From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
National Vice Chairman (North West) of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Salihu Lukman, has opened up on the chances of his party in next year’s presidential election, warning it would be foolhardy to dismiss the threats posed by the trio of Atiku Abubakar, Peter Obi and Rabiu Kwankwaso, the candidates of PDP, Labour Party and NNPP respectively. He spoke on various issues in this interview.
What will the APC tell Nigerians when the campaign starts next month?
This is the first time in our democratic experience that candidates emerged and campaigns did not start immediately. INEC has reason for making the time gap between the emergence of the candidates and the commencement of the campaign almost three months.
However, the good thing about that is that it has also enabled political leaders to engage one another in consultations. At least, for my party, in the APC, consultations have been going on which ordinarily would have produced a decision without resort to such.
In 2014, for instance, when Buhari emerged the APC candidate, the period of consultation was so short. If I remember very well, Buhari emerged on December 10, 2014, and the running mate emerged in less than a week because the deadline for submission to INEC was very short.
Consultation was narrow, and didn’t involve the wide spectrum of party leaders. But, now the time makes people have stronger say in the process leading to the composition of the campaign council.
I will say that consultations are taking place and different layers of agreements are emerging. Part of the big challenge, however, is whether agreements will be respected. Our experience so far in politics, which is part of the challenge of this democracy, is that people, who are more or less like election merchants, presenting themselves in every election circle as candidate and aspirants, dispute every candidate that emerges, are still there.
It is not peculiar to APC, and not unique to PDP. It cuts across all the political parties. And check, especially at the presidential level, we have a situation where all the candidates are known faces in terms of electoral politics in this country at the highest level. The only exception perhaps is even the candidate of the APC. The last time Tinubu appeared on the ballot was in 2003.
It is not the case, at least with the other three popular support parties, PDP, NNPP, and Labour Party, which is a faction of the PDP because the candidate was on the ballot in 2019.
These are some of the challenges and for us in the APC, in North West, despite the challenges, internal dispute going on, it will be about managing and regulating these election merchants. Fortunately for us, we are aware of the reality also. Their objective all their lives, what they do is to ensure that they have surrogates who they plant as so called party leaders, from wards to local governments to state level and if they are strong enough, to the national level.
Many of the states where officials of the party are defecting to other parties, it is because their godfather, election merchant or whatever they are called that could not get a ticket from our party have moved and got elsewhere.
In order to damage APC, they put in so-called resignation letters but there is nowhere in the party’s and national constitution where they have to write a resignation letter to leave a party. They did not write an application letter when they joined. They should just present themselves, and their membership cards and move on.
I think the challenge where many party leaders behave as surrogates to the election merchants is largely because there is no clarity in terms of what political parties are doing from date.
Ward level structures, local government structures, state level, zonal and even at national level, how funds come in is so abnormal. I mean, there are no defined sources of funding. At the Constitution of the party, you will see some attempt to define it, but it doesn’t translate to a specific amount of money, stream of money coming in periodically.
And that is why you find at all levels, that is hardly a practice. So, the party leader exists just in name. How we survive is dependent on how we can access campaign funds which belong to the election merchants. We are now working at the level of our zone on clear funding proposals. We will sit with the relevant structures of the party to get some commitments and agreement.
I believe if we are able to work successfully over the next period of two, three, or four years to address a number of that, the incidences of people just coming into political parties, for the purpose of contesting elections can be minimized, not eliminated by the next election circle.
It will still be there, but the main function of a political party which is about delivering on services to people to know the elected representatives can begin to be exercised. We can only do that if parties are able to regulate the conduct of the elected representatives. The current existing template is the other way round where the elected representatives regulate the conduct of political parties. That has to be changed.
To be fair to President Buhari, APC has maintained a level of sanity from the ongoing madness. The madness has been minimised in APC, largely when you take the headcount of people that come into the party from other parties with the purpose of contesting election. It is almost zero.
