The Director General of Progressive Governors Forum, Dr. Salihu Lukman in this conversation with Adedayo Akinwale insists the All Progressives Congress has not zoned the 2023 presidency
Governor David Umahi’s defection is the current conversation in the polity today. It is the hot political issue on the front burner now. Don’t you think the governor has indeed stirred the hornets’ nest?
Whatever you call it, we see it as mere hot air. But beyond that, you will agree with me that what has been the frustration in Nigeria is that real political contestations are not taking place, and in recent times All Progressives Congress (APC) appears to be the only party where political contestation is taking place. And I tell you whatever anyone will say of President Buhari, one positive thing he has done is to provide a level playing field in the party. Nobody can tell you that Buhari has called them aside and said this is what the party must do, which is what doesn’t exist in PDP where before you go to any meeting, you decide on what would be the decision. I dare say, as the Director General of the Progressives Governors Forum (PGF) and this is the point people keep missing that does not happen here for which I celebrate our governors. They respect the fact that I’m a party member and they give me the recognition that I can have my own view that is independent of their own view.
That way, it’s up to me to decide whether I want to take the risk to publicize my view with the full knowledge of the danger that it may conflict with the position of some governors.
That is like striking a delicate balance?
It’s a very delicate balance that can be deep sometimes. This also tasks my job description here as the intellectual think tank and situation room of the party. Most times, it comes with its inherent risks, so you have to do your diligent risk assessment. To that extent therefore, the call I have to make is whether the position I’m canvassing is self-serving to me or it is, in the long run, beneficial to the party I’m serving as an institution. Once I make the call that in the long run it is beneficial to the party which means every party member including the governors would benefit from that position, I can then go ahead and take the risk. It’s up to me to prove that it’s not going to be beneficial to me but I think on the whole you can easily see from the argument whether one is making a self-serving or altruistic argument.
How do you then situate this position with the current run of events in the party?
That is the issue and that is why, for instance, everybody could see that the place is open whether you call it with reference to 2023 or reference to any election, it’s about the fact that the spirit of political contest in the party is now very high. It means that if you want to negotiate as a good negotiator, if you want to canvass as a good canvasser for a specific interest, the party is up to you. The pertinent point to make here is that nobody can say President Buhari has decided or there is a decision on the party, this is where it would go. That Is why in the whole speculation out there in the public, you’ll see that there are so many names that are being put in the public space which means that in 2023 there would be a contest in APC. And if you’re a politician, what are you looking for, is it not contest? So you go to where you know that if you play your card very well, there is a 50-50 chance that you can get what you want, when you want it and where you want it. That is the message now which the President has nurtured and popularised in the APC. By extension, it serves a death knell that marks the end of foreclosure in political contests in the Nigerian politics. What we are saying is that foreclosure in our political contests is dead.
How enforceable is this in practical terms?
It is enforceable and it is being enforced. Sound politics is impossible where there’s a foreclosure. In APC today, I can assure you that it is not going to be where you can tell that there is a foreclosure. So, this is the attraction in APC and that is why it is significant for us in APC in spite of all the slander that APC is anti-South East not withstanding all the initiative of the federal government in terms of the sound and credible development initiative currently in place in the South East. That is why you now see a governor of the calibre, competence and credibility of Governor Umahi in the South East saying ‘no, no, where I am there is no justice.’ He has not said where he’s going he’s guaranteed of justice but he’s absolutely sure that if he plays his card well in his new environment, there is the likelihood that he will get adequate justice.
Because of the level playing field which our leader, the president has diligently nurtured and popularized. This level playing field has been well conceived, nurtured and now gaining more traction by the day. It is the result of the President’s sincere desire driven by patriotic fervor running on diligent thought and efficient and clinical execution. You will only need to watch as we progress towards 2023.
What makes you so sure about this?
I am very sure because the idea is propelled by sincerity, diligence and efficiency. Above all, it is people-oriented and that is what makes it desirable and attainable. This is the point we are making. You can only grant it to him (Buhari) after our experience in Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) where the president is everything. We have had a situation in this country where if you want to contest for house of assembly position, you had to come to Abuja and once you are endorsed by the president or the party headquarters, it’s automatic. There is no political contest whatsoever at all, your name will just be given. And in some respect bringing the matter down home now, the battle in APC against the leadership of Comrade Adams (Oshiomhole), who I must say I am close to, and you know it, was informed by that danger that already, the cardinal principle and process of political contest was being lost. When Edo was mismanaged the way it was mismanaged you could see there was the potential and fear that even Ondo was going to be mismanaged. A semblance of gate keepers were being created, structures of the party were not meeting and then you talk of party supremacy whereas party supremacy derives from the decision of organs.
Do you imply that the slogan party supremacy was a just a mere ruse and a hoax?
Why is party supremacy when the processes that makes it supreme are missing? It is supreme because it is the decision of organs, not the position of an individual no matter whom he is. In any case, who is the most senior person in the party? It is President Muhammadu Buhari. So who will take decision without reference to him? Now this is it, whatever anybody would say, this is the attraction in APC and for me as an individual, I see more of the potential that anybody who is courageous to take risk and can canvass for position, there is ample space for you in APC. That’s the attraction.
But in Gov. Umahi’s case, we heard that strategic stakeholders such as the senators, House of Representatives members and state assembly members from that state have distanced themselves from him indicating that he is on his own. How do you explain this?
You see, for me, it even raises the profile of Governor Umahi, making it more appealing because he does not come across as a politician who has not come through as a leader who imposes himself on others. Rather, he places premium on the power of conviction which is very critical in political engineering where mass appeal is the goal.
