Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, has gone through the good, the bad, the ugly and most beautiful times propelling the ruling party’s communication machinery in the over one year period he has been in charge.
In this telephone interview with Sunday Sun, he speaks on wide range of issues, especially the war of attrition raging within the ruling party, the handling of the antics of the opposition party, the PDP, the challenges of running his office, and more importantly the good news from his home state, Kwara, after crumbling the Saraki political dynasty.
Having been there as the spokesperson of the ruling party for more than one year now, how would you describe the journey so far?
Well, I will say so far so good even though it has not been the most ideal situation. As a professional with lots of ideas, with grip of what to do and with good intentions to transform the way the party communicates to assist the government; I had to face the reality of the environment. We need resources to implement plans and programmes, yet the resources were not just available not to me alone, but everyone because of the era we found ourselves at the time that the country was virtually on nothing compared to what it made during the previous administrations. With the situation and in addition to a government that frowns at dipping hands in the public coffers, it has not been easy. We are expected to operate by the rule, which is what someone like me will prefer, but it means that we were not able to do lots of things. However, by and large, we have been able to do the best we can as situation allows. It is a matter of not what we can do, but a matter of what we were able to do.
Did you envisage the magnitude of the responsibility you met while taking over the office?
I will say that the bigger the responsibility, the better for me because it challenges my expertise and creativity. But, you also know that regardless of the responsibility, the wherewithal is also very important. However, we have been able to discharge that responsibility very well. Don’t forget that I am coming from a background with something to show for my competence and professional training, which has never been in doubt. I am not seeking validation from people on whether something is done right or wrong. The tougher the responsibility I have, the better for me because it will help prove my skill and competent.
What will you consider the most challenging period as the APC spokesperson?
The most difficult period since my assumption of office was during the general elections. It was a kind of positive and negative situation and feelings for me. Positive because I was happy, lucky and glad to serve under a President who insisted that we cannot use public funds for campaigns. It was good to operate under such circumstance. However, the negative part of it is the lack of resources to execute certain programmes. Running an election as the governing party and being in charge of publicity was challenging without budget. The party relied solely on what it could generate from members, whether through sales of forms or primaries or party membership subscription, which should be the ideal thing. Most times, we found ourselves deploying goodwill in the media rather than resources to achieve our objectives.
Is it not surprising that you did not add the spate of crises rocking the party as one of your challenging periods?
Perhaps, it can only take someone naive or who is not a politician to qualify what is going on in the party as crisis. I will rather continue to call it conflict and I will look at it from the positive perspective. It is a conflict that has provided opportunity for members to express their views and interest that ensured internal democracy with freedom of expression. The important thing is whether the party has a mechanism to ensure that the rules, decency and democratic principles prevail, and that is what the APC has proven consistently. Whatever noise or crisis people see or hear is not the important thing to consider. The most important thing is whether we have come out of it strong and evidences have shown that we have come out of it even stronger. The situation is welcome because it proves that the APC is not a party that everybody is forced to fall line in a predetermined direction. People push their opinions, interests, solution to issues and at the end of the day; we subject all of these to the rules, our constitution, and democratic ethos. This is what matters to us.
What really helped Oshiomhole to escape the trap set for him during the last conflict that engulfed the party?
Well, I did not see what happened during the last conflict as a trap for Oshiomhole. I rather saw it as a contestation and you should know that the most important ingredient to having a strong party politics and a rule-based political party is to have a leader who will insist on going by the rules. The greatest weapon of APC which makes it the most appreciated party is the person of President Muhammadu Buhari who has insisted that we play by the rule in every circumstance. So, in whatever you want to achieve, in whatever interest you want to push, whatever direction you want to go, it is not a problem, provided you operate by the rules.
The constitution is the barometer and once you measure with it and be convinced that it is the right thing to do, it will be fine, but if it is not, then you know that it cannot work. Therefore, each time you try and convinced that you will not get the backing of the President in anything illegal; people have realized that it is impossible for Mr President to support anything illegal. He has always insisted we follow the constitution and that is the greatest weapon of the APC. Once we all subject ourselves to that no matter the gravity of the crisis, it will be sorted out on a round table in line with the prescription of the constitution. At the end of the day, all the interests will be submitted to the common interest of the party.
Are you implying that the conflict did not rattle you considering the fact that it came from members of the NWC?
Whether we were rattled or not is not the issue, but whether their action was normal or ideal, expected or unexpected. I will say that it did not rattle me because it was expected. We have always known that interests must conflict and once it happens, there must be push and shove, resulting in commotions and struggle to outsmart each other. All these are part of democracy, but more importantly is whether the rule was adopted.
How confident are you coming out from the war your deputy declared against you?
I am aware that he threatened to deploy every machinery to remove me from office, but I am aware that the media tried to make mountain out of a molehill. I am also aware that our party has procedure for electing its officers and I got into this office through that procedure just as he got into his office through the procedure. But the media have been at their best in trying to create what they want to tag crisis. I have been operating in the capacity of the National Publicity Secretary of the APC. What is happening is just a media creation. I heard that he locked my office, but he could not have done that. There is no issue between me and my deputy because we are not sharing the same office and responsibilities. The media are not expected to report the illogical, they must scrutinise. The action of the media gets me worried.
Is the opposition party, the PDP, putting you under any form of pressure?
