Four-time Minister, Alabo Tonye Graham-Douglas, leader of the Ijaw, and politician has been former Commissioner and presidential aspirant on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Now a trustee of the party, the 73 year-old tourism ambassador spoke to CHUKS AKUNNA on life as a political appointee, the crisis rocking his party, and his thoughts on the Jonathan Presidency. Excerpts:
As a former Minister of Social Development, Youths and Sports, how do you feel about Nigeria’s victory at the just concluded AFCON championships?
Naturally I feel good. I feel fulfilled. It is a good thing for Nigeria, and a sign that Nigeria is once more on the path to greatness.
As Minister of Sports, you were credited with introducing the first foreign coach- Clemence Westerhof. Looking back, would you say that was a good decision considering that a local coach finally led our boys to Sunday’s victory?
When I brought in Westerhof, several people called for my crucifixion. They called me names. The heat was so much at the time that the NFF refused to release money to pay the Dutchman. But for one good-spirited Nigerian who believed in the potentials of our players and provided the money we used to pay Westerhof, the story could have been different. Looking back, it was an investment that paid off. Through Westerhof we were able to turn Nigerian, nay African, football around. We were able to convert and sell to the world the raw talents we had. Without Westerhof we probably wouldn’t have what many now call the golden period in Nigerian football. Such players as Jay-Jay Okocha, Sunday Oliseh, Nwankwo Kanu, Rashidi Yekini of blessed memory, Daniel Amokachi and others, who all went on to successful careers with various high-profile European clubs, are testimonies that my decision to bring in Westerhof was a good one. I commend our Super Eagles for bringing the coveted trophy home 19 years after we first did it. The coach, Steven Keshi deserves accolades for making us proud.
Prior to your appointment by General Ibrahim Babangida as Minister, you had held the same portfolio at the level of a commissioner in Rivers State, and hosted the first Rivers Carnival.
As minister, you hosted the first Abuja carnival, which has now become an international event. What has been your motivation?
I have always believed in culture as a vehicle for social engineering; as a tool for mass communication. When I mooted the idea to begin the Abuja Carnival, many persons, including my peers, scoffed at the idea. They didn’t believe in it. Many thanks to people like the then Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who supported with his private funds. We also had companies like Julius Berger, PW, Strabag that offered tremendous support. Like the proverbial acorn, the Abuja Carnival has grown into an international oak tree. We thank God.
What do you make of the growing army of prominent Ijaw ex- agitators openly criticizing the Jonathan administration? Does it mean that the centre can no longer hold for the Ijaw?
Ordinarily, this is one issue I would not want to comment on because we have our revered Chief Edwin Clark, the supreme leader of the Ijaw to comment on issues affecting us. However, since you couldn’t reach him, I would say that the Ijaw liberators- Ateke Tom, Boyloaf, Alhaji Asari Dokubo, Tompolo and a host of others are very reasonable young men. If they have grievances, it is for our leader to bring them together. Let me, however, quickly add that there is no crack in Ijaw nation. When people are angry or frustrated, such may drive them to the point of saying or doing things they never set out to say or do. The leader has waded into the matter and it is being resolved.
What about allegations of poor performance these agitators leveled against Jonathan? Are we to sweep them under the rug?
See, I am not unaware of the unfounded comments on the seeming inertia and lethargy on issues of governance. But we believe that as a technocrat, Jonathan is adopting a unique approach to governance. With the absence of the military flavour we are used to, we tend to misconcieve careful planning for lethargy. This is wrong. Some have even raised the issue of the East-West road. I tell them, Jonathan is a rational human being. He understands the importance of the road, and would not want the project to stall. He is transforming the power sector. Global financial institutions have given kudos to the administration for gains recorded in the economy. Even the so-called security challenge is being addressed. Nigerians want spontaneous metamorphosis. This is the problem.
You are both a founding member and trustee of the PDP. Given recent events, particularly the recent crisis that threatened your party, would you in all honesty say it’s the party of your dreams?
