If this is indeed about service, you are already a senator serving your people, why APC chairmanship?
We are practising democracy and what is democracy all about? Democracy is all about people, development is about representation. And when you are talking about quality of representation and democracy, (it) usually can be a platform where people go in and attend those offices. The moment the structure that will produce those that will come tomorrow to elective offices and be leaders, if the pillars are not really strong, it will be shaky and the kind of leadership you’ll get might not be to the expectation of the people.
So I have been studying to see political development in this country. If you look at what is happening in advanced democracies, you will see that political parties are not only avenues for attaining representation, but they are also grounds at which leaders have been developed. So now, I feel that I have been to the Senate and I have seen how the Senate is. I have been contesting elections. I have seen how the contest is. And I have seen the quality of the kind of people that have been representing the various political structures we have in this country. And I can see that the political structures we have in this country remain as mere tools for elections. You don’t see them performing anything unless there is an election or there is a primary election, then you see they are coming up. And after that, as an executive or ward of local government, you don’t even know what role you’re supposed to play. You see that most of the political parties just wake up and the names are just written as just calling you the secretary or oh, you are the chairman, while many don’t even know what functions you are supposed to perform.
So I felt there must be a change. There must be a new, you know, democratic setup. You understand? And these are some of the things that motivated me to think that I have the capacity and pedigree to be able to come and change the narrative. You know, to make our political party an institution.
When you make it an institution, just like a corporate entity, where there are rules and regulations. It’s just like having a company and you have an article of association, any breach to it is a breach to the company’s laid down rules. So if we have the party constitution, and we have the guidelines of a party, there are things that we must abide by, and there are things that we must take to. So, these are some of the things I feel we are lacking. They are there but we don’t adhere to them. And why is it that it’s not there too? Because we like a leadership that is self-reliant. I mean, the leadership is self-confident, a leadership that is courageous to be able to come up with new things. If you look at our political parties from 1999 till date, it’s almost like the whole status quo.
APC has been through turbulent times in the past two to three years. And you’ve had two substantive chairmen, one of them was removed before the end of his tenure. What are your plans to stabilise the party, if elected?
Yes, you see in every political setup, there are divergent views, and we cannot all agree with each other. I mean, even in your own home, you see that sometimes you have differences even with your wife and then you will remain husband and wife, but the home remains. So, the APC will remain despite the internal wrangles that we have. The wrangles emanated because most of the rules, the Constitution have not been adhered to. The guidelines are not followed. Because if everything is done according to the books, I don’t think we will have a lot of disputes.
Then two, if the leadership of the party is not for self-interest. If the leadership is just there, for the sake of the members, for the sake of the party, then the difference, the rancour may not be much. There’s definitely going to be rancour but it will not be as it is today.
So when I come in as national chairman, if by the Grace of Allah, if we get through to be elected as a chairman, I’m coming with my three cardinal objectives so far. The three R’s that I will introduce are Reconciliation, Re-organisation and Restructuring of the party. Each of these three means different things.
Reconciling, you are just talking about disputes. So I will limit my answer to the issue of reconciliation. When you come to reconciliation, you bring different divisions to a table, their luck, and at the end of the day, you may have an avenue to arrive at a peaceful agreement, and we all abide, each party abiding by the agreement. And then again if we are in government, the government is so wide and by virtue of democracy, there are so many offices, both elective and by appointment.
Those members of the political party that is governing should be able to run. The reward system in the party will be looked at and that will also be one tool that will seriously reduce wrangling that is going on in the party.
Many believe that to attain the position of the national chairman of a ruling party, be it APC or PDP, has never been a walk in the park. Some even believe that it is more difficult than winning a senatorial seat. With this in mind, how do you intend to woo your colleagues in the NASS, some of whom are also running, and delegates from other parts of the country whether your party settles for direct or indirect primaries?
I’m not a former governor, I’m a sitting senator, not a former governor who is also a sitting senator. And other former governors vying for this position, I have no problem with it. We’re all in the same party and I believe that every one of us has his own antecedents, you know. And then the experiences of each one of us is there, also for us to be able to take advantage of and see where the weaknesses are and see where the advantages are and be able to build your own.
What I do is, I look at the kind of vision I have. I have a vision that translates “a new.” I am not someone that believes that the status quo must remain. And I’m not saying that I’m the best. No, I can’t. I’m not a perfectionist. But I will tell you that the programme I have is a new programme. The whole world is going technological. The Democratic Party is technological. The Republican Party in America is technological. Are we still going to remain as an analogue party in Africa or Nigeria? APC today is the biggest party in Africa. And I can tell you that what I’m coming in to do and what I am telling people that I intend to do is my selling point, which is constitutionality.
