Hajiya Fatima Mohammed is a Board of Trustees (BoT) member of the All Progressives Congress (APC). She was former national financial secretary of the defunct All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP). In this interview with CHIBUZO UKAIBE, she speaks on the significance of President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term bid, his chances and what it portends for the APC ahead of 2019.
You were the first APC chieftain who called on President Muhammadu Buhari to recontest in 2019 barely months after he assumed office in 2015. In fact, you had threatened to lead a protest by women to make him contest again. How do you feel now that he has declared to seek re election in 2019?
I feel really great. I celebrated his declaration to run again for the seat. I celebrated because I believe in Buhari and I see the light in him.
What convinced you that he should go for a second term that early in his administration?
I was convinced because I know that what we need in this country now is somebody like him to help us return to a path of glory and development. He is not corrupt. He is honest and knowledgeable on Security and development. He was one time minister and governor. When he was Head of State we saw how he handled the country. I have been a believer in President Buhari since 2003 because of his desire, dedication and capacity to make Nigeria a better place. I will keep believing in him because Nigeria needs someone like him to grow and develop. Where we were as a country was shameful. So many smaller African countries are doing better than us because of corrupt actions of past leaders. Some past corrupt leaders almost killed Nigeria. But I am happy that things are now changing. But we need someone to revive Nigeria and that person I believe is President Buhari. But Nigerians have to be patient and corporate with him to serve for eight years as required by the constitution so that he can fully revive the country. So I urge Nigerians to give him support to finish his constitutional tenure so that he can make Nigeria far greater than where he met it.
But what do you say to those who allege that the president has not met expectations?
You asked me this same question back in 2016 and I told you that when Buhari assumed office people thought he is going to do magic. They thought he was going to turn things around within minutes. But we all know that is not possible. I remember telling you then that when you acquire a new house, it takes you some time to settle down and acclimatise in it. So imagine same scenario in a state or country, especially one like Nigeria with her huge size and population. So it’s a gradual process. We have seen leaders who spent years in office without doing things commensurate with the abundant resources available at the time. But President Buhari has done some fundamental things that they couldn’t not do in a short period of time. But it is unfortunate that critics are not seeing the light of what Buhari is doing. But I have come to realize that they choose not to see it, they have closed their eyes to the great things Buhari is doing. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo spent eight years, late President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua spent a short time, and so we couldn’t full assess him. Former President Goodluck Jonathan, spent six years and even the little that Obasanjo left behind was squandered and destroyed. Then there were accidents due to bad road; there were barricades on the road because approved contracts were not executed. But we thank God for President Buhari. We can see the massive transformation that has taken place in governance. There is massive road construction going on now, from Gombe to Adamawa, kano to Maiduguri, Sokoto to Kaduna and from Abuja to Kebbi. All over there is massive road construction going on with less amount of money that was spent under the PDP years. In the past PDP would have looted the money despite the fact that the contract would have been overbloated. But what we have today is a massive work on the exact budget. So while the critics have refused to see it, Nigerians see it and they appreciate him.
Buhari has also being criticised on the three key fronts he campaigned on in 2015, namely security, economy and corruption. Do you think the president has done well on these three fronts so far?
The President has done very well. The herdsmen and farmers clash has been politicized. Some of the herdsmen are not politicians. I am from Adamawa State and we have Fulani herdsmen and farmers as well. But we have never heard of clashes between them until the issue became politicized. But the herdsman that come from outside Nigeria, popularly called ‘Bororoji’ even attack our own Fulani herdsmen. On the economy, we have seen lots of empowerment programs like the N-power scheme which is empowering our youths, there is also the agriculture revolution going on. But I think the problem we have seen is that we used to see massive looting and squandering of the treasury. But now if you want money you will have to work for it. There is no free money in Nigeria anymore, that era is gone. So definitely people will feel the impact of that. But we are urging them to go and look for hard earned money. In my state people have gone back to farming. Last rainy season, many people I never dreamt would take to farming, made a lot of harvest from their farms. One of my political daughters gave me a bag of onions as gift. When I asked where she got it from, she told me it was part of the harvest from her farm. Some people have imbibed the honourable need to utilise their energy to get what they want. This is unlike the past where Ghana must go bags are used to loot monies. Nigeria is no longer for lazy people. There is no food for a lazy man in today’s Nigeria. But whoever wants to work will get money. They have also talked about the anti-corruption war. But as we all know the president cannot be the court judge at the same time. The situation we have today is that people who have massively stolen state funds and don’t want to be caught will definitely fight back. So I will advise the government to setup a special court to try alleged corrupt person. The special court should be setup in each state of the federation. It should not be made a central prosecution issue. For instance, since I am from Adamawa, if I commit any act of corruption there I should be taken there to face my corruption charges. The same should apply to other persons in other states so that the pace of corruption trials will be faster. What we have now is one judge having up to 100 cases and we therefore see long adjournments. So I will advise the president to setup courts specifically to try alleged corrupt persons.
But do you think Buhari is still as popular as he used to be in 2014?
I can tell you that President Buhari is more popular today than he was in 2014. The day he declared for second term, we celebrated just like the day he won the election. I got a lot of calls and messages over his declaration. However as we continue to pray for him, we will work hard and double our effort. But I want to appeal to the media to report accurately and not overheat the polity. The media should be mindful of not being used or deceived by politicians to cause havoc in the country. More investigative reporting will help the country. Facts and not tissues of lies from someone’s bedroom should be reported. For instance, the herdsmen and farmers clash is being exaggerated by the media. What is happening is not what is being reported. The media and Nigeria are partners in progress. So we need reportage of facts on every issue that way the country can develop well.
