(PART 2 OF THE INTERVIEW) Lai Mohammed: Conditions that favoured Jonathan in 2011 will not favour him in 2015

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lai_mohammed_interviewThis is the second part of our Interview Series with the National Publicity Secretary of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Alhaji Lai Mohammed. The first part was published last week. Enjoy it.

 

Some Nigerians believe that the ACN is out to destabilise the Federal Government. For instance, during the House of Representatives speakership tussle, instead of the President’s candidate, you supported Tambuwal. Now, Amaechi…

We are ACN. The government is PDP. Did the President approach us and say ‘Please come and support our candidate?’. If he did, wouldn’t we have given him conditions? How can you fault us for not supporting the President’s candidate, forgetting that we also had the right to be there at the same time? Of course, it was politics. Would we be that stupid to vote for the candidate of the President in the House of Representatives and have no leverage whatsoever in that very important House where we have about 70 of our members? Of course, the role of the opposition is not to make the work of the government easy. It is to keep them on their toes. Look at what has happened today. Because of our influence in the House of Representatives, the House has now looked more closely at the proclamation of State of Emergency in some states.

What of the NGF election?

In the case of Amaechi, the moment it was established that Jang is the President’s candidate, why must we support him? Did he come to us to say ‘Please sir, could you support me?’. We supported the candidate that we believed in, and like I told you, our votes alone could not have brought in Amaechi. The nine extra votes to our own 10 votes are all PDP votes. Jonathan should take a hard look at himself. There is something wrong with his party, there is something wrong with the leadership. Otherwise, why should nine of his people vote against his candidate? They should go elsewhere and look for their problem, we are not their problem.

People believe ACN is worse than PDP. That ACN would not allow any opposition within the party. Amaechi knows the President had another candidate for the post. If Amaechi had been a member of the ACN, he would have been expelled by now, not suspended. That ACN would not allow such an internal opposition.

No, no. I think you are comparing apple with oranges. The problem of Amaechi started because Amaechi stepped on sensitive toes as the spokesperson and leader of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum. In a federation, there are things that are reserved for the state, and things reserved for the centre. The governors, being the representatives of the people at the state level, have a right to protect the interest of the people who voted for them. The issue started first with this excess crude. And the governors said the centre has no right, without their consent, to appropriate this money and invest it in the Sovereign Wealth Fund or whatever. How can you take my money and say you want to save it for me? It is my money, you don’t know what I need it for. Then you now go and choose for me who is going to keep my money. Governors said no and Jonathan and PDP saw that as confrontational. After all, you are in PDP, why are you antagonistic to the federal government? But for crying out loud, this is a federation. Then, there was the issue of the disputed oil wells between Bayelsa and Rivers. What did you expect the governor of Rivers (Amaechi) to do? The suit on the disputed wells had been on long before Jonathan became President. The money accruing from the wells was being paid into an escrow account. All of a sudden, it was realised that the money had been credited to the Bayelsa State government. What would you expect Amaechi as a governor to do? Of course, he protested. He went with his people to see the President. Who else could he have gone to see? But it was said that the President didn’t know anything about it, he was dragging the name of the President into it. If Amaechi was in ACN, would he have still gone to complain to the President?

I tell you, this is the difference between a statesman and a politician. May the soul of Yar’Adua rest in perfect peace. When we were going to construct the Ikoyi-Lekki link bridge, there were four properties that definitely had to go. Two belonged to the federal government, two belonged to the state government. The governor of Lagos State approached President Yar’Adua. ‘Sir, this is the concept of this bridge. There are four houses on the way. Two belong to you.’ There and then, he simply called the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Yayale Ahmed, and said ‘This is the concept Lagos State has come with. We are told that two houses there belong to us. If those houses are going to be the obstacle to their achieving that dream, definitely those two houses should go.’ I am sure if it were to be Jonathan, it would have been a different ball game. So, in answering your question, it is not about Amaechi. The issues Amaechi has with the President are not personal. There are some responsibilities he has as Chairman of Governors’ Forum. And he has to do them. Of course, we also know that things are not so well within the PDP. That the governors as a whole are fighting the Chairman of the party. The governors as a whole, not just Amaechi. But because Amaechi was the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum, he was their voice. So, I don’t see what Amaechi has done, you can say he is anti-party. That was why I said you are comparing apple with oranges.

So, what is the difference between the PDP and ACN?

In our party, we are very disciplined. There is a lot of cohesion. And believe me, it is because we are fair in our dealings. That is why we don’t have the kind of problems PDP has. Of course, it is very easy to say there is no internal democracy in ACN. Now which party does not have internal democracy? Is it a party that, without even calling, or drawing the attention of a governor to allegations against him, decides to suspend him right away? Is that the party that has internal democracy? Is it a party that does not allow a sitting governor to take a form to contest election? I think the people making the accusation do not understand the issues at stake.

