A former Minister of Education, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, tells Newsmen about his involvement in the founding of the Peoples Democratic Party and his defection to the Social Democratic Party after 19 years
Why did you decide to join the Peoples Democratic Party in 1998?
I didn’t join the PDP. I was a founding member and one of the things that motivated us in forming the PDP was the need to have a broad-based coalition. We were committed to democracy, justice and the rule of law. We resolved to ensure that we ran a party that would give no room for bad governance that could make the military think of staging a coup.
We also thought that there was the need, given the experience of the nation in the past, to ensure that those who would anchor the democratic process were committed to democratic principles and that is why the PDP came up with a vision and a mission which endeared it to Nigerians and also guaranteed that, in the final analysis, it had a presence all over the country. So, it was the common concern to have a group that was very committed to the development of the nation, committed to democracy and committed to justice.
How did you form the PDP and what strategies did the party adopt to garner nationwide support?
At the time of the formation, there wasn’t adequate concern for the issue of ideology. The concern was for the stability of the (political) system, for the promotion and consolidation of democracy, and to ensure that no part of the country was left out. It was such a broad-based party that it had conservatives, progressives, radicals and people of different persuasions all coming together to ensure that the military was kept at bay and also to ensure that everybody could have something to hold on to within the party.
In other words, it appealed to a broad spectrum of Nigerians, both the young and old, men and women, and of course, people from all the geopolitical zones of the country that were united by the need to end military rule and by the need to promote democratic governance in the country. Of course, it (PDP) had a constitution that ensured that no part of the country would be left uncovered and that no area would be neglected in terms of development and representation, either in the political organisation — that is, the party — or in the governance of the party, when the party would get its government after winning elections.
In March, you cited a lack of internal democracy as the reason for your decision to leave the PDP. Was there always internal democracy in the party?
Of course, there was none. The party started well. The potential was there. It wasn’t ideal, but there was the hope and expectation that, over time, it would grow and internal democracy would be the order of the day. But unfortunately, from time to time, we see the demonstration of impunity, imposition, lack of due process and, of course, anti-democratic processes were set in motion. And those who were in charge, who were supposed to promote it (internal democracy), had no regard for it. But we thought that, over time, we would be able to overcome it by working hard within the system to ensure that we persuaded the majority of the party to buy into the philosophy of internal democracy and to promote it. But we discovered that the more efforts we made, the more ingenious methods were devised to sabotage all efforts to achieve internal democracy.
Who are those you expected to promote internal democracy within the PDP but failed to do so?
Those who were supposed to promote it were particularly those running the affairs of the party. They were expected to be committed to it and promote it. But we discovered that people were more self-seeking and self-serving, and the party’s interest was neither considered as a priority nor was there any effort made to ensure that we went back to the basic principles or philosophies that motivated or inspired the founding of the party. People were becoming more and more concerned about their interests, so that you could negotiate for your interest. And so long as you’d got what you wanted, you cared less about the interest of the party and its membership. That was the real problem and there was no way the party could go on like that and hope to achieve either the goal of (internal) democracy or to be able to keep the members, particularly principled members, within the fold.
What roles would you say former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the late former President Umaru Yar’Adua and former President Goodluck Jonathan played in the current state of the party?
As far as I am concerned, this is not the occasion to apportion blame. These were things that happened and we put them behind us. We believe that everybody had a role to play within it to make sure that things were properly pursued. And I would say many people who ought to have played critical roles abdicated or did not play those roles in the sufficient measure as to make the necessary difference. So, I won’t apportion blame at this point.
Do you agree with President Muhammadu Buhari and his government’s condemnation of the Jonathan administration as the most corrupt?
It depends on how you measure corruption and so forth. As far as I am concerned, we have always had corruption all over the place. What is very alarming is the fact that the ongoing corruption is worse than any other I ever saw in this country because the worst form of corruption is political corruption and systemic corruption. The principalities of corruption have eaten deep; so it would be difficult for corruption just to disappear. We have to address corruption at the roots, and that is within the system. It is so pervasive and worrisome. When it is allowed to take root in the institutions, then there is no way it can go away. It is an unfortunate thing. So, we cannot be selective about it. There has to be a holistic approach in all sectors and in all ramifications. It is only then that we can claim to be fighting corruption and that is when we can get the intended, anticipated and expected result.
In your assessment, do you think Jonathan did his best as president?
In my own assessment, everyone has his capacity and you cannot perform beyond your capacity. And if he tried his best, he did so as much as he could. If of course the best may not be good enough for the country, he did his best from his own perspective. There were others. What I keep telling Nigerians, ‘You should not put all the blame on the president because Nigeria is far beyond that.’ Everybody ought to play his or her role in different capacities. So, there are different departments, agencies and organisations that are supposed to be playing some roles. It is the collective part of these that would make for the progress of any nation. When we talk about the Jonathan administration, do not look at it from the perspective of the executive alone. You also look at ‘what was the legislature doing at that time? What was the judiciary doing?’ There are three arms of government; they all ought to have played specific roles, which would have summed up to something and would have determined how successful government was to the people.
