INTERVIEW: “Why I defected from APC to PDP” – Mohammed Dele Belgore SAN

On Sunday March 9, Kwara State opposition figure Mohammed Dele Belgore SAN featured on the popular ’60 Minutes With Angela’ programme on the Lagos State Television (Channels 256 on DSTV) where he discussed in details the reasons he had to quit the All Progressives Congress (APC) and join the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
He declared that the decision is consistent with what he calls the popular yearning for change in Kwara especially when the same elements long credited with impoverishing and oppressing the people of Kwara have now ‘automatically’ been handed the structures of the APC, thereby foreclosing healthy competition in the party. He says joining the PDP offers him and his like minds a fair chance of fighting for the cause of change he believes in.
Angela’s Preamble:
Of his defection on February 12, 2014, my host today said “it was not easy to leave a party that I nurtured to such an enviable position. The APC is undemocratic.”
Conferred with the rank of SAN at the age of 40 in the year 2001, my host today obtained Batchelor of Law from the University of Hull and Masters of Law degree from Bristol University, both in the United Kingdom. He was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1985. He attained the status of Notary Public in 1997. He is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and he is the chairman of the Nigerian branch of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.
In 2011 he was the candidate of the ACN in the governorship election in Kwara State, in north central Nigeria. At the time he said, “our people want the type of good governance taking place in Lagos and Edo States. I want to liberate the state from poverty, ignorance, unemployment, fear and a dim future…”
So on Wednesday 12 February he defected from the APC to the PDP because of what he called an alleged injustice meted out to him and those who laboured to sustain the APC in Kwara State. I’m here today to ask him what injustice is that.  He said, “it is unfair for the structure of APC in Kwara State to be handed over to those, who, in my opinion, had been oppressing and impoverishing residents of the state. The question therefore is that can Kwara state be won solely by PDP without the Saraki factor?”
The Interview
Angela: Let’s start from your defection. On Wednesday you defected from the APC to PDP and you spoke of an alleged injustice meted to you and to those you said laboured to sustain the party in Kwara State. What injustice is that?
MDB: First of all, let us not personalise this. There wasn’t any injustice done to me as a person Dele Belgore. Let us be that very clear. The injustice is to the group that I represent. And this group being those who have been in APC and who have nurtured it to what it was. When we talk injustice, we are not speaking in abstraction. We are not being emotional. What we are saying is that political parties must follow a democratic path and a democratic path wasn’t followed in this instance. That is the context I want us to look at this issue.
Angela: You said a democratic path wasn’t followed. Is that because you are not happy that the party structure was handed over to those who have just defected to the APC. Is it not natural then that those defectors to the APC should be handed the party structure, having themselves handed to the APC elective positions in the platter of gold?
MDB: Again, I don’t want us to personalise these things. My happiness or unhappiness is really irrelevant. What we are saying is this: control of party structure should emerge through a democratic process. Proper democracy should thrive on healthy competition. What we said was that let the new members come in and take their rightful place and then let the party processes by which registration, congresses will be conducted and positions will be filled be on a fair and equal basis of competition. In other words, one man, one vote, and equal representation before you get to that one man, one vote. Now, that did not happen in this case. Perhaps the best and most graphic illustration of (the scenario in APC) is what I heard Chief Mike Ahamba say the other day that you can compare what the APC has done to a 100 metre-race in which the preferred runner is placed at the 60th metre point and you tell everybody else to go the starting point and that is how you want to judge the winner of the race. I think that adequately captures what we are talking about here.
The new entrants to the party were favoured for reasons which only the powers that be in APC are in the position to describe. They were the persons for whom they want control of the party to be vested in, and so right from get-go when they got into the party, that situation had been created in such a way that they got primacy in the party and any subsequent actions are tailored to ensure that that primacy remains. That is the undemocratic nature of the party we are complaining about.
Angela: Did you expect the party to ignore the fact that these defectors are handing positions to the party on a platter of gold? You can’t expect people who are already holding elections should not have some kind of priority within the party?
MDB: They are not losing their positions. The governor remains he governor. The senator remains the senator.   Members of they assembly remain members of the assembly and so on. They are not losing their positions.  We are talking about their positions in the party. We are saying fight for your positions in the party.
Angela: Isn’t it the governor of a state that is naturally the leader of the party in that state? Even though there is a chairman, the way it works naturally across the 36 states is that the governor is seen as the arrowhead of the party in the state?
