On The March To Aso Rock In 2015

Opinion

By Bisi Akande

It has been a long journey to come this far on this historic occasion – the first convention of our great party since the consummation of our merger on April 18th 2013. We are here, thanks to your commitment, your loyalty and above all your hard work. The journey has been long, but arriving at this stop has made it worth the while. Let me make it clear that this is but a stop in our steady and progressive march to Aso Rock next year.

When we consummated our merger, we said the aim of that historic and unprecedented achievement is to create a credible, alternative platform for Nigerians who are tired of the perpetual misrule of the PDP. Now, I can say clearly that Nigerians heard us clearly, and have reacted by joining our party in huge numbers. Our membership registration attests to this.

Now, we stand at the threshold of history, willing and determined to keep the promise of building a new nation. With registered membership strength of over 20 million and still counting, Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you today, APC, Nigeria’s biggest party. A party that is poised to take over the reins of power after free and fair democratic elections in 2015.

As you all know by now, the membership registration which started on February 5th was supposed to be over by February 10th, but the response from Nigerians was so overwhelming, that we had to extend the exercise to February 12th. Even then, we now realize that we had apparently under-estimated how eager and willing Nigerians are to join the APC, which they see as the agent of change.

Today, at this inaugural convention, I can report to you that the state of our party is strong, and that our achievements have surpassed all our expectations.

I am delighted and grateful to you all to have stood by me together with all the leaders you have selected at every stage to work with me. I received total support from all the other members of our party’s Interim National Executive Committee. Therefore, the credit for whatever giant strides that have been made should go to the collective leadership of APC. I thank you all most sincerely for the confidence reposed in me, and I can say, with all humility, that the experience has been worthwhile.

As I said earlier, the state of our great party is strong. From controlling 11 states at the start of the merger, we have now grown to 16 states, and our membership in the House of Representatives and Senate has grown exponentially. Our voice has been ringing out loud and clear, and today we are seen as an undisputed and credible alternative to the bumbling and fumbling PDP.

We have given millions of our disenchanted citizens reasons to hope and dream again. We have shown that where there is a will, there is a way.

As I prepare to take my exit from the front seat, I urge you all join the new front leadership to continue where we stopped and to take the party to even greater heights. Make no mistake, all sorts of obstacles will be thrown in your path. For the first time since our country’s return to democratic rule in 1999, the over-confident PDP has been rattled and has suddenly realized the possibility that it can indeed lose power at the centre next year. But the PDP will not just go away quietly, even when it knows it has been roundly rejected by Nigerians. It will do everything possible to lay mines on our path.

But I can assure you that with your usual determination, your perseverance in the face of all forms of persecution and your love of country, and indeed the support of Nigerians, our party will reach the Promised Land. We have no choice but to forge ahead, in the interest of our long-suffering people.

My confidence is borne out of the support that we have received from Nigerians and the confidence they repose in us. It is a measure of that confidence that when our party was labelled an Islamic Party, Nigerians said we are a national party for both Christians and Muslims and flocked to us in droves. When they called us a Janjaweed party, Nigerians said we are everything but Janjaweed, and flocked to us in droves. When they tried to paint our leaders bad by calling them names, Nigerians rejected all those characterizations.

Now, while we can say with confidence today that the state of our party is strong, we cannot say the same thing for our country. Our country is perhaps at its lowest moment since the end of the unfortunate civil war in 1970. There is no better indication of this

than the fact that Nigeria that, at independence in 1960, quickly joined the ranks of global peacekeeping troops-contributing nations to help restore peace to many countries around the world is today a subject of some form of global assistance, after it was apparently overwhelmed by its security challenges. As I speak, personnel and equipment from a global coalition that includes the US, UK, Israel and the UN are in our country, assisting us to rescue the over 200 school girls who have been missing for over two months, and also to help us tackle the terrorist group, Boko Haram.

This is a clear failure of our country’s leadership in its most important reason for existence: the security and welfare of the citizens.

As we speak, out people are dying in droves in the hands of terrorists. According to figures given by President Goodluck Jonathan himself, 12,000 innocent citizens have been dispatched to their early graves by the insurgency, while 8,000 have been maimed, since 2009.

Huge economic damage has been inflicted on a large swath of the north, and thousands of our citizens are displaced, having been forced to run away from their communities to escape attacks by the insurgents. In the past week alone, the number of such displaced people has been put at over 6,000.

