Friday, September 14, 2018 12:16 pm
The new All Progressives Congress (APC) Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, comes into the saddle at a time when the party is in crises. This was why TheNEWS team, made up of Ademola Adegbamigbe, Ayorinde Oluokun and photo journalist, Femi Ipaye, went after the APC boss. For over one hour in his Abuja office, Oshiomhole fielded questions on his style, defections, Bukola Saraki, reconciliations, Ekiti and Osun governorship elections, 2019 and other burning national issues
Q: Congratulations on your emergence as the chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, at a very dramatic period in Nigeria’s history. How have you been coping with all the ‘political’ drama which has been happening at a dizzying pace since your appointment?
I think you should have completed the two parts – to congratulate is one part, the other side is to commiserate. It is clearly a big honour to be elected unanimously by all shades of opinion within the All Progressives Congress as the national governing party controlling, as of that time, 24 state governments. And for me, when you consider where I am coming from – having been President of Nigeria Labour Congress which is clearly an organization that is devoted to protecting and advancing the interests of the underclass, to move from there to become a state governor, and then, from there to becoming the chairman of the governing party which cannot be said to be a working class party in the true essence of the word, is a whole life story. I am humbled by the experience, the trust that people repose in my person, including people I thought I have offended over the years.
You should know that I led a protest against the Senate and members of the House of Representatives over furniture allowance and that protest was very massive – the parliament was shaken to its foundation. I argued that we must make sure that having fought so hard to get democracy, we must make sure that those we elected on that democratic platform must not derail. But those who have to vote for me to become chairman include those senators, because our constitution says “serving and former senators.” The same thing goes for House of Representatives. And that just shows that people recognized the difference between what you have to do to protect the interest of the class that you represent and that it is nothing personal. So, it has been for me a very humbling experience. My background has also helped me to understand the complexity of the country and also equipped me with the things I needed to deal with the challenges arising from the office. So, everything considered, I am humbled, to God be the glory.
You were elected into ‘crises’ so to say and the biggest of the crises will seem to be in the National Assembly, especially, the Senate where the situation now is that of the PDP which is still the minority party presiding over the majority party at least as at now due to the recent gale of defections. You’ve been very vocal that the APC will not allow that situation, but how are you going to solve this problem now?
I think it is correct to say I came in at the peak of the crises within the APC. And that crisis was deepened by the way the previous leadership handled the congresses – in a way that completely subverted basic democratic principles in many cases. And that complicated the issues before I assumed office. I have told people that one is like a child born during the war and if you survive the war, you can only be stronger. And somehow, my life has been like that. I went into the union work when the local unions weren’t doing much and the workers had to revolt. That was how I got into my first union job. I got into NLC after the military government had proscribed it, taken it over and appointed a sole administrator that ran down completely the entire idea of a working class movement. I took over NLC from a military administrator and within time, we turned NLC into what I called a ‘fighting machine.’ The Nigerian people are the best judge on my stewardship at the NLC. There is a sense in which when you get into a job at the most difficult moment and you survived it, obviously you can get on cruise control. So, I can say that the worse is over for our party.
Thank God, I am one of the founding fathers of our party – I was one of the state governors then on the platform of ACN who joined one governor from CPC, few other governors from ANPP and one governor from APGA to form the APC before Senator Bukola Saraki and about four or so PDP governors then decamped to also join APC. So, I am very clear about what our mission was. I’m very clear on what our mission is and I am very clear on what the primary purpose of the All Progressives Congress is. To that extent, I don’t need to be tutored to understand the reasons for the formation of APC. And because I know that we consciously choose to be progressives and the party was supposed to be open only to all those who are progressives, I knew that it was only a matter of time before the internal contradictions will manifest.
When I declared my intention to contest for the chairmanship of APC, what is happening now, I predicted it. I said it is hoped that one day, we would organize the party in a way that it cannot be a platform for extreme right – the most conservative, reactionary or even fascist in the far right, hobnobbing on the same platform with the most progressive or even socialist, if you like, or even communist on the same party platform. It just wouldn’t work for a long time because the core value of the people that drives the system simply doesn’t coincide. So, those who are not progressives, over time, would just have to drop out because they can’t cope with the internal dynamics and I think that is what has happened. Some said because of the nature of the merger, rather than enjoy what could have been an organic or chemical reaction, what we witnessed was a physical reaction and the non-progressive elements within the system now found themselves falling apart.
