..Obasanjo didn’t impose me as Adamawa Senator –Bent
Recently, the first female Senator from the North-East, Grace Bent joined the league of defectors by moving from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with Yusuf Alli, Managing Editor, Northern Operation, she bared it all on why she left PDP after over 20 years of membership. Excerpts.
What informed your recent defection from the PDP to the APC?
I have been in the PDP for well over 20 years. And before I became a PDP member, I was the Deputy National Chairman of my former party, the then PLP which had Engr. Ezekiel Izuogu as the chairman then. We had the likes of ex-Governor John Odigie-Oyegun and Baba Balarabe Musa, among others, as members. I became a Political Adviser in PDP after the merger with my former political party.
I then went on, by the help of God, to become the first female Senator from the North-East geopolitical zone and Adamawa State. After then, I became a member of the Board of Trustees of the PDP till my decamping or defection depending on whatever nomenclature you want to use.
At a time in your life, you have to look inward or take stock of your activities in all ramifications, whether you are a politician or a lawyer or whatever field of human endeavour you found yourself. That was one of the very critical time I have found myself on my political escapades, my political activities, my success stories, my up and down and so on. I took stock and I went into very serious consultations. First and foremost, I had to seek the face of God Almighty, who in the first Instance permitted me to go into politics.
Whether anybody likes it or not, the God factor in everything we do can never be over emphasized. I sought the face of God, I prayed and sought for advice, guidance and did consultations with my political constituents and my political associates and of course with my immediate and extended families. And we came to the conclusion that this is the time to move on to the other side. As a Christian, there is a scripture in my Bible that tells me that I have moved around this particular mountain for so long and it is time for me to take a bold step of faith and look for a different platform.
And the whole essence of politics, that I know, is that you need a platform for you to operate and do whatever you think you need to do as a Servant-Leader. The bottom line is my service to my people. Nigerian Constitution does not have an independent candidature as one of its platforms yet in our Electoral laws. So, you still need a political party. And I looked through all the political parties that we still have, and the one that appeals to me for now, where I have other political associates and like minds, it is the All Progressives Congress (APC).
We went into a lot of consultations, talks and dialogue with the leadership. I didn’t have a choice after being convinced beyond any iota of doubt that this is the time to move to the other side.
All these hurdles were there for me to cross. Sometimes my husband will ask me, how do we do this and I said look, if there is anything I am sure of it is Jehovah that has sent me on this mission. So, let’s keep moving and I kept on moving. In addition, the responses that I was getting from my constituents in Adamawa South were so monumental that I said this is indeed God. God gave the victory during the primary level and at the general election. This was a moment in my life that was so turbulent prior to my primaries, general elections and post-election. It’s been a cocktail kind of experiences because you are today happy, tomorrow somebody is not happy that you are happy. Somebody wants to put a clog in your wheel of happiness and others are conspiring. I have looked inwards and I said to myself, politics to me because of my personal experience, is a concentric cycles of conspiracy. You are there, your constituents want you but a group of people somewhere is there plotting how to cut you off both physically and spiritually. My experiences are mixture of so many things. I thank God I was able to get elected to the Senate and I happened to be one of the very principled female politicians in this country.I can count how many of us that have remained in PDP for a period of 20 years without moving out of that party for one minute and I happened to be one of them. It is a normal game to politicians to jump from one party to another. I am not a bread and butter politician.
People say those of you who are defecting have no principles. What is your take?
In 2014, my people in Adamawa South again beckoned on me to come and run and I said God do I go. I bought my form, did everything and another conspiracy started. This time around, some aspirants who did not have the grassroots appeal, who saw me as a threat felt if that primary was allowed to hold in Adamawa and to be free and fair, they were going to lose out. The party constitution is very clear about this. Every primary election must be held at the headquarters. If it is governorship it will hold in the state capital, if it is Senatorial, it will hold in the Senatorial headquarter. To my consternation, we were waiting for the electoral panel to come for primaries there, do you know that our primaries was moved from Adamawa to Abuja? We didn’t know that the primaries had been held at the Eagle Square, I heard it over the network news in the evening that candidates have emerged for the party. Where? How? We fought through that and nobody gave us a listening ear. We told the party, ‘look you are playing with fire.’ If you do this PDP will lose elections in Adamawa. We meant it because those that were disenfranchised were on ground. We were the grassroots people by the grace of God. We continued to appeal to them, go back and do this election in the right way. If we go to court the court will overturn this.
