The interim National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Bisi Akande, in this interview with select journalists in his Ila Orangun home, speaks on a wide range of issues. Excerpts:
You were quoted as saying that the All Progressives Congress is not so keen on the presidency come 2015. What then is your focus?
I will rather say I was misquoted. How would there be a major party in 2013 and such party will not be keen about 2015? We are very much keen about 2015. The only thing I said, maybe, beclouded the one I did not say. What I said was that our preoccupation as an interim leadership of the APC was to mobilise and register members, to conduct congresses and convention to establish a good structure, a durable structure for the new party and that the priority now is the Anambra election and possibly, the Delta State senatorial election which will come up anytime from now. That is what I said, but to say that we are not concerned about 2015 is an understatement. I did not say so. I only said what we are primarily concerned about now because unless we have a proper structure, we won’t be able to face 2015 squarely. So, we should organise the party first.
Then, there was the invitation extended to President Goodluck Jonathan by you to join your party, which has been interpreted as you admiring the person of Jonathan and his administration…
When the question was put to me on whether our doors are open to non-ACN, CPC or ANPP members, it is true I said our doors are open to PDP members that may be defecting and particularly to Jonathan if he gets tired of the crisis in PDP. But that does not mean we admire Jonathan. I have many reasons not to admire him. I have had two meetings with him. I have had a long conversation with him over the telephone. And on all these occasions, I did not find him to be a serious-minded leader. I can say boldly that Nigeria’s problem today is Jonathan. It could have been easier for Nigeria if to say we have the thinking leadership in Jonathan. I said I have written him twice; he had never had the courtesy of acknowledging any of the letters. I discussed serious business in the two letters on what can move Nigeria forward. That shows me that on all other issues, that is the levity with which Jonathan was taking national issues. He is the problem of this country because he is more concerned about his anxiety for his third term election, or a third term return to presidency and he reduced the Nigerian government to kindergarten governance. He reduced the totality of this country to kindergarten governance. If you remember, because Bola Tinubu insisted, which is true, which was the decision of the party, that ACN will not participate in the Government of National unity, he set the Code of Conduct Bureau after him until he got disgraced in court. When Bankole did not want to support his nomination of a candidate for the Speaker of the House of Representatives, he sent EFCC after him. See the happening in Rivers State now; he sent EFCC after Amaechi. He sends EFCC after everybody that he suspects. He is behaving like kindergarten. We want a leader in this country; we don’t want a kindergarten president; we want a thinking leadership. So, I don’t have any reason to admire Jonathan. If he comes to APC, we will be afraid so that he doesn’t bring crisis to our party.
How do you want to accommodate those that are not progressively-minded? Or is there an avenue for the incoming ones to be integrated into your ideology?
When you talk about progressive, it is a matter of political environment. There is no way you can be in PDP and be a progressive, but there are a lot of ways you can come to APC and learn to be progressive. And we believe that no matter how reactionary you might be in the PDP, if you come to APC, by the time you see us demonstrating discipline; by the time you see us demonstrating efficiency, you will be ashamed to stay behind. If you can’t be a first class, you struggle to be a third class politician. That is why we believe that no matter what you are now, if you join the APC, you leave the circle of the expired leadership and you come to the circle of disciplined and efficient leadership. There is no way you will not be progressive. What progressive means is thinking less about yourself as a leader and thinking more always about the generality of the people; not allocating money for the construction of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and doing nothing and beginning to say on the radio and television that work has started. Maybe they are already sharing the money. That is not progressive. If you are progressive, before Jonathan will go to Lagos-Ibadan Expressway to turn the sod or flag off, as the case may be, the contractor’s machinery would have been in place, go to Lagos-Ibadan Expressway now, you won’t see anything happening. Maybe next year, he will tell you why it was not possible. That is reactionary government. We want progressive leaders like Fashola, Oshiomhole, Aregbesola, Fayemi, Ajimobi in Ibadan. Go and see changes. No matter how reactionary you are, when you are among the thinking leaders, definitely, you will want to join them.
That is why we invited people from the PDP to come and join us in the APC.
How would you react to the claim by the PDP that we have expired leaders at the helm of affairs of APC?
I think Chief Tom Ikimi has said it all that PDP has no leadership except for expired leadership. Why would you say people in the APC are expired leaders? I left Osun State some 10 years ago and I am happy that I am still being celebrated by the people of the state. Would you call me an expired leader? Even today, Jonathan is not being celebrated in Bayelsa State. Where will he be celebrated? What will he point to that he has done as president that will make people celebrate him? I don’t want to react to such a thing. They are fond of abuse; we are not for abuse, but for work. I mean real business. I think Jonathan has no serious capacity for accommodating serious business.
