Only credible electoral process can guarantee good governance, says Oshiomhole

As the National Chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole does not pull punches when it

Adams Oshiomhole

comes to talking about the party and the government is formed at the federal level. In this interview with KABIR ALABI GARBA, Deputy Editor, and LEO SOBECHI, Assistant Politics Editor, the APC chairman insisted that only continuous improvement in the electoral system would guarantee good governance. He also spoke about President Buhari’s Next Level cabinet and explained the challenges confronting the party in its determination to fulfill its promises to Nigerians, as well as its chances in the forthcoming gubernatorial polls in Bayelsa and Kogi states.

How will President Muhammadu Buhari’s next level cabinet meet the expectations of Nigerians with rising insecurity and debts?
These issues were well captured in our campaigns and President Buhari was consistently reminding Nigerians that the three issues – economy, security, and anti-corruption – of which this government was elected in 2015 remain ever valid.

Now, we did not pretend that we have solved the problems. I think we have moved the country out of recession and achieved a positive growth rate of about two per cent. But, we also acknowledged that a two per cent growth rate cannot be the basis to address poverty on a sustainable basis. So, we need to grow the economy far in excess of the population growth rate.
 
Ideally, we should be able to hit six to seven per cent. How do we get there is the challenge of this government. On the debt profile, people must have a clear understanding of how the debts accumulated. By the time we took over the government in 2015, Nigeria was already a heavily indebted nation even at a time of surplus revenue for one reason or the other, which I don’t want to go into now. 
 
At that time, the cost of servicing debts was already very huge. So what happened is, as you look for money to service those debts, more debts accrued. Sometimes, when you cannot service all your debts, you recapitalize your interest and the debt itself keeps increasing.
 
Of course, we had to borrow, and we borrowed sensitively to deal with issues of critical infrastructure, particularly roads and rail. You are never going to have a competitive Nigerian economy without rail or good roads in addition to stable power supply.

Now there are still huge challenges in those areas. That was why in that policy dialogue, we emphasized that the government has to radically cut cost. There is still a lot of wastages in the system. We do not need a lot of agencies and parastatals that have constituted parasites in the system. So given the resource gap, we do need to find the courage to do a couple of things differently. We also talk about reducing the frequency of foreign travels and the size of Nigeria delegation to foreign activities which is very huge demurrage on our resources. When you hear of recurrent expenditures, people often mistakenly assume it is about salaries and wages, no! Some times when you put together what goes into estacodes, BTA, avoidable trips, all of that was discussed.

The President left everyone in no doubt that tough decisions need to be taken to deal with cost. You can do something about your cost, but you can do too little about your income because since oil for now still remains, unfortunately, the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, the price and even the quantity we can sell is almost beyond us because it is regulated by OPEC and other international dynamics. But we can sit down, look inward as we tried to do and say, what do we do differently to reduce the cost of governance so that we can get the resources to deal with infrastructure.

On security, the point is also clear, no question about the fact that you cannot achieve economic development in the face of insecurity. However, we have to acknowledge that this government in its first term did a lot to decimate Boko Haram and weaken their capacity. I saw television images of how the United Nation’s headquarters in Abuja was attacked by Boko Haram, such that people were afraid to go to shopping malls.

Of course, these are things in the past now. But, there is no doubt that we need to deal with the issue of kidnapping and other crimes. Like I used to joke with the Minister of Labour that he was the first person to be kidnapped when he was a governor. That is in a lighter mood. But you know that kidnapping started under the PDP regime. Then they were targeting white people, but now it is everywhere. It is something we will continue to deal with and the security agencies must devise new ways and means. Indeed, security chiefs should re-examine their tactics.

Do change tactics involve changing the service chiefs?
I leave that to the judgment of the President because the President is a seasoned General and knows the Armed forces more than I can ever claim. What matters to me is that whoever is there, whether new or old, must recognize that as the nature of criminality keeps changing, the dynamics keep changing. We must be able to re-examine our tools. Also, we must be seen to deal with soldiers who are doing what they are not supposed to do.

