Alhaji Lai Mohammed is the protem National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He spoke with Freedom Online’s editorial team on what the party encountered while seeking merger and registration with the Independent National Electoral Commission and how it will defeat the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 elections. Excerpts:
The All Progressives Congress (APC) has just been registered. What was the journey to this point like?
It was not quite smooth, but interesting enough, it was where we least expected problems that we encountered some.
We thought we were going to encounter problems from among the merging parties because we knew that ACN, CPC, ANPP and from the midst of APGA and DPP literally, that it was not going to be very easy. Some of them were old foes. Don’t forget that the CPC is actually an offshoot of ANPP. So also was DPP an offshoot of ANPP.
So, we did expect a lot of brickbats and fireworks among these groups given the fact that the likes of (Attahiru) Bafarawa (former Sokoto State governor) and co used to be in ACN before they abandoned us just for PDP, I think, and then later (moved to another party).
So, we did expect a lot of problems. We anticipated that there would be some conflicts, and again don’t forget that we also had the Yerimas (former Governor of Zamfara State) of this world and former governor of Borno State, Sheriff.
But interestingly enough, it was not from that quarter that we encountered problems. It was more from the outside, because the talks and negotiations among the merging parties progressed, to our own pleasant surprise, more smoothly than we even anticipated.
How do you mean?
Take for instance the issue of common name. We thought it was going to tear the merger apart. But within the first two days, we arrived and agreed at a common name of APC.
The issue of logo, again we thought it was going to be very contentious. But without going through any voting, without conditions, by consensus, we agreed.
Of course at this point, we must not fail to mention the facilitative role our governors played. The governors of ACN, CPC, APGA and ANPP were already meeting as a group. And they helped a lot in facilitating a lot of the talks.
When we were experiencing difficulty in arriving at consensus, they came and persuaded us. They had met amongst themselves. Interestingly enough, the problem was more from spoilers.
Within the party?
Outside the party. The first was that all of a sudden, from nowhere, about three other groups emerged with the same acronym. One was All Progressive Congress, like our own without an ‘s’. The other was Africa Peoples Congress. One was African Patriotic Citizens. All with the same acronym, APC. And this was a major source of distraction for us.
Because under the Constitution and the Electoral Act, there is no obligation on the part of the merging parties to inform INEC of its intention until it has gotten to a certain stage of negotiation of the arrangement. The only point where you can notify INEC that you want to merge is after the various parties have held their various conventions and they have already gotten their various mandates to merge and the merging parties have agreed on a common name, common logo, common constitution, common manifesto. And then a joint letter would now be written by the National Chairmen, National Secretaries of the merging parties to INEC, saying that they want to merge.
When we got to that point was when these other political associations went to apply for fresh registration, using the same acronym, and that created quite a lot of distraction because they were very well backed. They had a lot of resources, and before we knew it, they had taken an office, branded the office and they were holding press conferences, intimidating INEC. Of course, along the line, it came to light they were actually being sponsored by the PDP. And as we are talking today, they are still in court, asking INEC not to register anybody with the acronym APC. Unfortunately, with the registration of APC yesterday (the day the interview was conducted), we don’t know what is going to become of that matter. So, like I said, it was an area that we least expected that we encountered this distraction. On the part of the merger parties, yes we did experience a lot difficult times and periods, especially on the issue of logo, constitution, interim management committee. But, I must say that all throughout, we never had to resort to divisions or voting before we arrived at the consensus. To that extent, I think, it has been more smooth sailing than we anticipated.
Initially, APGA was part of the merger. But in the INEC statement on the party’s registration, APGA’s name was removed. What really happened?
APGA is still part of the merger. So also a rump of DPP. But because of the factionalisation rocking APGA today, or at least at the time we started this talk, only a faction of APGA joined the talks. That is the APGA led by the Imo State governor. So, it was going to be difficult to go to convention to ask their party that they want to merge with ACN, CPC and ANPP. Because the meaning of going to convention to seek the mandate of your party to merge is that your party will cease to exist the moment the merger is actualised. As you can see, as of today, the certificates of ACN, ANPP and CPC have been cancelled by INEC and a new certificate in the name of APC issued.
Do you envisage a situation where the other APC would get a court order stopping you from using the acronym APC?
I would not preempt the court. But I think that, as a lawyer, I know that if what you want to cure is such that it has already been done, courts don’t give orders in vain. And the question to ask is, what injury would you suffer if APC is registered? You have been denied registration by INEC under African Peoples Congress. So, if another person has met the criteria, I do not see any injury you are suffering. In any event, you can’t be registered as African Peoples Congress, APC. But like I said, I cannot preempt the court. But we are not party to this suit.
Now that APC has been registered, what fresh ideas are you bringing into the polity? What is the party’s ideology?
Frankly speaking people talk about ideology and I think there is only one ideology for any political party. The people. Any party that does not make the people the centre of its ideology is not a people-centred party
But the slogan of the PDP is ‘Power to the people’.
For 14 years they have said that. But I don’t think I am one of the people they are talking about. I don’t see how power has been brought to us. Own slogan is ‘change’, because we have come on a rescue mission, which we have said several times. To rescue Nigeria from the abyss it has fallen into. You can see that we are still running on a generator in this office. Insecurity is getting pronounced everyday. Youth unemployment. If you came here yesterday, you would have seen the entire place lined up of hundreds of university graduates seeking for employment. Now this is what we want to do differently. Give hope to Nigerians. Tell Nigerians that this country can be run very competently as we have been doing in many of the states where we currently form the government.
In previous statements you have made, you gave indication that some prominent members of the PDP were waiting for the registration of APC for them to cross over. Are you still optimistic some of them will?
