From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi is certainly a man with many feathers. He is a journalist, politician, author, public speaker and many others rolled into one.
Speaking to Sunday Sun in Abuja, he bared his mind on many burning issues in the country.
He lamented the level of deterioration of Nigerian politicians and politics, pointing out that apart from the politicians now carrying pejorative label, the country has never been this bad even during the First and Second Republics.
Not done yet, he took a swipe at his former party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), noting that speaking for the ruling party as the National Publicity Secretary was the most tedious and challenging task of his life.
He was pungent and emphatic in announcing that it will be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the APC to retain presidential seat based on its failure to manage insecurity and the economy. Excerpt:
What is your plan for the 2023 general elections?
If Nigerians say that I have been quiet because I have not been talking enough, I will agree with them. However, there in Kwara, my state, I have been relatively active especially in terms of what we are trying to do with young people. My primary agenda in 2019 when I wanted to be governor, among other things, was my concern for the youths of this country and my state, given my long time engagement with young people. I can see that there are different areas we can support the youths. I didn’t want my inability to win the election or get the position I wanted to be the reason for us not to continue the good work we are doing within our limited capacity. We have started a mentorship programme we are running and we are in second cycle now and I am really excited with the interests it has generated among young people.
Is it possible for the PDP to bounce back in 2023 especially as the party chieftains have started consulting and reconciling the aggrieved?
It is possible, but lots of work needs to be done. For us in PDP, we recognise that a lot of work needs to be done within the party itself to position ourselves for the challenges ahead. Comparatively, I don’t think it is going to be easier for even the ruling party, the APC. This is because the general feeling, if you interact with the people or unless if you want to be economical with the reality, is that there is a general level of disenchantment. The government in power has to accept the direct responsibility of what is going on or rather the prevailing situation in the country. But, more importantly, we, the political class, need to re-examine ourselves because it has become a pejorative label for one to be referred as a politician in Nigeria today. So, how did we get to this point because I don’t think that it was this bad even in the First and Second Republics? People could proudly claim that they are politicians while they are also accomplished professionals in various fields. They are lawyers, doctors, journalists, senior citizens. But, these days, sometimes I find myself on the defensive because people will look at you pejoratively when you introduce yourself as a politician. How do we bring some level of positives back to the word politics in a way that people can look at us and have some level of confidence that the real essence of what we do is genuine commitment to serve the people?
So, can the APC retain power beyond 2023?
As for making prediction on which party that will win the presidential election in 2023, I can tell you that among all the gifts I have, I am not good in clairvoyance. But what I can tell you is that if people have to judge the ruling party based on the manifesto and promises made in 2015, it is going to be very very difficult for them. And one thing that will make it difficult, in addition to perhaps other things, is the issue of insecurity. It used to be confined to a part of the country in the past, but it has now escallated to become a national problem. At the scale they have manifested now, it is a whole new level. That was why I was very happy when President Buhari finally said something that shows that government was no longer going to allow bandits to continue to endanger the lives of Nigerians unnecessarily. There are certain pronouncements that will send clear signal to them and there are certain deafening silence that will mean that government is condoning what is going on. I think that the pronouncement that anybody holding AK-47 should be shot on sight, is a very good statement. And even if it is a mere statement, it is going to go a long way in affecting the psychology of what is going on. Insecurity is one major area APC is going to have a serious challenge in 2023 because people will ask how they are going to protect them if they campaign with security since they failed in the past. The economy is also another area APC has not done well. Look at what has happened to the naira. Yes, I am not sufficiently educated in that area, but as a lay man and a Nigerian, I am very concerned that my savings have lost almost 70 per cent of original value because of what has happened to the naira. The situation is that bad that people you know in the past are proud men, who had jobs and will not beg, will now send you message that they have not eaten with their families. They will tell you that they were not able to take care of their wives or relatives in hospitals and that they have withdrawn their children from school because of the fees. When I said this failure, I am not referring to only the Federal Government, but to government generally. We cannot continue to look at the Federal Government alone when the state government should have a responsibility and it goes beyond what is happening now. No matter what government claims to be achieving on the economic front based on GDP, but great economists will tell you that GDP is not enough and cannot put food on the table. We need to recalibrate at different levels and that is why I am very clear that if we say that Nigeria is not functioning at optimum capacity, the question we should ask is whether Nigeria as currently structured is ever going to work. I have the understanding that at 61, Nigeria is a baby country compared to democratic countries with over 100 years. That is why it is never too late for us to lay the ground and solid foundation for the future of this country. I strongly believe that Nigeria needs to restructure. So many things can no longer work as long as we maintain the current structure.
What does restructuring you referred to mean to you?
