NASS leadership: Oshiomhole isn’t working for Buhari —Birma
A lawyer and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Ibrahim Birma, speaks with TAIWO AMODU, on the actions of the national chairman of the party, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, on the selection of candidates for principal positions in the National Assembly and the endorsements of Senator Ahmed Lawan and Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila for the offices of Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, ahead of the inauguration of the ninth National Assembly. Excerpts:
Let’s start with the state of insecurity in the country, particularly in the North-East states. How will you appraise the efforts of the Federal Government in curtailing the insurgency in your home state of Borno?
Compared to before, it is only a matter of the depth of insecurity now. Generally, it is still prevailing but the ability to move and the fact that it isn’t visibly clear whether we have the local governments freed as they claim. But at least, the movement is better than before, except that, for instance, if you are going to Maiduguri now, you can only access it through Damaturu-Biu-Gombe-Damaturu and it is also partially.
The others are there but not too impressive, though it is better than before. Then Maiduguri on the outskirts, if you go by two or three kilometres, it isn’t comfortable. But that one it is the farming populace that has the heat of it.
The claim that no local government or area in Borno State is under the control of insurgents, how valid is it?
It isn’t valid, but there is also no local government that they freely move around and ransack. In all the local governments, the security outfits are there to monitor and control but they also can’t sleep with two eyes closed. It is that bad. But they are in charge of these local governments unlike before, except that here and there, the insurgents still make an inroad into them.
What is your assessment of the presidential election, which the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is contesting in court? Will you say it was free and fair?
Elections, for you to claim are free and fair to a crystal-clear level, aren’t feasible. We have had elections but you only interfere with elections in an area that you are still very comfortable. You don’t go and rig in an area that you aren’t comfortable. So, the rigging is more pronounced for those that are in charge or in control of an area. But basically by Nigerian standard, it wasn’t a bad election. It wasn’t.
By Nigerian standard? How do you mean?
Here in Nigeria, you know what I mean by Nigerian standard. There is nothing that is near perfection but we will go through it. There is nothing that is perfect in Nigeria.
But the PDP has alleged selective application to the rules of election; for instance, it stated that INEC was very strict in demanding for use of Permanent Voter Cards in the southern part of the country compared to the North. Did you observe that?
That’s very true, because in the North, there are some places that it wasn’t even used because attempt to do so didn’t work. So, naturally it means you can’t count on that again, because when I went to vote in Biu, it didn’t work three times. They asked for my name based on the voter card and they went to the register and they obliged me to vote.
So, in that type of situation, anybody can come and vote. If it was PVC, definitely you couldn’t do it twice but you can’t even circumvent it and there was no rule which stopped people from voting otherwise than by PVC. So that’s the issue.
But I believe that the level of preparation also wasn’t quite tidy. Left for me, the card readers should have been serviced and awaiting only elections and all these materials, in Nigeria we have 36 states, almost all of them have airports; almost all of them have Central Bank of Nigeria vaults. So, left to me, sensitive election materials should have been transported to CBN vaults in all these 36 states using the same method of transporting cash, so that once they are deposited there at the appropriate time they will only redistribute them to the local governments. But this wasn’t done, most of the people that were involved in the elections were largely administrators and none of them was a logistics person. So they need to beef up their logistics department, it makes it easier.
Do you share the opinion of those who argue that INEC appears too unwieldy and should be decentralised?
No, you don’t have to unbundle, because unbundling it will make autonomy an issue, whereby the unbundled units will say they won’t take directive from INEC as a body. But let INEC strengthen its units that are involved in the physical and technical angles of elections.
There were overwhelming votes for APC in the presidential election in the North but suddenly, the voting pattern changed during the governorship election. You saw what happened in Adamawa, Bauchi, Kano, Sokoto. What would you say informed that voting pattern?
The president has his own character credibility that has earned him a lot of respect with the electorate. Same can’t be said of some of these governors. So, wherever you saw that there were issues with the governors clearly before the election, then the results were a reflection of that development. Like Adamawa State, that you made reference to, a lot of people agree that he has done a lot in terms of physical development, more than all his predecessors. But in his relationship with people, he seems or wants to accommodate everybody, which isn’t possible. There are some situations in positions of authority that what isn’t feasible can’t be done but you better say it to that person than to think that you want to carry him along. You may not be able to satisfy human beings.
