National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, is not new to controversies. In this interview with select journalists, the immediate past Edo State governor speaks onburning national issues and also clarifies some controversial issues in the party. MUYIWA OYINLOLA was there
From governor to party chairman, how has it been?
It has been quite exciting. In fact, I have seen it all. As you know, I had the privilege of presiding over Africa’s largest mass based, membership driven, membership funded none Governmental Organization, which is the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC). So, I have been home with presiding over democratic, mass based institutions. And ideally, a political party should be the same. I joined a political party and worked within the party to become governor of Edo state and for eight years, I had the privilege of presiding over the affairs of the state on the platform of a democratic political party. Of course, I am also proud to say that I am one of the founding governors of the APC. I worked with people like former governors Fashola and Fayemi; Governors Amosun, Ajimobi, Al-makura, Governors Yari of Zamfara, Shettima of Borno State and Governor Okorocha who came from APGA.
So, basically, I know what the vision was, I know what the mission was for the APC. The basic ideology of the party is founded on the principle of progressive party. In order words, we are proud to be different from the conservative party and we also claim that to be different we have to be membership driven, membership based, people oriented and work in a way to put Nigerians people first as a party. So, being the party chairman now, I was at home with the issues, I did not need anyone to sit me down to brief me anything about the party. I was clear with what the challenges were. And that is to provide leadership in a way to give everyone that sense of belonging, sense of ownership and participation.
What is your take on the spate of defections across the parties?
I think for now that is to be expected because for any Nigerian who is under 40, by 1999 when we returned to this present democracy, most of those people were under 20. So, they were not quite politically informed. The only form of democracy they know is that of the PDP under former President Olusegun Obasanjo. That is the only model they saw because the PDP under Obasanjo did everything to neutralize the opposition. Then, the president appointed party chairmen and dissolved them at will.
And of course after 1999, perhaps that was the best election that was done by the military who we can say substantially did not resort to the use of thuggery and criminal manipulation of the electoral process. So, from 2003, it became obvious to Nigerians, you remember when the then president said the election was do or die for him and then the PDP went ahead to run the country for sixty years. Election after election, Nigerians felt the best way to go was to move into the PDP. So, the PDP succeeded in almost turning Nigeria into a one-party state. If you review the electronic and print media then, you will discover that the NLC under my leadership then, became the only opposition that questioned the then PDP-led Federal Government’s policies.
I think in all modesty, it was under this background that I went to Edo state and I launched the attack against godfatherism and the politics of imposition and criminal manipulation of election results because most Nigerians were of the opinion then that you cannot win no an election no matter what you do. If the President said he did not want you, that is it. I tried from Edo to demystify this political rigging machine, that it can be challenged and it can be neutralized. And there is no better proof than the fact that I survived in Edo state when you look at the fact that the person who controlled that rigging machine, perhaps the deadly godfathers were in Edo State.
But without resorting to violence, we were able to show it was possible to fight PDP. And we went forward to form the APC, and you also recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari also tried to challenge the order of the day and substantially he was successful but unable to penetrate across the Niger either to the West or to the East. Under ACN, we were able to work hard under the leadership of Asiwaju, to reclaim what has been criminally rigged. Recall that the then President Obasanjo even confessed that even in his unit, he kept losing it.
However, in his second term, he persuaded some governors to believe in him, the only person that did not believe in him was Asiwaju and at the end he rigged them out. In the end, the South West was completely rigged out by the PDP and that reinforced the myth that if you want to be relevant, join the PDP.
Can the tide change?
It is against this background that the leaders of then ACN and the now defunct CPC realized that to create the real multi-party democracy we needed to form a broad based alternative platform. And thank God, as soon as the leaders of the parties recognized the need to form a powerful alternative platform, I think God in heaven decided to bless it and the rest is history. That was how we were able to wrest power from the PDP and today the APC is the governing party. Now you will then ask, why this movement in parties? You know we have had great political thinkers and great philosophers and to explain what will appear to be the movement at the eve of every election, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, many described the best President Nigeria never had, in some of his very very notable published works, had said that “for the Progressives to take over power, they need the support of some conservative elements. When the Progressives have succeeded in collaboration with some conservative elements to seize power and they tried to govern based on the principles of progressiveness, the conservatives will not be able to cope. And they will walk away on their own, then the progressives will become stronger and work for the good of the country”.
