Our subject this week is Lai Mohammed, the National Publicity Secretary of All Peoples Congress (APC), and the main opposition party in Nigeria. As always, in his inimitable style, Lai Mohammed spoke about the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), President Goodluck Jonathan, the vision of the APC. He also spoke on a number of burning national issues, including his party’s stance on the recent anti-gay law passed by President Goodluck Jonathan. Hear him: “APC is a party which believes that the law against gay marriages accords with the moral values and majority of Nigerians. However, I believe that there are more serious issues for the government to address like poverty, disease, ignorance and lack of infrastructure.”
As usual, we bring you another no-holds-barred interview. Enjoy the interview and don’t forget to leave your comments.
Sam Umukoro Interview: There was a story in the media recently about APC party leader Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu wading into the crisis in Osun State. Some people believe that he has this overbearing influence in the party, how certain is it that the APC will not operate from the pocket of the party leader?
Lai Mohammed: I think it’s done everywhere in the world. When you perceive your party is having a problem in a particular part of the country, like a governor is having issues now, the party leadership takes note of it and acts.
Fortunately today, we have a leader like Bola Ahmed Tinubu who is respected tremendously by the Christian Association of Nigeria because they believe and trust him. He was in charge of the affairs of Lagos state for eight years; he has been fair to all religions. So, when a person like that decides to intervene on behalf of a governor, is that being overbearing?
How many times have foreign leaders come to Nigeria to broker peace? I think we should even commend our party that we have leaders that command presence and have confidence to go and appeal to the warring factions to give peace a chance. Considering that elections would take place in Osun state, do they expect the party to fold its hands and watch things deteriorate? Is that their understanding of being overbearing?
Sam Umukoro Interview: In some quarters, it is alleged that the APC party leader dictates to the governors what to do, and they seem not to have certain independence, how true is that?
Lai Mohammed: What is going on today … is that being dictatorial? A governor is having challenges, and then a leader says, ‘I can help you, I’ve been in your shoes before, I’m credible, because as (former) governor of Lagos state I have proved to the world that I can be fair to Christians and Muslims alike, I returned schools to missionary schools even as a Muslim.’
It was only in his administration that missionary schools were returned. He’s somehow saying to them, ‘you know me very well, I might be a Muslim but my wife is a Pastor in a Redeemed Christian Church. I might be a Muslim but when I came to the government house there was only a mosque, but I built a chapel there. So, when I say that this governor means well, you will believe me.’ It’s not our fault that they don’t have similar personalities or characters in the PDP.
Sam Umukoro Interview: What some of the critics are saying is, can the governors or APC party members occupying political positions disobey the party leader? Do they take directives from him?
Lai Mohammed: They cannot disobey the party; they must look up to the party for direction.
Sam Umukoro Interview: So the party is not Tinubu and Tinubu is not the party?
Lai Mohammed: In the minds of many Nigerians, they want to believe so, but the honest truth is that no party has the kind of internal democracy like we have in the APC. Yes, there are a lot of strong personalities in our party but they don’t run a one man show.
When we talk about parties, some people would have to be sent out to do some things. So, if the party may decide that the situation in Osun State needs intervention, they’ll have to choose somebody that is appropriate for that job.
Maybe if it was Borno State or even Nasarawa State that had a similar problem, they probably would have asked General Buhari to go; if it was in the South-South, they probably would have asked Ikimi to go. Fortunately for us, we have a lot of credible men but it does not mean that these governors are tied to Tinubu’s or anybody’s apron strings.
Sam Umukoro Interview: Do you think that INEC is capable of organising a free and fair election?
Lai Mohammed: As constituted today, no.
Sam Umukoro Interview: Why is that?
Lai Mohammed: For elections to be free and fair there must be a system that will ensure that not only will I be allowed to vote, my vote will count and it must incorporate my biometrics, even if it is only my thumb print.
Also it must give room for me to audit the entire exercise at the end of the day. All we are asking for is let people vote and let their votes count, the only way you can convince me that it’s going to count is to ensure that the only people who can vote are people who possess the voter’s card.
Their photograph must match, and thumb print or any other biometrics must be well captured. If we can do that, we’d have solved our problem halfway. Secondly, the issue of the timetable of elections, INEC cannot on its own, without consultation from the political parties, fix a timetable; it’s like saying you are going to fix the league timetable without the participation of the club owners, you can’t do that. We are the club owners in this game. Our input must be taken if you want it to be successful. So, those are the things that INEC needs to do if they want us to take them seriously.
Sam Umukoro Interview: Many Nigerians believe that all parties try to rig elections and the party which rigs the most wins. Will APC try to wrest power from PDP by any means necessary?
Lai Mohammed: It amuses me when I listen to this argument. Have you seen any football team that does not want to win a game by all means? Why are there rules and sanctions? Why does the referee penalise viscous tackles, why are there offside rules? You see, an election is just like football game, and like a football, it’s a contest between two teams. We have witnessed world class footballers using their hands to score goals but such things will only happen if the referee allows it, the electoral umpire is the INEC.
