Professor Abubakar Olarewaju Suleiman is the immediate past Minister for National Planning in the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, he is currently the Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Ex-Ministers’ Forum. In this interview with Head Politics, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM and KAYODE ADEOTI, the Ilorin-born lecturer of Political Science, speaks on his EFCC ordeal, his GRA residence, which was alleged to be from proceeds of embezzlement and state of the party in the state in the light of the ongoing reconciliation among other sundry issues. Excerpts.
After defeat of the party in the 2015 general elections, instead of strategising on getting it right, it seems the party has been in and out of crisis, what is really the issue?
The crisis in Kwara PDP can be viewed from different dimensions. First, it’s traceable to the build up of the 2015 gubernatorial election in the state. Secondly, it could be linked up to the kind of intra-party after sack of the then minister in 2015. There were so many people that aspired to be minister when the then Minister of Sports, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi was removed. Eventually, by God’s grace, I was appointed minister through the instrumentality of Alhaja Muinat Shagaya and some other stakeholders. Some of the members felt aggrieved that it should have been them. They felt why must a lecturer be appointed. Some even said I’m an opportunist. They never saw the hand of God in my appointment. I don’t blame them. They still bear that animosity and grudge against whosoever participated in the selection of the minister. The wound is still yet to be healed in their minds. And as such, they believe anywhere I belong; they must work against me. The primary in 2015 is another theory one could advance to explain the crisis. In the primary election, there were 13 contestants, some believe there was an attempt by some of us to impose candidate. They ganged up against the aspirant, Dele Belgore then and Senator Ajibola eventually emerged from the primary. We all tried, we worked for Ajibola but he couldn’t make. The man still believes he lost the election on the account of sabotage, he believes he would have won the election if we had all worked for him. I wouldn’t know where he got it from. The factor of religion is very serious in Kwara State politics, but where we have a profound popular Christian, he can make it. So combining so many variables together, which to me are negatives, he couldn’t make it. This faction still hold the grudge for whoever wants to aspire from the faction he believes did not support him in the election. The acrimony gathered momentum on account of these two issues in the past. As long as we don’t allow the wound to heal, it may be difficult for opposition in Kwara to have a smooth sailing to wrestle power from the ruling party in the state.
Do you think these theories have manifested in your travail with the EFCC
Absolutely, the joy demonstrated by some of our members, the conspiracy by some even with the EFCC officials all point to the confirmation of that theory. But I thank God, in the last one or two weeks, we have been making inroads in reconciliation.
(Cuts in)…but it seems the Supreme Court’s verdict has not really solve the problem in Kwara State?
I wouldn’t agree with that. After the Supreme Court’s judgement that gave positive ruling to Makarfi group; it has brought about so many developments in many states. Our steps towards success is not far, we must come together and work for a common goal. The caretaker committee set up at the centre has made the two factional chairmen to be relating well. I called Akogun on phone, we laughed and discussed so many issues, for the first time after so many months, I shook hands and embrace Yinka Aluko, Simeon Ajibola and the likes. It was not like that before, and for you to say the reconciliation move has not percolate down to Kwara, that is not right. With dissolution of the two factions now, we are in for a success. At least, we sit down together after a long time to draw the caretaker list. When we were one indivisible entity, we couldn’t face the character in Kwara not to talk of when we are divided.
What is now the outcome of the suit filed by Akogun group over the dissolution?
I wouldn’t want to discuss anything about that, I heard it the way you did too. But what the caretaker said is that the decision of the convention, according to the Supreme Court judgement is final on everybody. If anybody should go to court now challenging the decision of the party, it might ultimately end up in nullity.
Going forward, how do you think the PDP can present itself as a credible opposition in Kwara State?
Our members, especially we the gladiators should believe that only God gives and takes power. If we can develop that culture, it will help. It must sink into our senses. We should also believe we need one another in any political position we might be vying for. It is only when we are together that we can make meaningful inroads. We should believe again in leadership, whoever God has given the power to. Then we must learn to make sacrifices. As for me, I’m ready to make sacrifices. I have drawn out programmes to meet those perceived as my enemies one after the other, to pay them homage borne out of sincerity and conviction that we need one another in this journey towards liberation.
Your critics even among your party have accused you of amassing a lot of wealth in your short stay as a minister, that your GRA apartment in Ilorin was built from illicit proceeds?
Before I became a minister, I have a house in Abuja, is that part of government proceeds? And my family has produced three government directors at the federal level. Sulyman Ibrahim was a director of FCDE for years, Saka Ibrahim was Director Land FCDA also for many years. Dr. A.B Sulyman was a Director of National Health Planning for years. I’m not from a poor family; no family in Ilorin has that record of producing three Federal Directors. Some people don’t know all these; they think I’m an opportunist. If you have anything against me, you come with your records and facts. If your money is missing come out. They claimed I have hotel but I can’t do that because I’m a devoted Muslim. I have friends that are billionaires even from this state. If people are still so baffled about my rise, they should go and understand where I’m coming from. I keep on saying this; nobody has ever surpassed my achievement. I remain the shortest serving minister in the history of Kwara State. I spent just 10months, four days, I stand to be corrected, no minister has done what I did within that short time. I fix a lot of people up at the federal level. Many people who have lost their jobs, I brought them back. Kwarans that I got employment for are more than 60. In the area of capacity building, no fewer than 70 Kwarans left this land for China, South Korea for training. I came home with 250 empowerment forms for Kwarans. I’ve left office more than two years, today Kwara has a minister, what has he done? My record is unmatchable; this is because I know where shoes pinch some people.
