Following allegation that the All Progressives Congress is shielding political office holders who disrespect the National Assembly, the party’s spokesman, Bolaji Abdullahi in an interview with Onyebuchi Ezigbo, said such persons will no longer enjoy the party’s backing. Excerpts:
We heard that the party leadership held a meeting with the National Assembly caucus over the frosty relationship between the executive and members of the National Assembly. What is the outcome of that meeting?
Yes, we had a meeting with the APC caucus in the House of Representatives. We wanted to see the Senate first but that wasn’t possible because of other commitments that clashed with the meeting at hand. Yes, we met with the House of Representatives and mainly it was meant to be a consultation meeting to talk about the coming convention and the processes that need to happen that would lead us to the congresses that would hold in some states and local governments to fill some vacant positions and of course the NEC meeting. Of course, we also discussed the issue of the financing of the party and the need for members to be more responsive in paying their membership dues in that way the party will be able to run smoothly. It was generally a family meeting, the chairman spoke, the House of Representatives members spoke very frankly and we left the place with a renew determination to recommit ourselves to the party.
It has been alleged that it is the party that is protecting party men and government appointees like the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and the Controller General (CG() of the Nigerian Customs Services from answering summons from the Senate. How true is this?
Yes you are right the issue came up at the meeting with the House of Representatives. Concerns were raised. They actually said it in specific terms as you have just expressed it. They believe that the party has been shielding some executives of government who are also members of the party and that is why they are able to, in their own words; “disrespect the National Assembly.” Don’t forget the meeting we had was with the House of Representative and not the Senate but I think they felt equally affected by what is going on with the individuals you have mentioned but the assurance that we gave them is that the party will not do that. The party will not support any member of the party, any appointed official of government to disrespect the National Assembly because we recognise that the National Assembly is the very meaning of our democracy. The difference between dictatorship and democracy is that you have a National Assembly. In the military rule, you have executive, you have judiciary the only institution you don’t have under the military rule is the National Assembly as it were or the House of Assembly in the state. So that is the very foundation of our democracy and we believe as a party that every single citizen regardless of what we feel about some action or inaction of that institution or some individuals in that institution or perception we have about some people in that institution, the most important thing is that, it is the very institution at the heart of our democracy and any form of denigration of that institution is like flirting with suicide. So, as a political party we are not going to do that, we are not going to support anybody to disrespect our National Assembly and I believe that some of these issues that are coming up will very soon be resolved and as you have learnt early this week, the party said we are going to intervene on some of these issues and try to resolve them. I don’t think trying to intervene in a way to resolve the issues could be interpreted to mean that we are protecting some of these individuals that are involved. We are not protecting anyone to disrespect the National Assembly, our desire will be to see that there is stability in the system and the polity is not unnecessarily overheated by issues that can be resolved amicably.
What measures will your party take to broker peace and understanding between the executive and the legislature?
You are right! I agree with you that there are probably some times that we ought to have acted quicker than we tend to do but you also have to understand one thing: this was an issue essentially between two arms of government; the legislature and the executive and it isn’t strictly a political party matter. Don’t forget that the National Assembly isn’t populated by only members of our party, there are also other parties that are represented in the National Assembly but we are in the majority and we believe that if we intervene we would be able to bring amicable resolution to the matter. We had hoped that the matter would be resolved amicably and that on both sides, people would be able to exercise good judgment and allow the matter to be resolved but when we realized that it wasn’t going to happen and it was generating to issues that would create circumstances that are not desirable, the party then decided that we needed to weigh in.
The meeting scheduled with the ministers was postponed at the last minute why?
Well I think it was postponed because there were conflicting schedules. The ministers told us that they had another meeting with the Vice President and that was why we had to postpone it hoping we would be able to pick another date soon.
One of the government appointees was alleged to have said that he would honour only invitation sent through the President. What is the party’s reaction to that?
Well I don’t have that kind of information that you just narrated. What I know is that the meeting was called off because it clashed with another meeting because, look, I doubt if any minister that is appointed on the platform of a party by the president who we know is the leader of our party would turn around to say that the party can’t invite him or her. I doubt that would happen because many of the ministers we have, even those that would want to be seen as political, are very experienced people and they know the roles political party plays in the effective function of the president. That is a party that produced the president. That is the party that provided that platform by which the president contested election and won and it was because the president contested election and won on the bases of that party that whoever was appointed a minister was appointed so I don’t think that a minister would say that kind of thing. I was a minister and I know at many occasions, PDP at the time, would invite us to come and brief the party on one policy or another. Who would dare say that ‘he didn’t tell the president and president hasn’t told us to go’ because if we are truly committed to our principal, to the man that appointed us and we know this is the party that he leads, our responsibility to him is to make his life easier, make his job easier by helping him to build a cordial relationship with the National Assembly, with the political party, with the judiciary. And when we do that as an appointee, we are helping our principal to breathe easier and do his job more effectively because in a democracy every single policy is political and has political ramification and if we are not able to manage the policy, then you would continue to have trouble and challenges at different levels. I don’t think any minister would say that, any minister who understands the circumstance in which he is operating and what I know is that the meeting was put on hold because it clashed with another schedule.