MDBMDBWe are not quarrelling with that. And I’m not sure that those who are in the same situation as we are, are also quarrelling with that. There must be a head. And especially where you want to form a party structure there must be a head. But you create a situation whereby you say this arrangement we have is temporary and therefore after we have gone through process of election and competition then it can be even out, if that is the case. It may be that the governor may even come out stronger, he may be that he is weaker, but this (APC) arrangement has predetermined from day one. The arrangement is that yes, as governor you are in charge, but it is not that you are in charge in a temporary or transitional basis it ensures that he’s going to remain in charge even after the election. So the idea of any subsequent action therefore is only geared or guaranteed to produce that result.
Angela: Since your defection was announced, has anyone from APC reached out to you to reconsider?
MDB: Yes, oh yes.
Angela: Officially or unofficially?
MDB: Well, I don’t know what you meant by official. None of it was official. I have heard people who have said, listen, in politics nothing is cast in stone and decisions taken on this should not be seen as final and irreversible and that I should reconsider. There were quite a few of such overtures.
Angela: You said it wasn’t easy to leave a party that you nurtured to this point. Before reaching such decision, did you reach out to the leadership of APC to express your concern about the directions you thought they were heading?
MDB: Yes we did. We reached out to individuals. We reached out collectively. We wrote petitions. We issued press statements. So we did reach out as much as we can, but was all to no avail.
Angela: When you say ‘all to no avail’, you meant they didn’t consider all your concerns? I’m just thinking of a situation where they assured you that don’t worry your ticket is safe. The ticket you had in 2011 will remain yours because you are first in line within the APC.
MDB: Well there was never that assurance and we never sought any such assurance. So nobody gave it, and we never asked for it, and we never expected it. And the issue of try guarantee if the ticket, for me, really has nothing to do with this, even though when some people want to disparage me personally or disparage what we’ve done they say oh its because the ticket has been given to somebody else.  It has got absolutely nothing to do with what is on the ground. What we are saying is that whoever gets the ticket or the control of the party let that control emerge through a fair, transparent process that bears the will of the rank and file of the party. So should that kind of situation be put in place and we vie and lose out there will be absolutely no basis to complain. But that wasn’t the situation. It is as if someone tied your hand behind your back and then throws you into the boxing ring and says go in and compete. What chance? We didn’t have chance to meaningfully compete. And I think that is what governor Shekarau and Bafarawa were saying. So our situation in Kwara is not in anyway different or unique. This is what everybody is saying. And I think that the analogy that Chief Ahamba mentioned essentially alluded to this: that that competition is unfair from day one. that is the critical issue here.
Angela: At the time the party was going round states to shore up support before this gale of defections, were you at any point invited to come along? Did  you go with them and if you did, when they went to Kwara State were you there with them? Did you have a say?
MDB: I was never invited. And if you read the statement by former Governors Shekarau and Bafarawa, and some of the people in Adamawa you will see that there was no consultation before, during and even immediately after. If there were any discussion or consultation it was after the discontent has become open that they then made their first engagement with the people.
Angela: You just said it is unfair for the structure of APC to be handed over to those in your opinion had been oppressing and impoverishing the people of the state. I said in your opinion because it looks to me that the people of Kwara state seem to be happy the way they are.
MDB: Well you are the one asking the questions but if I may ask you too, what gives you the impression that the people of Kwara State seem to be happy the way they are?
Angela: Because some people have been in control of Kwara politics for over 40 years! And that is probably what the APC is looking at. Who wants to change a winning formula?
MDB: You are quite right. That may be what the APC is looking at. As a matter of fact when the APC went to market the party in Kwara, the governor and his aides on that occasion kept talking about an election winning machinery that they have. Now what is this election winning machinery they are talking about? You are not talking about popularity with the people, you are not talking about good governance, you at not talking about whether you have improved the lives of the people in the forty years and here you are talking about an election winning machinery. To me, that smacks of arrogance, it smacks of talking down on the people that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, we have an election winning machinery in this state and we will give it to you. Just read between the lines. That means by hook or by crook we have done this thing over the last forty years and will continue to do it, so you can rest assured that you are going to get it. The reality of course is that if elections are about  popularity, if elections are free and fair and if elections are about counting people’s votes and we assume that most people would behave rationally and given a straight choice between a person who has been at the helms of affairs in a situation where you feel that your life has not improved and it has been impoverished, and somebody who comes in and says we want to change things. He says look we can do better. Look at what is happening in other places. Those people in those places don’t have two heads. You can do better, it is your right to get better. It is natural that people will want to gravitate towards that. But if you essentially rubbish that and say oh we have an election winning machinery what you are saying is that look, it doesn’t matter what the people are saying. It doesn’t matter whether elections are being conducted, we have an election winning machinery to make sure that we stay in power. That is what we are against.
