Sitting down with Hajia Inna Ciroma for an hour or so on Sunday, August 28th, 2016 turned out very fulfilling, journalistically. She is not the type you ask a question and starts to fidget in search of the answer. No. She has the answer. And if you happen to have an idea of the issue in question, then the interview turns confirmatory. And she doesn’t ask you to turn off the recorder.
Normally, as the wife of one of the most notable members of the outgoing generation in Nigerian politics, then a former Minister of Women Affairs and an ex – Women Leader of once Africa’s largest and proudest political party – the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP), Inna Maryam Ciroma is bound to appear on the radar of critical journalism. She’s got everything to be that voice for women, although, ideologically, she is no more than a liberal feminist.
In a country whose elite is on trial, her analytical verve positions her to be sought after in any serious leadership recruitment. Surprisingly, PDP is trying to do that. She said in the interview that she is contesting for the position of Deputy National Chairman (North) of the party. If she wins, Inna Ciroma would, like Hilary Clinton, be offering the PDP two for one Deputy Chairmanship (North) because there is no way she would be in that position and Mallam Adamu Ciroma will not be an adviser of a special type to her. So, Goodluck to Hajia and to the PDP!
Women are generally not as prominent in politics as men, perhaps still more so in the north. So, you present an interesting case but then, what has been the trigger or your main sustainer? Husband, education or just strong head?
It is true that in the north, we do not find so many women in politics. In my own case, it is a combination of the three things you have mentioned. I studied Political Science and married a politician in the heat of politics. That is when they were trying to form the National Party of Nigeria, (NPN) in those days. I was very much aware of what they were doing. I developed interest in politics because, as you said, we don’t have many women in politics around here.
What has been the experience?
Experience in politics for me has been fulfilling and not very fulfilling. It is fulfilling in the sense that I feel my mission in politics is to part of decision making, having studied Political Science. I have found it very interesting, you can be there and help take decisions that affect the people. It is something that one should do. Apart from that, politics gives you opportunity to meet people of like minds, people with whom to work together to effect some changes.
How did it happen that, in 2011, we saw you on one side of the PDP and your husband on the other side?
Well, I was the national Women Leader of the party, and I swore to an oath to serve and defend the party. So, I was working for the party. Of course, my husband, a founding member of the party, had his own belief as well but that did not affect our relationship at all. He was doing what he felt he should do and I was doing what I ought to be doing. Luckily he is such a man that would not impose his will on his wife, So, he didn’t ask me to do what he was doing.
Did you get reactions of approval or disapproval?
Oh yes, a lot of disapproval. In fact, a lot of people were telling him that he should divorce me. Why should you keep a wife going contrary to your direction, who is not even supporting what you believe in? There was an article in one of the newspapers in which the guy said he should divorce me. But I remember during Abacha period when my husband said he was going to do ‘sit don look’, I was a member of one of the political parties and he didn’t stop me because he said education makes a person to think and act responsibly. He doesn’t interfere in what I want to do, be it politics, business, administration. Whatever I want to do, he assists.
What do you think explains that disposition on his part?
Well, I don’t know. Maybe it is his nature. I cannot say education because a lot of people are educated but they behave strangely. I cannot say is Quaranic knowledge because there are many who are not affected by their knowledge of the religion. I can say maybe it is his disposition, belief that we are educated enough to aspire to any level or activity that is not criminal or immoral. So, his wife, his children, he doesn’t interfere with what we want to do. I feel maybe that is his nature.
At the time you were the Women Leader of the PDP, the party was climbing down in moral authority. What was driving the party in truth?
That was a very sad moment for the PDP. But it did not start in 2011. Immediately the PDP was formed and came up with the ideals of fairness to all through rotation of power and the calibre of people involved in the party, it became attractive and won everywhere, in 1999. The problem started in 2001 when they wanted to elect the party structure to replace the interim executive that led the party to victory. There was interference from the executive. The party began to take directive from the president and the governors and down the local government level. That was when the problem started as the executive started deciding who became what. The party lost its supremacy. Problems were bound to arise once the party could not be fair to followers. The party began to go to the executive to take directive. The party chairman would go the president to say, Mr president, we have this issue, show us the way. I mean that shouldn’t be the way. The party should be firm because it is supposed to oversee what the executive is doing. It is the party which has the manifesto. It is the party that wins the election. In fact, you don’t say that Mr so, so and so has won, it is the party that wins. So the PDP lost its soul, its glory when it allowed the president or the governors or LGC Chairmen to take charge.