Do you have any regret looking back as a minister?
When I was appointed, I knew I’m going to spend 10months so I gave myself the target on what and how to achieve some things and when I looked at what I was able to do, I am grateful to God.
Looking at the forthcoming local government election, what is your expectation even with the newly constituted caretaker committee?
I want to believe they are people of reputable characters. Looking at the chairman and the secretary, they are experienced hands. We have lost so many feet because of crisis and we don’t want to lose anything any longer
Are you not worried that the committee is chaired by an Ondo man with Kogi indigene as the secretary of the Kwara caretaker committee?
If you appoint anyone from Kwara, it will be perceived as either Akogun or Fagbemi faction. That is why they have to pick from the two states because they understand Yoruba. Don’t forget they won’t be staying for long; it will only be for two to three months. As long as KWSIEC conduct the election, opposition party will not have inroads. The party in place will not be stupid and allow oppositions to win. What we should do is to ensure we stay by our vote till the end. The Kwarans, pensioners who have not been collecting salaries should come out and vote.
As the Secretary of Ex-Ministers’ Forum, what does 2019 holds for the PDP?
APC came to power on account of conspiracy; it was not a political party. People of different background out of their animosity to get Jonathan out of power, not minding their divergent ideologies and principles worked together with the sole aim to send the then President out of office. What it takes to sustain the party is not there? What is the commonality between Buhari and Tinubu? One claimed to be fighting corruption, the second one is an epitome of corruption, what does Atiku and others have in common with Buhari? It is a marriage of incompatibles, it cannot last and that is why for the past two years, they have not had NEC meeting or BoT. They cannot fuse because they don’t abide by the party programmes, it is just a party of one man show with Buhari. Whether we like it or not, it wasn’t this bad under PDP, exchange rate wasn’t this bad. The number of deaths we have within APC’s two years governance has out-numbered that of 16 years of PDP. If you say you’ve liberated 15 villages, but people are still being killed by Boko Haram, Shekau is still alive. Herdsmen are still killing. Under this government, our health has not improved, that is why the President went abroad for medical treatment for over three months. Nigeria today is more divided than before. Buhari’s government see me as corrupt because I partook in the electoral process of my state, I received money for the election that was not government money but donation from party members for Jonathan’s re-election. The man that sold all the houses in Abuja, Rufai, is a saint, but the one who did not sell any, Bala Muhammed, is a sinner. Amaechi is a saint and any other person in Rivers State is a sinner.
Would you serve under APC government if you are considered?
On condition that the party starts to change all the negative narratives. I don’t see them offering me anything because we don’t have anything together but if it does, it must not be under this present situation, I will never accept it under the present circumstance.
How would you describe your days with EFCC?
Very interesting, I saw it coming and I was prepared for it. When Buhari took over government, I was the first person to issue a stern warning to him that he should form a government. But afterwards, he started messing up; peddling lies against Jonathan, I took him up on that challenge. I said his government was nothing but a deception. He was fighting vendetta. They mounted pressure on me to stop but I said they can’t kill me. Instead of asking me to come over to APC, they decided to take me to court and parade me as a thief. Also, the election money given to us, has it been traced to government coffers, they said the money was a proceed of an illicit money, how? It was never government money. Nigeria should ask Buhari if he fears God. The characters in EFCC are just doing Buhari’s biding. Instead of damping my moral, it further energises me, my spirit is more lifted than before and we are going to fight until Buhari government stop despotic practise
Are you disappointed with how you are treated by your party back home over your travail?
The treatment I got in Kwara State from my party is another height of injustice. Rather than some of them showing comradeship, they never did. Even when we went to court, it is only one faction that was with us, the other one said it is our cross, we should bear it, they didn’t do well but we’ve put it behind us to forge ahead.
There has been issue that you are supporting Fagbemi faction of the party because you want him to field you for the guber race in 2019
I never gave Fagbemi kobo but I gave Akogun, the crisis and my role in it has nothing to do with my ambition, hence God gives power, if it is my destiny that I will be governor one day, nobody can stop me, I have risen up to the position of a minister, and if people beckon on me to attempt it of course, I will do but it is not in my agenda. What have I not gotten to qualify me, what has any other person got over me? My agenda now is to get the party in place, a formidable mechanism in place, to be united as a party.
Would you advice Fagbemi and Oyedepo to sacrifice the chairmanship seat for peace to reign in the party?
If the popular opinion is that they shouldn’t go again, they will have no option. I don’t have anything against them vying for the seat. If they are interested, why not?