|Atiku: I Have Stopped Functioning As VP, So
THE GUARDIAN Sunday, December 24, 2006
Just before he showed up
at the convention of the Action Congress (AC) at Tafawa Balewa Square, Lagos,
last Wednesday, where he was adopted as the party presidential candidate, Vice
President Atiku Abubakar agreed to meet with The Guardian team at his Ikoyi
Crescent home, Lagos strictly for only 15 minutes. A crowd of politicians was
massing up in the vast premises to engage him.
The appointment was for 9am. He, however, took
position about two hours later and spent a few more moments, apologising for
appearing late. He said, "I returned this morning" (apparently from high wire
He was calm and collected. There was a determination
to advance full length in the battle at hand. "So what? Have I been functioning
as a vice president?" he thundered in reply to a question. In other words,
threats by the Presidency to declare his office vacant if he leaves the PDP for
another party (which he has done) do not bother him.
Resolute is the word. His voice rose, dropped and
stabilised to create a rhythm of anger, laughter and aloofness in his narration.
He is on a self-appointed mission: to recover Nigeria's fledgling democracy from
Essentially, he sees himself too deep in the mess to
be unduly cautious. No question was parried as such from The Guardian team of
AKPO ESAJERE, EHICHIOYA EZOMON, ABRAHAM OGBODO AND ALABI WILLIAMS.
THE relationship between you and
President Obasanjo has gone really bad. When did you two begin to fall
It started before and shortly after the nomination
process in year 2003. I had never, all along, believed in the characterisation
of the President as unforgiving, vindictive until now. I remember when I
mobilised the governors during the re-nomination exercise in 2003, to come with
me to meet the President and support his candidacy at House No 7. He asked the
governors to be frank and be sincere with him, to open up and let him know their
minds. A few of them spoke about his un-forgiveness and his vindictive
The President denied being unforgiving and gave
examples of families he disagreed with in the past, particularly in the
Southwest where he mentioned the family of Chief Awolowo. He said he had
forgotten and forgiven everything and that was why he appointed the daughter (of
Awolowo) as an Ambassador. He gave other instances and said he could not be
described as somebody, who could be said to be un-forgiving.
There were, of course, other governors, who described
him as not being marketable and so on. I thought that after speaking frankly and
clearing all the doubts in our minds, we had put it behind us and it was all
But unfortunately, that was not to be the case
post-2003. First of all was the unfolding of the issue of life presidency and
tenure elongation, by making sure that every responsibility I held were taken
over; by making sure that all my staff were fired; making sure that I had no
budget in my office. Even when I wanted to fuel my cars, sometimes, I had to go
begging in his office. Sometimes, I had to do with spending my own (money). But
I still went along because I am very familiar with the provisions of the
Constitution. The Vice President really depends on the President.
Of course, I had to come out openly and publicly to
declare my stand on the issue of constitutional amendment. It was done out of
pure patriotism and for the love that I have for this country. I have always
placed this love first before every other thing. I felt it was not in the best
interest of this country, nor in the best interest of democracy. And I came out
to speak against it.
One cannot say my position was based on selfishness.
No, it was a principled stand and that has characterised all my decisions since
I joined politics. Remember that in the 1992/93 primaries in Jos, I declared my
stand based on principles.
And even in 1999, if I wanted to run for the
presidency, I had the whole of the PDP in my hands. I was deciding who was to go
for which office. I handled everything even before the President came in. So, if
it were an issue of selfishness, I would have put myself in a strategic
I believe that the real point of departure between the
President and I was over the issue of constitutional amendment.
The PDP and the President say that they
will declare your office vacant if you were to come out as a presidential
candidate in the Action Congress (AC). What is your reaction to that?
I am not aware of that statement.
Constitutionally speaking, will it not
amount to your vacating office if you declared on the platform of another
They cannot invoke any section of the Constitution
because that section of the Constitution is not even available for them to
You know lawyers hardly agree on anything. I have more
than 10 legal opinions on this matter. And they are all foremost constitutional
lawyers, and if there is anything they have agreed, it is that there is simply
nothing anybody can do with my declaration because I have decided to pick a
ticket to contest the next election on the platform of another party.
