Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi is the National Publicity Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). In this chat with newsmen in Abuja, Abdullahi talks about the achievements of President Muhammadu Buhari administration in the last two years and other issues, OBIORA IFOH was there, Excerpts:
Two years of APC in government. Do you think there is any need for celebration?
I believe very strongly that there is every reason to celebrate. I know that because of the difficulty that people are going through, there is a temptation to think that there is no much to celebrate. But I think that if we look more closely, paying more attention to where we are coming from and where we were two years ago, you will see that we have more than sufficient good reason to celebrate. There was a reason that Nigerians overwhelmingly voted for APC a little over two years ago. There was a reason that for the first time in our history, Nigerians rejected a sitting government and those reasons were quite compelling and those are the reasons that justifies APC’s existence in government today at the federal level and in the various states. I like to say that there three things that President Buhari promised as we went round the country campaigning. One was that he promised to fight corruption. Secondly, he said he will fight insecurity especially as it relates to Boko Haram and thirdly, he said he will create employment opportunity for the young people. Let us take the issue of Boko Haram. I have said it repeatedly that we tend to forget one fundamental fact which was that at the time we were preparing for election in 2015, more than 50,000 square kilometers of Nigeria territory were physically occupied by Boko Haram, where the declared a caliphate and planted their flag. I remember that in trying to make sense of it said the area occupied by Boko Haram was the size of Belgium. Two years down the line, what is the size of Nigeria territory occupied by Boko Haram? Zero, including the dreaded Sambisa Forest. For us, this is a remarkable achievement and we believe that in that respect, President Buhari and the government of APC have justified the purpose of coming to power. Yes, many of the Chibok girls are still in captivity, but some of them have been recovered and more are still being recovered. For the parent of those recovered, you cannot tell them there is no reason to celebrate. For those who had to abandon their families and homes two years ago because of the menace of Boko Haram and has returned home today, you cannot tell them that there is nothing to celebrate.
Let us take the issue of corruption. We must not forget that before APC came into power two years ago, we knew what was going on. We knew that people were stealing this country dry, but it was almost like it has been accepted as if it was normal. People were stealing as if it was an entitlement. But what do you find happening today? You listen to the radio, watch the television,;read the newspapers, Nigerians are talking about corruption everyday. It means that as a nation, there is nothing in our DNA that accepts corruption. It means that we are telling the world that as a country, we don’t want corruption and that is why we are having that conversation. You hear people talking about whistleblowers, people talk about huge amount of money being recovered, people being dragged before the court, former governors being remanded in prison custody for corrupt practices, you hear about former ministers being held in detention and prison for corruption. These are things that were almost impossible two years ago. The challenges are still there, but this is the progress we have made in two years.
For us, we would also like to argue that there is the tendency to look at the APC from the perspective of the federal government. But the performance of the APC as a party is the aggregate of the performance of our 24 state government. You go to each of our 24 states and you will find out from the people the progress that has been made in two years in those respective states. So, when you want to assess whether APC has delivered or has justify our being in existence, then you have to look at the totality of the federal,government and the 24 states that is being governed by the APC. So, we believe that we have a lot of reasons to celebrate. The reality which we have acknowledged is that the economic recession has created difficulty and those hardship still exist and nobody has ever denied that reality. We believe that inspire of this reality as a result of the hardship, we have enough reason to celebrate two years as a government.
A few days ago the Labour Party said the issue of the Chibok girls is a fraud and its reason is that the last girls recovered were looking well fed and some of them were wearing rosary and that it is like some politicians hijacked these girls, kept them somewhere and are now bringing them and now releasing them in batches.
You seriously want me to respond to that? You seriously want me to say that there was a government in place and some people managed to abduct some 300 girls and kept them somewhere and that government did not know? And some people who were not in power at the time were able to abduct some 300 Nigerian girls and kept them somewhere and the whole world did not know and these people are now bringing these girls back instalmentally and the whole world did not know and you want us to sit down and be having this conversation?
