In this interview with CHIMA AZUBUIKE, the Peoples Democratic Party Chairman in Gombe State, Major General Amnon Kwaskebe (retd.), discusses how the party has been reorganised in preparation for the 2023 elections
What steps is your party taking to get ready for 2023?
Next year, 2023, is scheduled to be an election year in Nigeria. Talking about our preparations, it started long before now. As I’m talking to you now, we are very prepared. We are prepared because we have meticulously followed all of the procedures for the election of candidates to public office in 2023.
Gombe speaking, what is the level of readiness for the PDP?
You are aware that primaries have been conducted for all political parties, and candidates for various positions both at the federal and state levels have been elected. We are waiting for the Independent National Electoral Commission to lift the ban on campaigning, which, to my understanding, is on September 28, 2022.
When the ban is lifted, all political parties will embark on electioneering. However, before the campaign starts in earnest, what we are doing now is consulting and mobilising our supporters to acquaint them with what is expected during the campaign. We are also concerned, and we have informed all our supporters about INEC’s registration, which has been concluded. We were out in the field to ensure that people are registered, including those who registered but have yet received their cards. It’s a continuous process to ensure that nobody is disenfranchised during the elections in 2023.
Some claim that the PDP Gombe Chapter made mistakes that led to its defeat in 2019. How well have you tackled such errors as another election approaches?
Yes, definitely, we reviewed what happened in 2019, not just in the state, but a body was formed under the chairmanship of Bauchi State Governor, Senator Bala Mohammed, and it submitted its report on why we failed elections in 2019.We were able to identify why we failed to hold elections in 2019, and it was taken to the zonal headquarters and to the national level. Senator Bala Mohammed was able to come out with the national position. It has addressed some of the loopholes that were created in 2019, and they have been corrected.
So what are the chances for your candidate, Muhammad Barde?
When you look at the PDP in Gombe State as it is right now under my chairmanship and also our party leader, Alhaji Ibrahim Dankwambo, the former governor of Gombe State, we have very bright chances of winning the election come 2023.
How is that so?
If you have observed, the level of enthusiasm created in the people of Gombe for the PDP is far above what it has been before now. A mistake was made in 2019 and we lost the election, but we can’t continue that way, so we have prepared.
What were the loopholes identified that led to the poor showing of your party in 2019?
If you look at it, we had problems with party discipline in some instances, we experienced that. Secondly, in the conduct of the election itself, there were hiccups here and there. I took part in the election here in Gombe on our part as a party. We observed some hitches in our preparations, which are private to us and are not for public consumption. It is for us to address it, which we have done.
Have they been well addressed?
Of course, well addressed that is why the party has risen above the challenges now. I assure you that you will see that in the outcome of the 2023 election because Gombe is a PDP state.
Recently, Muhammad Barde’s campaign office, which was said to have been owned by Good Governance Initiative, was partly demolished by the Gombe State Urban Planning and Development Authority. Some have said the government is unhappy with your candidate’s growing popularity, is this true?
Without mincing words, I want to tell you that in a democracy all over, that incident was not necessary, but that it has happened shows the quality of the leadership of the Gombe State APC government. Let me restrict myself to my state. This is because you don’t just go in to demolish structures when you are dealing with the civilian population.
In a democracy, there are times you allow for persuasion and dialogue before you arrive at that type of decision, and if you could recall in 2019, that same office was used by the current governor, Muhammadu Yahaya, as a campaign office because by then our gubernatorial candidate of today (Muhammad Barde) was in the APC.
As of that time, it was not illegal, so why should it be illegal today because the APC is in charge? Dankwambo was in that Government House in 2019 before he handed over. Our state leader (Dankwambo) didn’t complain about the structure; instead, it is this man (Muhammadu Yahaya) because of party rivalry. The governor is out to create insecurity in Gombe State. A problem that he should be addressing, he is now creating.
How safe will the political atmosphere be for Gombe residents to vote for a governor of their choice?
The peace is under threat. I am saying this as somebody who is a retired Army general. Very soon, the campaign will start. If you create this type of situation in a state like Gombe during an election where there will be campaign slogans and noise, it could lead to problems.
We will appeal to the governor, to the powers that be, and say that it is too early to embark on this type of situation. It is not healthy for the people of Gombe State, and we will not allow that to happen. We want free, fair, and credible elections come 2023.
Some have asked if there are differences in the PDP and APC candidates. Why are you hopeful about victory?
Definitely, I’m telling you that the residents’ love for our party is 100%. The PDP is known for good governance, purposeful leadership, and people-friendly government—government that has been tested before we came back; you know, we ruled the state for 16 years.
We had Senator Danjuma Goje, you can see the structures he put in place, and Dr. Ibrahim Dankwambo, who ruled for eight years, and you can see his landmarks in the state. Now you start wondering, “Where are the landmarks of this government?”
It is only marking people’s houses for demolition. Just go around the state and you will see it. We were just discussing that, for instance, if you are going from Gombe to Kumo, Billiri, or Kaltungo along the Gombe-Yola road, you will see buildings marked red that are not their responsibility. It is a Federal Government highway and it is under the federal ministry of works and it has nothing to do with them.
In talking about defection from the APC to the PDP in Funakaye, an APC spokesman in an earlier interview said it was most unlikely for the projected number to defect in the local government area, describing the number of defectors as “rabble rousing.” Is this true?
What do you expect them to say in defence to save their faces? I can tell you that I have gone to Abuja twice to collect party registration cards so that people who are defecting from the APC to the PDP will have cards to register. It goes without saying that we brought thousands of them (cards). There are generals like me who have also defected to the PDP.
General Amodu, who contested for a Senate seat, defected from the APC to the PDP. We have others too. It is not a fluke. It is something that explains how we are running the party; it has become so attractive that people are coming en masse. We had six gubernatorial candidates. Can you imagine that? It is because there is hope in the PDP that we had that large turnout.
What again is the selling point, aside from promising good governance? Usually we see parties in power attracting defectors.
We conducted transparent primaries for the candidates. You have heard the story of the All Progressives Congress. They denied a serving Senator the opportunity to contest.
How would you rate this government’s infrastructure development since the construction of Network Eleven Hundred?
Compared to what the former governors did, Senator Danjuma Goje and Dr. Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo, when you consider these two compared to what you are seeing in the first term of this governor, he has done nothing. He’s victimising the population with some of his very bad policies.
The opposition has been harping on Gombe’s growing debt profile, which the government says is inaccurate and nothing to be worried about. What is your comment on that?
Gombe State is not an industrially blessed state. The debts that the governor has accumulated — just think about it. This means that for many years to come, we will be suffering from the effect of the accumulated debt. What is worrisome is the growing number of out-of-school children, the terrible roads, especially around places like the Nafada Local Government, and some of our hospitals. When you go there, there are no drugs and the facilities are not at their best, and when you look at the general wellbeing of our citizens, happiness has eluded them; they are worried; they have no hope; they are hoping for rescue to come, and we are on the rescue mission to deliver them.