For Usman Bugaje, National Secretary of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, nothing comes close to being very organized and determined to deliver democracy to a people who have been yearning for it – especially in the face of a rampaging Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
The interview was conducted in Abuja, the federal capital territory, penultimate week.
By Jide Ajani, Deputy Editor
However, in the wake of the judicial victory of the ACN penultimate Friday in Osun State, where Rauf Aregbesola was awarded the governorship of the state, Sunday Vanguard went directly in search of Bugaje to make his comments on the victory.
This seeming expansionist tendency of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, what can you ascribe it to?
I would rather say it is the misdeeds of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, that are being revealed and redressed by the litigations in the courts.
The truth is that ACN won as many of those states as possible but the PDP rigging machine refused to allow our victories to stand, but instead, used INEC and the machinery of government, especially the coercive machinery of government, to steal victories that did not belong to them.
It is reflective of the crimes of the PDPrigging machine.
It is now being proven by the day that ACN won in these places all along but the PDP and INEC denied us victory.
The same goes for Oyo and Ogun but the fact that we have not got these others does not mean we won’t work to get them at the polls next year.
The judiciary could have done much more but because this is Nigeria and the judiciary can not in any way be extricated from the ills prevalent in the country, the opportunities to do better are there.
What has happened is a matter of truth triumphing over evil.
If the type of strategies and resources that the party deployed in the South West geo-political Zone had been deployed in the other zones of the country, ACN, as it is today known, would have done much better. ACN has always been a much better organized political party than the PDP. ACN is better and more popular.
Just cast your mind back to the jubilation that greeted the court judgment.
But some people are saying that ACN is just attempting to replace the Alliance for Democracy, AD, which is a Yoruba party?
ACN is still a national party and it is the only one outside PDP
There are a number of other places where ACN won but the party was denied. In Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta; when you go to these places today, you will have no doubt that the ACN is in charge in terms of popularity and acceptance.
We just finished our registration exercise and you needed to see the number of people we registered.
When you come to the North, in Adamawa, Benue, Kwara, Kogi, Plateau and when you go to plcaes like Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Jigawa, even if the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, might appear to be on ground, the squabbles in CPC and PDP, has made ACN the beneficiary of such squabbles.
Your party’s registration exercise, how did it go?
We’ve finished that exercise penultimate Monday by midnight.
It took about three weeks and this was because it had to be extended.
There were places where the exercise could not take off along with the other states and there were some states where the officers there asked for more materials. We could not cope with the demand but in any case registration of members is an on-going exercise and we had to do fresh member exercise because there were new people from the Democratic Peoples Party, DPP, there were new members from the breakaway
All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, and there were also members from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, so we had to create that room for everybody to come and register so we can use that register for the party’s congresses.
Immediately after the congresses, the registration will continue.
You said the exercise was for the purpose of registering new members but you were in the PDP when the party decided to re-register its members. In this instance, was the registration for primaries alone or for the purpose of ascertaining the numerical strength of the party and be able to plan?
It’s a requirement of our constitution that before congresses we should carry out a registration.
But it was also part of the agreement that we reached with our partners who just came on board to form the new political party called Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN.
It is this new arrangement that made us change our name to ACN, even though it would retain all the other features but a modified name would give that sense of belonging and in any case, it is also part of the process of knowing how strong we are as a party.
So, how strong are you as a political party?
Well, we had over three million cards that we printed when we started.
But believe me what we got on the field may well be more than twice that figure which means that after the congresses, we have to produce about four million cards more to be able to meet the request so it is all about confidence building and to ensure that all those that are interested are not in any way left out.
How did you go about these figures? Was there a special mobilization or what?
In the first instance, we have in each state a technical committee which had as members people from all the other political parties that have come on board to form the ACN and they supervised the exercise.
Their job was to make sure that members coming from all the political parties I mentioned earlier that had come together to form the ACN were in no way excluded from the exercise. Fresh people who were not coming from any of the parties but who wanted to join the ACN were not excluded.
For instances, in some wards where we had made provisions for 200 membership cards we only got there to discover that over 1000 people wanted to register and these were not cooked up figures but real people who wanted to belong to the party – in Adamawa, Akwa Ibom and some other places. Although that did not happen everywhere but it gives you a sense of what we had to satisfy as the programme went on.
Your political associate, Turaki Atiku Abubakar has emerged as the consensus candidate of the Northern Political Leaders’ Forum, NPLF, for the PDP presidential primaries. As a member of the ACN, what sense does that give you?
What I would say is that the emergence of the consensus candidate from the camp of the Northern Political Leaders’ Forum and the reaction from the camp of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan to this is all a PDP affair and I wouldn’t want to make any comments on what they are doing and I would rather wait until the candidate of the PDP emerges and that is when we of the ACN would be in a position to comment because the actual candidate of the PDP would have emerged at that time because that is the person that we are going to contest against but at the moment, it is just a process that has not come to its completion so we wait for them.
