Former Minister of Sports, Bolaji Abdullahi, emerged the new spokesperson of the governing All Progressives Congress, APC, on Thursday through a unanimous decision of the executive committee of the north-central geo-political zone.
The election of a new spokesperson to replace the former one, Lai Mohammed, was done Thursday in Abuja at the Zonal Congress of the party.
Among the delegates to the congress were Governors Simon Lalong of Plateau and Sani Bello of Niger States.
The congress was chaired by National Vice Chairman of APC from the zone, Zakari Idde.
The election began after the Deputy Speaker Nasarawa State House of Assembly, Godiya Akwashiki, nominated Mr. Abdullahi for the post of National Publicity Secretary.
The nomination was seconded by spokesperson of the Nigerian Senate, Aliyu Abdullahi, from Niger State.
The nomination was subsequently confirmed via a voice vote by the delegates.
The election of Mr. Abdullahi, a known ally of Senate President Bukola Saraki, is coming at a time of significantly improved relationship between Mr. Saraki and his party as well as the presidency.
Mr. Saraki emerged as Senate President against the wish of the leadership of the APC under John Odigie-Oyegun.
Since his emergence, the Senate President has been in and out of court over charges of fraud and forgery, and had to contend with a presidency that displayed its unhappiness with the senate president.
However, the federal government in October dropped the forgery charges against the Senate President amidst allegations that was done because of his improved relationship with the presidency. The dropping of the charges was hailed by several APC chieftains including former vice president Atiku Abubakar and former Lagos governor Bola Tinubu. Apart from mending his relationship with his party’s senators opposed to his election, Mr. Saraki has also mended his relationship with several APC leaders opposed to his emergence as senate president, including Mr. Tinubu.
The improved relationship with his party and the presidency has also seen Mr. Saraki become a frequent guest to the presidential villa to hold closed door meetings with the president.
Mr. Saraki’s relationship with Mr. Abdullahi however predates the APC. Mr. Abdullahi was appointed commissioner for education in Kwara by then Governor Saraki, elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Mr. Abdullahi was also appointed Minister of Sports by former President Goodluck Jonathan reportedly on the recommendations of Mr. Saraki.
However, when Mr. Saraki defected to the APC, it became impossible for Mr. Jonathan to retain the services of Mr. Abdullahi due to his closeness to the senate president.
He was fired by the president despite being seen as one of the shining lights of that administration.
He subsequently moved to the APC.
Why he emerged spokesperson
However, apart from his closeness to Mr. Saraki, one major factor that helped Mr. Abdullahi emerge as the APC spokesperson is the existing zoning formula in the party.
The party had in June 2014 adopted a zoning arrangement for all its national offices.
Based on the arrangement, the south-south produced the National Chairman, while the north-east produced the National Secretary.
The Deputy National Chairman was zoned to the South West; National Treasurer to the North West; and National Publicity Secretary, North Central zones respectively.
After the national zoning arrangements, the regions also micro zoned the offices and the National Publicity Secretary was zoned to Kwara State.
Sources told PREMIUM TIMES that the party hierarchy decided to allow the existing arrangement to continue and Kwara State was allowed to nominate Mr. Mohammed’s replacement, the erstwhile spokesperson.
They also said Mr. Abdullahi was single-handedly picked by Mr. Saraki, “hence he was unopposed”.
The Senate president is believed to be in full control of political structures in Kwara State.
How I will operate
Speaking to reporters shortly after his emergence, Mr. Abdullahi said he would adopt a fresh strategy to “endear the APC on the minds of Nigerians”.
Mr. Abdullahi said his present post is entirely different from his former position of sports minister.
“They therefore, demand different approaches,” he said.
“I have a fair understanding of what I am expected to do even though you never know until you really get there.
“What I can assure is that I will do the best I can, not only in the improvement of our party but also in contributing to the progress of this country especially at this challenging period,” he said.
Mr. Abdullahi said he was equal to the task because his experience would help him withstand any form of pressure that comes with the office.
“However, what I know is that every human being is under pressure. Mr. President, the ruling party chairman and everybody including the journalists are under pressure. There will always be pressure because the expectations of people are very high.
“So, irrespective of the economic challenges, we have to continue to weather the storm especially now that I am brought in to be part of the process. All I can reassure is that I will give the best I can to ensure that we continue to move forward,” he said.
On the challenges of stepping into Lai Mohammed’s “big shoes”, Mr. Abdullahi said “the way I see it is that there is no template for this kind of assignment. Different period calls for different approaches. Alhaji Lai Mohammed did very well as the spokesperson of the opposition party.
“But, I think that the temperament that one will need to speak for a ruling party; even if Lai Mohammed had continued now, is going to be quite different from the temperament one will need to speak as an opposition spokesperson.
“More than any other thing, I think that what I am going to do is to bring my many years of experience as a journalist and as an editor to this assignment and be as professional as I can be.
“So, I don’t think we have the same assignment. He did excellently well, but I think that my assignment is different. I will essentially try to do my best,” he said.
The former minister thanked the delegates for finding him worthy and assured that he would represent the zone well.