As the campaigns for the 2019 general elections kick off tomorrow, what are your expectations from the political parties that will be participating in next year’s polls?
I can only say that the peaceful way to do something different from what had been done in the past is to discuss and focus on issues. This is because discussing people had always generated anger, lies upon lies and exaggerations. I think we should be seen to grow and not to remain the children we have been for years. I mean looking at people in their eyes and seeing how big or small their eyes are, rather than looking at what they did. I think we have enough on ground to speak about. We know the social, political, economic, educational, security, environmental, foreign policy and other challenges that we have as a country. Since we returned to democracy in 1999 and those who are addressing the issues like you, my colleagues in the media, should be able to call those who have been in power to account and the issues are well streamlined. What did former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, being the flag bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) do? He was there as vice president from 1999-2007. He has been in the field and very active politically and he has an opportunity to bring his experience to bear on the polity. Then what has President Muhammadu Buhari also done? He was there in the 70s as a military governor in the North East, he was petroleum minister, and also as Head of State in 1984/85. He struggled to be president in 2003, 2007, 2011 and in 2015, he succeeded. He has been president for over three years now; what has he done? All these are issues that should dominate the campaigns. Young, bright Nigerians are there also wanting power. They have ideas and they are there to really tell us what we have failed to do and what they can do. So, the issues must be a driving force of the campaign. What you did before; what you are doing now and what you want to do. Those are the issues that would drive the campaigns. All these cases of running people down, I do not think that it will help anybody. This administration said they would address the economy, corruption and security. How did they do? What challenges are there? What is yet to be done? All these are issues. And the ones that will be the winners and losers must be the media that would moderate what should be done. This is because the media performs their functions on the judiciary, legislature and the executive; that is section 22 of the constitution, which gives to the media what is denied the courts in chapter 2 of the constitution -fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy. That is what is the bill of duties that anybody in the polity who performs legislative, executive or judicial functions must abide by. The media is the moderator. The courts are barred from looking at those areas. So, the media should really educate itself and then moderate the campaign in such a way that we are not taken to areas of hate speech, areas of crossing the red line and areas of free speech plus. The free speech plus is going beyond the laws on freedom of expression. I think all the parties will obey what the media moderates. The media should be able to say that all these things that people say would not promote hate speech and going outside the rules. But I can assure you that the election will be free and fair. So, the election will come and go, winners will emerge and Nigeria will continue to grow.
Specifically, how prepared is your party, APC as the campaign kicks off ahead of 2019 poll especially in view of the crisis in some chapters after the primaries?
APC is the ruling party and is well prepared. It is the party to beat. We are controlling many states. We have distractions in some states, which are being exaggerated but the heavens would not fall. We have moderated this democracy since 1999; Democracy Watch and Monitor Diary every week for 12 years and I know that the party in power will always have problems when it is election time. Things normally settle after the election. Every four years, there is always trouble. Some people will break away to form other parties and try to run some aground. Some people walk out of conventions. If you look at 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015, there were several things like that. The big party that people look up to have always had problems because people believe that once you have the ticket, you are home and dry. So, there are always big struggles in those parties but they come and go. A lot of people are talking about restructuring now but unfortunately there are no two zones in the country that define restructuring the same way. But people have forgotten that what happened in Aburi was a restructuring effort that failed. We have the South West with the Yoruba agenda; the Igbo have the problem of IPOB and MASSOB, Biafra and other areas. We have the Niger Delta that is talking of resource control and so on and so forth. So, it is a beautiful peg to hang your campaigns on but the fact is that when you really want to address the issue, you will find out that we are not really on the same page. It is something that will also drive the campaigns. A lot of time, people will make promises that they know they cannot keep. The APC knows that there are issues but the fact is that it is the party to beat.
How do you feel about the experience your National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole is going through especially his fight with some governors and his recent interrogation by the DSS?
The DSS will always address all allegations. He was not arrested. All the noise about him being arrested and him being asked to resign, all those issues are not from the DSS. They called him for a chat, he answered them and he left. Lots of problems are there on the national plane and they will all be addressed. But they are no problems for the National Chairman of the party. We all know that he is a very stubborn person and he is a fighter. If there are aggrieved people, they will express their grievances and those grievances will be attended to. What Oshiomhole is doing is that he is trying to bring sanity back to the party. Unfortunately, there are some people who are performing the role of trade unions that the party will not recognize but they are so prominent and powerful that they want to dominate where they have no powers to do so. But they have the influence and the clout; I mean the governors. Remember that Oshiomhole too was a governor for eight years and he knows how influential they are but he is trying to bring party discipline. It will be difficult to get it all right at the first time if you try to take the power and give it to members of the party. It will be difficult to take powers from those who have been exercising it although they are in the minority because they call the shots. I am talking about the governors. It is a system that will take time for the people to accept. I can assure you that it will be settled. One thing in politics is that it is talk, talk and talk. You will be surprised that those who were talking and punching themselves yesterday, today you see them embracing each other. Don’t take them so seriously and thinking that they will kill themselves; they will not.
What do you think are the chances of President Buhari against Atiku in the coming election?
The fact is that what Atiku did in the 9os, what he did as the vice president and what he has been doing in the private sector because he has been associated with doing business and all those will be addressed in detail. It will just be like what Buhari did as a petroleum minister in the 70s, governor of the North East, PTF chairman, Head of State and president since 2015; all those will be addressed. As a party man, I can tell you that he has done creditably well and what he has done will speak for him especially in the areas of infrastructural development. They are all there for people to see. One thing that people should know is that Buhari did not cancel any contract that former President Jonathan awarded unless there were overriding reasons why they should be cancelled. He has worked to complete most of the projects that Jonathan initiated. All the roads, power projects and all that. There is hardly anything that Buhari has started. So, when people say that he finished Jonathan’s projects, I laugh because he is doing so as a difference to what others have been doing. They will abandon the projects and refuse to pay the contractor and award new projects. President Buhari has not done so because he believes that government is a continuum. So, we have a lot of things to show people. There are areas he has addressed that have never been addressed; I am talking about the school feeding programme for instance. There are also the other programmes of going to market to grow the deprived people. We have about nine million children being fed and in all the areas the children are being fed, nobody comes from outside to cook for them. The cooks come from within the places the children are being fed. The food is being grown in the area and so on. These are the areas we look at. And in the South East and South South where we did not get up to 350,000 votes, they have changed their focus. He has done so much for the South East in terms of infrastructural development like the construction of the roads from Onitsha to Enugu, Enugu to Port Harcourt and even the rail development and the second Niger bridge. All these are areas that people will look at. It is not that we will win but there is hardly any of the areas where we will not get up to 25 per cent. In up North particularly the North East, they will not abandon Buhari after he had done so much for them in the Boko Haram war. President Buhari has done so much in infrastructural development. People will say these are new areas of emphasis; let us give this man a chance. As a monitor of governance, I have no doubt in my mind that President Buhari has an edge over Atiku in the coming election.
There is so much tension in the country ahead of the election with many expressing fears there may not be free and fair exercise in 2019. Do you share the same fears?
Many people call Buhari a fundamentalist. He fears only one being who is the God almighty. He has told everybody that they should not rig for him. He said that in 2003 and 2007, he complained but in 2015, he won. He will not encourage what he was complaining about against anyone. If you have noticed, INEC has progressed from one election to the other. I can assure you that we will have a free, transparent and credible election in 2019.