When you look at what has happened now, that is exactly what happened. All the conservative elements, you can actually trace the background of some them. Some were born with silver spoon, some of them by accident of birth they were rich. Now these people assisted us in getting power but President Buhari has chosen to be faithful to the principles of progressive politics, which means re-emphasizing the rights of the ordinary Nigerians; formulate public policies that are people oriented, and people focused. The conservatives have to move away and they moved.
So, what has changed?
But you can see that after they left, APC became stronger. More progressive elements are coming in. And the best example is former Governor Shekarau, a class room teacher before he became governor of Kano state. And that tells you it is not about money, it is not about connection but about what the ordinary man in Kano sees about him. I think over time, when our elections are more democratic, we eliminate rigging, the votes increasingly begin to count and the electoral process is less expensive and free of manipulation, people will join party on the basis of conviction not on the basis of fear. Now what has happened before now is that people join on the basis of fear, that if you were not in the PDP you were finished. Under the PDP then, we had this policy which I feel the APC will work hard to abolish, they created AMCON. AMCON is the greatest fraud that when the capitalists make the profit, they privatize it, they share the dividends among themselves. When they make loses, they take tax payers money to bail out a private enterprise. A complete violation of the logic of market forces.
So, when will these defections end?
Just to say that over time, if APC remains loyal to its philosophy of progressive politics and we have presidents and governors that are committed to running governments that are people oriented, people driven and we insist that our party is different in terms of internal democracy; our party members should not just be spectators, they should be the drivers. And to quote President Muhammadu Buhari, that we run a party that is bottom-up and PDP chooses to run a party that is top-down. Over time, people will fit into one way or the other and there will be stability. For now, that shaking you are seeing helps to give practical expression to what Awolowo saw, even when I was still in my primary school.
That progressives will need the conservative forces to be able to get power but when they have acquired power, they remain faithful to the principles of progressiveness, the conservative elements will on their own walk away. And that is what has happened.
Why have you been so outspoken that the senate President, Bukola Saraki must quit as senate President even when some lawyers thought otherwise?
As we speak, I remain convinced that Saraki must vacate his position as senate President as a matter of honour. He will have to vacate, if he does not choose the path of honour, he will be democratically removed as the President of the senate, because you are emphasizing law, I am emphasizing logic and political morality plus law. I come from a background where as a young trade unionist, what is lawful can completely be immoral. And for a society to be stable, we must adhere to natural law of fairness. So, it is unacceptable in any democracy, including the one that we have all proudly claim we borrowed, America’s. It is unacceptable for a minority party to provide leadership to cover the majority. As we speak, APC has 57 senators PDP has 49 senators. Assuming without conceding that the other two parties, APGA and ADC choose to align with the opposition, they will still be left with less than 57. There is no way you have a parliament in which the minority provides the leadership. Now those TV lawyers and Newspaper lawyers, they are not judges. Too many people are commentators and analysts without the appropriate depth on the subject of which they are commenting on.
When I say Saraki will be democratically removed, people tend to ask how? They chose to detain themselves with the assumption that the fact that we have 57 members means we cannot impeach the senate President. If you look at the extant positions in the relevant sections of the constitution, it is very clear. It says to impeach a President or Vice President, a governor or Deputy Governor, you need 2/3 of all the members, the word all must be emphasized. The same constitution goes down to say, however to impeach a senate President, a deputy senate President, Speaker or Deputy Speaker that you need 2/3 of members. If the constitution meant to say the same thing, it will use exactly the same language. Why did it emphasize all members in the case of Presidents and governors. Now the issue before us is to allow competent courts to sit down and see whether it would have been the intension of the constitution when it chooses to use the word ‘All Members’ in the case of the President and governors and use members in that of the senate President and Speaker of the House of Reps. Now, if the intension was the same the wordings will be the same. Now, senator Saraki Knows the difference and that is why putting his own interest over and above the national interest, he hurriedly adjourned the senate upon that illegal act of allowing people to decamp even when there are no factions.
Did you see any collaboration between Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara in this matter?