And if you look at some of the key leaders who have dropped on the wayside and where they choose to return to, I believe it is quite revealing and it confirmed this theory. You look at the person who led the group – the coordinator of those who defected on the floor of the Senate, look at his background, these are people who are born with not just silver, but platinum spoon and so, they have never known hard work and they have never achieved anything through hard work. Their business of banking doesn’t have to survive for them to remain afloat, even though depositors of their banks may not have recovered and you can go on and on. People, who have lived that sort of life truly by the simplest, liberal definition of the word ‘progressive’, simply can’t fit in. There could be several other examples, but let’s stop there.
Now, where they choose to return to is also important because if you play back the statement made by this people about this time three years ago when they were leaving PDP, they used all sorts of names to describe the party. And since they were inside PDP, we believed them. They called PDP “a rogue party, self-centered, unpatriotic, incompetent, lacking internal democracy, subjecting the country to wallowing in unmitigated corruption” and stuff like that. There is one from Adamawa who said PDP is ‘irredeemable’ – they pronounced with such magisterial finality, just three years ago. If they say all those bad things about the party and they cannot fit into APC, they have the option to find a new place where they can also associate on the basis of a shared value. But they realized that their value is more in tune with this same party that they have used such unkind words to describe. So, their return to PDP confirmed that any system that is not based on ‘share the money’ they can’t fit into it. And so, they can go back only to a party that guarantees that. And so, it will also be of interest to the Nigerian people- this debate that we read about some say ‘we have to change the name of PDP because we have been notorious – the Nigerian people know that we are a notorious lot’ and within them, some are saying, if we are notorious, so be it. People know that we are notorious, we cannot change.’ Some say ‘we may not change our notoriety, but we can wear new mask’, the way a double star master will do in those days – they will drop their actual names, passport, relocate to another country and do change of records and wear a completely new face. But that was before the era of digital fingerprint and eye detector.
The fact that they chose to return to PDP shows that they are incurably committed that the resources of Nigeria is their birthright to share for themselves and nobody else. I think that settles that. But we are also beginning to see that while they are leaving, some other people who have progressive inclinations are also jumping into the APC, saying we cannot cohabitate if these characters are returning to PDP. If we ever had hope that PDP can change itself, the return of these characters can only deepen the very corrosive, corrupt nature of PDP. And recently, I went to receive a senator from PDP into the fold of APC in Ebonyi State. I also went to receive the leader of the PDP in the Senate into the APC and he promptly resigned his position as leader and joined the APC. And there are still quite a few who understand that once these reactionary, conservative forces are back, obviously, they do not have business remaining in the PDP. I said so in my speech that this is going to happen. And it is my hope that after this shake up, you are going to see clearly, the difference between PDP, APC and indeed, any other political party.
I also mentioned that it doesn’t excite me when we described a political party as the largest in Africa or the largest in the universe. I would rather talk of a political party that is smart, well organized, people oriented, people driven, mass based, all inclusive and pro-people. That’s what I would like to celebrate. That coincides with my own background, my own values that government and institutions should work for the people and not for those who operate the system.
Are you saying under your watch, the APC will have a clear ideology, the party will be noted for some things, like in the First and Second Republics, when the parties had great programs?
Yes, that is the point I am making. Let me just take two examples – the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki addressed his people in Ilorin and I think, substantially, he was honest. He gave two reasons why he had to leave the APC.
Number one, he said the Federal Government distributed 200 ‘juicy posts and positions’, but he, Bukola Saraki was not given and he mentioned another presiding officer who he also claimed was not given ‘juicy’ post. And without ‘juice’ apparently, he cannot remain. It is important that he did not say I am leaving the party because my people in Kwara are not benefitting from the Federal Government or I am leaving the party because the level of unemployment in Kwara is unacceptable and so on. He had reasons not to say that also because he was the governor of that state and people are likely to say, ‘Oloye, what did you do to improve our lot when you were here even the one you imposed on us, what has improved in our lives? Therefore, you cannot pass the buck.’