The APC was recently described as a government in waiting. How would you react to this?
If you see how the APC was welcomed after registration, you will be anxious to see election come and you will be convinced that APC is a government in waiting. It is in the mind of the people to judge which party is a government in waiting.
Considering the fact that APC is made up of politicians from different parties with different backgrounds, what is the leadership doing to avoid implosion?
The mere fact that people come from different political parties does not suggest implosion. What will you now say of Nigeria which contains several ethnic groups? Are you saying that Nigeria is a possible implosion? If it is yes, then, I won’t be able to answer your question.
General Muhammadu Buhari was in government while you were in prison. At what point did you have a change of mind that he is a democrat?
Buhari’s military junta sent many Nigerians to prison, including myself, but Buhari as a politician demonstrated to the whole country he wanted to deviate from the military way of doing things to a democratic way of doing things. So, we have been working with him. We have been discussing issues. In the military, you don’t debate; now, we have been debating with Buhari. He said recently that he was ready to contest the primary with any member of the APC, and if he was defeated, he was going to support the winner. In the military, you don’t wait to be defeated; you arrest those who want to contest with you and you kill them. So, the environment of politics of democracy is waiting to change Buhari to a democrat.
Most of the people that are in government now are those that have been there before as administrators, governors like David Mark and Jonah Jang. How are you going to ensure that new bloods are injected into governance in Nigeria to avoid recycling of leadership?
Don’t let us make mistake. Those who you mentioned were invariably leaders in the military, and there are rooms for them to be leaders again in the democracy. It is a pity that Nigeria refused to move forward at the hands of the reactionaries. Generally, our constitution is there for you to consider. You serve as a governor for two terms, no way for you again. So, if it is fully implemented and we do not replicate the kind of Obasanjo who wanted a third term, and by the time we begin to have less and less of people of that tendency, you will see that succession business becomes more reasonable. And if you remember, when we were rigged out of office, the only place where we won was Lagos. If you look at the succession system in Lagos and compare it with the succession system in Obasanjo’s Federal Government, you will be able to see a difference that succession for progress was that of the ACN government of Lagos State and succession for retrogression was that of the PDP Federal Government. If our constitution is properly adhered to, I think succession will not be a problem. But the tendency to want to circumvent the constitution is what is leading us to what you described as recycling of leadership. That is what people call expired leadership.
What are you doing to ensure success at the polls for your party?
We are doing all we can. Already, in Anambra State, two weeks from now, we will start registration of members and congresses from ward to local government and the state levels in the state, and we quickly conduct a primary to produce our governorship candidate. Thereafter, election is not new to us in the state. I know that if election was transparent four years ago, we won there. But because we belong to a country where the leadership of the security like the Inspector-General of Police thought he is the Inspector-General of the President, not independent Inspector-General of Police of Nigeria. And we think with what INEC has just done coming out boldly to register the party in spite of all the pressure and the obstacle put before it by the presidency, maybe the INEC will be bold enough this time and be more courageous to give us transparent election. And if they do, election is never strange to us in Anambra State; we will win any day. Even when we were ACN, we won, not to talk of APC. Many PDP and many notable politicians in Igbo land are joining us. We have no fear at all. We only need to ensure that the election is made transparent and we are going to create what we call watch-dog forum to make sure that our votes count.
What had been the impediments before the progressives or the opposition to collaborate in the past?
The impediments before the progressives or the opposition to collaborate in the past have been totally removed. The major impediment in the past was lack of trust among the leadership.
This lack of trust was brought about by lack of political education. That has been overcome now. Another impediment was that the government in power was making sure that coming together was impossible. There was a time PDP sponsored one of their own to lead the Alliance for Democracy. He contested as the national chairman of the AD in preparation for 2003 election and he won and became the chairman. He is Abdulkadri by name. And you can imagine where an opposition is put in place to become the leader of an opposition party; you know what that can bring. It was a mischief on the part of the Federal Government; using their big opportunity to use big money to destabilise us. That is overcome now. The lack of confidence is already a thing of the past. The lack of political education is already a matter of the past, and the conflict of trust or lack of trust among the leadership is already overcome. APC is a reality in the political firmament of this country today, and that is why it will be easy and convenient for us to win elections in Anambra, Ekiti, Osun in 2014 and the presidency in 2015. I am predicting we will have cause to meet like this in the future and we will remind ourselves of what I am saying today. In 2015, APC is coming to take over government.
You are aware of the faceoff between the Lagos State government and Anambra State on the deportation of destitute. How would you describe the action of Lagos State?
