The National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, spoke to THISDAY about the intrigues, politics and final episodes of the elections for National Assembly leadership, amongst other trending national issues. Excerpts:
The 9th National Assembly recently had a successful inauguration and election of its leadership. While congratulating you on this, can you tell us what the party did right this time and what it did wrong in the last outing?
I’m happy that you congratulated me, because some commentators and writers were suggesting that I was being dictatorial and people who know next to nothing were lecturing me about not being active or carrying everybody along and so on.
But I think the basic thing we did was, first, if you read my – will I call it a manifesto – some people said, when I declared my intention to contest, I was contesting not because there’s no leadership but I believe like Obama would say, ‘anything and everything can be better’. I was convinced there were a couple of things we could do differently and our party would be better.
Now, in 2015, the party did not provide the leadership required. One of the things I’ve learnt in leadership is that if you want to please everybody, you’d end up pleasing nobody. If you don’t want to offend anyone, you’d end up offending everyone. And in leadership, you don’t sit on the fence. You must have convictions – they must flow from the core values of the organization that you represent.
And once you stay tuned with those values and you’re guided by the failings of those values both in writing and in pride and people understand the issues, men and women of goodwill will listen and they would respect (you).
I think in 2015, the party leadership didn’t focus. It didn’t try to build the party. And so, after the elections, everybody apparently was doing what they wanted. And when later in the day they woke up to the reality that they needed to do something, even the planning was the most embarrassing, that the day of the proclamation was the day they were now trying to put the party together – as it is in the registry.
But, in life, only God, cannot make mistakes or miscalculate and not deliver. And there’s nothing wrong in making honest mistakes of the head. But even if they were of the heart and you have seen the consequences, you might wish to redo so that next time, you don’t repeat the same mistakes.
So this time around, thanks to Nigerians, in spite of everything, they gave us more senators. We had more House of Representatives members – which means we command greater confidence in the various constituencies than we did in 2015. Now the issue here is: how do you manage this huge number? Because as an economist would say, small can be beautiful if it is properly managed. On the other hand, huge numbers can lead to diseconomy of scale.
How is the large number an issue?
It is because the skill required to manage the larger number is far more tasking than managing a smaller number. So, my task was – along with my brothers and sisters in the NWC – how do we win the huge numbers, because we’re still speaking in one voice and trying avoid polarizsation.
Now, we proactively identified – after some consultations and knowing that no matter what we do – we’re going to have one senate president and one deputy senate president in the upper chamber and the speaker and deputy speaker in the House of Representatives. So, how do we provide leadership? And when people are already deeply committed in one way or the other, to call them at the last minute is going to be a problem.
So proactively, we started engaging members of the two chambers and this is for them to recognise that it means that we have people in the national assembly, who have served for two or three terms – some have been serving since 1999. So, if we’re looking for ranking, we have enough. If you’re looking for qualifications, we have enough.
If you’re looking at past exposure before coming to the parliament, we have many former governors, who served two terms and respected by their people. Now, how are you going to pick one of these? So, we had to sit down and deliberate. Then, we also took into account our support base, where our vote came from. To be honest, democracy is about voting.
So, how did that turn out?
We are able to zero down on someone, who ideally knows we’re running an established system. And I don’t like regretting anywhere, because we have to try to build a tradition so that in future people will just flow naturally. People can predict certain outcomes on the basis of established standards.
Now, standards and law are not the same. And there is no society that is held together only by the express positions of the law. More potent in managing society is strong ethical commitments – strong normative values. That’s how all democracies are run.
Who was the leader of the last senate?The leader was Ahmad Lawan. Ideally, once he had won, he should undoubtedly be the president. Who was the leader of the House of Representatives? It was Gbajabiamila. Because Nigerians like to say we imported the American system – presidential system – of government.
But America or not, in every parliament, there are written and unwritten rules. When you’re a leader of a majority party, and the party wins, you remain the leader – and the leader, in this case, is the senate president. If you’re a leader and your party loses, automatically you become a minority leader. We should go to that level. Somebody must start the process of sensitising people to recognise that it’s about time we began to develop. But then people would say it’s not in the law.
