In this interview, the National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, speaks about the party’s performance in governance, internal squabbles, the anti-graft war and several other issues of national interest.
Very little, if anything, has been said about your inaugural bi-annual national convention. Nigerians had thought that after the national caucus and the NEC, we would get to hear about specific dates for the national convention but that didn’t happen, why?
We just finished our national caucus and National Executive Council meetings. Our chairman representing the National Working Committee briefed the caucus and the NEC on why we have not been able to hold the mini-convention. There are other events that should be happening like state congresses and of course, the elective convention and other things. Instead of setting a date for the mini-convention, NEC decided that we should set up a team to look at all these things in the context of all the other activities- you can’t have two major conventions within six months. What they need to do is sit down, look at all these activities and put a timeline to them and as soon as that is done, we will let you know how we are going to proceed.
Your party also set up various committees to look at internal disputes in the various state chapters such as Bauchi, Kogi, Kano, Kaduna and elsewhere. Not much has been heard about them. What is happening?
It must mean that those committees have not concluded their assignments. For us, what is important is to resolve all these issues ahead of our elective convention and there are congresses in various states. We have to deal with all these issues; they are more important to us. As you can see, some of these disagreements or what some of you people in the media like to call crises, are not really as terrible as you think. They are (not as terrible as you think) given the atmosphere that permeated both the national caucus and the National Executive Council meeting that we just finished.
The Maina issue has certainly been an embarrassment for this government and your party considering its anti-corruption posture. How are you dealing with it?
Didn’t we say it was an embarrassment to us? We issued a statement saying it was an embarrassment to us as a party. When you say you want to fight corruption, it means that there is a problem you want to solve. What is important at the end of the day is that people did not do this kind of a thing and got away with it. If you say you are fighting corruption, it doesn’t mean that, overnight, you are not going to have people who would not want to be corrupt. Each time such people are uncovered, you cannot use that as evidence to say oh, this party is not fighting corruption. The fact that they are uncovered, the fact that you are taking action against them means that you are fighting corruption; the fight against corruption does not mean the absence of corruption but the willingness to punish corrupt practices whenever they happen; that’s my definition. That is why you see that immediately this issue happened, the President said the officer should be dismissed from service. How intolerant of corruption can a President be? Like I said, when this issue happened, the crime that this gentleman is presumed to have committed was committed under a different dispensation, a different political party and we have not forgotten that even when he was accused of committing this offence, he was going around town in a convoy of vehicles with security details. He refused to answer to the summons by the National Assembly until the then Senate President, David Mark, declared at a plenary that the then President Goodluck Jonathan should choose between Maina and the National Assembly. We should not behave as if this thing does not have a background or that it started yesterday. Whether it is corruption or incompetence, or whatever you call it, they are very resilient. They will continue to manoeuvre and create new ways to survive and that cannot be interpreted to mean that the government or our party is not committed to the fight against corruption. The fact that every single day Nigerians are having conversations around corruption is in itself an achievement. What that means is that the fight against corruption has been brought to the national consciousness by our party. What it means is that we have brought it to a point that Nigerians now know that corruption is not normal, it is not natural, that is why all these issues are coming up.
Nigerians have described your party and this government as a house divided against itself. Do you agree?
I don’t think the scenario you’ve just described represents the true situation that existed in our party even before we had our caucus and NEC meetings. The important thing we need to understand is that there is no political party anywhere in the world where you don’t have internal wrangling, where you don’t have people disagreeing with one another or each other as the case may be. What determines the strength of a political party is its ability to weather the storm and arrive at a solution to whatever challenges that these disagreements or contestations are. And that they are dealt with amicably from time to time. What we are saying is that whatever disagreement or crisis, as you may want to call it, that has happened in our party has been largely blown out of proportion. They’ve been exaggerated because we just had our national Caucus and our NEC meeting, and nobody slapped anybody, nobody even raised his voice against another person. As a matter of fact, we had a very peaceful and fraternal meeting for over two days. You were here, you could see from the faces of everybody that it was a family meeting, everybody was happy. Some of these disagreements we talk about sometimes are exaggerated by people who think that whenever people disagree, it means that the house is about to come down. Have you seen any political party where everybody always agrees? Even in the Church or Mosque, do people always agree?
