‘Atiku preaching restructuring in the South but keeping mute on the subject in the North’- APC Vice Chairman

The Vice Chairman (South-West) of the All Progressives Congress, Pastor Bankole Oluwajana, believes the crisis rocking the ruling party across the country including the South-West will not mar its chances in the 2019 general elections. He also accuses the Peoples Democratic Party presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, of preaching restructuring in the South but keeping mute on the subject in the North, in this interview with OYETUNJI ABIOYE

The South-West has the second largest voting population in the country. How prepared is the APC to win this zone in the forthcoming 2019 general elections?

The South-West is hugely populated by the Yoruba people. The Yoruba people are progressives by culture and nature. This explains why the South-West is governed by the APC. When any portion of this area is taken through rigging and manipulation, there is always palpable unease in the land. Because of these peculiarities, there is a natural admiration and acceptance of the APC, which makes it easy for the party to sell its programmes and we are doing this with ease. The APC will record a landslide in the South-West. You can take these words to the bank.

The APC post-primary crisis has hit the South-West heavily. What efforts is the party making to resolve it as the elections approach?

Yes, there are issues we are making efforts to resolve. This is not peculiar to the APC. The only parties that are not having issues are the one-man parties where their (financial) accounts have sole signatories. Party administration is about crisis management. Because it has been so from time immemorial, there are also established modes of resolving them. It is in this respect that reconciliation committees have been set up. Reports coming in have shown tremendous successes. We are happy.

There is deep crisis in your party in Ogun and Ondo states and some aggrieved aspirants who lost your party’s tickets in the South-West have vowed to work against the APC. What specific efforts are you making to resolve the crisis in each of these states?

Some of these information or allegations are not correct. Take the reference to Governor Akeredolu. I am from Ondo State and I am part and parcel of his government. Governor Akeredolu is a progressive who believes so much in President Muhammadu Buhari. He (Akeredolu) is never part of anything that works against the interest of the President. He will never support any candidate that will work against what the APC believes in. Even then, we are taking steps to appease aggrieved party members and the effects are encouraging.

The APC National Working Committee has set up committees to reconcile aggrieved members. What is the timeline given to the committees, especially as the elections are around the corner?

The committees were given ‘flexible’ two weeks. Reconciliation continues until all aggrieved members are appeased. Not a single one will be willed away.

The National leadership has threatened to sanction members who engage in anti-party activities as soon as the APC Peace Reconciliation Committees completes their assignments. Will the party sanction Amosun, Okorocha, Akeredolu and others if they support candidates against the APC flag-bearers in the coming elections?

In the APC, we believe in the rule of law and justice. We don’t take rash disciplinary steps based on hearsay or newspaper publications.

You are aware Amosun and Okorocha have publicly declared that they will not support the APC governorship candidates in their respective states. The APC National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, has also told them the party could win without their support. Do you agree with Oshiomhole on this?

Let me reiterate that party administration in Nigeria is more of crisis management. It will always be so. There are issues being addressed and resolved. Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State and Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State are seasoned politicians. I cannot and will not downplay the value of their support. The good thing is that they remain staunch supporters of President Buhari and Vice-President Osinbajo. We are hopeful that all disagreements will be resolved.

What does the party intend to do if the aggrieved governors refuse to submit to the will of the party?

We are hopeful that all issues will be resolved.

Amosun has vowed openly not to work with the candidate of your party, a position that is apparently anti-party and, perhaps, would have attracted sanctions if taken by low-ranking members. Does this not contradict the claim by your party that there are no sacred cows?

We don’t want to pre-empt the outcome of the efforts of the reconciliation committees. The reconciliation committees are working hard to resolve all issues.

The origin of this crisis is the direct and indirect options. Does the party wish it didn’t disrupt the conventional method it had adopted for previous primaries?

In politics, there will always be issues, no matter the mode of primaries adopted. Big parties of value that adopted the indirect primaries also have crisis and issues to contend with.

There are suggestions that this crisis would cost the party victory in 2019 and would likely lead to an implosion. Is the leadership of your party not worried about the current situation?

The APC will record a landslide victory in the 2019 elections. Haven’t you noticed that the aggrieved, the complainants, the accusers and the accused have all resolved to work for the success of President Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in the 2019 election? They are convinced that the team is good to go for another four years and is the best for Nigeria at this time.