How many things can be in the law? That you are my guest here is it derived from the law? It’s not derived from law. It’s just derived from tradition, values, popular practices, custom and practice that an editor could request a chairman or anyone he so wishes to have an interview. Or which law says I must speak with you? There’s none. So, when I see people commenting, ‘the law says this, the law says that’.
But as I said, if you want me to summarise it: we’ve acted proactively, we tried to be guided by certain criteria, and we also took into account the diversity of the country, and the need to reflect that diversity. And we developed a principle that says if you have a principal officer from the northern part of Nigeria, the deputy would come from the southern part.
If the principal officer comes from the southern part, the deputy would come from the northern part. Because once you have some frames of reference, then subjectivity is minimised. You’re guided by some principles. So, we did that, and engaged the people, recognising that at the end of the day as a party, these people have rights and we need to make sure that they buy into our thinking and we engaged them. We had to engage the power blocs within the APC – the leaders of APC.
I am the national chairman, but we have leaders that command respect. We, the former structure, we’re a product of our external leadership. And you’d do well not to emphasise the part of being chairman and recognise that the people out of the system who really drive it, even in terms of electoral results. I was a governor; I know that the state party chairman, the state party secretary of the state executive when things are down, are not the drivers of the electorate.
So, conscious of this, we carried everybody along, including the President who by virtue of the fact that he’s a founding member of the party, he brought on board, huge electoral value and so on. We also had to take the sentiment into account even though it is not for him to appoint the leadership. But like every other leader of the party, being the foremost leader, we also needed to consult, and at the end of the day we were able to get everyone to buy him but as you can see, in spite of all those efforts, we still had a gentleman that said, ‘no, I’m going to contest’. And there is the challenge of democracy.
It’s only for those who have patience and the man contested, because we wanted an open ballot. We think that the parliament should vote and because it’s only in Nigeria that – you know – the electorate, because of the level of appreciation. They want to ask their parliamentarians: ‘What job have you done?
In other countries it’s about a particular issue: they would ask how you voted. If your voting betrays your constituency’s expectations, you become the basis for supporting or opposing in the next election.
So, parliamentary business is done transparently not via secret ballot. But as you can see, despite a court order, the clerk insisted he would do secret ballot and PDP wanted secret ballot. We wanted open ballot, because we wanted to see how our members feel. If what they told us during the conversation, persuasion and so on was going to be reflected in the voting.
As you can see, they were overruled, I think, unfairly by the clerk, who in clear disobedience of court order conducted the secret ballot. And our people, because we’ve done enough homework and even as the voting was going on, we were talking to people, because the name of this game is ‘persuasion’ and in the end, got it through: 100 per cent in the Senate; got it through, 100 percent in the house. But it took time to get to this consensus.
How did you get PDP members to support your preferred candidates as against the permutation that they would vote for another candidate also from the APC?
Contrary to that assumption, some of the smartest guys in town are politicians, and as they say, only a stubborn fly follows the coffin into the grave. Smart PDP senators recognised that if APC alone got their acts together in the manner that I was openly saying that we have the numbers, and we did have the numbers much more than before that without any support from any party, we would produce the leaders of our own. All we needed to avoid was betrayal or division within our rank, which was why we needed to work early as we did and as hard as we did. Some of them could see that APC is unlikely to be factionalised in a manner that they can possibly pull a surprise the way they did the previous time.
Second point: there’s something that you must credit the leadership of the National Assembly. Even though we were preaching in the open that they should just concentrate on getting APC leaders not to betray, not to be divided. Once we don’t have a divided house, they decided based on experience that what is required to run the parliament efficiently is that sometimes it requires cooperation across the aisle.
They went out of their way, not only to campaign for APC but also went into the PDP and persuaded them and reminded them that, yes, we belong to different parties but there’s a super party, a superstructure which is Nigeria. Therefore, everyone contesting elections – even those who don’t mean it – say, ‘we want to serve the Federal Republic of Nigeria’.
