By Omeiza Ajayi

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Mallam Salihu Mohammed Lukman, Director General of the Progressive Governors Forum, PGF, a think-tank for governors elected on the banner of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in this interview speaks on the need to restructure the party and strengthen it to face current realities and future challenges.

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He also speaks on the several crises afflicting the party, saying national unity cannot be achieved without first reconciling all aggrieved tendencies in the party, especially the governors.

You recently released a book and followed it up with a letter to the National Chairman of your party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, which raised some dust. What is the book all about?

The book, ‘Power of Possibility and the Politics of Change in Nigeria’ is about the APC, how it came about, some of the negotiations that took place and some landmark events in the party,which the media may have reported but may not have been documented.

Two issues made me to think of putting all the things together. One is the fact that the politics around 2019 elections created a situation whereby the narrative around the APC began to be changed deliberately to paint APC as not different from the PDP. There are certainly differences between PDP and APC and one thing that needs to be recognized is the fact that as it is today APC is a work in progress and some progress has been made substantially.

Some of the major things the APC has achieved, which no Nigerian political party has achieved since 1960 are two. One is the fact that opposition parties were able come together. That has never happened.

And if you remember at the beginning of the negotiations in late 2013 or early 2014, the cynicism was that it was not going to happen, the usual leadership dispute will come up and scatter everybody. And when it did not happen, the other mindset that came up, was that APC cannot hold primary election that the process of bringing up a candidate will scatter the party. At the end of the day candidates emerged.

There were some disputes but at the end of the day, APC was able to manage it and PDP was defeated in 2015. So, that was the second major achievement. It has never happened where a ruling party was defeated in Nigeria. APC achieved that. That is why I titled the book, ‘The Power of Possibility’ because the only thing that made it to succeed was the conviction that it was possible.

The leaders of the opposition party then committed themselves to the process. Now, having achieved that, I think it is always important to create a situation whereby the party is able to renew itself and I highlight two broad categories.

One category is the issue of party building around which there are clear, straightforward issues that the party needs to address in order to stabilize. The question of having the capacity to settle, reconcile leaders when there is conflict is key. And as a party you cannot run away from it because election will always come with conflict.

So the party must have the capacity to address all conflict situations. And it is a function of leadership. The leaders of the party must commit themselves to develop those skills that enable them to negotiate conflict situations. And my argument, which is not in the book, is that we are lucky we have somebody like Adams Oshiomhole, who is one of the best negotiators and mediators this country has produced as national chairman. I think the thing to do is to really appeal to him to deploy those skills to reconcile all the conflictual situations.

That is one aspect. The second issue is about membership. We need to really organize our membership in such a way that it is not like the way you remember PDP that did membership registration many times. We started under Bisi Akande with a membership project where we had a Data Centre, which the PDP attacked in Lagos and alleged that APC wanted to clone PVCs.

We need to return to that project because all the conflicts of 2019 elections around direct or indirect primaries were because that project is not completed. If today you say you are going to do direct primaries, there would be disputes about who are even members of the APC. So, we need to complete that.

The third element of party building is the question of funding. We need to sort out issues of funding and we need to really ensure that every member of the party pays subscription, whether monthly or annually. Once the issue of funding is sorted out, it is the responsibility of party leadership from ward level to national level to ensure that members pay their dues and that it is collected and once that is done we have to set out conditions of service for party leaders.

Right now there is no condition of service and in terms of sorting that out, you need to benchmark it with public service condition of service because if you are able to do that it will minimize the situation where party leaders downgrade themselves to begin to lobby elected officials for appointment. For instance, let us say a state party chairman, if we are benchmarking it with public service condition of service, my recommendation is a state chairman has the same condition of service as a deputy governor. If you have that kind of situation, the state chairman will not downgrade himself to start looking for commissionership or other lower appointments. It will stabilize the party.

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The second category is about governance. There are three issues here. The first is the question of fighting corruption. And in terms of fighting that APC has achieved a lot. And there is a lot difference between APC and PDP on the issue of fighting corruption because the recoveries that have been made within a short period of time are remarkable. And even in terms of party financing, if you remember PDP, twice they did fund-raising for their National Secretariat where billions were collected. They gave about N14 billion to the contractor and now the project is abandoned. APC came about in 2014, but as at today, the building where APC is occupying has been procured at the rate of N2.5 billion and they have not finished paying; I think they started, and as at the time I was writing the book, I was told N500 million had been paid. So, in less than five years, APC has acquired a building without fund-raising from anywhere.

PDP since 1998, they did fund-raising twice, collected billions, paid about N14 billion to the contractor but the project is abandoned and that is the story of all national projects. They are alleging that all the projects being commissioned by Buhari are PDP projects. It is true that many of them were PDP projects but if PDP were still in power, many of those projects would not have been completed. They probably would have gone through the process of revaluation and new budgetary releases made, but they would not have been completed under the PDP.

Now, in terms of governance issue, my recommendation is that we need to strengthen the process, especially the anti-corruption agencies. And I hinge my position on some of the suggestions of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime UNODC about a year ago which raised alarm about the police and the judiciary in which they said they are the most corrupt institutions. You cannot fight corruption that way.

