Former Nigeria Ambassador to Switzerland and one of the founding members of All Progressive Congress (APC), Ambassador Yahaya Kwande, speaks with ISAAC SHOBAYO on a wide range of national issues, including the second term ambition of President Muhammadu Buhari and the presidential ambition of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, among others.
What is your take on the recent declaration by President Mohammadu Buhari to contest for a second term of office, given his words in the past that he will seek to occupy the office only for one term?
It is not a surprise and it shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody because any incumbent president or any other person elected would like to complete two terms in office, as allowed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Some people might not want President Buhari to contest for the second term, their reason might not be because he is not competent but because of the antecedent of his health. Now that he is seen as a healthy man, I am not surprise that President Buhari wants to contest again. But as far as I am concerned, APC is a good platform to win elections and the president has become a household name in the party. So his intention to contest for a second term is a welcome development to his followers. Right now, Buhari is APC and APC is Buhari.
Opinion is divided over the second term ambition of Mr President due to many factors and variables. What is your opinion on this?
President Buhari is a lucky man; he has God gift in him. You either like or you hate him, it appears people like him for the like sake and not for what he can do. That is how I see him. When he started, I knew definitely that he started on a wrong footing. Quote me, I said it then. We complained on the Plateau here that the way the leadership is being imposed on us will create division within the political party on the Plateau. What is happening today between the Minister of Sport and Youth Development and Governor Simon Lalong is a good example. These people are supposed to put their heads together to lead my state to greater development, but they are at variance, fighting on the social media. By the prevailing situation, I have been vindicated that imposition is something bad in leadership and that is what is happening on the Plateau today, if there is any disagreement.
Is it imposition in term of appointment of ministers or what?
Of course, in the case of Plateau State, it was imposition and this is wrong. That was the beginning of our problem.
Will you say APC is strong as it was in 2015 to win the forthcoming elections at all levels?
Any political party without wrangling, without competition or without diverse interests is not a political party. While there are more than 70 political parties in Nigeria, APC is collection of different orientations and ideas put them together to form a political party. So, what I am trying to say is that four years is not enough for the various interests in the party to blend as expected, but you cannot underrate the government of the day.
One of the causes of the internal wrangling in APC, as identified, is that some of the founding fathers of the party are reportedly being sidelined in the scheme of things and, for this reason, many of them are no longer with the centre. As one of the founder members what is the true position of things?
I cannot comment much on this because I am not part of the leadership anymore, even though I am supposed to be a member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the party. I was elected here on the Plateau and since my election, the party has never call the board members for meeting. So, I don’t know much about any disagreement within the party.
Are you satisfied with the performance of the outgoing National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party?
I would not say I am satisfied with the performance of the APC NEC and my only reason will be personal, having been a member of the Board of Trustees one of the very strong organ of the party. Since my election, I not been seeing the APC national chairman anymore and I have never heard from him; that is three years ago. Should I be satisfied? Even at home that I am supposed to be part of the government, my recognition is just from the leader of the party who is the governor of the state. The governor acknowledges me at functions. This is the only pride I am holding, otherwise even my party here in Plateau State seems to have forgotten that there is something like a Board of Trustees.
Did the party organ at the national level explain to the members of the Board of Trustees why they were not inaugurated?
Our constitution is very clear that the leadership of the Board of Trustees is either a former president or a former vice president and we were to be inaugurated. The fact that we have not been inaugurated three years after, when I asked, the explanation I was given is that the leader of the board could have been former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the only former vice president among the board members but some people didn’t like his face. I was told that that was why the man left the party; that if they did not allow him to be the chairman of the APC BoT, how will they allow him to aspire for any position in our party, including the presidency?
You are one of the strong political allies of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. You are still in APC while your associate, the former vice president has moved to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Where precisely are you standing now, APC or PDP?
I am a politician, you cannot predict me. Permit me to boast that I am a politician of note and of long standing experience. I may be waiting to know what is happening because at the moment there is confusion in both political parties, APC and PDP and I cannot just jump without studying the situation. We are studying the situation, but people are asking, where are Yahaya Kwande and his political associate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar? But the situation is still dicey for now. I may go along with him or remain where I am; so just wait and see.
The former vice president is starting all over again in PDP. Do you think he can weather the storm and emerge as the party presidential flag-bearer?
You cannot underestimate the government of the day and neither can you underestimate a charismatic leader like Atiku Abubakar in politics. 2019 will be interesting for the ordinary man; money cannot sway anybody but ideology will do. When Buhari was outside politics, he had been a military president with regimentation of order and power. He has now seen the difference between regimentation and political persuasion. Now he can be judged as a political leader. So, the competition is going to be interesting and you cannot underestimate anybody.
From all indications, the ruling party is presently at a crossroads over who should be the next national chairman. What do you think is the way out of this logjam?
I have never been called for any meeting where as I am supposed to be a member of the Board of Trustees. As you heard of the meeting in the news, that was how I heard the announcement of the recent meeting of the party.
The people of the Middle Belt, especially in states where there are constant attacks by the herdsmen and killing of people have vowed not to vote for President Buhari in 2019 if the issue of insecurity is not addressed. How is your party handling the situation?
I don’t dabble into things that I have no knowledge of, but as far as I am concerned, security has improved in my state because I know there was a time that we couldn’t sleep. From time immemorial, we know that Fulani and the natives have always being at each other’s neck in Barakin Ladi local Government Area of Plateau State. It has always being farming and issue of grazing, but the unfortunate thing today is that if something is happening in this area, people would always say in Barakin Ladi near Jos. If it happened in Riyom, they would say near Jos, but I must tell you the security situation of Plateau State has improved. Another thing is that a squadron of police has been established in Shendam and I know that it will take care of the security in that zone.
Do you think Governor Simon Lalong stands the chance of winning a second term of office?
Don’t underrate a sitting governor. Lalong today is a sitting power and in Plateau we have not seen any incumbent being defeated yet and he may not be the first one to be defeated. Governor Lalong is a silent achiever; he is doing his best. I want you to know that he has changed the face of the polity in Plateau State. Most of the projects he inherited are being completed and quite a lot of them were commissioned when the president visited the state recently.
But there is an allegation that he is more of Abuja than the state he was elected to govern…(cuts in)
It is jealousy because if he had not being there, the same people would have been accusing him of sitting here. I want to tell you that if Lalong is not doing well here on the Plateau, the president would have not accepted him in Abuja.