That being so, there’d be issues after winning elections that would require other parties’ support. And they wisely persuaded PDP to support APC. Some agreed; some disagreed. And in a secret ballot, the best way to know people’s inner feeling, even though I do not recommend it for parliament, because people should have the courage of conviction and stand up and be counted to defend how they voted.
In a democracy, the winner can take all when it comes to fundamental policy issues. We are one of those who didn’t quite understand the logic, now I would ask you, in Britain – I’d only limit myself to Britain but it’s the same in other countries – once a party has a comfortable majority in the parliament it does not go into alliance with the other parties because they don’t want to do ‘winner shouldn’t take all’ because at the heart of the contestation are sets of policies that they sold to their people and promise, why do you form a coalition? And in forming a coalition, where you do not have enough numbers, you necessarily must renegotiate your manifesto.
Because the coalition partners will insist that some of their commitments would be neglected. So, when the electorate gives you overwhelming numbers, you have no right in an ideal, accountable democracy to go into an alliance that would water down some of the core promises that you have made. That is the point I was trying to make.
But the only democracy Nigerians are used to is since 1999, how PDP ran the house. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the best model. What I seek to do is to change some of those wrong traditions that PDP is instilling in the minds of our younger people. And they say that is a standard. The thing that would always be constant is change – change for good.
What would happen to those who defied the party and went ahead to contest? Would they be sanctioned?
Well, the name of this game is persuasion, not coercion. If in spite of everything people decided to vote for Senator Ndume did so, he exercised his right, which is in the constitution, but he violated the norms and customs of the party.
Now, because we were guided by laws, we can’t say he has violated a particular law. But first, the APC family caucus in the senate has already humbled him. His hope to deal with the opposition, which could have been very offensive, has been crashed and it crashed on his face.
He already carries a substantial burden as a disciplined senator that disobeyed his party. And that would certainly affect his credentials in the future. Without the president, governor and members of the party’s backing, he wasn’t by himself in a position to win that senatorial seat. So, the good thing is the next election is not so far as we assume and people will take out the records.
We saw videos and pictures online of each member of the PDP taking pictures of how he or she voted. Now, it seemed that these people voted with the hope of collecting some money from the APC leadership. Was there any business during the voting?
I put it to you that it was an open national standard. Those who have a history of vote-buying even got addicted to it and do so openly. However, I haven’t seen the footage. As I argued earlier, parliaments are accountable to their constituencies. If, for example, you come from a part of the country where your constituents wanted you to obey parliamentary norms and say, ‘If a party is in the majority, they should produce the leadership’. Democracy is about the rule of the majority. Others could have taken pictures as evidence as if to say, ‘we have obeyed your instructions’. So, why are you putting it the other way round?
A lot of people blamed you for the loss APC suffered in the last elections in some states and because of that called for your resignation.
Choose your words carefully. ‘They’ is plural. Who are they?
Do you accept responsibility for the loss in five states under your watch?
A party man wins depending on perception and also the performance of the executives. In 2015, the gap between Jonathan and the President was about three million. In 2019 the gap was about four million. Have I not done well? So, we had the greater task – not many people gave us a chance and we toured 36 states and got was a ‘humble’ number.
I think you should acknowledge that. In spite of the social media war and gossips, Buhari still won. If you don’t thank me for that, I’d thank myself. What are the key allegations from my deputy?
First, he claimed I’m not supposed to chair a sub-committee of the NWC. Truth is, the APC governors personally requested me to do a formal screening. So, we obliged to do it.
The second allegation is that the NWC agreed that Aisha Al-Hassan, former minister of women affairs should contest on the APC platform or be given a ticket and that I dissolved it. Not true! Nothing gives me the power to do such. But I am happy we denied her the ticket. Rule of law is important: when a minister gets to the house of an opponent of his principal to say, ‘you’d be the next president! I’m not going to vote for my boss who I’m serving, rather my godfather’.