What was your reaction when Buhari won the 2015 presidential election?
I had raised the necessary alarm within the PDP that certain things must take place — certain things had to be done — and that if these things were not done, the (Jonathan) government was more or less on its way out. So, there were certain lapses and shortcomings here and there — certain acts of commission and omission. So, it did not come to me as a surprise ultimately because I thought that if we had done certain things differently, the result would have been different. Of course, this is not to remove the fact that you also saw the massive underage voting from places like Kano. I saw that the dangers were there and the signs were clear. Any discerning observer would know that the (Jonathan) administration stood the chance of losing the election. What surprised me, unfortunately, is the fact that the high hopes and expectations that some of those who worked to help Buhari had have been dashed by the way he came in and by the policies he promoted.
Are you happy with Obasanjo’s current rhetoric against Buhari?
I wouldn’t refer to his pronouncement, utterances and positions on specific policies as rhetoric. I believe, as an elder statesman and a former president, he is still drawing from the national purse and the country deserves to benefit from his insight, wealth of experience and wisdom. So, he is doing the right thing by coming out to speak on national issues, the growth of the nation and what ought to be done. Nigeria deserves to hear from him and he owes Nigeria that. Posterity will not forgive him if he should just keep quiet while certain things are not going well.
You contested the PDP national chairmanship shortly before you left the party. What is your view on the outcome of that election?
I don’t usually comment on the outcome of the election as such. I comment, when I have to do so, on the process and the implication for the future of democracy. I think quite a number of things went wrong and I made it clear to the party at that time. Before the convention itself, we knew certain things were unfolding; we drew their attention to them and they assured us that those things would be corrected. By the time they ran a very faulty process and so many violations occurred along the line, the trust was likely to be shattered and that was exactly what happened. And of course, the possibility of ever having full internal democracy became very dim because when you sacrifice certain principles in politics for your own convenience, the dangers are apparent.
Some of us have been in this struggle for a very long time to ensure the triumph of internal democracy, to ensure that due process is followed in our party in particular and, above all, that we stick not only to the principles of the party but also to the ideals of the party — the morals involved in it, justice, fairness, equity and of course the rule of law. So, I worried more about it. Anybody could have ended up becoming the national chairman and it wouldn’t have meant much to me because every legitimate member of the party at that time had legitimate rights, privileges and opportunities to vie for that position, and any of them could have been elected. If things had gone the way they should and someone else had been elected based on due process, fairness, justice and equitable handling of the relevant issues, it won’t have mattered to me, and I would have stayed back and given my support.
Now, you are in the Social Democratic Party. How did you choose that party?
We had a lot of consultations. We did research and consultations. We consulted widely across the board, all over the country, in every part. We consulted with our supporters and members of our group within the party and outside, and did considerable research pointing in the direction of a party through which we could fulfil our goals of internal democracy, good governance, good party management and principled leadership. Of course, we also believed that we will never tolerate impunity, imposition and those practices which will negate democratic processes and practices. So, the SDP, at the end of the day, won our hearts against all other options because of what it offered.
What is the ideology of the party?
The party’s ideology is social democracy. If you are a democrat, you believe in the people, and you believe that everything should revolve around the people, from A to Z. Whatever you’re planning, you should plan about the well-being and security of the individual, to meet the basic needs of the individual and (plan) how the individual should be given an enabling environment to let him or her actualise his or her potential. You can go about your duties without fear of molestation and without fear of being decimated again.
Are you saying you are satisfied with the level of internal democracy in the SDP?
Oh yes, it is being practised.
What is your view on restructuring?
I believe in restructuring. Nigeria’s problems are manifold. Part of this is the structure — the political structure, the economic structure and the social structure. Restructuring will enable every part of the country to be challenged, to become competitive and to do things in such ways that they are mindful of today and then they plan ahead. It will not be putting the nation along the path of dictatorship, either at the state level or the national level, so that there will be new opportunities for people to compete and of course for the potential of each group to be realised without being satisfied (complacent). It has a lot of opportunities.
In a federation, you do not see people going on strike in one corner of the country and it is affecting every other part of the country. It is not healthy for the nation. You see what is going on among the health workers now? And of course, when you go to the education sector, if there is a strike in one university, either in the South-East or North-West, everybody will down tools across the nation. No government is run that way that is not unitary.
In a federal set-up, it should be possible for workers in Lagos State to be earning different salaries from workers in Kwara State or Borno State. It should be possible for workers in Kaduna State to earn different salaries from workers in Ogun State, Ondo State or Ekiti State. When you have a situation where a vice-chancellor of a university in Lagos or Kano would be earning the same salary as a vice-chancellor of a university in a small state in some part of the country, where the cost of living is different and the resources of those institutions are not equal, I think it is unfair to Nigerians and the Nigerian nation. We should restructure in such a way that there is proper federalism.