By Olalekan Bilesanmi
The National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, in this interview, boasts that his party has generated nearly 16million members. Oshiomhole also speaks on other issues in the polity including defections from the APC and the controversial issue of direct and indirect primaries to choose its candidates ahead of the 2019 general elections. Excerpts:
On direct and indirect primaries controversy
I have been ordered by the appropriate organ of the APC, which is the National Executive Council (NEC), that we will conduct direct or indirect primaries while noting that we have three options, direct, indirect and consensus. However, only two of these options were activated for the purpose of this coming election: direct and indirect. And direct simply means returning power to party members, so that the party members will enjoy the privilege of choosing candidates of their party for the election. And I am of the view that when people claim that they nominated you, they will by common sense work hard to persuade their friends, relatives to vote for the one they have participated in choosing. However, people raised concerns about logistics, about some peculiarities in some states and even the fact that we are running a federation. The debate that each of the states should have the liberty to be different to the extent that they have things that make them different.
We all agreed that on a good day direct primaries are better. And I am so happy that Mr President who, in my ever first conversation with, about the leadership of this party, shared with me his concerns that, if there are lessons to learn from PDP, it is that if a party is run top down and it is owned by few money bags, it will not survive over a period and there is no flogging this because we saw that once PDP was disconnected from the national treasury, even though they still maintain state treasury in some of the very rich oil states, that the center will no longer hold. But democracy also requires that you don’t get detained or become so self-opinionated however brilliant you think your ideas are, you must subject it to the democratic scrutiny of the majority. And so, regardless of my personal opinion about the beauty of direct primaries, having myself been nominated through that process in Edo, I also appreciate I could not impose this.
And I am happy that the President, as number one citizen and the overall leader of the party, bought into it; some governors have also bought into it while some raised issues. The good news is that our party anticipated these possibilities, which is why it provided three options, and, at that NEC meeting, two of the options were agreed. Direct, of course everybody participating. Indirect, just get the State Executive Council along with critical stakeholders to meet, not just meet, majority must sign the statement demanding for indirect. And when that is received by the NWC, we have to do the needful by obliging. But consensus is out of it. That not activated by the NEC.
However, the NEC noted that the Constitution provides for it, but for the purpose of this election, that was not activated. However, you can have a consensus if, at the close of nomination, only one person applied for the position; when only one person applies for the position, it is self-evident that the people of that area or of that state think that only that one person should do it. So that is consensus, it is not something you pronounce and if you do it is a futile pronouncement because once there are candidates for that office, the APC will ensure that election takes place in that office. That is the express orders given to my NWC by the organ.
Now logistics, I agree. If you remember what I said during my electioneering campaign, I said one of the first things we will do is to build on the foundation laid by Chief Bisi Akande (pioneer APC National Chairman) by ensuring that we have a data base for a complete voters register. We do have a data base. If you recall, it was that data base under President Jonathan that the Director of State Security went to raid and they alleged that APC was trying to clone PVCs. Incidentally today, we are taking delivery of the voters register. If anybody wants to join APC, you are not at the mercy of your Ward Chairman; you go online and register. Once you include your PVC number, it will generate membership card and number and we then go to our data base and print it out. I can tell you as of last week, we have 15.6 million registered members of the APC. And we are taking delivery of this data base, not secret document and we are going to commence on Monday the distribution of membership register and also membership card and we ensure that to procure a membership card, you will have to pay a prescribed fee, this will be the way the raise the money to run the party without the temptation of dipping hand into our treasury. Our President will never allow any one of us to even suggest how to appropriate fund from state treasury, President Buhari will never accept that.
It is interesting when we had a conversation on how to raise money to run the party, and the President said he will pay a percentage of his salary and told us that since he is fed by the Nigerian state, he can afford 50 per cent of his salary to be paid to the APC and encouraged all of us as senators, governors and chairmen to find a way to fund the party. And of course we also accept donations from the business community who believes that business strives better in a less corrupt society. I can even tell you that the President told us that the amount for our forms was expensive, that was when we wanted to peg it at N55million. But after he complained he cannot afford it we had to reduce the amount even though we told him that a lot of ordinary Nigerians were ready to purchase the forms for him. So that is the kind of President we have.
I cannot be Chairman of a party and celebrate anything that tends to distort the actual wishes of the electorate. But if you want to trace the history of vote-buying, it started with Jonathan’s second attempt to be President with all due respect to him. In Edo State where I participated in the election as governor then, they turned out not just naira but also dollars. President Jonathan started this massive vote-buying in Nigeria. I am one of those saying that we must do everything possible to eliminate vote-buying. I was not in Ekiti, so I cannot claim to be a witness to vote-buying and I did not participate in any decision to vote money to buy votes in Ekiti. And I have my doubt as to if votes would have been bought and sold whether Dr Fayemi will have the funds to buy because no one can claim that Fayemi is a rich man because I know he was struggling to find money to mobilize and sustain his campaign. I guess it is the guy who has access to the treasury which in this case is the PDP and the sitting governor, who was so confident that he has all the resources. So I am not going to dismiss the allegation either way, just to say I was not part of it, and would not have supported it and I do not think, going into specifics that APC has the resources under Fayemi to resort to vote-buying. Going forward, if you ask me, the way to eliminate it, is to support President Muhammadu Buhari anti-corruption campaign. If people in power no longer can take money freely from the treasury, I want to submit with all seriousness that those who labour to make money are not likely to buy votes.