All of us, the other aspirants that were disenfranchised, said look, since they gave us deaf ears, let us leave them but one thing that I as a person specifically told Mr. President is that ‘if this primary was not allowed to be redone in Adamawa, we were going to have problems and we may very likely lose the elections.’ My prophecy of course, came to pass. At the Governorship Election, we came third. The National Assembly, the three Senators lost, same with the House of Representatives. It was a bad case and APC took Adamawa in 2015.
Afterwards we started having problems with the emergence of factions in the party; the Ali Modu Sheriff faction in the party and the other faction. The party was highly polarized and it shook the very foundation of the party. I was one of the very few that stood our grounds that we were not going to allow this party collapse. You are a journalist of repute. You knew how vocal I was on that matter and we made sure that in Adamawa State, where the Sheriff faction had already taken over the party, I was among the few that took the party out of the Sheriff faction in Adamawa State. It is on record and you can find out.
You can find out from Senator Makarfi-led caretaker. I was at the forefront of rebuilding a new PDP in 2017 to 2018 and that is the structure that brought Governor Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri. In fact, some meetings were held in my house, some in Hajiya Zainab Maina’s house, Governor Boni Haruna’s house and several places. There are times even Governor Fintiri will come pick me up in my house, drive me in his car to go to some places for us to have meetings. We were working as a team. We zoned the various positions and I was part of the zoning. Three of us were mandated to zone. We did the zoning. We had our congress. The present chairman of the party is from Southern zone, which is my own constituency. I nominated him and some others before the congress was held. I didn’t know they had another ulterior motive against me. I spelt out clearly that I was going to contest, and I contested. Having laboured with my life, substance, and with my God given wisdom, to rebuild the PDP in Adamawa State and that is the structure that made Fintiri emerged.
What happened was that the party decided it was going to be the governorship primaries first before the National Assembly. At the venue of the primaries, a lot of horse trading was going on, I was inside. So many dirty things happened and while the votes were being counted, some rascals came into the venue and destabilized the continuation of the counting of the votes and the panel had not even finished entering the votes into their sheets nor announced the winners. That election could be best said to be inconclusive because about three of us contested. The few votes they had registered into their result sheets were what the panel submitted and what the panel submitted was that Grace Bent won the primaries. So, for them to claim that someone else won the primaries, was a lie. If someone else won the primaries, I could claim I won the primaries because what happened there was that the panel could not, as it were finish all their entries into the results sheets but the ones they were able to compile was what they brought here and it was my name that was submitted. I was given the INEC form and I started preparing before I was called that Fintiri and some other people in high places had said it wasn’t me that won the primaries and at such they should give it to another person. That was how I was deprived.
Is it the same Fintiri that you worked for?
Yes. So when Fintiri begins to talk about Grace Bent doing anti-party, I think it is a most uncharitable thing for him to have said. I voted for Fintiri on the day of the primaries. Fintiri and I were at the forefront of constituting that executive that made him emerge. So I don’t know where the anti-party came from. If he is talking about anti-party, my local government gave the highest number of votes in the presidential election. It is on record that the Adamawa southern Zone did well for Fintiri too.
Were you pushed to wall to defect?
I was pushed to the wall. I was so humiliated. Fintiri won election as governor and changed. You see when people suffer from severe complex, I think that is one of the problems our leaders suffer in this country. It is high time they begin to understand that ‘you cannot change certain things about certain people. If God creates an opportunity for you, don’t destroy it. If God uses a ladder for you to climb to the top, don’t use your feet to throw the ladder away. Otherwise, by the time you fall from that top, you will fall like a pack of cards.
