Kwara State-born Saliu Mustapha, a former deputy national chairman of defunct Congress for Progressives Change (CPC), is campaigning to chosen as the next national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He bares his mind to journalists on contemporary national challenges and his chances of clinching the top party post. LEON USIGBE and BIOLA AZEEZ bring the excerpts.
IN this race, you are going to be contesting with bigwigs in the party – former governors, senators and others. When you look at that, do you not feel intimidated by their profiles?
This is a call to service, and when you are called to serve, you are not to be intimidated by names or titles; the most important thing is what you have to offer, how well are your intentions, what new ideas do you have to bring to the table and how accessible will you be because in politics and party administration, you have to be very tolerant, and very accessible to allow a lot of people to come on board the ship. So, for me, I will state it again and again that it is not a contest of titles, it is a contest of ideas that will grow the party. Those who you are mentioning today, at one time of their lives, they were never governors, they were not born with those titles of governors or senators, they also aspired for it based on what they believed they could offer then. So for me, if my ambition today is to be the Chairman of the party, on the strength of my experience and network, I think I should be given the chance. I am a thoroughbred party man. In terms of party administration, I have the widest experience so far. The records are there to show. I have learned to manage people, I have learned to accommodate different interest, and I have learned to stabilise the platform from some of the best hands that have managed political parties before. So, by and large, I have paid my dues in the Nigeria political milieu. I believe I am better suited to lead the party at this time.
Are you aware that there is an unwritten agreement for power to rotate between the North and the South in APC?
Thank God, you said it is an unwritten agreement.
So, what is your take on it?
As a founding member of this party, what we did in 2014 was, we looked at those who are vying and like you all know, President Buhari has always had a vote bank that is irreducible since he has been contesting in elections. So, we saw him as our best chance to have won in that general election, and if you notice, almost everybody went for him. But that did not stop those that wanted to contest to contest. Rochas Okorocha is from the South-East, Musa Kwankwanso is from the same North-West as Buhari, Atiku Abubakar from North east and late Sam Nda Isiah of blessed memory from North-Central, all contested against President Muhammadu Buhari, and he emerged the winner. If by chance, any of these other people from the North-Central or South-East had won that primary, they would have been given the ticket. So, sometimes when you talk about power rotation, it is an internal winning strategy of the political party. It is sometimes imperative in party politics in order to protect diverse interests. For us in APC, you are right to an extent to say there was an unwritten understanding that says let this position come from the North because we were contesting against somebody from the South then. I am an ardent advocate of equity and fairness in the polity. So, for me, in all honesty, anything that would bring unity in the party, anything that will give all sections of the country the needed sense of belonging in the Nigeria project, I am 100 per cent for it. So, I look forward to what the party will agree upon in the day ahead. As a stakeholder, I am bound by the decision of the party, and I will respect it.
What is your assessment of the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led caretaker committee of the party in the last one year?
They have been doing very well in the circumstance they found the party, especially when you know that most of them have separate mandates to fulfil in their various states as either governors or senators or House of Representatives member or even special adviser. Each and everyone of the members of the Committee have one or two other viable things they are doing with their times. In that case, I must commend them and give them credit for work done so far. It is a work in progress, and we can all see how they’ve been able to manage the exercise so far. They are winning new members for the party, and an example is the case of Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River. That is so good of the committee, and I know they are working on other bigwigs within the political landscape of the nation. Part of their mandate is to stabilise the party and conduct congresses from the ward level to state and then the national convention. These are not easy tasks, especially in the circumstance the former NEC of the party was dissolved, I know they are mindful of the time, and as a responsible caretaker committee, they will do everything possible to live up to it. continue this good work which every one of us can attest to.
So, are you giving the caretaker committee a 10/10?
Maybe a 9. Not because of things the committee has not done but for things they could have done better but excusable due to the circumstances beyond their control. Perfection is to God. Humans can only try their best. And that is why some of us are coming out to step into their shoes, to take the batons from where they are going to drop it.
But many believe that Ayade joined APC because Cross River was delisted from the oil-rich states. What do have to say to that?
Governor Ben Ayade did not disguise his reasons for joining the APC. He boldly faced the camera for it. We all listened to him. You see people like Gov. Ayade do not belong in the PDP. He is too decent a man, too progressive minded, too cosmopolitan to be in the PDP. And that is why he was stifled so hard in the PDP. And like I said in my reaction to his defection, APC will be more than just a home for him. It will also be an ideological pathway for him. I trust that he and multitude of Cross-Riverians will begin to see the difference in the days ahead. Be that as it may, if people say Governor Ben Ayade, joined our party because of the delisting of oil wells of Cross Rivers, is Ebonyi also an oil-producing? Invariably, there is something noteworthy these individuals have seen that propelled their intention to camp with us. And you’ll be surprised that more governors will also come to the light in coming days. Take my words for it, there are many more governors who have advanced their talks with the party’s national leadership. And apart from governors, there are other big fishes in the polity that are also porting soon. This month of June is a decisive month for a lot of them. Trust me, things will be happening fast in the days ahead. So, the question is, if the APC is all that unattractive as naysayers are painting, why are all these big guns trooping into the party? You can connect the dots. There is no politician of means in this clime that will open his eyes wide open and join a sinking ship. It is both too expensive and unrewarding to do.
What is the take of the Kwara State governor on your aspiration to be the national chairman of APC?
