MALLAM SALIU Mustapha, the Turaki of Ilorin and former deputy national chairman of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), one the legacy parties in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), sheds light on the smouldering crisis in the party, its planned convention and his chances as a chairmanship aspirant. KUNLE ODEREMI brings the excerpts of the interaction he had with journalists.
What are your thoughts on the politics of the country, especially in relations to your experience so far as an active player?
Often times, many of us sit back, fold our arms, assume and say whatever the business of politics is that politicians will sort it out. But no, you do not have to assume, because assumption is the mother of all errors. It is time for us to get involved. You do not have to be a card-carrying member of the All Progressives Congress but you can be a stakeholder by extension. I do not want to assume that everything is okay with the APC. There is always room for improvement. No system is perfect. We can only add value and do the best we can at a given time. This can be achieved when we all put all hands on deck and not by politicians alone. God has given us capacity and wisdom in different spheres of life. I want a situation where if somebody asks me tomorrow that ‹when you were chairman, what did you do?› and I will be able to tell him I did XYZ. If we do not get involved from this stage, then the platform will be managed by people who do not have our interest at heart. When I talk about interest, I mean the collective interest of the nation. It is when you have people of good character and conscience there that they would make sure the platform produces people based on merit. That is when you can say that the APC or party XYZ was able to deliver. The party would be able to deliver based on the people who are managing the government at that time.
But if the party produces people who are bankrupt, then the end result would be a bad system of administration. I believe that the number one goal of every political party is to win elections, be in government so as to deliver on their promises. Those promises are usually captured in the party’s manifesto. But these days, you have in the same party where Governor A is doing one thing and Governor B is doing a different thing. I want to be the leader of the party alongside other National Executive Committee (NEC) members to see that the electorate get what we promised them or for the party to be held accountable to its manifesto. I want to lead a party where there is equity, justice, fairness and development of the country. I want to lead a party where a popular candidate will always emerge and not through imposition. Any time you have an imposition right from the party level, be rest assured that there will be rigging in the general election. The APC is getting ready for its convention in February. On the other hand, the PDP has done something: for the first time, they brought a 55-year-old as a national youth leader. I think it speaks to what happened during the #EndSARS [protests] where the younger generation made a statement that they can decide their future. The APC can do better and this time, it should be able to bring a younger person as the national chairman that would be able to connect with the younger generation.
The APC is in crisis in Kwara. What faction of the party do you belong to as a stakeholder in the party?
The answer is that I do not belong to any faction; that is one. Two is that, I think I am one of the oldest members of the APC in my state. As a former deputy national chairman of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), I led it into the merger with other political parties. So, nobody is older than me in the APC chapter in Kwara State. They all met me in the party. I have retained that neutrality and I am hoping that given the opportunity to be the chairman of the party, my first priority will be reconciling the factions. In a political party, the more, the merrier. You need all hands on deck. For instance, in an election, if your opponent goes to canvass for votes, would you say that you have enough support and would not canvass for votes any longer? No. Reconciliation will be a litmus test for me. We will try as much as possible to see that we accommodate one another because there is a lot to be done. We have to fulfill our pre-election promises; we should not waste time quarrelling over nothing. So, if given the opportunity, it will be my first litmus test to reconcile everybody for us to have a united house in Kwara. I relate with everybody. If we all in the party went to the election and came out victorious, there is no basis to start quarrelling. There are people who are even coming to join us now. So, it is about managing and accommodating one another which I think I can be of help if I become the national chairman of the APC.
How are you trying to reach out to some members of your party who, since 1999, have become well-entrenched politicians and very influential in APC? I ask this question because we have other aspirants to the position of national chairman and the advantage they have is that they have godfathers in the party.
In every political space, there are bound to be various interests and you must recognise that. The most important thing, which also relates to the first question, is how you are able to manage and cooperate with one another. When I was the deputy national chairman of the CPC, some would come and say this is how I want this primary to be and another would come and say a different thing. However, the whole thing is about managing and giving people a sense of belonging. The issue is how you approach some of these matters and how you manage various interests and give members a sense of belonging. For me, I am driven by my convictions. Different people may come and say they all want to get the governorship ticket, but we would sit eyeball to eyeball and ask, do we just want to contest or to contest and win? You can say you want to go for the Senate or the House of Representatives and so on. You can say this person stands a better chance to win based on our demography.
What are the challenges you have identified in the APC which you intend to tackle when you assume the leadership of the party?
