Tue. Nov 29th, 2022


Professor Ahmed Rufai Alkali National Chairman of New Nigeria’s People’s Party (NNPP) in this interview with select journalists in Abuja explains reasons for the breakdown of negotiations between his party and the Labour Party (LP), reason for the recent exit of Senator Ibrahim Shekarau from the party, among other issues. EMEKA NZE brings excerpts…

What circumstances led to the exit of Senator Ibrahim Shekarau and his supporters from the NNPP? Secondly, are you having a replacement for his ticket in the Kano Central senatorial district?

First and foremost, Alhaji Ibrahim Shekarau is a highly respected citizen of this country. He was a two term governor, he was a minister. He is still a sitting senator. It is true that we have heard in the pages of newspaper that he has left the party but we have not received any formal letter from him that he has left the party. We have heard that he has left the party, there must be a reason why he left. We, as a party, we respect his decision to leave the party. Everybody does something for a purpose. Therefore if he has reason to leave the party, we as a party will not like to engage in unnecessary controversy on why he left. We also believe that democracy is very dynamic, the issues are very dynamic and that the party is growing and there is no way as we grow like this, you cannot have this kind of thing happening. But at least, we have said we are not going to engage in altercations why he left. All we can say is we wish him luck and the party will review the situation and take appropriate actions concerning the status of his position in NNPP.

With the benefit of hindsight, could you give insight why your talks with Labour Party did not sail through?

First and foremost, I want you to understand that there are three or four levels a party can expand and grow. One is the usual mobilisation of individual members coming on their own or through groups to join the party. The second is what we call the merger, where two or more political parties may decide to form a merger. But INEC has standard rules to implement. You may notice all fusion or merger were done and concluded by 28th of February and then 1st March where every political party that was thinking of merger must have concluded their preparations for congresses nationwide. So there’s no more room for merger. But because the language of our discourse is common after 1st of March this year, no room for merger of any political party. The second version is what we call coalition and this coalition is very common in parliamentary democracies. You know you cannot form a government under parliamentary government unless you have majority in the parliament. So often, as we are having in Britain in the past five years when they have been having deep crisis, they have been having difficulty in forming  majority to form government. Therefore, whether they like it or not, they would have to do some sort of coalition with other smaller political parties even if they don’t agree on so many things just to form what is called a Hand Parliament. In a presidential system like Nigeria, we don’t need a majority in the parliament to form government but every party want to have a proven majority because you want your laws and other things to pass through without the kind of tension in the parliament. The only option available then is what we call Alliances. Alliances again are formed – Lose Alliances or Strong Alliances- these alliances can only be formed on the basis of shared ideals, shared visions, shared commitment. Therefore, NNPP right from the beginning, we have no any thinking that we can shut our doors. NNPP believes that Nigeria needs the best, Nigeria needs a new leadership that will change the direction of what is happening. Everybody is angry, everybody is unhappy. Today, if you say you are happy with what is happening in Nigeria, you must be a stranger, you must have come from another planet. So the party was desirous of maintaining contact with any group or association whatsoever that also share our ideals. We have resisted to speak specifically on this issue (breakdown of alliance talks). One thing I know for sure since they have already spoken in the press on this issue, we can also mention it. There was a technical group that was formed 3-3 on both sides but not at the party level. It was more like an exploratory group to discuss on the general issues on how we can work together for the betterment of our country. It’s a group of highly respected citizens that they should sit down and look at all the crucibles. Our thinking was that after they might have finished those preliminary talks and there are agreement on principles on ideals and commitment, then the party will move in now formally through the other processes of alliances. Now remember at that time, we had not done our primaries. we hadn’t done our full submissions to INEC. So any step you take at that time will affect your members of House of Assembly, House of Reps, Senate, governorship and President. So it’s not something that is done casually. But it appeared that the whole argument ended about presidency. So what we understood is three things: One, when the discussions started, it was only on one item and I want to say with all sense of responsibility, NNPP went for that negotiations with an open mind, without nothing to lose but we knew that we have the structures, we had the personnel, we had members, we have leaders who can lead this country very well before we said let’s talk. From what we heard, including from some of our members who were participants, what happened was that Labour Party said they wanted our leader Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso to concede presidency to them. That was the only item on the agenda, that’s one-item agenda, no option-option. That Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso should step down as a presidential candidate of the NNPP and surrender that to Peter Obi. That is only one item for the eight hours they met. There was no other thing discussed. In fact, one of the Labour Party members said to us: “We concede that Kwankwaso is a good man, we concede that he’s a strongman, we concede that he is a very popular man but really this is the time of the Southeast, you just give us that seat”. I’m telling you the truth because I’m not going to condemn Peter Obi, I have high respect for him, the party has high respect for him but this is the first time we are opening up on this matter. So you could see it’s one item agenda, no option-option. Secondly, immediately the conversation started, they put it in social media. Normally, when you are negotiating, you also allow the process to continue to reach a point of maturity then you can sit down jointly and issue a statement, whether you agree or you don’t agree and then take a decision and tell the Nigerian people that this is what is going to happen. But no. Even before some of us party leaders knew what was happening, already the social media was agog that there negotiations between NNPP and the Labour Party and I thought this is not the way to drive a system in this country if you want to get the best out of it.  Normally if you have a negotiation on the commitment to the future of our country, it’s not going to be that it’s broken down, it can be stalemated, you can also allow discussions to continue until such a time when every partner in the negotiation gets win-win or non-lose situation. Again it was the Labour party which formerly announced to the press that negotiations broke down on 17th of June 2022, we didn’t say anything. So if somebody is the one beating the drum, he’s the one who is dancing and he’s the one saying that both the music and the dance are not nice. That’s why you see that NNPP is a very serious political party. We have respect for our leaders. I had the privilege to work with Peter Obi, very closely, I know he is also an achiever. I believe Labour Party, yes, it has its own issues, it’s also a political party in the ranking. But technically speaking, the basis for these discussions have not been given the opportunity to mature so that Nigerians can benefit. And again remember after the announcement that the discussions have broken down, still the party did not issue a statement either to castigate NNPP or castigate Labour party. Still NNPP is desirous of working with anybody who is desirous of bringing lasting peace in this country.