I am not under any pressure because I understand the game as a thorough bred professional. We had all the time to engage the PDP because we have to campaign for the election. But immediately after the elections, I concluded that in my own interest, that of my party and our government, to move away from politics and concentrate on delivering the mandate that majority of Nigerians elected us. We also understand the antics of the PDP to be in the media so as to remain relevant. I am not under obligation to grant them that request. We have deliberately given very little attention to the antics or whatever shenanigan that of the PDP has been doing. The deliberate strategy we have adopted has made it impossible for the PDP to put me under any form of pressure.
What is your impression that the APC will crumble after Buhari leaves office?
Why would anybody think that the APC will crumble after President Buhari’s tenure? Don’t forget that Nigerians had Otoge on the PDP in the 2015 elections. We proved after spending four years that it was better than the entire 16 years of the PDP government. We have President Buhari as a political asset which helped us win in 2019. Our mandate in the next four years is to live up to the expectations of Nigerians and by 2022 ahead of 2023, it will be obvious to Nigerians that they must not make the mistake of returning to the dark past of the PDP. They must continue on the trajectory that we are following now because evidences will speak for the APC. We are going to rely on what we have achieved, how we have delivered on our mandate, the level of infrastructure this government has put in place and how we have been able to make the country easy for doing business. With many things to show in addition to the fact that Mr President will still be around even as he is not going to contest again, it will be enough scorecard for us. We have everything going for us and essentially, nobody wants to associate with a failure like the PDP.
What is your take on the zoning arrangement in the APC especially for the 2023 presidency?
Unfortunately, we cannot dwell on the politics of 2023 in our party now. The seriousness of what we met on ground and the damage of nearly two decades are too big for us to concentrate on governance now. When it is time for politics, the party will address all the contending issues including whether there is zoning arrangement or not. The politics of 2023 is not on our table now. We just want to concentrate on bailing the country from the doldrums that the PDP threw it.
As the man in front of Otoge in Kwara, will you say that the state has gotten what it bargained to crumble the Saraki dynasty?
Of course, we have done that, Kwara is not better off post-Saraki. Our first target was to uproot the dynasty that has slowed down the progress of our state for nearly two decades. We achieved that even beyond our expectations. We have to thank the President, Adams Oshiomhole and many other stakeholders for their supports. We are very happy with what we have achieved crumbling the dynasty and it was actually beyond what we had imagined. Post-Saraki Kwara is far much better and I want to urge people to disregard what they read in the media as crisis between the governor and the Minister of Information. They all understand the magnitude of what is at stake and that is why you can never hear any of them talking negative about Kwara State or the government. I will urge anyone still in doubt whether post-Saraki Kwara is better to update themselves with what has happened in the last 10 months. I am aware that the EFCC has assisted our state in recovering some of the funds taken illegally by the outgone government. It means that the recoveries have corroborated what we have been saying about the previous government. For us, it is the greatest achievement because by the time we are able to protect the resources meant for all of us, the next thing will be how to deplore it for the wellbeing of the people of Kwara. We have confidence in the man currently championing the new political era in the state. He is prudent, he is an administrator, very capable and we are all solidly behind him. What made Otoge successful was to just remind Kwarans the reality of their lives. Once you say Otoge, enough is enough; every Kwaran understood that the end has come for those things we don’t want in the state. The only thing we lacked previously the support of the system to ensure that nobody has the luxury of manipulating the process and system against the wish of the people. It would have been settled long even before now, but unfortunately they have a system they could manipulate to their advantages against the peoples wish. What has changed was that they lacked the powers in 2019, resulting in the peoples will prevailing.
What is your assessment of the way the APC government has managed Coronavirus pandemic?
The fact on ground speaks positively for the APC administration. In every part of the globe, including those countries the PDP and the media will push as examples, we have done better than them on the issue of managing the pandemic. As I talk, we have recorded only two fatalities, understandably because of their previous ailments. We have shown that we are capable. On managing the fallouts as far as economy is concerned, we could see that we are commendably doing well with the government rolling out all sorts of palliatives. They include the reduction in the pump price of PMS and the support system given to the most vulnerable and poorest of the poor in the society. Lots of resources have been deployed to cushion the effects of the lockdown. We are doing fantastically well.
How ready is the APC government for post COVID-19 economically?
I can assure you that the foresight of this government is not contestable. The President has just put in place, an economic team headed by the Vice President. As we fight the health pandemic, we are not losing sight on the economy. We will continue to put structures in place to stabilise the storm so that at the end, we will still stand on our feet. I am not an economist to assure that there will be no recession, but if there are factors to deploy to ensure that there will be no recession, I can clearly say that I have the confidence that this government is capable of doing that having done it in the past.
What is the way forward to the threats posed by the two governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states on the APC considering the relationships between the party chairman and the two governors?
These elections whether they are coming up elsewhere will not be based on the best of friends, but by strict adherence to our rules. Since the rules are there, the players are not important. There will be no problem once we adopt the rules. You cannot reduce election to whether certain personalities are friends or enemies. Whatever you feel is the issue is created by the media so as to have something to feast on. The media should rather promote the system instead of individuals. You are asking me if we can deploy internal resolution mechanism, but have we not proven over time that our internal resolution mechanism is always our ever present and last weapon. We have learnt from whatever happened in Zamfara and Rivers states during the 2019 general elections and our system is up to the task.