At what point did you part ways with President Jonathan because during the Yar’Adua illness crisis, you supported the Doctrine of Necessity option?

Yes, we did.

So, what led to your parting ways with him?

During Yar’Adua’s illness, we were the most vociferous, most vocal. We were not supporting him. Rather, we were supporting the Constitution. Because, tomorrow, it could be another person. We were saying ‘Let us have strong institutions.’ Contrary to what people say, there was never any instruction or directive to anybody in ACN to vote for Jonathan. Never.

During the 2011 election?

We never voted for him. That was why in a state like Osun, the man couldn’t even get up to 25 per cent. The last election was fought largely along ethnic and religious lines. In the South-West, it was easy for Jonathan to win. The complex ethnic mixture in Lagos, the religious factor and the fact that the South-West had no candidate. In politics, there are three major constituencies any politician has. The first is ethnicity. The second is religion, third is your platform. Overall, it is your pocket, how deep it is. The average thinking then was, ‘Well, a Yoruba man is not on the ticket. Between Buhari and Jonathan, who is the best?… Don’t mind ACN, what happened to the alliance they were planning with Buhari? Oh, is Ribadu still running?’ So, the choice became between Buhari and Jonathan.

But some people said there was an alliance between Jonathan and Asiwaju Tinubu

(Cuts in) Let them produce it.

That Jonathan sent a plane from Abuja to take Tinubu…

As a matter of fact, the time they said it happened, myself, Asiwaju and Bisi Akande were elsewhere.

So, Tinubu did not go to Abuja?

Why would he do so? If I have my own plane, why would you need to send a plane to me?

But why did he (Asiwaju) lose the vote, even in the booth in front of his house to Jonathan when he had a candidate in the election?

Very simple. Who are the people that live in Ikoyi?

The elite.

In every house in Ikoyi, what you have is wife and husband. The kids are probably abroad in the UK or elsewhere. And they have cooks, gardeners and securitymen. So? And this was not a contest between Asiwaju and Jonathan. If Asiwaju was on the ballot, Jonathan would not get 10 per cent in Ikoyi. That was why when Fashola was on the ballot, we all saw what happened. I remember during the 2003 election, people in the South-West voted for PDP, saying ‘this vote is for Obasanjo.’ Even for Senate, people said ‘if he doesn’t have enough Senators, they would remove him.’ That was why I laughed when somebody was assuring Jonathan yesterday on television that he’ll have most of the votes of the South-West. I just laughed and said to myself, this man has lost the point.

But you don’t know his capacity, maybe he has the ability to deliver.

Well, we shall see. But I will tell you, the conditions that favoured Jonathan in the South-West in 2011 are no longer there. You see, in the South-West, they like the underdog. When a man says ‘I had no shoes’, now they know that kind of man can be very dangerous.

But he has not said he is contesting

His body language is clear that he is contesting. If he is not contesting, why is it that on television yesterday, somebody assured him that the South-West will support him in 2015 the way they did in 2011?

Presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, has said it many times that ACN is a party of propagandists.

I think we should ask Nigerians that question.

You are the National Publicity Secretary sir.

I am. I know that ACN is a party that believes seriously, first and foremost, that the business of government is the people. And that wherever we are fortunate or opportuned to win elections and govern, we would make sure that people know the difference. And this I can say with all sense of pride that in Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ekiti and Lagos, we have shown people that we are a serious political party and we are a true agent of change. Now, at the federal level, where we are the opposition, we also take seriously our position of opposition. We take seriously our duty, not just as opposition party, but a government in waiting. If the government is performing, doing very well, there would be little work for the opposition. Even when we shout, Nigerians would say ‘shut up, what else do you want the man to do?’ Only yesterday, we are happy to know that the House of Representatives asked the federal government to suspend the contract for the $40 million internet spy programme. The proclamation of state of emergency, while everybody was commending it, we said ‘please National Assembly examine the details. Be wary. We are happy today some of these conditions are being queried.

When Tompolo’s company was given the contract for our entire maritime domain, we are the only party that said this is never done anywhere in the world. We said about three months ago that the economy of Nigeria was collapsing. And we gave instances, such as the discovery of technology for Shale Oil, Shale Gas, the fact that we have not been investing in exploration, that the massive oil theft has made a mockery of our economy, we were called names. Today, we have been proven right. Today, AGIP declared the third force majeure, after Shell and one other company. What force majeure means is that no party would be held responsible. And this company that declared force majeure was producing about 100,000 barrels per day in the last two years. So, how can you say we are propagandists? Let them tell us what we have said that is not true. Don’t fault us on emotions, fault us on facts and figures. That ACN, you cried wolf and there is no wolf, let them tell us.

How can we tackle insecurity without surveillance?

What kind of insecurity do we have today?

Terrorists are not always together. They communicate. Internet, telephone, etc. So, there is the need for a kind of surveillance. Even in advanced countries, they do it.

