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Why We Opted For Consensus In Our Last Congresses – Jibril Imam



The chairman, All Progressives Congress (APC), Niger State, Mohammed Jibril Imam, in an interview with journalists recently, spoke on the lessons learnt from the party’s just concluded congresses. He also threw light on why the stakeholders unanimously settled for a consensus. ABU NMODU was there for LEADERSHIP Friday.

How well would you say Niger State fared in the just concluded APC national congress?
The congress was quite successful compared to what happened in other states of the country. Here we thank God that the stakeholders, party faithful, executive, the press and security personnel, all worked hard to ensure that everything was managed well.
The Congress has come and gone with a huge success. Just like I said, you need to compare before you say you have achieved a lot. We started with the ward congress which was followed by the local government congress and the last one was the state congress. The most difficult as usual from experience, was the ward congress because all the card carrying members of the party (APC) were delegates. It’s not an electoral college, once you are a card carrying member you are a delegate to the ward congress. If you compare the numbers that would have attended and voted that day, you will discover that it is quite colossal. There is about 100 in each unit and we have over 300 polling units per ward. So we are talking of about 40,000 party members participating in the ward congress. What it means is that: if you are a card carrying member like myself, you are eligible to vote in ward congress. So you can see the number of people who were involved and to manage such a number is not always easy. But we thank God that it has come and gone. The executive of the wards are in place, the congress were conducted by the congress committee and thereafter appeal committee was inaugurated. Anyone who wanted to appeal also had time to lodge their complain. Here in Niger state what we had was little or no appeal because we had resolved that we will take the other option of election to party congresses. There are two ways either you go by direct election or you go by consensus. Some people used the word loose affirmation but affirmation is not the word, the word is consensus. A situation where there are multiple candidates, we persuade others or some candidates to step down so that only one candidate is allowed. We emphasize the unity of the party in all the three congresses that were held. So for the local governments it was the same thing, the procedure was the same. We have congress committee and appeal committee so that for the state congress, the same procedure was followed.
One may ask, how we achieved the peaceful congresses in Niger State, it was very simple. One, we had already identified in Niger State that we want to go for consensus, that was our strategy to minimize rancor. We want to institutionalize cohesion and unity within the party. So the first step was to agree on the kind of congress we want to have. Whether we should have a consensus or go for full blown open congress. But in Niger State, we opted for consensus and how do we go for consensus? We had to convene a state executive committee meeting where the decision was reached.
That meeting was made up of all 13 National Assembly members, State Assembly members, of the party in the state and local government executive committee members, the state governor and his deputy as well the SSG, they constituted the SEC. You can see that it is a very powerful committee. Incidentally too, it is the highest decision making body of the party in the state. Relative to the national body where the NEC that is the highest decision making body. So once that decision was taken, the second method was how to go about it. What methodology should be used because we had already taken the decision and now have to adopt a methodology to achieve the objective? In Niger State, we have local government, ward and state caucus. So we advised the local government chapter of our party to meet with the party caucus which comprises the stakeholders, party executive, leaders, sympathizers of the party, to try and inform them on what we intend to do in the state. That was done across the state. Then the local government held their own, the ward also held their own and the polling units held their own. So the idea was to sensitize the people on what the state was set to do.
For the executive, the governor to set up five man committee for each local government headed by the commissioner, LG chairman and party executives to persuade to cooperate with the governor so that we can have a successful consensus in Niger State. A lot of energy was put in because at every stage from ward, to LG, to state, the governor intervened and asked that they again, go back to the people to ensure everybody is carried along. There were a few places where they said no and opted for elections instead. But 90 to 98 per cent of the local governments went for consensus. That explains why there was no rancor in Niger State. No plenty posters, there was no parallel election as was seen in other states because already, the journey was cushioned down. That is how we attained this success.

What are you doing about the group of aggrieved members who disagree despite the consensus?
Those few aggrieved ones who feel that they were disfranchise were not disfranchised because a meeting was held with those that bought forms. About 10 of them for various positions at the state congress. They met with a committee set up that same morning and all of them agreed to step down because it is a delegate’s thing not open for everybody to contest. The delegates that are going to vote at the state congress and if the majority already said this is the direction they are going, they were just advised that they should allow the present executives to continue. I think all of them accepted because minutes were taken at that meeting that lasted till 4 o’clock before that consensus was achieved. They were been persuaded.
In APC you cannot over react. Definitely in APC if you want to contest and you are being persuaded, it is not going to be easy for you when you don’t have the support of the people as a party man. If you are told that it is for the stability of the party; that should be paramount to you. You should therefore tread with caution. I think all of them agreed. We only had one appeal which is neither here nor there because the appeal committee looked at his application even though it was not properly filed. He addressed it to the national headquarters through the national organizing secretary. So if we are to follow due process, they would have just said okay, the person addressed it wrongly, it should not be attended to. But I told them no! This is party matter and I packaged the appeal to them. He was not supposed to have purchased the form in the first place because at the NEC, decision was that the present zoning arrangement should stand and he wanted to contest for the position as Assistant Youth Leader. He is from Mokwa local government and the position is zoned to Lavun local government. So you can see that he wasn’t supposed to have purchased the form. And in his appeal, he mentioned that once you purchase the form, he wanted to submit it he learnt that we are attending stakeholders meeting he was wondering after all as a stakeholder he ought to have been in that meeting. But after they talk to him, he agreed that he should not have bought the form. So that is the only appeal we had.