Institutionalising the party, making it the bane of everyone. You don’t have to be somebody for you to be someone in APC. So you can assume that I’m very optimistic. I have the confidence that yes, the capacity is there. I have the pedigree that I can go for this office. As a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it’s a very big position and I know what it is like. But for me to say I’m a first-timer but I don’t I tell you I’m a first-timer, you won’t even know because before I engage myself in anything, I will study the past, the ups and downs that are there. I will articulate myself. I’ll make sure that yes, am I ready for that? It will surprise you to know that I have a blueprint to go in there as a chairman. And that blueprint is based on the three R’s. When I’m talking about reorganisation, nobody has asked what kind of reorganisation are you talking about? I will give you a bit, not the details. Apart from organising the internal setup of the party, in terms of administration, from ward level up, I want a welfare or organising secretary to know what his role and functions are. You must know. If you are a woman leader in the ward, you must know what the woman is supposed to do. If you are an ex-official in the local government, you don’t even know what ex-official means, but they just tag you as an ex-official.
We don’t do anything like party conferences. We don’t do anything like a midterm assessment of what we have achieved. We don’t do it. There should be bi-annual conferences. We don’t do anything about peer review to say oh, what is happening in APC in this state or what is happening in APC, let’s compare notes to see what we can make from it.
Today, the whole world is going digital. APC should have an app that says whatever you want to know in APC, there should be just one point you just press and you’ll be able to get those.
So all these things you mentioned, just as the saying goes, it is easier said than done. Do you think you’ll be able to put your words into action?
Go and ask from my constituency office. What were my plans when I came in as a senator? What did I say I was going to do? I’m the only senator in the Republic of Nigeria that rolls on my senatorial action plan. Go check it. I’m following it to the letter. When you’re talking about saying or not acting it, then you also are a pessimist. I’m an optimist and that is why I always want people to go and look at the antecedent of one to see what level of achievement I have built.
I’ve not held any higher political offices. I was a special assistant and a special adviser to the governor on infrastructure and investments. The Special Adviser just advises you, not to implement. By being part of the policymakers, you advise. Then I was task force chairman on sanitation and management in Niger State in 2007. In 2007, go and find out what I did? What programme did I bring in there? By the grace of God, today Houses are numbered in Minna. Who initiated it? So there are so many things. You see it depends on who, I would rather keep what I cannot do deep in me, even if I want to do it, than to say it. But if I say it, I can implement it. If I have implemented something for the whole country and it works, what makes you think I will not be able to implement it for an organisation?
Niger East Senatorial District voted for you to represent them for the period of four years. Don’t you think it will be sort of rejecting them by accepting another responsibility?
Are you telling me to be a national chairman of the party is not national service? Is it your language? Is it not a national service? Is one not going to represent a larger constituency? If you’re a senator, are you not representing a constituency? Am I not under a platform they elected me? And that platform I was elected on is the same platform that has the widest scope in governing the whole nation?
If I may throw the question back to you – which of the two do you think is more responsible for us? Because you will stop looking at it from a sub-unit, look at it from a larger unit. From sub-national to national. My constituency even stands to benefit more when they have a national chairman.
PT: How Sir?
You are not a politician and so you will not be able to know, be able to know how. It is a governing party. As a national chairman, you don’t think I will be able to influence certain policies of governments of my own party? I mean, if you look at this, it’s more important to be at the centre when the policies are being done. As a party, I cannot just be national chairman without having a blueprint both in terms of economic and infrastructural development. Are you telling me that the educational system in Niger is different from the educational system you can find in Taraba or the one in Niger East senatorial district is different from the one you are going to find in FCT or in Kogi?
If I’m at the centre and I am coming with a vision for the party, the party should be able to implement it. And if you are elected on the platform of that party you should be able to implement so that Nigerians will see that what is in Kogi is not different from what you see in Niger, because if (they) all finish (in) the schools, at the end of the day, they will come back somewhere and they will compete among themselves.
As far as I’m concerned, I feel like I should be selfless. Today with what God has done for us, the majority of the people benefitting today in this country at higher positions are people (who) have gone to school with nothing. Government provided everything. Is it the same thing today? The money you are paying for school? Is it the same thing you are seeing even in the schools? It is not. So we must all be selfless and think ahead. What I’m thinking today for this political party is that in the next eight years, 10 years, 20 years, what trajectory am I going to pose.
