From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, a former minister of Youths and Sports and current spokesman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, has said that it was inhuman for anyone to wish President Buhari dead.
He also spoke on a wide range of issues, bothering on national and Kwara state politics, his journey from newsroom to politics, crises in the APC and his relationship with the Saraki political dynasty.
Do you see your new role as a demotion ?
I don’t see it as a demotion because a party position is a different responsibility and different assignment from the appointment as minister. Currently in the party national executive, we have people that have served as state governors, senators among others.
It would have been a demotion if I had moved from serving as a minister, to becoming an SA to the President. The party position is entirely a different thing and in fact, I actually see it as an elevation.
Why were you not made a minister?
Well, the truth is that I worked for the party just like many other persons, but it is the prerogative of Mr. President to choose who he wants to work with and he owes nobody any explanation why he made such decision.Serving as the spokesperson offers me the opportunity to contribute to the efforts to build and reposition our party. It is a big responsibility to build and strengthen the party.
We have achieved what no party in Nigeria has achieved in the past, coming from opposition to form government. We have moved from winning election to building a party and it is a privilege to be part of the team with such responsibility.
Any regret leaving PDP for APC?
I did not leave the PDP; I was sacked from the party. It was not my choice to leave but when the sack came, I had no option than to move on with my life. I had to find accommodation where my political family is and that was how I settled with the APC. I had to find shelter with my political family when the people I was working with sacked me.
People now see the coming of APC as a curse and one synonymous with suffering, what is your reaction to this?
I should rather ask you what you think of such expression. I don’t know those you have been listening to, but I have not seen anybody who described the way you put it now.
If you want to hinge the impression on recession and general hardship in the country, I would want to remind you that recession is not a creation of this government but a consequence of many factors of what happened in the economic space.
We should essentially stop behaving as if there was no yesterday and as if Nigeria started in 2015. Recession does not just happen overnight. We have heard top economists say that the symptoms for the situation we found ourselves today had manifested and began to show almost a decade ago. The current situation we found ourselves was not a creation of this party and regime. No party will go out to create hardship for its citizens. It is unfortunate that the fallout of the economic challenges Nigerians are facing came to full manifestation and maturity this time that APC is in government.
Yes, we should be held responsible naturally and I don’t think that there is anything to benefit by defending these things, as if they are not happening. Yes, they are happening, but I think that the important thing for us to say is that we are committed to finding solutions and as long as we have such commitment, we will certainly find the solution.
Last year was very tough but I am confident that this year will be better and some economists are already telling us that the worst days are over. I am very optimistic and hopeful that the worst days are over.
I know that the situation is very difficult for many Nigerians at the moment especially our people in the rural areas and part of the urban centres. Things are really difficult but that is the responsibility that this government has and as long as government continues to focus and tackle that responsibility with the commitment we have seen, I am sure that this government will overcome. However, if people are angry because of the condition they found themselves, I don’t think they should express themselves outside the ambits of the law. This does not absorb us from the responsibility to take care of the situation even though it does not mean that we created the situation.
Why do you think 2016 will be better than 2017?
My confidence is derived from two levels and the first is that the budget currently undergoing assessment at the National Assembly is targeted at addressing some of these situations we found ourselves.
Secondly, I am confident because Mr. President is committed at tackling the situation. When you have a President with such commitment, and with government at all tiers equally committed to finding solution, then I should be optimistic.
I have seen the proposal from the executive arm of government, I mean the fiscal economic proposal for 2017 sent to National Assembly and I can tell you that it has the capacity to pull us out of the challenges that we are in as a country and it is in our interest that the country gets out of this situation.
What is APC’s input to federal government policies?
We will continue to make a distinction. The party is a party and the government is a government but they are biologically related. Theoretically speaking, the party is the father of the government. The party must continue to maintain that position and moral high grounds as the progenitor of the government.
The party cannot do the work of the government and vice versa, but at the same, the party must maintain a clear stand to at least hold government accountable even if only horizontally in terms of advice and suggestion on certain issues that is likely to affect the party’s fortunes across the country.
Due to the situations we have had, I believe we have not been able to play these roles as much as we should, but I can tell you that the party is now prepared to address and assert itself and play those important roles.