Do they invade the privacy of the average individual?

During the era of George W. Bush in the United States, this kind of a thing was done.

George Bush was confronting external terrorism. Even that one was not that anybody had access to your mail. Now, everyday they hack my email account. Virtually everyday.

You can’t blame government for that

Who else would I blame?

Yahoo Yahoo boys

Yahoo Yahoo boys, in my own account? What business does Lai Mohammed run? What do they want to scam?

But this surveillance has not even taken off, so how can you blame them?

Until the media shouted, how many people know about that contract? What are the details of that contract?

The contract bordered on national security, they don’t have to announce…

Oh, they don’t want to announce that they want to have access to what I am writing, what I am sending out? It is invasion of my privacy, it is unconstitutional. If government wants to secure this country they don’t start by invasion of privacy. Do you know how much that could be abused? Take for instance, even before I send out a press release, they would have already seen it. Communication about the strategy of my party, they would have access to it. Supposing what I’m writing is how we want to do mobilisation, this is how we want to do our primaries, they have access to it. It is never done anywhere in the world.

Let us talk about the merger of parties to form APC. In the democratic history of the country, no alliance has ever worked. Do you really think this will?

That is the whole point. This is not an alliance, this is a merger. In the history of this country, there has never been a political merger. This is the first time we are having a merger of political parties.

Let me tell you the difference between an alliance and a merger. In alliance, each party retains its identity. You are cooperating for a specific purpose. Your stakes are different. In a merger, you first lose your identity, each of you and you become a brand new party. Because you have done that, if I want to become governor, and you want to become a House of Representatives member, we have only one platform to use. If you cast your mind back to 1999, when we had this alliance between ANPP and AD, why didn’t it work? It didn’t work because some people were simply not affected by that alliance. Governors were already in place. Senators were already in place. House of Representative members were already in place. They had already been elected. So, the attitude was ‘what do I lose if he does not become president, I have gotten my own.’ But now, it is different. People should also remember that in a merger, we are not just working for the presidency. No. We are going to use the same platform to contest for every office, from councillorship, Houses of Assembly, to presidency. That is the difference. In a merger, there is little room for treachery. In a merger, you either sink together or you swim together. This particular merger, when it takes place, the party would have dominance in four of the six geo-political zones. It would be the dominant party in the North East, North West, South West and North Central. So, in a free and fair election, with a level playing ground, PDP stands no chance.

After the merger, APC will be a very big party and like the PDP, there is likely to be a lot of internal crises. Are you anticipating that? Don’t you think that would also affect your chances?

For anybody to say everything would go smoothly, I think that would be rather being unreal. When two or three political parties come together, with different cultures, different personalities, there is bound to be a lot of management of egos, confidence building, consensus building for you to arrive at any meaningful place. We started a long time ago. We have been able to get to a stage today, where we agreed on a common name, a common logo, a common constitution, common manifesto, and each party having its ratification convention. I think it is a measure of the readiness of the leadership of the parties to make whatever sacrifices necessary to get the party together. Of course, we still have three or four more bridges to cross. We have the convention of the party, the nominations of the various office holders. But we believe that the same consensus that led us to this stage would carry us through. We are not saying there would not be challenges, but we are going to overcome those challenges because the leaderships of the parties in this merger know that history is beckoning, and that Nigerians are waiting and would hold them responsible if PDP should win again in 2015.

From what you have said, it is like the candidates of APC would emerge through consensus, rather than primaries.

No, I didn’t say so. I didn’t say so. I said if we have been able to achieve what we have achieved today, about confidence building, consensus building and overcome all other challenges. The position of the party is very clear on how to elect candidates. As a matter of fact, the Electoral Act which is superior to any party constitution is clear that there must be primaries.

If President Jonathan should call you (ACN) now and say ‘let us run this country together’,…

(cuts in) No.

Why not?

Because it has never worked anywhere. Not in the First Republic, Second Republic, Third Republic. You see, if we elect to work together, what is your agenda, what is our agenda?

To develop Nigeria.

No. Even if we have the same goal, the same vision, how do we want to achieve it? It would be different. Take for instance the issue of external reserves. ACN believes there is nothing you want to do with external reserves. That you should use external reserves to build infrastructure. When you keep external reserves, you keep it there with banks in America, they are spending your money.

But the Finance Minister is saying we need it to stabilise the exchange rate of the Naira. And she is a First Class economist…

(Cuts in) Let me tell you what you need to stabilise the Naira. It is production. What are we talking about? It is production. How did we stabilise our old pound sterling in those days? It was through cocoa produce, it was through timber. What are they talking about? Then take the issue of state police. We believe that state police is necessary, community policing. They don’t believe in it. What happened to the government of National Unity under Yar’Adua? What happened to it? It collapsed! No democracy can survive without robust opposition.

 

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