But you have survived worst moments in PDP, why did you leave the party?
I have survived worst moment but look let me tell you, politics is about service and my own kind of service is to be in the mainstream of where things are happening. Time is in phases, men are in sizes. The time for me to be at the background and be calling the shots, I have done that. When time comes for me to come out and contest, why would you not want my face to be seen? At the background, you want me to be part of the people mixing the tomatoes, pepper, onions and making the stew, but when it is time for us to begin to dish out the things for people, you will want to ease me out. I am not interested in eating, I am interested in us delivering the dividends of democracy to the people we have sworn an oath to. So what is it about? This is two and half years since the 2019 governorship elections I didn’t leave the party. I was pushed to the wall enough to have left the party at that time. I attended Fintiri’s inauguration. But do you know to my own chagrin, Fintiri has never called any stakeholders meeting. This is the tradition of the party. When the likes of Professor Jibril Aminu, Tafida Adamawa, Bamanga Tukur, Turaki Adamawa and a lot of leaders we had, governors and critical stakeholders were always called together to take decisions that affect the survival of that party. But today, it is a different case. Governor Fintiri’s stakeholders are his appointees – his Commissioners – and the people that are his stooges. These are the only people he calls to meetings and what he says is what everybody takes home and it becomes the norm. Governor Fintiri does not want anybody that will come and challenge him. He doesn’t want to be advised. He doesn’t want alternative opinion. How can you succeed as a leader?
But can you get a better deal in APC?
You see, when you talk about deal, if APC will give me a level playing ground, I don’t need a deal.
I mean will you stay…without defecting again?
I foresee I will stay with the calibre of people that have persuaded me to come into the APC. These are men and women of proven integrity.
Do you want to return to the Senate? Would you like to run in 2023?
If my people say Grace Bent run, I will run. I am not going to waste one minute. For your information the National Assembly is the best place to be if you really want to work. There, you don’t have a vote. As a Senator, I didn’t have a vote. No senator has a vote. A Senator is essentially a lawmaker to make good laws for the people, do oversight functions and be a check and balance to the executive as it were. Some of the Governors play God and when you begin to play God in lives of people you know the end. How do candidates emerge in our political parties? The delegates system has been a colossal failure. The problem is like what you call garbage in, garbage out. How do the delegates emerge? Manipulation! How do the candidates for the parties emerge? They emerge through manipulation because a governor is ‘the almighty” in the state. He owns the party structure. The party allows him to own the party structure because there is no party supremacy.
He is the automatic leader?
Yes and it is not constitutional. It was only conventional because PDP made it and until PDP and every other political party go back to the drawing table, our democracy would be far from being consolidated. When a governor is stronger than the party and a party chairman is so scared of the governor, when a Working Committee does not want to hurt the feelings of the governor, then democracy is threatened. Damn it! Because a governor gives you money that is not his personal money, taxpayers’ money, he calls the shots. And even if he will call the shots, call shots that have human faces. Don’t call the shots that are disadvantageous to the electorate. But you see the governors would want a senator that would come and genuflect (rankadede). Your senator cannot come and sit down with you? You were elected, he was elected. As a matter of fact, a governor is a local champion. All their activities do not go beyond their states. A Senator is a senator of the Federal Republic. But because of the military mentality, a governor sees himself as be all, end all. If you look at the protocol, a Senator comes before a governor but because a governor controls huge votes, he assumes he is above all. They said a poor man has very good ideas and so blest with wisdom and is talking, you will see how they will rubbish him. When a rich man is talking, even if the wealth is questionable, everybody, not everybody, people without conscience, people who have raised money above their conscience will listen to the moneybag at the detriment of the wisdom from the poor man. So the dilemma being faced by our democracy must be looked into very critically. The electoral law must be consolidated.