The government promised to create job opportunity for the youths, but two years after, there is practically nothing to show for. Secondly, there is the issue of the rampaging herdsmen and yet we are celebrating the success in the war against Boko Haram. What is happening to the herdsmen and why is not difficult to curtail the excesses of these herdsmen who are almost approaching the coastline?.
I agree with you that the issue of the herdsmen is an issue of serious concern. But you also agree wit me that it did not start today because the issue of farmers and herdsmen clashes has always been there for as long as we could remember. I also agree with you that probably the government need to do more than what is happening at the moment whether in the various states where these things are happening or at the federal level. But what I said was that at the time the issue of Boko Haram was the dominant issue in this country, every Nigerian will not think of any other thing. Even the issue of herdsmen, as bad as it is, was insignificant in the context of the insecurity that is occasioned by terrorist activities. You are walking down the streets and the wind blows a nylon bag close to you , you run because you will think that it might conceal a bomb. We forget these things easily. No country is ever in a hundred percent state of security. Look at what happened in Manchester a couple a days ago. It is a challenge that every government will continue to deal with. If we deal with the issue of herdsmen, kidnappers, armed robbery, there will be other security challenges that will come up. The important thing is whether government is responsive enough to deal with the realities as they emerge. I agree with you that we ought to have done more in respect to the issue of herdsmen.
Regarding the issue of unemployment, I believe that we have to take a more comprehensive look at the challenge of unemployment that Nigeria is faced with and we have to also understand every country in the world today is dealing with this issue of unemployment. It is not something that you switch on and switch off. Look at the statistics. What is the percentage of Nigerian youths that Mr. President promised to create jobs for? We have 46 percent of Nigerian youths that are unemployed according to the report of the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics. If we agree that the population of young people in this country is about 65 million, what Is 46 percent f that? If you take the entire civil service in Nigeria, I don’t think they have more than 300,000 people. If you take out 300,000 people in the context of about 30 million people that are looking for employment, no matter what you do, it will look like you have done nothing. I was Minister for Youth Development and what I found was that 80 per cent of these young people looking for employment are actually not graduates. They don’t have more than secondary education. That imposes another kind of challenge about what kind of job you create and all that. I am saying this with the acknowledgement that the problem of youth employment will persist for a very long time. The question then is whether the government has enough articulation of the problem to be able to deal with it. You hear about NPower which is what is being done at the moment among others. Like I said, unless we go back to the nature of our education that retools young people for a different kind of occupation, we will continue to deal with this. So, I believe that it is not something that we can say we have solved in two years. It is a problem that needs to be dealt with, but when you are operating an economy in recession, it is even more difficult to manage the impact that some of these things can have. But you will agree with me that if the President promised three things and he has delivered well on two and he still has two years to go, I think he has done well.
You can’t successfully fight corruption when the economy is down and everybody is hungry. The average Nigerian is out there hungry and to them, the government has not delivered on its promise to them.
I don’t think that what the government promised is that at the end of two years, it would have wiped out hunger from Nigeria. What the government promised is what I have told you. Since when have we been hearing the report that 70 percent of Nigerians live below the poverty line. It is a United Nations report and that statistics is not coming up today. The issue of poverty is associated with the issue of hunger and other kinds of challenges. So, to now begin to blame a government that has been in government for two years for a problem that has existed for decades is slightly unfair. I think that we should focus on what the government has promised to do and whether they are doing those things or not.
A lot of money has been recovered in the fight against corruption and Nigerians are wondering what has happened to the money. While there have been so many arrests, but nobody has been convicted. What is the situation at the moment?