You think so?
Yes I think so, I believe so, I see it so, and that is the message from this, that although he has taken his personal political decision, he didn’t take it as a governor. He could have taken every step to ensure that he comes along with others but my view is that even those who made those declaration there is the potential that once they see how good he is managing his politics in APC they would be attracted. So it’s a good development that we are seeing and I’m sure that this would go a long way in changing the dynamics and political profile of APC, not just in the South East but across the country. That is the way I see it.
There are views being raised out there that with Gov. Umahi’s defection, it is another practical evidence that your party is a power-grabbing machine and a real danger to Nigeria’s democracy. How do you respond to this?
My straight answer to that is this: you see we tend to hold some views which unfortunately are not logical. What is politics without power? Politics without power content is empty. What is power, I dare ask? Power is the capacity to influence others. This is the thing. That APC is powerful to the extent that we are able to influence the decision of a nationalistic, progressive-minded, credible and leading political leader such as Governor Umahi, is a Tsunami. And there is more. It is a major achievement for our party to win over such a strategic political asset who sees the party as a viable platform to canvass his politics as a leader of his people. They cannot run away from the fact that the coming of Umahi into APC is the beginning of an electoral Tsumani for our party in the South east. The challenge and this is the point that stares us in Nigeria, we need to change and raise our competitive age because presently we are not competing enough we end up competing for the wrong thing. The PDP had Umahi as their governor, why should they allow themselves to lose him in such a cheap manner. It’s pure management issue. In APC too, we have also had similar problem out of our own recklessness as a party that we lost governors in Benue, Kwara, Sokoto, name it.
So your party has learnt its lessons and is getting its act together?
Definitely, we are still learning our lessons and getting our act together, that’s what I will say and I have the confidence that our leadership and caretaker committee would take every step necessary to consolidate on this new development and especially now we are moving into the arena of membership registration, this is the best way to go. And we wouldn’t just be registering members; we would end up registering more leaders.
What implications are there for the Nigerian politics generally?
My view is this, somehow, sometimes; we tend to be unnecessarily over-excited by what happens in other places. If people tell you what they go through before they get what they want, you would marvel. I can’t remember now who said it, somebody made the point that if you get the full story behind success, you’ll see that there’s no difference between success and failure. This is the absolute truth, we may have our frustration as a nation and as an individual but I mean you and me, we know where we are coming from. I was in the trenches for more than a decade, I know what it means. When I saw young people having protests and they are talking about not trusting and that they won’t trust leaders, these young people don’t know they are enjoying privileges we never had. I know what it took us. I worked with the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC ) from 2000-2006. Every time we were having a strike, I know what it would take us to get the New Federal Secretariat shut down. Sometimes I can estimate how many hours of tear gas we have had to endure not to talk of organizing a protest. We were under Save Nigeria Group. We organized a march from the Unity Fountain (near Transcorp Hilton Hotel) to the National Assembly, It took us weeks of planning underground in a democracy.
Now people can through the social media, call for protest and the next minute they’re arriving from different corners. So we have our frustration but now we’re making substantial progress. We have had a time in this country before 2011 when a general election was predictable. During the 2007 general election, if you remember, collation hadn’t even been completed when results were announced.
Which was why late President Yar’Adua was quick to set out an electoral reform process?
Today there is remarkable progress under President Buhari. The last Ondo and Edo governorship elections, to the best of our knowledge, we had some evidence of some problems here and there but by world standard and not just by Nigeria standard. It’s a remarkable improvement on what we used to have.
Our party lost in Edo and as a responsible party, we issued a congratulatory message to the PDP which had not really happened before? Even though PDP failed to do that after we won in Ondo, it’s a remarkable progress that we should not make a mere light of. See, I have said it in previous write-ups, what happened in APC is remarkable. The kind of leadership crises we went through and to emerge out of it without a split, it has never happened to any political party in the history of any political movement in Nigeria, that is the truth and the mere fact that the agitation for the removal didn’t start in Abuja, it started from his ward makes it even more serious. And he (Adams Oshiomhole) didn’t take them serious and that consumed a whole National Working Committee of the ruling party.
Today if you ask me, if I’m a lecturer in Political Science, I’ll tell them rather than investing time thinking on mobilizing for some so-called regime change, I’ll invest time, resources and energy to organize myself within a political party and strategize for winning election. People sometimes, out of our complexes, miss the point. It’s a reflection of complex. I cannot compete because I know that you have an edge so I dismiss you. APC and PDP are the same. They’re all power grabbers, they would manipulate and rig the election. If your PDP and I want to kick you out what stops me from going through the same process you’ve gone through and kick you out. There is no shortcut in life, that’s the reality.
Even if I we want to organize a revolution in this country it’s not through the social media, it can’t be through the social media. Social media can have its role to play but fundamentally it’s about our capacity to organize and win the minds of Nigerians. No matter how good we imagine we are to win the mind of Nigerians.
In APC today, I can assure you that it is not going to be where you can tell that there is a foreclosure. So, this is the attraction in APC and that is why it is significant for us in APC in spite of all the slander that APC is anti-South East not withstanding all the initiative of the federal government in terms of the sound and credible development initiative currently in place in the South East. That is why you now see a governor of the calibre, competence and credibility of Governor Umahi in the South East saying ‘no, no, where I am there is no justice.’ He has not said where he’s going he’s guaranteed of justice but he’s absolutely sure that if he plays his card well in his new environment, there is the likelihood that he will get adequate justice