By Ilemona Onoja
You know it’s political season when a usually brilliant public commentator like Professor Farooq Kperogi, known for his sharp wit and brutal analysis, publishes an article that stands truth, fact and logic on its head in his determination to reach a narrow-minded conclusion. In this thread, which I will occasionally refer to, he falsely accuses Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki of manipulating the consensus talks between him, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi and Alhaji Mohammed Hayatudeen. He goes further to accuse Dr. Saraki of being dictatorial in the political calculations leading to the 2023 gubernatorial elections in Kwara State.
His article raises two pertinent issues on which Dr. Saraki has taken very clear, open and transparent positions and then somersaults repeatedly in his attempts to muddy them. It is curious that he states the facts, then unsuccessfully tries to wish them away in a manner that is uncharacteristic of a commentator of his repute. As key stakeholders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) warm up to make the most important decision in our party’s history, it is imperative that one sets the records straight concerning these false allegations against one of its brightest lights.
THE CONSENSUS ARRANGEMENT
For the record, it is important to clarify the origin of the consensus candidature talks. When the four horsemen, as they are called in many quarters, began the conversation it was against the backdrop that there is an unhealthy number of aspirants in the race to pick the PDP ticket to contest for the 2023 presidential election. The objective was to begin talks that would see an assessment of the aspirants, their chances of success and consider several political calculations to ensure that the best aspirant was picked and supported by all the others.
At its inception, there was the agreement that the decision could go any way and all four agreed OF THEIR OWN VOLITION to submit to the decision of a figure they all held in high esteem. Off the back of this agreement, they approached former military president, General Ibrahim Babangida to midwife the process and select one of them around whom all the other could rally.
On his part, IBB approached Prof. Ango Abdullahi, a former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) and an influential political figure in the North, to set up a committee and determine the criteria to which all the aspirants would be subjected and then in the spirit of democracy, something for which Professor Kperogi is an advocate, vote and reach a conclusion. I will try not to bore you by reproducing the report of the committee which reached its decision based on 3 issues – an assessment of the aspirants, a zonal assessment and then political history. A copy of the report is attached here.
It is important to point out that Kperogi does not fault any of the conclusions reached by the committee, he actually agrees with their factual bases. Nor does he fault the voting process. He simply cannot do so because there is no basis to do so. One wonders how having agreed to the factual bases for the report, Professor Kperogi makes the leap to arrive at a conclusion that the process was manipulated. Is it a manipulation of the process that the North Central has never produced a candidate on the platform of the party? Is it a manipulation of history that the last president of northern extraction elected on the platform of the party is from the north west? Or that an aspirant from the North East was the consensus candidate for the north in 2011 and then became the party’s flag bearer in 2019? Where is the manipulation in relying on history to reach a conclusion?
What is more, Professor Kperogi reaches the salacious accusation that Dr. Saraki manipulated the process without an iota of proof. Just vibes. He cannot produce such proof because it does not exist. It is a figment of his imagination borne out of the determination to find something to criticize. When Professor Kperogi criticizes the recommendation of Dr. Saraki and Governor Bala Mohammed as consensus candidates, he does not tell his readers that they emerged as a result of a voting process which resulted in a tie with both men receiving the same number of votes. He deliberately omits to point out that the Ango Abdullahi led Committee showed respect for democratic ideals by upholding that voting process yet leaving the door open for further talks between both aspirants. One wonders why.
It is bemusing that Kperogi refers to the consensus talks as “immature political flimflam” on a weekend when Saraki is vindicated by the fractious approach to electioneering taken by some aspirants against others. Over the past few weeks, Dr. Saraki has expressed the concern that unless the aspirations of the various contenders are better managed and pursued, they threaten to rip the party apart thereby weakening the party machinery and its chances of success in the elections. Having spent 17 months as the Chairman of the National Reconciliation and Strategy Committee (NRSC) of the party, he is in the position to know. Do the comments, attacks and counter attacks by some of the aspirants and their supporters against other aspirants in the party not vindicate Saraki’s position?
THE KWARA NORTH AGITATION
Professor Kperogi attempts to pit the reality of the north central never having produced presidential candidate against the reality of Kwara North never having produced a gubernatorial candidate for the party and accuses Saraki of bullying stakeholders of the party to reach a decision and trying to benefit from a situation nationally which he seeks to obstruct in the state. Again, epic fail.
The agitation for Kwara North to produce the party’s governorship candidate in 2023 is founded in the historical reality that it has not done so since 1999, very similar to the historical reality that the north central has not produced a presidential candidate for the party since 1999.
In seeking his counsel, the aspirants from Kwara North mirrored Dr. Saraki’s willingness to submit himself to IBB, Professor Ango Abdullahi and a number of northern elders for scrutiny and his agreement to abide by any decision, including a potentially unfavourable one.
How does a normally brilliant commentator like Kperogi miss the similarity? Mischief? For the purposes of informing the public that may have been misled by Kperogi’s article, Dr. Saraki has allowed stakeholders from Kwara North drive the process for the actualization of their ambitions. They have met repeatedly – ACROSS PARTY LINES, spelt out criteria to determine which candidate is best placed to lead the party to victory and signed an agreement to abide by the outcome of the process. At no point has Dr. Saraki even remotely identified with or promoted anyone as his preferred choice – all of the above mirror the steps he himself took during the consensus talks.
These accusations are as baseless as they are unfair to a political leader who has shown openness and transparency to the stakeholders in the party’s ranks. They continue an unrelenting cycle of false accusations against Dr. Saraki personally and politically. And one is rather disappointed that a commentator of the standing of Professor Farooq Kperogi, one usually given to brilliant insight, would descend to such shallow levels.
Finally, it is important to answer Professor Kperogi’s poser “Why does Saraki need a consensus arrangement to emerge as PDP presidential candidate?” The simple answer is that he doesn’t. If anything, the party needs to better manage the sheer number of aspirants and ensure that it emerges from the primaries as a united and efficient political machine than he does. In seeking such an arrangement, Saraki took a risk – the decision could very well have been against his own aspirations – and demonstrated the willingness to make the kind of sacrifice that is needed in the best interests of the party to further its chances of winning the next elections.
Dr. Saraki is contesting for the party’s ticket in his own right as a person with a track record of providing real solutions and fresh insight to the myriad of problems this country faces. He has demonstrated competence, character and capacity from his days as SA to President Olusegun Obasanjo – where he led the team that drafted and pushed for the passage of the Fiscal Responsibility Act which guides our budget process to this day; to his time as Governor of Kwara where he pursued revolutionary reforms in health, agriculture, education and security; to his time as Senator where he sponsored the motion for the investigation of the fuel subsidy programme in 2011, a move with brought the extent of corruption in the programme to limelight and which saved the country hundreds of millions of dollars; to his time at the helm of the legislature as President of the Senate where he led the third arm of government to pass the most number of bills in the country’s history – many of them high priority bills which were designed to spur job creation, jumpstart the economy, improve security and revamp the health and education sectors.
I have not attempted to hide my admiration for Professor Kperogi. I often read his articles and think pieces with keen interest. But even the most intelligent of people can be wrong – as he is here. Nor will I attempt to hide my admiration and respect for Dr. Saraki. He has shown the sort of passion, commitment and knowledge of the issues and the solutions to them that this country requires at this time.
Hopefully, this will be a one off from Professor Kperogi rather than the beginning of a continuous cycle of attacks on Dr. Saraki’s person and politics.
Onoja writes from Abuja