The biggest challenge of democracy in Nigeria is how to strengthen our political parties in such a way that the party will have the authority to influence the direction of government since the latter is a derivation of the former.
The government programme must necessarily be a derivation of the party manifesto and the party philosophy. To that extent, the party should be in the position to evaluate and access whether the government is on course towards implementing those things the party promised the country in its manifesto.
But having said that, I think that the responsibility we owe the party is to continue to strengthen it to be able to play these roles. We still have a long way to go as a country in strengthening the political parties to play that parental role to the government.
It is one thing we must continue to work on. I give example of the People Democratic Party (PDP) which has been in existence since 1999 as a very strong and formidable party and I have not stopped wondering why one electoral defeat should lead to the death of PDP.
It does not happen anywhere else in the world except in a country like Nigeria. It should not be, one electoral defeat should not result in the collapse of a strong party like the PDP. It is not good enough for the country and our democracy that the PDP could not find the shock to withstand just one electoral defeat. If we want to continue to grow our democracy, we must ensure that the party is strong enough to withstand the shocks of electoral defeat and continue to build and prepare for the next election.
The party of John Mahama in Ghana is not going to collapse because he lost the presidential election. It should be the same thing for the APC such that by the time President Buhari finishes his term of four or eight years, the party will continue long after he must have gone.
Yes, at a point APC will win and lose election but the party must continue to wax strong and stronger to survive all of us. That is the only way we can grow this democracy. I don’t believe that every single shortcoming of government should be blamed on the party. Government by nature will do many things right but they will by nature also do certain things that people will not be happy with. We must not continue in our failure to make the distinction that the party is the father of the government and as such should not come out openly to criticise the government even if the party is not happy with the government.
A good parent doesn’t discipline a child at a market place. Yes, parents must not lose the capacity to discipline a child but should do it in a lovely manner behind closed doors so as not to be turned into a laughing stock before neighbours.
Recently some Nigerians were said to be celebrating over the alleged death of Buhari. Is this not an indication that your party is losing popularity?
I think it was a case of apprehension by the citizens, I understand that some people are genuinely concerned but I also know that mischief makers want to capitalise on the situation to disrupt the peace of the country. Even when government made it clear that Mr. President would go for medical check-up during his vacation especially for a man at his age, the rumour still continue to spread.
We in the leadership position must always believe that the citizens meant well. As citizens, we have responsibilities not to glamourize such issue like this. The rumoured death should not be politicised because it is uncultured, inhuman and ungodly to wish someone dead.
We must not lose our humanity no matter the situation. Anybody celebrating the misfortune of another human being is inhuman. It has nothing to do with popularity or unpopularity of the government or party. We must not lose our humanity in the altar of political bitterness, hatred and vengeance with celebration of the rumoured death of Mr. President.
What we did not know is that the more we fuel this speculation the more our economy is affected. The same people complaining that things are very difficult in the country are the same persons peddling rumours capable of sending negative signal to scare prospective investors.
We will end up hunting our economy with this wicked rumour and creating lack of confidence. It is more disturbing that people went to a desperate extent of even cloning a website to announce his death. We should not degenerate to this level.
Do you see yourself as a creation of journalism or the Saraki political dynasty?
I am a creation of God but on a serious note, I am a creation of both journalism and the Saraki political dynasty. I say so because the two have contributed immensely in making me what and who I am today.
We understand you will be slugging in out with Hon Sakari Mohammed for Kwara State 2019 governorship?
You are just informing me about such a horse race, but there is a way we do things in Kwara state. We have a clear leadership and no one aspires for any position on his or her own.
We have a system that have been in place for over 40 years and I said it proudly that I belong to the Saraki political family. In line with the way we do things, when the time comes for the leadership to take a decision on this issue of who becomes the next governor of the state, the leadership will take such decision.
Kwara is not like some states where everybody can get up and fight for any position. We consider the best hand for any position and that is why the state is very stable. Have you ever heard people fighting over who get what ticket in Kwara? We have order and everything is structured.
Everybody gets things according to what he or she deserves. The system has a way of accommodating everybody’s ambition and interest. We don’t go about hitting up the polity thinking you can do things on your own. I will recommend the system to other states, so they can have stability like Kwara.