KOKORI: The President Must Pay Attention To His Party

Chief Frank Kokori

Chief Frank Kokori

Chief Frank Kokori, former secretary general of National Union of Petroleum and Gas (NUPENG) told KAMAL TAYO OROPO that the blame for the crisis in the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) is on President Muhammadu Buhari, for not paying sufficient attention to events in the party. 

HOW would describe the events leading up to the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki as the President of the Senate, against opposition from his party? I was shocked; why should I not be. I was shocked because I have been in opposition for 15 years. I am one of those few Nigerians who craved for change.

We wanted the change to be total. Not that Saraki is not capable; it was just the unconventional way that they did it that rattled and disappointed most of the party leadership. We didn’t expect that from him. They did it unconventionally.

You can’t share your power with the opposition in an unconventional and unorthodox way. That was what happened; that is the situation. But the party has to bear it, while it seeks ways at giving everyone a soft landing. People say the All Progressives Congress (APC) went to sleep after its victory? I lay the blame on the leadership of the party, most especially Buhari.

With the way the country was going, the opposition came together with the manifesto of change, a merger was formed and people like Tinubu and Buhari, who though people thought otherwise, started working together and we started following them. We thought the party should be more organised and thorough with things like this. You don’t joke with your National Assembly in a presidential system, in fact, in any system.

You can’t say Buhari should not be interested in who leads the National Assembly. I think there is a little bit of relief in him not stamping his foot down from the word go in deciding a leadership for the House, but that doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be partisan.

How can you not be partisan when you are in authority? If you are in APC, you must be partisan towards your party. And if you are in PDP, you must be partisan towards the PDP. That is not what we call negative partisanship.

He is the person that has the overwhelming support and respect from every sector of the party and the nation. So, he should have given straight directives and say this is the way I want it to be done. I think we have all learnt our lessons. Are you suggesting that Buhari should take the blame if some section decided to do as they like? That is what should concern everyone.

These senators are traitors to the party. It is just because we are practicing a democratic system; otherwise, how could they go and collaborate with the opposition to take over the National Assembly leadership. The National Assembly leadership owns everything in a presidential system of government.

They are so powerful that they can make laws that would be unbearable for the government. If anybody is saying everything is okay, it is not okay. How should the party handle it? Of course, they should be sanctioned. But you cannot do that openly. If you do that openly you may be attracting rebellion. They will fight back somehow and the party may have issues.

Though, no one individual is bigger than the party. That kind of situation must never be encouraged. It is in no one’s interest to have sacred cows. However, the party should handle the situation with much care. Like the way the PDP handled the issue of former Speaker of House Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal. The point must, however, quickly be made that the two issues are not exactly the same.

The Tambuwal case was fairly straightforward and better than the Saraki case. They were all in the PDP until the very tail end when Tambuwal decided to become increasingly neutral. But in Saraki’s case, we are having problem from the day one. Imagine Senator Ike Ekeremadu being the deputy Senate President –– a very serious issue for the APC. And the party has absolutely no reason to be comfortable with the situation.

Don’t you the APC, particularly its Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) caucus, is getting paid back, having facilitated the emergence of Tambuwal as Speaker? Yes, to some extent they appear similar on the surface, but the degree differs.

The APC case is a lot more serious and painful. It is like a serious cut on the throat. It is different from that of Tambuwal’s case, which is like a cut in the arm.

I am sure you know the difference between a cut on the throat and one on the arm. For now, we don’t even know if Saraki would be loyal to the party or would be working more with the people who put him in power. Clearly, Saraki’s support base is now in the PDP; not the APC. So, it is a very sad situation. Don’t be deceived.

The truth is that everyone in the APC is just playing the situation calmly and maturely; not that anybody is happy over the situation. Even the President is not happy about it. But when you are dealing with a person like Saraki who has his own huge support base and so much clout, you just need to be a bit circumspect. Saraki has much clout, especially from the PDP senators who are ever willing to take their own pound of the flesh from the APC.

Without doubt, the PDP understandably is ready to take its pound of flesh on the APC if you allow them the room to do so. So, the thing is to manage the situation properly. And I know the party is doing so commendably well so far. At the end of the day, what the PDP will have is pyrrhic victory. And it would come to an end sooner than later.

Most of the APC National Assembly members have learnt their lessons with what transpired; with the slight brush with the PDP. And in the coming days we would see a lot of fence mending. Fortunately, the President is a very strong-will person and this is a strong signal to be more focused on his party and to know what is going on in the party and how they relate with the other party.

The President must realise that there is a party that brought him to power and if he jokes that ‘I’m now the President and I don’t belong to the party’, he would be making a mistake. Of course, the President belongs to the generality of Nigeria, regardless of party affiliations, but he’s a product of the party and he belongs first and foremost to the party. President Buhari should pay more attention to how the party is run.

That should be my advice to him at this moment. If not, for credibility and what have you, you will now see the difference between a military head of state and a civilian President operating under a presidential democratic system of government. But don’t you see the emergence of Senator Saraki as a defeat of the meddlesomeness of godfathers in the party? What do they mean by godfatherism? Who is a godfather in the party? Who can you truly call a godfather in the APC. All these talks about Bola Tinubu being the godfather in APC are not fair to the man. Frankly, these insinuations d not make much sense.

Yes, Tinubu is one of those people who made the party to be as strong as it is today. Himself and Buhari. We know the effort Tinubu especially made.

We know the resources, in terms of facilities, personalities and publicity they committed to the party. Obviously, without the effort of people like Tinubu, the merger that brought about APC would not have gone smoothly as it did. In fact, it may have died stillborn.

Anybody that is trying to play that card is just being mischievous. What do you mean by godfatherism? Tinubu is not a dictator, but a complete party man and a consummate political strategist. He has remained focused to rescuing this country right from the days of June 12.

He went to many places and did so many things during that period even though he was in exile. We know those who are committed apostles of freedom and democracy in this country. We are happy that Buhari came in at a point, having realised that the country was in urgent need of strong leadership, if it was not going to collapse on everyone.

The country needed someone with unshakeable integrity; and Buhari has that in abundance. But if you had left Buhari alone without the support of people like Tinubu and other progressives, he would not have been able to come to power. With all due respect to him, he would have continued to be a candidate; just the way he did in 2003, 2007 and 2010.

What would you be telling Senator Saraki now that he has accomplished his ambition? Senator Saraki should not delude himself that he has won any battle. No. He should retrace his step back to the heart of the party. He should demonstrate clearly that he is 100 percent loyal to the party. If he relies on the PDP, they will lead him to doom and disrepute very soon.

So, if he wants to maintain his family name properly and bestow honour on his family, he should come to terms that the APC brought him to power and not the PDP. Anything he does, he should first and foremost take advice from the party. But if he looses focus to rely on the PDP instead of the APC, well, posterity will judge him very fiercely and unkindly.

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