He also said he was being persecuted as a person because he believes someone, somewhere in power doesn’t like him. He didn’t say the people of Kwara State are being persecuted. So, it’s all about himself. But his governor, my very dear friend, Abdulfatah, was more explicit. He said, ‘we are being linked to armed robbery. How can we, as a governor, as senate president be linked with armed robbers?” And that is why he is leaving. He didn’t say the people of Kwara State were being targeted for humiliation or being unfairly described as armed robbers. He didn’t say that. So, nothing about this has to do with the people. It’s all about them. But what is the truth? The truth is that it was the armed robbers who they have relationship with, including political relationship, who linked them to armed robbery, not the federal government.
And for the Senate President, I asked him when we were having a conversation, I said, ‘but you have also given out what I would rather describe as very strategic committees to opposition and to anybody that you so preferred in the management of the Senate, and in giving out those positions, you gave them out to opposition candidates who are your personal friends and favourities at the expense of the party on whose platform you became the Senate President.’ And I said to Saraki, you joined APC as a senator and under APC, you became senate president. I joined APC as a two term serving governor and I left with honour. I am not complaining that I don’t ‘juice’ – whether orange or pineapple or any kind of juice because my primary purpose for joining the APC was not about myself. It was about how we can use the party platform to reorder the way Nigeria was being governed. And once that has been achieved, my task is to remain and fight from within to ensure that the government remained focused in ensuring that it devises appropriate tools and formulate appropriate policies to deal with variety of problems confronting the Nigerian people.
For as long as I have not given up hope, that that is doable, my primary purpose for joining APC remains valid. But if it is about what have I gotten, how many people have I employed, I have not got anything. But I have everything in the sense that my party is in power and we are tackling some of the issues that the President said he will tackle, including the issue of corruption and several other issues.
How far can you go in this plan to ensure that the APC does the right thing, given the recent altercations between you and some ministers over inauguration of boards?
I think we have to understand that we are not running a military outfit. I am presiding over a democratic institution. My task is never to be scared to speak on the side of justice, fairness and responsible governance. And that is what I promised.
And remember that the people who were appointed and have not been sworn in are APC members and I have promised even in my oath of allegiance to defend the interest of members of APC. So, I believe that I have fulfilled my mandate by speaking out to ministers who are sabotaging these efforts. I also make the point that under our rules – I didn’t formulate those rules, our party members agree on the rules. The rules empower the party to expel anyone, including a minister if his conduct is in conflict with the provisions of the party constitution. The third point is that I am not the one who nominated those people. They were nominated by the party during the tenure of my predecessor, but leadership is a continuum and the party remains the same. I am not the one who appointed them, they were appointees of Mr President and Mr. President through the media directed that Ministers should swear in all the boards. So, I think it is indiscipline if the party makes nominations for appointments, the government approved the appointments, the government give directive and a minister who is also a beneficiary of the party enjoy his own privilege as a minister and deny fellow party members the opportunity to participate in the governance of the country. I remained firm on that. Remember, I did not say I will sack them because I don’t have those powers, but I say we can expel them – not I as a person, but the party. And I look at some of the comments and I find them quite interesting.
But some commentators are saying you are behaving like a bully in your approach to running the party…
Because they are used to a situation in which the party is only active once in four years. After the elections are over, the party sits back and then, it relies on handouts by generous persons till the next election. But that is not what I promised and that is not how parties are run anywhere in the world. When the Nigerian constitution refused to provide for individual candidature, it did that consciously. So, if the Nigerians are not used to a party leadership that insists on party discipline, that sees itself as having responsibility to ensure that the decisions of the party and decisions of government that are consistent with the interest of the party, the interest of the country and the party members are obeyed, I have no apology. I have said I wasn’t coming in to continue with the tradition that I met. In any case, our party’s slogan is ‘change.’ We will keep driving the changes, but it will not be achieved overnight.
Can APC muster enough number of Senators to kick out Saraki who has vowed that he will never drop the senate presidency despite moving to another party?
I believe that for two reasons, Senator Bukola Saraki would have to vacate the office of the Senate President. He cannot eat his cake and have it. It is a matter of honour. He should learn from Senator Akpabio, who being a leader of PDP in the Senate, upon deciding that he was leaving, he said, ‘I resigned the position.’ That is a man of honour, a man of character. If you are not putting yourself first, you do not cling to a position that you got as a result of membership of a particular platform, even when you have left the platform and you now want to create a situation in which you want a minority to have their way over the majority. How can 49 PDP Senators dictate to 53 APC senators? It is just like going back to Jonathan’s era when 16 was more than 19. So, first, I believe that Saraki will go and he will go. There is nothing that can keep him there, because if he chooses to return to APC, we cannot take him back and the PDP will never have the majority that will justify his holding on to that position. Now, if you want me to tell you how he will go, you wait and you will see how he will go. He would go lawfully and democratically.
