Ibrahim Kasai is a former Nigerian Ambassador to Ukraine and member of the Board of Trustees, President Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organization. He warned against maintaining the status quo in the APC and called for a review of the party’s constitution ahead of the 2023 general elections, stressing that if not, the party will collapse. He spoke with GYANG BERE in Jos.
There has been this public debate on whether the APC has gathered more momentum and gained more acceptability under Comrade Adams Oshiomhole or otherwise since he took over the leadership of the party in 2018, what do you think?
Well, in other words, you want me to assess Adams Oshiomhole. I don’t think it is apt for me now to say anything about Adams Oshiomhole but for the sake of clarity I want to say that Oshiomhole has a lot of job in his hands if he is to take this party to a greater level. One of it is looking at the constitution of APC; going through it, you will find that the constitution is like a temporary document just to put people in offices and not a document that should last because, it has given the Exco everything, all the delegates, 27 Exco members are all delegates in the wards and then you select only five people, it is not done that way. I have gone through various party constitutions right from the NPN days and I have not seen where you give the party to only Exco members. You have to acknowledge members that have come into the party, people that have left their own parties to joint the APC, you have to give equal opportunity to participate. But if you close your door, it’s like you are saying if you are not happy here, you can go elsewhere, that is not how to run a party; because the party is an open system, it is not a closed system, people join at will and they leave at will, if they are not comfortable they will leave. So if the party is to win election in 2023, the party’s constitution has to be reviewed and it should be done now, otherwise it will be too late.
Are you saying that there are key and critical party members that have been forgotten?
Of course, so many people are crying within the APC, they have been forgotten but what I believe is that the President is not in a hurry to appoint some people, he is doing it gradually but Nigerians are not patient, if you ignore the reward system in a political dispensation then it is at the risk of the future of your party. Those who have worked hard should be compensated, if you give positions to wrong people, then you will have internal squabbles within the party and that is why we say internal democracy must be promoted. In the First Republic for instance, those who managed the party were not in government, business people gathered money, formed political parties and they decide what happens to the party. Unfortunately, today, government money is used in funding the parties, it is unfortunate, this has to change and if we are fighting corruption, we should start from there. We should go back to the Second Republic perspective, in this case and I said it before, there was a mistake during the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida regime when they registered two parties and government money was used to fund them. I thought by now we should have changed from that, people got used to getting money from Government Houses to fund the parties, to support congresses, party primaries and it is not correct and the mistake is because the politicians are not patronized. If I am a politician today, perhaps I am a businessman, if I am not patronized by government, where do I go and get contract? Give me contract, from the proceeds of the contract, I will take care of the party from my local government or from my ward or in my state, that is how it is done even in the United States and all over the world, that is how it is done. You patronize party members in businesses. But when you leave your members without patronage, that is why everybody is looking for appointment. If businesses are given to people, nobody will bother about appointments. If you are doing your business or manufacturing something, selling or distributing goods, what business do you have to do with government appointment? Now, government has become the only source of income generation or income derivation.
When you talk about party supremacy, and you have all party executive members as automatic delegates, is that not part of party supremacy?
No, that is not party supremacy. When you say supremacy of the party, it means the party has the final say on party matters. Why do people run to Government Houses when the party is in trouble, the Chairman of the party in a state should summon the governor to his office or to his house or to anywhere he wants to discuss party matters but that is not the case because government is funding any ruling party. The party is being funded from Government House which I say is wrong. You will find a governor having a say in a matter of a party, it is wrong, the money should come from party members. We were in NPN and during that time, Akinloye will call Shehu Shagari to his house and a caucus meeting will be held in Akinloye’s house in Lagos. The same thing here, NPP was in Government here. Late DB Zang will call Solomon Lar and he will go to DB Zang house in Gyel to discuss the future of the party and what will happen, that was Second Republic.
Are you asking APC to revert to that system of running a political party?
