President Muhammadu Buhari
Former Deputy Director of Buhari Presidential Campaign Council, Mohammed Lawal, has dismissed opposition to the re-election efforts by President Buhari’s friends and supporters, saying it is certain that no one can stop the moving train in 2019. Lawal, who is a director on the Board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), in an interview with VINCENT KALU, insists that there are more than enough strategies in place to defeat anyone standing against the president at the next general elections.
Not minding that some governors have endorsed President Buhari for second term, there are indications that some people want to stop him. Do you see that coming to pass?
We know that within the party there are some people who still bear grudges, as a result of resounding defeat they suffered in 2015, and some of them are still presidential aspirants, and they will like to re-contest. In Nigeria’s party politics, the president has the first right of refusal.
During the meeting of the highest stakeholders of the party, a motion was moved for a vote of confidence, and the party said, ‘we have confidence in the way you are leading us, leading the party and leading the country.’ That was a vote of confidence passed on President Muhammadu Buhari to continue.
All the party’s major stakeholders were there. The only major stakeholder who was not there and who contested 2015 presidential primary election with President Buhari was former Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
Some of the governors individually came out to say that they have absolute confidence in the President, and they moved a motion in very clear words that he should continue in 2019. The stakeholders also chorused, and it is only the president who can say no.
The president wants to take it easy, he is a human being and not an angel, and some people felt offended in one way or the other, and have complained. The president in his humility, apologised, and gave example and reasons for the appointments he has made, which may be tenable to some and untenable to others.
He wants to go about to make people to understand that there are problems, and that things may not work as expected and we have come far, and what is of paramount importance to us is the country; the legacy we are going to leave behind for our children and grand children and generations to come.
In-fighting in a party that came and took over from a ruling party that misruled and ravaged the country for 16 years is not going to get us anywhere; so let us understand each other, and sit down and lay a fresh foundation for this government and country with President Buhari in the saddle.
God willing, nobody can stop him, and he is going to contest to continue to do the good work that he has started for this country.
Recently, the Comptroller-General of Nigeria Customs Service and a member of President Buhari’s kitchen cabinet, Hameed Ali, during the official opening ceremony of Buhari Support Organisation’s (BSO) national headquarters in Abuja complained that Buhari appointed people who didn’t work for him during the 2015 presidential election. How can this be addressed so that it won’t jeopardize the president’s re-election bid?
Hameed Ali’s BSO meeting came earlier than the APC NEC meeting. As I told you earlier, during the NEC meeting the president apologised for such. What is important is, there are people placed in positions, and the president has finished his own.
For example, if the president made me the chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority, it is now left for me to go and continue to do what I’m supposed to do to others to give back the goodwill the president gave to the people who are lower than me. There are people who are supposed to carry on with the mandate, by giving back to the electorate; giving back to the people, but they didn’t do that. They shouldn’t come and complain, blaming the president. The president cannot go and begin to give appointments at local governments, in ministries etc.
Once he gives at a level like our own, NNPC as board member, I thank him so much for that, I didn’t expect it, but it is not for me to go and tell the president to put these people in NNPC refinery or any of the NNPC parastatals, it is me that should do that. I shouldn’t go and complain or blame the president for not doing that, I should do that. As far as NNPC is concerned I represent him there, and I should do what I’m supposed to do so that the goodwill will go back to the president.
People shouldn’t be complaining, they know what to do and they have been given all the encouragement to do that. That notwithstanding, the president tendered his unreserved apology during the NEC meeting. He gave reason and that reason is tenable. Everybody knows that the economy is in a bad shape, and we are working to bring it back to life. Even the World Bank is giving thumb up on the management of the economy by the Buhari government. As it is picking up, the benefits will get to everybody.
The key issue is, work for the president, and defend the programmes and policies and work towards actualizing the mandate. Like I said earlier, the president is not a magician or an angel, he can’t be 100 percent perfect. If mistakes are made, they shall be corrected.
Even the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that stayed for 16 years, I’m sure that by the time they left, there were people who complained that they didn’t get anything. The president will continue to do his best to carry everybody along. Those who are in position and complaining that he didn’t do this or that; they should do what they are supposed to do.
Some of your party leaders are accusing some people who decamped from PDP to APC as polluting and causing crisis in the party. Do you agree with them?
