- But sheâ€™s entitled to her opinion, choice
- Restructuring câ€™ttee: We wonâ€™t foreclose on referendum
Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Thursday met with the Minister of Women Affairs, Hajia Aisha Alhassan, for over two hours, during which the party said that she apologised to it over her recent declaration of support for former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar should he decide to contest the 2019 presidential election over her boss, President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, the party acknowledged that she was entitled to her opinion and her choice.
Alhassan refreshingly backed Atiku over Buhari during a Sallah visit to the formerâ€™s residence and doubled down on her stance in a subsequent interview with the BBC.
Though there was no official reaction from the APC or presidency, several Buhari acolytes fell over themselves to condemn her decision not to support the president, with some even calling for her sack from the cabinet.
Alhassan, who arrived the APC national secretariat at about 2 pm Thursday, went straight to the office of the National Chairman, Chief John Odigie Oyegun, where she held discussions with the leadership.
Addressing journalists after the meeting with the minister, the National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, said she accepted her error and apologised.
â€œNow, having offered her explanation, we acknowledged that as a member of this party, she is entitled to her opinion and entitled to her choice.
â€œHowever, as a senior member of this party, her statements represent an act of indiscretion because with the kind of position she occupies, even within the party, she is a party leader in her own right, so what she said was not what she was supposed to say at the time that she said it.
â€œShe ought to have exercised greater judgment than she did and she acknowledged that yes, may be the timing was wrong and she apologised, saying that â€˜if she had put the party in any difficult position, she apologisesâ€™,â€ he said.
Abdulahi said the party deliberately did not react formally to the report of Alhassanâ€™s outburst because it wanted to hear her out.
â€œWe had wanted to have an opportunity to hear from the minister on why she acted in the manner that she did.
â€œAs a senior member of this party and the administration, her comment amounted to an act of indiscretion,â€ he said.
He said the partyâ€™s leadership, after hearing from her, cautioned her for not exercising discretion in the manner she presented the matter.
Surprisingly, the embattled minister came out of the closed door meeting smiling as she made her way to her brown coloured Mercedes SUV.
When asked about her mission to the secretariat, Alhassan said she would leave the spokesman to speak to the reporters who spoke to her.
Speaking shortly after he escorted the minister to her waiting car, Abdullahi confirmed that the party invited her for discussions.
On whether the party asked her to resign from the cabinet, Abdulahi said: â€œNo, that did not come up. What we just said was that we understand the context in which she said what she said, but it was an act of indiscretion for someone occupying the position she is occupying in the party to make that kind of statement.â€
The ministerâ€™s meeting with the APC leadership was seen as an attempt by the party to arrest a possible rupture in the unity and solidarity of the ruling party ahead of the 2019 elections.
Meanwhile, the partyâ€™s committee on restructuring has said it would not shut out demands for a referendum if a majority of Nigerians insist on it.
At the same time, the committee, which is saddled with the task of articulating the partyâ€™s position on the clamour for the restructuring of the federation, said nothing was considered a no-go area in the ongoing dialogue and public consultations being spearheaded by the party.
Addressing journalists Thursday in Abuja, the Secretary of the APC Committee on True Federalism, Senator Olabunmi Adetumbi, said the panel, in addition to engaging directly with Nigerians across the country, would use the reports of conferences held in 2005 and 2014 as reference materials.
He assured the public that the committee will try as much as possible to be fair and just in its report, which will be submitted to the partyâ€™s leadership for onward presentation to government.
On whether the party was foreclosing discussions on the issue of a referendum by conducting its public hearing on restructuring, Adetumbi said: â€œWell, if this comes out as part of the responses from our public consultations, it will surely be reported.
â€œYou know I said at the beginning that this is a subject on which the committee itself has no opinion, we are not canvassing anything as a committee, we are interested in harvesting opinions in all areas, particularly on what the ordinary people are saying concerning this issue.â€
Adetumbi said the committee had marshalled out a 12-point agenda that took care of all the various issues being canvassed for by agitators for the restructuring in the country.
The 12 issues include creation of states, derivation issues, what percentage will be desirable, devolution of powers and reforming the federating units, and fiscal policy reforms.
Others include what form of government is desirable, independent candidacy, land tenure system and whether it should remain part of the constitution or not.
He also went on to list local government autonomy, rotational presidency, resource control and what type of legislature Nigeria needs, as part of the issues for consultations.
On whether the party will not be going against Buhariâ€™s position that the agitation for restructuring could only be addressed by the National Assembly and National Council of State, Adetumbi said: â€œI donâ€™t think that is the case. If he says the National Assembly has the powers to take this decision, I think he even opened up the frontiers.
â€œWe have representatives in the National Assembly and if today there is a position in the party, the party can call its members in the parliament and direct them to act accordingly and constituents can also direct their representatives as well.
â€œThere is nothing foreclosed, I think I will take the statement of President Buhari as an acknowledgement that the issue is open to debate. As we interface with various segments of the society, we cannot under any circumstance foreclose dialogue and public consultations to understand the issues and as a basis of intervention and that is exactly what the party is doing.
â€œWhether we ought to have done it earlier than now or not is open to debate. But the principles of asking the public what do you think? What is you view, is not something we should shout down in any democracy and coming from a political party, it is something that we should encourage and promote.â€
On whether the committeeâ€™s terms of reference will not clash with the ongoing constitution amendment process in the National Assembly, Adetumbi said: â€œA conflict with the legislature wonâ€™t arise, because this exercise is not trying to make laws but to understand what the popular demands of the people are which the party can use to advocate within its membership in the National Assembly for necessary constitutional amendments.â€
He said the APC, as a national political party, is an institution that has a role and is also a stakeholder in making its own contributions.
He explained that the committee had sent out public announcements calling for memoranda and for members of the public to meet it at designated venues without any discrimination.
â€œIt is about harvesting the opinions of the ordinary people that we want to talk to in order to form an opinion because no political party can exist just by itself but through the people.
â€œSo it is an open invitation to all Nigerians to attend and make their views and opinions count,â€ he said.
When asked whether the committeeâ€™s work and that of the Northern governorsâ€™ committee on restructuring would not clash or seen as duplicating the same exercise, he said: â€œThe Northern governors are also stakeholders in the project, Nigeria, and they have every right to contribute to the future of Nigeria.â€
Also speaking, the Director General of the Progressives Governorsâ€™ Forum (PGF) Salihu Lukeman said: â€œI donâ€™t think itâ€™s a matter of monopoly and I think that is the attitude of the APC. Every opinion is welcome and the committee will do its work and the challenge now is for all of us to be positive because what we are looking for is a solution.â€