APC needs hard decisions to survive, says Lukman

Director-General of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), Dr Salihu Lukman

The Director General of Progressives Governors’ Forum, Dr Saliu Lukman says what commentators describe as crisis in the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) are but evolutionary process of the party, stressing that APC is constantly renewing itself. He Spoke to LEO SOBECHI and ADAMU ABUH in Abuja.

The apprehension remains that APC will collapse with the exit of President Muhammadu Buhari, how do you react to that?
That is like a wish, it is not fear. There are people who wished that happens, what I know is that can only happen if party leaders sit back and stop doing what they are doing now. They are at every point in time confronting the challenges facing the party.

As I always say, leadership is not popularity contest. It is about taking hard decisions, those hard decisions would be liked by some sections of the party and some would definitely get angry. But, at the end, the party needs those hard decisions to survive. Inability to take those hard decisions create problems whereby the party will start disintegrating. At the moment, President Buhari is providing the right leadership and he is not doing it in an overbearing.

We are having layers at the different levels, we have the PGF on one hand and if you go to the National Assembly, you are going to see caucuses discussing how to keep the party growing at every level. That is what is required to preserve the party. The party must avoid the problem whereby the structures as provided by the constitution are not meeting, because the structures of the party are the negotiation platform, where everybody comes to canvass what they want and at the end of the day, decisions at that organs become the agreement.

Comrade Adams Oshiomhole usually talks a lot about party supremacy. Party supremacy is not the pronouncement of an individual leader, but decisions taking as an organ. Once those organs are not meeting, there is no basis of supremacy or you end up in a situation where bad leaders become bullies. The most important thing the party can do to ensure that it is constantly renewing itself is to ensure that organs are meeting as provided in the Constitution of the party. Once that is done almost all the problems are gone.

There are evidences to that, even where party leaders fail in a divergent way. For instance, during the party registration, there were arguments for and against it. But, once NEC met and decided that this is the way to go, everybody followed. Even in the PDP, all the crises you see is because organs are not meeting as they should. If organs meet and all the warring factions come and converse, that is all. Also, during the APC crisis last year, you saw that once NEC (National Executive Committee) met, everything was resolved within one hour. We should be grateful to the President; people didn’t expect what he did. There was nothing that suggested that the National Working Committee (NWC) would be dissolved.

Mindful of discipline and proper orientation, are you not worried about the gale of defections into the party?
We must just try to understand and appreciate defections based on how Nigeria’s democracy is evolving. It also has to do with world dynamics. It was easy before 1999 to talk about ideological orientation based on the sharp division of left and right. The world has changed. You can see even in the U.S. that they are struggling. We are now seeing the emergence of the extreme rights, both in the U.S. and some countries in Europe. We can say those are negatives but it is the reality of the changing configuration of the old ideological world.

Having passed through all kinds of situation, it wasn’t easy as at 1998/1999 to pigeonhole politicians to one party. And, because of the way things were rushed leading to the emergence of the fourth Republic, it wasn’t easy to get political parties to even negotiate issues around manifesto. Everything was about election, which is why before 2015, when APC emerged, debate about party’s manifesto was none existent.

We need to return to that practice. For instance, some of the misinformed debate about restructuring, there is a lot of expectations that it is President Buhari that will execute that. At best, what President Buhari can do is to submit executive bills, but the National Assembly is the platform, where those issues need to be activated.

Because everything is about election, they find where it is strong for them to achieve their ambitions. Once we are able to achieve a situation whereby structures of parties are active as provided by the Constitution, the defection of somebody at the level of governor or senator will require some level of debate by the strata of the party. So long that we have not got that, the current loose arrangement will continue.

However, I don’t have any problem with that, because sometimes, circumstances around our leaders may project them as weak leaders.  For instance, bring the former President of US, Barack Obama to Nigeria, you will see how bad he may turn out and take former President Goodluck Jonathan to the U.S. you will be surprised how good he turns out.

So, institutions and structures matter a lot.  My belief is that our politics should build and rescue more leaders. I don’t think we should engage in the kind of politics that disqualify people more than welcoming them. Our politics must be incremental and positive.

If leaders are able to manage themselves to the extent that their weaknesses are not the signpost of their personalities, I think we can do business with those kind of leaders to the extent that when they come in, we will be able to regulate them and ensure that they conform to certain standards. We all have our weaknesses and limitations.

I believe if PDP has done badly in the respect of managing people that came to the party, the APC should be able to handle it better.

Some Nigerians think rejection of electronic transmission of results and alleged weakening of the judiciary are part of the schemes employed by the ruling party to retain power. How do you react to that?
First on Judiciary, I want Nigerians to really be fair. I think a lot of propaganda was used to downplay the evidences that emerged (during the sting operation of Judges’ residences).

