Before venturing into partisan politics in 2003, Pastor Bankole Oluwajana was the Company Secretary of Nal Merchant Bank Plc, now a member of Sterling Bank Plc. At the recent National Convention of All Progressives Congress (APC), however, he was elected the APC National Vice Chairman, South-west. Long before his emergence, he had been at the core of progressive politics in the geo-political zone. In 2007, specifically, he was the governorship candidate of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in Ondo State. At an interactive session with journalists in Lagos, Oluwajana spoke extensively on the re-election plan of President Muhammadu Buhari, the gale of defection rocking the ruling APC, the menace of farmers-herdsmen conflict and the approach to resolving the conflict among others. Gboyega Akinsanmi was there. Excerpt:
With your recent election as the APC National Vice Chairman, South-west what is your focus for the ruling party in the geo-political zone?
My focus is to ensure President Muhammadu Buhari is re-elected in 2019. It is not just because Buhari is a president produced by my party. Basically, it is because Buhari is the best candidate for Nigeria at this present moment. We all know this except we want to deny it.
How did you come to this conclusion given diverse sore points of Buhari’s administration?
I have many reasons to support my position that Buhari is the best candidate at this moment for this country. First, I have been around for some time. I spent a chunk of my life in the corporate world. From my experience, I know corruption has been a major challenge of Nigeria. People can say anything about Buhari. They can talk about many other things. None of them has been able to tell us that Buhari, as a person, is corrupt. They can tell you people around him are corrupt. They can make those allegations. But no single person has come out to say Buhari, as a person, is corrupt. I saw a post on the social media last week. In the post was the photograph of a house, which people claimed, belonged to the wife of the president. But I happen to know that the house belongs to one of my friends. We have such fake news all over. But nobody has been able to tie it to him. Second, the challenges facing Nigeria are very enormous. It is easy for us to forget the past. It is easy to say we should not make reference to the government of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) anymore. But what Nigeria went through for 16 years under the PDP cannot be forgotten in three years. Also, the level of corruption we witnessed during the last administration of the PDP is disturbing. These are realities that we all know about.
But a good number of Nigerians are not satisfied with Buhari’s performance, citing his inability to properly manage our economy. How do you justify this?
Quite honestly, Buhari has achieved so much within three years. Of course, we need to consolidate what has been achieved in the last three years. This is not the time to effect a change when we believe we are on the right track. For instance, our exporters’ inflow is now about $5 billion on monthly basis. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) says that foreign exchange sales have gone down. In April alone, it went down by 69 percent from $1.3 billion to $420 million. This foreign exchange window has been an outlet of taking out corrupt money in this country. When we have such reduction, it does not mean investment has reduced. It is a fact that the degree for taking out corrupt money has gone down. Besides, our foreign reserve has risen to almost $50 billion. We know what it was when the PDP was in government. This shows what we have can cover our import for over one year. Also, the 91-day treasury bill equally went down to 10 percent. There has been an increase of international air load to over 90 percent. Inflation is downward trajectory. In the first quarter, tax revenue rose about N1.2 trillion from a little above N700 billion. The bank lending rate is going down gradually. Before now, lending rate was much above 20 percent. But we now can obtain lending rate as low as 17 percent. The railway project is progressing. Agriculture has been revolutionised. The largest rice mill in sub-Saharan Africa is now in Nigeria with the capacity to produce 32 metric tons. It is located in Lagos here. The implication is that more people will be employed. All these things may not be easily noticed because it is like we have few drops in the ocean of disaster that the PDP had plunged Nigeria into. It is unimaginable that any person will canvass for the return of such tragedy again. For God’s sake, Rome was never built in a day. If we are making some progress, should we now jettison that progress and bring back the same people, the same devourers and the same cankerworms that almost ate Nigeria off.
But the Buhari administration has not been able to address the Fulani herdsmen attacks, which have claimed thousands of lives. Why has this administration not responded decisively to the herdsmen issue?
It is easy for people to talk about herdsmen killing, which has been a major issue we are facing today. That is what people often make reference to. Is it difficult for Nigerians to discern that what we are facing has been a form of war for over the years now? It appears these people are hell-bent on bringing down Nigeria. They have been coming in various forms. They once came in form of Boko Haram. Because the previous government could not control them, they were almost reaching the South. When Buhari came in, he defeated them. Of course, wailers will say they still attack once a while. Is this what we were facing three years ago? It takes some time a war is totally eradicated. Whoever these people are, they have packaged themselves in the form of guerilla warfare. And they have come in form herdsmen in smaller number because they have been degraded. In almost West Africa, this battle goes on there. It is not peculiar to Nigeria. It cut across the sub-region. We do not know these people. They are not one of us. But this government will defeat them. It is just a matter of time. I know this government is working out lasting solution on how to handle the herdsmen issues. I know our military personnel are capable of defeating them. Even after they defeat them, those behind the herdsmen attacks may repackage themselves. But I am sure there will be an end to the herdsmen issue one day.
Beyond military solution, how do you think the Buhari government can effectively address the challenge of herdsmen?
In all developing countries where there is strong religious affiliation, the problem is always the same. Look at what is happening in Kenya, Somalia and so on. The problems are always the same. They come in various form. It appears to be a stage in the development of nations. There is not going to be a quick fix. The only solution to this challenge is education and civilisation. In all developed countries where there is also strong religious affiliation, they may have their problem. But it is not strong as it is in Nigeria. To solve this challenge, we must do something about our educational system. We must also do something about bringing the standard of our people up. When we achieve that, then there will be a drastic drop. It is not a quick fix. For us to accomplish this, it is going to take some years. We should pay much attention to education. We must educate our children. And it must be of good standard. If only we can properly educate our people, things will change. I have an advice for those who are not wishing Nigeria well. It may take Nigeria 100 or 200 years to get to the level of development or to get a point when all these conflicts will be a thing of the past. But the truth is that they do not have 50 years to live again. For some of us, we have only 30 years to liver. For others, they have 40 years. Even if they will live as long as 50 more years, this period is a short in the life of a nation. Rather than people raising dust where dust should not be raised, they should individually look at what they can contribute to the development of Nigeria while they are still alive.
