In this interview with Onyebuchi Ezigbo, Interim National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, talks about issues relating to the fight against terrorism, the recent party congresses and June 13 National Convention of the APC. Excerpts:
What is the position of APC on the renewed emergency rule in the three states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa?
The issue of the state of emergency in the north east states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa is a matter for the National Assembly to decide. I think the various governors have made their views on the matter known. In my view, this should not be partisan.
Some people have while criticising the federal government of slow in checking the insurgents’ activities also blamed the governors and your party for not implementing initiatives to curb insecurity?
That is a very scandalous allegation because in the first instance, it is the federal government that is in control of the police. I am also not aware that there is any role given to these governors that they did not perform. As a matter of fact, many of them have gone beyond the call of duty because primarily, it is their problem; it is their citizens that were killed every day; it is their economy that is stalled; it is their markets that are shut and it is their children that cannot go to school. So it is scandalous for anyone to say that a governor will be a stumbling block in the pursuit of peace in those troubled states.
On the contrary, what the governors have always said was that they should involve more locals. That intelligence gathering which is key to resolving this problem cannot be achieved without the cooperation of the locals. Everywhere there is insurgency, the first thing a government does is to get the buy-in of the community, local politicians and the people themselves. You cannot resolve this matter by being aloof, by cutting out the local stakeholders. On the contrary, these governors have always been pushy for this. I think it is quite very unfair for anybody to say that our governors are not cooperating. And if that was the allegation, has anybody come out to say to the governor of Borno or Yobe States, this is how you have obstructed or stood in the way of resolving the matter of insecurity or frustrated the efforts of the military.
What about the non-military intervention to engage more youths in productive ventures so as to prevent them from swelling the ranks of insurgents?
I think anybody who is honest and objective about this situation will give kudos to the governors of these states because despite the challenges they are facing which did not start just yesterday, Boko Haram did not start yesterday, it dates back beyond 2011, they have done their best in the area of education and agriculture. They have not absconded as some would have done. Yes the schools might be in a state of dilapidation. The question to ask is how long have they been there? But will we be talking about the state of Chibok girls? I saw the pictures of the school and they are not significantly different from others across the country.
Even states where there is no insurgency have not fared better. But for a state that spends most its resources on battling insurgency, where are they going to get the money to spend on education or on infrastructure? If the governors of these states tell you how much they spend on a daily basis on security, there is no way other areas of governance will not suffer. If I give you a contract today to go re-build the primary school in Chibok, will you go there? So it is understandable. You must judge people within the context things are happening.
In that case, what is your party's assessment of the war on terror? How do see the offer of assistance by the international community?
If you cast your mind back many months ago, we openly made this same suggestion to the federal government. I remember in particular, we said that Boko Haram might be a made in Nigeria insurgency but that it has become global and we have advised government to seek the operational assistant of the ECOWAS and the African Union. We said this many months ago and there is nothing our leaders are now saying that we have not said before. I challenge everybody to bring out any press statements or interviews in which we ever in any manner encouraged insurgency.
We have always condemned every act of terrorism. We also offer solutions to government and have critiqued them for their inept and incompetence. But nothing has changed. It is the PDP and the government that has only just realised that the fight cannot be won in the battle line. For us, we have always said that our military must be properly motivated. If there is anything the governor of Borno State is saying that is embarrassing to the president, is that not what the US and Britain are saying also? As far as we are concerned, we have not changed from our position. The federal government has recently realised that the insecurity challenge is beyond it.
I know for a fact that before now, government did not consider it serious. Even on the issue of a counter terrorism policy, we suggested that it should publish its counter terrorism policy. We told the government that they must also see the issue beyond the use of military force and look at the economic and political solution. This dialogue the government is embracing, we were the first to suggest it but we were not listened to. It is same self-denial that has led us to this sorry pass. Our party made about ten suggestions and I will state some of them. How many internal peacemakers and experts have been sent to Chibok because one of our recommendations is that the military alone cannot resolve the conflict and that they should look for NGOs, CSOc, trauma experts to go into the area.
We said the economic package they offered is just N2billion which is despicable. We reminded them that as at today, there are about 10,000 widows in those states. Two hundred and nine schools and 600 classrooms have been destroyed in Yobe and Borno States respectively. We said if the federal government should go there with a marching marshal plan, we are going to win over many young men from Boko Haram. Because today, due to the fact that most of these youths are unemployed and unemployable, it will not just be a matter of pumping money there, you must have serious plan to even re-educate, re-direct and make those who are unemployable to be employable and find jobs for those who employable. When you do that, Boko Haram will be less attractive to the people.
Have they done that? Also, part of our 10-point plan against Boko Harm, is that there is nowhere in the world that you defeat an insurgency with just a military force. You must align it with political and social strategy. Even in Afghanistan, there are channels that Americans are exploring for negotiating with the Taliban. More importantly, we said our military which used to be the pride of the whole of Africa, today they are shadow of themselves because they have been deprived of necessary funds to equip them.
They have guns that do not fire; they have armoured carrier that cannot move and we advised them to ensure that the army is properly equipped. Have they done that? No! It is this same self-denial that has left us in the mess. They should be humble enough to accept where they have gone wrong. Is what we are saying different from what any other person including the US is saying? Look, there is no way we can win the war with the obsolete equipment we have today, and even the president admitted it during his media chat. With this, there is no way the military can defeat the insurgents.