Whatever provision of the Constitution on this matter
does not cover President, the Vice and the Governors. What they are always
alluding to is the section that applies to the members of the National Assembly.
They also allude to what they call joint ticket. That one does not apply
because, even in the Second Republic, we had cases that went up to the Supreme
Court. There was the case of the Governor of Borno State, who left the GNPP
(Great Nigeria Peoples Party) and contested under the UPN (Unity Party of
Nigeria) and he remained in office and the case went up to the Supreme Court. It
was a determined case.
So, whatever claim anybody makes is not backed by law
and we have legal consultants, who have enlightened me on that.
But that is not to say that we should not expect a
government and a party that is lawless, like the PDP, to try certain things.
After all, they have expelled me from the PDP. So what?
'They Don't Have The Numbers To Impeach Me'
WHEN did you cease, technically, to be a
member of the PDP?
I ceased to be a member of the PDP, technically, by
the time they conducted the membership re-validation exercise. I went to my ward
(in Adamawa State), where I was supposed to be registered by my ward chairman.
He was not available and I was just given an ordinary register to write my name.
I came back (to Abuja) and called the President. I
said, 'this is the way I was treated. I saw the way you were treated in your own
ward. See how I was treated in my own ward.'
He (President) started with bravado, called the (PDP
national) chairman and howled some order. Immediately, the chairman came to my
office, and brought a new registration card. The person, who signed the card on
behalf of my ward chairman, was the National Auditor (of the PDP) and the
person, who signed on behalf of my ward secretary, was my Deputy Chief of Staff.
But the constitution of the PDP is very clear: that
you will be registered in your ward and the chairman and secretary are the ones
to sign. That is the position of the constitution of the PDP. But they gave me a
card that was signed by the national auditor and my deputy chief of staff, who
are not members of my ward executive. Technically, I was holding an invalid PDP
card and from there, I knew they were up to something.
So, it is a very simple and straightforward thing. If
they really wanted to re-register me, they would have instructed the Adamawa
State executive to bring my ward chairman together with the register of the
ward. Then, I would know that PDP wanted me to be a bonafide and valid member. I
ceased to be a member legally and according to the PDP constitution from then
on. So, what are they talking about?
What then is the basis of your going to
court to challenge your suspension from the party?
The basis was to prove law and order. Unless we behave
within the rule of law, we will be in chaos. The basis is that in the
constitution of the PDP, there is no basis for a re-registration. It is one
simple registration. But this is a party that believes in lawlessness. The PDP
does not believe in the rule of law. It is most unfortunate that this type of
party is governing us. I hope Nigerians will make a change.
Was the PDP always like this?
No, this is not the PDP we formed. In this you need to
come to PDP NEC and witness the robust debate. But now, nobody talks at NEC. It
is only the leader of the party and chairman, who make pronouncements; nobody
talks. And then you now have the hired members, who would now chorus, yes, yes!
No more debate.
It is said that you have been so badly
damaged in the public domain that you cannot reasonably go for election.
You cannot take away the rights of Nigerians to decide
who is to be elected. For somebody to come out and say that I am damaged, let me
ask, who is not damaged in this country? You must respect the rights of the
voters. Let me have the opportunity to present myself to the voters and let them
Look at what is happening in the United States, with
reference to Congressman Jefferson. With the entire bribery allegation and all
the exhibits recovered, he ran for election and his constituency voted him. And
when they asked Congresswoman Herman, she said she respects the rights of the
voters to determine whom they want. But it is also the responsibility of the
Justice Department to do their work.
This is how it should be. It should be the right of
Nigerians to decide whom they want to elect. It is not the right or duty of a
commentator or analyst to sit down and say somebody is damaged. You should
respect the sense of judgment of voters to decide.
Back to your decision to leave the PDP
for another party. Threats have been issued that even if you refused to resign,
it would be made impossible for you to function.
I have already stopped functioning. What is your
problem? I have already stopped functioning as a VP. There is a time in the life
of a man when you have to take a decision.
Look, I cannot be impeached because of this. If you
remove me by force, I will go to the court. You cannot jail me because I have
not committed any offence. Go to any court of law today and I tell you that I
have not committed any offence. So, what is this? The worse you can say today is
that I am no longer the Vice President. So what? Can't I take a decision in my
life at a point in time?
