Colonel Aminu Isah Kontagora (rtd.) is a former military administrator of Kano and Benue states. In this exclusive interview, he talks on Nigeria’s ruling party as well as the crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
By the end of this month, the All Progressives Congress (APC) – led federal government will be two years in office. How will assess the performance?
I belong to the Peoples Democratic Party. So, telling me to rate a sitting government is either you are anticipating my answers or what the public will say with regards to this is where I am going. We are at crossroads in politics. Two years have gone. We have 18 months to the elections. Do you see that? And all election programmes will start at least six to nine months to the general elections. So, technically, this government has less than a year to fulfill all those promises made to the people to launch themselves into general elections. You will agree with me that none of those promises has been fulfilled yet. And there are no signs that some will be fulfilled.
Are you sure that none has been fulfilled with the start of Abuja-Kaduna rail line transport system?
You forgot that former Vice President Mohammed Namadi Sambo used the train to Kaduna. So, it did not start in 2015 or 2016.
What about the employment opportunities given to the youths through the N-Power project and the airport project that was completed in six weeks?
You can go and check if that N-Power has materialized to the expectations of the 20 million jobs that were promised to the Nigerians. On the airport, they have no option. It’s a commercial venture. It’s either you do it or you face international disgrace. So, it’s a routine administrative responsibility of any government to service and fix its infrastructure.
But the PDP, which spent 16 years, could not do that?
You keep forgetting easily because you said 16 years. When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo came to power, we were taking loans to pay debts. You have forgotten that easily. Obasanjo did not only pay the debts, but we really got relief. It is even part of the overpayment of the relief that governments are now earning billions of Naira. You can’t tell me that in 16 years, we didn’t do anything. We grew the economy to the largest economy in Africa. It has now shrunk. You can go and see the market capitalization of our foreign exchange back to 2000. It’s over N24 trillion. Today, it’s a regrettable N9 trillion. So, if you are looking at it from over-dramatised corruption, then you could think there was nothing happen. Professor Ngozi Okonjo Iweala internationalized the Nigerian economy. And that is why you could use your credit card in the United States of America and China. The PDP achieved that for Nigeria. We left the exchange rate at N185 to a Dollar. We left a federal domestic debt of N10 trillion within a period of seven years. But within a period of two years, our domestic debt has ballooned by N8 trillion. The 2017 budget even has N2 trillion loans. The 2016 budget also has N2 trillion. I’m not talking of other loans. So, when you say there is corruption, there was corruption because there was no efficient control of the economy. I won’t deny that. And there was money to do corruption. Now, there can’t be corruption because we were told that there is no money. We are only racing into debts. When the PDP left, income to debt servicing ratio was 35 Kobo per Naira. Now, it is 66 Kobo per Naira. At the rate we are going, in the next two years, our debt repayment will be equal. Then, we will go back to the period before Obasanjo’s appearance in the political scene. Whatever you say, I listen. But I believe, yes, the PDP made some mistakes, and we have apologized to the people. We believe that we have better experience now to give better service in 2019. And the people know that.
Do you still believe that the PDP can still bounce back?
The PDP has not gone anywhere. 67 percent of those in the APC are PDP members. Who is in government? They are all groomed and nurtured in the PDP. Whatever they are claiming to achieve in their various capacities, they were thought and groomed in the PDP. So, the PDP is still very strong.
Do you think that the party is still strong with Senator Ali Modu Sheriff and Senator Ahmed Makarfi laying claim to the headship of the PDP?
That is the effort of the ruling party to weaken a horse that has gone so far away. Whether Makarfi or Modu Sheriff, nobody can change the focus of the party. We are there as loyal party members. At the appropriate time, appropriate strategy will be adopted even within the crisis to win the election.
Which of the faction did you belong to?
I belong to the PDP. It’s not a faction. It’s a leadership struggle. If you look towards Sheriff, you will see that he is the one trying to portray it as a faction. And you can’t be a co-chairman leader and say you want to work on a faction. You are making a big mistake.
Why is it difficult for the two sides to come together?
It is the interest of the ruling party.
Did you see any members of the APC intervene in the PDP issue?
It’s very clear. We have seen it and we are taking concrete measures to check that. And you have not seen much yet. Because they were thinking of weakening the PDP, they are now going in disarray without anybody either touching or talking to them. There are more than eight factions now in the APC. It depends on where you belong. They publicize the PDP leadership tussle at the centre and blanket the crisis of the ruling party up to the ward level. It’s okay. We are not moved.
You said factions. Have you seen people trying to oust Chief John Odigie-Oyegun as we have in the PDP?
Even if they don’t try to oust him, how many people listen to him? Why are they fighting themselves? Look at the tension in the National Assembly, and in states, what are you saying?. Penultimate week, a one-time Vice President, PDP member and now a chieftain of the APC decried the level of poverty and confusion in the society. And you say all is well in the APC. No, I don’t agree with you.
How will you describe Nigeria’s democracy so far?
It’s growing fast. My belief is that we are growing. We are not isolated from the general world trend where a bit of nationalism is rearing its head back into national politics. You could see the French election. You could see the Swedish election. Donald Trump in the US was more of a nationalist and not a democrat. That is the new trend. We had our own. We went more to the left with Muhammadu Buhari and the APC, thinking we will find a solution. But there is still no solution in all these nationalistic outlooks. We are not exempted. It’s a global village. But what I believe is that the economy will continue to play a vital role in any political settlement around the world. The BREXIT’s battle, which saw Britain running away, was fought in the council development areas because that is where people see their jobs being lost be people coming from other EU countries. That is all. We are in the same shoe. So, anybody who can appeal strongly may be given a chance. I believe strongly and rightly that so many people voted for Buhari because they just felt the PDP was losing grip on the economy. That was a major issue. People were not having their hands on anything on economy. So, they felt they needed a change. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out to be so. So, the 2019 will be a more complex election. They ran away from a hazard and went into a terrible hazard. So, they will try to pick out leadership. I’m very sure. The public were told what to do in 2015. By 2019, I’m assuring you, they will do what they want to do.
What will they want to do?
They will choose those who they feel will protect them and not on sentiments again.