In this interview with select reporters, minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, speaks on a number of national issues including the gale of defections across the two major political parties, APC and PDP. JIDE OMOLOJU was there
What is your reaction to the gale of defections in the All Progressives Congress (APC)? Was it an event you were expecting or did it take you by surprise?
I don’t think anybody who has been a close watcher or observer of this political landscape should be taken aback by the defections. I think that it even came so late, we shouldn’t be surprised. A Yoruba adage says, ‘If we build a house on spittle, the first fog will demolish it’. The foundation for what you see today was laid the day the Senate President forced himself on the party as Senate President. That was the day the foundation for what you are witnessing today was laid because traditionally it is the party’s prerogative who becomes the presiding officers in the two houses. Here we were met with a fait accompli when Dr. Bukola Saraki, against the wishes of the party, did the unthinkable by aligning with the opposition and making them an offer they could not refuse.
I can’t quite remember the number but in a situation whereby almost the entire 40 plus senators in PDP voted for him. So, he needed only a minority from the APC. So, we were all waiting for Mr. President to come and address us on this issue at the International Conference Centre, it was announced that he (Bukola) had emerged as the Senate President.
From that day, we know we had two problems. Number one, we had a Senate President who imposed himself on the party and to make it worse as an insurance, he arranged for an opposition person to be Deputy Senate President and that makes it impossible for us to remove him. ‘If you remove me, you are going to have a PDP Senate President’. I think from that day we had a problem. I think this is not a surprise at all. Of course, you could see the behaviour of the National Assembly since then. We have a National Assembly in which we had a clear majority in both houses but which treated the Executive with contempt and who actually slowed down the work of government. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, our budgets were delayed. We can understand 2015 budget because we came in, in the middle of the year. But 2016, 2017, the earliest we got our budgets was June. Key appointments, nominations and confirmations for key organisations that could move the government forward like the CBN, like the NDIC, were delayed. Really, it couldn’t have been worse if the PDP had a majority in the National Assembly.
Some are also blaming the APC for its refusal to zone those positions before and after the elections were won and lost, some are also of the view that those who are members of the APC today arranged with former Speaker Aminu Tambuwal to go against his party’s decision in 2011. You should have expected what happened in 2015?
It is not exactly the same thing. In 2011, there were two aspirants from the PDP. Each of them knew that they needed the opposition to emerge. So the kind of horse-trading that took place in 2011 is normal in any democracy since the party did not succeed in getting one candidate. Now when they approached us, we looked at the offer and we believed that the other party didn’t do as much. What we did in 2011 in helping him to come to power was a normal thing in democracy because once you don’t have absolute majority, you would need the support of the other smaller parties. And in 2011 we were the biggest minority in the House of Reps. The difference is this. Tambuwal did not destroy his party in the process. He didn’t offer Gbajabiamila Deputy Speaker, that is the difference. I don’t know what took place in the PDP then. In our own case we tried to get all parties together, we called meetings which were boycotted by their group and at the end of the day when we realized this thing was getting so bad, Mr. President was to address all of us. We were waiting for Mr. President to come with the majority of our senators there when it was announced. So it is not the same thing.
So does your government want Saraki removed or it is just a party affair?
I think the chairman of the party has spoken and he has asked him to resign.
What is the difference between Tambuwal’s defection in December 2014 and Saraki’s defection this time? At that time you issued a statement as party’s spokesman that it was justifiable and he needed not resign. Now the party is asking Saraki to resign, what is the difference?
You see in 2014, the political climate was completely different. By 2013, three major political parties and factions of two had collapsed into a new party. We had ANPP, CPC and ACN and a faction of APGA that came together to become a new party. In 2014, there was internal wrangling within the PDP and they decided to defect to meet us in APC. Even now nobody is saying people can’t defect. Mr. President said it that many of the people who defected did so for selfish purposes because many of them want to come back to the National Assembly but many of them too when they were coming reached understanding with their local people as to the arrangement. Defection is as old as politics itself even in the First Republic.
The fundamental thing is that for us, it would have been better that they left a long time earlier because they have strangulated this government for too long. When you are now being betrayed by your own party is more painful because we can’t fight back as much as we want to fight back.
As you are going into election, what do you want to tell Nigerians that you have done that would warrant them to renew your tenancy?
You see, we have delivered all promises we made. We came in and we promised we were going to fight insecurity. At that time, the major threat to the corporate existence of Nigeria was the Boko Haram insurgency and despite what anybody says, we have decimated Boko Haram. We brought Boko Haram under complete control because when we came in on May 29, 2015, 24 local governments in the North-East, an area three times the size of Lebanon, were under the effective control of Boko Haram and what this means is that they were running the administration. As a matter of fact, once we got to Maiduguri, that was the end of Bornu State. If you move outside, either to Kaure, Konduga or Bama, they were under the control of Boko Haram. By 2014, 2015, nobody in Abuja could sleep with their two eyes closed. They came and attacked ThisDay headquarters with casualties, they attacked the UN headquarters, they attacked the IGP office, Nyanya park was bombed twice, they were active in Suleja, Kaduna, Sokoto, Plateau, Nasarrawa, Kogi. As a matter of fact, there was hardly any state in the North that Boko Haram was not operating. It was nipped in the bud in Kwara.
But today there is relative peace. We have been able to recover all territories and today no single inch of Nigerian territory is under the Boko Haram control. Yes, there have been suicide bombings. That is what terrorism is all about. A couple of weeks ago in the US, we saw terrorist attack. About a month or two months ago, we saw what happened in Texas. Terrorists killed many children. This is not a sign of renewed threat rather it is a sign of desperation and weakness. Look at the regularity it used to occur and now. It is all about intelligence gathering. Yes you would talk about herdsmen-farmer clashes, was it not something we inherited. The first farmers-herders’ clash was in 1947 even before Nigeria became independent but over the years we have been able to manage it. What has aggravated the farmers-herders’ clash today is the government’s position, its stand on fighting corruption.