Now, as a patty driving the process of governance, we need to really address these issues. When the issue of the ex-CJN Walter Onnoghen came up, the man never denied most of the allegations but we are now talking in terms of technicalities, and that is part of the problem. We need to have immediate judicial reform because those technicalities protect corrupt public officials. The other thing is about streamlining the institutions. We may need to return to the question of whether we need the EFCC and ICPC as separate bodies.

The second issue is the question of rebuilding the public service. I don’t want to call it reform, because I believe it is a matter that calls for rebuilding because as it is, it has been destroyed. All you hear when we talk about public service is that people say the public service is too costly. The question is, what is the reference point in terms of the cost? I think we need to ask the most important question. What is the public service producing? And in answering that question we may need to return to the foundation. I mean in 1960 or before then when we had no oil. The public service ran based on achieving development targets. We had National Development Plans and up to 1985 when we had the last development plan. The Babangida administration stopped the development plans and brought what they called rolling plans with no development target. So you need to return to that. The most successful development plans were the first and second national development plans. And those were plans that were executed without oil revenues. At that time, it was part of the responsibility of the public service to also mobilize the funding to execute the development plans.

In terms of answering the question of cost, I will just cite the case of Brazil, whose population is almost the same as that of Nigeria. The size of the civil service, interestingly, is also almost the same as that of Nigeria. Why are they not complaining about the cost of their public service? It is because we are not producing much.

The third issue is the question of what I called problem solving communication strategy. APC government has done so much, but in terms of the way it is communicated to people, I think that is where the problem is.

Part of the reality is that with the way we are so divided in the country, it would appear that what makes news are only those things that are against the government. I think those of us in government need to see that as a challenge to say, can we do our homework?

The final issue in terms of governance is the issue of how divided we are today as a nation, whether on account of religion or ethnicity. The APC has done a wonderful thing by setting up the Nasir el-Rufai committee on true federalism. I have reported, I have highlighted the recommendations of the committee and I call those recommendations as low hanging fruits. In addition to the recommendations, the Nasir el-Rufai committee developed draft bills. The APC needs to take that as low hanging fruits and begin to implement them.

Like Buhari said in his inaugural speech in 1984, we have no other country than this country. That is the reality. I have children and I am hoping this would be their home and they need to be at peace with it. But my question is, with the level of problem that we are having and the kind of new conflicts we hear everyday not just among people but involving leaders, who is going to drive the process of solving this problem?

My basic argument is that we must appeal to our leaders in the party to prioritize the issue of reconciliation. And first, they must reconcile with themselves. God has not created that set of human beings even within the family that cannot be in conflict with one another. The superiority of any group is to fight and disagree, come together and resolve to continue together as one.

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As at today, if our leaders in the party prioritize the issue of reconciliation that may be what will inspire the process of national reconciliation. But so long as our leaders are busy fighting one another, the crisis in our society, which is threatening our national unity, will only get worse.

All the crises whether Zamfara, Ogun, Imo and the latest one, Edo, if you ask me they are huge opportunities for APC, but for the party to reap the opportunities, the leadership must prioritize reconciliation and when I say leadership in this instance, I think the National Working Committee under Comrade Adams Oshiomhole needs to give it a strong sense of priority.

You talked about party building. You are the DG PGF. What has been the contribution of your governors to the party?

The APC is largely what it is today on account of the role of the governors. The roles the governors played to make the merger possible were very critical. They met on February 5, 2013 in Lagos and that was how they came up with the recommendation of the name and logo and sent it to the merger committee.

And of course, this is part of the problem. We all cry about governors controlling the party. Meanwhile, we don’t want to take responsibility in terms of contributing to the finances of the party. If you go to every state you find out that whenever there is a problem, they rush to the governor. Nobody is talking in terms of asking what he can contribute to the party and that is why I said we must stop “free riders.”

Almost every member of the party is like a free rider. We must come back to a situation where everybody contributes the small he can. You cannot take away the role of the governors or the role of people who provide the funding for the party.

Moving away from that, there are aspects the governors have made critical contributions, including for instance, the issues of policy, and ensuring the party remains focussed. Some of the things we do here (PGF Secretariat), is that the secretaries to the governments of APC states meet every quarter to review themselves and on the basis of which they come up with recommendations. The recommendations go to governors and get adopted.

Like I said APC is a work in progress and that is why I reflected in the book that some of the major policy achievements that we are able to put in place for our states which our states are replicating can only begin to emerge maybe in this phase, 2019 to 2023. My major problem with the way politics is going is that we pay too much attention to the question of electoral contest.

We don’t pay attention to the issue of what happened in terms of delivery of promises made, and I tell you, nobody forced the hands of our governors to set up PGF. When they set PGF and decided that they needed a secretariat that could serve as a think-tank thing, nobody compelled them to do so. They did so voluntarily and invited people like us to come and run it with a functional secretariat and that is why we don’t go out making noise. To be fair to the governors, they give us a free hand. Of course, there are control mechanisms, we report, on the basis of which they give us direction in terms of what they want.

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So, I think the governors have made quite some good contributions which I feel very strongly APC wouldn’t have been what it is today without the role of the governors. And it is so unfair, I mean, because looking at what has happened in 2019, it is like the foundation actors that came in conflict with one another. And that is why I feel strongly that mechanism for reconciliation is needed otherwise when people who set up an organization becoming increasingly in conflict with one another, the foundation of that organization is being destroyed and we need to really send that message, send that appeal that all our leaders really need to prioritize this issue of reconciliation.


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