Former Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu, recently sat down for an interview with Premium Times where he he talked about politics, 2015 elections and reasons why ex-president, Goodluck Jonathan lost the presidential elections.
I remember your strong support for late Yar’adua when he came. You wanted people to see him as the best for this country. You even formed the Northern Elders Forum to rally support for him.
Mantu: No, you are not correct. What happened was that when Yar’Adua was sick and we went to a BoT meeting, some people said Yar’Adua’s illness was taking too long and the BoT should pass a resolution asking the Federal Executive Council to resolve that he was no longer in a position to carry out his duties.
I didn’t see any reason for that because as far as I was concerned, the crafters of the Constitution provided for the office of the vice president because of a situation in which the President may be sick or is not able to carry out his duties. There is nowhere in the Constitution of Nigeria that prohibits the Vice President from carrying out the responsibilities of the President when he cannot carry out his responsibility.
When Yar’Adua was sick was when Jonathan deployed soldiers to Plateau when we had crisis there. And every Wednesday, they would announce that they had awarded contracts worth billions. So, if a Vice President could spend money and deploy soldiers anywhere, what kind of power were you looking for again? I did not support the idea that because Yar’Adua’s illness was taking longer than necessary, he should be removed or impeached. He didn’t invite the illness to himself.
Then again because of personal ambition, there were people who wanted Goodluck to be President so they could become Vice President. That was it. Those were the people causing confusion. Otherwise, there is nowhere in the Constitution that denied the Vice President acting as the President in the absence of his boss. There is no limit to his power. A Vice President can do anything when the President is away. That’s why when Atiku and Obasanjo were still together in their first term, as soon as Atiku saw Obasanjo off at the airport and he took off, Atiku knew he was in charge.
So why did we have to look for a doctrine of necessity which does not even have constitutional backing. So like the third term project, people overheated the polity. We must never allow personal interests to becloud our sense of objectivity and patriotism.
But you then got close to Jonathan at a point, especially through your PDP Reloaded Group. Is it that you have a way of quickly adjusting to any government in power?
Mantu: That’s very good. The PDP Reloaded was meant to get organs of government to do the right things. It was not set up for Goodluck neither did he ask us to set it up.
We were talking about good governance. And as an elder statesman who has benefited from democracy, anytime I see democracy being threatened I feel very worried because I know what we went through. I remember 1989 when I was a founding father of Liberal Convention. They said the party must be grassroots-based. We took our association to even beyond the grassroots. The day they asked us to bring our documents to the electoral commission in Lagos, as the secretary of the operations committee, I went with seven lorries of documentations. But Babangida said the transition programme had given birth to two parties – SDP and NRC. Ojo Madueke was our national secretary. I was the operations secretary and midwifed everything. Michael Ibru gave us his office at Victoria Island near the Federal Place Hotel in Lagos. We were there with Ikimi (Tom) and co.
Liberal Convention was like a wildfire. But at the end of the day, Babangida said a little to the left, a little to right and gave birth to SDP and NRC. And later we found ourselves in NRC. I have seen a lot. I started politics in 1978. And people say military rule is no longer possible. But see Egypt. Nothing is impossible. The only prevention is good governance.
I didn’t go to the Villa throughout Jonathan’s tenure except when I went for BoT meetings.
As a seasoned politician, how come you didn’t see Jonathan was going to lose the election?
Mantu: I knew now. Did you see me there? If I had not known, you would have seen me neck deep in the campaign. At least, I am not a small player in the PDP.
But you didn’t speak out that the party should choose a different candidate.
Mantu: I didn’t have to go to the market square. When I sat down as an elder, I sent memos to Jonathan himself. Some of us were seen as prophets of doom. Because we gave good advice, they sidelined me. They didn’t want to see some of us. I am not a soothsayer but I know what can happen in a party in which I am a member. I told people we were wasting our time. Many people disagreed. They thought it would be business as usual. I could see clearly that the God of justice would not allow it to happen. When you play God, God will tell you “I am power and I give it to anybody I wish.”
If you are to put it in simple terms, why did Jonathan lose?
Mantu: Jonathan lost because he refused to work with people who know the game. Most of the people Jonathan worked with were mediocres and amateurs. At a point in time, he even left the party machinery and employed some consultants to work for him.
Are you talking about Transformation Ambassadors Nigeria, TAN?
Mantu: I don’t know. There are many of them. They came to Eagle Square and said they have 75 million signatures. Where were the 75 million people when we were voting? Politics is a grassroots game. When you don’t use your structure at the grassroots, you will lose. How many people watch television? Those that have don’t have light. So, when you say you are using television to campaign, you are wasting your time. Campaign is at the grassroots level.