At the time she made this statement, Atiku was already the official candidate of PDP which didn’t add up. In the face of these accusations, you’ve noticed I’ve been quiet. For a deputy to rise up against his boss, he wants to be chairman. Well, there are no shortcuts to it. He should go and contest the office. Silence, they say, is golden. I chose not to reply.
The President is already repeating some of the mistakes of 2015. What is the input of the party?
The two chambers were constituted last week. The next job of the National Assembly is to appoint chairmen of committees and so on and so forth. You’d acknowledge that this time round, the President fast-tracked the appointments of some key personal and non-personal staff. Like chief of staff and non-personal staff like the secretary to the government. Last week, he ruled all those out.
I think it’s about giving him more time. This time round, we want to get ready. We want to discuss what we’re going to do differently in this second but last term of President Buhari. According to him, he’d like to leave a legacy behind. It would be the outcome of meticulous planning and approaching the right persons to carry out these plans. We want to have sets of policies. There’d be policies for power, infrastructure, health, education, etc.
Let’s criticise you a little. Running a party requires negotiations and there are complaints people are not seeing that from you.
This is my reply to them: several outcomes in the past do not account to this. Let me be clear: I’m not going to borrow somebody’s style. In my campaign message, I said, ‘I will not sit on the fence on issues’. And leadership is defined by his capacity to manage the carrots and the sticks. I cannot borrow a tradition that has never worked. The problem of Nigerians is that they always prefer a weak leader. The weakness of a man becomes his strength.
But the people want a leader that they feel ‘this one, we can control him’. How can anyone imagine that as an APC chairman, I’m combative to Buhari? Who can say that? Do you know in 2015 that we pleaded with Saraki just to accept a position? I am not at the mercy of people with their own beliefs. I also want to be remembered for my efforts.
Why is the party of ‘change’ promoting members with tainted reputation into leadership positions? For example, your deputy senate president stole a mace from the national assembly. Why should a party of ‘change’ that talks about values, morals, and traditions promote individuals like that to take up leadership position?
You have to be careful. Which court pronounced him a thief? I put it to you to provide pictures of him carrying a mace.
There appears to be a crisis in your Edo State. Things are not going well. What’s going on between you and Governor Godwin Obaseki?
I read earlier in THISDAY newspaper about the governor saying there are no issues. He’s the governor if he says there’s no issues, what’s your point?
Are you worried about the direction in which the presidential election petition tribunal is going? Having gone through a judicial process and having confidence in the judiciary?
Not at all! People have different opinions about the judiciary. My opinion will always be formed by my own experience. My own experience shows that there are courageous judges and incorruptible ones. Because here I was, just leaving the NLC, I had no money – all I had was my mouth, which I deployed to the best I could. I was rigged out. I went to court. I went to the tribunal. It’s on record that I said I was the first person, I believe, that five senior advocates of Nigeria would defend and the total bills I made to understand, was not more than N20 million.
Yes! At that time people paid up to N1 billion – people paid between N500 million and N600 million. They did it because they said everybody knew I won the election. Nigerians believed that having served the country, whoever had conscience should also come to help at my hour of need. They came to my aid. I remember Mr. Akeredolu (SAN) then the President of NBA and in that capacity made a public statement urging the judiciary to speed up the case; that they shouldn’t delay the appeal.
So, it was more of a national clamour for justice and I found easily, one of the best collections of the brains in the Bar that defended me almost free of charge.One naira wasn’t asked from me – one naira. I gave to no judge and yet, I got justice. We went to the court of appeal; there was a unanimous decision in my favour. If it was about the highest bidder, there was no question about the highest bidder – PDP was the highest bidder. So I got justice at the tribunal and at the appeal court.
And I’m here. In fact, I told people that if I’m not a convict today, it’s thanks to a courageous judiciary and thanks to a resourceful Bar, because even Obasanjo wanted to see me in jail. Each time, he charged me with all fictitious allegations and Afe Babalola would start prosecuting me. But you always had the Gani Fawehinmi; you always have the Femi Falana, defending me. And on one particular occasion, it was the Abuja Bar that decided to defend me pro bono. If I’m not a convict, thanks to a courageous judiciary. I have absolute confidence in the judiciary.