There are reports that some aggrieved governors plan to  support opposition candidates secretly. For example, some people have mentioned Lagos and some other states. Have you heard such rumours too?

There will always be complaints after elections. There are avenues to express such complaints both within and outside the party. I am not aware that your assertions are before any of such avenues. To allege that Ambode is supporting the candidate of another party is pure fabrication in the imagination of awful dreamers.

The PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, has promised to restructure the country within the first six months in office, while your party’s candidate doesn’t believe in restructuring, even though South-West electorate and people of some other regions want it. Won’t that reduce his chances in the South-West, which has 14 million registered voters, is very low?

The PDP presidential candidate preaches restructuring in the South and keeps mute on restructuring in the North. He wants to restructure within six months. Is he a military president? That is a sign of autocracy. For the avoidance of doubt, many of us in the APC want the country to be restructured. But it will not be done by fiat. We continue to hammer on the benefits of restructuring until we convince the rest. It is also insulting for any group to enforce any candidate on the generality of the people. We are not morons. We are not computers. Where I come from, everybody decides who to vote for. You can never enforce the candidate of a conservative on progressives.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is also a key political stakeholder, has advised Buhari not to seek re-election. He has also gone ahead to endorse Atiku. Considering the fact that no presidential candidate endorsed by Obasanjo has lost an election, don’t you think this endorsement is a source of worry for Buhari in 2019?

Some of the elements of democracy are the freedom of speech and freedom of association. Our constitution provides for them. Chief Obasanjo has merely exercised his right. Everybody, high or low, is free to express opinions, endorse, support and canvass votes for their preferences. Some former Heads of State have also endorsed President Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo. They may not be as outspoken.

Chief Obasanjo, as an acclaimed devout Christian, may actually be embarrassed and offended to hear that someone is saying that his words are final. Only God has the final say. No mortal man, no matter how eminent, has the final say.

The national leader of the APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was rumoured to be backing Atiku secretly. Do you think there is any iota of truth in that?

I will say, emphatically, that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu does not support Atiku. Asiwaju Tinubu is not just an ordinary member of the APC. He is one of the founding fathers. He is the National Leader. He has always been a progressive and 100 per cent in support of President Buhari and Vice-President Osinbajo. Take those words to the bank.

Obasanjo has echoed the belief among the generality of Nigerians that Buhari’s performance in the area of economy and security is poor. Do you think Buhari has done well with the economy growing now at two per cent, compared to five per cent under Jonathan?

It is not true that the generality of Nigerians believe that Buhari’s performance in the areas of the economy and security is bad. Projecting and spreading such false information is typical of adherents of the PDP. Only people with short memories will listen to them. Facts and figures make it clear that Nigeria has steadily progressed under the APC government. Monthly import bill has fallen significantly from $665.4m in 2015 to $160.4m as of the end of October, 2018; that is a drop of 75.9 per cent, saving over $21bn on food imports. The implication of this is that there is an increase in domestic production engineered by government actions and policies. Agriculture is now beginning to take its rightful place. More people are going into agriculture and farmers are getting richer. Noticeably, companies are now steadily regaining strength. Latest reports indicate that banks’ bad debts are down by 26.1 per cent.

Between 2010 and 2015, under the PDP, oil revenue was $445bn. Despite that, external reserves declined from $47bn in 2013 to $29bn in 2015 and the  Federal Government borrowed $2bn to pay salaries. Under the PDP, foreign direct investment declined from $8.8bn in 2011 to $3.1bn in 2015. Total oil revenue for two years under the APC was $52bn, as against $178bn earned during the same period by the PDP government. Besides the scandals and distribution of millions of dollars during the period of the election to some wicked leaders, what did the PDP government do with what was earned? In spite of the limited resources under the APC government, there is massive infrastructural development going on in the country. Salaries are being paid regularly and are even to be increased. Can people ever forget the persistent long queues at fuel stations when the PDP government could not pay bills? Haven’t you noticed the improvement in electricity supply in Nigeria? It would be a tragedy of unimaginable proportion to take Nigeria back to the PDP prodigious era of financial mismanagement. May it never be.

In view of the recent killings by the Boko Haram insurgents, Nigerian soldiers are now said to be on the defensive against the terrorists. Don’t you think these issues will work against Buhari’s re-election?

