One of the founding leaders of the All Progressives Congress and a former acting chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Alhaji Abubakar Kawu Baraje, recently spoke with journalists in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, on a wide range of state and national issues. Hammed Shittu was there and provides the excerpts:
Why have you remained silent on issues affecting the APC?
My silence was because I am an elder in the party and elders don’t just talk, particularly the ones that know what they are doing and I don’t believe in flippancy. You don’t get me talking because I want to remain focused. Secondly, and also because I have been busy doing too many things. You are all aware that APC is a new party and the party is a coalition of various political groups, which I happen to belong to one of them.
Therefore, as a senior citizen and elder of the party, I have been busy building the party together with the remaining of us, who are desirous of building a very formidable party. I have been busy, ensuring that we build bridges among the members, particularly between the elders and leaders.
It is not easy to come from various ideas to form a political party because our ideologies and focus about the country must be blended together as one to take Nigeria forward. While we are busy building, we must ensure that the structures are firm and we have gotten to a reasonably level. Now, I think we have gotten to a point, where we and Nigerians can assess and make comments.
The APC has also been silent on the travails of the senate president. Why is that?
Many of us have been surprised or taken aback that the party has not been living to expectations about the trial of the Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria – living to expectation in terms of making the Senate President feel belonged and as part of the party, which is very important for any member let alone the calibre of the Senate President, who has sacrificed lot for the party. I have been trying to make the party realise that not only the senate president but everybody that contributed to the success of the party matters from the highest to the lowest hierarchy.
We have gotten to a level, where we have to be realistic and ensure that the right thing is done at the right time and in the right manner, more so from the fact that we belong to a group that is not very satisfied with the performance of the party, not only because the Senate President is currently going through a very pronounced political persecution, but because there are other cases and instances where we are not happy about the performance of our party.
A case in point is the recent rerun elections in Rivers State. You will agree with me that before and during the elections, the APC did not have the expected and desired presence of our party in Rivers State. With the volatile nature of the rerun election, some of us with our humble experiences expected the national presence of our party much more there. It is regrettable.
Today, we have counted about one 150 rerun elections both at the state and national levels across the country and our party, the APC has lost majority of the elections. Not because the party has lost popularity, but because of the lack of enough presence of the party in the various places where the elections were held. Politics is not technical but practical. If the APC decided to abandon its members at the middle of the election, you don’t expect magic from such action.
Politically, the party should be proud that the Senate President is from the APC. Even though if he was not wanted by some certain interests, he went into an election and won. The PDP episode with Tambuwal (former House of Representatives speaker) is still fresh in history. The PDP then didn’t throw the baby away with the bath water, knowing full well that such a move will be counterproductive.
It was well managed and he remained the speaker of the then PDP. Our party may loath the ways of PDP, but out of every bad situation and experiences, there are atoms of goodness and every visionary leader will separate the chaff from the grain and take what is good out of it. So it is not as if the Senate President has gone against his party. I was a witness of how our Senate President got the seat and I can tell as at the time we went for the election, the party had no candidate for the election. At the beginning, the party first made a statement that it had zoned the seat to the north central before all the intrigues that went into it.
Can you then assess the performance of your government at the centre?
I want to say there have been distractions. The Buhari-led administration is well intentioned. Lots of things went wrong before Buhari came in and to build is difficult. When there are lots of distractions, you will lose focus and the APC has lots of distraction created by the party itself. In line with the constitution of the country, we have three arms of government. These are the pillars that should hold the country’s fabrics together and if one of the pillars get jeopardised, what do you expect?
The senate president is the chairman of the legislative arm in Nigeria and he is not getting the support that he should get simply because some very few individuals thought they are more powerful than the party itself. As disorganised as PDP was, everybody was a member. It was because of the tradition of impunity that was creeping into the PDP that made us raise the alarm and that was why we left and you can see the consequences.
Now, the same scenario is creeping into the APC. We must sound a note of warning to President Buhari to shine his eyes. There are people in the party in the guise of reconciling people and say they are working for the success of the party while actually doing that for their own selfish interest. But it will lead them to nowhere. We would never romance impunity. President Buhari should be wary of them and play more politics now, he has gone into the house and has seen how bad it is; he has reorganised the house and what is left now is to consolidate on the reorganisation to build on the foundation.
Is your wing playing any role in the reported plan to form a new party in the country?
