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We will not allow those who have left the party to fly our flag – Alkali

Rufa’i Ahmed Alkali, a professor, is the national chairman of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP). In this monitored interview on the Channels Television Sunrise Daily program on Tuesday, September 27, 2022, he spoke on a number of issues concerning his party, including the preparation for the 2023 general election. ZEBULON AGOMUO brings the excerpts:

Recently, Senator Ibrahim Shekarau left your party back to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), how has that affected your party?

The party is on. He left alone; nobody went with him. The party remains strong.

You keep on saying the left alone?

Yes. He left alone.

You mean all his supporters are still in NNPP?

Yes. When I went to Kano recently, his in-law, who is marrying his daughter, is still with the NNPP. He did not go with him. He joined the NNPP with Senator Shekarau, but he did not leave with him. Politics is about choice, Mallam Shekarau has made his own choices, but I know that those choices are not the best choices for him because he is highly respected in Kano; he should have stayed on and work for the Nigeria project now; he opted out for his own reasons.

So, what was the bone of contention; you heard what he said that there was no agreement and all that?

It is a question of interest. So, that’s why I said that the party does not want to go into all this unnecessary altercation and argument. It is a question of choice. You don’t force someone to be in a political party.

He was in APC before he came to us, he decided to leave us and go to another party; there is nothing wrong with that.

How is his movement to PDP a bad choice?

Honestly, I think, if you understand where we are; two years ago, we looked at Nigeria; we looked at the political parties and we reviewed, analysed all of them and we decided that as preparation for 2023 comes, most of these political parties, practically the two big ones will collapse, and will find it sufficiently difficult to put their house in order. Look at what is happening. So, I will not leave a party that is stable, highly organised, highly focused and go into a party where the members are fighting each other deadly.

When you say the two parties will collapse; do you think they will still collapse?

I don’t know; or when I said the parties would collapse, people are thinking they are going to collapse like a building on top of everybody. No. But is it how these parties started?

But you have seen different political parties have terrible issues that the whole country thought they were going to collapse, but they were managed?

Yes, they were managed. What is happening in the PDP right now is almost akin to what happened in 2013 when some governors during election convention just walked out of the convention and since then the PDP has been having problems. Now, the same thing is happening again in the party. Some governors who have also been working for the party; sacrificing for the party; and some former governors are moving out of the PDP. These are the faces that you are seeing outside; you don’t know those that are behind them.

As it stands now; hasn’t the strength of the NNPP in Kano State been whittled down with what is happening now in relations to the exit from the party of Shekarau?

At all. May be, you don’t understand the Kwankwaso phenomenon in Nigeria, not only in Kano. This is a man who has built a career of helping people for a long time; any where he goes, you see his footprints. He is also very principled. He takes hard decisions; difficult decisions. When he realised that the journey is no longer moving very well; he takes hard decisions no matter how difficult it is. He takes the leadership. That is how we were able to form the National Movement and moved on to NNPP.

Last year, about this time nobody would have given you a chance that you are talking about the NNPP, but today we are here; we are everywhere; we have our people moving around. If you have been following the movements he has been making for over the past 30 to 40 days now, you would have noticed that the country has changed; the party has changed. He is doing it quietly and systematically without making a noise.

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I thought that people needed to see what the party is doing in order to accept it; if he is doing it quietly, how would people see it?

Oh, saying that the movement is quietly does not mean we are not there on the ground. In all the states that our presidential candidate, Mallam Kwankwaso has visited you see unprecedented reception. People are coming from everywhere to receive the guest. A few days ago he was in Katsina; I hope you saw the huge crowd. We are not saying is movements are silent, but since the campaigns had not started at the time those visits were made that’s why they were silent.

As of now, Shekarau’s name is still being listed as a senatorial candidate under NNPP. Isn’t that odd?

