INTERVIEW: National Conference may be veiled attempt at tenure elongation – Lai Mohammed

Lai Mohammed

Lai Mohammed: Clearly, Mr. President has been seeking to gain political points from the Boko Haram.

In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the interim National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress, Lai Mohammed speaks on the Boko Haram insurgency, the party’s operations and other sundry issues.

Let’s start with the issue of the Chibok Girls. We are aware your party has been advising the government on how to handle the matter. What would an APC government have done differently?

The Chibok incident is a consequence of a bigger problem. The real problem is insurgency, and it is precisely because of the manner the insurgency was handled at the beginning that led it to fester and become a global menace. From the beginning, we always advised the government on how to handle the insurgency. We had always been very critical about the manner the government handled it. We have always faulted the government’s approach that Boko Haram is a purely religious matter or that it is purely political. Boko Haram didn’t start with Jonathan’s administration, therefore, the position of government that Boko Haram is just meant to embarrass President Jonathan or that it is Northern Nigeria’s response to a Southern minority becoming President does not hold water.

Boko Haram started in 2002 as the Nigerian Taliban group. It was during President Yar’Adua’s tenure that a watershed was reached in the Boko Haram insurgency when Yusuf Mohammed was executed extra judicially. Now, for anybody to begin to look at Boko Haram as a purely religious Muslim against Christians or North against South is misreading the entire thing. We have always advised the government to look at Boko Haram as purely an insurgency. The responsibility of government is to dialogue with them, listen to their complaints and the ones that are unacceptable should be thrown out.

Clearly, it’s not possible to Islamise Nigeria. Unfortunately, the Federal Government approach from the beginning is that it is a Northern problem and it doesn’t affect us. At some point, the mind-set was on how to make political benefit out of it as much as possible by portraying Boko Haram as a fanatical religious group out to Islamise Nigeria and that way, they will get the sympathy of Christians. At a point in time they said it was because Jonathan is a minority leader from the Southern part of Nigeria. But I believe that a responsible government will make as its priority, how to put the insurgency under control before they start looking for who is responsible. At several junctures, we advised government that it cannot eliminate the local stakeholders in its fight against Boko Haram.

Intelligence gathering is very important in fighting insurgency. If you do not carry along the local stakeholders, such as the local politicians, leaders, and police in your fight against Boko Haram, you are bound to fail, and we have seen that more often than not. It is the failure of intelligence that has led to Boko Haram making sensational attacks. We have advised the government to look at those governors in Yobe, Adamawa and Borno as partners, not as competitors. These governors are the first direct victims of the Boko Haram insurgency, because they are the ones that bury their citizens’ every day. They are the ones, whose economies have been bastardised. They are the ones whose schools have to be closed. They are the ones, who spent a lot of resources in maintaining security, rather than on development.

Do you think the President is politicising this issue?

Absolutely! There is no doubt about that. That is what I said at the beginning. If they are not politicising this matter, how come after every bomb blast, the Presidency or the PDP will issue a statement saying the opposition is responsible. They have gone as far as naming people in the opposition and when we asked them to bring out any proof they bring statements that are out of context. Clearly, Mr. President has been seeking to gain political points from the Boko Haram. Honestly, at no point in the history of Nigeria, has this country been ever divided along religious and ethnic lines.

They say there is no smoke without fire. Are you convinced that APC has no role in these insurgent activities, given the several accusations from the PDP and presidential aides?

Frankly speaking, I think it’s a shame on government that up till today, it cannot pick up one single member of APC and say you are responsible for this blast. They could not pick one single opposition member and say we have traced your hand to this terrorism or say we have evidence you have been financing terrorism. Take the issue of Nyanya blast. The blast took place in the morning and within two hours the PDP came out to say it is the APC. But the SSS came out to tell the world that they have arrested the masterminds of the Nyanya blast. I think they arrested five here, and one as far as Sudan. Have any of them pointed any finger at any APC leader?

Is the reported permutation for a Muslim/Muslim ticket by your party true?

I really don’t know why some people are so gullible. A party that has not conducted its national convention, has not conducted primaries, how did it come out with the ticket? Muslim/Muslim or Christian/ Christian, how did it come out?

But are you thinking along that line?

It’s not what we are thinking about. Look, the party doesn’t think in that way. What it does is to look at its constitution and set up its National Convention Committee which will organise a convention to appoint its national officials. It is the congresses at all levels that will culminate in a national convention that will look at the constitution of the party and decide which form to be adopted for the selection of candidates for all elective offices. Groups and individuals can be thinking and speculating or even manipulating, but as a political party today, I can tell you very frankly that our major priority is building the party and make sure we have a national convention and also make sure there is no crack in the party.

Does your party feel justified for staying away from the National Conference?

Let me tell you, the intention of the President in convening the Conference was to create a diversion away from the mounting corruption in his government and his incompetence. Funny enough, it has not achieved that purpose, because the same incompetence we are talking about has now enveloped him, and as if by coincidence, nobody is even paying attention to the Conference. What interests the people now is the insecurity in the land. You can see the discordant views coming out from the Confab. We are not only justified, but vindicated. We have much more problems in Nigeria. What are they going to discuss in the Confab that has not been discussed in other Confabs in the past? At the end of the day, I will not be surprised if the entire purpose of the Confab is tenure elongation because we have the history. When Abacha convened his own Confab, it ended up with tenure elongation and it was the same with Obasanjo. So, we wouldn’t be surprised if at the end of the day, they say, let’s have a new constitution; time is not ripe for election; look at this insecurity; and let’s have tenure elongation.

