By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
The unprecedented merger of three political parties into the All Progressives Congress, APC last year revolutionised the political space and gave fillip to the opposition in the country. However, recent congresses to produce officers for the party have opened fault lines within the opposition party. Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Interim National Publicity Secretary of the party last weekend fielded questions on the mutterings in the party, the state of affairs in the country and the resolve of the party to give good govervance to Nigeria. Excerpts
How would you describe the recent congresses across the country?
I believe that they have been largely successful in the sense that there is no way you can build a new party like ours without having permanent structures at the various levels of the party.
For our exercise, we started at the ward level and the idea was to get the administrative structure at that level. To ensure that people at the ward level actually take possession and ownership of the party and at the local government level also, that the people should take ownership of the party. Ditto for state and at the national level.
The idea is that when you have a mass movement like the APC and given the genesis of the APC which is the coming together of several political parties and the collapse of the various structures of those parties, we could not stay for too long without having permanent structures at the various levels. Every officer today, before the congresses were interim and were not elected as it was just an ad-hoc arrangement to be administered.
All our congresses at the ward level were direct congresses and every registered member of the party had the right to cast a vote and choose the candidate of his own and I think largely, it went very well.
Yes, we are not unaware of some misgivings, some people who believed that they were short-changed. It is to be expected and this was why we also set up appeal committees at every level of the congress to address such grievances and I can tell you that the whole problem stem from the fact that some people believe rightly or wrongly that they should take control of the party structure in every level in order to show that they relevance. And this I think is the root cause of all the problems.
You see, these are people who have political ambitions and of course, you cannot rule that out because people are in politics because they have legitimate political ambitions. But we have told everybody that possession or hijack of party structures does not necessarily help to advance your political fortunes, no. As a matter of fact, it would eliminate people against you and create factions within the party.
The party would do everything within its powers to resolve all these issues. Even the reports of the appeals are even subject to the appeal of the national exco of the party.
Are you aware of the memo from Chief Tom Ikimi?
I am very much aware, I was copied. Actually, we were all very embarrassed that it was leaked to the press.
He claimed that efforts to resolve these grievances are being ignored.
I think it would be very wrong of me to start discussing the internal workings of the party or our challenges on the pages of the newspaper. But I can tell you that I know that the situation prevailing in states differ from one to the other. As a matter of fact, while we have concluded state congresses in some states, we are still conducting local government congresses in some states.
So, when people now talk of appeals being heard and being resolved and meetings being called, it is because they don’t have holistic picture of the whole thing. But I know that on a daily basis that the national chairman, the secretary and the exco, they receive complaints and petitions and appeal committees are set up and I am sure all that the exco is waiting for is for a time when all the congresses would have been completed and from that point in time they would do the review. But once again, a newspaper is not the place to discuss the internal affairs of the party.
But this situation has led to the defection of some of your followers in Edo State including the former national vice-chairman, Pastor Ize-Iyamu
We are worried naturally because we do not want any of our members to go. But what we would not do is to make decisions without going into the root cause of the disaffection in every issue. As I am speaking to you now, many of our leaders are talking to the disaffected members. I called the pastor myself and he called me back and we are concerned that any of our members should leave.
In any political party you only want to have more members, you don’t want to lose any. It is only when it becomes impossible for you to retain them that you accept their leaving. Right now, I don’t think that it has gone beyond remedy.
Enthusiasm that the APC would be a viable alternative to the PDP is being played down as it is alleged that there is no difference between the two. Is there really a difference?
Enthusiasm is building by the day. I can show you that surveys have shown that we are becoming more and more popular by the day. At a point in time we had to face what we are facing now. A town would be peaceful until the king dies. Once, the king dies then you would see all the princes who had been united before wanting to become king and in the process, some would even leave town, there could even be breakdown of law and order, but at the end of the day everybody comes back, accept the situation and life goes on.
So, what we are witnessing now, which is disagreement in terms of congresses is bound to happen. I would have been worried if anybody would say in Edo State, your congress was not free and fair or that in Borno State they just wrote names. But there is nobody who can say this because we insisted on direct primaries.
What is interesting is that in many states, they did not complain about ward congresses, many of them did not complain about local government congresses, the complain was about state congresses.
The interesting thing is that once you accept the outcome of the ward congress, it is difficult for you to reject the outcome of the state or local government congress because it is at the ward congress that everything is decided. The ward congress is where you really test your popularity because, there, every member of the party has a right to vote.
It is the executives and the delegates who emerge at the ward level that go to vote for the executive at the local government level. But things change at the local government level because some political appointees including commissioners, ministers, governors, legislators are all automatic delegates. So the thing changes completely at the level of the local government.