Do you think the health challenge of the president will be an issue ahead of 2019?
Which health issue are you talking about? Can’t you see a sound and health president? He is stronger than ever. He can push down a tree now. In an earlier interview, I told you that President Buhari has never been a sick person. I have been working with him closely since he started his political life in 2003 and I have never heard of him being sick. Something happened somewhere but we thank God for him today. When you are alive you see many challenges but that is behind us now. But I can tell you that he is hale and hearty. And like he has dared journalist once to a marathon race, this time around he is so healthy that he will be able to engage you in a boxing match.
Do you agree with those who say President Buhari should be adopted as consensus candidate of the APC?
There is no debate about whether or not he should be adopted as consensus candidate. He is already the consensus candidate. We are all on the same page. Those ones that are ambitious of contesting for President are already saying that if he will contest they will not contest. He is father of all APC members. In APC I know of only one challenger and that is Sen Musa Kwankwaso and he has openly said if Buhari, his principal is going to contest the 2019 presidential election, he will not contest it. So I don’t think anybody will like to contest with Mr President in APC and we will beg everyone not to contest against him. We will also beg everyone to join hands and support him to finish his constitutionally guaranteed eight years and the good work he has started. My desire is for my children and grandchildren to enjoy a better and prosperous Nigeria in future even if I don’t enjoy it today.
Looking at APC, do you think it is still as strong as it used to be before 2014 to engage the 2019 general election?
We are united but only the greedy ones will have issues. For those of us in the legacy parties that merged to form the APC, we know ourselves. We are still united. Our support for the party is not about appointment or money but about our belief in its ideology which is built around making Nigeria a country of our dreams; one that is developed caters for its citizens and respected in the comity of nations. So any genuine APC man or woman believes in APC. Any person who comes out to talk against the party is not a party man or woman from the onset. So we are united behind our president and our national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. He will contest and win again as chairman of our party. Thank God they have been granted waiver to recontest. He is uniting the party and we are supporting him.
But Odigie-Oyegun has been accused even by some party chieftains of not carrying all the political leaders and influences along?
That is not true. The issue is that most people want the chairman to join them to fight persons that are their political rivals. But you won’t be able to run a party that way as chairman. Odigie-Oyegun is a father to all. Because you are having differences with me doesn’t mean you should expect him (chairman) to fight me. You don’t play politics that way, he is an elderly man, he has seen it all. Don’t forget he was permanent secretary, a governor and an intellectual. Before he takes decisions, he has to do a lot of consultations. Definitely that will not suit some people. But I worked with Odigie-Oyegun in ANPP and I am still working with him as a BoT member and close ally. I know his capacity. So I don’t think we can get anybody better than him for this position.
Some people wanted Odigie-Oyegun to take decisions that will affect Baba but he resisted. When Baba was outside the country when he was ill, some people wanted him to call NEC meeting. But he resisted because the leader of the party was not in the country. And you can’t meet without the leaders approval when he is still alive. But Oyegun doesn’t need to explain everything. But he carried all the burden and all these people have since turned back to fight him. Maybe when they call meeting they might take a decision that may not be favorable to him. There is a sitting president so you have to be cautious of doing things. So all those critics are fighting Oyegun because of Baba because he is protecting the interest of Baba. And that is what any loyal person has to do. You have to protect the interest of your president. You can’t be chairman and be at different page with your president. It can’t happen. But anybody who tells you that Odigie-Oyegun is not competent is just trying to be selfish.
Doesn’t the reversal of the NEC decision which earlier approved tenure extension for the NWC and others, translate to a vote of no confidence on Odigie-Oyegun’s leadership?
No. That it is not true. You don’t know President Buhari. He is someone that believes in the rule of law. He will reject any illegitimate act even if it will favour him. When they did the tenure extension, maybe the way they portrayed it to him was not how he thought it to be. But like he said himself he later consulted some senior advocates of Nigeria, including the Vice President and they cited the federal constitution and that of the party, and made him see the position of the law on the issue. They pointed out that there is nothing like tenure elongation. However you know that Obasanjo spoilt the concept of tenure elongation. Anything tenure, long or short, evokes reference to third term. However, initially we didn’t look at the technical side of the tenure extension. We were rather bothered about the short time we had to conduct primaries and congress. And you know anytime a party does congress there will be grievances. So we were driven by a need to avoid those grievances. We wanted to go as a united party to face our opponents, not just the PDP but also the third force and the SDP. I can tell you that SDP is even stronger than PDP now because people are leaving PDP to SDP. But Mr President knows that this issue of tenure elongation can be challenged in court so he doesn’t want anything illegal. That is why he called back the NEC. Moreover, that is the work of the NEC. If there is any issue the NEC can convene as many times as necessary to resolve them. When we were doing the merger arrangement then, the NEC of defunct ANPP was meeting every three days, while the working committee was meeting every day. So there is no crime if the NEC is called everyday as long as we have issues to resolve. But we have resolved that issue now. The bottom line is we are going to do the right thing even though people don’t want to fight each other. We will manage ourselves.
PDP has repeatedly said APC members will defect soon does that give your party cause for concern?
That is a mere exaggeration. The question is which serious APC member will decamp to PDP? If not that the five PDP governors in 2013 did what they did because of circumstances, have you ever seen PDP members defect when they were in government? The defections in PDP then were because of the rejection of Former President Goodluck Jonathan when he refused to allow the North have their turn to produce President going by the zoning arrangement. That was what destroyed PDP. Other than that situation, did you ever see a PDP governor defect to the opposition? So forget about people telling you that 10,000 APC members have defected those are all lies.
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