I am the son of a Judge, though, a Sharia court judge, I grew up to see him isolating himself from the public. I have never seen him visit a palace or anywhere, till he died. I see cases of him refusing to lend people money. He doesn’t borrow and doesn’t lend.

When you don’t have a civil society that can speak objectively on issues and push the hands of politicians to do what they would not volunteer to do, then there is a problem. When for instance, the voice of civil society equates with that of opposition, there is a problem.

We must try and reform our civil society. It is only them that can see beyond politics and stand up and argue that someone, on whom such amount is found, cannot preside over matters.  For me, it is a question of the kind of vision of society we are looking forward to.

This is not about being Machiavellian or about the end justifying the means. It is about what is bad is bad. Why should someone use his position as a judge to collect bribe and we are even politicising the debate. If under PDP those are not issues and APC government sees it as an issue, I am ready to support the APC to handle it in a way that when PDP comes back to power they won’t be able to reverse it.

On the issue of electronic voting, I think we are missing two fundamental issues. If you could remember way back in 2011, opposition parties were the ones pushing for the introduction of card readers. The ruling PDP then vehemently opposed it for whatever reasons. Perhaps, I cannot pinpoint the reason PDP opposed it outside the fears of losing advantage in terms of how they used to manipulate results.

Before the introduction of card readers, in many places election does not hold. Election riggers would just use the so-called register to thumbprint ballot papers.  In 2007, we saw how results were declared while collation was going on.  I want to tell you that all the lawmakers took individual positions. Somehow, even as APC, there was even geographical divisions. I come from the North. We sometime play the card that we are disadvantaged and it is not true. But, there is a legitimate issue to fear. If U.S. with all its sophistication will be having trouble about possible intrusion by Russia in the whole question of emergence of Trump, we need to be careful here. I don’t think the committee was thinking about the capacity of INEC to really transmit results electronically in a sophisticated way. Remember that in 2019, there was an issue about a server or no server, which came from PDP. Even recently, there were some analyses pointing fingers on certain people about why PDP was pushing for server.

The issue of electronic transmission of results wasn’t a partisan issue. Those making the loudest of noise were the leaders of PDP. This is part of our weakness in APC. We have not strengthened our communication in such a way that we effectively counter that. You can find out what position the Speaker of House of Representatives and his deputy took on the matter. Their positions demonstrate how democratic the APC is and how free APC representatives are to canvass positions.  The challenge is that APC must rise to the point that it uses its internal structures to guide and coordinate the action of the party’s representatives.

There was not even a caucus meeting of APC representatives in the two chambers of the National Assembly before those debates.  It was the same case with PIB (Petroleum Industry Bill). As a party, this highlights the important work that need to be done. Part of the big risks is that there is no structure of the party interfacing with its representatives in the National Assembly. We have to develop to a level whereby we say it is not a question of your opinion, but the decision of the party.

It is the absence of those kinds of structures that led to the emergence of Dr. Bukola Saraki as President of the Senate against the wish of the party’s leaders. If there was a structure that met to say this is the way to go, it wouldn’t have happened. Some steps were however, taken to correct that in 2019, leading to the emergence of Ahmed Lawan, but even that has to be improved. These are the kind of democratic conversations that need to happen internally within political parties, but it is wrong for the media to project it as APC versus PDP. I am sure that even in PDP, people from certain part of the country opposed the electronic transmission of results just as some people in APC supported the idea. It clearly wasn’t partisan affair.

How did you feel when the issue of money exchanging hands to pass the bill started making the rounds?
I am yet to get the true picture. To the best of my knowledge, the debate around the PIB expectedly happened the way it did. My happiness is that it was the same controversy under President Umaru Yar’Adua and President Goodluck Jonathan. At a point in 2015 to 2019 there was all manner of confusion. I understand that we have a new law that came into force, which had oppositions in the same strength as supporters of it. Everything is about opinion. In respect of substantive issue of three per cent host communities’ fund or 30 per cent frontier exploration, you will hear different interpretations.

The host communities didn’t read the position of the law to understand how they became host communities. They are just assuming, the frontier exploration is not just about exploration in the north, but all over the country.

We have to come to the reality that oil, as a source of energy, is losing ground internationally and how one utilises resources got from it to develop capacities at this level matters a lot.  It is easy for the PDP to say this government is riding on what they started, but when they finish it they say don’t take credit. We have to be courageous. The Petroleum Industry Act (PIC), as far as I am concerned, has taken the nation forward beyond debate, we are now dealing with reality, the industry can be improved.  For instance, if the governors today decide to sack me, I will move on. Though, they might shock me, but I will find ways to recover as quickly as possible.

There are definitely people who used to gain a lot under the old setting, I think we should push them to move on and consider other opportunities, which this new setting has created. Those who were disadvantaged before, we need to open their eyes to the opportunities that now exist for them to overcome their disadvantages.