To be honest, I am not supposed to be discussing that on the pages of newspapers. But take it to the banks, the governor of my home state, His Excellency AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq is fully aware of my ambition and he is very much supportive of it. But be that as it may, this aspiration has taken a life of its own in Kwara State. It has obviously become a pan-Kwara agenda, and eveyone that matters in Kwara today from the governor to the other party stakeholders and to the ordinary person on the street are queueing behind this aspiration. Nothing gives me bigger joy than the fact that my state has found me worthy of their support. I am enjoying every bit of it, and I am immensely grateful for it.
At the fullest of time, you will see how this enormous support will pan out. But for now, I think the most important agenda on his table is to sit with his brother governors and the party leadership, and of course the president to agree on an equitable and widely acceptable zoning formula. It is when the chairmanship position is zone to the north central, as we are fervently praying for, that we will see clearly where everybody belongs to. It is only strategic for us for now not to play all our cards in the public space.
It is no more news that Kwara APC has been in crisis since the commencement of the AbdulRazaq-led administration, what is your take on this?
It is quite unfortunate that Kwara state APC had to find itself in this kind of situation; it is uncalled for; it is unnecessary because it started way too early. But it is understandable that in politics, there would always be a divergence of opinions, views and interests. It is now a task for people like me now to see that we reconcile everybody and find a solution to the crisis that has been rocking the party for the past two years. This is my state, and I will take this as a challenge for me to communicate with all stakeholders and bring back everyone on board in oneness.
No doubt this is going to be a litmus test for my capacity and ability to manage crises in the party. I believe that in the shortest time possible, I would be able to achieve this by sitting together with the governor and other stakeholders of the party in the state and finding a lasting solution to the crisis. The crisis is definitely not beyond our capacity to resolve and we shall do without wasting time, so that we are able to strategise together again and win the next election in the state as overwhelmingly as we did in 2019.
Don’t you think the crisis can affect your ambition as the saying goes, a house divided against itself cannot stand?
Let me tell you for a fact, for any progressive organisation to succeed, there must be a conflict. It helps us reflect on the ideology upon which the party was formed and chart a better way forward. And it’s a phase any serious group would go through. But what is of primordial importance is that we are not beclouded by these hassles when making sacrosanct decisions.
Beyond party lines, we also see ourselves as partners in progress. And it is on this premise that many of our brothers in the Kwara APC, irrespective of the crisis, have been contributing towards my emergence.
In recent times, there have been heightened security challenges in the country, what do you think is responsible for this?
First, I acknowledge that there are security challenges bedeviling the country at the moment. I also acknowledge that the issue of insecurity is a global challenge. There is hardly any country of the world that is not facing one internal security challange or the other. So, since it is a global phenomenon, Nigeria, being the largest black nation on mother earth is naturally not going to be immuned. So, that explains that.
But be that as it may, there is no government that will be so irresponsible as to neglect the security of its people. It is true of Nigeria, and particularly President Muhammadu Buhari. He says this all the time that the number 1 reason he is elected to govern this country is to tackle the security challenges he inherited from previous administrations. The number 2 is to fight corruption. The number 3 is to stabilise the economy. So, the President is fully aware of the peoples expectations and he is living up to it in the circumstances he found himself. And the circumstances are that the bulk of the present security challenges are inherited. Apart from that, succesive administrations did not do enough to prepare our security apparatus for the nature of the security challanges we now face. Terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, etc are emerging security concerns that require a lot of technicalities.
Although I am not trying to find excuses for the government, like you, I also believe that things can be better, but certainly, the government is not resting, it is doing the best it could. It will only take a while before the results start to manifest. And that is why I am appealing for calm and patience from Nigerians.
However, from the political point of view, it is no brainer to observe that there is a syndicated sabotage of government efforts on security arrangement in the country. When government is filling one hole, some elements, for reasons best known to them, will be unraveling another. What they are ignorant of is if it rains, it rains everywhere, and on everybody. So, when you say that insecurity is heightened at this time, I cannot but agree 100%. And the only reason why it is heightened is because of 2023. It is a recurring decimal and as long as this kind of culture does not stop, insecurity will be heightened at one point or another in our polity.
So, what is the solution to this phenomenon?
The people should pay more than a passing interest on their own security. The government is no doubt trying its best, in the circumstances it found itself. But the people too have to join hands actively with the government at all levels to nip this crisis in the bud. As I am talking to you now, I have lost a dear friend, Barrister Gulak Ahmed, to the insecurity going on in the country; he was shot in broad daylight in Owerri. We should join hands together to end these criminalities. We should not leave the government to it all alone.
In the midst of all of this, you have announced your intention to contest for the APC National Chairman. What is the underlying motivations for this?
Well, first and foremost, I believe in the service to the community and to me, the community is not just where you live; the community comprises of what you do, where you work, and people you associate with. My being in APC, as I’ve always said it is an ideological pathway; I have always found myself with the progressives, and if I can be of value or I can add anything to make it better, I think I will be most humble to do that. I am part of those who brought about the merger that gave birth to APC. As the Deputy National Chairman of defunct Congress for Progressives Change (CPC), we know what we did then, we all had to forgo our positions to allow for a bigger picture because we believe putting all hands on deck and forming a unifying front was what Nigeria badly needed at that time to overcome its challanges.
So, for me, there are so many things that I would say are part of what have motivated me to come out to contest this position. It is a party I am part and parcel of from the begining, and I would not want to see a project so noble as APC just go down the drain. I believe I have a lot to offer especially coming from someone who knows where we started from and the whole ideas and dreams of our founding members. So, I believe we can do better, and some of us can offer a lot more to consolidate on what is being presently achieved, because of course, APC has done well; I must say and also acknowledged that, but we can still do better. There is room for more excellent work to be done.
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