How can you compare us with PDP? It is one thing for people to disagree and say no, we do not accept the outcome of the election, that does not bother me. But if you say you do not accept the process, that bothers me. We followed through with our guidelines at the ward level but people who lost out are complaining. It does not mean that their complaints are not genuine but we also have our peace, let’s sort them out.
Some people still have doubts about the chemistry between Asiwaju Tinubu and Gen. Buhari. Are they really working together?
I can tell you confidently that but for the mutual respect and understanding between these two leaders, APC couldn’t have gotten to where it is today. I know that there are daily consultations between our leaders, Buhari, Ogbonnaya Onu, Asiwaju Tinubu and Bisi Akande on diverse issues.
Was there an agreement between Buhari and Tinubu not to vie for the presidency as has been alleged?
There is no agreement. I keep telling people that at no point in time did the party at the highest level ever discuss the issue of its presidential candidate or running mate.
At no point in time. All you have is speculations. If anybody says that there is an agreement between Buhari and Tinubu that none of them will run for office, let him bring it out.
So, do you expect any of them to run?
I expect anybody to run Emmanuel. You are the same person who will say that we are not democratic, you are the same person who is saying consensus is not good and now you are asking me whether any of them would run? Anybody in our party can run. We cannot shut down the aspiration of anybody.
President Jonathan said recently that the PDP candidate will emerge after you would have chosen yours?
Does anybody take that man seriously? Let him speak for his own party. He cant speak for my own party. Our candidate in line with our constitution, in line with our guidelines and in line with INEC regulations.
Are you embarrassed with the situation in the country arising from the kidnap of the Chibok girls?
Absolutely! That we have become a beggar nation where we would need America, UK to come and free our own kidnapped children. It is very embarrassing, but we welcome it because we have always told Mr. President that this government lacks capacity, that he should reach out and we in the opposition, how many times have we offered him tips, advise. The same thing that the governor of Borno State told him about the capacity of our soldiers that is now playing out. What did America say? What did the UK say? It is very embarrassing that Amnesty International would claim that actually that government had four hours advance notice! Then what happened?
We have never criticised this man for the sake of criticism! Never! We have always raised issues and always said that the manner he is handling this issue smacks of incompetence.
But are you satisfied with the intervention of the First Lady?
They have turned the government into one big joke. The wife has no constitutional right, has no constitutional role to be calling principals, commissioner for education. She doesn’t understand that we are running a federal system of government where the states are not appendixes of the Federal Government.
I spoke to the governor of Borno State in Maiduguri when we went to see him and he said that the First Lady invited the Borno State officials that they knew that constitutionally they were not bound to answer but out of respect for the office of the president and the African tradition, thinking that she was going to show genuine concern, but she called them tongue lashing these people, for four hours they were standing and they were handed over to the IG to be detained.
They made it seem like this thing didn’t happen and that you are just embarrassing the Federal Government. For God’s sake, what did the government do for the first 16 days? For the first 16 days, nothing. It was after that he set up a fact finding committee. We pray that these girls are returned safely and even at that, it is a big blow to Nigeria. Is this a country with a very rich military tradition?
But the president said the problem flowed from more than 20 years of underfunding of the military?
But what did he do? Which party has been in power since then? Is it not the same PDP? Is he not castigating his own party? What has he done since he got there? This man lacks competence, lacks capacity, lacks vision. He is overwhelmed by the job.
Has the coming of the former PDP governors not fragmented your party?
You see what I tell people is that in politics, that a thousand friends are not enough, one enemy could be too many. Those who are saying that we shouldn’t have accepted the PDP governors, what is their logic? For a party that once to win, 11 against 23 or 16 against 18? Don’t for once mistake the greed, ambition of some leaders for the genuine followership of the people. Many of these people when they left, how many of them left with their supporters. We all know how much money changed hands between the presidency and some of these our leaders that left. Many of them just smiled to the bank at the expense of the country. Nigerians are not fools. For a party that is desirous of winning, I think we had no alternative than to accept those PDP governors.
Even the bad ones?
What is your definition of a bad one? I can start from the top and say even Mr. President is a bad one! How do you determine the bad ones? If in your church a heroin addict decides to seek salvation, you will turn him as a bad one?
Are you not bothered that in Imo the coming of Rochas Okorocha has led to an exodus of some stakeholders and even in Adamawa, Buba Marwa and other principal stakeholders have left?
What you talk of in politics is net profit, not gross profit! You are only talking of those who have left, not about those who have come in! I can tell you we have gained more, but of course, we would have wished all of them to have stayed, but it is not possible.
CODER has raised issues concerning the genuineness of the intentions of INEC. Are you worried?
We are very worried because if INEC says they have facilities for card readers, why are they not starting with Ekiti and Osun? We are asking INEC, why don’t they want to use Ekiti and Osun a pilot scheme for the electronic voters card?