Yes, I have said it in many places that unless we revert back to that scenario, we will not get it right in this country. When we are fighting corruption, people think we are not sincere when they see these things happening. I said it last time that the President has tried his best by refusing to be the leader of the party but he is not being encouraged, people still take party matters to him, which is not correct. The President, of course he is being acknowledged as the father of the country and I think he should be allowed to handle governance, not party matters. He should not preside or direct party matters.
Former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu is the national leader of the APC and there are strong indications that he is coming out to contest the 203 presidency, is that right being the leader of the party?
I have made comment on that as well but he has the right to contest, every Nigerian has the right to contest. He is one of the leaders that formed this party, in fact to some extent, he was the one who formed this party in conjunction with about three or four parties. In politics of power sharing, each segment has the right to demand for a pound of flesh. If Buhari’s group has taken the presidency this time around, why can’t Tinubu group too demand for the opportunity as well because it is the same family. It is like a family of four children and if you are sharing something, everybody should be given his turn, if Tinubu desires to be President, he can be, why not?
There is this internal squabble within the APC as to where the presidency should be zoned in 2023. Some people are looking at geopolitical zones that have not produced the President in the spirit of fairness, equity and justice, what is your opinion in this regard?
Let me say this that I believe in the principles of Federal Character enshrined in the constitution and I also believe that the North and the South have this understanding, though it is not in the Constitution of the APC but the zoning thing is about common sense. If the North has had it, it is an opportunity for the South to also have it. If you are trying to deny Southerners from clinching the position, you are not being fair, the electorates will determine the result and APC has been talking about the rule of law and it must set an example. Let me also say that whenever you zone a position, you cannot deny some people the right to contest but the zoning thing is a moral burden on the leadership, it is not a legal thing. PDP has it in a document that they will be sharing between the North and the South but APC doesn’t have that document.
But does that give someone from the North the right to also contest the presidency in 2023?
Of course, I have said it, even where the party directs that zoning is no to this side, some people will still go against it, it is their right to contest.
What are your fears for APC ahead of 2023?
Well, ordinarily I shouldn’t have any fears but only when the constitution of the party is not reviewed to ensure that there is internal democracy, then there will be big problem. The issue is the same, this issue of internal democracy. If APC comes up with the issue of maintaining status quo again, there will be big problem.
Maintaining status quo in what sense?
Last time, there was a convention and they pleaded that status quo should be maintained, new people have come into the party and you said the old leaders should continue, it means you are denying people the right of choice, you are holding back internal democracy, therefore delegates should be elected, all party members should be given opportunity, forms should be sold, those who want to be delegates should buy those forms and sell themselves and those who have higher number of people through the scale should be picked, to say these are our delegates from this ward to a higher level.
But when you sit down because somebody is interested, the governor has interest in some people or some powerful candidates are interested in some people, they will direct the party chairman.at the Local Government Area that you must come up with this name, that is what spoils our democracy.
INEC recently deregistered some political parties on the basis of non-performance during the 2019 elections, is that decision right?
It is very right, INEC made me proud by deregistering those political parties. Some parties exist by name, no party offices, no structures and they constitute a problem to the ballot paper. This makes some people not to vote according to their conscience, when they get to the polling boot, they will just look at a symbol that resemble what they believe and thump print on it because of fear; you will see a long list of parties, it doesn’t make sense. Again, during the second republic if you don’t get 25 percent of total votes cast then you lose deposit.
Lose deposit in what sense?
You pay money to INEC to contest election, when you get 25 percent and you didn’t win the election, your money is returned back to you. It happened to me in 2003, although I didn’t win that election but my money was returned back to me because I almost won. I wonder where this laudable idea disappeared to, INEC is not applying that, if they have taken your money nothing returns back to you, candidates should be respected because they have contributed to the political system, any candidate that gets over 25 percent of the total votes cast, it shows that you are a serious candidate and those who don’t get up to that are seen as unserious candidate, therefore a non- performing party should work with another party.
There has been a lot of public outcry over the overstay of security chiefs in office, some say their tenure has expired long before now, what do you think should be as a lawyer?