Let me say this, these are issues we need national unity to deal with. When I see people trivializing it and ethnic champions taking over the issues, reducing and approaching them from ethnic perspectives, it is very unhelpful.

I think when Nigeria’s security is at stake; we must cast away ethnic champions. They must allow for an objective and constructive national conversation on how to deal with the issues. We all are supposed to be players because these people live with us in our communities. So, if we all spare some time and look around, and report suspicious people to the appropriate authorities and recognize that we have that as a duty, I think half of the problem will be solved. Everybody must contribute to peacebuilding to secure the nation. That is the best way to go.

But some argue that restructuring and state Police would address the issue of insecurity?
APC is the only party that has taken the issue of restructuring seriously, to the point of setting up a panel headed by Governor (Nasir) El-Rufai. Remember, President Obasanjo set up a political conference in his time, his successor President Jonathan also set up one. Is it not to their shame that after spending taxpayers’ money to set up those structures for a national conversation, in the end, they did not come out with any specific policy measures? It is the APC that did not set up those panels that set up a committee to look at some aspects of the recommendations.
 
I believe the conversations are going on, I have read in the papers that the Revenue Mobilization Commission is doing something. But, I think that whatever anybody wants to say, it is to our credit that we have taken the debate further by setting up a committee. Did you ever hear that PDP set up any committee? If they have, who is the chairman, who are the members and what report have they turned out?

Why are you calling out PDP when they are no longer in government?
No, they were in government. They did not have to be in government to act. If you understand the job of a political party, it does not end with elections.

We must continue to engage our people in government. That was why I spoke on behalf of APC over what is going on in South Africa, even though the Federal Government is doing its own thing.

PDP exists as a party and has some states under its control. It is not beyond opposition to produce their own idea of restructuring, but they have never given a clue as to how they want it done. For 16 years, they set up two bodies for a national conversation on the Nigerian project, but are not on record as having produced a draft on how they want Nigeria restructured other than cheap pronouncement.

I think we should push people to specifics. APC has gone to some level of trying to address the specifics. What they (opposition) should do is to say, going forward, how do we fast track conversation on that. The Nigeria project is not something that only one party will do, because we will need a national platform to deal with that.

But let us be honest, the most fundamental thing to restructure is our heart, our attitude to governance. When you evaluate the issues, they seem to have federal character whether in the North, South, East, West… The issue, for example, of not allowing Local Government to function or even where they are allowed, is it as prevalent in the North or in the South? Also, when you look at corruption and its devastating impact on our lives and the economy, on public services, you find a complete federal character.

So, if we do not restructure our attitude and return to basic ethics, we may remain where we are for eternity. I am not talking about moral rearmament because that is neither here nor there. But, I think if our attitude to governance remains the same, we will have issues. For example, when people talk of state police, as a governor then, I had difficulties agreeing with my colleagues. When at close range in a conversation with governors and I see how they use their state instruments against the opposition, not only against opposition but also against individuals considered not to be friendly to the governor. The best example is the state Electoral Commissions; can you point at a state that it’s Electoral Commission has done anything near what INEC has done, even with criticisms against INEC’s imperfections in all the elections it conducted?

So, people should not talk as if once you decentralise you have a solution. I also ask myself, in my early 20s, in Kaduna and even in Edo, there was what they called native authority police. The day they were abolished, there was huge celebration outside, because they were brutal, particularly to those not from the state.

The problem is that when we take one step forward when we have one issue, we take one step backward. Can you imagine what will happen if for any reason a state government is not able to pay policemen armed with AK47, who are in its employment for two months?

How do you feel concerning the negative reports about the 2019 poll by some international election monitors?
The question should be how neutral were those so-called monitors that you often refer to? What were the findings of the African Union? I don’t subscribe to the notion that the Blackman is inferior, so when you selectively list what some people have said, I must remind you of what others said that you cleverly chose to ignore.

