The national chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomhole, met with President Muhammadu Buhari at the presidential villa on Wednesday.
After the meeting, Mr Oshiomhole spoke to journalists about his discussion with the president and other national matters. He also spoke about the Buhari administration’s clampdown on protesters after a call for a revolution by activist Omoyele Sowore.
Q: What was the meeting about?
Oshiomhole: We have had a couple of meetings with Mr President since his re-election but an exclusive meeting between members of the National Working Committee and the president and vice president had not taken place.
So this is the first one and it was natural that we congratulate him but also to remind ourselves that this renewed mandate is a call to duty and there is a lot to be done to deliver to the people of Nigeria. The party, the executive, the National Assembly, all of us working together sharing ideas, we are much more likely to make faster progress and those are the sort of things we discussed.
We also assured the president our commitment to build an institute for progressive studies. Because, the people of Nigeria is that people belong to various political parties, they don’t even understand the ideology of that party. If they have any, some are not even familiar with the manifestos and they don’t have conversations about how appropriate or inappropriate those manifestos are. And you will find that people holding very high positions in government, both legislative and executive, and even some party leaders may not even be aware of what we stand for.
And so we told the president we are going to build institute for progressive studies so that people understand what defines us, what is the essence of progressive politics, basically is about social democracy. So our party must be seen to be pro-poor, putting policies in place that will lift our people out of poverty and recreate the Nigeria middle class. Unless you recreate the Nigeria middle class, you are not going to have a stable and a peaceful society.
The tragedy, for now, is that over the period, people are either very poor or they are very rich. The president has to provide leadership working with the National Assembly leadership to see how we can over the next four years deliver so that the current situation of extremely poor and extremely rich will is bridged by recreating the middle class.
Secondly, as a political party which is committed to social democracy, we want to make sure that everybody elected on the platform of our party understands dos and don’ts, in terms of politics and policy choices, our commitment to egalitarian society and all of those things that makes a progressive party different from a conservative party. We think this is not something we want to be doing on ad-hoc basis. We don’t want to go and sleep because we have won election, the fact that we have won election means a call to duty, so we have to work together to ensure these things are done.
Thirdly, we congratulated the president for appointing ministers. We happy with the progress that has been made and we also commend the senate for delaying their recess to be able to screen the ministers.
We also commended the president for the idea of having a retreat for the ministers before their allocated their respective ministries, so that they understand that they have been appointed and understand that they have been appointed and this is the job the employer has for each and every one of them to do; that they have to be well thought out before they are assigned to carry out those jobs. If you compare this to 2015, this is a huge improvement.
We also used the opportunity to present our financial report, what we spent on the election and what we spent in each state as a political party from monies that came from the treasury of our party. Normally people think party funds are not to be accounted for but we are obliged to account for every kobo that was spent and who will spend it for and the result we have gotten.
It was a good meeting and it will be the beginning of series of meetings because we want to bridge the gap. Our party will not go to sleep, we will work closely with government and the legislature to deliver because we have majority in the two chambers and we have the executive, working together in-house we believe we will find solutions to the problems confronting our nation.
Q: What’s your reaction to the outcry that trailed the ministerial list from your party members? The same outcry trailed the committee chairmen announced by the Senate. Is APC worried about that?
Oshiomhole: Why should we be worried? Nobody wants graveyard silence. It is not for nothing that we asked for multi-party democracy, I have said to people when they talk about dividend of democracy, I have said it is a mistake, even dictatorship has dividends. What differentiates democracy from dictatorship is that free people have the rights to make observations and to complain even if there is no validity in those complains, feeling that they have spoken truth to power. It doesn’t mean they are right nor are they wrong, it shows that in our party we want to entrench the culture of contesting issues that people feel they are not comfortable about. It doesn’t mean that they are right.
On the committees of the Senate and House of Reps, this question should rather be put to the leadership of the two chambers. But if you have fewer numbers of committees relative to the number of members in the Senate and House of Reps, however you do it, guess you will always find someone complaining. But the problem with the media is that you have only heard of those who are complaining, how about those who were joyful, who were celebrating? Even in business, you have profit and loss, that is the balance sheet. Any balance sheet without those two headings is not complete.
I will be surprised if in a democratic setting something is done and everybody is singing, something is wrong.
Q: What’s your reaction to government clamp down on people who also wanted to exercise their freedom of the right to protest like Sowore for instance?
