When it comes to intra-party fighting, I’m a coward – Oshiomhole

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The National Chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, in this interview with the Chairman of Editorial Board, Sam Omatseye, spoke about the intrigues and controversies that surrounded the party’s recent victories in Imo, Bayelsa and Kogi states.
He also spoke about the face-off between him and his successor as Edo State governor, Godwin Nogheghase Obaseki, and explained that he does not want to engage in intra-party fighting. Excerpts
SOME people, especially around the PDP circle, believe the APC somehow got the better of the courts to swing it their way and that APC ought not celebrate but should lament the judiciary.

I think the PDP developed and entrenched the culture of rigging in our system and for them, rigging is a way of life and rigging is their birth right; otherwise, the facts in Imo are not difficult to establish. They have not dismissed or led any evidence to the contrary, namely that Ihedioha did not score one-quarter of the votes in up to two-third of the local governments. From the records we have, he scored one-quarter of the votes in nine local governments out of 27. So, because INEC is used to awarding victory to PDP; I don’t know the forces that explain those abuses, PDP has taken it as given. They developed this mantra that ‘rig them out,’ let them go to court. When they get to the court, they use their resources to hire the best brains, get lawyers to help them. I have been a victim of PDP rigging machine, so, for those who are carried away by uninformed commentators, I think the most dangerous thing is for analysts to pick their points of reference from partisan comments, particularly on a matter in which the source of the information is mainly available, namely INEC. I think any journalist, any commentator that wants to know the fact, can go to INEC. This is not one of those cases you will need to file affidavit. So, you can go to INEC and say I am a journalist, can I have the scores of all the candidates that participated in the governorship election in Imo State? You don’t need to be INEC official to know the rules, one quarter of the votes. This anybody can establish and you will find that Ihedioha, in the first instance, could never have been declared a governor but because of the provision in the Electoral law which said once the INEC Returning Officer pronounces you, however wrong, however blatantly unfair; you have to go to court and that is what the PDP has always used because they believe they have the resources to manipulate the judicial system. Look at this case; Ihedioha was sworn-in for an election he never won and now used state funds to defend himself in court. So, I challenge anybody to look at the facts and publish the figures; show total votes cast in each of the LGAs and how many areas Ihedioha scored one quarter. So the first thing the Supreme Court did was to uphold the fact that Ihedioha did not win one-quarter of the votes in at least two-third of the LGAs in Imo and therefore, out right he did not win that election. So, his prayer was dismissed.

Having dismissed it, the next question is: who is the next best candidate? Uche Nwosu had membership of two political parties and the law that you cannot belong to two political parties at the same time is clear. He was not able to prove that he had severed his relationship from APC while retaining membership of AA on which platform he contested. Again, this is not Rocket science that people cannot see through.

And of course Hope’s argument was 388 polling units’ votes were not counted. The results of these units were signed by presiding officers appointed by INEC and the law says once the unit presiding officer declares a result, such a result is valid and 388 units were not counted and they were not collated. From the lower court to the Supreme Court, no PDP, AA or INEC counsel argued that anything was wrong with those votes. If they were, they had the discretion to cancel.

What of the position of INEC in this matter? INEC was against the stand of the Supreme Court in this matter and in a sense is on the side of Ihedioha?

That INEC is on the side of Ihedioha in this matter is clear because they perpetrated the fraud in the first instance. So they had the burden of defending the fraud. Every electoral fraud that has been perpetrated in Nigeria has always been done in collaboration with INEC. You can’t perpetrate electoral fraud without INEC endorsement.

You saw that a number of PDP supporters, including the party’s chairman, protested the ruling. Some people, including your party, said what they did was not right; but, is it not integrated into the whole idea of democratic practice?

Well, that is why you didn’t see me abusing them for protesting. The only wrong thing about it is that you do not, in a democracy, abuse a judge or judges because their judgments did not coincide with your expectation. This is because if that be the case, every day, people would go beating judges in the streets because any matter that he determines; there is always a winner and a loser. So if losers must always resort to abusing the judge, calling for the sack of the judge, going to the streets to throw mud at the judge, then the principle of separation of powers would be endangered. One of the key pillars of democracy is an independent judiciary. An independent judiciary is not the one that delivers judgment always in your favour. It delivers judgment as it understands it under the law. And come to think about it, our President, the same Supreme Court had dismissed his petitions three times. There is this particular one that no man of conscience can accept; when the Supreme Court held that ballot papers without serial numbers were valid; that they did not amount to substantial breach; when even receipts from petrol attendants bear serial numbers. But Buhari accepted that verdict because after the Supreme Court, its God’s Court and God will still pronounce on that matter I believe and don’t forget that in that judgment we had four to one and there are various reasons as to why the then CJN switched position, leading to Buhari’s defeat. But he had to accept it.