So, I’m always an optimist. I cannot be a pessimistic person saying oh, it shouldn’t. It cannot. I always believe that. There are things that we have in this country that there is no reason for us not to have the kind of infrastructure you can find anywhere in the world. There are countries that don’t have any resources, but they have good leadership.
I give a simple example: Indonesia, Brazil, are having problems with their political structures. When a leader is elected today, after six months, they will pass a vote of no confidence because he did not come in with anything. And at the end of the day, they keep having this problem. They said look, they will now elect a president, the country’s leader, and they will now after a while, not too long, pass a vote of no confidence.
This is because the structure that brought him is not solid, not strong. That was in terms of democracy, the foundation has been laid. But our own pillar is still not solid because the pillars are the political structures, political parties that will be able to hold …
As I said, a political party should be able to evolve in terms of development. We have the best human resource classes in the world, one of the best in every field today. Are we talking about science or talking of the economy? What about health? We have doctors, we have some of the best doctors in the world. In terms of intellectualism, nobody sees you down. Why don’t we take advantage of this? Why don’t you use them here? The environment does not allow it. How do you expect me to visit the chairman of my state APC or my state PDP or my state during the election and I will just ask my driver, look, stop driving, go and get the form to be the chairman of the local governments? What do you expect to get in that pack? You expect to have something come out of it?
So political parties must be able to start working on having a membership and having a kind of database and understanding who are members of this political structure.
Just to follow up, you said as a national chairman, you have a larger constituency than the senator. As a senator, you’re a policymaker in the entire country, your policy, whatever you say, or if you make laws for the entire country, whether one is a member of whichever political party. But as a party chairman, you’re the chairman of only members of your party, and you may not have a direct role in policy-making?
Well, that is not true. When you are in the governing party, the blueprint, the manifesto, we’re talking about emanating from the policies that the government is going to implement is supposed to come from where? How does the Democratic Party govern in America? They have their policies. It’s not like when they go to the government, then they start working on what to do. The plan is already there. All they need to do is to follow it one by one. In our system today, we are borrowing from them. We want to learn and we want to adopt the kind of things they have been doing for over 200 years.
We just want to start. We have never gotten our democracy right until now that we’ve even run up to about 23 years. So the point is, we have to evolve, we have to be very educative in our political system. And when I’m talking about making it an institution there will not be any difference between the party chairman of a state and the elected senator for each political zone. Reason: Even if the senator is in Abuja, the chairman is in Minna, the electorates, the constituents should be able to ask the chairman, the party said they will do this for us, the party said they are coming to look at this, nobody has come. Who is the channel to work and talk to the elected officers?
But if you have relegated yourself to a level that you cannot talk to anyone because maybe you put self-interest above larger interest, the system cannot change and when I’m talking nobody knows how important my constituency is. But what I’m saying is between being a lawmaker and being a national chairman, I have more to offer a wider scope as national chairman.
Your party has been in government for six to seven years and some things are not the way they used to be. So, in your own view, what is your assessment of your administration? Knowing that should you win, you are going to be part and parcel of whatever Nigerians are facing. And to be candid, many are not happy with your government.
You tell me the indices you can take from the 16 years in terms of the economy then. And what do we have now? For the APC for the indices, you look at them. Just totally look at them and tell me. This is where you think we are at fault. What was the inflation level during the PDP government and now? Yes, it was single digit but what was the barrel of oil then, it got too close to about 197 for a stretch of how many years.
You have asked me a question, allow me to give you an answer. If we look at the level of income inflow, because the GDP is based on the capital inflow and towards expenditure, we have done (well). Now, from the side of expenditure, look at the kind of reconstructions and new constructions that we know in terms of infrastructure, how much money is going in there; how much direct inflow that we’re getting in terms of investments compared to that period. So, if you look at this, the kind of money they have met in two years or three years of the whole administration, two years or three years of PDP is what this administration is making in seven years. And then you people still want to compare.
We’re not saying the economy is good. When the COVID came it was also messed up. We’re not producing. When this administration came, it came with a policy that we must eat what we produce. So many countries have done that. Rwanda here does not import. They try as much as possible to produce what they eat. In Nigeria, we are close to 200 million with a large landmass. Now we can feed ourselves and feed all of the West African sub-region. We’ve not taken advantage of it. President came in and said we must eat what we produce, especially rice. Closing the border does not really help. But we are today producing almost 90 per cent of the rice we consume. Is that a minus or plus?
