Professor Mohammed Ali Pate is the gubernatorial candidate of Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) in Bauchi State, having lost his bid for the ticket under the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with newsmen, he speaks on issues that are facing the state and his plans to tackle them if elected governor. ISHOLA MICHAEL brings excerpts.
There are 28 candidates for the governorship election in Bauchi. What are your chances, considering the issue of incumbency and other factors?
Our party, PRP, is really different from the rest of the crop that are contesting for the governorship in Bauchi State. If you look at the antecedents of our party and the ideology behind it, it is different in terms of the direction and plans for the state. The rest of the parties, the APC and the PDP are all the same. The political space as it is, if you look closely at the ruling party, the same people who have been ruling in the PDP for the last 20 years are all the same. They have the same route. Now, ideologically, they have not offered any agenda that is different in the last 20 years, particularly in the last four years. PRP has offered the people of Bauchi a different vision and a different direction. That is why we are very confident that the acceptance of our party among the generality of the population of Bauchi will translate into a successful election in 2019 and we will win the governorship and other elections Insha Allah.
You were once a member of the APC, many things transpired which made you to join the PRP. What really motivated you to join politics?
Essentially, some of us are accidental politicians. Politics has been played for several years in ways it has not translated into meaningful development for our people. We are now among the poorest states in Nigeria. Extreme poverty rate in Bauchi State is more than 83 per cent. We have more than 1.3 million children out of school. We have very high youth unemployment. When you go to our rural areas, the basic infrastructural deficit has not been met. Any responsible citizen of Bauchi State has to be concerned, if he has a chance to offer a solution to the many problems and challenges facing the state.
Many of us, the younger generation, felt that we have to show up and articulate a vision which seems to be lacking, so that the people will have a direction. Initially, we thought the APC ideology was real. We respected the national leadership and expected them to do what is right and allow internal democracy to prevail. Unfortunately, the primaries which the party conducted in Bauchi State in October, showed the party does not respect internal democracy. It turned out to be a kangaroo affair because there were no primaries conducted, but they announced themselves to be winners. In some places, the people who are popular in the other primaries were arbitrarily replaced. So God, in His mercy, pulled a lot of us out of that mess of APC in Bauchi State and placed us under a party that has deeply rooted ideology. Most of the progressive elements that left the APC and other parties in Bauchi have moved to PRP. The chairman of our party was formally in the APC, the vice chairman of our party, the secretary and myself who is contesting for the governorship, the deputy governorship candidate, all the senatorial candidates, all the House of Representatives and some members of the state House of Assembly who were denied tickets are all from the APC. This tells you that the APC in Bauchi has failed and Bauchi people are not seeing PDP as an alternative.
Looking at the political space in the state, which is dominated by the APC and the PDP, do you think the PRP has the support and spread to challenge the two parties?
PRP has its members, supporters and structure in every ward, local government and at the state level. PRP is the oldest political party in the country in the contemporary Nigerian political space. It is 40 years old because it was formed in 1978. APC is only four years old, the PDP itself is less than 25 years old. But the PRP has been there for 40 years. Even though it has not been in power all this while, it maintained its presence. I have been meeting grass root members of the PRP since and I have travelled to every part of the state to meet with them. I was in Marga, a village near Zalanga, I saw people who have been with the PRP and its ideology all these decades. They have served and struggled, but they have never had an opportunity because the elections were never free and fair to allow them get elected. They supported APC in 2015 thinking that the APC is a new party that will represent the progressives’ ideology of PRP and in the state. The APC has failed.
Now we have revived the PRP and if you will find out at the grass roots in Bauchi metropolis and all other parts of the state, you will know that the PRP has resonated and has aligned with the political aspirations of Bauchi people. Almost 90 per cent of the people have been left out of running of the government in the state. It is limited to only a handful. The rest of the population has been left out, the common people have been left out and that is why their children cannot go to school. They don’t get healthcare services and they are getting poorer by the day, while their children are unemployed. Those left out are the ones supporting PRP, not the usual political players or the Establishment people who of course want to maintain the status quo. But the people have realised that the status quo is not working. Otherwise, how can you explain the rising unemployment? How can you explain the rising poverty in our state? How can you explain the lack of educational and healthcare infrastructure in our state? How can you even explain the heap of refuse all over our neighbourhood in Bauchi? It is because the status quo is not working. But the few establishment players want to maintain it all cost.
People see you more of a technocrat than a politician, being a former Minister, a Head of Health Agency in Nigeria and somebody who spent most of his time outside the country. How can you convince Bauchi people that you came back to serve them?
I was trained as a medical doctor and worked in the area of human development as an expert with various international organisations and private entities in Africa and other parts of the world. That is a great privilege that Allah has allowed me to enjoy over the last several years. Ten years ago, I was called to serve this country and I served at the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency as its Chief Executive Officer. God, in His mercy, enabled the president in 2011 to nominate me as the minister representing the North-East on the basis of merit not on the basis of my experience in politics. So, I served in the federal cabinet as the Minister of State for Health. I also served in the economic management team and I also served in the economic management implementation team. In our constitution, the highest non elective political office is that of a minister and I have served in that role for the president who appointed me and I have discharged my responsibilities as best as I can do.
So, since that appointment, I think as a political office holder, I understood national politics and I understood my own state’s politics. I have seen politics not only here in Nigeria but also all over the world. The reason for politics is to advance the society. But I noticed that, while Nigeria is making progress in some areas, in my own state of birth, the politics that people are playing is not translating to meaningful development, because our youths are unemployed, poverty is increasing. Therefore, I cannot sit idle and say I am neutral.
I have managed to sustain good relationships with the people even though I am not working for the Bauchi State government and I have not been elected. But the relationships I have with the people, political associations that we had, have continued to play a role that we participate in the political process in our country.
Politics has been heavily monetised, and people are more interested in pecuniary gains than development. How can you change the perception of the electorate in Bauchi State on this to get their votes?
The deep rooted cynicism that people have for politics in Bauchi is a deliberate ploy by the people running the current political system in the state to keep our people in a socio-economic bondage by making them poor. That is why they will not want to empower people with education or create employment for them. They will rather prefer the people to live in extreme poverty. But recent history and the introduction of the PVC has slightly broken that political system. In 2015, we saw an opposition party formed only a few years turning the apple cart for the ruling party for the previous 16 years. How much money did President Muhammadu Buhari give to people to vote for him? Everybody knows that he did not steal public funds; he has maintained his integrity, and he has not given people money, but he stood for what is right. A vision that does not allow corruption and his promise and his integrity made people to vote for him.