Before these decampings started, the party embarked on reconciliation efforts. What was achieved?
Quite a lot.
So, is it not failure of the reconciliation that led to the defections?
No, because few of them consciously realized that APC was not their home because of the philosophy of APC. I saw one APC analyst the other day and I think he was reasonably fair. He said PDP is a conservative party that believes in survival of the fittest, market forces and that APC does not believe in market forces. We believe that the state should intervene, we believe in social interventions and that is correct. That really defines us and that is why President Buhari will say even if Nigeria is broke, even if N5000, pay it to the poorest of the poor among us. You may have logistic challenge; you may have infrastructural challenge and even data challenge to be able to do that efficiently. But the conscience that says however poor Nigeria is, take something at the end of the month is a statement with regards to where the President stands. And PDP doesn’t believe in that. I think over time, water will find its level.
If you remember, there were speculations about whether or not the convention will take place, there were also speculations in the media quoting sources close to these people that they might boycott the convention. But I think the power of the Holy Spirit froze the negative side of their brain and it refused to be activated! So, they were unable to find sufficient ground not to attend the convention. Many people thought that within the convention ground, there would be an implosion. Again, the Holy Spirit arrested those evil forces and the convention has come and gone. It is on record – one after the other, they took their place on the stage to congratulate me and others elected and, of course, spoke to their own concerns here and we also used the opportunity say we would do justice to all manner of persons for those who have negotiable grievances. And we even had meetings with him (Saraki).
Initially, he (Saraki) had about 36 senators whose fears he had pleaded on and he was holding meetings with them on how they are going to leave and then turn APC into a minority. But within two weeks of my emergence – don’t forget that the first thing I did was to request him to convey a meeting of APC caucus in the Senate to give me the opportunity of meeting with them, hear them out and to discuss their grievances if any. That, thankfully, he agreed to do, and I spoke to them, I gave them assurances and I addressed the fears that they have and I said anybody who had grievances of x, y, z nature, we can resolve them. But if you have grievances that are fundamentally at variance with the core values of APC, there isn’t much I can do.
After that meeting, people like Senator Shehu Sani, being more vocal, went on air to say, Oh, if he hasn’t come from where he comes from, he believes that with my coming on board, he has no business leaving the APC. There are many senators who immediately changed their mind. And Saraki saw that the number of aggrieved senators was now depleting and quickly, he then asked them to go and announce that they have formed R-APC because he needed to be able to create an opportunistic platform to be able to actualize his defection along with others. It will be interesting to reflect on the fact that it was the two days after I had a similar meeting with the APC caucus in the House of Representatives, summoned at my instance by Right Honourable Yakubu Dogara, also to talk to them and listen to their grievances and assure them that we will treat those grievances in ways that they can see through – on that day, they gave me a standing ovation. And so, Saraki realized that the number of aggrieved people were not depleting because they had the confidence that they were not at the mercy of anybody.
They can only be at the mercy of their own electorate. Those of them who knew that they have no problems with their electorate jumped off the boat. And so, he had to rush his proxies to announce R-APC. And as Femi Falana would say, that was not the meaning of a faction. You cannot just wake up one day and say, I have established TheNEWS magazine. Somebody would now wake up one day and says there is a faction of TheNEWS magazine. It takes more than that, at least, a court has defined what constitutes a faction in a political party. And I think he realized that given more time, he may end up being just the only one who wanted to leave because he is the only one who has things that are not negotiable, that has to do with ambition. And that ambition, he (Saraki) has done a survey, cannot be realized within APC. Those that he had played on their fears, once we addressed those fears, they jumped off his boat. That’s why I keep saying that those with ‘negotiable and verifiable grievances’ will be taken care of. However, those whose grievances are under the table or those who simply want renewed access to the treasury, we cannot talk them out of it. And the earlier they go the better for the party.
