By the time they are waiting, you start seeing some other credible alternatives springing up because Nigerians are really yearning for a credible opposition; the way they yearned for a credible opposition against the PDP then and the APC hearkened their calls, the same way they are also yearning for a credible opposition to the APC government now.
Let’s come back home. Why have you have been somehow quiet concerning the situation in the PDP in Ogun State?
I’ve not been quiet. I’ve been involved in so many efforts at bringing all the warring factions and groups together. I’ve been speaking to all sides with a view to having them come together as one. So, I’ve not been quiet, really.
So, how far have you succeeded in resolving the problem?
Well, what is happening in Abuja will, to a reasonable extent, influence what will happen in Ogun State. You know this conflict trickles down with some having alliance with Sheriff and pledging allegiance to him while others are also loyal to Makarfi. All these have implications; which means until you are able to have effective resolution of the conflict in Abuja, we may not be able to have the kind of unity, peace and reconciliation that we desire in Ogun State.
What has happened to your governorship ambition?
The issue is I’ve told people, we are not running a parliamentary system, we run a presidential system of government. Partisanship, ambition end once a government has emerged. We have a governor in Ogun State that is entitled to a four-year tenure and within one year, you start talking of an ambition, it’s not really what the presidential system we operate is all about. The first three years, we all should come together, adopt a bipartisan approach to ensure that the common good of an average Ogun State citizen or indigene or resident, the common good of the people of Ogun State, either residents or indigenes, are well taken care of using a bipartisan approach. So, my concern is for the government of Ogun State to address those issues and if anybody is politicking, if you are looking for the seat now, that has issues and I don’t want to talk about that until the final year, which is supposed to be an election year.
So, for now your ambition is put on hold…
(Cuts in) What I’m saying is that the present government should not be involved in any distraction through anybody’s ambition. Rather, we should make efforts to give suggestions to the government because the ordinary people, the common people in Ogun State should be the focus of any politician. If you want to go and serve, your concern should be how the people are faring in this arrangement. Then politicking should then start in the last year. To me, that’s the way presidential democracy is being practiced from where we took the presidential democracy from. In the United States of America, the last year of the government is usually the election year and the remaining years are about the people. And that’s one thing that is missing in Nigeria. We perpetually politick to the detriment of the common man. After all, why are we in politics? Is it not to serve the ordinary people? Is it to serve ourselves? And if you don’t make the concern and welfare of the common man the centrepiece of your political activity, then you are not worth being entrusted with leadership.
You are a former minister of solid minerals resources, what do you think is the best way out of the increasing violence in the oil-rich region?
We are in a democratic dispensation and the best way out is to engage any aggrieved group. In any democratic nation, any aggrieved group must be engaged through dialogue. What are the grievances? Can those grievances be met? Which of the grievances can be met immediately and which one do we agree on timelines so that we can move ahead; because we must appreciate that as at now because of the dysfunction in our economic system, we run a mono-product economy. Once the oil is not being pumped out, of course, the whole of the country gets cold. So, it’s a sensitive thing and that’s why we must take time to engage all these aggrieved people and bring them to the table.
Don’t you think it’s high time the government looked elsewhere for its source of revenue?
I must tell you one thing for sure and that is the fact that there is no ghost fighter in this issue. All the socalled militants belong to a councillorship ward, a local government, a state constituency, a Federal representative’s constituency, a senatorial district and to a state. So, they are not ghosts. The issues is all these people that are their representatives, they are the first line of people to be engaged. Summon a meeting involving the House of Representatives members, the senators and the governors. We are in a democracy and the concern of the average citizen is that the President has sworn to an oath to protect all Nigerians.