When you take headcount of people that left the APC to contest election in other parties, the traffic is more in that direction. Go back to 2007 when PDP was the ruling party under President Obasanjo, there were many cases of people who were not PDP members, coming to Abuja, got approval of the President, sanction by Amodu Ali who was the national chairman, communicated down the line and those people will emerge party candidates.
There were many of these instances. So, it is not about APC being the ruling party but the fact that President Buhari has succeeded in a way to present a different leadership model in politics, which is not about pushing people to contest elections.
Even the mere fact that we are able to manage ourselves in the presidential primaries with all the different problems that emerge at the last minute, if President Buhari had indicated strong interest in ensuring that one particular person emerged, it would have broken the APC.
For the mere fact that he stepped aside, interest didn’t become the issue it was. So, a decent election took place, produced a candidate and we accepted the result. I think that is the required leadership model.
Don’t you think that Buhari insulating himself from the management of the party could be interpreted as being responsible for the madness in the party?
It is either we want to respect the freedom of people or not. I think the most important thing is whether we want to allow freedom to be exercised rascally in such a manner that breaches agreements.
The behaviour of northern Christians emerged at agreements reached. The same people, who campaigned for our candidate in the first place, become aggrieved against him and against the party simply because their choices of running mate did not emerge.
You can hardly do anything about that even if you have a president who is ready to descend on everybody or a party that wants to do so. What brought the PDP to where it is today was the same problem, and that is why they have reached a point of no return.
The level the PDP is now, until their leaders are humble enough to acknowledge that freedom cannot be exercised in a draconian way, they cannot resolve their challenges. Whether we like it or not, democracy is about contest, which means that there must be a basis for disagreement.
Now, what is required is for democracy, whatever system we have in place, to have a way of ensuring that the crisis is resolved in a way that if you win, I will concede victory and vice-versa and we will work together.
Unfortunately, all the problems we have in politics were created because PDP has, over the years; given us a leadership model in politics that doesn’t recognise freedom and what does not allow for fair contest.
With all our challenges, we have been struggling to ensure some level of fair contest. The main point is that there has to be a strategy to develop the structure of political parties. Since June 2020, the APC has been undergoing a rebuilding process.
We sacked a National Working Committee, put up a Caretaker Committee which became an authority unto itself, and refused to listen to anybody. The vision that pushed people to support the dissolution of the NWC was abused.
One of the visions was that within six months after the dissolution of the NWC, new leadership would emerge in December 2020 to have enough time to coordinate the process of candidate emergence for the 2023 elections.
But what did you see? We had a situation where the Caretaker Chairman wanted to sit and organize the primaries to produce candidates for 2023. That was responsible for the different extensions of the tenure of the Caretaker Committee which almost led to a crisis.
By the time we had the convention that produced us as members of the NWC; we had less than a few weeks to start organizing primaries. It was such a difficult challenge. We are able to organize primaries. We had to start rebuilding the structures of the party that was supposed to have been done by the Caretaker Committee.
Deep down, what are your fears for the APC in the 2023 presidential election?
What I said about our presidential candidate not being on the ballot paper since 2003, was on a positive note and to demonstrate that he is not among those I called election merchants. He had every reason to have aspired in 2007, 2011, 2015, and 2019, but he did not. He rather engaged in politics differently and that cannot be said of other candidates whether Atiku, Kwankwaso or Peter Obi.
I will not descend to the level of challenging their competence; they may be competent but in terms of personal integrity and trustworthiness in politics, Tinubu has it more than them. He is the one, together with the running mate, that has not changed their political parties on account of aspiring for election, which means that they are people with some level of consciousness and integrity.
What that means is that trust can be invested in them more than people who when they don’t get what they want in a particular spot, they move to another place. Now for me, these are the issues to highlight. We are ready to debate it as a party, not issues about health challenges, or others that cannot be verified.