And so, when he left, he suffered another shock- that night when he assembled senators at his guest house, he had assembled the names; called for signatures, but to his shock, some of those present said they were not signing. And they asked him why his own name was not there? He wanted to move them to PDP, he will remain in the house, and try as much as possible to continue doing damage in the house. Because, remember, if an outsider said he doesn’t like the way TheNEWS is being managed, people will say what does he know about TheNEWS or better still, if an editor of another monthly magazine says oh, TheNEWS is guilty of xyz,people will say ‘what do you expect, they are competitors.’ But if a senior editor of TheNEWS says ‘my friend, forget about this façade, what is going on there, you cannot believe it,’ it will carry more weight.
So, Saraki chose to remain within the APC and do maximum damage within the APC. Meanwhile, he had moved everybody around him to PDP to be negotiating a comfortable landing. When we saw that, we had to smoke him out by looking at the fact that no proper convention or congresses were held in Kwara State. He (Saraki) just compiled names between himself and his governor and they just produced them in Abuja and they were just overseers for him. So, having looked at a petition on that which we already had, we just decided to dissolve all the executives. And he (Saraki) was never used to that before. He had never been used to democratic process of producing leaders. He had always had to appoint them – whether governors, speakers, whoever, not to talk of party leaders. So, we dissolved the party structure under his control and in the process, stripped him naked. And then, we followed with a query, identifying all of the anti-party activities he has been involved in which portrays him as someone who put himself before national interest or someone who put himself before party interest or someone who has conducted himself in a way that is offensive to the core values of the APC.
And once that was leaked to him, he knew the game was over. Remember, the rabbit does not jump out of the hole in the afternoon, unless you smoke it, so he ported. And now he wanted to perfect his exit, he hasn’t quite perfect it yet, so, now he has to negotiate from outside, rather than negotiate from within. And I am glad that we have enough time now to rebuild our party in Kwara State and move on to contest the next election.
Are you also extending the reconciliation to Kaduna State, though you have been able to retain Senator Shehu Sani and even, in other states like Oyo, where you have Senator Akanbi, and Zamfara…In Kaduna, APC is still fighting Shehu Sani.
Those senators understood that they have challenges. But they also know and appreciate that the party intervene and settle with whoever they have those challenges with. I think that is the difference. And because their grievances are genuine – not motivated by some kind of blind ambition- the grievances can be resolved. And many have been resolved. You have pointed at some, but there are many others that you may not ever know because those with such grievances did not speak out.
All the things that we are seeing now is about 2019. And you keep insisting that the chances of the President to win are as bright as it has ever been in spite of the defections. What is giving you this confidence?
I believe that what is going for the President is his personal integrity and leadership by example which have been acknowledged beyond the shores of Nigeria. Yes, there are a couple of things that are happening that people are worried about. But you know the thing about choice is that everything can be said to be good until you can see something better. So, no matter what reservations you may have about Buhari’s presidency, when you then remember where we are coming from and you look at those who are positioning themselves to take over, they are all those who have feasted around the PDP machinery for the past 16 years. And Nigerians will want to ask, ‘so, our only choice is to return to the immediate past?’ And I think Professor Soyinka summarises it elegantly, with all the emphasis at his command, to the extent that Obasanjo is the coordinator of the reunification of these ‘seasoned manipulators’ of our economy, it is clear that Nigerians will rather not go back – it is too early to forget the scale of abuses that the Nigerian economy was subjected to by the PDP for 16 years, including the present problems we are facing on power – after spending well over $16 billion, Nigerians remain in the dark.
I don’t know how many trillions of naira they spent on roads and the roads are the way they were until this government started fixing them everywhere. So, I don’t think Nigerians have forgotten, even if they themselves have forgotten and in fairness. I pitied (Uche) Secondus, the day he wore his face like a Catholic Parishioner who is trying to receive holy communion and the Reverend Father says, ‘No, you are not in a state of grace (because there are conditions precedent before you can receive holy communion) when he was asking for forgiveness. You don’t hold on to stolen assets and say ‘forgive me.’ You don’t forgive armed robbers, you convict them and certainly, not to four years in prison. That is for me part of the consideration.
You have been a labour leader, a governor and now, the chairman of the party in power in Nigeria. The workers are asking for a new minimum wage and the governors, including those in your party have been saying they cannot pay. How can you help the workers influence government to approve a living wage for the workers?
Let me say this – I think there is some misconception about minimum wage. Minimum wage is not meant to be a living wage- it is just a survival wage. It is the least wage you pay to the least person, usually in the sweat shop. So, sometimes, there is a general misconception, people don’t just understand what the minimum wage represents.