Now the government is well established, APC and PDP, especially APC that now has its preferred candidates and is in control. Do you foresee other factors that can hamper the government’s ability to perform?
Yes, I’d say ethnic champions and a section of the media. This is a risky thing for me to say. Once you mention the media, because the media has the power to demolish even giants not to talk of a mushroom like me. So, that’s why I’d say a section of media and ethic champions. There’s no public policy that will not produce winners and losers. Because President Buhari’s government is so poor, each policy could hurt a section of the elite.
That section controls a section of the media. The ethnic champions too will rubbish any policy even before they understand it. And they’re valuable to shut down anything. There’s always a timeline of when you start a policy and when it comes to fruition. So, if you have distractions such as we have and there is a deliberate attempt by some not to allow an objective conversation about policy choices on national issues, there’d be a problem.
Let me give you an example. I am troubled by the way in which as a nation, we’re dealing with the issue of herdsmen and farmers. For sure, it’s a big problem but that big problem requires that we have national conversations on solutions, because first, who would raise his hand and say he doesn’t eat beef. Can we as a nation do without beef? Should we add beef as one of the items we’ll be importing from foreign countries?
So, we need the herdsmen as much as the herdsmen need Nigerians. And the cattle must be fed. The challenge for poor people is, in the 21st century, should we not evolve with new methods? This will require a level of objectivity on the part of all – not approaching the issue in the context of ‘herdsmen, who are they?’ Or, ‘the President, who’s he and from which tribe?’ and reduce the issue to ‘they and us’. That approach is unhelpful.
Can you imagine if the herdsmen formed a union and said we’re not selling cows for one to two weeks, can we survive? Do you know how many industries will be dead? So, we shouldn’t discuss these problems if we don’t need it. I come from a village, my parents laboured hard on the farm, so if my parents wake up one morning finds cows eating away the yams they’ve planted and everything is ruined. But the Fulani need food beyond beef too, so, they too cannot with a country without farms that are viable.
If as in this case we must all live together and we need each other, the challenge of government is the responsibility of the Nigerian people – including the elite, not just the government. All those who have ideas, because we have PhD holders in agricultural economics and PhD holders in animal husbandry; perhaps, Nigeria has more PhD holders than many countries. So what then is the issue? Each time people come with ideas, we ethnicise a debate that requires objectivity. Once the ethnic champions take over the debate and it’s about ‘they and us’, objectivity disappears and public policy cannot survive. Other than that, there is no reason, because the day the national assembly finished their elections and everything went as we wanted, I said, ‘To who much is given, much is expected’.
With this remarkable confidence that has been reposed in APC by the numbers that voted for the president and the number of lawmakers in the National Assembly that were elected on our platforms, the federal government has no reason not to deliver. I have just discussed with the President the policy dialogue we’re working on. Now we have agreed on this.
What is it about? It is that now down the road, in the past, once elections were over, everybody went to sleep. We’re saying it is time to work, because we made promises during the elections. How do we deliver these promises? The key issue in life and in leadership is not to know what you need. The key challenge that defines what succeeds and what fails is how to deal with the question ‘how?’
For example, the level of security is not acceptable. How do we make Nigeria secure? We have to discuss how? The level of corruption in the police, if it continues, our criminal justice system would be in jeopardy. The question is: how do you fight corruption in the ranks of the police? We need to create millions of jobs and those jobs cannot be created in the public sector, because if you create more jobs in the public sector, you’re increasing your recurrent expenditure.
For every N1 that is diverted to a recurrent expenditure is N1 lost to a capital project. So, how do you get the private sector to play their roles in job creation? What policies do you need to encourage labour-intensive industries so that when we talk about economic growth, we’re talking about job-led growth and not jobless growth! We can have growth with more jobs lost. Therefore, the structure and the character of the growth are important. This cannot happen by a miracle through the churches and mosques. It has to be the result of plain thinking –and like Japanese would say, ‘good thinking, good product’.