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From the beginning, our party, as a responsible opposition and realising the escalation of the insurgency, has consistently made suggestions to the federal government on ways to tackle the insurgency. We have stretched our hand across the aisle, in a non-partisan approach to help to end the crisis. We have called for a national stakeholders security summit, as distinct from an all-politicians summit. I am sad to inform you that as I speak, the government has neither acknowledged our suggestions nor reached out to us to join in the efforts to resolve the crisis.

Instead they have blamed us for sponsoring the insurgency. How irresponsible and escapist! Gladly, Nigerians have also rejected their unfounded accusations against us, and told them that their cluelessness, their incompetence, their politicisation of the crisis and their belief that the insurgency is their ticket to a second term have aggravated, rather than ameliorated, the situation. While insecurity is the most immediate and pressing problem facing our nation today, it is by no means the only one. The level of unemployment, especially among our youths, is unprecedented. The state of decay of our infrastructure is alarming, to say the least. Power supply, which usually picks up even during the rainy season, has been appalling, further making it almost impossible for artisans and owners of small scale businesses to stay afloat. Then there is an unprecedented level of corruption. Our President, in his usual attempt to downplay and trivialize corruption, has tried to distinguish between stealing (of public funds) and corruption. We say to him: Corruption is corruption and it is a cankerworm that is eating away the fabric of our society.

This is no time for semantics. Our federal government has been quick to celebrate the resuscitation of railways along some routes, but it is only an unserious government that will be celebrating the revival of locomotives in an era of bullet trains of the 21st century!

Then of course, elections!

No free, fair and transparent election has been held under the watch of the PDP! Every election has ended up spinning a huge number of court cases, to the extent that the courts,

rather than Nigerians, have been saddled with electing Nigerian leaders.

In recent times, the PDP and the government it controls at the centre have moved to emasculate the courts and prevent justice from being done in cases of election rigging and manipulation. Because they know how much they have done to weaken the judiciary, their new refrain after perpetuating bold-faced vote stealing is to ask the party that has been rigged out to go to court. They did it in the Delta Senatorial bye election. They did it in the Anambra election on 16 November, 2013. They did it in the Ondo bye election, and they are attempting to do it in Ekiti and Osun this year, and the general elections next year.

I therefore urge you to be vigilant, as eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. Since APC is not a violent or election rigging party, I cannot tell you to match them violence for violence, or rigging for rigging. But I can tell you to be vigilant, so as to thwart their evil intentions. Ultimately, power belongs to the people, and no one can take it away from them by force.

May I use this opportunity to restate my party’s recent call on INEC to immediately commission the use of electronic card readers, starting with the Ekiti election. What this simple machine does is to ensure that whoever presents a voter’s card at a polling station on Election Day is the authentic owner of the card. This will eliminate election rigging using stolen or purchased voter’s card. It is cheap, effective and can be deployed anywhere. We say to INEC, if you are sincere about organising credible elections, then use technology to thwart rigging.

Some people have accused APC of just criticizing the Federal Government without offering constructive suggestions. To such people, I ask: Do you live in a cave?

Apart from our regular media interventions, which are undoubtedly very constructive, our party has launched a Road Map that will lead us to the creation of a new and prosperous nation. Time will not allow me to go into the full details of the Road Map. Suffice to say that the agenda we have placed in the public domain to showcase our party’s determination to change the face of the country includes job creation; war against corruption; free, relevant quality education; restoration of agriculture; housing, improved healthcare; social welfare plan for the less privileged; greater attention to roads, power and infrastructure; better management of natural resources and strengthening peace, security and foreign policy.

Based on the nationwide scientific poll we conducted across the 36 states and the federal capital, we have identified three sectors that would command special attention. They are job creation, war against corruption as well as security, because without peace and security, there will be no development

Without taking more of your time, let me say I am bowing out from the chairmanship of the APC with great pride and satisfaction that, with the unfettered support of my fellow interim officials, we are leaving a party that is strong, solid, vibrant, democratic, accommodating and, above all, one that is well positioned to take over the reins of power through the people’s vote next year.

I have no doubt that you will give the same level of support to those who will be elected today to take over the mantle of leadership of our great party.

I leave APC chairmanship position with fond memories and an unflinching commitment to the success of our party, but henceforth I will be doing that from behind as a worthy follower.

•Akande, the former Interim National Chairman, All Progressives Congress, APC, delivered this speech at the party’s inaugural convention held in Abuja on Saturday, 14 June, 2014.