Party dynamics dictate that people from PDP in this government are not APC members by hearts; they were pushed as moles, spies in order to spoil the goals or activities of APC. We are the ruling party, but PDP will want to come back as they were humiliated and shamed. So they can employ any tactic to come back, including deploying moles and spies to spoil our work.
I’m not surprised hearing that. They exist as moles and spies. They left PDP for our party, but they don’t want to be patient. Buhari started this battle over 15 years ago, he began with APP, ANPP, CPC and APC, and he has been patient, he didn’t jump from one party to the other.
You were in PDP, they didn’t give you the presidential ticket, you jumped to ACN, and you didn’t get it; and you didn’t get it in APC and you are going back to PDP, that is the Nigerian politician for you.
The PDP says Buhari running will make it easy for it to win in 2019. According to its National Publicity Secretary, the president doesn’t have record of achievements, and has put the country in a worse state than he met it. How do you react to this?
Let us pray for God to give us life to reach that period and you will see. The situation Buhari found this country can be equated to somebody that found himself in 16-kilometre deep well.
PDP threw this country into a deep hole of 16 kilometers, and when we came we met Nigeria there – deep down 16 kilometers well, and we are trying to come out. We have been sweating to bring the country out from the deep well, and we thank God that we are on top. Price of oil was at its lowest level, selling at about $25 per barrel, but during their time, oil was selling for over $100 per barrel, they didn’t save anything. Agriculture was at zero level during their time, and look at the quantum of loot discovered and recovered.
I was reading the other day that former President Jonathan on the eve of election signed $500 million and N100 billion from the Central Bank of Nigeria to PDP machinery. That is how we found our economy. Everybody was desperate, and nobody knew that tomorrow was going to come. Manufacturing was zero.
We are now on the ground level from the deep well, and the World Bank as I said earlier has applauded the management of the economy and said we are out of recession and that there is good prospect, and if we continue like this, we are not only going to smile, but rejoice.
Look at Boko Haram that was everywhere. They terrified Kano, Abuja, Niger state. One side of Borno was in their hands and one side of Adamawa was also in their hands. With this, a right thinking person is saying that Buhari didn’t do anything, let them come to the field, we are waiting for them. Is it because we are not talking, when we start campaigns they would hear more? Nigerians will chase them with stones. They want to distract us, so that we put somebody they can overrun. I have been in this for almost 20 years. Buhari is there and I said earlier, God willing, nobody can stop him in 2019.
PDP is foreseeing an implosion in APC that will force some of your members returning to the opposition party
In any association, be it political, business, etc, there abound skirmishes and problems, which are addressed to arrive at a compromise. Like I said the president apologised to those who felt bad. There is no need for any implosion in the party as PDP is praying for.
There was one time they said Tinubu was complaining. I said in an interview that he should not complain, and that if he was, I would interpret it that the vice president was complaining because he put him there. Tinubu is an experienced politician, and was not complaining as people insinuated. Buhari is not God and so cannot satisfy everybody 100 per cent. We are pleading with Nigerians to bear with Buhari, he is poised to make everybody to rejoice and as things improve and get better he is going to accomplish that. Let us continue to give him support and encouragement to continue to do the best to take Nigeria out of the woods that the PDP put us.
Why some APC leaders are angry with Buhari–Dr Olufunmilade
•Party members now calling for ‘change the change’
Dr Femi Olufunmilade, a member of the Governing Council of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta is a stalwart of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He chaired the Buhari Survey and Strategy Committee during the 2015 presidential campaign. In this interview with IHEANACHO NWOSU, Olufunmilade explained the reason the incumbent administration is not succeeding in some areas. He expressed frustration that most key APC members who worked for the emergence of the government are still sidelined. He also spoke on the 2019 election, the ambition of some APC members and other happenings in the country.
Recently the southwest APC met and declared that the presidential ticket should be open to everybody, do you feel that is the way to go for your party?
You know we are in a democracy. In a democratic system, the rule of the game is the rule of law. If we get to a point where presidential candidates have to emerge, the normal procedure is for primaries to be organized and those who are interested that might have taken nominations will be free to compete, at the end of which a winner will emerge. So what Chief Bisi Akande echoed was nothing new, he was just stating the obvious that we will be as democratic as required; and whosoever feels he has what it takes to be president of this country should be free to contest as the flag bearer of the party. And he also added that whosoever emerges at the end of the day will get the full support of all stakeholders including themselves.