The case of Bauchi, before the election, you see, senators, House of Representatives members like [Yakubu] Dogara, had consistent running battle with the governor so much so that at the end of it you know that APC as a party is broken in Bauchi. In Sokoto, it isn’t that Tambuwal is good or bad but at least he has been in the forefront and most of these states, their own perception of governance is the one that will easily relate with them. They see the Presidency as too far, it is governance at the national level. But as far as they are concerned with these states, it is the person who has shown ability, capacity or semblance of someone who can do things for them that they will choose. And it is good for political development in Nigeria. Irrespective of parties, if you don’t perform, you shouldn’t be elected.
Even the APC itself and outside it, there is the observation that the rallying point driving it or its best asset is President Buhari. It has even been predicted that it will certainly run into serious credibility challenge in a post-Buhari administration. Do you share this viewpoint?
It is a very correct assessment. At times, it baffles that people say this is PDP, this is APC. There are situations that the APC, as of today, is largely populated by people from PDP, because of the defections at a point in time— some for good reasons, some for bandwagon effect and some for their personal reasons. But Buhari on his own part has decided not to interfere in the political calculations of this country. If he had delved into that, he has enough credibility but not the knowledge of the intricate politics and people would have listened to him. But he allowed it to go its own way so people had a field day, but post-2023, if the same attitude continues, he won’t be there as a president and he doesn’t have the character of interfering in the political process. So, it is now going to be woven around other factors.
But, basically in any given society, if you want a practical democratic society, if you want political progress, I would want us to weave our aspirations, our convictions, our belief around institutions, rather than around individuals. Institutions can sustain themselves, they can outlast us, but individuals, whether by forces of nature or whatever, they give way. So we should learn to build our democratic ideals around institutions like the political party.
When Buhari insulates himself from the running of the party, would you call that a virtue or good political character, bearing in mind the contending forces?
Whether insulating himself or keeping himself away at least, he hasn’t ventured to call the party, at critical points, to order, except when there is an overwhelming voice that he has to interfere. Otherwise, he isn’t the kind of person that will wake up in the morning and say, “administrative secretary or party secretary, what is happening?” No, he isn’t that type of person. This is what is visible to every concerned onlooker.
Your party faithful have identified governors in one camp and certain party leaders in another camp as the ones involved in power tussle for the party structures and its statutory organs. Does that mean that the president has appeared indifferent?
It isn’t the right thing to do. He should have taken a definite position, because if you look at the Nigerian political society, the governors whether as former governors or serving governors, they create so much powers around themselves. Now, these powers are being whittled down. If you look at when the president came, unlike in previous dispensations, all the governors in their various states would send a list of names to the president, amongst which he should choose a minister. This wasn’t done this time round: the president doesn’t interfere in the running of the governors’ affairs neither does he expect them to interfere into his running of the Presidency. In fact, they can’t even interfere. He has asked them to go and do their own constitutional roles as it pertains to the states. If the president can now find a means of working with the National Assembly or by issuing executive orders that even the local government allocations should go to local governments, directly without this joint account issue, Nigeria would be better off. Unfortunately, it isn’t yet being done. Maybe he would do it in his second term. That will save a lot of things. But the president, if he had decided not to interfere in the political process, let him start interfering in some of these governance issues.
The tussle for the national assembly leadership is on the front burner right now, as the APC has not only zoned Senate Presidency and Speakership to certain zones but has also gone further to micro zone to certain individuals. Is that in order?
Left to me as a person, zoning in whatever form discourages competition and if there is no competition, there is no competitiveness and there is no quality. But that’s a generalised form. Within the Nigerian context, there are so many segments of the society, whether political or social, gender or what have you that people believe they should be carried along. So, to that extent, zoning should be allowed as a matter of principle but not to be enshrined in any document, so that once we outgrow it, it will naturally fizzle out. And like I said earlier, I want us to build the democratic ideals, weave it around institutions and not individuals.
