Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi is a former Commissioner for Information in Kwara State, a former Minister of Youth and Sports under former President Goodluck Jonathan administration and a former National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He has since returned to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) under which he is seeking to represent Kwara Central in the 10th National Assembly. In this interview by TAIWO AMODU, Abdullahi speaks on the performance of the ruling APC and the chances of the PDP regaining power in Kwara State and in Nigeria despite the seemingly intractable crisis within the opposition party.
Two months to the general election, the PDP is still faced with internal crisis, with five governors refusing to work for the presidential candidate of the party, Atiku Abubakar. What is the fate of your party in 2023?
In politics, only a few things can you say are too late. It is never over until it is over. I believe very strongly that this matter will be resolved in the overall interest of the party. Everyone involved, on Governor Wike’s side and the chairman, Ayu’s side, are all very important PDP stakeholders. Therefore it is important that the matter is resolved sooner than later. I know that there are all kinds of people profiting from the current debacle. I also know that there are people from the opposition who are hovering around, hoping that this matter is not resolved, hoping that they can cash in on it but in the end, it is going to be in the interest of all of us that this matter is resolved.
Compromise has acquired negative connotations over the years but compromise is exactly what we need at this point and I am aware of efforts in the last couple of weeks to reach compromise on all sides.
Governor Wike has a genuine reason to be aggrieved but I think that he is also capable of rising above these grievances and consider overall interest of the party. I have been speaking with the people at the grassroots since I started my campaign and they have been asking the same questions and they are hoping, because the APC has brought this country to its knees and everyone believes that it is the PDP that can take it out of this mess. They are pained that instead of rising up to the responsibility that we have to take this country out of the current mess, we are allowing this disagreement to linger for too long. And I must confess that it is demoralising because many of our supporters at the grassroots are concerned that it is going to be a factor in our electoral fortune.
There are people who see the crisis in your party as self-inflicted; that if the party had respected the clamour for power shift to the South, the challenge against Ayu as the party chairman would not have come up. What is your take on that?
That is academic. I would rather focus on the reality, the facts on the ground. The fact on the ground today is that Alhaji Abubakar is the candidate of the PDP. The fact on the ground is that Governor Wike and his colleagues are not happy with the way some things have turned out. The fact on the ground is that the disagreement lingers. The fact on the ground is that it is hurting the party and it needs to be resolved for us to move forward. We are politicians, we want to win elections. We cannot, therefore, indulge in the theoretical analysis of what could have been.
But one of the reasons for the cause of the grievance is the fact that both party chairman position and the presidential ticket of the party are skewed against the south. The North has the presidential candidate and the chairman of the party. Even the Director General of the party’s presidential campaign organisation is from the north. Don’t you think this is enough to cause distrust in the party?
These are legitimate concerns and questions. We have been arguing about justice, equity and fairness and when you have five governors standing together, it is very significant. How many governors left the PDP to team up with the APC in 2015? Were they up to five? But look at the consequences of that for the party and the country. If those five governors had not left, our country would have gone in a different direction. I believe that it is significant that whatever the issues are, they need to be resolved. If there is one thing that is inherent in the PDP, it is inclusiveness. The idea of inclusion, of giving everybody a sense of belonging is what he PDP represents. Some people are feeling excluded, I think that needs to be addressed for the long-term and immediate survival of the party. I am not saying that this side is right or that side is wrong but I am saying that we cannot continue to allow this to linger. If anybody is advising Alhaji Atiku Abubakar to ‘ignore these people, they cannot do anything,’ that will be a wrong idea.
Ayu has insisted on continuing as the national chairman of the party. But is it too much for him to give up the position in the interest of the party and its chances in the coming elections?
Ego and pride can get in the way of clear thinking. Sometimes when people are challenged, they can do things that they would ordinarily not do but it requires a great leadership to rise above personal ego to do what is right and necessary. I am confident that at some point, reason will prevail. Governor Wike has sacrificed so much for the PDP. I don’t think he would want the house he has built to collapse. Dr Ayu, who is one of the founding fathers of the PDP, is today the chairman of the party. I don’t think he would want to pull the house down on his own head. Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is also a founding member of the party. There are also Alhaji Sule Lamido and the rest of them. So, I am confident that reason will prevail. The attitude that I find a bit disturbing is the one that would seem to suggest that you can call anybody’s bluff. I don’t think that is going to augur well for anybody.
Don’t you think the way some PDP governors talk about their national chairman indicates lack of discipline in the party?
It is neither about the PDP nor peculiar to the party. It is one of the dysfunctions of our politics in the last couple of years. It shows that political parties have come to depend largely on the governors for their survival. If you depend on your children for survival, then it will be difficult for you to assert yourself as a father. That tends to happen a lot. It happened when I was in the APC and it s still happening. It is one of the dysfunctions that have emerged since 1999.