Knowing that he cannot retain his position, he hurriedly adjourned the senate without considering the issue of the supplementary budget for INEC, virement to move money away from recurrent expenditure into capital projects and to approve the foreign loans upon which the budget they had approved can only be executed.
He knew that he cannot survive, then he adjourned the House without obeying the laid out calendar which the house was committed to, which is not a secret to anyone. Unfortunately, Speaker Dogara chooses to also put Saraki’s interest over and above national interest and also hurriedly adjourned the House. And the result is that today we face huge danger if we allow this aberration to stand, because we have a situation now where INEC may not get the money or they get it too late, to be able to procure a lot of the items they need, which you don’t buy under the shelf. This items will enable them conduct a free and fair election in 2019. So let me repeat, Saraki cannot and APC will not allow him to impose minority rule there. The universal definition of democracy, it says that in a genuine democracy, minority will continue to have their say, however loud, however militant, but majority must have their way. This is a law far more superior to whatever some lawyers are saying. PDP will continue to have their say on the floor of the National Assembly but they cannot as a minority preside over the APC majority. Saraki has a choice to obey the ethics of democracy or be impeached. I remain committed to that.
But this does not seem to be new…
The other thing people point out to is that Tambuwal did it when he was Speaker. But check the facts, when Tambuwal did it, he worked so hard that for some time the PDP became minority in the House of Reps. He worked hard to take many PDP members along with him that PDP became minority in the House before they started buying back some members.
But let me also tell you, in the event that Tambuwal even did it and PDP slept on their right, APC under my leadership will not sleep on our right. I did not become chairman to perpetrate under the status quo, I am not a traditional ruler who celebrate preservation of culture and tradition. I am a changed agent and the philosophy of my party is change. We must preserve what is good in our democracy and change what is bad in it.
They have also failed to properly amplify the judgment of the Supreme Court that unless there is a faction, you are not at liberty to move from one party to the other without vacating your seat. The Supreme Court in an earlier ruling, said that it is political parties that contest and win elections not individuals. That is why Governor Amaechi was declared by the Supreme Court as governor of Rivers state because the Supreme Court said the people voted for the PDP and the PDP identified who was the legal candidate of the PDP and it was given to Amaechi. Now, if it is true that it is political parties that win elections not individuals, you will understand the logic of the subsequent findings of the Supreme Court when it held that if you are elected on a party platform, you cannot just move away. Mr Femi Falana (SAN) has spoken elaborately and convincingly on this, that Senator Saraki did not establish faction, that INEC did not recognize there was a faction in the APC. All that they did was to get a collection of individuals, some of whom are not card carrying members of the APC, to proclaim they are now R-APC. If they are R-APC, that is another party not APC, APC remains one party. When PDP was factionalized you had two chairmen, Modu Sherriff and Markafi as two chairmen. However, as far as I am concerned, Saraki has already defined his political grave to which he must be politically buried.
Vote buying is becoming a danger to our democracy, especially as witnessed in the last Ekiti guber poll. What is your view?
I cannot be chairman of a party and celebrate anything that tends to distort the actual wishes of the electorate. But if you want to trace the history of vote buying, it started with Jonathan’s second attempt to be President with all due respect to him. In Edo state where I participated in the election as governor then, they churned out not just naira but dollars. Some young men took the picture of the dollars, we had to do what we had to do because there is no way APC will give us this type of money. President Jonathan started this massive vote buying in Nigeria and the media must go back to discover the origin of vote buying. I am committed, I am one of those who is saying that we must do everything possible to eliminate vote buying.
As regards Ekiti, I was not in Ekiti so I cannot claim to be a witness to vote buying and I do not participate in any decision to vote money to buy votes in Ekiti. And I have my doubt as to if votes would have been bought and sold whether Dr. Fayemi will have the funds to buy because no one can claim that Fayemi is a rich man because I know he was struggling to find money to mobilize and sustain his campaign. I guess it is the guy who has access to the treasury which in this case is the PDP and the sitting governor, who was so confident that he has all the resources, he even described himself as Rock.
Then the definition and the particulars of this rock may well be in terms of the amount of naira he thought was available. So, I am not going to dismiss the allegation either way, just to say I was not part of it, and would not have supported it and I do not think, going into specifics that APC has the resources under Fayemi to resort to vote buying.