So, the party can zone the leadership of the national assembly to the North-East. There is nothing bad in it but for them to mention a particular beneficiary of that arrangement, I don’t think that is fair, I don’t think that’s right, because by the constitution, it is members of the national assembly, irrespective of the party platforms that brought them to the assembly, that will choose leadership for the national assembly and not outside forces.
You just mentioned outside forces. Aspirants who have rebuffed endorsement of Ahmed Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila have alleged that the APC National Chairman, Oshiomhole, is doing the bidding of former Governor Bola Tinubu and that neither President Muhammadu Buhari nor the other statutory organs of the party were privy to what the APC NWC is doing. Do you share that sentiment?
I wouldn’t know whose bidding he [Oshiomhole] is doing but definitely he is doing somebody’s bidding. In this type of situation, if you ask him, he would say he has done a lot of consultations but for the gravity or seriousness of this national assembly leadership and the time frame within which it just sprang up, he hasn’t been fair to the leadership of the assembly.
The assembly is supposed to be made up of credible people; it is just like you are in a family and you still take orders from your parents on how you will run your family. That’s not fair. I don’t think it is right. He should have allowed them and he must, because it isn’t yet done. He must allow them. To some extent, it will even go against his anointed candidate. So he isn’t helping matters for himself or the party.
But do you saw what happened in 2015, where your party lost to the opposition. Don’t you think that can repeat itself?
Possibly yes. Not exactly but it is likely going to be there, because what happened then was strictly lack of strategy by the then leadership. Instead of them to go to the national assembly and begin to do what they were supposed to do in the national assembly, they decided to go elsewhere to make a choice. It is the same thing now using a different style.
The Borno State governor, Kashim Shettima, has dissociated himself from the ambition of Senate Ali Ndume to lead the Senate. What could have informed his decision to dump an aspirant from his state?
You see, Senate Ndume is eminently qualified by virtue of his experience as a senator and a former member of the House of Representatives. He is known to almost all of them who have had multiple presence in the national assembly. He has been a very vocal and outspoken member, so you know where he belongs. During the campaigns he was visible in the North-East. To us in Borno, he has made some visible contributions that I would want him to be president of the Senate and it is a valid ambition. It isn›t immoral, it isn›t illegal and it isn›t unconstitutional.
But why is the governor not backing him?
Well, fortunately for him [Shettima], he is a senator-elect. So, he isn’t making those pronouncements as a governor of the state, he is making it because he is privileged to be a senator-elect. He should have waited, let them get to national assembly and let him try to scheme him out if that is what he wants. But the Senate and House of Representatives is supposed to be a representative capacity and you shouldn’t discard those from your immediate constituency.
Finally, people have looked at the various centrifugal tendencies in the APC and formed an opinion that the party might not go into the 2023 election as it is presently. Do you share the same fear of its balkanisation?
Absolutely. Look at it: Buhari is the key unifying factor in the political operation of APC. Next is Bola Tinubu. Buhari brings in a lot of block electoral value; Tinubu brings a lot of block political value. Who else amongst them? The governors by virtue of conventions in Nigeria, any governor that leaves his seat, that’s the end of his story. We have seen governors that can’t even call their predecessors for simple courtesy, they will be avoided. There is no established courtesy in that direction.
Buhari, by his nature of not interfering in political activities, towards 2023, he is rather saddled with a lot of responsibilities. So he won’t give a lot of attention to this political equation. Tinubu may have his own issues but if you look at it, there are some silent challenges and people are now saying, what is his ranking in the party? The leader of the party? That’s a moral standing but they aren’t obliged to respect and to that extent, he has to find a better standing. But happily for him also, all those that are in his support from his own block, outside his block, by his own style and mechanism he has brought up people and empowered them politically and materially. Those people look up to him because, apparently, I maybe wrong, there is no humiliation in the process unlike in some other places where the godfatherism is so pronounced and that›s why you find them crumbling here and there. Tinubu doesn›t have that but he needs to change his style.
Change his style? How do you mean?
He has to go outside the South-West. He has people outside but for him to tap the electoral value or to make it into a better political machinery. He needs to extend the same style outside his present South-West.