Former Edo State governor and an aspirant for the National Chairmanship of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, paid a courtesy call to the Corporate headquarters of LEADERSHIP Newspapers in Abuja. He spoke about his aspiration and other national issues. GABRIEL EMMAMEH presents the excerpts
APC is facing crisis with some analysts predicting a possible implosion. What leadership direction are you bringing to bear on the party, if elected chairman?
When there is internal contestation within a political party, it is common for analysts, observers and spectators to raise alarm over that and fusion is inevitable. I believe that APC has been formed by men and women and season politicians who over the years come to the conclusion that for Nigerian democracy to flourish, we must move away from One-party system.
Recall that after the 1999 election which was conducted by the military and in 2003 the ruling party coerced everybody that was coercible and compromised everybody, that was for procurement, and in the process neutralised the opposition and forcefully took over the AD from the South West, planted internal contradiction in ANPP, appointing the chairman of the ANPP as an adviser to then President Obasanjo and took some other measures that were designed to ensure that there was no viable opposition. This happened to coincide with the period when I was the President of the NLC.
The result was that we had fragmented oppositions with a powerful ruling party with a president who was battling to understand between a military head of state and an elected civilian president who must function according to rules and laws and who has only executive but not legislative and judicial powers.
And these other leaders came together and formed the All Progressives Congress (APC). Incidentally, I was a governor of a state that time. Together with other governors, we worked hard to bring into fusion the current All Progressives Congress.
How has the party bonded?
Yes, we can argue as to what extent the party has bonded, because there ought to have been what you might call organic reaction after the merger leading to a cohesive and strong political party. Some may say what we have seen is a physical reaction where the different parts seem to be wobbling and have not been able to bond with the whole. The manifestations of that is some of the crises we see here and there.
But let me also say that, every progressive party; every party that is committed to social democracy, that is pro-people, that is not govern by one godfather, people who feel that they are equals in a voluntary association are bound to engage in internal contestations even when they agree on the objectives and designation. It is always a viable thing to have debate over various policy choices and tools available to be deployed to arrive at a destination that is even not in dispute.
This process doesn’t necessarily lead to implosion. I believe there is no fear of implosion. I believe APC is fine, there are challenges and the recent elections have perhaps seemed to have amplified some of those challenges.
There is nothing abnormal that has happened. The challenges however is that no one should seek to lead a political party if he doesn’t have the capacity and competence to manage the internal dynamics and contestations that are inevitable in order to have a political party that is democratic and enjoys internal cohesion. That would be the challenges of the party’s leadership to try and talk through and see the differences among various interest groups to have a common understanding of the varieties of issues. I think with time, that would be solved.
What is the leadership direction you intend to bring into the APC?
I have said so in my declaration speech. I think that in choosing the word ‘progressive’, we had an intensive debate not only among the governors who formed the APC but also among the core and critical leadership of the party, on two things; ‘progressive’ and the slogan, ‘change’. We saw the PDP as a conservative party that defends the status quo and a party that is not committed to democracy. We remember and we read it on newspapers pages. Successive PDP chairmen said that they would govern Nigeria for 60 years and we read through your newspapers that a former president said the election was going to be ‘a do or die affair’. And we also saw people boasting that they will rig you out and you can go to court. That was what PDP represented at that time and that is what the PDP is. Even till very recently, if they ask you to stand down for an election and you don’t, they will put some hot water on your legs and you will back out and they will settle you.
Now we decided to make the difference to be progressive, to be pro-people and not to have one overall godfather that dictates the direction. So, my on task by the special grace of God if I have the support of the delegates and I become the chairman of the party, it would be to try and identify the disputes in each local government where we have problems and try to understand the nature of the problem and base on our understanding of those problem, prescribe solutions to the problems and proceed to implement those solution.
For me, my commitment is to be able to work with everyone with an open mind, based on my understanding of the issues along with other leaders of the party to try and mediate, arbitrate, help people to find common ground, where they seem to amplify what divide them, we help to remind them of what unite them. In that way, I believe each problem both in wards, local governments and in the states can be resolved.
My understanding of each of this when I took some samples of cases, I found that they were just little cracks arising from sometimes communication gap, sometimes both sides are victims of rumour mongers and rumour merchants and some other time it is about ego- who will give up for who? I think the task of the party’s leadership is to make people understand that in this business, democracy is an equaliser and it is not for nothing. Whereas in your board, you vote according to your shares, in our democracy, unlike the American democracy, ours is truly on waited votes and so everybody matters and everybody is important. Once you understand that and you demonstrate it, people see good heart, good intention.
So, if you ask me to summarise what I have said, it would be leadership that would be formed by commitment to adopt an all-inclusive approach to leadership, bottom-up approach to decision making and ensuring that organs of the party function so that we can then talk of party supremacy.
