Former Cross River State governor, Donald Duke, has opened up on some of the manoeuvrings that led to the emergence of Alhaji Shehu Musa Yar’Adua as the PDP presidential flag bearer and how he was replaced by former President Goodluck Jonathan as the running mate for the late president.
He narrated how the late President Yar’Adua never wanted to be president and that the late president had approached him on three occasions seeking his consent to be his running mate.
He said, “You don’t give authority to an unwilling person, particularly in a country like Nigeria. Umaru never wanted to be president. He was dealing with his health issues and wanted to retire and go lecture in a university. He was really offered an appointment at the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria. Jonathan, on the other hand, had just been re-elected to be governor of Bayelsa and when he was picked, he was not so pleased. He said to Obasanjo and me, ‘I don’t want this job.’
“If these two men never aspired to the office but were recruited to take on a responsibility as daunting as the management of Nigeria without mentally preparing for the office and having a grand vision of where they wanted to take Nigeria to, then there is a problem. The mental preparation is absolutely important. The vision can be scripted for you, but if you are not prepared and you have no capable team to help you follow through, it is grossly unfair. It is like converting a passenger on an aircraft to a pilot.”
Duke explained that the costly mistake of saddling men that were unprepared with the responsibility of running the country is what has brought the country to its present state.
After the 2007 convention that produced the late Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan as the PDP candidates for president and vice president, Duke was quoted as saying that Nigeria would regret the decision.
Explaining why he made the remark, he said, “It is one prophecy I wish never came to pass. Some people regretted it while others came out looking really good”.
On his ambition to be president in 2007, he said, “I put myself forward for the presidency in 2007. Umaru Yar’Adua approached me thrice to run along with him and thrice I agreed. The third time, he came with Ibrahim Shema, who later became governor of Katsina State, asking me again. I was exasperated and I said, ‘Look, Umaru, we have agreed on this, but it is still your decision to make.’ He said, ‘Gladly, I would think so, but I would discuss with President Obasanjo.’ I said, ‘Very well, do that and let me know.’ That was the last I heard of it. Then, I got word from party operatives that we should go into a party convention with one candidate for unity of purpose. At that point, it was inconceivable that I would win the primaries; I would only spend money and still lose. I backed out. The rest is history. There is a story making the rounds that I rejected it.”
He explained further that despite the claims that he rejected the position of Yar’Adua’s running mate, he never did.
He said, “I never did. Umaru is not alive today, but I did not. Later on, Obasanjo said to me that he thought I had a personality that was so strong and would be in conflict with Umaru who appeared so weak. I said it was all spilt milk. Umaru could appear weak, but he was not, which we now know. Secondly, he said he didn’t want a repeat of the conflict he had with Abubakar Atiku, his vice president at the time.”
On why the party seems so incapable of standing up to Obasanjo, he said, “Unfortunately for us in this country, we deify leadership. Perhaps, it is part of our primordial sentiments. Once you rise to the top and become a leader, people tell you all sorts of glorifying things. I witnessed a situation in which officials of government would give Obasanjo embarrassing latitude to do terrible things and when he asked them ‘Is it okay for me to do this?’ they would say ‘of course, after God in Nigeria it is you’. These leaders are deified for partly selfish reasons. The level of sycophancy in government is increasing. After four years, the governor thinks he’s privatized the state or the country, that it belongs to him. Umar goes to hospital and he takes the country with him, while the vice president is there, but only in name.
“The constitution says that once the president steps out of the country, his vice president takes over. But most people, when they get into office” look for the weakest person, a ‘yes’ man, to make their deputy. Never give authority to a weak person. What happens is, when this person assumes authority, he knows you are probably someone of strong character and will, but he now has power too. He goes after you and makes you his first enemy. A lot of our leaders are puppets on strings. They think they are in charge when, actually, they are being manipulated by others.