It is very odd. You know, the laws are made for men, we are not made for laws. There must have been some lacuna in the Electoral Act; the principle is that anybody who dies or voluntarily withdraws from contest can be substituted; that was the principle we know but after his name was submitted to the INEC, and he withdrew; and he even wrote a formal letter to INEC and informed them and he also wrote a letter to us that he has withdrawn his candidature and withdrew his membership from the NNPP.

Obviously, you cannot force somebody to be a member of a political party and you register for election under out platform. So, we communicated to the INEC and they said No; that it is only death that can now compel them to remove his name. So, we are still exploring what options to make sure that our slot for Kano Central district is restored to us.

Does that option include going to the court to ensure that the provisions are complied with?

It is a legitimate option; because even INEC; if for example their hands are tied and they cannot do anything; the option is to go to the court.

Are you saying that the INEC position at the moment is that someone cannot withdraw if he is no longer a member of a party or that a party cannot apply for substitution if the person who was to be its candidate leaves the party?

So far, that is the impression we are getting as a party, but I don’t want to talk about this in the press. Like I said earlier, if their hands have been tied by the Electoral Act, so be it; but we would not want that seat to be left vacant, and you find that during election you see Ibrahim Shekarau appearing as a member of our party, it will be very odd. It will even be an embarrassment for the INEC. There is also a similar case in Taraba; and another in Yobe where a deputy governor resigned at the last minute and joined another political party. I know that INEC is doing a lot of work. There is no way a governor can run with one leg; there must be a substitution of the deputy governor that has resigned. The National Assembly should have to take a look at that section of the Act once again.

Is INEC maintaining the same stance both in the Taraba and Yobe cases?

Yes. There is no way a governorship candidate can run alone. The law does not permit that. He must run with a mate.

Prof; one of the provisions of the Electoral Act is this as attributed to the head of the legal department in the INEC in Kano State, Suleiman Tahir, when he was taken up on this issue we are discussing now; he said: “The new electoral law said once your name was initially displayed, before displaying the final list, a candidate will write INEC officially, attach his photos, notifying the INEC (his/her) withdrawal from the contest, or in the event someone dies. These are the only two instances one can withdraw once his name was initially displayed. Mr Shekarau did not do any of the above.” In this case, I am wondering if it was something the NNPP saw validity in discussing with him so that this angle of the provision of law will also be met?

I read this in the Newspapers that the state REC in Kano mentioned something that Senator Shekarau did not write to the INEC and did not indicate to them that he was resigning; but I am surprised because he is talking from Kano but the secretariat of the party is talking to the headquarters and we have the letter from Senator Shekarau which was first sent to our state chairman in Kano; which he also personally brought to the INEC. Well, the fact of the matter is that we have written to the INEC; we have told them about our position and our intention to replace our candidate in Kano. We cannot leave it vacant.

Assuming your party goes to court and the court says since the law cannot be amended now; should the candidate of the NNPP be declared winner of the Senatorial district and it carries the name of Ibrahim Shekarau, what happens?

Well, he cannot claim it legitimately because he abandoned it even before the elections. Definitely, he cannot reap from where he has not sown.

There are also questions around the issues that you also raised that the same thing is happening around the other parts of the country that persons who have become substantive candidates in INEC record and now suddenly leave. Can you trace why these things are happening as the Chairman of the party?

For example, in the case of Taraba, he also got the seat and later on left to join Labour Party. Now, he is the candidate of the Labour Party and now the list that was released by the INEC, he still appears as our senatorial candidate in Taraba State. Ideally, we cannot force Joel to be our senatorial candidate in Taraba State. He has to be replaced. So, wherever the problems lie, we are following them diligently because we also have lawyers and the Electoral Act with us. So, we are fairly informed. The point is that we will follow it to the logical conclusion and is not a fight in the press. No, we do not want to engage the media on it.

Why do you think it is happening? People who have invested in the party such that the party infrastructure says you will be our candidate, gets the ticket of the party and leaves the party. While there are parties they don’t have their tickets and they are fighting tooth and nail to get them?