Very optimistic. As a matter of fact, going by the kind of goodwill messages that we received yesterday even from serving PDP members, we are very hopeful that even if they don’t come now, they are sending their people to join the party very soon.
You said 11 incumbent PDP governors are likely to cross over.
At the right time they will. We have no doubt.
For any party to win the presidential election, it is expected to have something called ‘structure’ in political parlance. Now, APC controls about 11 states, if we include Governor Okorocha of Imo State. In the South West, it is solid. In the South South, just one. That is Governor Oshiomhole (of Edo State). In the South East, just Okorocha. North East, North Central, the Nasarawa governor. How do you want to win the presidential election if the PDP governors do not cross over to APC?
I think it will be very misleading to judge the popularity or the acceptance of a political party solely on the basis on how many governors they have. I think if an honest opinion poll is taken today, you will come to a conclusion that in North-West, in North-East, North-Central, and in South-West, the APC is the preferred party. If this merger had taken place in 2011, we won’t have what we have now. Many of the states that we lost, the combined votes of ACN, CPC, ANPP and even APGA, in those states, are by far more than the votes of PDP that won either legislative elections or governorship elections. You can imagine in Benue State what the result would have been. Or in Akwa Ibom. Or in Niger State. Clearly, using the elected representatives today as the sole barometer for the electoral fortune of APC in 2015 would be quite wrong. The honest truth today is that we are the party to beat in those four zones. Arguably. And with the implosion in the PDP, APC has come at the right time. We are like the Noah’s Ark that will take to safety all endangered species.
It is said that the bigger the head, the bigger the headache. APC is now a very big party, and it is likely to start experiencing some of the problems that PDP has been experiencing. How are you going to tackle such problems as who will be the presidential candidate, the national chairman, and such others? Don’t you think that will also affect the performance of APC in the election?
I think the first thing is that we will learn from past mistakes. And we will be as transparent as possible in the candidates selection process. Two, we have found, to our very pleasant surprise, that our leaders, like Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, General Buhari, Chief Bisi Akande, Chief Segun Osoba and the governors are more of assets than liabilities to this new party. Because without their sacrifices, without their behind-the-scene moves, we would not have been able to achieve all that we achieved. And they have assured us that they are going to put the interest of this party over and above their own individual agendas, missions or ambitions. Again, the cosmopolitan nature of the party, the heterogeneous nature of the party also makes it impossible for it to be hijacked by any particular party. Looking at our constitution, which we intend to adhere to, we will be a study in intra-party transparency.
So, we are not likely to see imposition of candidates as frequently is the case with ACN in the last few elections?
You see, I am always at pains, to say that the accusation of imposition of candidates against ACN, is a product of lack of understanding of how party machinery works. Most people who have accused us of imposition of candidates have been people who have in the past benefitted from the same system.
You see, a party has a history. The party has a culture. And the party has its own internal arrangement. Consensus is an integral part of democracy. But consensus is not the same thing as unanimity. Unanimity, you hardly ever achieve in any political party, in any setting. But consensus? Yes! What people have been taking as impositions, in most cases, have been consensus, which has been the tradition. And I will give you two examples.
Take the example of Epe, in Lagos East senatorial district. Two major ethnic groups make up the Epe constituency. The Ijebus, and the Lagosians. Over the years, the two groups have lived harmoniously. And over the years, they have perfected a method of sharing offices, whether political or otherwise. That has helped in achieving peace and harmony, and balance in the community. Therefore, if today, it is the Ijebus that produced a member of the House of Representatives, it is an unwritten law that four years later, it would move to the Lagosians. Now, no matter how prominent or how electable a candidate is from the Ijebus, he simply cannot continue in office. Otherwise, you will break the harmony within the community. And I remember very well in 2007, AC wanted to compensate all its members of National Assembly for their sterling role in defeating the third term agenda, by giving them automatic tickets. But it was not possible in certain areas. In Plateau State for instance, we could not do it because they had an arrangement. And those who would come and complain are those who had been denied ticket. This time around, we will do everything possible to make sure that we are transparent in our selection process in APC.
Are we likely to see zoning of offices as a form of conflict management?
Our Constitution does not support zoning of offices, No. But you see, what is important in any political party is that you must have electable candidates. What makes you electable is a combination of many factors. And we will also have our own guidelines which would not violate the Constitution of Nigeria.
Are you worried there may be some fifth columnists who might have been infused into the party?
You can’t rule that out. But with vigilance, we can assure you that we would overcome them.
Some people have argued that the APC was formed just to contest the 2015 election, and that afterward, the merger parties would go their separate ways.
How? You have forgotten that as of today, CPC no longer exists, ANPP no longer exists, and so ACN. After 2015, are they going to form new parties? The thing about a merger is that it is irrevocable. It is not like an alliance, such that after the election, you can go back. Two, it is not possible that this party was formed just for 2015. We are going to contest the governorship election in Anambra in 2013. We will contest the bye-election in Delta’s Central Senatorial District, 2014 governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun. We are here for a long time by the grace of God. And we are not just here because we want to displace PDP. We are here because we want to provide Nigerians with an alternative.
What message do you have for Nigerians regarding 2015?
Like I said, starting from the Anambra State election, our message is that our party is pro-people. We have a party that its track record has transformed the various states they have governed and vote for them during elections whether at states or federal level, so that Nigerians can have a taste of the good things that those parties have been able to provide for the people. And you can imagine if with just 22 per cent of the federal allocations going to the states, our states can perform this well, you can imagine what would happen if we are able to access the 52 per cent that the Federal Government today gets. That is our message to Nigerians. That they should put an end to hunger, to poverty, to lack of infrastructure, lack of power, by voting APC. They should try us. Fourteen years of PDP is enough punishment for Nigerians.