They allowed the president or the president pushed his way in?
Well, I think the party people became naive. They felt that they needed to be subservient to the executive. I told you that when I married my husband, it was during the NPN days. In the NPN days, the chairman of the party was so strong that when they have a party meeting, the chairman of the party takes charge. And the party would tell the president what to do because they have their manifesto and the executive must follow it. So, they had a way of checking on the executive. But in our present structure, that is not it. The party does not have that clout to say no to the president or the governor. No, they don’t have. That is what destroyed the party. Up till today as I am talking to you, that is the real problem.
Do you trace it to any particular person?
It became universal in the party. It started as I said in 2001 onwards when the president was insisting on a particular candidate to be chairman of the party when majority of the members preferred another one. That was what started it. That time, Barnabas Gemade was contesting and there was Sunday Awoniyi and a lot of people preferred Awoniyi because of his antecedent and strength of character and a lot of qualities that the man had. He was contesting for the chairmanship of the party and the presidency said no and they imposed someone else. Up till now, if you want to be chairperson of PDP and the president doesn’t sanction it, you cannot get it. That shouldn’t be so. It should allow for the people to decide.
It is understood that the presidency at that time feared that Awoniyi would outpace the government, that he would make mincemeat of the regime if there was a disagreement.
I don’t understand how Awoniyi can outflank the president. I don’t know Awoniyi very well but he was a close ally of my husband and they worked together. In fact, my husband was one of those who were pushing for his candidature then. It would have been a good thing to have a strong person to be there as the chairman especially at that formative stage of the party, because the party was just settling down to business. Of course, Obasanjo who was the president was not there when the party was formed. For the sake of equity and fairness, he was brought out of prison and invited to be the president and by the grace of God, he won the election. For me, it was not the right thing to dictate to the party. It was not a smart thing to do that because it destroyed the party from there onwards.
Are you aware he said that, in the US, the party goes to the side once elections are over?
I didn’t hear him say that but if he said so, does he reckon that US democracy has been there for the past 200 years while ours has been truncated democracy over the years. The one we can now claim to be steady is the one we started in 1999 to date. We are just starting and we need the political party to be a source of check and balance. As far as I am concerned, what we are doing presently is what is good for us because we borrowed from the US which has been refining, reorganising and modifying its own.
What would you say is the state of PDP now?
Well, PDP now is in a state of confusion I must confess. I say state of confusion in the sense that we have not learnt any lessons from our experiences over the years. I thought bitter experiences make people to sit, reflect, and change their ways. But it seems in PDP, we have not learnt anything. And it is very sad that we have not been able to pull ourselves together to provide the necessary opposition to the present govern because Nigeria cannot afford to have a single party state. It is not for us. We need two strong parties. If you lose an election, it does not mean the end of the world. You have lost an election and so what. That is what it is supposed to be. You are supposed to be there to win and to lose elections. So, once you lose your election, you come back and review why you lost and begin to correct your ways but in our party, it seems as if we are even going deeper in the ditch. We are not even thinking of how to retrace our steps, make corrections and then provide good alternatives for Nigerians. In fact, we are not helping the country by the way we are going. It is very sad.
But you are contesting!
When you see things going wrong, you cannot fold your hands. You should be part of a corrective process. I was there when it was formed. I know what it stands for. I know the history, the ideals. We have to take it back to those ideals.
You sound very optimistic!
I am very optimistic. I was very happy when I saw our botched convention. A lot of Nigerians were all there in Portharcourt. People are waiting and hoping for PDP. Lots of people are not seeing APC as being able to stand the test of time. PDP has never changed its name, never have to align with any other party. It is the Iroko you find every nook and cranny of this country. If we can come up with an apology to the people, admit that we have made mistakes, caused problem for everybody and all those tendencies that made us have problems, I am sure we would overcome all these and be.
What would be the substance of the apology?
A lot of things were done wrongly. Many things PDP did that made Nigerians angry. The zoning policy is there in the party book. It annoyed the north. It cost us election. I, for one, believe it was the costliest.
How would reclaiming the ideals of the party happen? I see only very few of the founders like Jerry Gana, Sule Lamido and I am not sure where Iyorchia Ayu is.
PDP has history. Jerry Gana can tell you everything from his head. He has custody of all the documents in his head. He could sit down and read it for you. There is Sule Lamido you mentioned. PDP has people. A lot of them are ready to jump start it.