Now, we’re discussing and I’m excited that Mr. President thinks we need to review what we have done before. We need to look again at the manifesto we made and see what we are going to do differently. When we have that kind of review, when you have ministers you will know in the light of the challenge ahead what qualities do I need to deal with these issues. That way, you can get on the road. It will not be easy. I believe that more than any Nigerians, the President is conscious that the support base is the masses. He is worried about policies that are targeted at the masses, not the case of occasional handouts but the structured manner, which is about creating jobs – decent jobs, well-paid jobs.
Regarding the opposition to RUGA, do you think it will have a negative impact to Nigeria’s unity?
When I talk about ethnic champions hijacking what is meant to be a national conversation, this is a typical example. To start with, how many Nigerians know the meaning of the word ‘Ruga’? So, why should we use a language that a lot of people don’t understand its meaning? But you see people protesting not knowing the meaning. This is a typical example of how ethnicity can block clear-thinking and appropriate reasoning –replacing objectivity with emotion.
Nations don’t succeed through emotions. If there’s one matter we must find a solution to, it’s how to ensure we continue to have a viable dialogue regarding this and other related matters.
We don’t need to push for a new vocabulary. The universal language that I’m familiar with is ranching. That ranching we must deal with it in the context of the cattle herders that travel 1,000 kilometres, because the environment has changed. Truth is that when Nigeria’s population was 80 million many things were possible. There was enough land, enough routes, etc. Unfortunately, our population has more than doubled. Our landmass remains the same. However, with desert encroachment, the challenge of pursuit of greener pastures has increased.
Therefore, part of the crisis we face is the consequences of the environmental degradation. We must ask ourselves: how are other nations doing it? Ranching is the word. I’m not an expert in this field. Yet, we don’t have to invent new words for an established business. Let’s use a language that every Nigerian already knew. Be sure a lot of people will be asking, what’s the meaning of Ruga? Even some seasoned commentators may know Ruga is a northern word but might not know from which particular ethnic group it was taken. What about those who just carry placards? They have placards in their bedrooms.
The point is that no nation succeeds when leaders choose to approach issues from a biased, ethnic point of view. If we need serious national conversation by experts knowledgeable in this aspect of the economy, to have a conversation, it is not a matter for politicians. When they have found that solution, then the political authority can implement it. We’ll not be able to run away from that question, because we don’t need to be aggressive. No Nigerian will ever need a licence or a resident permit to live in an area. That’s the truth. But we don’t need this for us to live in peace.
Yet, because of certain things that are happening in neighbouring countries, we’re also exposed to external dimension of this issue. If you watch CNN or ARISE TV, have you heard about riots and crises in Mali between herdsmen and another group of people? I think there was also a similar development in Algeria. These things are happening because around the world, the landmass is not expanding but the population is growing – environmental degradation and increasing desert encroachment have meant that only few lands are available for more human beings to dwell in and to farm on.
Unless we purge ourselves of ethnic approach to serious issues like this, then we have a problem. But if you asked me, I would say we didn’t need to import a new word. We just need to build on – reinvent the wheel. There are established facts that we can build on. We only require proper articulation, proper explanation, because the level of suspicion, which people have just decided to push up – our politics have not been particularly helpful as those who lose play to the gallery. They speak to statements without clarifying anything. They use words that can mean anything and nothing. In the end, the ordinary man on the street is confused and believes what is said by his leader. We need serious conversation.
Don’t you think that the suspicion came about by the poor choices of this present administration? People are reacting to a government that makes appointments and policies heavily in favour of a particular geopolitical zone.
Even that is a reflection of the bias we are confronted with, because whether you call them strategic (a word I will use) or you follow Saraki’s choice –‘juicy appointments’ – the South-south delivered few votes to the president. Mr. President only won in Edo this year and in 2015. The governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria whose appointment has been renewed is from where? Delta State. Which is ‘the most strategic job’ in Nigeria with regards to the management of the finances of this country? It’s the CBN –that’s in the hand of a state that even as we speak didn’t vote for Buhari and the CBN governor’s appointment was renewed despite the fact that they (Delta state) didn’t vote for Buhari.