In Edo State, nobody was killed, in Kwara, I didn’t hear of anybody killed there. So, if there were violence in one or two states is that a basis for a credible organization to engage the sweeping generalization and condemnation? The truth of the matter is that there are some foreign interests that came with the mindset of regime change. That was why the opposition was appealing to those interests, by talking about handing NNPC over, that they were going to auction the Nigerian nation to appease foreign interests. That they were going to float the naira so that IMF will govern the country again so that all those stuff they did to underdevelop the continent will continue.

It was clear that this government’s determination to proffer home-grown solutions that did not agree with what the international financial organizations considered to be settled issues are part of the frustrations of those who wanted regime change. I had the opportunity of engaging some of the Ambassadors that went to the extent of commenting on our criminal justice system.

How can an Ambassador tell me that the Federal Government should not have replaced a CJN that had multiple foreign accounts, something that will not be tolerated in Britain, France or Washington! They thought that in Nigeria we should accept it as a way of life as one of them told me, because elections are coming.

Again there are people who feel that the West must impose their economic values on Nigeria. It is a pity that this conversation is taking place around what might appear to be naturally a partisan political divide. I have my reservations about INEC, which I voiced out, particularly how the elections were postponed.

I came out in the morning only to hear that elections had been postponed. We can discuss some of those things, but at the end of the day, the truth is that improving our electoral system is work in progress. But I refuse to admit that we benefited more. I believe that we won Akwa Ibom State, but we were rigged out. I believe we won in Delta State and we were rigged out, the same thing in Imo State.

So, I am the last person to celebrate those elections, provided you are not suggesting that that is why President Buhari won. I want to suggest that that is why we lost some states to PDP. Look at the situation in Sokoto, where elections were not concluded, but INEC went ahead to declare results. Although we have our reservations, we believe in the saying that you don’t throw away the baby with the bathwater. But, as a Nigerian, I believe that our long-term interest as a people must be to retain the power to hire and fire any government and that is what makes democracy superior to dictatorship.

And for that power to reside in the hands of Nigerians, the electoral process must be clean, free and fair. I launched one-man one vote because people like me couldn’t have been governor if the votes do not count. My being chairman of APC is not enough to devalue my commitment to ensuring clean elections.

There are many RECs (Resident Electoral Commissioners) who ought to be fired but were not fired by INEC even in the face of overwhelming evidence that they were compromised. There was nothing we could do, but as Nigerians, we must continue to do all we can to sustain improvements in our electoral process.

Could you rate the chances of APC in Kogi and Bayelsa gubernatorial polls, especially your initial reservations about the incumbent’s performance in Kogi?
We have better hope now. Don’t forget that Kogi was a no-go area. Especially the security situation in Kogi before now, when more than 30 people were kidnapped and some killed on the highway.

People may have forgotten that between Idris Wada and his predecessor, they left behind huge unpaid salaries, but the incumbent governor (Yaya Bello) just announced last week that he has paid salaries for August, so things have changed.

The choice is about comparing one to the other, it is not absolute. So, if we compare the performance of our governor in Kogi State and his predecessor, I believe we have a good chance of winning.

In Bayelsa State, I also believe that people are tired of PDP. If you know the number of resources that accrued to Bayelsa State with only eight local government areas, when you go to Yenagoa you will ask yourself what they did with the money. That is a PDP state, where a former PDP President came from. There is a huge gap between what is accrued and what can be seen on the ground.

The electorate is going to vote on the basis of fact. And we have a young man, who has contributed his own quota in fighting against pollution and exploitation of the Niger Delta. With him as our candidate, we have a good chance of winning.

