18th December, 2013
Interim National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Lai Mohammed speaks to FOLARIN ADEMOSU on the merger between the party and the new Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as well as efforts to create harmony among members
Nigerians received news of the alliance between your party and the aggrieved former Peoples Democratic Party members, especially the G5 governors, with mixed feelings. The preponderance of opinions on the issue suggests a scramble for political power, not because of the ordinary masses. What is your comment?
To start with, it was not an alliance. What happened was the new PDP joining the APC. So it is rather a fusion of members of the new PDP, including their governors, National Assembly and state Assembly members and all other members, coming into the APC. Whereas, in an alliance the two parties are regarded as distinct legal entities that are expected to keep their identities. And it is usually for a short term, maybe for the purpose of winning an election.
But in our case, the former PDP members have become permanent members of the APC and integrated into our structures. For those saying it was all about power-grabbing, well, political parties are created because they want to form government. And in a democratic setting, the only way the party can get into government or power is through the ballot box. So, what we have done is in sync with the democratic processes. We started as a small party and, later, became a mega party. Prior to the merger, the biggest opposition party, ACN, was majorly present in six states, but with the merger with the defunct ANPP, CPC and a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, we had wider spread. With the coming on board of five governors of the PDP, we now have governors in 16 states.
In politics, a thousand friends are not enough, while one enemy could be too many. So, what is wrong with taking a step to become relevant and get power through democratic methods. Our answer to people who say what we have done is all about power-grabbing is that, if for 14 years the PDP has been in power at the centre and controls the majority in both chambers of the National Assembly and majority of the state assemblies, and yet could not say bye-bye to poverty, unemployment and other social malaise plaguing the country, what is its reason for being in government? If, now, we give Nigeria a viable alternative, can we be accused of power-grabbing?
In an ideal setting, political parties are distinguished by manifesto, political outlook or ideological bent. By merging with the new PDP is APC saying its ideology conforms with the PDP’s?
I think a lot of hollow noise has been made about ideology. Ideology is an evolutionary process and it is not achieved based on what you have done or say you would do. Anybody who cares to read our manifesto will see clearly what we are. Our inclination is welfarist democracy. Ideology is about the people; what we intend to do in government; what kind of infrastructure we want to provide; what are the amenities we want to provide, etc. And if you go to states where the APC holds sway, you will see what our ideology is. Our focus are providing employment, education, social empowerment, potable water, giving the people access to political power, care for the environment and the like. Any party which an ideology that does not revolve around the people, then it is not a good political party. Take Rivers, Edo, Oyo, Osun, Ogun, Ekiti states, for instance, and tell me whether all the things I have mentioned are not existent in those places.
In Osun State, the elderly are given stipend; same for Ekiti State, where the elderly and widows are taken care of under the government’s social system. And same for other places. What is a government supposed to do for its people that we are not doing?
There has been tension between your members and members of the defecting new PDP on who controls the party machinery in states where the latter have governors. Does that not pose a threat to the merger?
There is no rocket science in this matter. Politics is about resolution of conflicts. If you remember, we said the essence of our initial merger with other opposition parties was due to the very abysmal situation the country and Nigerians are into and when the PDP joined us, we said it was about rescuing our democracy. This enterprise is not about one person’s ambition, it is about Nigeria. Now that we are a bigger political party, party crisis is expected to happen. We should stop thinking about Nigeria in terms of four or eight years political rule, or what anyone of us wants to become. We should start thinking about Nigeria in terms of what we want to hand over to our children. The issue you have raised is not fundamental and how does that affect the fortunes of Nigeria? So, because Lai Mohammed cannot become the governor of Kwara State today, then it is the end of the future of Nigeria or my state? We have set up committees to look into these issues. Let me say that in some of those places it is a matter of ego, deep-rooted enmity or foes of yesterday being asked to become friends. But if we all agree that the essence of our coming together was not to rescue our personal ambitions but the country, then we should know that we would all lose a bit but Nigeria will gain more. Even if the PDP governors had not joined us, with the initial merger we would still have made some sacrifices. Take my state, Kwara, for instance; each of the initial merger partners has people who have ambitions to become governor, but we had to manage that. So it is all about the bigger picture and not about self.
But shouldn’t your party have considered the interests of your members who have laboured to build the party in states like Kwara, Sokoto, Kano, Adamawa before going into the merger? Many of them complained they were not consulted.