It is what I can call politics of mischief. If you remember, in 2009, shortly before the election of Anambra State, the same Obi was displaying pictures of Awolowo, raising up the hands of Ngige or something like that, trying to call our candidate a member of Yoruba party, calling the AC then a Yoruba party and it was dramatised the same way he is dramatising this Lagos/Anambra face-off. In spite of that, the Igbo rejected him then. This time, before he started, the Igbo had rejected him. If you read Lai Mohammed, he reminded us. Obi started this thing in Anambra in 2011 by throwing out people from Ebonyi State. What he is accusing Lagos of doing today? And it is not strange, if you read Lai Mohammed, even in America, it happens between states, where you exchange destitute. So, it is not a strange thing that you don’t want homeless people to come and occupy your space. What Fashola has done was the right thing, writing to Obi to say there are some destitute just arriving in Lagos from your state. What do we do about it and he asked Lagos government to bring them to Onitsha bridge where some people will take them over, and when they got to the place, nobody was there to take them. There were so many letters Lagos wrote to Anambra without reply, so, what would you expect Fashola to do? It is not strange. They are only making a mountain out of a mole hill. There is nothing in it rather than politics of mischief. I don’t think it can go anywhere. The sovereign people of Anambra State definitely understand.
You were said to have shunned Elder Peter Babalola, a former chieftain of the PDP who defected to your party when he paid you a visit in your home. How true was this claim?
That I threw Peter Babalola out of my house? And you never quoted a date. He was here with me eating pounded yam and drinking palm wine yesterday celebrating the sallah with me.
Maybe that answers your question. There are pictures if you care to see. He was here throughout yesterday celebrating with me. So, there is no quarrel between Peter Babalola and the leadership of APC. Whether you are PDP or APC, whatever your party, you are all Akande’s children. If you stay long here, you will begin to see active PDP members coming here. So, we accommodate everybody. I will not reject you because of your political thought. We can only influence you to think right politically.
Do you see your party winning elections in Kwara and Kogi states in the immediate future?
We don’t have problem there anymore. Since the registration of APC, things are changing for the best in Kwara. If you go to Kwara North, judging by 2011 election, they were largely CPC, while Kwara South was essentially ACN and a mixture of CAN and PDP. At the end of the day, PDP won election there. Many of the PDP members in Kwara State will soon move over to APC because I know they became worried when Jonathan started sending EFCC after Bukola Saraki because Jonathan’s style is, if you are not in speaking term with him, like Obasanjo before him, he will send EFCC after you. Since he started sending EFCC after Saraki, the signal is already going to the generality of members of PDP in Kwara State that APC is their final home. So, we are not afraid of what will happen in Kwara, but we have Kogi; we are firmly rooted there. We were rigged out in Kogi in the last election. I know in a general election, where everybody is involved, by the grace of God, in the coming election, we are going to have Kogi State.
What is your comment on the crisis in Rivers State?
I don’t see it as a crisis. When I started, you will remember that I said the problem of this country is Jonathan. Amaechi is a PDP. He was thinking that the relationship between the state and the Federal Government should be according to the constitution. The Federal Government will just dip its two hands into the state money and spend it in their own usual way. And Amaechi was leading the governors to go to court to checkmate the Federal Government from squandering state money. The constitution is clear. In sharing the formula, take your own and spend it the way you like. But let the state take their own money and spend it for the people. Because of that, Jonathan does not want Amaechi to remain the chairman of Nigeria Governors forum. That is the only offence, and because of that, he sent the police, EFCC and all the things that are fearful to intimidate the governor. And it was before your own clear eyes that five members of the House of Assembly struggled to impeach 27 and you were here in this country when Amaechi won 19 governors’ votes as against 16 and the PDP embraced the minority as the winner. So, this is enough to tell you that PDP is the party of the riggers and that is why we are running away from PDP and before the 2015 election, PDP will show itself more in such a ugly pattern that Nigerians will never touch it again.
Are you considering bringing in Bukola Saraki into your political fold?
I have not talked politics with Bukola Saraki before but if he and his people are desirous to come to APC today, we are going to embrace them with open arms.
We learnt that former governor of Osun State, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, is likely to join APC as a result of what he is now facing in his party. How far is this true?
I don’t know. Olagunsoye Oyinlola was my very good boy when we were in the AD, before he joined the PDP. His parents were in the Action Group. But he deliberately went to join bad people and I whispered it into his ears recently that, ‘Lagun, what are you doing with these bad people. Don’t you see how comfortable you are now? You better come back home.’ If he decides to come back today, he is welcome.