You have been blamed for the crisis in your home state of Edo, how far has the reconciliation process gone between you and Governor Godwin Obaseki?
Everybody in Edo State, particularly those of APC stock are my people. We founded the party from ACN to APC. It hurts when people can’t make a distinction between policy positions and unhealthy debate about options in dealing with specific issues. Let me start with the issue of the inauguration of the Edo State House of Assembly. I was governor when PDP had 16 members against eight members of ACN then. We had to learn to live with the reality that the parliament was in the hands of opposition, so all we needed to do was to cultivate ways and means of playing up what united us as a people and getting the opposition to recognise that we were all elected even from different political parties for a purpose, namely, the sustainable development of Edo State.

We managed that until the people favoured us with the majority. Right now in Edo, we are obviously far more fortunate that all the 24 members of the House are APC faithful. So, no matter the differences about preferred speakers, I did not think it was enough to breach all the rules, regulations, customs and traditions that are well entrenched regarding the simple straight forward matter of proclaiming a House of Assembly.

When I see Nigerians taking sides on it, I just pity people who can’t make a difference between your personal affection or love for someone and dealing with issues of principles and law. Now, I remain convinced that it is not in the interest of our democracy for nine members to inaugurate a House at 9:30 p.m so that a particular person can emerge as Speaker and in the process, excluding 15 members. I understand the Supreme Court in another judgment has described the time as nocturnal hours.

Nine persons cannot elect the Speaker or the Deputy on behalf of 24 members. Number two; it is also the tradition and the law that when elected by your various constituencies, on the day of the inauguration, the proclamation is not treated as a state secret to be shared with the favoured ones.

The proclamation must be published, stating time and date. Nigerians who followed inaugurations in the 36 states and FCT, particularly the last one at the federal level, know for a fact that a proclamation letter must be communicated by the clerk to all the members-elect so that they can go on a particular day with their families and loved ones.

Now to try and do that at 9:30 p.m, even if it was my biological son, God will give me the courage to tell him that the law governs the institution. The Parliament is an autonomous arm of government, delete it and there will be no democracy.

So, I found it strange that because we pointed out what I thought would be obvious to every Nigerian that first, some of the members of the nine out of 24, who are already in the minority, four of them on tape, have said they were invited for an informal conversation with the deputy governor, then they were bundled into a waiting vehicle and driven to the House of Assembly. And they were forced to take an oath of office against their wish.

One of them was dressed in short knickers when he went to buy suya. These are facts, the people have spoken and they are still alive, they are still protesting. Then somebody turns around to say that because I am the national chairman of the party, I ought to look the other way. If it is wrong in Bauchi for them to do secret inauguration, how can it be accommodated in Edo State?
For me, these are the issues and it is shameful that in this case, all 24 are APC members. As a former governor who had the privilege of presiding over Edo State for eight years, there is little or nothing a government can do in the final analysis. I was there at Government House Benin, not too far away from Anthony Enahoro’s building, where the parliament sits, and I heard that the parliament met and decided to change their leadership. There was nothing I could do about it because it is their privilege. So, I did not really know what the issues are. So, it is not between me and the governor and anybody suggesting that it is between me and the governor is just being mischievous. It is about what is right and what is wrong.

About the governor’s second term ambition, will you support him again as you did before?
At any meeting of all the various tendencies within the APC, we remind ourselves of what unites rather than what divide us working together wholeheartedly. With everybody given a sense of belonging, there is no reason we cannot continue to defeat PDP and no reason Obaseki cannot win re-election. But let me say, even if Obaseki thinks of himself as an angel, and he is a candidate of a party that is fragmented, he will need miracles.

That is why I still tell him, let’s embrace peace, but it is absolutely incorrect for the governor to say anybody asked him to share money. If he insists, let him mention names. But, what I have advised him is to reconstitute the boards, let people become members. The only way we can win elections is to show presence across the 192 wards in Edo State. I believe there is still enough time for the governor to make up by encouraging in good faith the peace effort that many of our mutual friends have offered so that we can give everybody a sense of ownership of the government. The beauty of democracy is that when you have elected a government you can say that is my government.

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