It is in that sense too that the people on the side of PDP are wondering whether support the Supreme Court judgment or to oppose it because when that judgment against Buhari was given, people saw that it was injustice but it was a Supreme Court judgment

Yes and we didn’t have to go and burn down the country or to go and organise protests abusing the judges. Buhari stomached the pain. He wasn’t in APC then, he was in ANPP.

People are feeling that we are not having electoral justice; that we are having court justice, determining who becomes the president or who becomes a governor. Is it a democracy for the courts or a democracy for the people?

In fairness to the judiciary, the judiciary has not compelled anybody to appear before it. It is the politicians that after the election results have been declared, those who feel aggrieved have chosen to approach the courts. All the judges have done is to oblige by opening the doors to electoral litigants. You can’t blame the judiciary for that. What it points out is the extent to which the political class is greedy. They want to win by all means, including by cheating and fortunately for them, they have substantial INEC elements that are willing to aid and abet such cheating if they are properly paid.

So, going forward, the challenge is not just for the political class. The political class may well be the players but the players do not have higher stakes than members of the club; in this case, every Nigerian is a stakeholder. The active political players are just a small fraction relative to the total population of the country.

But they are powerful

What this thing shows is that if the power is misused and abused, it would eventually be demystified and ultimately, democracy could be endangered. So the thing to work for, consciously, is that we must all recognise that the sum total of the political class is not equivalent to the Nigerian nation. The Nigerian nation is much more than the tiny active political class. Therefore, we must work hard not to endanger the Nigerian edifice or do anything to weaken the fabric of our democratic process. That is why for me, whether you believe it or not, if there is conflict between what I believe is right for Nigeria and for the system, even if it is not in favour of my party, I am not going to bend to lose my head because ultimately, people like me could only survive in a democratic environment when the votes count and that is why I launched ”one man one vote” in Edo State, a state that had a history of election results being written somewhere and the PDP leaders would tell you arrogantly, go to court and of course they would boast thereafter that the courts were under their control and most of the time they were able to get away with blue murder. So, I think for all of us, particularly now that the president has committed himself to reforming the electoral system, I am looking forward to that. Cleaning up the electoral system is not a favour to anyone because the beauty of a clean electoral system is that you go in there, tell the people what you want to offer and they determine your fate. They make a right choice or a wrong choice. In a democracy, they should have the kind of leadership they deserve. If they make a wrong choice today, tomorrow they will make the right choice. I think that is the issue and I tell people that for 16 years PDP was in power and arrogantly they told people they would be in power for 60 years and those who were in PDP at that time have since become victims of that same system. So, I know that the only thing that is constant is the truth. I believe it is in the enlightened self-interest of the political class to have a transparent election. If you have it, nobody will bother to go to court and we will not have a system where the people will vote and the judges decide who won the elections. Until you clean up the system, that will appear to be the case. But the good news is that as we speak, there are couple of states where those who were defeated, saw through the process and they did not bother to go to the courts because they realised that even if there were some imperfections, everything considered that they lost fairly. We have few cases like that and we can build on them. If it is possible for one election to be conducted transparently, over time, it would be possible for all elections to be conducted transparently as to give no room for anyone to go to court.

That is a very interesting point you have made about the few. But the majority, especially in the contentious elections, tend to give the impression that the politicians are giving the polity away to court technicalities. A situation where, as you said, the people vote and the courts decide the result. It becomes what some people now call ‘courtocracy’ rather than democracy.

I don’t think the argument is about how we can describe the situation we are in. I think the challenge is how did we get here or, much more importantly, how we will get out of this situation. For me, that is what is viable for us to discuss. We can interrogate the process. I think, first, for the political class, we should allow the votes to count; for INEC, they should play their role without fear or favour. Unfortunately, that is not yet the case and the courts have contributed their bit to the confusion because when INEC brought out the card reader, it was meant to cure the mischief of people going to write fake numbers even when they did not vote. On the basis of this INEC introduction of card reader, which they reflected in their guidelines for the conduct of elections, in Rivers, in Delta, in a number of South-south and Southeast states in particular, they are not the only ones, but it is more rampant there. In 2015, the tribunals and up to the level of the Court of Appeal dismissed, nullified governorship elections conducted where card readers were not used. Those judges recognised that INEC, under the law, has the right to make its bye-rules because you cannot use the law on everything. I was an employee, and as an employee, that is still the case everywhere, my contract was governed both by the Labour Act and the company’s rules and regulations. Both are valid. You cannot have everything written into the formal statute, where an organisation cannot have its rules and regulations that are justiciable when it matters if they are preached as the basis for measuring good conduct or bad behavour. Now, the Supreme Court in trying, at that time, to award those seats to PDP decided that the card reader was not in the law though it found that in truth, the card reader was not used. That was how that introduction by INEC was nullified.