You have said all you will do if you become the national chairman of the APC, as a stakeholder of the party, what are you doing to ensure that there is no implosion in the party before the national convention and you are contesting with the incumbent chairman, what ace do you have up your sleeves to ensure that you win the contest?
I think you have answered the first question yourself because you cannot have two chairmen at the same time. So, the challenge of keeping the party together right now falls squarely on the shoulders of the current leadership of the party. It is not in my hand. I recognise that there is a chairman of the All Progressives Congress as we speak, incidentally from my own state, in the person of Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. It is his responsibility along with his colleagues in the National Working Committee (NWC) to do everything possible to prevent implosion.
You don’t expect me out of sheer enthusiasm to begin to conduct myself as if I am already the chairman. No! All I can do as a faithful party member is to pray that God touches the hearts of those who are aggrieved to recognise that these are moments of temptation and that the future holds more than the past and that what is not right today may be right tomorrow.
What will you say of the insinuation that you are a product of a power play as some see you as a candidate of the Tinubu bloc in your party? Besides, they said you were single handily picked because you are a man fit to take on the strong forces against the party.
So, it is not because of Asiwaju, it is because I am strong enough. You can see the contradiction. Thank God you didn’t say because I am a stooge. This is something I truly don’t want to talk about but I can say that I have been extremely fortunate that all the top formidable leaders of our party across the north and south, east and west. I have been able to find favour in terms of support. I have also read in Leadership Newspaper that I have the backing of the President. I have read that, although until the votes are cast, I would not know how the president will vote. So, if you have written like that, quite generously too, is the president also within Asiwaju’s power bloc? I think what you can say is that, somehow because of my past, everybody understands me that in moments like this, you need someone who is acceptable to all the major interests. That can only be possible if you are someone who can’t be manipulated or can be used by anyone.
Like I said when I declared, I want to be used by everyone, including the President, including the federal government, the national leader, state governors, national assembly members and every other person. I want to be of use to anyone who needs my help but by my very nature, I can’t be used. I can’t even use myself outside my convictions.
I am fortunate to say that I command the trust of Mr. President, I have earned his trust and he has said so. He said so to the Oba of Benin while I was still a governor and he said so when he came to commission projects in Edo State that I have done well and even went further to say that I have work to do in Abuja. That was not Asiwaju speaking, that was President Muhammadu Buhari speaking.
My confidence that we can fix all seeming internal issues of the party flows from the fact that if you have the trust of the core leaders of the party; the President, Asiwaju, the governors and members of NASS as they have all in different fora spoken to me on why they are supporting my candidature.
What is your take on the debate between organised labour and the government on the new minimum wage? Do you think governors who cannot pay the current N18,000 minimum wage can pay the new proposed salary structure?
I think the issue for me is straight forward. They say action speaks louder than words. As a governor, I think I settled this question by increasing the minimum wage payable in Edo State from N18,000 a month to N25,000, that is about 33% increase as at the time. It was to settle the question of whether wage is the problem. What you pay to workers is not the problem because when you look at the spending pattern of the poor, the salary earners vis-à-vis the spending pattern of the rich, the business class, you would find that those who are more inward looking and whose spending pattern is likely to move Nigeria away from a vicious circle to a virtual circle are the wagers. They eat local food, they do not import their fish, they are the ones who eat local chicken, they eat corn, they are the ones who live in local house and so on. So, whatever they earn circulates within the system. It is the rich who are much more likely to import expensive vehicles, import aircraft, import very expensive jewelleries that put pressure on our foreign exchange.
When I announced N25,000 minimum wage, there were comments by some commentators that Comrade Governor has increased salaries, would he be able to pay it? But not only did I pay it as at when due before I left office, my successor has continued to pay the minimum wage. Up till now, Edo State teachers’ salaries are up to date because we insisted that as the Bible says, the labourer deserves his wages and in Edo State, we give effect to that.
People talk about the ability to pay. It is just by our choice of biases. It is about individual biases and individual value system. The best most seemingly attractive argument I have heard is that let everybody pay according to his ability. You know the revenue accrue to states are different, so how can they pay the same way? If you invite Julius Berger to your state or RCC, do you pay them according to your revenue profile or according to the price of a cubic metre of concrete? Price is not a function. If you must acquire a commodity, then you must pay the market value because we are in a market economy.
As to what to be the minimum wage, that is not for me to prescribe. It is to be the outcome of meeting between the organised labour on the one hand, state governments on the other hand and also the federal government as a regulator, and then the organised private sector and the representatives of medium scale entrepreneurs so that a minimum floor can be established.
If the price of every consumable commodity has changed, why would the price of labour remain static? When you under-price labour and you destroy the domestic purchasing power, then domestic manufacturer can’t sell in the domestic market, that leads to the closure of factories because they can’t sell.
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