APC convention: Why governors are anxious to have me as national chairman —Ali Modu Sheriff
Two-term governor of Borno State, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff is one of the leading aspirants for the position of the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He spoke with journalists last week in Abuja about his mission. TAIWO AMODU was at the session.
Some of your party members have speculated that you are eyeing the seat of the National Chairman of the party, how true is this?
Well, I have been going around the country, making consultations and discussing with leaders of the party before I will come formally to tell the world my intention and aspiration to the office of the National Chairman. You know you cannot do that without the Press Corps of our party, because whatever you decide to do will go a long way in influencing the decisions of our party men and women. After all, you are the first bus-stop for our party. Anybody coming to the Secretariat will meet you first and I want to thank you for coming.
Having said that, our party, the APC, is about six and a half years old. It is a combination of different political parties that became APC and we also know that our president, Muhammadu Buhari, even before coming into the APC had already made 12 million votes when he was with both the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) and Congress for Progressives Change (CPC). He brought that to the table and what are we going to face after the exit of the president? It is we, the APC members, that will tell the world that we are capable of getting their trust even when the president completes his tenure. To do this, you need everybody. You need people who know the history of the party and the country, including where we are coming from. We really need to work together in order to build bridges across the country.
As a party today, we are only six years in government, but we aim to be in government for the next 30 to 40 years.
Doing that doesn’t come on a [silver] platter; we need to put in hard work. Therefore, I believe it is important for me to reach out to all leaders of our party: the youth, the women, different organisations and tell them that we must come together to get our party to run for the next 30, 40, 50 years by the grace of God. And to do that, you need a rugged captain, not someone that will capsize. A ship has to be navigated by a knowledgeable person who knows the water and I believe I can do that for our party, if given the opportunity by party men and women, who are the decision-makers.
There are many people in the field, but you can look at everybody and see where you can put your deposit. We don’t want a bank that will collapse after a short period. So, I have been going around the country. After you leave now, I will travel again. I just came in last night. I have been away, travelling from one state to the other and I will continue doing that until everybody in our party is consulted. I meet them in their homes to say that, yes I want to run for the national chairmanship of this party and I believe I can lead us well.
It is taken for granted that politics is local, which implies that you should have a strong base to push your aspirations. Your state is Borno and the leader of the party is Governor Babagana Zulum who is a creation of Senator Kashim Shettima. Have you done enough consultations with your governor and Shettima to sell your aspirations, because the perception out there is that you and Shettima aren›t on good terms?
I’m instrumental in what has become of everybody in Borno State today without any kind of contradiction, apart from Zulum, who is not my product, because he was an academician and not a politician. Aside him, everybody in any position today in Borno in one way or the other has benefited from me. And I have no problem with any one of them. Maybe, it is just a perception. I have shared my ambition with everybody in Borno, including Shettima that you are talking about. I have discussed with them one on one.
The governor is the leader of the party in the state and I have gone and discussed with him about my ambition and aspiration. So, you don›t go out without talking to your home base. In that respect, I have been talking to all of them. I am carrying all of them along in my aspirations. Saying that we are not in talking terms is just perception; it›s not correct. I have no problem with any of them.
You don›t for whatever reason help people or create people and start fighting them. We have no axe to grind. I was a governor for eight years. I have been in the Senate several times. I›m not looking for any of these positions again, because I have already gone past them. I›m not looking for anything that someone from Borno is looking for. Therefore with all of them, we will work together to achieve this position for all of us in Nigeria and Borno State in particular.
The APC governors’ forum decides who gets what and how in the party. People see you as a strong-willed politician, but the governors are not comfortable with this. How do you want to navigate around the governors’ forum?
Concerning the governors’ forum, I don›t think there is any governor I haven’t visited as of today. I am making consultations with all the governors. You know, apart from being leaders of the party in the states, they are leaders of this country in all aspects of life. Anybody who can run a state as being elected by his people to become a governor must be respected. Therefore, I am sure every governor will like his party to always win. He wants to see a chairman that will be feared by the party’s opponents.
The governors want to build their institutions. They want to put their successors in office. They want to relate well with their senators and members of the House of Representatives and Houses of Assembly. So, every governor will be interested to work with somebody that he can relate with everyone and will be seen as one of them, which I am. I was a governor and by that, I am automatically one of them. I don›t think I have any problem with any governor. I respect them and that is why I visit them. I don›t go and see them in Abuja, no. I go to their states to talk to them, because they are the leaders of the party and the states. As such, they are the entities of this country that will make Nigeria great all the time. They are what we call the federating units of our nation. What makes Nigeria the 36 states of the federation? Therefore, I don›t have any problem with any governor and I will not have by the special grace of God, because I have absolute respect for all of them.