Didn’t that tell you something about the way President Buhari’s mind works? That’s not an ethnic-tainted mind. Two, in terms of the various sectors of the economy, the one that deliver 80 per cent of our foreign earnings is the oil sector. Who is the minister, from the same state? I will not ask. In terms of choice ministry, which is the ministry of works –in whose hands is the ministry of works and power? What about the ministry of transportation? People don’t just see this as ministries with enormous responsibilities. They see them as strategic ministries. We must try to avoid the views of people with biased minds. They can’t look at the evidence on the ground and review their stance. I don’t subscribe to the notion that the government is biased.
Security is one issue that the All Progressives Congress used to launch itself into power. Don’t you think with increasing level of insecurity in Nigeria, the party has failed?
I will take a global view to the issue of insecurity. Around the world, new forms of criminality are evolving. Today, we talk about Boko Haram. Before the extremist group appeared on the scene, we have had the issue of kidnapping. I know that under (ex-President Goodluck) Jonathan, the governors complained about insecurity in the country with regards to kidnapping and I remember a particular governor, I’ll mention his name,
]Theodore Orji. He told the president in my presence that ‘Mr. President, sir, unless you deploy the military’ even him was afraid he might be kidnapped. Yes, he said so. We now have a situation that husband might kidnap his wife and would call his child that ‘your mother has been kidnapped’ so that he would send money. Then, the following week the wife would kidnap the husband.
He said he called the traditional rulers and warned that anybody who harboured kidnappers in Abia State, once such a person was found out, the ruler would be deposed. So, one or two traditional rulers went to report to the state’s police commissioner. The next day, the kidnappers came and wasted them. In that situation, the governor came to plead with Jonathan that if something was not done, he as a governor would be kidnapped. So, we shouldn’t discuss issues like this as if they haven’t been happening before now. Sometimes, the ethnic prejudice and people who are angry amplify these issues as if they are new developments.
But don’t misunderstand me: that the problem has been there isn’t a defence. The government has a duty. The most basic duty or responsibility of the government is the security of lives and property. In the context of economy and prosperity that we have talked about, without security no investors will be attracted –whether local or foreign. We must deal with insecurity but we must also agree that Boko Haram no longer has the force. Not many Nigerians now remember that Boko Haram attacked the police headquarters, brought down the United Nations building and struck fear into the heart of Abuja, that hotels suffered huge losses because of the fear of Boko Haram attacks.
Please, don’t misunderstand me. But we must not say nothing has been accomplished under this administration. A lot has been accomplished. We have dealt with the audacity with which Boko Haram was operating. Let’s not reduce the issue to mere arguments. Every government must devise strategies and means through its security agencies to make Nigerians safe and even feel safer. Unfortunately, as you can see, with all the sophistications in the US, in Germany, in Europe, in France, sometimes terrorists still manage to strike.
But again, in these countries when it comes to security, political divides give way to national conversation. However, in Nigeria everybody behaves as if there is another country if Nigeria goes under. We all have a duty – politicians and the media – to make our society better. If we ethnicised every discussion, the first casualty is objectivity. If the issue becomes ‘they and us’, the first casualty is objectivity. And, without objectivity, you can’t solve any problem.
Can you project where Nigeria will be in the next four years?
I will say the worst is over. What I cannot say is how fast we’re going to run. But we’ll try to run as fast as we can. This is because we’ve overcome what we might call the ‘learning curve’. We have a clearer understanding of the challenges we face. We have tried some tools. We have seen the tools that worked; the ones that didn’t quite work optimally and those that appeared to have failed abysmally. In the light of these experiences, we will form new strategies to fast-track the process, to make up for lost time. Therefore, Nigeria certainly should be better. But you know the word ‘better’ is relative. But I can tell you it will definitely be better otherwise we have no business in politics.