East-West road has been in the drawing board or has been contracted to many contractors since IBB’s regime but that road has never been completed. And in every budget, you will see it and this administration is working to ensure that they complete it. The Enugu-Port Harcourt express road, go and see it has been completed. From Kano to Zaria is almost completed and it is coming to Abuja, Kaduna. They’ve just awarded a contract for Jebba to Mokwa road. Kano to Damaturu has just been commissioned.
The railway system, what we are trying to do is going to do a double lane from Kano to Lagos. There is a coastal route, I mean coastal rail from Lagos to Calabar. It is going to pass through Otuoke. And then we are taking it through Port Harcourt by rail to Enugu up to Maiduguri. What can you say about the Niger bridge? Obasanjo has been talking about the Niger bridge. When Jonathan came, it changed its name, saying Azikiwe and promised to complete that bridge. Did they do that? Today, the Niger bridge is almost 70 per cent completed.
When you talk of welfare, there is no administration in this country that has done well in terms of welfare to Nigerians. The Trader Money – no matter how petty you think it is, the rural woman enjoys it. The support we are giving to young men, today FinTech has been accepted by the young men. Today, young ladies have turned businesswomen, young guys have turned businessmen. There’s so much opportunity.
You will go and register for free and you’re supported with money. We are trying as much as possible. This is the only government that is trying to reduce where people are going to write applications for jobs. What else? Now the only thing you will tell me is that a dollar is N500. Then I will ask you, what have you produced with N130 to a dollar? What have you done to make sure that our GDP and the rate of inflation is down and then our capital flight has also reduced?
During the regime of the PDP, they were importing toothpicks and they were bringing toilet rolls into this country. And you don’t see anything that has changed?
You made mention of us eating what we produce, are you familiar with the current price of locally-produced bags of rice? You said we should eat what we produce, a locally grown bag of rice now goes for 25,000 or more.
Do you know how we got to bring the machinery? This is why I like the government. Because if you are buying at N25,000 now and I have the money I stole when $1 was 130 and I took this money to Switzerland or one of the islands there and kept the money……. If I am a right Nigerian, I should start thinking that they will go back and bring back the money they looted and set up other rice mills. No matter how small that mill is, it will produce rice. Because the more mills we have in this country, the more farmers produce, the lower the price will be.
You are a senator representing the people of Niger State, one of the most feared states due to the spate of insecurity. What is your assessment of the APC government in this regard?
In the area of insecurity, we inherited what we have as insecurity in the country today, even in Niger State. With the kind of money we have in this country, we could have done better in curbing this in the past. And because of the failure to do that during that period there is a multiplier effect we are seeing.
When we started this interview, I told you that the vision I have for this country is for 10, 20 years. If those given the responsibilities were thinking this way, we wouldn’t have been in the position we are today. You said seven years. Do you think seven years is enough for the government to be able to tackle all the rots in the system despite all the problems of Corona, Omicron and the rest of it?
But, let me answer your question. Those days, Borno was the epicenter of this crisis. Now it has shifted to the North-west. Tell me, do you know why? Who are the main people you see in this thing, it is the Fulani people. Why are they there? Most of them lost everything, in terms of the cattle they were rearing and the rest of it. And what caused it? There was deprivation in terms of capital flight, it caused a lot of problems. Instead of us embracing agriculture, we allowed ourselves to be bringing everything into this country. And the repercussions are what we are facing today.
Well, in terms of insecurity, this is our major challenge, especially in my senatorial district. I’m also telling you today that it is no longer the same thing today. The moment the federal government declared them terrorists, and they started doing the needful, it is no longer as bad as you think. Whoever tells you that you can’t go to Niger State is not telling you the truth because everyday people are on the same road going to Minna, Kano.
We can’t just sit in Abuja and believe that it is not all good. And I also want to say without any fear of contradiction that Nigerian journalists, the press need to praise where the security personnel have done much better. One attack, the way it is being blown is not the same where the military neutralizes many insurgents.
Even when the executive governor of your state said between January 1 and 17 that over 200 residents have been killed?
Give me the facts where the governor said that. I’m hearing it from you for the first time. I haven’t read it. Not in my constituency. I don’t react to hearsay. I have not read it anywhere that my state governor said that.
