By BEN LAWRENCE
Alex Ekwueme, former vice president, waxed eloquent when he discussed Nigeria recently, especially when he exposed how the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was hijacked for ill. Ekwueme certainly cannot be a wholly happy man today because of a collective dream dashed by political buccaneers.
The party he joined to form and for which he risked being eliminated or gaoled for when it was being conceived, with the spectre of the almighty military staring glaringly the nation in the face, really has lost its saltness. The PDP was not formed by political rascals and contractors. It came after years of building consensus across Nigeria by some of the most patriotic men and women who had watched Nigeria crash from the height of an emerging industrial nation to the depths of dependency.
And the party did not start with the death of General Sani Abacha and his succession by General Abdulsalami Abubakar who consented to hand over to civilians. Its life started from the days progressive politicians across the five main parties of the Second Republic were clamped in jail rightly or wrongly by the corrective regime of General Muhammadu Buhari.
Among the younger generation of the politicians in prison who believed the fortunes of Nigeria must not be left to the jackboots of the military then, were Bola Ige, Adamu Ciroma, Bamanga Mohammed Tukur, Alex Ekwueme, Solomon Lar, Abubakar Rimi, Lateef Kayode Jakande, Sam Mbakwe, Audu Ogbeh, Barkin Zuwo and many others. They got an older progressive, Michael Ajasin to be the arrowhead of this new dream.
Those of them like Ige, Ciroma, Jakande and Tukur operated as unofficial administrative secretaries, cobbling what eventually became a group, an alternative to the military. And when they were released from detention by General Ibrahim Babangida, they ensured there would be no vacuum whenever the military left.
They did not conceive of an ultra-capitalist system the hijackers of their dream have imposed on Nigeria, because from their youths they had watched Nigeria being raised from a rural society to an emerging industrial giant by the funding fathers of this nation, operating a mixed economy. So it will hurt many of them who have survived the last 13 years of civilian dictatorship, foisted by General Olusegun Obasanjo, to see Nigeria collapsing like a pack of cards in the midst of plenty.
After Abubakar gave the ‘go ahead’ for parties to be formed all these men with their allies who did not suffer incarceration, banded to pursue that dream they nursed from prison. Among those outside who joined were Ayo Adebanjo, Lam Adesina (both were very active outside), Tunji Otegbeye, Sunday Awoniyi, Jerry Gana, Ezekiel Ume-Ezeoke, Professor Ango Abdullahi, Professor Sule Kumo, Aliyu Hayattu and others.
This is why the PDP has had no direction since one soldier released from military calaboose seized political power. If one may use the language of this soldier’s best friend, Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, while describing the accident on the scene after January 15, 1966, “he has not the stomach of the revolution”.
So those who were involved in that dream must of necessity bleed in their hearts now and would cease not to fight for the soul of their party.
And one thinks this is why Tukur, a major participant in realising that project, is putting himself forward to lead the rescue team to recover the soul of the PDP. Tukur is not an idle talker and he has in his support fellow patriots who midwifed the birth of the party.
The party has been grievously scandalised by the hijackers and it is often now associated with corruption in all forms to which men of goodwill will not want to be identified. Election rigging, assassinations, bad governance and all sorts of scams are now associated with the party, if revelations from probes and the courts are guides to its irrelevance in the scheme of things.
But there are still people with noble minds who believe the party could still be restored to the promise of their dream. And Tukur is clearly one of them.
Tukur refused to be annoyed out of the party when Obasanjo was toying with its destiny. He once told me in the presence of his friend, Isyaku Ibrahim, veteran journalist, that “nobody can divorce me from my dream,” meaning PDP.
Tukur’s exposure in the world of bureaucracy, politics and business has sparked a fire of Africanism and blackism in him. While he believes in the brotherhood of the human race, he feels the dark skin is not being accorded its deserved respect because of the way African leaders have sold their integrity for a meal of pottage.
The two ways, he believes, black people can break away from this odium of humiliation by the other races are to excel in science and business, built on strong state institutions.
Nigeria, being the most populous black nation in the world, should provide the vanguard of this crusade that will draw Africans in diaspora to the continent from which they were torn from their roots, he always has advocated.
Tukur is committed to the rise of the Blackman to recognition in the world. He thinks it is achievable by building strong political, social and economic structures that will guarantee and compel all citizens to be stakeholders in the project. He has always believed that the PDP can offer a pedestal to realising this goal if the initial dream of pioneers of the party is rekindled.
Tukur has sacrificed from the onset for the party. It was his compound on Airport Road, Abuja, that was used as the headquarters of the party from his formation until after it won the presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He did not charge any rent during this period. He as one of the main backers of Obasanjo (perhaps, the only mistake we all made) until that man ditched those whose backs he rode to power.
Tukur’s profile should help to change the opinions of Nigerians about the PDP.
Tukur, for example, changed a former docile, conservative economic group to a major player in the world of business. The Africa Business Roundtable has for the past eight years been inevitable in major political and economic spheres on the continent. Thanks to Tukur who had chaired the organisation and had made it relevant to blacks all over the world in the past seven years.
He is described fondly in international forums as “president without country” because he talks directly with world leaders on major global problems.
Must one repeat the antecedent of a man who as general manager of the then bubbling and booming Nigerian Ports Authority, built four new ports within two years, a project described by former United States President Jimmy Carter as a world record.
Tukur is a ship magnate and industrialist who early in life owned a candle factory and many other businesses. A former state governor in the Second Republic and an ex-federal minister, his relationship cut across tribal, regional, economic and social boundaries in Nigeria.
Tukur is a Nigerian of no mean address whose personality will bring back the halo with which the PDP bathed at its inception.
(Lawrence is a former managing editor, Daily Times Group.)