Former governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, is an aspirant for the national chairmanship of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview, he speaks about his vision for the party and other national issues. MUYIWA OYINLOLA was there
What makes you think you are the best man for this job at this point that your party seems to be in crisis?
I am very familiar with the dreams, missions and visions of the founders of this party because I was one of them. Four years down the road, in line with the provisions of our constitution, the APC and the constitution of Nigeria, we are obliged to have an elective convention and one of the positions that is being contested for is that of the National Chairman. And I am convinced that I have what it takes to provide leadership and build on the foundation laid by the first chairman, Chief Bisi Akande who did a marvelous job.
So, I think for a political party that is determined to be in power, you need a solid structure to achieve it and God used Bisi Akande and other leaders such as President Buhari, Asiwaju and others to achieve that. After which Chief Oyegun came in to contribute his own quota to build on that foundation and four years later we have the opportunity to contest for that office believing that we can help to reinvent and refocus the party in a way that it will be a strong pillar to support governments elected on its platform at the local, state and federal levels.
And also help to ensure that the definition and essence of progressive politics is one that is clear to all members and leaders of the party to form the basis of the contract to our people as entrenched in our party’s constitution.
That to subscribe to the values of progressive politics is to commit yourself to a party that is people-driven, mass oriented and committed to public welfare. My hope then is that my task will be to try to begin to help everyone not only to understand the essence of progressive politics, the ideology that it represents but start the process of building a party that in the very nearest future Nigerians should be able to stop the debate about whether or not there is a difference between one party and the other. And to be honest, it is a huge challenge to try to make the distinction, which is why people say they don’t know the difference between one party and the other.
And of course, the ease with which people cross carpet also raises the issue of whether really there are fundamental ideological differences. But why we need to deepen this and make it an issue is that if we do not do it, then Nigeria people really do not have a sustain basis to align with one political party or the other as we find elsewhere. We find that in most mature democracies, depending on your values, you have had a political party which missions and vision and values coincide with yours. And I think the danger of not having ideological based political party is that party contestation is then driven by religion and ethnicity which is very very dysfunctional as long as managing the affairs of a state is concerned.
Religion is important in our lives to guide our values and create a sense of fairness, justice and above all the fear of God without which we can’t make progress. But it can become dysfunctional if conversation and friendship are driven exclusively by these ethnic and religious sentiments.
Like I said elsewhere recently, unless we act proactively, I mean members of the political elite, to really get serious and organise parties based on ideology then these other forces will crowd out the political class and politics will be very injurious and national unity will be weakened and that will be a danger to our future. So, I am clear as to what my task will be, it is not to reinvent the foundation, it is now to look at the finishing to strengthen the house.
And two, to evolve a leadership style such that every member of the house can find reasonable comfort to remain in the house and anyone expressing discomfort will be assisted to see how we can work together to have comfort in that house rather than a situation in which if you are not comfortable you open the door and of it does not open you jump through the window and look for another house. I think some of the things we have taken for granted since 1999, we want to be able to provide a leadership style that will challenge other political parties to get serious. At the beginning it was like that, people knew the difference between Aminu Kano’s party and other political parties. We knew the difference between the NPN and the UPN. So, it will help the public know which party to belong to. If you look at the June 12, 1993 election, people voted based on ideology of the SDP and the NRC and that is why you saw that Abiola won in Kano.
So, what has changed today?
I think what has changed is that there is a huge deficit of the capacity of the political elite to put issues on the table and for ease of defense, people result to ethnic sentiment when their stewardship come into evaluation, or they are seeking support and they do not have a coherent message to persuade the people; they then resort to cheaper option of religion. Now this I believe as a people we need to deal with by bringing on board issues to replace these sentiments which can be quite annoying.
Are you not worried you are gunning for the position at a time some people are leaving the party and some others are threatening to leave?
It is important to state that we have even expanded the house of APC, many people have decamped from PDP to APC after the formation of the party in 2014 and even after the last general elections. So, I think we have lost a few but we have gained more and I believe there are many who will come maybe after I assume office, God willing if I win. At least, based on my conversation with people, because I know people across all the divide. However, that does not mean that we don’t have a problem.
But I thank God that He blesses the Nigerian people by directing their thoughts during the last election to vote in President Buhari and excuse former president Jonathan because clearly from all the revelations now, those of us and those other Nigerians who believe that the level of corruption and theft of public fund had got to a level that was no longer sustainable to a point that President Buhari said if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. Those who thought it was just a simple slogan have seen the extent of abuse, like I was able to say it to President Jonathan and the service chiefs that time, that by 1999 Gen. Abdulsalam handed over 774 Local Governments to President Obasanjo to superintend over but by 2014/2015, PDP was only superintending over about 250 local governments, the rest were under the control of Boko Haram.