It would be presumptuous of anybody outside the party to begin to make comments on any individual or the processes leading up to the primaries of the party.
Okay, you won’t escape this question. If you look at the goings-on in the PDP, the internal crisis and the fact that at the end of the day, any which way it swings, there are bound to be backlashes, what sense does that give you as the national secretary of the ACN that could possibly make profits from what is on?
Clearly, ACN stands to benefit from any hitches.
In fact, we are already benefiting from those who have seen that there is no hope from the processes that they have seen going on in the PDP.
In a number of states we are benefiting and may be this is going to also happen on a larger state nobody knows but we expect that to happen.
As of today, the ACN is the only political party in the country that stands to benefit because it is the only national alternative to the PDP because it has that spread and that clout and, therefore, it stands to benefit because people are seeing the ACN as the party to run to when they are having problems in the PDP.
But we have made it clear that we are not going to accept people who fail to make it in PDP to just come into the ACN or that we are going to wait for other parties to have their own congresses before we have our own.
No! But I do concede and I am in fact happy to note that the ACN is likely going to benefit immensely from the trouble that is brewing from the PDP but I will resist the temptation to make further comments on the issues that is still developing in the PDP. I will rather wait and see what eventually happens before I make my comments.
We wait to see who the party throws up. This one is personal.
When Turaki Atiku left PDP for ACN, some people had thought that you would follow him.
There are stories:
Some say that there is a problem between the two of you. Some would also want to be convinced because you may have been a victim of the crisis between the former vice president and his boss and this denied you the Speakership when you went into the House of Representatives in 2003? Why is it so? We want to be educated?
I very much appreciate this question but I want to disappoint you this time.
I have spoken about my relationship with the former vice president but I would not want us to dwell on this matter so that we can move forward.
But you remain friends?
I just want us to move forward and focus on the real problems of Nigeria because there are things we can do to salvage this country because what is happening now is dangerous in this country. What can we collectively do because our politics is in shambles.
Okay, the National Assembly has less than 500 members in a country of over 150million people. However, the grand embarrassment they are causing the people is that they appear to be unscrupulous in their bid to make laws that are for themselves alone?
(Cuts in) They are actually 469 members in the National Assembly.
The laws they appear to be making are just for those 469 members? The most recent is the amendment to the Electoral Act – they want to become automatic members of their parties’ National Executive Committee, NEC. When that law is passed, it will become binding on all political parties but it is obvious that this is just a PDP show going on there?
It has been very disturbing to many people.
Even if you are not in any political party you should be worried because you have a National Assembly that is making laws that are self serving and that is a danger to this country.
It is even more dangerous when you realize that the members of the National Assembly do not even appreciate the dangers relating to the issues. Very senior statesmen who are sufficiently detached from party politics have come out to explain these issues in a very objective manner.
This is not about the political parties.
This is just about legislators, legislating for their own personal interests because they are so oblivious of their responsibilities or so ignorant of the weight of responsibilities on their shoulders and they throw that aside and begin to make laws for themselves.
Look at what happened the penultimate week when they almost tore one of their members who drew their attention to the rascality going on.
That is Hon. Obahiagbon in the House of Representatives?
Yes! From Edo State and he’s an ACN member.
That suggests how serious the problem is and it also suggests how raven they have become and it also suggests that they have lost their sense of decency and they are all out to get whatever they want any which way.
What does that portend?
Ha! What that means if they don’t know is that they are encouraging anarchy because when people decide to do what they want, they ignore decorum and common sense, ignore regulations and ignore that that freedom to associate which the constitution has guaranteed comes with a freedom of political parties to regulate their own associations’ affairs. That freedom comes with another freedom on how I am going to regulate my association.
You can not sit in that chamber who will be members of my NEC and it is the people who come together to form the party that can determine that and determine how we intend to regulate ourselves but you can not just do that for us.
For them to infringe on that, then they are infringing on peoples freedom to associate.
There would be a backlash that can even destroy this country.
Even people who want to invest in the country will be worried and their fears would then be that one day, after having invested so much in the country to do business, these legislators can just wake up one day and make laws that would be in their own interest but against the business interests of the investors; the investors could even reason that these legislators could actually be paid to make new laws that would turn all the investments to somebody else or even turn over the investments to them so that there would be no competition and these are the types of issues that these people are losing sight of.
Let me tell you, this is one of the darkest moments in this nation’s history because of what is going on in a democracy, saddled by people who are so blinded by their own ambition and have lost their sense to even see that what they want to do is against the constitution of this country.
What can the other political parties do because this is clearly a PDP problem?
If that law comes to pass, then our party will go to court to challenge it on the basis of the fact that it would infringe on our own rights.
But you were in that same House of Representatives for four years, what is that thing that makes those in public office lose sight of the very essence of their being there?