Don’t you see it affecting the unity of the party, because the party’s governors and NEC have given tacit endorsement of the president for another term?
Well, I don’t think it will impair the unity of the party in anyway, rather it will strengthen it because you are saying that anybody who has ambition is free to throw his hat into the ring. And since that statement was made, it is on record that prominent members of the party who have declared interest in contesting are from the north. Senator Adamu Alero is from the north and has indicated interest, you are aware of former vice president Atiku Abubakar, these are northerners; there has not been any prominent southern member, to the best of my knowledge ,whether prominent or non prominent, who has come out to say that he will contest. So, if anyone is aggrieved in the north, he doesn’t represent the entire north.
There is also this belief that it is a smart way by the southwest to make the contest difficult for the incumbent because of a seeming displeasure in the way the government has been handling not only the party but also governance The incumbent, for all I know, has not even indicated interest in the office for a second term. Baba Akande said that he has not indicated interest for a second term. If he has indicated interest, then it will be a different ball game. Whether we like it or not, the mobilization for 2019 elections with the use of INEC timetable has started informally and it is for the president to come out and tell us if he will be contesting. As regards the issue of members of the party not being satisfied, I don’t think that is limited to the southwest. If it is an issue, it cuts across the entire country. I was privileged to coordinate a research to support his candidature in 2015, it was called Needs Assessment Survey of 36 States and the FCT, which he approved through his then chief of staff, Colonel Hameed Ali on the platform of Buhari Support Organization. Approval was conveyed to me by Dr Ibrahim Dauda, who gave the contacts of the BSO coordinators across the 36 states and the purpose of the research was to find out if beside the general items of the manifesto, the specific needs peculiar to the various states of the federation. I organized that and all the people that assisted me in doing that were senior members of the APC.
At the end of the day, most of them have been sidelined in the way things are done in this government. Most of them have not been given any appointment. What is more annoying is that most of the appointments made in this administration went to the party that we fought to remove from power. A lot of their members are getting appointments while members of the APC are left behind. Some critical appointments were not only given to PDP members, they were given to those we defeated. I’ll give you examples, you look at the NDDC, Senator Ndoma Egba was the Senate majority leader for the PDP, I personally cannot place my finger on when he defected to APC before the election but today he is the chairman of the NDDC. You look at someone like the Minister of National Planning, Senator Udo Udoma, I don’t know if at anytime he formally moved into the APC, and so on and so forth.
So if you find people aggrieved, you can’t blame them. It is not all about appointments, there are also many positions we thought would have been open to members of the party, but as we speak, they are still being held by PDP appointees in various MDAs.
Is your grievance only in the area of appointments or are you also displeased with the president in the handling of things?
It is not about appointment per say; but you know that in the United States, when the president has won an election, the president has the power to appoint about 4,000 appointees. It is during the transitional period, the period between when he wins the election and when he is sworn in that he makes most of the appointments. It is taken as a very serious business. It is taken as a very serious business because the understanding is that those who share your philosophy and ideology and have bought into your manifesto will be better drivers of the manifesto and agenda you have for your country than those who were in the opposing party. So when we are talking about the way Buhari appointed a lot of people, this is what we are talking about. Even his own wife echoed it in the famous BBC interview. She said those who didn’t share our vision and mission are getting the appointments. It is not as if we are crazy about appointments, there are people you could appoint who are not necessarily APC members if they are professionals who have unique skills that can help to drive the change agenda forward. But to retain people and appoint people that were on the opposite side of the pole to us and put them in critical positions shows that the government lacks focus.
More than two years after, are you okay with the policies of this government?
What I can tell you is that, the APC government is performing to the extent of comparing the government to the PDP government, that is what I can say. We can’t compare APC government by any stretch of imagination to the PDP government. Look at the anti corruption crusade for instance, I don’t think it has ever been this good. It is not as if it is perfect, it falls short of our expectations still. There has not been any conviction and we’re talking of legal processes. What about insecurity, all the territories of Nigeria have been reclaimed from Boko Haram. Without Buhari coming into power, Boko Haram might have been in control of states today not to talk of local government. Money meant for arms were shared and looted, soldiers were afraid of facing Boko Haram because they were not equipped. That trend has been reversed and the international community has come to our support, we have the multinational joint task force, for which President Buhari when he came into power traveled to Niger, Chad , Cameroon, and we were able to cobble this multinational joint task force together. So when you look at this, you need peace for progress, he has been able to achieve relative success in that regard. The idea that impunity can go unchecked, he has checked that to a great extent through the anti corruption war. I’m not saying that he is excellent, there is still insecurity, for instance, the Fulani herdsmen, which he has not been able to fix, a lot of deaths go unreported.