On security, have we forgotten that Boko Haram was almost at the bank of the River Niger and Benue under the watchful eyes of the PDP government? While it is acknowledged that there are still few challenges, there has been tremendous improvement in security under the APC, when compared with the situation under the PDP. The PDP is a reckless prodigal son that will devour inheritance and destroy heritage.

As the APC national vice chairman in charge of the South-west, what is your focus for the ruling party in the geo-political zone?

In the next few months, my focus is to ensure President Muhammadu Buhari is re-elected in 2019. It is not just because Buhari is a president produced by my party. Basically, it is because Buhari is the best candidate for Nigeria at this present moment. We all know this except we want to deny it.

How did you come to this conclusion given diverse sore points of Buhari’s administration?

I have many reasons to support my position that Buhari is the best candidate at this moment for this country. First, I have been around for some time. I spent a chunk of my life in the corporate world. From my experience, I know corruption has been a major challenge of Nigeria. People can say anything about Buhari. They can talk about many other things. None of them has been able to tell us that Buhari, as a person, is corrupt. They can tell you people around him are corrupt. They can make those allegations. But no single person has come out to say Buhari, as a person, is corrupt.

But the Buhari administration has not been able to also address the Fulani herdsmen attacks, which have claimed thousands of lives. Why has this administration not responded decisively to the herdsmen issue?

It is easy for people to talk about herdsmen killings, which has been a major issue we are facing today. That is what people often make reference to. Is it difficult for Nigerians to discern that what we are facing has been a form of war for over the years now? It appears these people are hell-bent on bringing down Nigeria. They have been coming in various forms. They once came in form of Boko Haram. Because the previous government could not control them, they were almost reaching the South. When Buhari came in, he defeated them. Of course, wailers will say they still attack once a while. Is this what we were facing three years ago? It takes time for a war to be totally eradicated. Whoever these people are, they have packaged themselves in the form of guerilla warfare. And they have come in form of herdsmen in smaller number because they have been degraded. In almost every part of West Africa, this battle goes on there. It is not peculiar to Nigeria. It cuts across the sub-region. We do not know these people. They are not one of us. But this government will defeat them. It is just a matter of time. I know this government is working out lasting solution on how to handle the herdsmen issues. I know our military personnel are capable of defeating them. Even after they defeat them, those behind the herdsmen attacks may repackage themselves. But I am sure there will be an end to the herdsmen issue one day.

Do you think Buhari will be re-elected in 2019 with this huge challenge of bloodletting and killing in different parts of Nigeria?

I am more than hopeful that Buhari will be re-elected in February 2019. Going through the length and breadth of Nigeria, people that really matter appreciate what Buhari is doing for this country. They are not confused by the gale of defection that blew across the federation before the primaries, especially from the APC to the PDP. The defection we experienced had  three categories. First, a lot of these people won election with Buhari’s credibility just as some people used the name of Chief Obafemi Awolowo to win election in 1999. In 1999, most elected officials in the South-West did not win election on their own merit. The moment you belonged to Awolowo’s political lineage, you would win election on the platter of gold. This was similar to what happened in 2015. Because of the situation then, people preferred any person other than the PDP. Even the PDP chieftains that joined the APC then, more than half of them did not make it on their merits. Now, people know better. They knew they could not secure the APC nomination. Many of them have not gone to their constituencies for a long time. They go home, maybe once a month to do some little things. Some of them have lost the structure of the APC. So, they wanted to try their luck. The only way they could try their luck was to change the party because APC would not produce them again. The standard of the APC has since risen up. It is like admission into some universities. There are some universities that candidates can enter into with poor grade. The standard of the APC has since gone up. These people knew they could not make it. So, they sought admission in less rated universities. Second, we had another category of people among the defectors. I do not want to mention names. Third, we had another set of people who left the APC because they were loyal to their political leaders. Deep in their hearts, these people are not happy. But they had no choice but to leave with their political leaders. I praise them because they are loyal people. I will not begrudge them. I see this time as a period of unfortunate events in their lives.

The anti-corruption crusade of the Buhari administration appears to be one-sided with EFCC arresting mostly members of the opposition PDP. Don’t you think this made so many people to lose hope in Buhari?

The anti-corruption crusade of Buhari/Osinbajo government has not been one-sided. There are several people, who associate themselves with the APC, facing charges in court. Some have been convicted. It is not the fault of the government that there are challenges in securing conviction in many cases.

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