What is the party doing to reconcile the aggrieved members?
The state government has done a lot in that direction. We give kudos to our governor for his foresight. I think we met stakeholders at the government house recently where he personally thanked them for stepping down and they promised that their submission to the party will not be in vein. So am sure something is being worked out to compensate all those that voted for consensus. Once we are inaugurated for a new beginning, we will want to see how we can pacify them. We will visit them across the state to ensure we bring our party members back on board. As you can see, this congress generated heat at the beginning but thank God we had it very smooth.

Elections are around the corner, do you intend to adopt the principles of consensus and continue with zoning arrangement in 2019?
Yes! Indeed the party constitution allows for that. Though some people say that there is nothing like zoning in APC, we know it’s there as geographical spread. We believe that we cannot have concentration of position in one area as against another. If there is no geographical spread, it will not be in line with the Nigerian constitution which allows for the participation by everybody. So that zoning is going to be maintained but we are going to follow through the whole process of doing primaries, we are not going to discriminate against anybody. Still, we prefer to have consensus so that we do not heat the polity when the time comes. Consensus is not illegal, it is legal in the political parlance where instead of going for the whole election, we go for a consensus instead, for peace, if we can.

What are the lessons learnt from the just concluded congresses?
We need to do a lot of work to solidify the party. You know, after congresses, a lot of things need to be done to bring everybody on board not only in Niger State. We will go to them, talk to them to shield their swords, to support the party because they brought in the party and government. We are going to make them understand that it is not good to throw away the baby with the bath water. The stakeholders that I know will reason with us. We are also going to use them very well for a lot of assignments to tackle the 2019 challenges.

How prepared is your party for the 2019 election and are you sure of returning to power?
Yes! We are prepared. We have our strategies that I cannot reveal on paper. But we have our strategies and having learnt a lot of lessons, we need to win. We have to do more work than we did in 2015 because we must realize what is on ground in terms of achievement. We know what to do to be able to scale through. The strategies we are trying have not been perfected but I believe with our achievements on ground, it may not be desirable to those who are staying in Minna but for those of us who are always in contact with the people, we know that a lot has been achieved.
Most of the secondary schools in Niger State were built as far back as 1975. Never before has any renovation done in any one. For over 50 years of their existence in the state, nothing was done. Now we have a host of them that are all rebranded for what we call the Whole School Approach. The one that you can easily sight is Maryam Babangida Girls Science School, Minna. You can see complete transformation of the school, it is wearing a new look and we have a host of others, at least three in each zone of the state which involved a lot of money. We are continuing with that because education is the bedrock of every society. The provision of science equipment, new hospitals are being established and old ones renovated and equipped. We have completed most of the electrification projects and very soon, the governor will start commissioning some of them.

What is your take on the complaint of some of your party men on the representation at the national level?
This is part of the zoning we are talking about. But since NEC has said that status quo should stand, we have two representations at the national level which are the deputy national treasurer and organizing secretary North Central zoned to the state. So we have two positions and we intend to maintain them because they have performed very well and unlike the other states where the state is at loggerhead with national officers, this is not so here. They are always with us and whatever we are doing, they come and participate in it.

What are you doing to keep your members intact?
We have a lot of ongoing programmes. APC is known as a constitutional party. We are waiting for the ban on campaign to be lifted for us to roll out our activities. However, at the wards, activities are being organized even in the polling units. In fact, the APC has been very active in all the wards and polling units. Incidentally, it is only APC that has polling unit executives in Niger State. You will be surprised that our population is well over 500,000. You can see that with that number, you know that the party is very strong in the state.

Can you confidently say that PDP does not pose a threat to APC in Niger State?
In politics, you don’t say anybody can’t pose a threat to you but the way they are going about it is to gain cheap popularity and that is not the way to go about it. They should come for tutelage from someone like me who has been in the opposition for more than 30 years. Every political party has its own strength. However, our own strength is much more than theirs. If you have 40,000 executives to follow you and your opposition has zero, you will know your strength is stronger than theirs.
If each of these 40,000 can bring 10 people each, that means we already have 400,000, so we are way ahead of them, it is simple arithmetic. Their strength technically is weakened. We have more than 40,000 polling unit executives, we have their record and database. If these executives can vouch for at least 5 people, that means we already have 200,000 votes and if they can vouch for 10 each, then it means we have 400,000. The party is rooted in the polling unit; that is how we know our strength when compared to a party that has zero polling unit executive.
Despite our strength, we are trying to surpass our record in 2015 by 2019. We are going to surpass our records because the government is working very hard. Like Mashegu, I want you to take a tour to see our achievements. It is one of the local government councils where the state and local government have done a lot. The PDP do not have their facts. They say that people are defecting in the area but this is the area where the people received palliatives from the council chairman and the party faithful are being taken care of. So I don’t see why someone who has received a lot from the government will want to defect to the level of zero where there is nothing. All they are saying is mere propaganda.