On my fears, if I have any fear, it is about how to strengthen accountability and strengthen the capacity of the party to influence the initiative of the elected officials. I have argued and still argue that for us in APC, what is required in this election is for us to have the honesty to review and look at what we promised people between 2015 and 2019, what are the gaps which I believe exist.
What is it that needs to be done in order to address those gaps, what are the new challenges and what we need to do as a party to continue to rule this country to address those challenges.
Now, there are challenges which ordinarily are human but not about criticizing them. We will get them wrong if we do. Issue of security challenge, for instance, is among the ones over politicised. People wrongly said we used the same approach in 2014 and 2015 like Goodluck Jonathan, but it is not true.
Jonathan and PDP were completely in denial then about those security challenges. If you remember when the Chibok thing happened, there was a delegation from Borno, led by Governor Shettima, himself, but what was the response of Patience Jonathan that Shettima had to shed tears publicly.
Nobody is denying that the railway attack between Kaduna and Abuja didn’t happen. Nobody is denying that the attack on Kuje prison did not happen. I am as aggrieved as any other Nigerian because I could have been involved because I hardly spent two weeks without travelling to Kaduna.
It does not matter whether I am APC or PDP. We all face the same security challenges. Just like every other Nigerian, I want my government to address this challenge because I don’t know whether I will be the next victim. This is the reason we don’t need to politicise it. As far as I am concerned, we must prepare the campaign in such a way that there are answers to these challenges which Nigerians can see and commit themselves to.
In addition to that, the capacity of the party and all of us in the leadership of the party should direct and influence the conduct of all elected representatives to be stronger than what it is today.
Apart from security challenges, don’t you think that the APC government has also failed in other areas including economy and fixing the refinery?
On the issue of the economy and all the other challenges bordering on the welfare of citizens, cost of living, I think part of the challenges we face and I really feel bad about this, because as a younger person in school, one of the things that we are very passionate about is knowledge.
We don’t look at Nigeria in isolation from the world. That was why for instance, ideological politics was very strong, up to the 90s. But today, you have a situation where elementary reasoning and sentiment, the application of knowledge; there have been media reports about protests, in advanced countries, about cost of living, which in a way is consuming leaders.
My argument is that what is happening in Nigeria is not in isolation. If we are going to be fair to the APC government, we have to look at the challenge. The main challenge before the APC government came in was that the only source of revenue has always been petroleum.
Secondly, there was a lot of corruption. Even when taxes were paid, they were not even reflected in the account of the government. The whole cry about diversification has all been there. PDP government in 2006 and 2007 voted about N200 billion to support agriculture and disbursed the money as loans to presumed farmers which were never recovered and nothing came out of that.
Immediately APC came in November 2015, one of the things introduced was Anchor Borrowers, which in fairness was one of the success stories of this administration. Different initiatives in agriculture production have yielded results in such a way that you can now see that there is improvement in our economy. We may not be where we want to be but some progress has been recorded.
In infrastructural developments, jobs have been created. But the reality is that there are new challenges that have emerged. One of the challenges we faced was the fact that the world shutdown for months yet we ran normal life. Salaries were paid even when work was not done. Everybody operated normally and that is what the world is facing today. What we are facing in Nigeria is not an isolated case from the world reality.
As a party preparing to take up these challenges, we have to come up with a blueprint in terms of how to reposition the economy to bounce back. We have to realise that investment in public education is a necessity that should not be taken for granted.
Since 1985, the crisis we have had is that investment in public education has been frozen. It has been responsible for the gap we have today, where we have children without schools to attend or schools without teachers, and teaching materials.
Unfortunately, even our so-called public intellectuals led by ASUU are talking about money in very crude terms as if it is rainfall from heaven without giving a hood whether they are destroying the lives of the future generation. One of the crises that must be resolved politically is to restore sanity in a critical sector to drive the process of national development.