I was an active member of the APC Committee on restructuring chaired by Governor Nasir el-Rufai. I had the opportunity to travel with the team across the country. I was also in the Southeast team that went for the consultation. The word restructuring carries a lot of baggage and means different things to different people. For the Southwest, restructuring means regionalisation, for the Southeast, it is end to marginalisation with small minority talking about breakaway, for the South-south, it is about resource control. And for an average northerner, it is about erroneous belief of breaking the country. But for the APC, restructuring in its manifesto means restructuring governance rather than the country. It fundamentally means going back to those items we have in the exclusive list and considering how many can be moved to the concurrent list. The main focus of restructuring is making government more efficient; getting the government to be more accountable and more relatable in giving service to the people. It is a case of saying that when the service assigned to the people is not getting to them, you take a level closer to them through the states in order to achieve more efficiency. Moving the items from the exclusive list to concurrent list means that resources that use to be kept at national level will now be devolved to the states. It would have answered the questions about fiscal federalism. We, however, found out that at executive level, people were not as enthusiastic as we were on the side of the party in dealing with those issues. But, I have no doubt in my mind that we need to work on the status quo that is not working. We don’t need to preserve, but to change it. As a baby country, it is not too late to learn, unlearn and relearn on how to build institution.
But how did we get to this extent of Nigerians not trusting politicians any longer?
Lots of things have actually happened and I don’t think the blame is for the politician alone especially as they are derived from the society. Many literatures have been written about why people tend to relegate morality and ethics when they go into public office. We must not essentialise politicians alone because there are civil servants that are wantonly more corrupt than the politicians. I think that there is something structurally faulty with the politicians, especially the way we relate with the resources that belong to the state and our attitude to public interest. What is our definition of politics, citizenship and how do we see ourselves when we get into public office. Look at the National Assembly, for instance, after spending one term of four years, a lawmaker still needs second tenure to get a hang or be very grounded in legislative matters and procedures. But after one tenure the people will conclude that another person should go since the one there has enjoyed and benefitted. Nobody is thinking of the service they want to render. The older people get at the National Assembly, the better they are. Most people from the same constituency with the lawmakers don’t care about their contributions in law making and that is why lawmakers prioritise what they call constituency project and what they were able to facilitate to their constituency since their primary task of law making is not important to people back home. They are only interested in what they can bring back home rather than their contributions to the primary responsibility of law making. Without defending them, when people say that they are taking too much money, maybe they are, but the point is that they inherit problems of their constituencies the moment they are elected, you know what they are going through. I don’t think there is any National Assembly member who wants to be re-elected that can keep to himself 50 per cent of whatever money he is making. When we look at politicians we also look at the responsibility of citizenship. People that give politicians support don’t look at it as if they are giving them opportunity to serve, but as a reward for certain benefits they are giving them or what he has done in the past. They will count what he has done for them in the past, how many medical bills, school fees he paid, how many weddings he has attended, widows he helped and it will be on that basis that they will decide whether to give him or not. And that is why the majority of the politicians will get there, relax and enjoy their reward. However, the politicians must understand that leadership is not necessarily doing what people want you to do, but sometimes rising above the general order of things to push the people in a different direction.
What is your impression about what is happening to the Otoge revolution in Kwara State?
Has Otoge crumbled as you said? If it has, I cannot say that I am happy over what is happening in Kwara, especially to the extent that it is affecting governance in the state. Yes in politics, you rejoice when your enemy’s camp is in disarray because it is an advantage for most of us on the other side. In fact, we will even pray that they will not be able to reconcile so that we can benefit from it. However, if it got to the extent that it is affecting the quality of governance in the state, I cannot be happy because it calls for concern and worry. I strongly believe that there is time for politics and time for governance. When it is time for politics, we should go out and fight for power within the ambit of the law. But this is time for governance and unfortunately their internal crisis is grounding governance in the state in such a way that is not good for the people that invested so much hope in what they promised in 2019. Personally, I believe that the people deserve a lot better than they are getting now. We don’t have anything in Kwara hence everything depends on the state. So, if the state drops its game even by five per cent, it affects so many people. Some states can afford to make mistakes and get away with it, but not for a state occupying 33 out of 36 states in order of the federal revenue allocation. It confirms we are a very poor state. You cannot afford to blink or loss concentration. For the governor of Kwara, every single day is precious and cannot afford to be distracted by any other concentration apart from the service at hand of serving his people. All we can say for now is that we are looking forward to the next round of election.
Will you say that APC has failed Nigerians and/or that this is the APC of your dream?
The truth is that I am not in the position to make that judgement. But I think that there are people who genuinely believed that the promised change was going to be delivered. It was not all subterfuge as some people will like to think. I know many people who invested hours of back-breaking mental work, enormous resources, travelled from their locations in different parts of the world, relocated to Nigeria to contribute. There was a feeling that Nigeria was about to start a new chapter in her life and many people believed it. I was part of that process, but due to combination of factors that we cannot exhaust here, things did not turn out the way the general public expected. In fact, even some key actors in government will tell you that this is not what they expected. So, without passing judgment on whether APC has failed or impressed, what I can say is that among 10 people, seven or eight will likely say that APC failed in their expectations.
Was it at the point of leaving the APC that you realised that the party failed your expectations?
I was the spokesperson of the party and I must tell you that it was a very difficult assignment for me because people were asking me lots of questions that I was not able to answer. It was worse when people open pages of our manifesto to remind me what the party promised. Then I will no longer be as eloquent as I used to be. However, I also know that different factors explain why things turned out the way they did. But it has nothing to do with people failing to discharge the responsibility assigned to them. I know that it was difficult for me to back up my answers with evidences that we have actually delivered to expectations. The honest truth is that we expected a lot more than what has happened.