Let’s first and foremost know that the President has a lot of prerogative powers and this insecurity we are faced with is an international problem. At times, in government there are guidelines and rules, these rules can be altered when there is a need. For instance, in the civil if you are over 60 years, you will not be engaged, but there is a clause, you need a waiver, if the government is in dire need of a particular person, he needs to have a waiver from the Head of Civil Service or Presidency and the same thing with Service Chiefs, they have their age limit and rules but the President can waive certain things to achieve a particular purpose, we must know this. I have had the outcry and even the younger military officers want to reach that level but some of them have been retired, some who are Juniors to the Service Chiefs have been retired, perhaps Mr. President believes and have so much confidence in the present Service Chiefs and it might not be save to allow some people take over the good work that they are doing, that could be a reason, I wouldn’t know.
What is your general assessment of security situation in Nigeria now?
The President has done his best by directing that the military should relocate to Sambisa forest, he has given so much attention to the North East where the insecurity is. The Air Force is there, the Army is there and they are doing their best. They are also being complemented by local vigilantes; these local hunters that we think they are not doing much, those are the people that know all these nooks and crannies, the local hunters should be employed, the concept of Amotekun and community policing should be intensified so that every village brings a report of what is happening. It is all about intelligence, it is not a conventional warfare, so fighting this kind of insecurity is through intelligence and the network providers should also be very proactive, so that the locals can communicate with the security agencies about suspected people in their communities.
The President will be rounding up his second tenure in 2023 and he is very instrumental to the survival of APC, do you think there can be APC without Buhari being the unifying factor in the party?
Yes, I believe there will be APC after Buhari, he is an important factor because he is a credible leader but don’t forget that many people are looking unto him, many people have learned from his style of leadership but I believe that after his tenure, APC will still be very very strong but only if a mistake is not made and the mistake will be failure to review this constitution, failure to promote internal democracy. Let the issue of maintaining status quo not be heard again. During a convention you will say party should maintain status quo, that is not good enough. The party leadership directed that the status quo should be maintained, meaning that from the national down to the ward, nobody should be changed from the party’s Exco unless if there is death or resignation.
You think that policy does not embrace those who defected into the party?
It doesn’t promote internal democracy, there should be election every time, people should be given opportunity to aspire, how do I join a party where I don’t have opportunity to be elected?
What do you think is the fate of people who recently joined the party?
That is what I am saying, that is my point, they are not on-lookers, that is the point I am making, people must be allowed to exercise their franchise, to exercise their freedom, you don’t say only Exco should form the bulk of the delegates, no. Let me tell you, the PDP constitution will only pick chairman of the party, secretary, treasurer, women leader and youth leader; five people to represent the party in the congresses and then other people will be elected.
You have worked with critical stakeholders in Nigeria since the second republic, how will you compare governance during that period and what we are having today, are we advancing?
Let me tell you, the military came and destroyed the ground plans for national development. There are two things I will mention here during the Tafawa Balewa regime. They had the dream to develop a strong and viral nation by dredging the River Niger from Port-Harcourt to Niger so that big ships can bring in goods to promote commerce and investment. Secondly, to develop the steel industry, these are two critical areas, the railway lines were there, they only needed to be expanded, the military came and destroyed all these dreams. Until now, President Buhari has revisited this, the work on River Niger is ongoing and I learned they have done tremendous work, the railway lines are being revived and expanded; Ajaokuta steel is being revisited, these are critical infrastructure that would have taken Nigeria far ahead but the military came and destroyed them. The opportunities that Olusegun Obasanjo, Umar Musa Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan had, Obasanjo was doing other areas like telecommunication and fighting corruption in a way but he didn’t go far. During President Jonathan regime, many things could not be done, corruption was high and now that President Buhari has come, he has been bold enough, people say he has been fighting corruption, he is not only fighting corruption, a lot of infrastructure is being put in place and that is where he has made the difference. Our hope is that we should get somebody who will continue with these projects, in the next 10 years Nigeria will be in a different place.