Already you have met with those in the party caucus of the House of Representatives, when are you planning to sit down with the Senators especially with regard to the issue of the CG of Customs Services?
You see mediating on this issue isn’t something that would be done in an open meeting with the National Assembly. It is something that would be between the leadership of the National Assembly and the CG of customs and whoever is involved. So it is something that we believe has to be dealt with at that level. We can only try our best, we can’t force anybody. We can’t force the CG of customs to do what he doesn’t want to do, we can’t force the Senate to change its attitude and move in a different direction. We can’t do that. We can only say, in the interest of our party and the interest of our country this is the way we think parties to this situation should behave and this is the direction we think we should all go, but individuals still have the right to hold on to their position if they want to but of course that isn’t going to be good for the party and the party wouldn’t support anything that would portray us as lawless, that would portray us as not having respect for democratic institution and I don’t think this party would support anybody to behave that way but if anybody is a member of this party he is expected to behave in way that edifies democracy and edifies our party. Yes, the matter has been taken to court but you know whoever took the matter to court can also be persuaded to take it out of court. It isn’t a criminal matter, so it can be resolved. That is the direction we intend to move as a party and we still believe it isn’t too late to intervene. It would have been better for people not to resolve to unnecessary legalism over this but it isn’t too late for us to intervene if the parties involved are willing to submit themselves to amicable resolution but if they are not then the party has to sit down and review this situation and ask if there are further responsibilities that it has in this regard or there are other options that the party should explore in bringing this matter to an amicable conclusion. Like the party chairman said yesterday that there are so much we are doing that did not portray us in the right manner and it is like we enjoy entertaining the public in the wrong way, so that has to stop. Some of these things that we do don’t portray our party in a good light as a ruling party and these are some of the issues that we are concerned about and we believe that we have to begin to put our house together and move forward in a more organised manner.
Apart from trying to resolve the issue with the custom CG what other effort is the party making as regards the face-off between the SGF and the Senate?
You see the issue of what you call the SGF and the Senate face-off is an issue that has to do, I believe, with the North East and some contracts that were awarded. Let me say clearly that the National Assembly has an oversight role to play, a constitutional role to play in some of this. We as a party, as I said earlier, will not welcome a situation where a government official will behave in a way that would show lack of respect for a major organ of our government. We will not do it and if we do that it is like we are encouraging that kind of behaviour that impairs us and impairs our democracy. We won’t do that. Secondly, if it is any issue that has to do with corruption, our president’s major commitment is to fight corruption. That is one of the major cardinal pillars of his administration and what that means therefore is that anyone associated with this administration must not only be above board but be seen to be above board. If anybody is believed to have done certain things that they weren’t supposed to have done even at the level of suspicion, I think the National Assembly has the right to investigate. You can bring in other factors and say ‘oh some things are also happening in the National Assembly’ but that is a different argument. We, as a party, believe that anybody that has any question to answer on issues that relate to corruption should answer those questions. Nobody has been convicted and if it is at the level of investigation and the level of asking questions about how people are treated and how money is utilized, I think the National Assembly has the right to do that. So we are not going to shield anybody and protect anybody. APC will not do that because President Muhammadu Buhari will not condone any form of corruption. So, if we are with him we should believe in his leadership and we are committed to his fight against corruption. So anybody that has questions to answer concerning corruption should answer it. So we are not going to shield or protect anybody in that area.
Like the same way you have visited the National Assembly, do you have plans to also meet with the president who is the head of the executive arm and when ?
I don’t think we have any specific date to say we are going to visit the president on a particular day but we are definitely going to see the president. You see it is also important that we meet the relevant stakeholders like we met the House of Representatives last week and we got a lot of feedbacks on a lot of issues that they want to be sorted out and we are also going to meet with the Senate and we are going to listen to them. So when we put all these things together when we meet with the president we will be able to table them before him and say these are the issues they want us to attend to and we seek his intervention. So it won’t be wise for us to meet with the president when we haven’t consulted with all these major stakeholders.
We, as a party, believe that anybody that has any question to answer on issues that relate to corruption should answer those questions. Nobody has been convicted and if it is at the level of investigation and the level of asking questions about how people are treated and how money is utilized, I think the National Assembly has the right to do that.