I must say that it is either those you said claim they were excluded were not properly understood or misquoted. When the opposition parties merged initially, we resolved to embark on membership registration, as well as organise congresses across ward and state levels and hold a national convention. Meanwhile, we have set up interim administration in the states and local governments. The committee earlier established was to furnish us with a template on composition of the interim administrations at those level pending the time the registration and the convention would be conducted, which will then produce a permanent structure. And the template is very simple. In states where we have governors, the governors would nominate the chairman of the interim committee and other members are the deputy governor, where there is one; and where they are no governors, the senatorial candidates of all the legacy parties, their chairmen, former ministers (who are not members of the old ACN), former ambassadors, senators and House of Representatives members. Even in states where we don’t have governors, there is no way we can shut out our original members.
What you have said sounds so simple, but the first sign of crisis was announced through the statement of former PDP chairman in Kwara State, Balogun-Fulani, who said APC did not have any structure in the state and members who want the merger should come to them. Was that taken out of context, too?
That was not the end of the story. The statement was retracted the next day. When I heard it, I quickly contacted Senator Bukola Saraki and he said: “Alhaji, I have also been trying to reach you.” He told me he had given an instruction that it be retracted immediately he heard it. The issue of distrust and mutual suspicions should be expected. For instance, I have been an opposition figure in that state for the past 10 years and even contested election against Senator Bukola Saraki in 2003, but under the current situation, I must be able to look beyond myself and make sacrifices in the interest of my state. And don’t forget, these are people (the former PDP members) who have never been in any other political party before and, besides, the PDP chairman does not even know the content of the Memorandum of Understanding between the two parties. He only issued the statement due to unnecessary enthusiasm or lack of understanding.
For the benefit of our readers, can you tell us why Governor Aliyu Babangida of Niger State and Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola who we were said to have been part of the talks pulled out of the merger?
Oyinlola was at the venue for whatever consultation he came to make. Besides, Oyinlola still remains, today, the dejure national secretary of the PDP. So he only came to the venue to make consultation with his people, but he was not part of the discussions. And he could not really be part of it because he is still court-recognised national secretary of his party. As for Governor Aliyu, he must have his reason for not joining the merger. But, you see, in politics one day could be too long, not to talk of a week or a year. Even though he didn’t join, he may be with us tomorrow.
While you have gained more members from the PDP, your party in Ogun State is losing members of the state assembly to the Labour Party. What do you say to that?
This is democracy. If we are a beneficiary of five governors as at today, why shouldn’t another party poach our members? We will not send anybody out of our party and we will not stop anyone who is determined to leave. They may return to the party tomorrow.
Many have also wondered why your party kicked against the National Dialogue proposed by President Goodluck Jonathan, given that key members of your party have over the years been in vanguard of the agitation for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference. What do you know that Nigerians don’t?
First, we must make distinction between a political party, a future cultural party, a geo-political zone and ethnic nationalities. No doubt that many of our members, like Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who belongs to the south-west caucus of the party, have always clamoured for a Sovereign National Conference, but came out to kick against it. He spoke as a member from the -caucus of the party, because the APC is not a Yoruba party even though we have massive support in the south-west. But beyond that, two groups in which we have members of our party kicked against the conference, namely, the Nigerian Governors Forum and the APC Interim National Exco.
Secondly, we stated that the main reason we rejected the idea was that the convener was insincere and confused. We believe it was just meant to buy time and achieve an ulterior motive. Presently, our fears are justified. President Jonathan has come out to say that what the Afenifere demanded, that the outcome of the conference be subjected to a referendum, was not possible, but rather the outcome would be subjected to the approval of the National Assembly. Few days ago, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said they were toying with the idea of two year extension for all elected officers. Has that not shown that all the noise about national dialogue is a ruse? Don’t forget that the same Ekweremadu is the Chairman of the Constitution Amendment Committee and it is the same National Assembly that will approve the outcome of the national dialogue.
But the PDP in Lagos said the APC rejected the National Dialogue because Asiwaju Tinubu was not friendly with the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee, Senator Okurounmu. What do you say to that?
People should stop equating the APC with the Yoruba alone. It is not a Yoruba party, even though we enjoy overwhelming support in the south-west. Can Bola Tinubu override, singlehanded, the objectives of governors outside the south-west? In the APC today, only five out of 16 governors are from the south-west. And as at the time he voiced opposition to the national dialogue, only five of 11 governors were from the south-west. You mean in a meeting of the party where you have people like Buhari, Ali Modu Sheriff, Adams Oshiomole, etc, Tinubu would override them? The people saying so are just parochial. They continue to see the APC as Asiwaju Progressives Congress, which it is not. Of course, we don’t deny Tinubu is a very influential person in the APC, but the APC is beyond one man. The party is more vibrant, multi-ethinic and multi-religious now than before.
Should the two-extension proposed by the Deputy Senate President be put to a vote in the current PDP-dominated National Assembly, what will your party do?
Let me tell you, APC is presently in control of the National Assembly and what we don’t want to happen will not happen. Period!