While campaigning for office in 2015, the All Progressives Congress (APC) with the catchword, “Change” had lampooned former President Goodluck Jonathan, for being incompetent, clueless and corrupt and sought the electorate to give its candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, a chance to rebuild the country. Exactly two years in office, the National Publicity Secretary of the party, Bolaji Abdulahi, told our Managing Editor, IBANGA ISINE, how the APC is fulfilling its promises to Nigerians.
N E: Two years on, the APC has been in government. How would you rate the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari?
I believe we have done very well given the state of the country before we took over and given what we promised Nigeriansif you look at our manifesto which shows the critical things that we promised. They were largely drawn from the challenges we met on ground when we were contesting the election in 2015. One of the key things Mr. President promised during the campaign was he was going to tackle Boko Haram. It was a key challenge at the time we were contesting the election. The second was corruption and he promised to tackle it and the third was youth unemployment. These were the three cardinal principles upon which the APC campaign oscillated. Two years after and if you look at it critically, we believe that Boko Haram, even though they still exist, is no longer the kind of threat they represented.
Even our opponents agree that we have made remarkable progress in the fight against Boko Haram and this has resulted in many of the refugees largely returning home. Secondly, it is a fact many of the Chibok girls have returned to their parents and Boko Haram is no longer capable of occupying a territory in Nigeria. So, in two years, we believe that remarkable progress has been made in these regards.
On the issue of corruption, you will agree with me there has been a consciousness about the alarming issue of corruption in Nigeria. People are talking about it and seeing it more as a challenge than it was before. Arrests are being made, former governors are being detained and people are being charged to court. It’s not over but the fact that there is an increased consciousness and everybody now knows that corruption cannot be taken with impunity, then there is some progress. The issue of youth unemployment is a more difficult thing to tackle when you have a population of almost 60 million youth in the country. Again, what has been so difficult during the period is the issue of the economy. The economy went into recession at the time the APC was taking over and that challenged the capacity of the government to do a lot of things. But despite this, the N-Power project that was launched recently was a bold attempt to deal with the issue. I am delighted to let you know that one of the activities for celebrating the May 29 was the presentation of the beneficiaries of the N-Power. Some people have received over N100, 000 from the programme and others have benefited from school feeding. I mean women who have been given jobs to cook for children in schools. Some Nigerians have benefited from a small credit scheme called “Market Money” and a lot of other things like that. Why it is difficult to see what we have done is within the context of the huge challenge we have been facing.
N E: In its 2015 Election Manifesto, your party promised to initiate moves to restructure the country. It seems the body language of both the party and the government shows that is no longer tenable given the recent response to the May 30 sit-at-home protest by the Indigenous People of Biafra. What can you say to this?
That is a very pertinent observation but I must say that every party has its manifesto and the PDP has a very robust manifesto and APC has its own too.
N E: But the APC made its own public and even urged Nigerians to judge it by the document?
We should go back to understand what a manifesto means. A manifesto is not the programme of government. A manifesto is an articulation of the political philosophy and what the party represents and what it believes. It is the philosophy of governance the party subscribes to. No single government can fully implement a party manifesto. A party manifesto is a living document and that is why in the process of selecting a candidate or short-listing aspirants to fly the party’s flag, the party often examines or checks where the aspirants stand on the various issues articulated in the party manifesto. Now, having emerged as the candidate of the party and in forming a government, the leader of the government will pitch his own agenda based on the manifesto of the party. So, a government can say, of all these things in the manifesto of the party, my priority would be housing, security and youth employment. Another government can come in and say given what is contained in this manifesto, my priority as a government is going to be initiating constitutional reforms that will lead to restricting and another government may come down the line and say my priority is just going to be education. What am saying is that every government takes what it’s able to do from the manifesto of the party. The manifesto of the party is an omnibus statement that articulates what the party believes in various spheres. No government running a four-year term can fully implement a party manifesto, otherwise, you will be having new manifestos every four years.If this government is dealing with issues it considers more urgent challenges, for example, Boko Haram, tackling economic recession and said it cannot add to that or battle with corruption and said it cannot add to that it doesn’t mean it has abandoned the philosophy of the party. They are just saying look, this is what we consider as more important. At the end of the day, the party can come back and say, ‘this government has done very well but we want a government that will do this because the party has promised the people. It doesn’t mean the government has abandoned the issue of restructuring. What is stated in the manifesto of the party is a belief in the need to continue to perfect our union whichever way that is understood.