 Angela: Were you surprised that contrary to what obtains normally when people defect the APC handed over the structure not to the governor of the state who is the implied leader of the party?
MDB: Well I don’t know the inner details but my information is that the control of party structure was handed over to the governor of Kwara State .like everywhere else but the governor has voluntarily ceded it to senator Saraki who is the one they call the leader.
Angela: Are you friends with Senator Saraki?
MDB: Yes
Angela: Acquaintances? Childhood friend?
MDB: Well, I have known him for a number of years I would say I have known Senator Saraki for about 30 years.
Angela: Are you on talking terms presently?
MDB: Yes, because he came to see me, talking about the issue. This was before we defected and he wanted to see how we can try and work within that arrangement. To that extent, you can say we are on talking terms. But as I have always said, there’s nothing personal about these things. I don’t have anything personal against Senator Saraki. And I’m sure if you ask him, he would probably say he has nothing personal against me. But that does not mean we necessarily agree politically and on the directions we both think we should take Kwara State.
Angela: Considering that he spoke with you some weeks ago, when you finally made the decision to defect, did you let him know that you have made up your mind and that you are moving on?
MDB: No, I didn’t.
Angela: In moving on to the PDP, were any promises made to you to coerce you, for instance, into taking that plunge?
MDB: There were no promises made.
Angela: Did they reach out to you?
MDB: Yes, they did. And we brainstormed on the decision about whether or not to move.  And like I said earlier on, it was not easy to move away from a party that you have nurtured. And when we say nurture, we had ACN, being one of the legacy parties that became APC, and we know from where we took ACN and where left it to form the largest component of APC in Kwara. So, naturally it wasn’t easy to move away from that. And the defection of the five governors, I think, was in November, our own defection was in February. So in all that time, we were under a lot of pressure as to what next step we will be taking. If you recall, the first press statement I issued immediately after the defection by the five governors was to calm the frayed nerves. To most of our supporters, it was not a welcome development. They did not believe it was a good omen for their quest for change in Kwara. But I went in, addressed our supporters and told them that we are still in APC and we remain in APC and that we will fight for the change and the cause we believe in within the APC. So that’s where we started from. Later it became clear that we were just banging our heads on a brick wall.
Angela: They defected in November. You defected along with your supporters in February. Between November and February, nobody within the leadership of APC made any overtures to you?

MDB: Sure, there were overtures. They knew maybe from what we have said and petitions we had written and conversations we had and the mood of our supporters that it was not a situation that we felt was just and right in the circumstance. Yes, overtures were made but they were not overtures that sought to correct the anomalies. The overtures were that please go and accept the arrangement.
Angela: That was the only option?
MDB: Yes, that was then only option.
Angela: Well, I am still going to look at it from the APC’s point of view because looking at the practical aspect of this, you discover that all members of the House of Reps, two of the three senators, all the members of the state executive council, speaker of the State House of Assembly, 21 members of the Assembly, 16 chairmen of the local government areas and of course 194 councilors all moved to the APC. How do you think the APC will manage that number of people defecting who are in office?
MDB: First of all, numbers can give you a completely distorted picture of event. In 2011, we had elections which outcome we challenged all the way to the Supreme Court. Our belief and that of the vast majority of our supporters and people in Kwara and beyond was that the election was fraudulent and that candidates that were announced as winners and installed on office were not the ones who won the elections. I don’t want to say too much about that. Therefore, if that is the case and that is belief, when you start saying they came in with XYZ number of councilors and all that,  you will get a distorted picture of event, don’t forget, out of the lots you have mentioned, there was the notorious Offa Local Government election last year in which a councillor who was declared the winner came out to say he didn’t win that election. Offa became notorious because of that because that was an isolated election. What happened in Offa is what a lot of us allege happened almost everywhere else in 2011. So when we read court figures we should try and put them in perspectives, so that we will understand them for what they are.
Angela: Do you think moving to the PDP will help you realise your ambition?