As a governor, I told my colleagues in the Governors’ Forum that wages is not the burden of this economy. The burden of this economy is the huge wastages and also, many states are suffering from huge fraud associated with salaries which somehow, some people choose to describe as ‘ghost workers.’ But there can be no ghosts, it is just fraud. You have 100 workers, but you are paying the salaries of 200. And these 200 workers, you can’t find them, every year, you are dealing with them. With modern ICT, I don’t think any governor has the excuse to be talking about ghost workers. But I settled this question practically in Edo State where as a sitting governor, I increased the minimum wage by 33 per cent from N18,000 to N25,000, and I paid it as and when due until I left. And since I left, my successor has continued to pay it. I remembered the day I announced it, they said it was just a political gimmick. So, if I increased the minimum wage as a sitting governor and I was paying it, I think I have practically demonstrated that wages is not the issue.
How do you react to the assertions that politicians only need to decamp to APC to have their sins of corruption forgiven?
That is not supported by evidence. And you know one thing I like the media to begin to do is to start to copy what I can describe as the best international practices in which besides what the opposition says – because Nigeria is much more than the ruling party and the opposition party, Nigeria is greater than the two and indeed, of all the parties – so, the true narratives need not be taken from the mouth of partisan politicians. Senator Dariye was elected as what? APC Senator. Under which government was he convicted? He was prosecuted and convicted under this government and he is in prison. There is no better way to prove it than that.
What is your larger plan for APC, because the question out there (given the way some people are leaving) is that President Buhari is the major rallying point for the party and if he leaves (after four or eight years as the case may be), the party may fall apart?
Ambush is a legitimate weapon in politics. Let people fool themselves that Buhari is the rallying point and that after eight years we will fall apart. If they concede that we will be there for eight years, we are grateful for that. After the eight years, we can discuss this question. But when I was in Edo, they said the same thing. I was elected a governor, second to Lagos on the Action Congress, AC platform which later became Action Congress of Nigeria. And they said at the first time that the court awarded me judgment based on all kinds of very funny stories – that my opponents were quarrelling and they influenced the outcome; that I was not going to have a second term. In the second term, I won in all the 18 local governments of Edo State and they were calling me Mr 18/18. And they said, ACN was a one man show and later, APC, after Oshiomhole, the party is dead. After Oshiomhole, there will not be APC in Edo State, that I would not be able to transmit power to a successor on my own party platform. Again, that is history. We went through the election and as we speak, I am the only governor in the South-south who has successfully transfer power to his preferred candidate on the platform of his own party.
When people begin to say that, they are already conceding defeat and I am happy that they can see the signals and they are conceding. They are in crisis now- I think they have a dozen or more presidential aspirants and I hear they may have to amend the constitution to have a board of presidency that can accommodate all the aspirants as presidents. They can alternate – Monday, you become president, Tuesday you become president and so on. But if they don’t succeed in amending the constitution, they will have to battle themselves. But they are looking at our side and seeing that like any disciplined ruling party, usually, the sitting President has the first right of refusal and that is the way it is done even in matured democracies. And I am happy that those who have incurable ambitions have left. So, we would be able to organize our own primaries quietly, I don’t know how many candidates we are going to have, but we are going to organize a transparent primary. Then, we move on. By this time in 2023, you can begin to ask this question.
Given your background as a labour leader, do you see the party having free education, health services, free this, free that, as part of its cardinal programmes, because people believe Nigeria can afford it?
Nigeria can, it is just about organization, proper management of data and efficient taxation system. But in Edo State, there were couple of things I did when I was governor. Before I assumed office on 12 of November, 2008, even primary school pupils were paying fees in various forms, all sorts of PTA fees, in classrooms without roofs. Some of the classrooms have trees and wild weeds growing in them. In fact, the children used to joke that when planes were passing, you can be looking at the pilot from the classroom. But we introduced what we called the ‘red roof’ revolution in Edo State. I am sure that is a public secret now. We used them for what we called ‘eyemark’. We also then decided to abolish all forms of levies and PTA charges. We replaced a system whereby all schools set their own exams for primary one to primary six with centralized examinations and we replaced writing the questions on the notice board to printing question papers and government pays for it. We introduced free bus ride for school children – primary, junior and senior secondary schools. Once they are in uniform, whether they are attending public or private schools, they can board those buses to school and back from school at no charge at all. We delivered not just a tuition, but completely functional schools. And we have couple of competitions in Edo State, including the primary school pupils’ football competition organized by Channels Television, the schools that keep winning in Edo are all public schools and there were other intellectual competitions organized by various groups and in most cases, pupils from government schools outshine those from private schools when I was there.