It behoves the INEC to ensure that nobody gets away with anything foul. If they want capacity to do so, we’ll support them. Don’t come and tell me that everybody wants to win election, who doesn’t want to win it? That is why we have umpires. When the umpire is a real and unbiased, then it will frustrate any attempt to rig. Only two people can make elections free and fair in Nigeria, INEC and the security agencies. If these two bodies are neutral, there’ll be no violence and no serious election petition. But because of the complicity of these two bodies, with the PDP, we’ve always had violence and irregularities.
Sam Umukoro Interview: If your party, the APC, senses any complicity or bias would you want to win an election by any means necessary, with the knowledge that the umpires may not be doing their jobs well?
Lai Mohammed: Such as? What would be the reason? Self help? Rubbish. We will continue to advocate and point out the anomalies, we’ll continue to ask our people to be vigilant and not allow their mandate to be rubbished.
Sam Umukoro Interview: Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola, one of the APC governors, has done very well and some younger Nigerians are asking, would APC present a candidate like Fashola, considering that the former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has returned to the APC?
Lai Mohammed: In 2007, it was not the young Nigerians that presented Fashola, it was the party leadership. And the party leadership this time around will do what is right. They’ll be guided by the party’s constitution and God, and they’ll take into cognisance the yearning of the people.
Sam Umukoro Interview: A political commentator argued that President Goodluck Jonathan has not been allowed to settle down and work, considering the menace of Boko Haram and other issues he has had to deal with. Do you think the security situation and some of the challenges he’s faced has affected his performance in office – delivering the dividends of democracy to Nigerians?
Lai Mohammed: We know many Presidents, at least Winston Churchill was British Prime Minister during the world war, and Ronald Reagan was US President when America faced tough challenges both internally and externally. It was the same with George Bush. When you say the President has been distracted I think you are already writing his own testimony that he is a man that cannot even cope with more than one thing at a time. I don’t see that as an excuse, it’s like saying that the head of a family is not performing well because one child was sick and the other one had to go to school. Are those excuses going to provide for the family?
Sam Umukoro Interview: How would the APC have dealt with the Boko Haram menace?
Lai Mohammed: We would adopt a completely different approach. The government’s approach is to win the war but they are losing the peace. We would address it in a way that we would win both the war and peace; this would be achieved through dialogue. Yes, we would frown at any extra-judicial killing by anybody under whatever name; that is why we say the declaration of the state of emergency alone will not solve this problem.
All they would have succeeded in doing is probably disabling Boko Haram from launching some ambitious attacks on cities and public institutions, but they’ll remain very active in the rural areas. This is what has been happening. Also, we cannot win this war without involving the major stakeholders. One cannot stay in Abuja and win this war; you must involve the victims, and those who live everyday with them.
Sam Umukoro Interview: What’s the APC’s view about the anti-gay law passed by President Jonathan?
Lai Mohammed: The APC is a party which believes that the law against gay marriages accords with the moral values and majority of Nigerians. However, I believe that there are more serious issues for the government to address like poverty, disease, ignorance and lack of infrastructure.
Sam Umukoro Interview: Many PDP members, including governors and more recently those in the House of Representatives amongst others, have defected to the APC. But many Nigerians feel they are the same crop of politicians driven by selfish motives rather than patriotism and making positive changes…
Lai Mohammed: I feel it’s because people are not looking at it from the right context or the correct perspective. You see, there are three dates in 2013 that have irrevocably changed the landscape of Nigeria: the first was July 31, that was the day INEC gave the approval for merger; the second was August 31, when some PDP governors and their leaders worked out of a mini convention of their party; the third was November 26, when the PDP decided to come and join the APC. Unless people see things in this perspective, they will not understand what is going on in Nigeria.
About a year ago, in February, 2013, the then ACN, CPC and ANPP had a joint press conference of their merger committee where they announced to Nigerians that they intend to merge as a political party. They said they have come to the conclusion that unless they dropped their preferences, privileges and differences as small regional parties and form a big political party, there would be no room for addressing the issues confronting Nigerians. So, this was a conscious effort on the part of the leadership of the then ACN, CPC and ANPP. They sat down together and for six months fashioned out a new constitution, new name, new manifesto, new slogan and a new logo for the new party. So, for those who are saying that it was just a merger of convenience, it is not so. It didn’t happen overnight. It was the same impression in the PDP, but the reason for our merging coincided with the reasons why some of them felt uncomfortable in the PDP; they felt this government had lost focus, and found it easy to join this bigger platform and because this bigger platform was a national platform, which was present in every geo-political zone, it was easy for those five governors to come over. Don’t forget that what happened on November 28 was not just the governors coming to join the APC, it was the new PDP which presupposes the governors, members of the National Assembly, and who all belong to the new tendency in the PDP.