Secondly, we must look at how parties conduct their primaries. If we have a situation where to get nominated is now a function of who has more money to buy delegates and a delegate can take as much as N300, 000 and these delegates are very ordinary people who live in villages and communities, and people can see how much money they made by participating in the choice of a candidate, the electorate who have seen how the guy next to him made money in the nomination of a candidate will now insist that, during the general election, you must also give me money to vote for that candidate. However, this does not make it right. So I am fully in support of the campaign to remove vote-buying because, if it becomes a way of life, it will be a big problem. I am playing back my own history, I would never have become governor of Edo not alone succeeded getting re-elected under a government at the federal level that had access to the NNPC and CBN, people like us would not have been able to defeat a ruling party. So I am absolutely in support and anything I could do, as National Chairman, to ensure that we contribute to eliminate these vices.
I think for now that is to be expected because for any Nigerian who is under 40, by 1999 when we returned to this present democracy, most of those people were under 20. So they were not quite politically informed. So the only form of democracy they know is that of the PDP under President Olusegun Obasanjo. That is the only model they saw because the PDP under Obasanjo did everything to neutralize the opposition. The President appointed party chairmen and dissolved them at will. And of course after 1999, perhaps that was the best election that was done by the military who we can say substantially did not resort to the use of thuggery and criminal manipulation of the electoral process. So from 2003, it became obvious to Nigerians, you remember when then-President said the election was do-or-die for him and then the PDP went ahead to say it would run the country for 60 years. Election after election, Nigerians felt the best way to go was to move into the PDP. So the PDP succeeded in almost turning Nigeria into a one-party state. If you review the electronic and print media then, you will discover that the NLC under my leadership then, became the only opposition that questioned the PDP-led Federal Government’s policies.
It was against this backdrop that I went to Edo and I launched the attack against godfatherism and the politics of imposition and criminal manipulation of election results. I tried from Edo to demystify this political rigging machine. And without resorting to violence, we were able to show it was possible to fight the PDP. And I think going forward to form the APC, our now President, Gen.Muhammadu Buhari, he also tried to challenge the order of the day and substantially he was successful but unable to penetrate across the Niger to either to the West or to the East. Under ACN, we were able to work hard, under the leadership of Asiwaju Tinubu, to reclaim what has been criminally rigged. Later, the leaders of ACN, CPC realized that to create the real multiparty democracy, we needed to form a broad based alternative platform. As soon as the leaders of the parties recognized the need to form a powerful alternative platform, I think God in heaven decided to bless it and the rest is history.
That is how we were able to wrest power from the PDP and today the APC is the governing party. Now you asked, this movement in parties…you know we have had great political thinkers to explain what will appear to be the movement at the eve of every election. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in some of his published works, said that “for the progressives to take over power, they need the support of some conservative elements”. When the progressives have succeeded in collaboration with some conservative elements to seize power and they tried to govern based on the principles of progressiveness, the conservatives will not be able to cope. And they will walk away on their own, then the progressives will become stronger and work for the good of the country. When you look at what has happened now, that is exactly what happened. All the conservative elements, you can actually trace the background of some them.
Some were born with silver spoon. Now these people assisted us in getting power but President Buhari has chosen to be faithful to the principles of progressive politics, which means re-emphasizing the rights of the ordinary Nigerians. The conservatives have to move away and they moved. But you can see that after they left APC became stronger. More progressive elements are coming in. And the best example is former Governor Shekarau, a class room teacher before he became the governor of Kano State. I think over time, when our elections are more democratic, we eliminate rigging, the votes increasingly begin to count and the electoral process is less expensive and free of manipulation, people will join party on the basis of conviction not on the basis of fear.
I remain convinced that Saraki must vacate his position as Senate President as a matter of honour. If he does not choose the path of honour, he will be democratically removed as the President of the Senate. You are emphasizing law, logic and political morality plus law. I come from a background where as a young trade unionist, what is lawful can be immoral. And for a society to be stable, we must adhere to natural law of fairness. So it is unacceptable in any democracy, including the one that we have all proudly claim we borrowed, America, for a minority party to provide leadership to cover the majority. As we speak, APC has 57 senators, PDP has 49. Assuming that the other two parties namely APGA and ADC choose to align with the opposition, they will still be left with less than 57. There is no way you have a parliament in which the minority provides the leadership. When I say Saraki will be democratically removed, people tend to ask how?
They choose to detain themselves with the assumption that the fact that we have 57 members means we cannot impeach the Senate President.
If you look at the relevant Sections of the Constitution, it is very clear. It says to impeach a President or Vice President, a Governor or Deputy Governor, you need 2/3 of all the members, the word, all, must be emphasized.
The same Constitution goes down to say, however, to impeach a Senate President, a Deputy Senate President, Speaker or Deputy Speaker, that you need 2/3 of members. If the Constitution meant to say the same thing, it will use exactly the same language. Why does it emphasize all members in the case of Presidents and governors? Now the issue before us is to allow competent courts to sit down and see whether it would have been the intention of the Constitution when it chooses to use the words, all members, in the case of the President and Governors and use ‘members’ in that of the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Reps. Senator Saraki knows the difference and that is why he is putting his own interest above national interest and hurriedly adjourned the Senate upon that illegal act of allowing people to decamp even when there are no factions in the APC. Unfortunately, Speaker Dogara chose to also put Saraki’s interest above national interest and also hurriedly adjourned the House. And the result is that today we face huge danger if we allow this aberration to stand, because we have a situation now where INEC may not get money for the 2019 elections or get it too late.
The other thing people point out to is that Tambuwal did it when he was Speaker. But check the facts, when Tambuwal did it, he worked so hard that for some time the PDP became the minority in the House of Reps. But let me also tell you, in the event that Tambuwal even did it and PDP slept on their right, APC under my leadership will not sleep on our right.