As a political party aspiring to lead the country, we must come up with a marshal plan which will involve hard negotiation with the stakeholders in those sectors about regulating their conduct and coming up with things that will conform with minimum standards to guarantee the development of the younger generation.
Don’t you think your party has made a mess of the anti-corruption crusade by pardoning those jailed for corruption despite Buhari’s campaign promises to fight corruption?
We have to go beyond sentiment. Those people before they were jailed were members of our party, if I am right. Part of the thing that was alleged was that we had a National Chairman who said if you join APC, your sins are forgiven. But, that was not the case.
Today, the Accountant General of the Federation is facing trial. Go and check how many persons that have been prosecuted and convicted under this government for corruption charges and compare it with how many people that were convicted under the previous government.
Part of the success stories about our corruption fight had to do with, not those perception issues but more about tangible results that have been got. For instance, even when revenue of the government from petroleum dropped substantially, earnings from non-oil sectors went up. This wouldn’t have been the case if the fight against corruption was not succeeding.
The success story has also produced another challenge whereby other federating units, state governments, in particular, are now making more claims about tax of government because it has now become substantial unlike before. All the facts about whether tax should be collected by states, which Rivers and Lagos States went to Court, is because the earning from VAT went up drastically.
It became attractive that people are like, this tax is not from Kaduna, it is from Lagos, and it is our own, without necessarily looking at the structure of how the taxes are coming. People have rightly said, for instance, that banks and other private organisations with branches all over the country, paid those taxes only at the head office, in Lagos irrespective of whether they operate in other parts of the country.
Of course, we can do better. Without reducing my engagement to propaganda, for or against the APC government, the truth is that APC is not a perfect party; no doubt about that, no perfect party exists. My being in APC is to make it better. I believe APC provides a better platform for people like me to make it better.
At least, we are debating, I can criticise leaders. For the media, my recommendation is that when you identify the gaps, find a way to engage the relevant people who should come up with the responses to those gaps.
How do you intend to campaign and convince Nigerians saying that the present administration has a failure baggage?
Life is about challenges. The challenges exist, no doubt about it but we will be honest, and open ourselves to engagement because democracy is a two-way thing. Many of the deceptive propaganda sponsored by the opposition against APC are that the solution to the problem lies outside APC. The solution to the problem does not necessarily reside in any political party but among Nigerians.
It is the capacity of Nigerians to respond by engaging political actors to be accountable, get them to be open to suggestions and recommendations that will produce the kind of solution we expect. Let nobody be deceived that APC is the problem, APC is not the problem. Yes! There are challenges that we are facing today which emerged while APC is in government but my pride is that our leaders are not in denial of those challenges unlike in the past.
If you look at candidates of other parties, they are not coming up with recommendations, they are coming up with propaganda to shoot down APC and Nigerians should be smarter than that
What competitive edge do you think APC candidate has over Atiku, Kwankwaso, Peter Obi?
The question of competition is not a function of just one party simulating it or responding to it. There is no doubt Atiku, Kwankwaso, Peter Obi are respected people in politics. I will not toe the line of dismissing them. But like I said, in terms of edge and in terms of campaign, the advantage our candidate has is that he is not a regular election merchant.
Unlike the other candidates, he has never left the party for any other party, which means higher level of integrity and trustworthiness. It is up to Nigerians to make their conclusion.
That does not stop Nigerians from making choices they want; democracy is about making choices but our business as a party and leaders is to promote our candidate and engage the competition in a way that people acknowledge and recognise their differences.
There is a growing discontentment among some disgruntled aspirants who participated in the last APC convention over the failure to fulfill the directive from the presidency for their money to be returned, but they have not despite writing several letters…
I can answer that because it is part of the unfortunate internal challenges. Administratively, this should have been resolved long ago. For instance, in my own case, about four people stepped down for me and they have been talking to me. I have been drawing the attention of the party and I think now it is clear that the party has to resolve it as quickly as possible. I can assure that is going to happen.