In life, we all face challenges. If I sit here and tell you there are no challenges in the APC, then I am not being realistic. But, the most important thing is: are they surmountable? Will they make the party more unified? Are there things you can embrace and work with? We have challenges, but our challenges are not such that can tear the party or stop it from existing. They are rather the challenges that would make us come out better. These are challenges that would give us an opportunity to address things in a more positive way. If we did not have challenges, we will not find ourselves where we are today. But as God will have it, we have been able to manage it properly. That is why the APC is still very united and strong. You can see some people are dumping their own parties to join the APC. So, I do not look at the challenges as major setbacks.
All the aspirants are from North-Central. Does that mean that the position has been zoned to the geopolitical bloc?
There is no written or unwritten agreement on zoning. As I said earlier, it is about strategy and you look at the overall interest of the party and what you want to achieve. Today, we have a president of the northern extraction and we have a vice-president of the southern extraction. If you bring a chairman from the North-Central or the Middle Belt of the country, it is also strategic so as to give everybody a sense of belonging. So, it is not for you to write it down that you must get a chairman for a particular bloc; no! It is about your party’s winning strategy. That is why you can see there are more aspirants from the North-Central. But it is not also only the North-Central. You have Ali Modu Sheriff from the North-East and Yisa Yuguda also from the North-East. Abdulaziz Yari is from North-West. So, I do not want you to look at it from that angle that there is an understanding that it must be from the North-Central. It is about looking at your winning strategy. Where do you think that if you position certain offices, it would go your way not just for your party’s primaries but the general election when you go out to ask the electorate for their votes?
Since the beginning of this dispensation, the presidents we have been producing have always had interest who would become chairmen of their parties. Are you the candidate of the president? What is your position on zoning of the presidency?
Every party would decide on its winning formula. If party XYZ decides to pick somebody from Gongola (there is no such state again), maybe they think they can gather enough votes to win the election. So, zoning would depend on the party’s strategy of winning the election.
There are about eight of you gunning for the same position and a majority of the contenders are former governors or serving senators and we all know the kind of influence governors in Nigeria wield today. Are you not scared and what do you think are your chances?
For me, it is not about title or status but what you can offer. I am not intimidated by the name of former this, former that. The most important thing for me is what I have to offer and what I am bringing to the table. I am not scared of the contest; I am only appealing to some of them to endorse me because I know I have a lot to offer. It is about ideas on how to move the party forward and not about positions held in the past. Today, in Nigeria, we have come to realise that 80 per cent of total votes cast belong to the younger generation. We had a protest not too long ago. It was tagged #EndSARS protest. From that protest, it became an eye opener to some other things in the country. The younger generation now know what they have as a voting tool or power in their hands. PDP has a younger person as their national leader, hoping that they can harness from that 80 per cent votes of the younger generation. The APC can do better. If it finds me worthy and makes me their chairman, why won’t they support the APC; where they have made the head of the party? So, all these things are about ideas; what are your ideas, what strategies do you have? That is why I said I am not intimidated by title. It is ideas that rule the world and not former titles. So I am not intimidated. I am looking forward to working together with all my fellow aspirants who I believe are all major stakeholders and who have a lot to give. If the APC makes me the chairman today, the first thing I will do is to see how I can speak with my fellow aspirants and also tap from their wealth of wisdom and experience because, for me, it will be all hands on deck for us to make a bigger picture. I have been endorsed by all well-meaning stakeholders of the party and that is why I am motivated and that is why I have embarked on consultations with all stakeholders for their support, partnership and endorsement and blessing.
If your party decides that the next chairman should emerge through consensus, under what circumstance or condition would you want to step down? Besides, do you have a Plan B?
I have been talking to major stakeholders trying to bond with them. So, it is all about leadership. It is all about giving people a sense of belonging; making them to be part of what you are doing. Once you are able to create a conducive atmosphere, then you will have less problems to encounter. But if you run a one-man show and believe you know it all, there can be problems. Nobody is perfect in life. So, it is my style of leadership that will determine my fate. As a team player, I have always been appealing, especially in politics that you need everybody to succeed.
On the other question of consensus, if the APC decides on consensus, I pray that I am the consensus candidate, it will be good for me. Consensus is mostly achieved when all the interested parties agree to it. There cannot be a consensus if one person falls out of it. For me, the most important thing is: I have shown interest, I am aspiring to be the national chairman. If by the votes I will win it, it is good; if the consensus picks me, and it is easier for me. The most important thing, again, for me is to seek the cooperation, endorsement and the goodwill of all because the bigger picture of making sure that the party wins is very paramount.
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