Barrister Adebayo Shittu is the immediate past Minister of Communication and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC. In this interview with TUNDE OMOLEHIN in Sokoto, he spoke with on his political disagreement with the late governor of Oyo state, Abiola Ajimobi, why President Muhammadu Buhari failed to reappoint him as minister in 2019 and what the party can do to retain power in 2023.
The 2023 general election is fast approaching, how is your party gearing up for the battle ahead?
Of course, we have leadership calls but I can say it is a very fluid thing. Before 2023, there would be aspirations by various groups and individuals from various parts of the country, aspirations will differ but at the end of the day it is God that decides the fate of our party and that of individuals within the party. One thing that is certain to me is that APC will continue to be the leading party in Nigeria. We’ve had the good fortune of a President who has shown the best in terms of transparency. He is someone that has displayed selfless leadership; a president who cannot be linked with any immoral or corrupt dealing. He has been providing the leadership we deserve. Of course, Nigeria’s challenges are so monumental but the president is doing his best for this country. So, as for our party, I can assure you that it has continued to gear up for the next election through engaging members on lots of reforms. I am confident that things will work for our party in the forthcoming elections.
The party’s caretaker committee has embarked on the mission of uniting the party members ahead of 2023. What is your assessment of their performance so far?
Well, I’m optimistic that they would be able to achieve their targeted goals. You will agree with me that the committee was given six months initially to do such reforms and restructure the party. But because of COVID-19 pandemic and EndSARS protests, that was slowed down until now. But I am confident that the party will be reshaped for new membership and leadership.
Ebonyi State governor recently joined your party. What is your view on his defection?
Well, it is a welcome development because he is a governor from the Southeast. You will recall that the geopolitical zone has always been core states of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. For more than eight years, we have only had an Imo state controlled by our party. We thank God Ebonyi state governor, who is one of the best performing governors in the Southeast decided to join APC. For me, it is a welcome development and shows that APC is getting acceptance across the country. It is a signal that this party will continue to gain acceptability in all other non-APC states.
There are insinuations that such defection could be the South Eastern zone’s step towards getting a president of Igbo extraction. Do you see it that way?
For me, nobody can determine what will happen tomorrow. I always say this that when we voted for Buhari in 2015, we didn’t vote for him because of his tribe’s identity or based on his state of origin. We wholeheartedly voted for him because he was the best for the country. So, talking about Igbo presidency doesn’t make any sense. I mean we could have well been talking of Yoruba presidency. What Nigerians need is to get the best person for the job, rather than empathizing ethnic bigotry. We need the most efficient personality who could run this country irrespective of his tribe or ethnic lineage. For me, I don’t think we need to emphasize where the person comes from. Let us go for the best hand to run this country because once you have a president, all our destiny is in his hands including our resources and affairs. It’s like you are journeying through an aircraft and you are asking the tribe of the pilot. That is not what is relevant. It is the efficiency, effectiveness and knowledge of the job that matters.
But the issue of rotational presidency has always been key in Nigeria’s political discourse. Are you canvassing for its abolishment?
To me, the emphasis should be on merit.
Because we want the best hand. Although, I am not de-emphasizing the political value of any tribe. But supposing, doing the rotation for it, can you imagine that some zone may not get capable hands to present for the presidency? Ruling a country like Nigeria is not a tea party. It requires a lot of wisdom, knowledge and energy owing to our vast geographical strength and population. For me, I want to think like a twenty-first century politician.
Don’t you think that abolishment of rotational presidency may cause lots of mis-feelings among politicians?
But the word rotation was not even provided for in our constitution or electoral act. What I am saying is this; let Nigerians look for the best candidate to run our affairs.
Some are worried about the fate of APC after President Buhari’s presidency in 2023. What is your take on that?
I want to assure you that the party is looking beyond 2023. Nobody should think APC will sink after President Buhari’s tenure. The party has come to stay in Nigeria’s political space. Right now, a lot of people within the party have been groomed for leadership positions and to take over from the incumbent president. APC will continue to throw up equally competent, selfless and patriotic leaders like President Muhammadu Buhari.
You were one of his cabinet ministers that supported President Buhari for his re-election. But many were surprised that you couldn’t get his support to serve in his cabinet for a second term. What went wrong?
No wrong doing and no mis-feeling whatsoever. You see, I represented Oyo state in his cabinet in 2015. The state is made up of about seven million people. If I had the privilege of being a minister for three and half years, that is great. If, for instance, it was billed that every Oyo state indigene should be a minister for just three months, many people wouldn’t still have that opportunity to be a minister from the state. Not even up to ten percent of Oyo indigenes will have such opportunity. So, for me, I appreciate the opportunity I had and both the lessons and benefits of that privilege will live with me for life. Before I became a minister, I was a local champion in Oyo state. By the grace of God, today, I am a national figure. I am satisfied and pray that my successor from Oyo state will also be able to achieve much more than I had achieved.
You wanted to be Oyo state governor in 2019, but failed to clinch the party’s primary ticket? What went wrong?
Yes, I was frustrated by the late governor, Ajimobi, who feared that I was too principled for his liking. I was told, he used to say that he could not afford Buhari as President and another ‘Buhari’, referring to me, to succeed him. He would tell you that if Shittu succeeds him, he could be in jail. That was his belief. And he did everything he could do to frustrate me. I accepted all that. Maybe that was how God wanted it. The future is still there before me and whatever God wants me to be in future, I would be.
Was it a gang up fight or issue of zoning arrangement?
It was not a gang up fight. It was a clear one-man fight against me. I was a one-man mischief. He just felt that Shittu was too principled. Maybe he wanted someone he will be able to control. Unfortunately, I have seen it that if I am not given the ticket, the party may lose. I made it clear but nobody listened to me.
What kind of reform did you want your party to undertake before 2023 general elections to avert some of the issues you just raised?
You see, the issue of merit must always be uppermost. The issue of democratic selection must always be adhered to. Trying to impose candidates as well as preventing qualified people from having access to party members in making their choice should be discouraged at all levels. In Nigeria, so many governors are so powerful that they want to dictate the party system for their selfish reason. For a progressive party like APC, we must ensure that that doesn’t happen anymore. When there are primaries, it should be transparent. Selection should be done on a meritorious basis. Not people conspiring to disqualify competent candidates like the then Oyo governor did in coalition with Adams Oshiomhole. So, merit must be the yardstick. There must always be a primary election. And the selection process should be transparent. If these are not put in place, then we must be ready for its consequences. My appeal is that the era of cutting corners should be over. We must always ensure that votes of party members count in all primary elections.