What do you want the APC government to do? A few days ago, the DSS said Ifeanyi Uba did something with petrol and that he ought to be punished with death sentence. Have you seen the reaction that followed that? People are asking whether DSS wants to be arresting people and passing death sentence on them? So, it is the same thing. No matter how keen we are, we have to ask ourselves as a country, do we want to be a country of law or a society or waves. If we say let us arrest people as they are accused of corruption and lock them up, how do you know when you arrest someone that is innocent? The principle of justice says that it is better for nine guilty people to go in punished than one innocent person to be punished. There are provisions under our laws that says an individual is innocent until he has been proven guilty. That process has to be exhausted. No matter how eager we are to punish people, they must go through that process as long as that is the provisions of the law. If APC government start catching people like it happened in 1984, the same Nigerians will ask, is this democracy? Like I told you, there is no alternative to the rule of law. No matter how much we are pressured to catch thieves, if you use an unlawful means to fight unlawful act, then you have not solved any problem. Yes it is slow and we want to see more convictions, we also need to ensure that our institutions develop more capacity to prosecute and investigate. But ultimately, we have to ensure that justice is done to everyone that is accused of one thing or the other. On the recovered fund, I cannot tell you what happened to any recovered money.
Two years of the government, there is hardship in the land, prices of goods have gone higher. What is being done to cushion the effect of this hardship?
Don’t forget that it is the party that goes to the people and say vote for us. It is after we win election that we form government. So, we as a party are also concerned with this issue and what government could do to limit the hardship in the country. That is why the conversation we having now is that after this, we will probably invite the relevant ministers to come and brief us on what the situations are and what they are doing in this respect. I agree with you that regardless of what we think we have achieved in two years, as long as there are Nigerians who are in difficulty, who are still in hardship and are unable to feed, the job is not done.
Since the coming into power of this government, a lot has gone wrong especially in terms of relationship between the various organs of government and the party to the extent that the National Chairman has not had opportunity to meet one on one with the President who is the leader of the party and the party is.supposed to guide the President in actualising its manifesto.
This is a difficult question. The situation you have described is very close to reality, but what I can say which is the question I have asked myself is whether these were deliberate or they just happened because of the way things are. Every President has its own style and his own ways of doing things. I don’t think there is a standard prescription on how Presidents are supposed to behave in relation to the party. I was told that in the second republic, President Shehu Shagari will not do anything without Chief Adisa Akinloye who was the party chairman knowing about it and that the party chairman could even summon the nPresident. But in 1999, President Obasanjo became not just the President of Nigeria, but he appropriated the title of the leader of the party. He had his own relationship with the party chairman and how he wanted the relationship between the government and the party to be. President Yar’adua came and he had his own ways, what we are experiencing now is the way President Buhari understand and want the relationship between the government and the party should be. It does not mean that it is a bad thing. It is just a way of doing things; it is his own style. I have given you different examples and it does not mean that ahh of those is bad.
If yon work in that context, everybody that works in that context will have to learn to adapt to that style, that strategy and that way of doing things. It does not mean that it is bad. Each of them came with their own challenges. But for us at the party level, what we have learnt to do is to continue to do our work and keep the party going in spite of the difficult. But I also know that the situation that we have found ourselves, the health of the president has also been a challenge. Before I joined the Larry leadership, I understand that they were meeting with him regularly. I also learnt that at one occasion when the chairman wet to see him, he said he wants to be seeing all the NWC members and jot just the chairman. It is not as if he did not want to work with the party, but you will agree that because of his health situation, things have been very difficult. But now, we are where we are and things are what they are. The Larry has gone through difficulties, but we are coming out of it now as you can see. We have more activities going on now and we are very optimistic that the party will get stronger in the months ahead. But I agree with you completely that it is one of the challenges that we have had to deal with.
You just gave us an unsavory picture of the relationship between the party and …
I did not give you an unsavory picture of the relationship between the party and the government. I just told you that what you see as a challenge maybe as a result of President Buhari’s own style in relation to the party. It does not necessarily mean that there was a reason for him to create that relationship. I am not saying it is a problem.
Before the party came on board, there was a blueprint of what it intended to offer Nigerians. Would you say that two years down the line, there has been fidelity to that document by the Federal Government and the different stages under APC control?