We found out that in Benue State in particular that some people facing corruption charges are the ones that have armed militia. Is it not interesting that Terkula that was arrested is actually a government appointee? And since his arrest, these killings have gone down. The suspects arrested for killing those priests were not Fulani herdsmen. They are militia men from Benue state. Now we have politicians who are afraid that any re-election of Buhari, they would end up in jail and they are now fuelling this herdsmen crisis especially in Benue state.
What future for the Kwara APC following the defection of Senate President, the governor and members of the National and State Assemblies?
What we have today is some members of the APC decamping to the PDP. I say some members because many members have refused to go but we have gained more from those who say rather than stay in the same party with Bukola Saraki, they would rather come to APC. I was home last weekend primarily to reassure our people that there is no cause for alarm. I was amazed at the kind of reception I got. At the time I went home, Dr. Bukola Saraki was yet to announce his resignation from the party. As far as the people of Kwara State are concerned, it was as if finally, the state was being liberated. The excitement today in Kwara State is akin to how Nigeria felt on the eve of Independence.
I have received and consulted with delegations. As a matter of fact, I am meeting on the 19th of this month if it is convenient for me with about 200 leaders of Kwara PDP ranging from former Speaker in the Second Republic, community leaders across the state. To answer your question, I think the APC can only go stronger in Kwara State. People have forgotten that Saraki joined APC after the merger. Merger took place 21st of July 2013, they came in 2014 to come and join. The moment he joined the APC, the former ACN, former ANPP, former CPC members who are in the APC, many of them left the APC because they could not be in the same camp with him. So what we are witnessing today in Kwara State is like a liberation and from the support I have received so far including the entire leadership of the party led by the chairman, Akogun Oyedepo Iyiola, who met with me and the national chairman with 17 other leaders including Prof Oba Abdulraheem, Senator S.S Ajibola, all the three senatorial district chairmen of the PDP in the state gives me confidence that Saraki’s days in dominating Kwara politics are limited. I also met with the 16 PDP candidates in the last local government elections in my home town in Oro on Monday and those 16 candidates actually claimed they won the local government elections but something is clear they changed the status quo. They had a rally on Wednesday in Ilorin and everywhere was a lockdown. You see there is nothing to fear but fear itself. Already from the back channel, some of the so-called decampees are reaching out to us. It is on record that some of them can’t go back to their constituencies in Kwara especially in Kwara North.
The truth of the matter is that the APC in Kwara today can only be stronger, the era of one man dominating the party is over. Kwarans, young and old, male and females are itching to take possession of the party and I am very confident that we are going to route him in the next election.
The defectors said the Federal Government abandoned their states in appointments. The Senate President said out of 200 appointments made, himself and Dogara were not allotted anything. Tambuwal said he could not find anything the Federal Government had done in his state. Do you think President Muhammadu Buhari government has not done enough in those states? Do you see the President winning in Kano, Kwara, Sokoto, Benue states giving the developments in those states?
I think it is a blatant lie that Kwara State was not considered in appointments. There are 26 appointees to boards, parastatals, either as members or DG to Kwara State and of these 26, I recommended only two. The other 24 were done by Dr. Bukola Saraki.
Who did you recommend?
The DG of NBC and the GM of National Theatre. We are not even talking about Ambassadorial post which I absolutely had no input in. When I give you the list, you will know that all other appointees are his people.
In terms of development, the arterial road of Ilorin, Jebba, Mokwa, Birnin Gwari road is 80 per cent completed. It is one of the major roads that link the state. On the other hand, it is this same government that awarded the contract for Lokoja-Omu Aran-Ilorin road. In terms of housing, we are building many two bedroom houses in Ilorin. Again, in terms of appointment, one of the chairmen of parastatals, is the out-gone chairman of the APC, Ishola Balogun Fulani. So it is blatant lie.
On whether we can win in Sokoto, Kano and Kwara states or not. People forget very easily that in 2014, in Lagos Buhari roundly defeated both Atiku and Kwankwaso at the primaries here. Now in Kano any contest today between Buhari and anybody, Buhari is going to win. I am not in doubt about it. In Sokoto 12 out of 30 House of Assembly members refused to go with Tambuwal, that is very significant including the Deputy Governor and you can see that the next day people went on the streets in Sokoto sweeping them out. Benue is dicey but people forget that it was Senator George Akume that brought Ortom. When the whole of the North Central was in PDP, Akume fought and won election on the platform of APC.
In Kwara, I am very confident that…the only thing that can make us lose Kwara is if we don’t manage the situation well – ego and ambition and that is why the first thing I said was that I am not contesting for anything so that I can be a honest broker.
PDP is harvesting people from your party, what are you also doing to poach their members?
I have just told you now that I have harvested even without any struggle.
Selective implementation of the anti-corruption fight?
This allegation of selective fight is not correct. The former governor of Plateau State who has been sentenced, was he not in ACN? You forget one thing that the executive is quite independent from the judiciary. We can only prosecute, we can’t convict anybody. It is left for the court to convict. So this thing about once you become a member of the APC, you are free. Tell me one member of the APC whose prosecution has been stopped because he crossed over to the APC. Those who have charges before the court, there is no way the executive can instruct the court to stop that case.
Police siege to the residence of the Senate President?
It was fake news. It didn’t happen. I called the IG and the Police PRO went on television that it was not true. In this age of fake news, you could manipulate picture in a manner that something that happened somewhere could be transported here.
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