Do you think Buhari win re-election in 2019 with this challenge of bloodletting and killing in different parts of Nigeria?
I am more than hopeful that Buhari will be re-elected in February 2019. Going through the breadth and length of Nigeria, people that really matter appreciate what Buhari is doing for this country. They are not confused by the gale of defection blowing across the federation, especially from the APC to the PDP. The defection we experienced under the Goodluck Jonathan administration is different from the defection that is going on now. Under Jonathan, people were just fed up with the PDP. It was odious. You could not even say then you were a member of the PDP anywhere. The moment you identified yourself with the PDP, people would say you were a thief. In fact, they would laugh at you. That was the story then. There was a congregation of opinion that the PDP government was not good for Nigeria. But this time around, the defection we are experiencing has three categories. First, a lot of these people won election with Buhari’s credibility just as some people used the name of Chief Obafemi Awolowo to win election in 1999. In 1999, most elected officials in the South-west did not win election on their own merit.
The moment you belong to Awolowo’s political lineage, you would win election on the platter of gold. This was similar to what happened in 2015. Because of the situation then, people preferred any person other than the PDP. Even the PDP chieftains that joined the APC then, more than half of them did not make it on their merits. Now, people know better. They know they cannot secure the APC nomination. Many of them have not gone to their constituencies for long time. They go home, maybe once a month to do some little things. Some of them have lost the structure of the APC. So, they wanted to try their luck. The only way they can try their luck is to change the party because APC will not produce them again. The standard of the APC has since risen up. It is like admission into some universities. There are some universities that candidates can enter into with poor grade. The standard of the APC has since gone up. These people know they cannot make it. So, they are seeking admission in less rated universities. Second, we have another category of people among the defectors. I do not want to mention names. Some of them are still negotiating with the APC. I know you are aware of the R-APC. They were saying they wanted to hold this position. They wanted to hold that position. They wanted us to make concession for them. In the APC, we believe in fairness. Why do we need to start making concession when we know they want to blackmail us? They knew we could not be blackmailed. So, they have gone to another camp. That is not new. There is nothing strange about it.
It does not even create fear in us. It has not removed anything from the APC. Third, we another set of people who left the APC because they are loyal to their political leaders. Deep in their hearts, these people are not happy. But they have no choice other than to leave with their political leaders. I praise them because they are loyal people. I will not begrudge them. I see this time as a period of unfortunate events in their lives.
Unlike the case of Ekiti State where the APC leaders worked together, Osun APC is divided after its governorship primaries. Are you sure this division will not cost the APC victory in the forthcoming election?
In Ekiti State, there was so much noise. But we knew we would win. It could not have been otherwise. But we have another election coming up in Osun State on September 22. We are working hard to ensure we retain the state. We are not unmindful that they are challenges. But politics is all about conflict management.
We have succeeded in the past where we managed conflict. And we are going to succeed in Osun. We have a track record of what Governor Rauf Aregbesola has done. The facts are there for everybody to see. In the South-west, we are progressives by nature. We are determined to retain that reputation. In the past, we lost some states. But we are now coming together more than before. That is the foundation that Chief Obafemi Awolowo laid for us. We are consciously building on it. After September 22, we will come together again. I am sure we will rejoice together.
There is still division in the rank of the APC leaders, especially in the South-west. Ahead of the 2019 elections, don’t you think some of these aggrieved leaders may pitch their tents with the opposition party?
Honestly, we succeeded managing conflicts in our ranks at the convention. The conflict had been there before the convention. After the convention, we do not have much issue again. We all went to the convention with clear position. In fact, we ended up having consensus candidates for all positions allocated to the South-west. I emerged in the South-west as the National Vice Chairman. Mr. Babatunde Ogala emerged as the National Legal Adviser. Alhaji Bello emerged as the National Financial Secretary. Those are the positions zoned to the South-west. Before the convention, everything was resolved. No person competed against the other. Whoever planned to compete eventually stepped down.
Beyond the convention, what have you done about issues that came up after the state congress?
By and large, the state congress has been resolved by and large. However, there will always be people who are not satisfied. In Ondo State, for instance, there was only one recognised congress. There was nobody in other faction. The team that was sent from Abuja went to only one congress. Election was conducted and Mr. Ade Adetimihin emerged as the State Chairman. In Lagos State, of course, there was parallel congress. There was argument on the legality of 37 Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs). The other faction wanted the congress to be conducted based on 20 Local Government Areas (LGAs). The National Working Committee (NWC) had already taken a position. The NWC must have looked at all the facts before taking a position. But the faction has not left the APC. Its members are still fighting within the APC after the election of Prince Babatunde Balogun. In Oyo State, the same is the case, though we have lost one or two senators there. In Ogun State, the senator that left eventually returned. But I know that for every person that left the APC, four other persons are coming back. A typical example is Kwara, though it is not my zone. When the senate president defected alongside his loyalists, the entire executives of the PDP crossed over to the APC. In the South-west, we are not saying there are no hiccups here and there. But they are so massive that our members will now go the PDP. I have not seen such cases. As for conflict, it is part of politics. We will deal with them as they arise.