What is the way out of the current APC crisis?
I think what has happened is that we had expected what one described as chemical reaction but what we got was a physical reaction. Chemical reaction would have led to bounding of all the various elements into one organic hole. But unfortunately, the physical reaction where the various parts are dangling and trying to hang on, the center is not clear and it is that reaction that you observed and you’re describing as a huge challenge. It is real. By holding meetings of organs of a party, the various people that formed APC should have been bounded. People were supposed to form progressive alliances.
I think this is the area we have not done too well in holding regular meetings of organs of APC across the 774 Local Governments to meet and know one another. Once we institutionalise regular meetings, and encourage debates and contestation, when we begin to do that, that chemical reaction will take place and the party will bound.
Secondly, we must also develop skills to manage conflict. In all of those states where we have crises, you will find out that those conflicts were not really inevitable they were just a reflection of a free people who think it is normal to have different point of view in a matter. However, as they begin to disagree, depending on your temperament or understanding of challenges of democracy, you begin to think that you are fighting and that you don’t agree with yourselves. You then need someone to come in to remind you of what binds you together rather than what divides you.
But let me tell you, in the real world, nobody gets what he wants. You get what you are able to negotiate. As a trade unionist, I know that I was never able to get all that I demanded from my employer. But my employer was never also able to escape with his desire to maximize profit even at the expense of my life which is why common to the central of my interaction, is always give and take, compromises. Dialogue is central to serving a free society and a free organization. So, we will bring all of these to bare to deal with these issues.
What is your take on the recurring Legislative/Executive face off?
The founders of our presidential system rightly settled for separation of powers, and the parliament is the symbol of democracy. It is therefore not unexpected that the parliament may have a position of an issue that may be different from that of the executive. That is why in all democracy the word lobby comes in. The process of persuading each other is about communication, persuasion, negotiation and that is what we see in America. But I think again that we have not been too successful as a party in intervening to build viable bridges between the executive and the legislature using the instrument of the party.
When there is party decision, everybody abides by it and you need this to happen by holding meetings. The truth is that even when we resolve matters today it does not mean that another one will not rear its head tomorrow, therefore the capacity to intervene has to be constant. It is not once and for all, it is a process and unless you have the capacity to deal with the issues as they arise you should not have been there to lead the party.
And I have done all of that when I was President of the NLC. We had nationwide support because through dialogue we found solutions at the Labour House and everybody has that sense of ownership. So, we can bridge the gap between the executive and the legislature and bring the full benefit of our majority in the parliament as well as our control in the Executive. I am clear what the task are and all of these can be fixed. I don’t need eight months to fix 16 years problem but what I need is a level of clarity and above all, a sense of fairness that people can see that they should trust me and they will accept the advise they will offer. And they will not be a question of one drug curing all ailments, your solution has to be formed by the specifics of each of the problems that you find along the way.
You seem to be enjoying the support of major stakeholders in the party. Why is his so?
If I have prominent people from the North, prominent people from the South, East and West, it means I will be at the center. No one will say if not for my support you would not have been there. If you are a product of one section then you might remain detained by that section, you must service that section because it is your support base. But when you have the privilege of a broad support, from many leaders, then no one leader will say I put you there you must listen to me.
But let me also say that what is also important about this support is that there is no question about what is influencing this support because conventionally in our political environment, we hear that who has the deepest pocket tends to buy the support. But this support is being offered from people who cannot be procured which tells you it is flowing from the knowledge of my person because I have been fortunate to work with all the governors, including past governors.
Those I did not meet in office I met when I was President of the NLC, we had engaged on one to one and they know what I stand for. So, they offered this support based on their understanding of my person and not on the basis of any inducement and that makes a difference.
Will this not make your tenure dictatorial?
You see, one of the things I learnt in the labour union is negotiation, and never dictatorial because even though I was the President of the NLC, I could not even control my deputy because he was voted the same manner I was elected. In the NLC, you must listen to everybody unlike in government where as an executive you can dictate decisions. So, what my background prepared me for is to be able to listen and I have never exercised dictatorial powers, I have always exercised persuasive powers, negotiating skills and those are my skills.
And when I negotiate with you and persuade you and you accept, you will feel obliged to do what you have to do. But if I dictate to you, when I am not watching you will do what is in your heart. So, I am not capable of being a dictator by the very nature of my background.
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