Going forward, if you ask me, the way to eliminate it, is to support President Muhammadu Buhari anti-corruption campaign. If people in power no longer can take money freely from the treasury, I want to submit with all seriousness that those who labour to make money are not likely to buy votes.
Why are you proposing Direct primaries for your party?
We must look at how parties conduct their primaries. If we have a situation where to get nominated is now a function of who has more money to buy delegates and a delegate can take as much as N300,000 and these delegates are very ordinary people who live in villages and communities. And people can see how much money they made by participating in the choice of a candidate. The electorate around the delegates who have seen how the guy next to him made money in the nomination of a candidate will now insist that during the general elections, you must also give me money to vote for that candidate. However, this does not make it right.
So, I am fully in support of the campaign to remove vote buying, because if it becomes a way of life, it will be a big problem. I am playing back my own history, I would never have become governor of Edo state not alone succeeded getting re-elected under a government at the Federal that controls the Federal treasury, had access to NNPC and CBN, people like us would not have been able to defeat a ruling party. So, I am absolutely in support and anything I could do as National Chairman, to ensure that we contribute to eliminate these vices, I am for it. Just to ensure that people will win or lose election on the basis of the trust they command not on the basis of the amount they have.
Direct and Indirect primaries controversy, I think my take is clear. I have been ordered by the appropriate organ of the APC which is the National Executive Council (NEC) that we will conduct either direct or indirect primaries while noting that we have three options, direct or indirect and consensus. However, only two of these options were activated for the purpose of this coming election. Namely, direct and indirect. And because direct does not require any flogging, it simply means returning power to party members, so that the party members will enjoy the privilege of choosing candidates of their party for the election. And I am of the view that when people can claim that they nominated you, they will by common sense work hard to persuade their friends, relatives to vote for the one they have participated in choosing. So no one to my recollection argued about the beauty of direct primaries. However, people raised concerns about logistics, about some peculiarities in some states and even the fact that we are running a federation. The debate that each of the states should have the liberty to be different to the extent that they have things that makes them different. We all agreed that on a good day direct primaries are better.
And I am so happy and excited that Mr President who in my ever first conversation with him, about the leadership of this party, shared with me his concerns that if there are lessons to learn from PDP, is that if a party is run top down and it is owned by few money bags, it will not survive over a period and there is no flogging this because we saw that once PDP was disconnected from the national treasury, even though they still maintain state treasury in some of the very rich oil states, that the center will no longer hold.
But some party members are of the view that direct primary will be difficult to achieve. What do you say about this?
People raised various issues while they think direct will be difficult, but we believe that the party need to be bonded with the people. The only way to do it is to let ordinary people who share the same idea to participate in the process. But democracy also requires that you don’t get detained or become so self-opinionated however brilliant you think your ideas are, you must subject it to the democratic scrutiny of the majority. And so regardless of my personal opinion about the beauty of direct primaries, having myself being nominated through that process in Edo state, I also appreciate I cannot impose this. And I am happy that the President as number one citizen and the overall leader of the party bought into it, some governors have also bought into it while some raised issues. I said fine. The good news is our party anticipated these possibilities which is why it provided three options and at that NEC meeting two of the options were agreed. Direct, of course everybody participating. Indirect, just get the state Executive council along with critical stakeholders to meet, not just meet, majority must sign the statement demanding for indirect. And when that is received by the NWC, we have to do the needful by obliging. But consensus is out of it. That not activated by the NEC.
However, the NEC noted that the constitution provides for it but for the purpose of this election, that was not activated. However, you can have a consensus if at the close of nomination, only one person applied for the position, when one person applies for the position it is self-evidence that the people of that area or of that state thinks that only that one person should do it. So that is consensus, it is not something you pronounce and if you do it is a futile pronouncement because once there are candidates for that office, the APC will ensure that election takes place in that office. That is the express orders given to my NWC by the organ.