Recently, the Customs boss, Col. Hameed Ali, said the party’s change had been derailed by some people in government, including APC members and those who joined from the PDP. What is your party’s position on this?
I have read that (Ali’s) statement and I don’t have the same interpretation of it. I don’t think what he meant was in reference to the APC members who defected from the PDP. I don’t think that was what he was talking about. What I think he was talking about is what every party is talking about- that there are still many PDP members who are heading government agencies and parastatals under this dispensation and that these people are the ones undermining the desire of this government to move forward. I think this is what he was referencing. I am not saying he is right or wrong, I am not saying I share his view but what I am saying is that he is not referring to PDP members who joined the APC; that would be your own interpretation. There will be no basis for such a conclusion.
After so much public outcry, President Buhari finally sacked Babachir Lawal and Ayo Oke. Some Nigerians have described the sacking as belated coming many months after their suspension. How would you respond to that?
Sometimes, people say justice delayed is justice denied. But I also want to say that sometimes justice in haste could be justice denied. We don’t have all the facts and I believe that the President acted only after he was convinced that there was a basis for him to take the action he took. A decision that is likely to end the career of someone should not be taken in haste; it should not be taken because people are asking that he should be crucified. If you are at the level of leadership, you should be able to take decisions that will affect the lives of other people with a great sense of responsibility and with care. I have no doubt in my mind that the President took that action only after he was convinced that was the only way to go. It is not about the reluctance to take action or that he lacks the desire to punish acts of corruption.
The President only sacked the duo but the contents of the report have yet to be known. Nigerians say they deserve to know the content of the report on Lawal and Oke. What do you think?
You said someone has committed fraud, the person was suspended even before such a case was established against him. Then, after the committee that was set up to investigate him investigated and a case was established, the man was sacked, you say you still want to see the contents of the report.
But don’t you think Nigerians are entitled to know?
I don’t know what we are interested in. What do we want? Is it not enough that an action has been taken? Some of these things are overstated and I think we should focus on more important issues than the drama around the whole thing. I know that releasing the report will give you a couple of days of headlines for your newspaper but how does that solve the problem of corruption?
The NHIS Executive Secretary, Prof. Usman Yusuf, was also suspended after a panel set up by the Minister of Health found him culpable in N919m fraud and Nigerians want the President to act on the report before him. Do you think it is right for the President to sit on reports of corruption for so long, considering his posture as being against corruption?
I don’t speak for the President.
Some of your party members have started talking about 2019 already when the party has not even delivered on its promises to Nigerians. Would you describe that as responsible politicking?
I don’t know what you mean by our party and government has not delivered on its electoral promises. We cannot continue to make general statements. I believe I will be able to answer this question more efficiently if it is based on empirical facts and figures. If for example, you say oh, you promised to fight corruption but you have not done it, you promised to fight Boko Haram but you still have this, you promised to revamp the economy but we are still in recession, you said you will revitalise agriculture but you have not done anything. You said you will create a favourable environment for business but we are still backward in our ease of doing business ranking. If you say all that, then I will be able to engage you based on facts and figures but to make a generalised statement to dismiss an entire government and say we have not achieved is not charitable. Yes, there are still problems, there are still challenges, there are still issues to be dealt with, there is no doubt about it. And as long as there is a government, there will always be things to deal with but we as party members sitting at the NEC, we are happy with what Mr. President and our party have achieved in government in the last two years and we believe that we still have two years to deal with whatever issues that are left. The current mandate is a four-year mandate, not two years. We believe that at the end of the day, we’ll continue to work hard and deliver on what is left of our campaign promises that we have yet to deliver on. We also know that there are areas requiring improvement and that too will be improved upon.