How did APC conduct its congresses in the insurgency-hit areas of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa or were they left out of the exercise?
Although I would know how it went ward to ward, I can assure you that it was foolproof. Let’s not even talk about our congresses. On December 30, Yobe State conducted its local government elections in all the wards and it was very successful. In February, APC carried out nationwide membership registration exercise everywhere, it was successful; there was no disruption. If there was any problem, it was intra-party. So that was why it was possible for us to conduct our congresses. I was in Maidugiri recently and I must give kudos to the governor for the relative order in which he handled the congresses in the area. At least, it wasn’t ghosts that registered for the party everywhere in the state.
Are you implying that if your party was able to hold its registration and congresses in those states, INEC too should be able to conduct elections too?
Yes. I do not see any reason the commission would not be able to hold elections in every part of the country. If the Yobe State government conducted elections in 2013 in every ward and if APC conducted congress in every polling unit in Nigeria, including Yobe, Adamawa and Borno States, INEC has no excuse not to conduct elections in the states.
What is your assessment of the APC's congresses, especially against the backdrop of protests and complaints that followed it?
You see, there are over 8,000 wards in Nigeria and congresses were conducted in every ward. What was the percentage of the wards where congresses were not successful, it is almost zero. Now, the thing about congress is that if you get it right at the ward level, it is difficult for you to challenge that local government and state congresses. This is because, it is the ward congress that involves everybody that elect ward executives, local government delegates and state delegates. So if you get it right at the ward congress, then you will get it right at the local council level. At the local council and state levels, not everybody will be involved except only those that have been elected from the ward congress plus the automatic delegates that now form the electoral college for the local government congress.
You see, there is a great distortion between the ward congress and the local government congress in the sense that a man who is hugely popular at the ward congress and has huge followership may not necessarily succeed at local government congress. At the local council congress, he is going to meet with people from other wards and the fact that there are people who by virtue of the party guidelines are automatic delegates, a man that has majority during the ward congress might become a minority stakeholder in the local government congress.
For example, I come from a ward in Kwara State and in my ward, clearly, I could be very popular because I have the followership, if after the ward congress and everybody is all for Lai Muhammed, I might still lose at the local government level because there would be 11 other wards that would come.
The fact that APC has automatic delegates many of whom are government functionaries and elected assembly men, formerly of the PDP, has short-changed me at the local government level. I do not even have any of them elected under the APC platform. This is where people get it wrong, the result at the ward level might favour you but at the local council level, because of these extraneous factors, things may not favour you.
Is that responsible for the disputes in Edo and Ogun States?
I won’t be specific. What happened in those states will hopefully be revealed by the appeal committee handling the petitions. But I am just telling you that these were things people did not foresee. A man who is very popular in his ward, for instance, will just lose everything at the local government congress unless he negotiates and networks with others. If he did not see it in advance, then he might face defeat. However, if there are about 8,000 wards, even If 100 wards are protesting that it is not fairly done, compared to the rest of the wards, I think it was a good outing.
Having said this, we knew that this would happen and we appealed to our people to be very patient. Even if you are happy with the appeal result, you can also appeal to the national leadership. There were only a few states where people petitioned on the congress. Appeal does not mean that elections are inconclusive. I know about states like Edo and Ogun that have become very controversial and we are going to look into them.
What about speculations that the former of governor of Ogun state, Chief Segun Osoba was planning to quit APC on account of his dissatisfaction with the congress?
No, that is not true. Osoba was with us at recent meetings and there was nothing to suggest that.
Some members of the interim national leadership of APC of which you are one have been accused of maneuvering to retain their positions at the national convention. Are you about to clone yourselves?
But it is not possible. It is not just possible. You see people should not forget that the elements we have at the leadership today are not by any election. It was just to meet the INEC requirement. Now, part of the problems we have with the congresses is simply because people want to take ownership of party structures with the view that it would help them in their political aspirations.
Either they want to run for elective offices or party positions, one thing I can assure you is that our primaries will be transparent and it will follow due process. I do not see why anybody should trust this executive and will be saying they want to clone themselves. People will be elected based on the provisions of the constitution of the party.
Is the chairman and yourself re-contesting?
Why not go and ask the chairman? Is there any law that states that anybody holding office in the interim does not have a right to contest? You see, if anybody who wants to contest should come out. As of today, the chairman has not told me he is contesting or that he is not contesting. We should be much more occupied by the working to ensure a process that will produce a strong substantive structure for the party.
What about the zoning palaver which is said to be delaying your convention?
To the best of my knowledge, nobody has ever discussed zoning structure in my presence, not at any meeting. It might be tabled at the next meeting of the party’s caucus but for crying out loud, I did not see zoning in our constitution. Even during the process of registration of the party we had to appoint officers of the party and we had to choose them from the participating parties to the merger. Since the merger was consummated, we no longer see ourselves as former political entities, ACN, ANPP, CPC or DPP but as one political party, which is APC. You see if the leadership of the party or the national convention committee of the party decides that these are the guidelines for the convention, then we will follow those guidelines. As we are today, some local governments and states are yet to conclude their congresses.