I think the first is the quality of the individuals who are there.
Remember that most of us who were there before and almost all the legislators who fought against Obasanjo’s Third Term agenda were made by the PDP machinery not to return – I didn’t seek a return to the House of Representatives but most of my colleagues who sought to return and those who pursued other aspirations were blocked or rigged out in collision with the PDP.
So, the quality of those who were there in 1999 or 2003 is no longer there.
The replacements were people who were drawn from the gutters of the PDP and put in that place as the boys and girls of those who would want to manipulate things in the National Assembly and we feel it is very unfortunate because if not you would not have that kind of thing.
Look, anybody who has a sense of shame and with a measure of decorum and decency would not want to be seen as doing that kind of thing they are doing.
Your party had some internal contradictions of seeming over-bearing individuals and people still see the CAN as a party with some domineering tendencies and some people try to excuse this on the basis of the sacrifices of such individuals?
You see, sometimes, people who watch from outside the party tend to lose the context within which a lot of these things are happening.
Yes, we had views that appeared to be contradictory and yes, we had individuals that appeared to weigh heavily on the party. But I think over the last three and a half years, there has been a lot of adjustments with a view to accommodating processes and procedures in whatever we do and there are many who were seen as the alpha and omega and who many had seen as not being opposed on any issue but who have been opposed successfully on many issues and who have also come to terms with the need to jettison their views within the party and accept that democratic discipline in the party, where a situation of persuasion is holding sway and there seems to be a lot of improvement.
People also have to understand the atmosphere under which we had to operate at that time.
In 2007, we were being pursued, day and night by a coercive regime that saw us as thir only threat to power and, therefore, there were times when we could not meet and there were times when even as members of the National Assembly we could not meet. There were times when we had members beaten by security operatives and in fact one had to go on admission in the National Hospital.
There were times when we had to book three different venues to hold just one meeting and it was like the Soviet Russia of old or North Korea or Cambodia or Myanmar even though this was supposed to be a democracy.
There were times when we had to hide the chairman of the Northern caucus of the House of Representatives for days before we could have our meetings because the security agencies were out to arrest him and disrupt our activities.
In those very tense moments, there were decisions that we had to just take without due process and even information we would have liked to share with our members but we couldn’t so there were times when it appeared that the democratic processes were not followed. But on the whole, as things got better – although PDP is still there and could come back when it becomes desperate again – we improved.
I think there have been a lot of improvements.
Beyond Attahiru Jega, do you have confidence in this INEC?
Whereas we have confidence in the chairman, we can not vouch for the commissioners and some of the officials and I am more worried about the officials.
A lot of the officials, some directors and staff under them were the very staff who were used for rigging in 2007 and the re-run.
Secondly, some of these people have been indicted by some of the courts where the litigation took place and the proper thing for INEC to do is to replace this people and we as a ;political party can not be very confident when such staff are still there to over see elections next year.
Yes we are confident with Jega and some staff but there are still those who need to be scrutinized.
We still need to check the background of those officials who have been either found guilty or indicted, there is need for INEC to do something.
The way INEC has structured its time table do you see it meeting up, especially with the timelines. Some people are saying there is a possibility of not having the electiosn as scheduled?
The whole problem as far as I can see was created by the National Assembly and it is the National Assembly that delayed the process.
How many months ago did INEC take its provisional time table to them and if you remember before this last amendment, it was the National Assembly, along with the executive that delayed the whole thing.
I ask that question because somebody could come up among them again with a brain wave and want another amendment proposal introduced because even the new one is not in place?
I think what INEC has basically said in announcing its time table is that if it waits for these National Assembly members then we will be waiting until May 29 and as long as the constitution says that is the handover date, we at INEC would simply have to let Nigerians know that we have done our job.
INEC has a responsibility to bring out a time table that should see us through and rather than blame INEC the country needs to know that it is the legislature.
The presidential ticket of your party, what is happening, especially this mega arrangement for a candidate in an alliance?
At the moment, three people have indicated interest in the ACN ticket – Nuhu Ribadu, Attahiru Bafarawa and I have also indicated interest and I am still consulting.
For me, this is healthy for the party because the competition is not going to be about Nuhu, Usman or Attahiru.
The competition should be about ideas and it is about what we have to offer as aspirants. I think it is good for choices because the party members need to be given choices about those who are likely to do what members want and I see it as healthy in terms of ideas, perspectives and visions and I hope that when they choose, they will not look at the people but what they have to offer.
They will ask questions about the person with the better ideas and the ideas will compete with other parties.
As for getting General Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, that has been on for over one year.
And it is still on?
Yes! It is still on and until the time comes when we have to close it and submit to INEC but if it works, fine. The other is the opposition arrangement that we are working on because people are tired of the PDP and people are prepared to bring all their resources together so that there will be change because people are tired of the PDP.