The incumbent governor in Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola, is one of your political products. How would you assess his performance?
Honestly, I am becoming afraid about his audacity and passion. Each time I see him, I ask, ‘Rauf, how will you get money to do all this?’ And he keeps doing bigger and bigger things. So, I retired myself to praying for him that God assist him to accomplish his mission.
This is the first time the South-West will have a serious alliance with the North. Do you see it working?
In 2005, myself and some other colleagues in the South-West thought that for almost 200 years, there had been bitterness between the North-West and the South-West since the jihad of Othman Dan Fodio and the resistance of the emergence of the Fulani hegemony through Oyo to the South-West, which led to the takeover of Ilorin from the Yoruba. We sat down in 2005 and said no, we can’t continue fighting. We fought for 200 years; can’t we be friends for a while? Maybe because the Yoruba and the Hausa/Fulani are fighting, maybe that is why Nigeria seemed not to have peace or progress. Then, we said we would do everything to woo the Hausa/Fulani to work with us. Maybe for once, we will have a progressive Nigeria and we stretched the hand of friendship to them, particularly to Buhari through Balarabe Musa, and we set up a committee and they were working. Suddenly, I was not in the country and a group was formed that contained Atiku and the South-West. And about a week later, there was another one led by somebody again. I tried to find out what was happening and they said no, but Atiku is from the North-East. They said no, they were metamorphosing to ACD. Then, I said no, I won’t be part of ACD. They started appealing to me to come and be the leader. I said no because that was not our original thinking. Our original thinking was that the South-West will work with the North-West. It doesn’t matter what happened to the rest of the country. And we called ourselves back to the drawing board and we agreed to align the AD and the ACD to ANPP. We agreed to bear the name ‘ANPP,’ use the logo of corn and reshaped things, but we were rejected by ANPP and hurriedly, we put together Action Congress. That was towards the 2007 elections. So, in 2009, I personally met Buhari again and said, ‘look, we have tried this thing before and it did not work, can’t we try it again.’ He agreed that we could and we set up a committee of three, to work out how we can work together again, but by 2010, when we were to materialise this arrangement, Atiku withdrew and went back to PDP. We thought we would embrace Buhari to continue with the negotiation. Suddenly, he too moved and said he was going to form his own party, and that frustrated that attempt. After the election, we started talking again, and we are happy, today, we are in a union not only of the South-West and North-West, we are the reunion of the entire country. The whole of Nigeria is in the basket now, and that is why we are sure we are going to win 2015 election. On the issue of presidential candidate, we have not got there at all. And if we start thinking about that, we will start digging political well. We want to build a political structure, digging a political well will start from the top down. You choose the presidency before building the party, but if you want to establish an endurable structure, you build the political party with a non-collapsing structure. By the time the structure is solid, we choose whoever will represent us in Aso rock and I don’t think that will give us problem.
How would you get people nominated for election? Is it through your old way of selection of candidate?
You are wrong to say that we don’t embrace primaries. What we are saying is that internal democracy as conceived by certain people is an abnormality in politics. A political party is like a cult; you have a goal, and only those who understand that goal can reach it. But if you throw it open and a rich man comes, even PDP that is much richer, they can send their people to come and buy the party from us, and before we know it, they will be members of the National Assembly, governors and they will call it APC, or ACN. We don’t want that. We want those who are well groomed in our culture to represent us. So, our own is a guided internal democracy. Guided internal democracy never forbids primaries, but the primaries too will be according to the regulation of our party. We won’t contest with ourselves like a general election. That is what is destroying PDP now; they want to claim to the world that they are democratic when they are not. We don’t want that.
What is the position of APC on those people calling themselves acting this or that of the party at various levels?
All those calling themselves all kinds of appellations in the name of APC in the state, local government and ward levels are unauthorised. They are all fakes. You are not a proper member until you are registered, and that is why we at the federal level call ourselves interim. There is no law that says we should be, but INEC insisted that unless we have a national interim leadership, we would not be registered, and we wanted to be registered. That was why we created the interim national leadership, and we want to go to the field and register people. You can’t be an officer of a party when you are not a registered member of the party. You can’t just hijack state executive, you can only be a former ACN or ANPP secretary or whatever as the case may be. And you can be friends of the party; you can hold meetings to assist us and ensure that registration of members goes on well. Until that is done, you can’t be anything in our party.
So, immediately after registration, we are going to congresses at ward, local and state levels, and finally, a convention at the federal level. It is then that we have substantive leaders and all this interim kind of thing will move aside for those who win elections at congresses and convention.
When is that registration coming up?
Anytime from now. We are all working hard. A committee is already constituted to advise the party on that.