It was not always like that. Historically, there were political parties with strong leadership which were not solely dependent on governors for funding and therefore were able to assert authority on their own nominees and elected officials. So, I think we need to go back to the era where the party can really assert itself as supreme. This is without prejudice to the current situation in our party. I am not saying this in respect of the situation going on in the PDP. I am just speaking generally about the need for us to really strengthen our party system. We tend to focus on the leadership but we also have to look at the responsibility of the followership. How many party members today are contributing to the survival of the party? How many people pay membership dues at the different levels? When party members don’t pay membership dues and it is left to just a few individuals to fund the party, it is only fair that those individuals will determine the direction the party will go. Everybody that plays politics plays it for a reason, which is to have access to power and control power and resources. So, when they use their resources to finance the party then it is natural to expect them to determine the direction the party will go. But in a situation where the party is run based on members’ contributions and subscriptions to a significant extent, then, it will be difficult for individuals to impose themselves on the party.
Let us talk about your ambition in Kwara. That is one state the PDP ruled for 16 years. You are coming on board as the candidate of the party in Kwara Central senatorial district. What gives the PDP the confidence that it can regain power in Kwara State?
It is about the PDP and the ruling APC. It is going to be like that in the country and in Kwara State. If you followed what happened in 2019, the bedfellows that ganged up against the PDP at the time, then you will understand that whatever is left of the APC now is only a tiny rod of the original coalition that worked against the PDP in 2019. Almost all the leading lights of that ‘struggle’ have left the APC for Governor Abdulraman Abdulrazaq. Senator Gbemi Saraki is still in the APC but is she talking to Governor Abdulrazaq? Are they working together? Alhaji Lai Mohammed is still in the APC but is he talking to Governor Abdulrazaq? Are they still in good terms? Dr Yahaya Oloriegbe, the sitting senator, is he talking to Governor Abdulrazaq? Are they still together? Professor Oba Abdulrasheed has left. He is the governorship candidate of the NNPP. Almost everybody that was part of it has left the party for Governor Abdulrazaq.
The point I am making is that we benefited more from our failure in 2019 than the APC benefited from their victory and we have to look at it in that context. Number two, the Kwara people chased away the PDP people in 2019 because they felt they were no longer doing enough in the interest of the people, and then they brought in the APC. But today, the people are looking back and asking themselves, ‘what have we got from the APC?’
But the governor is said to be doing well…
Doing well in what respect? You can call your correspondent in Kwara State.
It is believed that some politicians are angry because the governor is not doing ‘stomach infrastructure’.
Forget ‘stomach infrastructure’, I am saying, call your correspondent in Kwara State and ask him to tell you one project that was started and completed by Governor Abdulraman Abdulrazaq in Kwara State. I am not saying two projects, I mean, just one. So, what is he doing? We in the media have a way of turning the village bully into a world champion. We are miracle workers. The point is that every single thing you can point at in Kwara State today was built by the PDP. The Kwara State University was established by the PDP. The Ilorin airport, that is, the hub for that region, was done by the PDP. We didn’t build it; it has always been there but was only used if you wanted to go to hajj. Today, if you want to go to Ilorin, if you don’t book in advance, you will probably not go to Ilorin, and four airlines go to Ilorin now. We did that. The technical college in Ajasepo, we built that. The Shoga farm, the first flyover in Ilorin, the diagnostic centre, we built that and we can point at so many other things. I am challenging you now to point at one thing that Governor Abdulraman Abdulrazaq and the APC did in Kwara State.
They are doing interlock of some roads; that is a work for the local government. Ilorin used to be one of the cleanest cities in Nigeria when we were in government. In Ilorin today, there is garbage everywhere. Flood waters are now entering people’s houses because the drainages are blocked. For almost four years now, there is no local government administration in Kwara State today; no local chairmen, no councillors. Go and talk to the civil servants in Kwara State if they have a sense that they are contributing anything. It has never been this bad. You must have particular love for suffering to still want to vote for the APC, and I am not talking about Kwara State alone. Look at the country. Is this our country?
But the PDP does not appear to be putting its house in order and this has led some people to conclude that the presidency is for the APC to retain in 2023.
