‘S/East Must Work Hard to Take Power in 2023’

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George Muoghalu

The National Auditor of the All Progressives Congress Chief George Muoghalu fields questions from Onyebuchi Ezeigbo on, among other things, the quest for presidency of Igbo extraction

The main opposition party, PDP has described President Buhari’s re-election as a pyrrhic victory that cannot stand. What is your take?

One thing about politics in this country is that we are bad losers. People really find it difficult to accept defeat. And this is the first thing we have to address in our democratic culture and as a people. In most cases, you find people protesting that an election was rigged but the simple question I always ask some people is whether rigging is determined by the calibre of the candidate who lost.

They claimed that Kwara was rigged because Bukola Saraki lost, but I asked, what happened to Oyo where a sitting governor, Abiola Ajimobi lost? What happened in Plateau where APC lost, in Benue where George Akume lost? So, there was no rigging because it is only where the opposition party losses that the issue of rigging comes up.

For me, it is neither here nor there. As far as I am concerned, the presidential and National Assembly election was fair, free and credible especially taking into consideration the reports from the foreign and domestic observers. Yes, nobody claimed it was a perfect election since we have not reached the stage and not even the civilised democracy has reached the point of perfect election. But all said and done, it was a good election.

Considering the crisis that bedevilled the APC and the rancor witnessed during some its campaigns, don’t you think that those protesting the presidential poll result are justified to believe that the party may have helped itself?

It is more of an issue of perception. We said we are going to win because we have worked hard to win as a government that has delivered on its promises to the Nigerian people. Don’t forget that Mr. President went round to campaign in the 36 states of the country and Abuja.
In each rally, he presented his report card, taking Nigerians on the promises he made, the extent he has gone with regards to delivering on those promises. He reemphasised the fact that we have not gotten to where we are going, but we are on the right track to get there. We were not arrogant in claiming that we will win.

There is no politician that will announce that he will not win as a candidate of a party. In fact, even those without any structure in the grassroots claim they will win. I know one presidential candidate who does not even have an executive in his own community, claiming that he will be sworn in on May 29. Should we have arrested him for saying what he believes?

Why has it been difficult for the APC to make appreciable mark in the South-east despite the leading figures that have joined the party from that geopolitical zone?

I wished that my party APC had won 100 per cent in the South-east. That is why other leaders and I are there, but in this recent election, we did not actualise our vision for our people. My people did not respond the way we wanted them to.
However, if you place it side by side with what happened in the 2015 election, there is a remarkable improvement. For me, since democracy is a process, we will keep working to improve our fortune in the next election. We will spread our message that this government has come to serve the Nigerian people, South-east inclusive. There are strategic projects this government is executing in my region that has the capacity to endear our government to the people.
Don’t also forget that we faced strong challenge from the opposition party with a vice presidential candidate from the region. Although, we did not win as expected, however, it was an improvement from what it was previously. We are confident that we will continue to improve until we get to where we are going.

With the current realities, do you think that APC will still zone the presidency to the South-east as previously contemplated?

Why not, it is not about rejecting Mr President even though he was, but a case of more people not believing in our party, the APC. However, I have always warned that power is not given but taken. You have to work for it. So, it is clear to us from the South-east that we need to work for power if we want to get it in 2023. It cannot be served on the table to us because it is our turn.
We have to convince people to win a platform during the primaries and that was why we shouted on top of our voices that for things to be a little easier for the region, we need to demonstrate our commitment to the party to stand on a very high moral ground to make a demand.
It is obvious that we have the challenge of convincing our compatriot and party leaders on why power should shift to the South-east. We are going to work towards it.

Don’t you think that the issue of restructuring must have played major impact in APC’s rejection in the South-east?

I don’t think so. We must first come out clearly for people to understand what restructuring is. I can place a bet on it that 70 to 80 per cent mouthing restructuring don’t know what they are asking for. For some, it is about dismembering the country. For others, it is about bringing down the entire structure to create a new one. Yet for others, it is about addressing the economy and infrastructural development.