Maybe he said it while I was away. I was out of the country for three weeks. But in my constituency, daily, even if I’m away, I know what happens every day and I can tell you that no 200 people die in my constituency.
If he (governor) said in Niger State, I’m aware that about 21 people were killed in Mashiru (an area in the state) but I have not heard the governor saying 200 people were killed. I dispute that fact. That is your writing, Premium Times. How will you write something and expect me to believe it? Because I work with facts on ground. The attack that occurred in my constituency, which is the largest constituency in the state….. If the army commandant says 200 people have been killed, I will agree with him. I don’t think my governor said anything like that.
There are more than 10 people vying for the same position you are vying for, what are your chances?
Very bright, excellent, confident that I will make it. I’m going to sell myself the Blueprint I have for the APC in the best ways. We have to have something new. The world is evolving. We need to evolve with it.
So what we will do is that the whole 10 or 11 of us are ably qualified, all of us can run the party but only one will lead. And what I want to tell you is that every one of us will be able to tap into the experiences of each one of us to make the party a better place for everyone.
Do you have the support of your colleagues in the National Assembly?
Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Just recently, the National Leader of the APC, Bola Tinubu, visited your house and he made a statement that you’ve worked hard for the party and you are going to be rewarded. Does that mean that you have his support too?
I don’t know the journalists that heard my conversation with the APC leader, Asiwaju. As I came back from a medical trip, he visited me to see how I’m doing, just as I visited him in London to see how he is doing.
So I don’t know which journalist and there were no journalists there. There were no journalists when we were talking. So I don’t know how and where he made that statement.
Are you in other words saying you don’t have his support?
That does not translate to support when you are visiting someone. That does not translate to support or no support. It is a personal visit which I appreciate like any other person will come to you not even when you’re ill to your house to visit you. And for the calibre of persons like him to come and visit me, I will appreciate it. But for somebody to say he has said this or said that, I think it is only him that will be able to answer your question.
So, how would you rate the handling of the party by the Mala Buni Caretaker Committee?
He has done very well. He has done very well. And I hope that he will be able to end well with the way he’s doing today.
You sponsored an anti-social bill not quite long but was rejected. If you have a chance will you still represent it to the house?
Yes. I still stand by my bill. Because if countries like Canada, countries like the UK can censor their social media, tell me why Nigeria should not do it? Who says they’re going to block you from using your social media?
I use my social media 24/7. If you wake up at 2 a.m., I’m there. How do I get to research? How do I get to know all the things I want to do to make APC a better party? It is through social media, but there are things that we must censor. Anything that has to do with national security must be checked. I stand by that. I’m unapologetic about that.
You pressmen have not told me how the social media bill is going to gag you. You have not told me how social media is going to ban young men from using their handles. You have not told me, you’ve not quoted a clause in that bill to tell me this is where he proposed to ban the use of social media in Nigeria. You have not told me but this is what you have put in as your headlines.
It was not rejected. The report has not been presented yet. It’s not rejected. We’re doing serious work on it because we need to know if Canada is saying they have free speech. So what did I do? What are those areas that are regulated in terms of media, in terms of social media?
When talking about fake news, in what areas are they talking about regulating? What did France censor beyond social media? Browse it and tell me what you get. What did you get regulated in social media? Brands? It is there. And it has been passed as law.
So if countries like that can do it, why can’t we do it? UAE has a law that regulates social media. But if you go to Dubai, don’t you use your social media. Don’t you use Instagram? Don’t you use Facebook? Did they stop you from using it?
So, my bill originally is to check the intermediaries like Facebook, like Twitter. When Nigeria told Twitter to come and open an office in Nigeria, can’t you be proud of the government of President Buhari for doing that? If Twitter will say no, I’m not coming to Nigeria, I’m going to Ghana to open an office and the benefits that will become will go to Ghana, not Nigeria that has over 100 and something million people subscribing to it……. How many people are in Ghana or is it that people don’t look at those things?
The taxes they will pay for this country. Are they paying it in the United States? You know why? Why did GH come up with the proposal that multinationals will be paying universal taxes? You know what? We need to go in-depth to understand things before we criticise them.
The APC has not yet come out officially to zone the national offices to the various geopolitical zones in the country. If the APC doesn’t zone the chairmanship to the North, will you still contest?
No, I’m a law abiding person. And I believe in this supremacy of the party. I’m a party man and I will honour whatever the party decides.