MDB: Moving to the PDP for us gives us a fighting chance to pursue whatever it is we have, which is the cause for change.  And any ambition that comes in the way is secondary. But we have a fighting chance. The result or the outcome has not been predetermined. That is where we found ourselves.
Angela: And of course you know you are going to meet some people in the PDP who were already nurturing ambitions. Now that you have left the APC for the PDP, how do you think such members will receive your defection into the party?
MDB: Well, so far it’s been handled quite well.
Angela: Have you met with the national leadership of the party?
MDB: Yes, we have had meetings with the local party and the national leadership of the PDP. I’m not talking of one-on-one meeting but as a group. We are not coming into the PDP for any privileged status. We are coming in for a level-playing field and a chance to compete. And as I always say, this is not about me. There are so many people especially at the ward levels whose only form of activities is politics. They wake up in the morning, go for ward meetings, talk amongst themselves about whatever it is they want to see done within the party. Move that up to the local government level. Move that up to the state level. So you have a lot of people who have these aspirations and desires; they want to be involved politically. They are in fact different from those who want to seek elective offices. They just want to be involved politically. They feel they have a right to be heard. They feel they ought to have say. So such people felt badly let down when you tell them that we have already decided that A, B and C are the ones that are going to be at the helms of affairs. They said look let us have the right to say whether it is actually A B and C that we want. So that is the key issue.
Angela: On February 17, a group called the MDB Solidarity Group with member across the 16 local government areas said your defection was embarrassing to them and to all lovers of democracy. What do you say to that?
MDB: First of all, there is no such group as the MDB Solidarity Group. There is MDB Solidarity Team. Now, this gentleman who issued that statement is not a member of the MDB Solidarity Team. So it was quite clear that he was a hired hand. What he said was fairly consistent with recent reactions that have come from APC since our defection. The first reaction was from the state chairman who said it is a good riddance to bad rubbish. They said MDB is politically irrelevant and so on. Then there were others to that effect, one others said there were led than 150 rented people that attended our defection. And then there were other reactions. But the simple question we’re have asked them is this: if our exit was a good riddance and if we are politically irrelevant, why does it. Bitter them so much? Why go as far as paying some people to claim membership of a group that they are not.? Why would anyone say there were 150 people when the video footage clearly contradicts all of that? There were defections from PDP into APC, it is an exercise of democratic and constitutional right. So what is good for the goose is good for the gander. You defect, yes goodluck . But it is funny when you take it upon yourself to continue to denounce someone else’s defection and you then say he’s a nobody anyways. That to me suggests that you are bothered by something that had to do with that defection.  So to answer your question, there is no such group like MDB Solidarity Group, what we have is MDB Solidarity Team.
Angela: I did ask Mr Lai Mohammed, the publicity secretary of APC for a reaction on your defection and he said “we cannot be reacting to everyone leaving our party. We simply wish them well in their new adopted parties…”.  What do you say to that?
MDB: Well, I think that is a fair statement and it goes with what I have said earlier that defection is an exercise of democratic and constitutional free will. So, I don’t see anything to praise or denounce in people’s defection. The people you are coming to can on we you and say you are welcome. The people you are leaving can simply say good luck to you and that is what he just said.
Angela: What would you say to those people who say perhaps it is because our political parties lack ideology that makes it easy for politicians to just move the way they want. They say if there were ideologies you would not see any fire APC man switching over to the PDP.
MDB: Well, I don’t know what/who a core APC man is.
Angela: progressive.
MDB: if you were in PDP, do you automatically become a progressive because you have crossed over to the APC? Or if you are a progressive in the APC and when you go to PDP you cease to be a progressive? I will agree with you that because political parties in Nigeria are not well cut out along ideological lines yes, it does make detection a lot easier, not just easy. And I think a lot depends on the individuals. It depends on what each of the individuals represent. You have some of the progressive elements – and when I say progressive element I’m not talking of progressive as a title or some platitudes – even in the PDP which is seen as unprogressive. And you also have some reactionary elements and some of the most conservatives, in fact some of the worst oppressor, even in the APC. So political parties in Nigeria are a wide spectrum in which you have on the one hand the most progressive and on the other hand the most regressive elements. So it depends on who you are and what you represent. And you will definitely find like minds in either side of the divide.
Angela: Why didn’t you join the Labour Party when you became dissatisfied with the situation in APC, why did you choose to stay with the PDP?