Now logistics, I agree, if you remember what I said in my electioneering campaign, I said one of the first things we will do is to build on the foundation laid by Bisi Akande by ensuring that we have a data base for a complete voters register. We do have a data base, if you recall it was that data base under President Jonathan that the Director of State Security went to raid and they alleged that APC was trying to clone PVCs. Incidentally today, we are taking delivery of the voters register, printed out with complete voters register. Today if anybody wants to join APC, you are not at the mercy of your ward chairman, you go on line and register. Once you include your PVC number, it will generate membership card and number and we then go to our data base and print it out. I can tell you as of last week, we have 15.6 million registered members of the APC.
And we are taking delivery of this data base, not secret document and we are going to commence on Monday the distribution of membership register and also membership card and we ensure that to procure a membership card, you will have to a prescribed fee, this will be the way the raise the money to run the party without the temptation of dipping hand into our treasury.
Our President will never allow any one of us to even suggest how to appropriate fund from state treasury, President Buhari will never accept that.
It is interesting when we had a conversation on how to raise money to run the party, and he said he will pay a percentage of his salary and told us that since he is fed by the Nigerian state, he can afford 50 per cent of his salary to be paid to the APC and encouraged all of us as senators, governors and chairmen to find a way to fund the party. And of course we also accept donations from business communities who believes that business strives better in a less corrupt society. I can even tell you that the President told us that the amount for our forms was expensive, that was when we wanted to peg it at N55million. But after he complained he cannot afford it we had to reduce the amount even though we told him that a lot of ordinary Nigerians were ready to purchase the forms for him. So that is the kind of President we have.
What is your take on the allegation that this government is selective in its war against corruption?
If you have monopoly of stealing, you have the monopoly of the burden of being prosecuted. PDP governed and superintended over the national treasury for 16 years. It cannot be a coincidence that a lot of those who have been accused of stealing public funds come from a party that has governed for 16 years at the Federal and in majority of the states. For example, once I won the election and was sworn, the PDP were determined to chase me out of office. Everything, every contract and procurement was investigated starting from Waziri, to Lamorde. Infact there was a day we procured some Dando rigs, you will see that the British company delivered three units of their latest model at of that time to Edo state government. Yet the PDP did petition that I took the money nothing was bought. The day EFCC came for the investigation, after I abused them thoroughly, I had to abuse them because they were acting in bad faith. I told them you left the elephant leg in Abuja where a lot of the stealing was taking place, you are coming here to ask question about something the truth is obvious. However, I took them and I showed them the equipment.
Another ridiculous one was when they sent people from the Federal Ministry of Works, some engineers, they came to Edo state and said they want to see the bill of engineering measurement of the Airport Road that we are constructing. I sat them down and I said I dare you to review the bill of engineering measurement. I said you are the thieves because you use some of the contractors we also use. RCC worked for the federal Government they also work for the Edo state government. SETRACO worked for the Federal Government and also worked for Edo state government. Let us see the cost per square cubic meter of concrete that you are using on Abuja Airport road. Dry soil, they source their granite from the road, they don’t have to travel hundred kilometers for their granite, let’s see how much you are paying to Julius Berger that is controlling that road to compare with what I pay. The same thing with RCC it will show that you are the thieves.
But after I showed them all the documents and took them round Airport road that was the end of the matter. They detained three of my House of Assembly members including the current Deputy Governor of Edo state, because they saw him as my close ally. They detained one of the Assembly members for allegedly falsifying his place of birth. There was no dispute about the town of birth or the date of birth but his place of birth. People asked me let’s call a press conference to tell the Nigerian public that I am being persecuted but I said no I have the capacity to fight them. Under Jonathan, successive leadership of the EFCC investigated everything I did, but they could not detain any of my commissioners over night because they could not find any grounds to do so. Those Assembly men they detained was on account of alleged declaration of birth certificate and school certificate. I went to then EFCC Chairman Waziri and said you yourself is corrupt. The fact that you allowed yourself to be used by the government of the day. And at that time, transparency International has released a report that 60 per cent of corruption in Nigeria is being perpetrated by the Federal Government.
Now they are raising false alarm that the war against corruption is one sided. Now as we speak, the only senator in prison, convicted under President Buhari’s government happened to be APC Senator, Joshua Dariye. But today, no PDP Senator is yet to be jailed, their cases are still pending. Let’s face it even President Trump is being investigated and he has been shouting and that has not stopped the investigation.
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