We also heard it just like you. But I have not entered into any alliance or gone into any meeting with anybody. So far, so good, APC is still on the ground but we want the president to shine his eyes as Nigerians would say but that cannot be done successfully except he plays politics.
Would you consider leaving the party if this alleged impunity continues?
Every politician or group has aspirations in any part of the world and not only in Nigeria. The time we were going into merger to become the APC, our aspiration was that the then government of PDP was not giving us that desired governance and Nigerians were suffering. We want to be part of the solution to the problem to make life easy for our people. But how far have we then achieved those aspirations because there is nothing to show on ground now? Some will say our group has the senate president but he has not been in peace. Since the coming of Obasanjo in 1999, no senate president has had dry, blatant, politically tyrannical and open persecution as Saraki.
What’s your reaction to the trial of Saraki at the CCT?
The case of Saraki has not followed due process and the rule of law. It was the due process that was missing in the case of Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu and he was discharged but not acquitted. So why is the Saraki case different? So as regards whether we are comfortable with where we are and whether we are joining other groups, every politician has aspirations about the development of his people and if you cannot achieve it in one place, you go to another place.
It doesn’t mean that I am a political prostitute but that I am a principled person and will not stop until I get what I want, which in this case is good governance, equality, democratic dividends for my people. Impunity, lawlessness, lack of due process are not what formed APC. With the intervention of some leaders like us, that party will continue to thrive, but for it not to go the way of PDP, the president must play politics.
Is it true that Saraki was still receiving salary after leaving office as Kwara governor?
Immediately Saraki left office like any other civil servant, who worked for it, he begins to enjoy his pension and the vouchers that pay those benefits began immediately and the banks still referred to it as salaries. One of the major goals of this trial was to create sensation and media hype. We had barely gone out of the court that day when the media started calling for his resignation. Like you read in the papers, this morning (Sunday), there have been plans for those people to organise protest against Saraki in Abuja, Lagos and Ilorin.
But I want to assure that if that happens, we will see mother of counter protests to demonstrate that the Senate President has followers. Hitherto, APC had only three states in the north central and with dint of hard work, Saraki delivered the zone one 100 per cent. So if some people hide under the trial of Saraki to want to destabilise this government, then we won’t sit down and look and that is not a threat.
Nobody has called for his resignation and the senators have reaffirmed their support for him. But if they are still hell bent on removing him, the worst will now happen because we may have the PDP taking over the Senate Presidency and that of its deputy. Maybe we should practice it for the first time and see how it would be.
We have heard there are plans to destabilise the political root of the senate president here at home by some APC leaders at the national level, but we are ready for it, not by violence, but we want to show them that this is an area that can’t be penetrated. We are one and will remain one. If they do, you we shall see the consequences.
Is this coalition of strange bedfellows responsible for APC’s problems?
In politics, there are no strange bedfellows. There is only a thin line between the Democrat and the Republican in the US. The only thing is that when the situation comes to play, they demonstrate more experience and more maturity. The problem has not been that of coalition of strange bedfellows. What we do was to come together and salvage Nigeria and if we have other motives, it has started playing out especially to some of us that can read between the lines because the scenes and scenarios we have seen is not for President Buhari and that is why he should play more politics. The fact is what we have agreed to do, and we are still planting the ideologies of the APC but people, based on their selfish ideas are smuggling the ideas of 2019 through the back door. That is rubbish!
The National Assembly has been involved in some kind of altercation with the executive as regards details of the 2016 budget. Is this healthy?
For the very first time, the National Assembly returned the budget with about 30 per cent less. They also expunged certain areas and reduced the amount for certain areas. The area I would talk on is that of some railway project that was also expunged. When I was the chairman of the Nigerian railway corporation, I discovered that some structures of the corporation needed to be revitalised completely. Construction of new rails is not now. Until we get the existing structures performing again and that will cost a lot of money running into billions of naira.
So the expunged new railway line from Calabar to Lagos is not a priority but boosting food, agriculture, fighting insurgency and so on. So if the senate can do that, I expect the president to call the National Assembly together in a round table and discussed with them. Not as some are saying that he should call their bluff. He should take time to study the budget properly and iron out whatever place he is not clear about because the budget is that of the people.
Today, we have counted about one 150 rerun elections both at the state and national levels across the country and our party, the APC has lost majority of the elections. Not because the party has lost popularity, but because of the lack of enough presence of the party in the various places, where the elections were held. Politics is not technical but practical. If the APC decided to abandon its members at the middle of the election, you don’t expect magic from such action