It is not easy for anybody to become a governor. A governor is one person in the state that will be in charge of the whole state, so there is no reasonable politician that will disrespect a governor or will look down upon him. You cannot do that. I am going to work with them as leaders of the states and people that are stakeholders of this party, people who collectively will decide the future of our party with the president on top.
I don’t have any fear of that at all, because I don’t think any governor would like to see somebody that people will not respect as his national chairman. Every governor will like to see his chairman be somebody that will be respected by the larger society. I don’t have any problem with any governor. I respect them; they are the ones that will make decisions on behalf of the party, because it is in the constitution of our party that they are leaders of our party.
You said you have been visiting some states concerning your aspirations. What kind of response are you getting from those states?
That is not for public consumption. Whatever any governor decides to tell the public on the television is what you hear from him, but what I discussed with them is not for public consumption.
Definitely and hopefully too, the next chairman is the one who will pilot the affairs of the party to the 2023 general election. As the party now goes through a turbulence, what plans do you have to see that if elected, your party will go into the elections united?
Thank you very much. You know that political party administration is never a new thing to me. I was the acting National Chairman of the All Nigerian Peoples’ Party (ANPP). When the merger was coming, I was the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the ANPP that makes up the APC. Party politics is about talking to people, listening to them, understanding their problems, and finding amicable solutions to the pains of the aggrieved people. You should also carry them along and make them feel important, because they are important. Let them know that they have a right to aspire for anything and there is also the right to get angry, because we are all human beings, having a party.
Right now, assuming you are very angry with me and I drive into your house, sit in your sitting room, meet your wife and children and tell them that, ‹tell Oga (Boss) that I am sorry.› You are respected and we can sit down and iron out our differences. Maybe you are angry, because you haven›t listened to me or you have been misled. If I can explain to you and you listen to me by the time we depart, we will never be enemies again, especially if I listened to your grievances.
A lot of the problems that you see today were created not by the principal actors, but by those surrounding them. A story that has not been told by a big man is told to another big man by his boy; his boy also picks the story from the street and the big man is angry without listening to the next person. We will find a solution to all the problems. I have the strength to visit the 774 local government areas of this country. I have done that when we formed the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP). I was one of the founders of the ANPP and I have gone to the 774 local government areas of this country and I will do that again. I have the experience and the political will. I can tell you, gentlemen of the Press, I will cement every uncementable.
I will make sure that because of internal problems, what happened to us in Zamfara and Bayelsa State does not happen again. In Zamfara, we lost the whole structure: a governor, senators and House of Representatives members completely. We won all and you know why we lost? It is because of the misunderstanding among members of our party. We will never allow anything like that to happen in APC under our leadership. We will make sure that everybody is given his or her respect and everybody is consulted so that the party survives. Survival of the party is paramount. If the followership of the party is not carried along, the party will always have a problem. So we will have no problem.
You said you have been reaching out to governors and leaders of the party. Beyond that, are you making efforts to reach out to other contestants for a consensus arrangement?
Talking to other people, of course, I am going to talk to all of them. You cannot sit down in your house and expect somebody that is also looking for the same position to come to you. You have to go to him. I am going to visit all of them and talk to all of them. We are one family; we are brothers and sisters of the same father and mother (party). We can be useful to the party in different capacities. So, I intend to consult them. That is why I am not always in Abuja. I follow people to their homes and villages to tell them that together, we can build the party.
Finally, what are you bringing in as a National Chairman?
See, I am bringing my experience as somebody who knows the terrain of Nigeria. I am bringing my experience as a two-term governor of a state. I will be bringing my experience as a leader of the National Assembly. Who are the politicians, House of Assembly members, chairmen of local governments, National Assembly members and governors? These are the leaders of the party. I have been all.
So, I am coming to the table as someone who understands the terrain. I am coming as someone who has run political parties in different aspects. I am not a newcomer. I am not a novice. I told you I was the chairman of the Board of Trustees of ANPP that formed the APC today. I am bringing to the table my knowledge and to work hard to make sure that we succeed. I want to identify those who are angry and I will go to their houses and bring them back. So, I am bringing a package that will meet the aspirations of every man and woman of this party.
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