Does NNPP believe in one Nigeria ? If you do, how come the leadership of the party is tilted one place? Related to that, Buhari has almost eight years in office, and Kwankwaso also from the north wants to mount the saddle, does this address the divisiveness we have witnessed in this country in recent time? Again what’s take on the single fate ticket?

First and foremost, NNPP for the avoidance of doubt, is not an extension of APC. Therefore If APC has their constitution, they have their manifesto, they have their code of conduct, they have their leadership structure, they have the way they run their party and government, it’s their own business, it has nothing to do with NNPP. So whatever happens, NNPP like other 18 political parties, they are there for Nigerians. They have their own constitution, they have their manifesto, they have their code of conduct, they have everything, They operate as independent political party and therefore NNPP cannot inherit any excess baggage from from any political party. That’s the reality. Secondly the issue of single fate, we as a party think that that debate is diversionary. What matters today is that any political party that is contesting election for 2023 should be asked what they have you done for Nigerians over that last years you are there. These are critical questions. What have you done in education? What have you done on security? What have you done about the economy? That is the most fundamental issue. Debating and dancing around the single faith and no single faith, like you said, is trite and these are irrelevant, it’s diversionary, it’s unnecessary, it also tends to confuse Nigerians because in the history of this country, up till now, no single faith leadership but have they really berthed? Does it mean that because you have different faith and you are running a government and you fail, does it make it any better for the ordinary citizens. So I think it cannot dictate to any party to determine their running mate and who is not their running mate. But what we know in NNPP is that we an inclusive political party, no segment or culture of this country will be alienated or isolated or relegated to the background, that’s the most important issue.

Talking about the issue of structure of our party, sometime we in this country are also very funny. If you have not forgotten, way back in 1995, there was a constitution conference that was held but it was not consummated. But one of the major achievements at that time was the issue of rotation, zoning  power shift and federal character. However, some of these issues  were included informally but in the constitution, they are not there but they have now become part of the political administration of this country. So when you divide the county into six zones, it means that every zone has a legitimate right to be part of the political process. So there is no law when they say you have six zones and you come back to say you have north and south. If it is north and south, then it means that you have now jettisoned the issue of the six zones and that’s why everything that is done, from the political parties, from the National Assembly, from the tiers of government, even from auxiliary associations and agencies, there is always representations of zoning and the rest of it. Therefore, whatever happens, NNPP is conscious of its responsibilities, that is why when we are electing the deputy national chairman, for example, he’s from the southeast, when you taking the BOT chairman, he’s from the South East. When you have the full complement of the Exco, the financial secretary is from South South, National Auditor is from South West, National Secretary is from South West. In fact, the position of the national chairman is not the most important position because there are actually people who are the operators who are part of the system, the national publicity secretary is from north central, the national legal adviser is north central. There is no zone that is not represented in this party and that’s why when we talk, we talk about Nigeria, we don’t look at these diversionary issues. What is important is that as far as we are concerned, we are conscious of zoning. That’s why when we were talking about running mate, it went South South. Edo deserves to be represented, and they are  represented now by a man who can stand his ground anywhere in support of our country. I want to repeat: NNPP is not an extension of APC. Therefore if they run for eight years or 20 years or for 30 years, that’s their own business because they didn’t consult us for the first term or for the second term.

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