While there’s no need for any ceremony for governors coming over to join one party, there’s a procedure for members in the house; it is this manifesto itself that people are now calling defection.
Again Nigerians ask, what is the APC then going to offer us if they can welcome into their fold PDP governors and senators whom they have all along derided as being incompetent and corrupt? Our answer is very simple, we are not going to them, they are coming to us, and they are coming to us after we already have a constitution and a manifesto after we have decreed. I tell people, it’s like being in a church and there are young boys who used to play football every time the service was going on, then one day they decide to give their lives to Christ and they come to church, will the pastor send them out? Are they going to change the mode of worship in that church? So, let’s open our eyes and open our minds.
Sam Umukoro Interview: Some of the PDP party members that defected to the APC have been accused of non-performance before? Do you honestly think that being part of APC now would offer them a new lease of life and change their way of doing things?
Lai Mohammed: There’s no option, if you come to APC, you’ll subscribe to the party’s constitution and manifesto. If we say these are the 10-point agenda for the party, and one is in the APC, one has to execute them. So, I don’t understand why Nigerians don’t see it this way.
I can give you two examples. Already, the governor of Kano has introduced free education which he couldn’t do when he was under the PDP. The man in Kwara State today has started employing 5,000 youths because there’s what is called peer review, they all meet as APC governors and lean on one another, and they ask themselves what each is doing in his respective state that is adaptable in the other’s state. Once you join the APC, you are no longer a ‘former PDP’ or ‘former ANPP’ or ‘former AC’.
Sam Umukoro Interview: How many members of PDP in the House of Representatives have defected to the APC?
Lai Mohammed: 37, but we lost five recently, so that makes it 32. We are expecting many more big names soon. That’s why I said the temporary leadership majority of the PDP is going to be short lived.
Sam Umukoro Interview: Do you think it is right for public officials that were elected under the platform of one party to cross to another party while still in office, knowing that they won election based on their former platform?
Lai Mohammed: Well, the constitution made provisions for that; that the condition under which a legislator elected under one party can move to another party is if there is division within his party. And today, we know that the PDP is divided. The court approved the national secretary of the party, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, which the party has ignored and the people left are those that belonged to his own faction. So, it’s clearly a faction within the party and that gives legal cover for the legislators and members of the House of Reps to move.
Sam Umukoro Interview: Do you think the PDP, which claims to be the biggest party in Africa and has been in power since 1999, has failed Nigerians?
Lai Mohammed: Yes, there is no doubt about that. There are some human development index used to determine if a country is doing well or not and it has to do with access to the basic things of life such as access to water, health care, education, infrastructure, power, being gainfully employed, transparency, and accountability. Where has the government done well in any of these areas? There’s no doubt in our minds that the government has not done well in any of these areas and this is why we say there must be a change.
The APC is clamouring for change because we’ve done it before; we are already doing it in states where we control. This will show people the difference. Many people come to me and say there’s no difference between the PDP and APC, I tell them, ‘no, go to a PDP state and an APC state and tell me your findings.’
Sam Umukoro Interview: The APC says it plans to sign up at least 15 million young Nigerians into its fold. How does the party intend to do this and what is its ideology towards involving young Nigerians in its leadership affairs?
Lai Mohammed: We started that on our legislation drive to get at least 15 million supporters and we have more than that right now going by the need to print more forms. We need to bring more young men into our party, and we’ve already started it by advocacy and networking; we are very busy and in the next few weeks on the social media, we want to showcase what we have for Nigerians.
We have no doubt in our mind that our programmes will be attractive and believable. We are not just going to use slogans; we actually want to achieve these things. Take the issue of power, way back in 1999, we blazed the trail in independent power production in Lagos State that was even before any unbundling of PHCN ever took place.
We were told it could not be done, that it was under the executive legislative list, but we broke it down. Today that initiative is earning Nigeria more than 10 percent of its total supply because about 500 megawatts is now being produced into the national grid. So imagine if every other state had done that, we would have about 18,000 megawatts today in the country.
Sam Umukoro Interview: What’s the APC’s ideology?
Lai Mohammed: We are at a stage in Nigeria today where what we need is a very simple ideology. The security and welfare of Nigerians, that’s all. How would the average Nigerian have access to basic water infrastructure, power, education, how do we develop our agriculture and health care system? Go to any APC state today and see what is happening either in Edo, Ogun, or Osun State; that’s our ideology
Sam Umukoro Interview: Come 2015, what can the APC offer Nigerians?
Lai Mohammed: Change. We want to change the lacklustre performance of this government. We want to change from a visionless government to a visionary and passionate one. We want to make the common man the beginning and the end of our political and public policies, politics and political activities.
Sam Umukoro Interview: Are these not mere slogans?
Lai Mohammed: Like I said before, on a small scale we are already doing so. By the time we unveil our blueprint, you’ll believe that these are not just mere slogans.