I don’t know who is making that conclusion and I don’t think anyone can win a February election in November. I agree with you that we have a lot of work to do and we will do it. Buy look at this country today. Look at the rate of dollar. It was eight hundred and thirty-something naira this morning. If anybody told you in 2015 that a time would come in the life of a government that promised to make $1 equal to N1 when $1 would exchange for N832, would you have believed? So, what are they doing? Cronies of the government are profiting from arbitrage. The official rate of dollar is four-hundred-and-something naira. They said they would no longer give dollars to the black market people. So, if you needed $10 million and go to the black market in Wuse, they would sell it to you. Go to any Nigerian bank and say you need $50,000 and see whether you will get it. What kind of system is that? The country is on its knees. Kidnapping has become a business. Every Nigerian is living in perpetual fear. Is this our country? Look at the education system. ASUU was on strike for seven months. That was bad and these guys don’t care. People in government are celebrating their children graduating abroad at a time these children were at home for seven months. What is the state of our universities? Have you engaged with the quality of graduates we are turning out? If that is not a mess, then what is a mess? About 47 million youths are without jobs and nobody is thinking that that is a problem.
In your memoir, you wrote about your experience with the Goodluck Jonathan administration. Take a look at what you said about that administration vis-a-vis the government you helped to bring on board in 2015, which of the two would you describe as having made Nigerians despondent?
Who could have imagined in 2015 that we could get this low? During the Jonathan administration, we were talking about Boko Haram, what are we dealing with today? Last week, everybody was scared that terrorists were going to take over Abuja. It didn’t get that bad during the Jonathan administration. In the midst of that, what happened? President Buhari travelled out of the country.
What I am saying is that if we are saying that the Jonathan administration was bad, what can you say about what is going on now? This is a party that rode to power on the mantra of change, a party that asked Nigerians to vote for them on the basis that they would correct everything for which they were not happy with the Jonathan administration. With what Nigerians saw with Jonathan, they thought their lot would improve under Buhari. I am not proud to say that I was part of the process that brought this about. We will tell the truth, even if it means indicting myself.
People see your book, ‘On a Platter of Gold’, as a demonisation of the Jonathan administration. What do you have to say to that?
There was no demon. I was only telling history. People knew the circumstances that led me out of Jonathan’s administration and I wrote a book on how Jonathan won and lost Nigeria and they just assumed that it must be an attack on the Jonathan administration. No, it is not. I have not read any objective review of that book that concluded that it is an attack on Jonathan’s administration or his legacy. It is more of a journalist trying to practise history. So, I did not tell any personal story because as a minister, I swore an oath not to use information that came into my possession as a result of the position I occupied. So, even to that extent, the book was limited. I spoke earlier about this country sinking to a level that we could not have imagined only a few years ago. I interact with the people and I know the level of hunger. N50,000 now is like N500. What is the minimum wage? How much is a bowl of garri? What is the cost of rice, fish now? Hunger is real. Interact with the people. If the people tell you they have not eaten, it is real. It is not about trying to play politics or demonise a party. This week, I had to pay the school fees of about 200 children. None of the school fees was up to N3,000 in public junior secondary schools and yet, parents could not afford it. Do you know what that means? By the way, why would anybody pay for basic education in this country when we have a law that says it is universal, it is free and compulsory? The PDP would not do that. We didn’t do that. I was Commissioner for Education. What I am saying is that this is not about Bolaji or whoever, it is about what has been demonstrated in the last couple of years and what was demonstrated between 1999 and 2015 despite the PDP’s limitations.
It is like one party is designed to be an opposition party and another is designed to be a governing party and it is clear that the PDP is designed to be a governing party and that is why we made a bad job of opposition. The APC is designed and programmed to be an opposition party and that is why they made a bad job of governance. If anybody is coming to say I am contesting on the platform of the APC, you have to first of all tell us that you are not part of the rot of the last seven years or so. If you are able to come up and say it is not me but President Buhari, then there will be a challenge for you to say you want to move the country in a different direction.
Among those of you seeking to represent Kwara Central, what would you say is your unique selling point?
The Senate is the highest law-making organ in the country and that is why if you look at 109 senators, you are not likely to find anyone who has not held important positions in the past. You are likely to see people who have been governors for eight years. You are likely to see people who have been ministers, heads of agencies. You are not likely to see someone who needs to introduce himself to members on the floor. They are people who have pedigrees, solid antecedents to point at. Of all the candidates running for election to the Senate in Kwara State, I am the only one who has these credentials.
I am the only one who has been a commissioner and a federal minister. So, I am the only one that can stand up today on the floor of the Senate and nobody will ask ‘who this fellow?’ So, the Senate is a collection of 109 citizens who have come to fight for their respective districts. You cannot go into the Senate with inferiority complex whether because of lack of education or experience or solid public sector experience because your people will be shortchanged. You cannot force anybody to do anything; people will only agree with you based on the power of your argument, based on the respect they have for you; that you have some degree of accomplishments, that you are bringing a track record of accomplishments into the Senate. And I am the only one that has this. So, if the Kwara Central people want to advance the cause of Kwara Central, from my standpoint today, they have to vote for someone who has the requisite educational background or requisite professional experience or public service sector experience. Of all of us contesting that position, I am the only one who fits that description and I think that is what sells me.