I think this question can be asked to those who left the party because we don’t know what they are thinking because if someone is given the senatorial seat and he left the party, he or she should be able to answer why not us. They have taken the decision. Like I said after he left many other people came to join the party and many more are coming to join us. So, we are not weeping over that now. We have passed that level.

Doesn’t that suggest to you because there are those who would be wondering if this is happening in NNPP where they have the ticket, maybe is not a party for them or maybe there are things happening within the party that the party is not letting anyone know?

What is happening in other political parties today, particularly the so-called leading parties? They are there. Some of them are sacking Governors or they have refused to be part of the campaign organisation of their presidential candidates. They have refused to be part of anything and they are not keeping quiet. They are shouting and even challenging the party to suspend or remove them from the party. We do not have that kind of problem in our party. So, if one or two people leave, it would strengthen our base. It is better for them to leave early than to leave at a time when we are planning our presidential election, by that time it would be worse.

But those other parties you are talking about, we don’t have candidates who have already become candidates leaving the party?

Candidates leaving but there were seating Governors who are fighting the party, is it better? Is it not better for someone to leave than to be fighting inside the party?

In your opinion, for those who are still members of the party, what would you be telling those who may be contemplating leaving after getting the ticket to the party?

Our focus mainly is that by right the party must have representation in all these states. Where our own candidates who have been screened, went through the primaries, whose names were legitimately submitted to the INEC and refused to continue with the process. As I said we are following every method to ensure that we do not lose them. What is important is that we do not want to sit down and continue agonising because one or two persons have left the party because thousands are coming into the party daily.

Soon, you will be surprised because NNPP is going to come out with a big story. NNPP is a very serious party and we anticipated that the big parties are going through a series of problems, some of which are manageable. Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso was a strong member of the PDP and a pillar of the party. He was a member of the BoT but he left the party for NNPP. This is something we saw coming.

Are you telling us that Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso will not be working for the PDP at the end of the day?

Do you think that we will collapse our party and start working for another presidential candidate? Do you think is possible? No. He is the presidential candidate of the party. The national leader of the party will also have governorship, House of Reps, and senatorial candidates nationwide, which is a full complement of a party and suddenly we take this and put it in another basket. Is that correct?

For now, our attention is focused on the 2023 general election. There was something we realised. First, they said that NNPP was nothing and Kwankwaso was taken for granted. He was in their party, if they needed him to serve a purpose; they shouldn’t have allowed him to leave the party. They were here when we formed the party. They knew that something would happen but nobody said don’t allow this to go this far. We developed the party to a standard higher than other political parties at this time. After developing to this standard people are saying that he will go to APC or PDP. Who is afraid of Kwankwaso? Why can’t he stand for this election and win it? What is different? Why are the others better than him?

Remember that the last time I came here; we said the reason we formed the national movement and merged with NNPP was to rescue our country and observe democracy. We said that the state of the nation economically and security-wise has become a high concern for us and the future. And we should not sit down and begin to cry and complain. We should do something about it and that was why we came up with a national movement.

By this time last year, we have not done the merger, form the party and have a national movement but now, we have done all that. It is unprecedented for a party to achieve all that within a short period. So, those who want to join us should join us also.

Has the presidential candidate of the PDP reached out to Senator Shekarau?

I wouldn’t know if he has reached him. But for the party maybe they are taking their time by then we would have won the election. Do you have any communication from the PDP or APC to NNPP?

None that I know of.

Will the NNPP presidential candidate go to all the states to campaign?

Actually, he has started his campaign. At least, he has visited about 60 percent of the states. Not campaign in the real sense but to visit people commiserate with families and communities that have lost one thing or the other, reestablish contacts, and open offices in order not to wait till during the campaign to do all that.

What gives the party the confidence that it will clinch the presidential victory?

One is the level of acceptance of the party. We knew what we are doing and we anticipated all these issues that we are facing today. Secondly, beyond the question of what are you going to do for us, Nigerians are now asking the question, what have you done before? They would know what you have done and what you are doing before they would even ask what you are going to do.

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