We know that the APC’s position as far as the removal of fuel subsidy is concerned is NO! But we also know as a fact that almost all the states of the federation had unanimously agreed at a FAAC meeting that subsidy must be removed. This means some of your members are clearly going against the position of the party in this matter.

When we were in ACN, we made our position known to the government in writing. We said if you must remove fuel subsidy, you must do A, B, C, etc. As a matter of fact, when we were in ACN, our team met with the President on the issue of fuel subsidy. I don’t think Mr. President has invited us as APC to hear our views on the issue. What the President has done so far is that he has been dealing with organs of government at the state level. So, I sought clarification from some of the Commissioners of Finance from APC states to know what this thing about removal of subsidy is. They told me that they found out that about N4.7 trillion has not been reconciled under the name of fuel subsidy. As a matter of fact, it is the RMAFC that brought out this fact. They said that figure is outstanding from the Federation Account on the issue of subsidy. N4.7 trillion is the equivalent of a whole year’s budget. If that is what is missing in the name of subsidy and you are saying it is going into people’s private pocket, then why can’t we recover this money and divide it among the states and let each state decide what it will do with the money. A state can decide to use its own for agriculture, another one on housing and the like. That is the level at which they are now, but they have not reported back to the party.

You have always told Nigerians that you provide alternative governance and programmes to better the lives of the people. But we noticed that you have been admitting some disgruntled elements from the ruling party. Are you sure this is the way to take Nigeria to a higher pedestal?

I have always used a very simple example. If you are a pastor and every Sunday when you are ministering, some rascals who are playing football always disturb you, then one day, these rascals decided to come to the Church, are you going to send them away because you are afraid they are going to pollute your Church? Secondly, we are all Nigerians. When APC was formed, we had eleven governors and PDP had twenty three. For a party that wants to win election, which one is easier: 11 to defeat 23 or 16 to defeat 18? Let me also ask you, has PDP ever pushed out any APC member who joined them? On the contrary, they would go and collect them with drums. When Shekarau joined them, it was a big festival. The same with Shekarau, who less than six months before then said the Jonathan administration was the worst government in the history of Nigeria. When Bafarawa joined them, what did they do? They rolled out drums. They are just inconsistent.

Politics is about conflict resolution and management and it must continue on a daily basis. By the very nature of the guidelines of the party, it naturally tilted to favour governors in states governed by the party. Our congresses at ward level is by direct primaries, which means every member of the party will go and elect officials – chairman, secretary, treasurer, ex-officio and national delegate in all, about 30 or 35. That is the only place where you can guarantee that popular candidates will win. When it comes to the local government election, it is those people who have been elected at the ward level that are members of the local government congress. For instance, if I, Lai Mohammed, am popular in my ward and woo all the officers in my ward, when it comes to local government, I am contending with ten other people who are also local champions in their wards. I can go to the local government level with my 35 members from my ward in my pocket, but there are 350 who will vote at the local government congress and so it is my ability to negotiate at that level that will enable me to sustain my popularity. Also, based on the guidelines, certain people are automatic members as local government delegates. Elected councilors, chairmen, state house of assembly members, House of Representatives members etc, are all members. So take for instance my own state, Kwara; all the officials mentioned were PDP, because PDP won in that state, they are the majority in virtually all elective and appointed offices and they are all automatic delegates. That is how I lost out.

Concerning Ibrahim Shekarau and Attahiru Bafarawa, we remember there was a time your party leadership visited Kwankwaso and Wamakko, but you did not consult them?

That is not correct. When we went to see Kwankwaso, the idea was to see Shekarau first. When we got to Kano, Kwankwaso said no, that he would lead us to visit Shekarau, but he (Shekarau) frustrated it. Before then, Bola Ahmed Tinubu called Shekarau here (venue of interview) and we begged him ‘please what do you want?’ We also set up a committee made up of John Oyegun, Abubakar Baraje and others, and we visited these aggrieved leaders to made them understand that this is the sacrifice we all talked about. My question to all of them is this: When we agreed in the NEC that governors would drive the process where we have governors, why didn’t they say no?

What is your impression about your opposite in the PDP, Olisa Metuh?

I have very heavy respect for him, frankly speaking. But I think he does not understand that we have different roles. I am an opposition spokesperson and he speaks for the party in government. Our duties are different. His duty is to promote what the government is doing. My duty is to put the government on its toes. As a matter of fact, I am not supposed to make them comfortable. I should be looking at the policies of this government and scrutinise it and offer alternative views and show how we can do it better. But, in recent times, he has taken over the role of the opposition. And it has become counterproductive. If there is an explosion today, it’s for me in the opposition to say the government is incompetent because the government is supposed to secure all of us. I can come out and say the government has failed us and that these lives that have been lost would have been saved if you had put in place this and that. I could take them on to say, you took so much money for the CCTV project, why didn’t those cameras capture those people? What a government should have done immediately that thing happened is to calm the people and take charge. I expect real time update of what is being done and not to issue statements accusing the opposition. Blame game is more natural with the opposition than the government. That is what I see is wrong with him. You see, when a government is not performing, the opposition has a field day and when a government is doing very well, the opposition becomes a nuisance. For me, he does not quite appreciate his role.

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