Retired Major General Lawrence Onoja, former military governor of Plateau State, was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but cross-carpeted to the now defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) ahead of the 2011 elections.
In this interview culled from Daily Trust, Onoja, who doubles as chairman of Strategic Mobilisation Committee of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), speaks on the North and the 2015 presidential race.
You were out of PDP for some time and now you are back, why?
On the issue of the party, as of today, I have not officially decamped from ACN to PDP yet. But technically, I am almost in PDP now because I am working for the second term of Mr. President and obviously he would want me to be in the same party with him. But the actual ceremony of receiving me in the PDP has not been done. So as at today I am still a member of the ACN. And then because of my position as president of the Alumni Association of the NIPSS, I am not allowed to be very visible in political parties but as a citizen, I have a right to belong to a political party. However, I can’t contest any election as long as I am president of the institute. And I cannot accept any visible position from any political party. But our constitution in Kuru allows us to be partners with any government and advise that government in terms of policy formulation. I am only a card carrying member of ACN; I have not gone to register with APC yet which you can interpret to mean that I am not in any political party since ACN is defunct now.
Looking at the crises rocking PDP, do you think it is a party you will be comfortable in?
I was one of the original founders of PDP. I started activities in G34. I was sympathetic to their cause that time even when I was in uniform and later it became PDP. So I can comfortably say I am an original member of the party. What is happening in PDP today is not new. It has happened to many political parties. But I believe that the party has got very eminent personalities and respected Nigerians that are willing to ensure that all the mechanisms provided in the party is effective enough to settle all the crises in the party. I am particularly glad to hear that somebody like our former respected President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was my General Officer Commanding in 1969 in Port Harcourt, when I was a second lieutenant, is now trying to reconcile the governors. And I believe that is what other elders like Obasanjo should do. We all should ensure peace and tranquility, a situation where Mr. President can function effectively.
You left the PDP at a point over some allegations of undemocratic practices within the party and now you have tasted what it means to be in the opposition. Do you think the APC, ahead of 2015, can give PDP a run for its money?
I think that a couple of Nigerians were happy that we are having what is looking like an opposition because in democracy, you cannot enjoy it without a true opposition. There have to be an opposition for the game to be interesting. What APC now represents in the eyes of many Nigerians is that at least an opposition that may likely be formidable is being formed in Nigeria to compete with the PDP. Whether it would match the might of the PDP as a viable political opposition, it is too early to predict. And I think it probably could in the future if it does certain things right. One, the approach of name calling and insulting Mr. President instead of presenting themselves as a viable opposition to Nigerians, by saying we can do better in education, economy. That is what Nigerians want to hear, not insulting the person of Mr. President. I believe that is unfortunate. And if they continue to do that a lot of Nigerians would lose the sympathy that they have for the opposition coming in to compete favourably for political positions with the PDP. So I believe what they should do is let Nigerians know their manifesto, what they would do in Nigeria in terms of poverty alleviation, what they intend to do with the security situation. Do they intend to do better than what Mr. President has done, the amnesty program, the emergency rule declared to combat the menace of Boko Haram in some parts of the country. Do they have better suggestions? That is what Nigerians want to hear. And then as a political party, they should criticize the political party not Mr. President. Even if you are going to criticize the President let it not be like a personal insult, like one of them said he is a kindergarten leader. That is a personal insult. You don’t insult the person occupying the office, so I am not pleased with that approach.
But the opposition believes it has better democratic credentials to upstage the PDP…
It is very doubtful. Like I have just said the approach they are taking now, insulting the president and individuals, if they take that approach they will not be an effective opposition to upstage the PDP.
One other issue in the PDP is power shift to the North. Don’t you think it is time to return power to that zone?
Every group has a right to ask for power but I believe power is not given that way. You work for it. I want to let you know categorically here that it is not yet time for power to shift to the North. Mr. President has not done his second term. All the other Presidents were given opportunity to do their second terms and Mr. President by virtue of the fact that he is a minority like me, it would be unfair and injustice to stop him from doing his second term. If he finishes his second term in 2019, then other areas or blocs can now begin to agitate for power shift. I think it is only fair to allow Mr. President do his second term.
But the power shift is a Northern agenda and you are from the North?
There is a misconception. The North of the sixties when Sarduana was alive is no long the same North today. Let me correct that misconception, I am from middle belt which is a geographical reality today. I am an active member of Congress for Equality and Change which is a non political association. I am also a member of Middle Belt Forum. So if you say I am from the North, and you are referring to the old North yes, I am from the North, but now, the middle belt is a geographical reality and I am a member of the Middle Belt. I am not from the core North.
You said Mr. President should be allowed to do a second term, but people will ask whether it is a question of second term or performance?
I believe Mr. President is doing well. This is my own opinion. Anybody has right to express his or her own opinion. I believe Mr. President is doing well. Look at the situation, those who have been there before what is extraordinary in their performance that Mr. President has not done?
The President is rehabilitating the railway system which everybody is yearning for and they are very grateful. The power situation has improved. Look at the steps he took to restore security in some parts of the North. Those steps are welcomed by me and they are very adequate now.
While the military is doing what they are trained for, there is a committee on amnesty trying to appeal to those who are belligerent in the North. With time I am sure these things will yield peace and peace is already coming back to the North.