I am just saying that beyond preaching, practically, we have shown that free and qualitative education is possible from primary, to junior secondary and to senior secondary. However, to be honest, to afford free education up to university level, you will need a kind of reform and taxation which most Nigerians cannot afford because government does not create wealth. Government simply creates the enabling environment for the citizens to create wealth and then, use state power to fashion out an appropriate tax policy to collect a portion of wealth that individuals have created and then, use that to deliver on social services. That’s why in some countries, people pay as much as 60 per cent of their salaries as tax, if you earn up to certain level and of course, the least could even be as high as 25 per cent. The average could be 45 per cent of your salary. That is just to say that when you take free education, it goes with appropriate tax policy.
However, to answer your question about whether the party will pursue that, the answer is yes. After all, the fact that President Buhari is committed to spending N500 billion as social intervention fund is an attempt to provide a robust social safety net for the poorest among us and that is the way to go. Over time, we will be able to perfect it and create a reliable data base that locates where the poor are, locate what they earn, locate their material wellbeing and determine eligibility – because you need all of that to avoid fraud in the system. Remember, no country has enough to meet greed, you can have enough to meet genuine need.
Still talking about party discipline and going back to the second republic, one of the things they were doing then was that the party would identify good individuals and finance them during elections and that was why people like Ambrose Alli, Chief Adekunle Ajasin who were not rich comparatively, could become governors. Is the party going to be supporting those who can deliver but may not have the funds to prosecute elections on their own?
I am not sure about the facts that you are alluding to with regards to Ajasin and others. But what I can say is that you don’t need to go far. You are talking to me, Adams Oshiomhole. I left the NLC to go and contest for the governorship of Edo State. Go and check my bank account. My election was funded by well-meaning Nigerians who believed that I would make a difference in the governance of Edo State. So, you don’t need to go to ancient registry, even today, it is happening. I think what we are doing consciously which should be of interest to you as part of the bold innovation we are trying to introduce is in fulfillment of our promise to return the party to members. In Osun State, we did a direct primary to enable ordinary party members to select who they want to fly their flag. And everybody that was involved in that process, including those who were initially very skeptical came back to say this is the best thing that has ever happened. And as you can see, we didn’t have much controversy on it. PDP that went through a manipulated congress for its primary, you see them now arguing that whether four votes were stolen or four votes were added. So, I think that is the kind of thing we can try and deepen, such that if your people want you, you can have it.
But let’s face it, election anywhere in the world costs money, whether you want to reach your people through television, you will pay. You want to drive to the villages, you will pay for the fuel, for the vehicles. The masses that want to support you, if you need to move them to the villages to do door to door, you need to motorize them. Politics is never cheap. But for those who believe that government can define the future of a country and who believe that the instrument of government can be used to raise the quality of lives of the citizens and they are committed to seeing improvements in quality of lives of Nigerians, such people, if we find them, we will give them the backing to do it.
Do you have the confidence that your parrty will win?
In Osun State, I believe that we would win because we have incumbency advantage. But beyond that is also the fact that I don’t see who the opposition has to parade. I am very confident that, God willing, we would win in Osun State.
Do you see the election of 2019 being free and fair?
It has to be because I think Nigeria has moved on. Don’t forget that I again launched one man, one vote in Edo State and I mobilized the people to recognize that they are not spectators, that politics and the political process are not like a football match where you have 22 players and the rest are spectators. Politics is about the people. It should be people driven and I relied on that weapon to conscientise the people and election after election, we kept winning in Edo State. There is no reason that the election should not be free and fair. For people of my own background,who wins an election in a genuine democracy, is not as important as the process that produced the winner. And in the trade union congress which is my background and which I am very proud of, we always say that the end doesn’t always justify the means and we insist that the means is as important as the end. So, the reactionary elements like the PDP in those days used to boast that ‘we will rig you out, go to court.’ But I think we have moved beyond that.