I hear this arrant boy say if not because of his
immunity, I would jail him. It is not the responsibility of the EFCC to jail me.
It is the responsibility of the court to jail me if I have done something wrong.
I am prepared to face the court.
Have you contemplated being impeached,
if they actually mean business and want you out?
They don't have the numbers. We (the President and I)
may end up being impeached altogether.
Given that Gen. Muhammadu Buhari has
picked the ANPP ticket, will the ANPP/AC alliance still be effective to confront
the PDP? Will there be some point of convergence between you and
I don't worry; time will tell. You don't
There are fears in certain quarters that
given your soured relationship with the President, if you make it to the
Presidency you would jail him?
No, not at all! I will have no business to do with
such things. There are too many serious things to do for this country. We have
lost so much time and there is so much work to do. I won't have that kind of
time. We don't have to look back.
What actually happened that weekend when
you suddenly moved your family out of Aso Rock?
I don't want to talk about that. Let's put it behind
us for now. A time will come when I will talk about it.
'They Tried Psychological Warfare On Me, They
BACK to the period of the 2003
nomination. It was said that you almost upstaged the President and that your
campaign had been put at alert?
There was no campaign; I did not have any campaign
plans. All what I had was the pressure by the governors. There was no campaign
by me, I did not have a campaign office and I did not ask anybody to campaign
It was really the pressure from the governors, who
wanted me to run against the President. I reasoned and told them that it was not
in our national interest, and that the South had just assumed power for only
four years. I said it would not be in the best interest of the country for us to
have the power moved only after four years. And I still stand by it. What ever
has happened to me because of that decision I accept it, but I still believe in
what I did.
Could you still count on the support of
They still remain my friends; many of them still
remain my personal friends.
Politically, they have been so cowed; they are scared.
They have been threatened; they are blackmailed and intimidated.
Look, there was a time during this Jefferson case that
they used so much psychological warfare against me, to the extent that even the
National Security Adviser (Muhktar) was in London together with the President
and he called me. He said: "Vice President, we hear you are going to the United
States." I said yes! He said: "As the National Security Adviser, I don't want to
embarrass you because we have got report that you will be embarrassed when you
get to the United States." I said thank you very much, Security Adviser and I
put off my phone.
I knew it was a psychological warfare and I said I was
prepared to go and face law enforcement agents in the United States because I
didn't commit any crime. I went into my aircraft and left for the United States.
When I got to the United States, the reception I got
was like that of a President. I had a motorcade that picked me from the airport
right to my house. Before, the motorcade would take me from the airport through
the outside gate to my house. But this time, they took me right from the airport
to my house. I'm not bothered by such psychological warfare.
What remains of the PDM, with the
governor of Katsina State, Umar Yar'Adua picking the ticket of the
I don't know why you keep asking this question. I have
said that the Governor of Katsina State was never a member of the PDM. He came
out to say that he was never a member of the PDM. So, the PDM remains intact,
and I am not aware of one single member of the PDM, who is with the Governor of
You arrived in Lagos on Tuesday in a
chartered flight. Why did you not come in your official aircraft?
Because it is a private thing. Normally, this
President has made it in such a way that any where I had to go, I had to put up
an application in writing, to get permission to travel and also to get
permission to use the presidential plane, even though that aircraft was
specifically appropriated by the National Assembly for use of the Vice
Unfortunately, I made up my mind to come to Lagos and
the President was not in town. I am too eager to go back to my normal life as a
Nigerian. I have been chartering aircraft as back as 1982. I was still in the
Customs and somebody even petitioned President (Shehu) Shagari that I owned an
Since 1999, how many times have you
hired an aircraft?
This is about the third time.
Can you say that you have remained loyal
to President Obasanjo from 1999 till now and he is just paying you back in this
measure for no good reason?
You have done so much paper work in
terms of what you want to do for Nigeria. Could you sum up on what your policy
is all about?
My philosophy is just to work for Nigeria for the rest
of my life.
Don't you feel betrayed?
When you have to deal with human beings, you must give
room for that. Human beings that even betrayed their God, who created them? So,
who is man not to feel betrayed?