Most people thought you were imposed as a Senator on the people of Adamawa State by ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo.
I have had a couple of people say it. President Obasanjo is alive; you can go and ask him what role he played in the emergence of Grace Bent. As a matter of fact, when I went to meet President Obasanjo – you know his usual blunt nature – he told me in no clear terms: ‘don’t waste your money. Are you sure you can do this?’ You can also go and find out from Professor Jibril Aminu who was the link man then in Adamawa state, if President Obasanjo ever mentioned to him to deliver Grace Bent. As a matter of fact, Professor Jibril Aminu did not believe I could scale through the primaries. So when people go and meet him and say why should this woman contest? Which part of the constitution stops me from contesting for God’s sake? Section 41 subsection 1 says it clearly, “no person by reason of sex, birth or religion should be discriminated against in this country.”
They said he imposed a Yoruba Senator on the people of Adamawa South?
How can Obasanjo do that? He was not on the field. He did not tell anybody to do anything for me. If there was anybody he was going to talk to it would have been Professor Jibril Aminu…
Nyako or the party chairman. But Nyako himself was aspiring. I already had my own structure because I was already a political adviser before I went to contest. I was already working for my people. So, President Obasanjo did not contribute an iota of support into my emergence.
And he did not impose you?
He never imposed me. Thank God he is alive. I am using this as a very good opportunity to air this issue out for once. President Obasanjo himself never even gave me a chance of winning my primaries talk less of general elections. Senator Ahmadu Ali is alive. He was the National Chairman then. You can go and ask him on how I won my primaries. You can go and interview him. When they realized I won my primaries, a group of politicians – men – went to him to ask me to step down and go to the House of Representatives so that they can give the ticket to someone else and the clear answer from Senator Ahmadu Ali, wonderful man, was ‘this is a party that believes in the rule of law. If Grace Bent takes us to court after winning this primary, she will defeat us. We will not do that. She won her primaries even when nobody believed she would win.’ Baba Ahmadu Ali is alive. Baba Obasanjo is alive. The people voted me of their own free volition, without coercion or gun on their necks. In fact, the odds were against me because I contested against eight men. So, for lily and fickle minded person to say Obasanjo imposed me and they keep saying it without the fear of God that President Obasanjo imposed. President Obasanjo couldn’t have imposed me. Did President Obasanjo come to build structure for me in Adamawa? Did the Yoruba people come to build structure for me in Adamawa? I won my general elections in nine local governments. May God forgive these people that keep making these assertions that President Olusegun Obasanjo imposed me.
So after you won the election what did Baba say?
He asked me “how did you do it.” I am quoting him again. And I said “Baba, I didn’t do it. God did it and the people of Adamawa South Senatorial District. Fantastic people; We have 24 ethnic groups in Adamawa South. We have the Christians. We have the Muslims. My kind of politics transcends ethnic or religious affiliations. Go and find out my records there. Everybody is mine because I understand this game. So when Professor Jibril Aminu saw that I won the primaries, he congratulated me. And that was the beginning of my having to have good relationship with Professor Jibril Aminu. He is my father. He believes so much in me. Nobody gave me a chance.
What if you are not given a Senatorial ticket by the APC?
God has always given me what I want. If I don’t get it, God does not want it. So the question of not getting it does not arise. God that has made the crooked ways straight is the one that has given me the go ahead to go into the APC and whatever he has prepared for me there, Jehovah God will make it happen. My Bible tells me to think only of what is pure, what is good, what is right and what is great. So, I want to believe and think that I am going to have a very fantastic relationship with most people in APC. Everybody cannot love you. I don’t expect everybody to love me. Some people may already be having hiccups and fever by my defection to APC. It is normal. Jesus was not loved by everybody but one thing I know is that the majority of my people in Adamawa South love me. I know I have a lot of enemies who when they hear the name of Grace Bent they start getting fever and headache but there is no reason for it.
Is APC your final bus stop?
Nothing is final in life until you breathe your last breath.