BY SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN-CITY
Senator Domingo Obende is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Edo State. In this interview, Obende speaks on the APC crisis and the Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s peace and reconciliation committee. A close friend of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, he explains why he refused to follow Atiku out of APC. Excerpts:
There is a big problem in your party. What do you think?
May be you are not aware. I am a product of polygamy. And I know the problems that can happen in such setting but when the head of the family wades in, everybody should take heed. You can liken the APC to a party operating in that setting. People came from different backgrounds and we are now together as one. Obviously you cannot expect that we will all be speaking in harmony all the time. But as far as I am concerned, the leadership of the APC has the capacity to resolve all the issues before elections. In Edo State for example, every time there is going to be an election, there is always this fear that people will die. But on election day, not one gun will be shot and the election will come and go. So I believe that the APC, under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari and our National Leader, Asiwaju Tinubu, who, of course, is the one trying to resolve the issues, will come together and sort things out. And I can tell that APC is going to win again in 2019.
You were in the Senate before. With the cold war raging between the APC dominated National Assembly and the executive, does it not portend danger for the party?
The Bible says if the foundation is destroyed, what can the righteous do? Nothing? The APC problem started with the election of the officers of the National Assembly and, since then, the party has not been at peace. Also in the National Assembly, there are a couple of lawmakers eyeing one position or the other. So the more the cracks the better for them. Again, if you check, you find that in any democracy, the people who suffer most are the lawmakers because the executive is permanently there, the judiciary is there; only the lawmakers are suspended when the military intervenes. So the National Assembly is working hard to be recognized by insisting that whatever is constitutional must be done. And, of course, the executive will rub shoulders with them thinking they want to do their job. But, for now, I think they are going in the right direction and the important thing is for government to move on. You heard what the President said lately that the feud between the National Assembly and the executive is slowing down government and I think both arms of government are aware of this and they are going to address their differences soonest.
With the crisis, you still think APC will win the 2019 elections?
If you go round the 24 states that the APC is controlling, they are all doing well. And if they are doing well, obviously the followers will ensure that the party wins at the polls. And when you take 24 out of 36, you have only 12 left. So if we fail in twelve states, we still would have won the presidential election.
Imo is one of the APC states analysts say is dicey and the party may lose going by the current happenings there?
The problem they are having there is perceived imposition but people should wait for the primaries. You cannot say somebody has been imposed until the primaries have been concluded and the candidates have emerged. Nobody will come and tell me ‘oh, because this man spent so much money, that is why he won’. Politics is all about money, you have to spend money to get relevance. If you don’t have money, no matter your level of intelligence, it might be difficult for you to climb the ladder. If you don’t have money, wait for an appointment. But the moment it is an elective position, you must have the capacity to deliver because if you cannot deliver in the primaries, how are you going to deliver in the main election?
You are a very close friend of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar who defected from the APC. Why did you not leave with him?
Yes, Alhaji Atiku is a personal friend. You know there is a difference between a political mentor, a political leader and a political follower. I do not fall into any of these categories. He is my friend and if he is in our party, and he is doing anything in our party, because he is my friend, I will queue behind him, but when he leaves the party without my consultation, I will be a fool to follow him. So I wish him well anywhere he has gone to and I want him to win there. But if he comes back to our party, we will work together.
But more people, according to reports, are threatening to defect to the PDP?
If I am living in a luxury house and we have problems there and fighting every day, I will prefer that I join others to resolve the problems there rather than move from the luxury home to a ghetto where I may not be relevant. As far as I am concerned, APC is a party to beat any time, any day. And all our leaders are aware of this. I know that, in their wisdom, they will rather remain in the party, fight their way onto success than move out. For how long will you continue to be a roaming ambassador?
On herdsmen attacks
I think we should first of all establish one fundamental issue, are these people really Fulani herdsmen? The Fulani people that I know in Akoko Edo, they carry jack knives and small sticks. I have not seen them in all the years I have grown up in the village carrying AK 47 rifles. And even as we speak, the ones that live with us in Akoko Edo don’t have guns. So I think security agencies must expand their investigations and it is only when they do that they will be able to understand whether these people are Fulani herdsmen or not. They could be off shoot of Boko Haram or any group that wants to create mayhem in this country so that Nigeria will be very ungovernable.
Edo LG polls/ PDP boycott
I left PDP in February 14, 2010, that was eight years ago. So in eight years, they probably must have diminished in their operational reasoning on elections or they probably would have improved. So there are two ways to their decision. PDP took the convenient way. Don’t forget that they are just coming out of one crisis and going into another crisis presupposes that they had to do primaries and, in the course of doing primaries, they will lose more members to APC. So I believe that the PDP did not want to participate in the elections so that it will not look as if they were defeated. They wanted the easy way out to say ‘we did not participate in the elections, otherwise we would have won’. But they knew that they had no local government to win for now.
APC leaders recognize that Obaseki is working but no stomach infrastructure. Don’t you think this will have a negative effect on the party in the 2019 polls?
When there is poverty in the land, stomach infrastructure becomes impossible because you want to, first of all, appease the land before you now know that even the people working in the land have stomach. For now, Governor Obaseki is doing very well. And that is why he is called ‘Governor wake and see’. So I believe we should be patient with him, he has just done one year and I believe before the conclusion of the second year he will do more. Stomach infrastructure will come but we have to give him time. When he came in, the federal allocation dropped, some governors could not pay salaries but he was able to pay salaries, which all of us must be proud of. And I believe that as soon as he starts to settle down he will start looking at the stomachs, the big ones that have been shrinking; maybe he will now have to pump in some things there so that the stomachs can look good. I believe stomach infrastructure will come.