N E: You are aware of the rising level of agitation from the South-east which culminated in the sit-at-home order by IPOD and how the police said it was illegal to sit at home. Is it not worrisome to the party that major towns in the region shut down to draw attention to the allegedmarginalisation of the area?
You are already passing judgement.
N E: I am not. How?
No, by saying that there’s something the government can do to make the people feel a sense of belonging, you are already taking sides.
N E: The Southeast has been complaining of marginalisation and they called for a sit-at-home to draw attention to it.
What I mean is that by saying the people are marginalised, you have already taken a position. But without prejudice to the merit of the agitation, it is within the right of every citizen of Nigeria to protest, to agitate if the mode of agitation and protest and or civil disobedience does not contravene the limits set by the constitution. I don’t see anything wrong in any part of Nigeria saying we want whatever. Look at the United States. Shortly after Donald Trump’s election, many people felt that they were shortchanged because they voted for the opponent. I remember that people in California started calling for cessation and that they wanted to break out of the US. They wanted to have their own country. They expressed their opinion but in the end, the United States remains. Till tomorrow, Canada will call itself a united country but Quebec will continue to say they want their own country and they are still within Canada. The same thing happens in Australia. The aborigines are calling for their own country till tomorrow. So, there is nothing wrong. These are possible because democracy provides for self-determination. It provides for expression of views and sentiments. Moving away from that, the question now is what exactly are people asking for? Does it pose a challenge to us in a bid to improve our federation, to perfect our union? Do we need to take a second look at our constitution? Are there ways these grievances could be channeled, are there ways they could be addressed other than one form or the other that is being recommended. If we address the issue of the Southeast, I’m telling you, there will be other issues that we will continue to address as a country. You can never find a state where everybody is perfectly happy with the union. I don’t know of your marriage but I have been married for many years and I still have issues with my wife and she has issues with me. These are normal things. But we have a way of thinking that every form of agitation will lead to crisis or every form of disagreement will lead to war. No. It is not necessarily so. Some people are advocating for certain issues in the Southeast and those people sufficiently mobilised their people to say, as part of our protest, we will not go to work today and it was successful to the extent that they understand success to mean. There is nothing wrong with that. They were perfectly in order.
N E: A lot of politicians have been defecting to your party after serving in top positions in other parties. However, when they come, they start criticising their former parties, saying it was solely responsible for the country’s woes. Does your party feel right with these self-righteous new members?
If you look at the issues that led to the five governors who left the PDP towards the end of 2013, they said they had experiences of injustice within. They were being denied what they considered their legitimate rights as governors from the party. Candidates were being imposed on them contrary to what the processes in their states recommended. Delegate lists were being changed overnight. For those reasons, they felt that they would no longer continue to remain in a party that treated them so unjustly and they decided to leave. It so happens that at the time they were leaving the PDP, the APC was coming on board and they found accommodation within the new party. Will it be fair to us to say because these people were in PDP they have no right to talk about the injustice that was meted to them, that they have no right to speak about the imposition of candidates, that because they were inPDP they have no right to talk about the doctoring of delegate lists. If they were specific issues that they were found guilty of when they were in PDP and they now come to the APC and are playing the ostrich and condemning people who did the same thing, then you can mention them. But to say because they used to be in PDP, therefore, they have no right to criticise PDP, I think it would be slightly unfair. Because there was a reason they left the PDP and those reasons were very strong.
To be continued….