Let us understand one thing. A party manifesto represents the philosophy of the party. In other words, you cannot have a document called the manifesto of the party and after four years, you say they have implemented this document. The manifesto is an articulation of what the party believe that it wants to do with power if it gets to power. Now, when you form a government, when you have a candidate in the platform of that party, that government derives its programme from that manifesto. When he finishes his first years and wants to contest another election, he would say, I am satisfied with what I have been able to do in the area of security and corruption. The next four years, if you vote for me again, these will be my new sets of priorities which will also be derived from the manifesto. So when he finishes his tenure, another government will come and look at that same manifesto and derive its own agenda. President Jonathan had his own transformation agenda, Yar’Adua had his seven point agenda. The manifesto of a party is not the same thing with the programme of government, but the programme of government is a derivation from the manifesto of the party. But be that as it may, what we should hold President BUHARI’S government accountable for are those things that he derived from the manifesto which he promised that he was going to do and that is where we started this conversation from. So, as far as we are concerned, he has done very well in respect of those things he promised to do. So, you have to go round Nigeria and ask yourself, is there any government in this country that is doing something contrary to what the manifesto of the APC promised the people? You can measure the, to say this has done very well, this has done good. But whether they have done well in consonance with the manifesto of the APC, I will say yes.
We need a vibrant opposition for democracy to survive. As it stands now, there is no opposition in Nigeria. How do you feel about this?
I agree with you, but it is not the job of government to create opposition for itself. But as a citizen, I agree with you that democracy thrive best when you have a virile or robust opposition. Even for us as the ruling party, we don’t want to run a one party state. We don’t want a situation where we will feel too comfortable that Nigerians don’t have alternative. It is not good for anybody. We were a party in opposition and we benefited from the fact that we had a democracy where opposition was working. We built a robust opposition. It was not the PDP that created us into a robust opposition. So, it is the responsibility of those other parties that exist to also build themselves. PDP is not the only party. There is Labour Party and many others. It is the responsibility of the alternative political parties to build themselves lives into a robust opposition. But it is good for democracy.
There has been this argument as to who actually promised N5,000 to Nigerian youths between the party and the President. Can you tell us whose blueprint it was?
I don’t think it really matters now because what the government is doing now with the NPower initiative has overtaken the question of who promised what or who did not promise what. The important thing is that the APC promised to create employment for the young people and to provide social security for unemployed people and the elderly. I know that there is the school feeding programme which the government has started and many states are doing even more. Some states are still struggling with payment of salaries. Such states will not be able to respond. I don’t think that any party will disown its manifesto or its own government.
Nigerians have accused the government of being one sided in its fight against corruption. Many people suspected to be corrupt have defected to the party now and many believe they are doing so to escape prosecution. Do you think the APC is shielding defectors?
Anybody can give interpretation to issues the way they like, but we have to continue to stick to available facts. The question is, can we come up with the name if one person that has corruption charges levelled against him and now found sanctuary in APC and the corruption charges were now automatically dropped? Can you mention one person?
But there are many being accused who are not under EFCC arrest.
People who have not been arrested because you think they should be arrested is a different thing. I am talking of someone who has a corruption case, charged for corruption and now joined APC and the moment he joined, that charges of corruption were dropped. I think that there is a template thinking going on that tends to foist peoples assumption on what is being done. The reality is that people join APC because they don’t find an alternative party that can hold the scale of their ambition. You see today that people who have been in PDP are moving into the APC because after trying so hard, they realized that this party is not going g to get its acts together. Maybe they are too hasty to come to that conclusion, but the point is that they believe that the only place they can find accommodation going forward is APC. We say APC harbours people. The highest government official in this country is the Secretary to the Government of the Federation who is currently under suspension and is being investigated. Some people wants him handed over to the EFCC instead of being investigated. The fact Kano that there are rules that guide the discipline of government officials. The procedure is that when you are a government official and you are suspected of any malpractices, the first thing the government does is to set up a probe panel. The government goes further to say while we are probing you, set aside from office so that you don’t interfere with investigations. If the panel feels that he has a case to answer, they will then hand him over to the appropriate agency. That is the process. We have said it repeatedly and I even issued a statement that APC will not provide sanctuary for anybody having corruption case hanging on them.
for a better society