I will say this is not the PDP we envisaged. We formed the PDP as a movement with brotherly love to give Africa an example of political engineering and management. When we started in 1998, we knew ourselves and seriously guarded the party. When Dr. Alex Ekwueme expressed interest in the Presidency, the lot fell on Dr. Solomon Lar. He took over as chairman and leader of the party. He controlled the party, reminding one of the way Adisa Akinloye controlled the defunct NPN. The authority of the president and governors at the time was subservient to the national chairman’s. But, here, as time went on, Lar produced the president, governors and other top functionaries of government. Sadly, hardly had these officials done their first year than they became overwhelmed by inordinate ambition for a second term. They therefore began to stockpile money to seize the soul of the party. When in 1999 we were transiting from a military dictatorship to a democracy, something eluded us. We didn’t carry out a debriefing and de-indoctrinating of the people coming into government. We allowed a purely military man to become president. And this man knew only one way of doing things- a pseudo-dictatorial way at that. He carried on that way. In the states, governors took over from military administrators, inheriting their mentality. Consequently, you cannot in all fairness say we in Nigeria are operating a true democracy. This is partly to blame for the seeming imbroglio in the party and polity. But I believe that the Governors’ Forum, for instance, has no constitutional value. It’s just a club which over time has used the military mentality it built over time, to build up a parallel body to the presidency. Should the party be strong as it ought to be, I don’t see why the party cannot call an erring governor to order, or even suspend such governor if he fails to listen. He is there at the mercy of the party. If the party wasn’t considered supreme, people like Rotimi Amaechi won’t be governor today. The governors control everything in their states. Not satisfied, they control their zones, even determining who gets what at the federal level. They nominate ambassadors, federal board members, representatives in the National Assembly, and party national officers. This brings everybody in the states under the control and influence of these governors. With such a situation the loyalty of these nominees tend to be to their governors. This has led to a situation where the governors have hounded people they are not comfortable with out of the party. The party is supreme, and we must respect that.
Recently, your national chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur visited Governor Amaechi in what many considered a fence-mending mission. Is this visit the elixir to end all the crisis plaguing PDP?
I don’t know what you mean by a visit being an elixir. In any assembly of persons disagreements are bound to arise, so there cannot be any elixir to disagreements in life. That said, I want to state that there is nothing unusual about our chairman visiting Governor Amaechi. Is he not a member of our great party? Everything would have been unusual if the national chairman of a rival party had visited one of our governors.
Let us talk about your BoT. You have been unable to elect a chairman for this body of elders. What is the problem?
There is no problem. We are the founders of the party. The owners of the party. We, the founders, know ourselves. The various associations came together and fused with the G-34 to form PDP. The Board of Trustees was appointed. Few of us who were interested in the presidential ticket offered the initial money that started PDP. Later, others came and joined us. And they now seek to drive us from the house we built. This is wrong and cannot stand. We, members of the Board of Trustees, the owners, need not belabor ourselves with elections. We will decide amongst ourselves and choose a very senior member who is not only cerebral, but commands national and international respect and add value to the Jonathan Presidency.
Does this mean you already have an anointed candidate?
Not exactly. We have appointed the Jerry Gana committee to work out modalities and know who and who is running. But, whatever he does, we the owners of the party know ourselves. Those of us who founded the party will not allow a stranger to come and displace the original members.
Meaning a founding member is sure to lead the trustees?
Last week, three major political parties- ACN, ANPP and CPC agreed to work together to muster enough votes to unseat PDP at the national level in 2015. In your estimation, how dangerous is the APC alliance to PDP?
This is not the first time parties would be ganging up against PDP. Remember ACN used to be AD, and ANPP used to be APP? On its part, CPC was an offshoot of ANPP. It was formed by people who felt shut out of ANPP. APGA is even not part of it- at least officially. You ask, what was the strength of AD and APP in 1999? What is the strength of CPC, ACN and ANPP put together today? In any case, APC, which is an acronym for Armoured Personnel Carrier, can only cause the contraption to implode. Ask yourself, what is it that binds them? What divides them is stronger than what binds them. You wait until the nominations begin. CPC that has only one governor is still battling in court to determine who their candidates for an election that held in 2011 are! We in PDP shall continue to toil to deliver on our campaign promises. That is the reason people voted us into power. As far as I’m concerned, this alliance is dead on arrival. I foresee PDP winning more states and National Assembly seats in 2015. Mark my words.