The APC chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, recently insinuated that Buhari could have a return ticket. Can you categorically tell us if Buhari will be assured of a return ticket?
The President has not said he will contest again. So I think all the clamouring around him is presumptuous because the President himself has not said he will contest. What I can assure you is that the APC will abide by the APC constitution on such matters and our constitution does not provide for an automatic ticket, our constitution does not provide for the right of first refusal, so our party will abide by its constitution. We have looked at what the President has done and we believe that we are happy with his achievements. If he comes up today and says he wants to contest, we will support him but to begin to throw up things like an automatic ticket, right of first refusal, they don’t exist in our constitution.
When will the APC government stop its blame game as the presidency recently blamed the PDP and Jonathan for the Maina saga and his reinstatement? Some Nigerians say the only goal of the APC when coming to government was to blame the opposition to submission. How would you react to this?
Is it Nigerians that are saying this or (Saturday) PUNCH? Because when did you conduct the polls before coming to a conclusion that we have taken blaming the opposition as our main goal? We can’t sit in one place and assume we can speak for all Nigerians or the whole of Nigeria. I don’t think we are blaming the PDP for everything. Of course, we must move forward but we can’t afford to forget the past because if we forget, we will fall into the same error again. You pull down a building, then you went to the market and carried a megaphone and start shouting that the person that is constructing the building is not building it well, the person is too slow, is that right? People need to remind you that- hey shut up; you destroyed this building in the first place and we took on the job of rebuilding it. We are not blaming you for pulling it down, we are focused on rebuilding it, let us have the quiet and the peace that we need to make progress because you are the people who burnt down the building in the first place. That is the metaphor I will use in this case. The import of this is that nobody is blaming PDP whenever we have a challenge that is not what is happening. What is happening is that yes, the President did not blame PDP for Maina’s return to office, but Maina is part of the legacy left behind by the PDP. So, if you mention Maina, you must mention the PDP so that people don’t forget that Maina is one of the legacies left behind by the PDP. But his finding his way back into service is our responsibility. The PDP would rather we don’t mention them at all but we will continue to make reference to them whenever we find it necessary. Even though they have been reduced to a regional party, we won’t leave them alone because of the rot and the level of institutional decay they left behind.
Your party has a constitutional provision for a Board of Trustees; as we speak, that body has not been inaugurated. We learnt that the jostle over who will lead the body is responsible for the state of things. Is this true?
Yes, I agree with you that the board ought to have been constituted and I agree with you that there was initial rancour over its composition but I believe that now that we have sat down at the national caucus and the NEC, all these issues will be sorted out sooner than later.
There is also the issue of wide-ranging reforms being proposed in the planned constitution amendment. Some have argued that the constitution has not yet been fully tested but your party is already talking about amending it, why?
Who are the people saying this? Are they members of our party?
Yes, some of them and other concerned observers. One of the items we learnt is a plan to increase the length of time a new entrant is supposed to spend within the party before he/she is eligible to contest for elections. What is the true state of affairs?
If you join our party today, you will not be eligible to contest for anything until after one year.
But that is not what your constitution says at the moment.
It’s still a proposal, it is a proposed amendment and an amendment can only be adopted at the convention, not even at the NEC. We only listed it for NEC information and any member or organ of our party, by our constitution, can propose an amendment to the constitution but the ratification of an amendment can only happen during the national convention.
Is it that the party has observed that the “open door” policy which leaves room for people to defect from another party today and fly the APC flag tomorrow has become a liability, hence it wants to change it so soon?
You’ve talked about so many things we’ve not done and you say we’ve been in existence for two years, we’ve not done this or that. Now you’ve talked about what we are about to do, you say why we are doing it so soon. How then do you want us to approach these issues? I believe Nigerians have come to trust this party as one that has their best interest at heart and that whatever action we take as a party and as a government, they will be the ultimate beneficiaries. – Culled from Punch.