We also have the low side of the anti corruption which one of them is the Maina issue that just came up. Someone who was arraigned on graft of monumental proportion, declared wanted by EFCC, he ran away from the country but he was brought back into the country and was even reinstated in the bureaucracy. That is unacceptable. It is sending a signal that no one can really explain. And it boils down to what someone can call having a government within a government. Some people who have a different agenda from Buhari are busy scheming for men and women of various character to hold positions within the government as a form of self help. And that will explain why a lot of the characters are in government. On that side, I’ll say the president scores a very poor mark. If your aides are doing the wrong thing and everyone is shouting about it, what have you done to check it?
The APC UK recently said it is ready to support a fresh hand, that it will back intellectuals like you for the plum office. What do you make of such position?
Like I said earlier, it is not news. The wife of the President came out to say some of the things happening in government. Recently she also voiced out her dissatisfaction with the financial management and operations of the State House clinic. She said they don’t have panadol or syringe, she needed to do an x-ray and they were advising her to go to London. She made enquiries and discovered they don’t have one functional x-ray machine, she had to go to a private hospital which is 100 percent owned by foreigners. She checked it up and realized that this same hospital had a budget of N3 billion. So it is not just APC UK members that are dissatisfied with the performance of this government, It is widespread even within the country. Look at the APC as a party, how many times do we have meetings as a party? Before the recent NEC meeting, when last did we have NEC last? How many times since we won the election? We are running into the third year now, by May next year we will be in the third year in power. How is the party faring? Are the staff paid? People are not interested in paying party dues, because they don’t see the party as representing their interest anymore. There is a lot of dissatisfaction within the APC and most of it are self inflected because they are really uncalled for. Most of the APC members within the country are also joining the clarion call of ‘change the change.’
The party still has more than a year to go before the next elections. Do you feel that it can correct some of its mistakes?
Well, I think it has gotten too late. A lot of people have made up their minds on what to do already because the way the party is, doesn’t really exist because there are no activities. Go to the party offices across the federation, you visit and you don’t see anybody. The party is just like an abandoned project. A lot of people are unhappy, they may not be as vocal as some of us who come out to say our minds from time to time. People feel that this is not what they worked for. You don’t need to be given an appointment to make impact, but there is even no room on a party platform for you to meet and make proposal on what they think about the expectations of the government in power. The leadership of Chief Oyegun is not inspiring. He ought to have been the one to put his feet down and say how the president should relate with the party, but that is just the case. You can give it to PDP in terms of internal democracy, until they imposed Jonathan. I will score them a high mark in PDP. If there was anything to be done, a lot of input and representation was allowed in the PDP.
Do you see a stronger party coming up for 2019?
I want to go beyond the normal Nigerian traditional way of looking at a political party whereby the objective is mainly to take power. It doesn’t matter who the people scheming for power are, whether they have what it takes to transform the country or deliver public goods to the people. All it is about is who the heavy weight is. They will say someone has a large purse or a large pocket, and those are the things they look when it comes to having a new alignment of forces and all that. Usually, it’s the same old people who are disaffected here and there that come together. It is an ideological alignment of forces. What I want and what many of my colleagues across the country within the APC and even other parties, is where people find themselves to be like fish out of water, people who are ideological, patriotic, principled, people who really want Nigeria transform for good in their life time. What they want is a meeting of like minds. We are not looking for who has money or who has a deep pocket, we are not looking for former this, former that, someone people will say we know him.
So you’re suggesting that if APC insists on Buhari in 2019, the party will likely implode?
I don’t want to use the word APC insisting on Buhari flying its flag. If we have a free and fair primary election in the APC today, President Buhari is going to lose fair and square. And a lot of delegates if they are not picked by the governor of Kastina State to do Buhari’s bidding, even a lot of delegates from Kastina State are going to vote against President Buhari. I know what I’m saying because I interact with them. The northerners are even more blunt, they may not be as outspoken as some of us. They are not happy. They think things can be done better than what we’re having. (The Sun)