Let us look at what we have to get to as a people in the government of the day. We cannot be talking about restructuring and at the same talking about presidency for the Igbo nation in 2023. It is a clear contradiction. I am among those who said that Ohaneze has no business in dragging the Igbo nation through the same route we passed in 2015, which created political problems to us.
Ohaneze adopted former president Jonathan and he failed the election, and where did it place us? The same group of people dragged us through the same route in 2019 by adopting the PDP candidate, which has now led us to nowhere. Why can’t Ohaneze as a leadership disassociate itself from politics and continue its role as a socio-cultural organisation that speaks for the Igbo nation.
Some notable Igbo sons and daughters are strong APC members as well as Ohaneze members, but how can the same group I am a member oppose to my political view by adopting my opponent as a candidate and expect me to pledge my loyalty to such group? It is impossible; I will rather fight and challenge the group. That is the position many of us took.
That moral standing expected of that group to protect our group interest has been lost. The group would have been standing a solid ground if it was neutral and allowed the sons and daughters of Igbo nation to play politics according to their interest and sentiment. The group would have provided us a guide by admonishing those on every divide to be careful.
As people looking for relevance and to be part of the government, Ohaneze would have allowed its sons and daughters to pursue it from various platforms so that anyone that succeeds at the end, the interest of the Igbo nation will be projected and protected.

What is your take on the comment by Mr. President that the next four years will be tough?

The President was right in telling Nigerians that the next four years will be tough because building a structure will never be easy. There must be a surgery to remove a tumour. The healing will start after the surgery. Government, cautious of these challenges, has been addressing it systematically. It has done with the various empowerment programmes it introduced, which is intended to ameliorate the difficulties.
There is the tradermoni concept, the N-Power, the school feeding among others, which are intended to cushion the challenges facing Nigerians with regards to governance. The meaning of what Mr President said is that we should be ready to take responsibility.

Won’t the recent wave of suspensions of key party members create further crisis in the APC?

The suspension was a party decision that must be separated from the government. As a party, we needed to put issues straight as it is for everybody to know where the party stands. The decision to suspend was not one person’s decision but a collective.
It came after warnings have been issued in the past that the party will not accept a situation where the chances of our candidates is being diminished by the actions of members holding responsible positions in government.

Do you see Buhari changing his approach to governance in his second term, especially his alleged nepotistic disposition?

I won’t agree that his appointments are nepotist but I agree that we need to expand our political base in terms of appointments, he has made it very clear that every part of Nigeria is his constituency. He has demonstrated it by his appointments. Don’t forget that most of the appointments are statutory and a good number of the appointments have been sufficiently balanced.
However, like every other human being, we would prefer our appointments to come from our places. That is human being for you. We must also separate personal staff from public appointments.
Service Chiefs like he has tried to explain in many instances may be through seniority, laid down procedure. Somebody at the level of Mr President has more information than many of us.
He has been guided by such information many of us may not be privy to but that is not to say that I will not wish to see every part of Nigeria comfortably accommodated in the cause of appointments and I can tell you that Mr President and the government are cautious of this fact.

What is your party putting in place to ensure that it does not again mismanage its victory by allowing confusion and crisis to trail the emergence of principal officers in the National Assembly?

When two are involved, there must certainly be different approaches. The current national chairman is different from his predecessor. This current chairman has his own way of doing things and getting result. What I know is that we value all the people elected on our platform. The party will give everybody the opportunity to try and the party will also play its role firmly.

Do you believe that the relationship between the presidency and the national assembly will be more cordial under the 9th Senate and House of Resprentaives ?

We must understand that there is a new leadership in the party. Certainly, the relationship will change from what it was in the past because of the leadership represented by the chairmen. Except for few of us that came back, the APC NWC of the last regime is not the same with what we have now. I can tell you that attitudinal relationship will certainly change and how results will be achieved will certainly be different.

What is the implication of Ohaneze’s endorsement of Atiku now that Buhari has been re-elected?

The endorsement was unfortunate and has remained very unfortunate because the fear we expressed then has come to be. The shame is on Ohaneze now but we warned against it based on the experience we had in 2015. What Ohaneze has succeeded in doing was to sadly repeat the mistake of the 2015.

It is most unfortunate but it has happened. Fortunately, the president did not relate to us in 2015 based on the endorsement of Ohaneze because he knew that some of us did not agree with them and the same thing is applying now.

Some of us did not agree with them and will never agree with them. Today, we are exonerated. Our fears are confirmed because they would not have dragged us through the same path we followed in 2015 if they are reasonable.

What is your take on attacks, intimidation and disenfranchisement of Igbos by their host communities?

To the best of my knowledge, the APC never encouraged voting based on religion or tribe. We made it clear that people are free to exercise their franchise in line with the dictates of their conscience. If you notice throughout the campaign, the chairman consistently adopted campaign mantra of ‘one man, one vote’. It is not fair for a group to be disenfranchised. I will never be part of it.