Oshiomhole: What was the reason for protest? Let’s be honest! I have led series of protest even to this villa. Whoever wants to protest should articulate the particulars of his grievances and make specific demands about the solutions that he wants. So what exactly as far as you know as members of the fourth estate of the realm, that Sowore, the publisher of Sahara reporters, a presidential candidate, cleared by INEC to bid for power, who had opportunity to ask Nigerians to vote for him. Now Nigerians have voted, the votes have been counted and he was not a favoured candidate, what does he want now? That Nigerians must make him the president? Because we all have to be careful, nobody should talk as if we have another country. We have challenges but somehow we have all resolved as a people that the way and route to power in the ballot box. Our task as a people is to continue to work to clean up the system so that only Nigerians alone shall determine who governs them at all levels. That I believe is a legitimate thing to fight for. But if you want to overthrow, you want a revolution then he should have spared us the INEC putting him on the ballot paper.
I don’t want to talk about this but I believe Nigerians have a right to protest, I believe people have a right to contest issues, people have the right to disagree. I have often said government doesn’t have the right to dictate to people how to protest, but you must state exactly what you want. I ask you to name any country in the world where somebody stands up and say after the election that I contested and lost, now, therefore, I want revolution.
Go and check the dictionary and political meaning of a revolution, if it comes it will be like the Christmas turkey, nobody knows which one will be first slaughtered on Christmas.
I think we do need to take things seriously, we have serious issues in this country, I have my own reservations about many things but we have submitted to this process and we must work hard to make it work. Nigeria must deliver to the poor, APC government must deliver. That is why I told you that the only thing we came here to discuss today is, the easiest part is congratulations, the challenge is now with the mandate, how do you recreate the middle class so that Nigeria can be stable, all other things will then fall in line. All that is required is clear thinking, determination and to ensure that the ministers that are coming are not coming to implement what they think, but that they are coming to implement programmes that the party has agreed to. And that is why they are going to have a retreat before the president assigned ministerial positions to them.
There is no question that we have challenges but I don’t think if you were an American, British, Ghanaian or even a Nigerian, you were about to set up a farm or a factory and you hear that a revolution is in the making, in which country do you hear that? You go to any country including established democracies and say your business is to create revolution…
Have you monitored what is happening in France, that yellow jacket people, who were organizing those protests? Initially, when they were organizing those protests they were asking for labour reforms that President Macron introduced but from there they went into something else, you must have seen on your television how the French authorities dealt with that.
I think we have to be clear. I am a believer that the rights to protest is a fundamental human right but it does not include the right to suggest that you want to overthrow a constituted order. No, there is a difference.
As NLC president when we were organizing protest, when we had put down the head of the then-president after one week protest, I think it was late Gani Fawehinmi that said instead of to push him out we raised the head again, and I said our purpose is to defeat a set of anti-people policies that we have seen but recognizing that we are in a democracy and that the president was elected, our mission was not to remove him from office. There is a difference between the two.
So you can go and contest election and when you lose you say you want to do revolution. It is not about this president, it is not about APC, it is recognizing that we have challenges. Are we prepared to allow non-democratic means to effect a change?
Nobody knows the value of democracy more than you the media because once upon a time two of your colleagues were convicted for allegedly plotting coup with a pen. The accusation was that he was plotting to overthrow a military government with pen. So we have come a long way, I am for a right to protest but you must state what you want out of the protest. But if you want is a forceful change, then … we have to look at the laws.
Q: What is happening in the APC NWC, is the party divided against itself?
Oshiomhole: I think the media should show a deeper understanding. If in your paper, the news editor is suspended or sacked, will there be crisis in the media house? Let’s talk serious business, we are governed by rules. If somebody crosses the redline, he is disciplined. How does that suggest crisis? Look at all of us here, do I look like somebody in crisis? And you are talking of two persons out of 21. I made it clear that we are not presiding over an amorphous unstructured organization, I am chairman of a structured political party.
We are governed by rules as provided for in our party constitution but also subject to the various sections of the electoral act with regards to the formation of a political party and the Nigeria constitution. Nothing in those rules say you could do whatever you like. Our rules provide for discipline if you cross the red line and nobody in my view is too big to be disciplined. And we are on record as having suspended very powerful people. Because the problem with Nigeria is that because you are above there, you are above the law, I don’t think so. We are a bit under the law.
Q: You have painted a picture of a very transparent party which is why you came to present the financial report of the party. How much did you spend at the elections?
Oshiomhole: Because you are not a contributor I am not obliged to account to you. I am accountable to APC members and unless you show me your membership card, I am not obliged to report to you. The president is a very senior member of the APC and so he is entitled to know how much we spent, and as the steward of the party, I am entitled to present the report of my stewardship and cost we incurred in the cause of that stewardship.