PDP is engulfed in some kind of leadership crisis now. Where is the party heading?
Mantu: You know the party has internal resolution mechanism. In the last few days, it was as if we were parallel lines and would never meet. The BoT, NWC, Governors’ Forum, Former Ministers’ Forum had different positions. National caucus had different position. But eventually, the national caucus and the NWC had common position. Yesterday, there was a meeting of representatives of all these organs and we were able to arrive at a consensus. We agreed that the best thing for us is to go to convention. We agreed to conduct a proper convention in three months.
So, since convention is around the corner, we agreed Ali Modu Sherrif should remain Chairman; after all, the arrangement was that he was coming to complete the North East tenure. This time around, I believe the chairman is coming from the South, but I don’t know which part of the South. North East term ends at the convention; so, we don’t have to tear ourselves apart.
What was it that worked for APC during the election that didn’t work for PDP?
Mantu: People were already tired of PDP. PDP was suffering from hangover, fatigue. Sixteen years in power uninterrupted is not easy in a country like Nigeria. Then, PDP became over drunk with power. We were staggering. We missed our road. We were no longer respecting the people. Virtually everywhere, APC votes came from PDP members who were angry with the party.
What do you make of the present government?
Mantu: You see it is too early to assess because as far as I am concerned you need to give government time. It has not even spent up to one year out of four years. You must give the government at least two years. You can be saying negative things about this government now. Initially, there is always pain in starting anything.
On the issue of corruption, to me, all hands must be on deck. It is our biggest problem. It is our cankerworm.
What are you up to as a politician now that you are out of office?
Mantu: I just want the best for this country. So far so good. For me at this age, God has done so much for me. I have been in politics since 1978, I held party positions and became a Senator, and of course, Deputy President of the Senate. You know my dream was to be a Senator, to be member of the highest lawmaking body in my country. Little did I know that I was going to be Deputy Senate President. If I die today and my body lies here, you will write and say this is the body of former Deputy Senate President. So God has done everything for me. That’s why I can’t keep silent because I have a good house, I live in comfort and so on. So, once you are a senior citizen you must continue to contribute to efforts to make the country better until you breathe no more.
In those days, when we began this game, it took them seven months to beg me to contest election in my place. That was 1978/79. In those days what they looked for was who was helping the community. As far back as 1974, I built a primary school in my village. From my village to the village where there was school, it was 14 kilometres to go and return. So, I used to walk 14 kilometres every day to go to school. So when I started making money in 1974, I said never again should children from my village go through what I went through and I built classes 1-4 for them. When they got to class 4, I added classes 5 and 6.
Is the school still there?
Mantu: Not only that, I have added secondary school when I was Senator. Many of my students are in Canada, America doing all sorts of things. My ultimate ambition is to build a university. This is the area I want to impact because you must always think of what you will be remembered for when you are gone. Use your money to build schools, hospitals.
Are you likely to contest election again?
Mantu: I cannot say no or yes. Politicians are always politicians. Then, you leave everything to God. You didn’t create yourself. Even If I were President of Nigeria today, what could I eat in the Villa that I could not eat here? Except you bring food from another planet. I see any position as opportunity to make selfless service. If you see it that way, if it comes; fine, if it does not come; it is still fine. But if you want to use office to amass wealth and become rich like Dangote, you will be worried if you don’t get it. That’s why they take it as matter of life and death.
One more question before we go. How did you feel when you were defeated by a relatively unknown Sati Gogwim in 2007?
Mantu: Let me tell you, even before that one, I lost and won some elections before I came to the Senate. When I contest elections, my policy is that I buy a cow and say prepare meat for us. If we win or lose, we celebrate. So they call me “win-celebrate”. I have always seen this thing as a game. In the case of being defeated by an unknown entity, I knew what happened. But believe me each time I look for something and I don’t get it, I kneel down and I thank my God. If God had wanted me to get something, no man can stop me. I didn’t contest against Sati. Those that stopped me were the highest powers but God wanted it that way. People expected me to go to tribunal. I didn’t write any petition. I could have won at the tribunal because I had a very good case, but I did not do that because power belongs to God. If God wanted you to have it, God would not give them power to rig.
But what happened? The person that took over from me, they brought the worse nonentity than himself against him. In the primary, they were taking money from the man that defeated me to give his opponent in the primary. Subsequently, people have been coming to beg me but I say I don’t make a repeat journey. In conclusion, I don’t see anything as matter of life and death.