MDB: Well, the decision wasn’t mine alone. It was a collective decision. It was a community decision, and it was a decision that was weighed up thoroughly. Labour Party and all of these also came into the equation but the key thing is that our cause in Kwara is essentially about those who want change and those who want to maintain the status quo, and in this instance we find the PDP as the most viable platform.
Angela: Why?
MDB: because the reactionary forces which had sent out a lot of PDP, in any event, were no longer there. So we also considered the fact it is a party that has the right capacity. We can only make it stronger. You know the timeline for building a party is short now and we’ve gone through thorough this with ACN….Don’t forget we weren’t looking for a party where we will just go there and be the only big fish. We were looking for a party that we could use as strong vehicle to project our desire for change and in doing so the party that has a lot of like minded people in Kwara.
Angela: One of the most interesting things for me is the fact that Senator Gbemi Saraki is still a member of the PDP and I’m thinking of a situation where possibly yourself and herself will be teaming up in the PDP. Would you be averse to that ticket – Dele Belgore and Gbemisola Saraki on the same ticket?
MDB: Nobody is talking about any ticket yet. I will rather not go into the realm of speculation.
Angela cuts in: would you work with her now that you are in the PDP?
MDB: I have a good personal and political relationship with Gbemi Saraki and certainly in the PDP we are all working together. Recently we had a unity rally, actually a stakeholders’ meeting, and we all demonstrated that PDP is alive and strong, contrary to the impressions being created by enemies of the party. And there are a number of very strong personalities in the party and we are all one. Gbemi Saraki was an integral part of that.
Angela: do you have any idea who your co-contenders will be in the PDP in the governorship primaries in 2015; now that you have attended a stakeholders’ meeting, have you per chance ‘eye-balled’ any likely contender?
MDB: Well, I’m not eye-balling anyone, I don’t know if anyone is eye-balling me as well. But all I can say is that we have a very stroking PDP in Kwara State. There is string support statewide and there are string leaders who want to come together in the interest of the state to move it forward. Ambitions are legitimate but they can only be realised under a strong platform and right now we are all trying to make the platform as strong as possible.
Angela: if the only way to make that platform really strong is that you pair up with Senator Gbemisola Saraki, would you like that?
MDB: Pair up in what way?
Angela: Pair up for the governorship ticket in 2015 at the request of the PDP. Would you reject it?
MDB: Well, Senator Gbemi Saraki will always be an asset in any political setting, so I can’t see myself or anybody reject an opportunity of teaming up with her. But in this case it cannot really happen because we are from the same senatorial district. So any possibility of that is really a pipe dream.
Angela: Did you assume, when you were in APC now, that because you were the candidate of ACN in the 2011 poll you would continue to be its candidate at least in the next election in 2015?
MDB: I did not assume that. But what we assumed is that we put up a very strong showing in 2011. In our belief and in the belief of many, we won the election in 2011 and if we could build from there we will be in a very, very strong position to vie for it again in 2015. The point I’m trying to make is that I have never said that it must automatically be me. I never said that. But what I have said is that I’m not a nobody just coming into the arena, I have a track record and we can build on that and put up a viable and strong case at the material time for contesting for the ticket again. That has always been my position.
Angela: what pushed you to want to do politics because a lot of people who are friends with you ways back say they couldn’t understand how you made that transition from pure legal practice to politics? What pushed you?
MDB: well I couldn’t understand it myself, to be absolutely honest. But you set about planning the course of your life, planning what you are going to do and then before you know it, you find yourself somewhere else. It really started by a discussion with a group about presenting the people of Kwara State with a credible alternative..
Angela cuts in: you describe yourself as the face of new generation of Kwarans that look for competent and merit, not mediocrity and primordial sentiments.
MDB: That’s correct, and that is why I’m in this.
Angela: Are you in for there long haul? If you are not successful in the 2015 would you still staying politics?
MDB: it is hard to say what will happen in the future. But my staying in politics will not be dependent on whether we succeed or fail at an election. My staying in politics will be determined by whether the cause that we are trying to propagate and we are fighting for still remains a worthy cause and still remain alive and worth fighting for. That will determine my stay in politics. But when you say in the long haul, who knows what the long haul is? To borrow the words of the great economic Milton Keynes, in the long haul we are all dead. So we are there for as long as it takes and as long as we are alive.
Angela: Thank you Mr. Belgore for coming on the programme
MDB: Thank you for having me.