There is a lot going on in Edo State. The governor has accused you of so many things; that you are imposing so many things on him, that you are the one causing the confusion in the state and that you are no longer a member of APC in Edo State, etc, what is your reaction to these allegations?

That is my share as a leader. The leader is a dustbin; everybody throws garbage at the dustbin and there is nothing it can do. For as long as I accept this leadership position of chairman, people will throw mud at me; people will throw all sorts of impurities at me. The leader is just like the dustbin and have nothing, what kind of argument would I try to win, in whose court? Those are his opinions and he is entitled to his opinion but it does not change the facts. I am not going to join issues with him at all; it is not helpful. When it comes to intra-party, I am a coward; inter-party, those who know me can generously refer to me as a small fighter but I would say that I am probably a general when it comes to inter-party fighting. But even that fight, I choose it; you don’t fight by habit. The governor is my friend; he is my brother. As you said, we tried our best for him and there is no regret.

So, you will keep allowing him since he said he is the bonafide person in the state and you have been consistently absent in the state. Is that by choice?

You heard him say I am no longer allowed to visit Edo State and you are still asking me this question? I have to maintain peace. I want to be a trouble shooter now.

But you have always fought like a general in other states like Imo, Kogi, Zamfara; so why are you not doing so in Edo, the state you have the most legitimacy?

In Kogi, I joined the ruling party, the APC, to fight and canvass for votes for my party; I didn’t join in intra-party fighting in Kogi.

What about in Zamfara and Imo?

I didn’t join in any intra-party fighting.

But there you got people like Rochas Okorocha and even the party leadership in Zamfara

Yes, Rochas, to the extent that he joined AA. As AA, he was no longer a member of my party. At a point we had to suspend him. Once he was suspended, he forfeited the right of my protection. As Chairman, I have the obligation to be fair and just and to protect the rights of every APC member across the 36 states and FCT. That is my irreducible minimum responsibility. In Zamfara, you will be surprised that at the end of the day we had some disagreement, which is not unusual, but if you see Governor Yari, he will tell you that at the end, we asked our lawyers to defend him. That is how it should be. So, forget the initial abuses he rained on me. I recognise the fact that if people are under tension, they can say anything but as a leader, you have to rise up and see the bigger picture.

It is never a viable fight to go into intra-party fighting. My prayer for Edo is for more and more PDP people to cross over to APC so that we can consolidate our hold on power there. May be there are some people who do not agree with that but as chairman of APC, if you look at our constitution, the chairman is the CEO of the party and one of the major aims is to recruit more and more people into the party. That is my primary responsibility. The primary responsibility of the leadership of APC at all levels is to win more people for the party. But if as a result of that someone is offended, it is a pity. Until tomorrow, it remains the main objective of APC.

But we must not forget that every APC member belongs to a unit. The unit is the grassroots first line of organisation. So, the President for example must necessarily be a member of the Executive Committee of his unit. So, if for example, the president refused to attend unit meetings; that will not be good enough according to our constitution. I, just like every other member of APC originates from a unit. That is why your membership card will reflect your unit number and the Constitution of the party said that the Executive Committee of the unit must include all the members elected from the unit for political or party offices, which means I should not because I am the national Chairman of the party abstain from the unit council meetings but when I attend that meeting, it is the unit council chairman that should preside because he is the chairman of the unit. I should just sit down, listen and contribute.

In Imo State, for example, we have seen party defections. People believe that party defection has become one of the ways we are shutting out ideology in Nigerian politics. APC is also a victim or a collaborator in this.

We have to discuss this at two levels. For any government, people want you to inherit a parliament that is controlled by the opposition and this opposition is led by people whose declared business is to see you out of power. And the state House of Assembly; their function, their actions or inactions can affect government’s capacity to deliver and so you can understand the desperation of any executive, whether governor or president in wanting to get opposition people to cross over. Carpet crossing is not new and it is not peculiar to Nigeria. I guess you can also find it in some other jurisdictions. The problem however is that in Nigeria, it has become a daily business. The man is here today, tomorrow, he is there. I think there are many factors that you will need to interrogate to understand this phenomenon. But I do agree with you that if party membership is primarily influenced by a choice of a set of ideas, based on an ideology; to the extent to which you are committed to those ideas and values, you will find it more difficult abandoning what you believe in to join another party whose ideology is completely at variance with yours. So, you are right to say that the poverty of ideas in our political system explains the ease with which people defect from one political party to another. Even when we benefit as a party from this development, it does not make it something we really want to celebrate. But for now, I do recognise that I can’t be holier than thou in a sense because we also lose some people. We can’t refuse to receive people when they want to join us. I think that going forward; my take is, once we succeed in cleaning up the electoral system; over time people observe that the electorates elected a particular party in an election and decline to elect the same party in another election or they elected a particular party in the executive but when it comes to the legislature they decided to elect another party, as we saw it in some other places, people might have the incentive to remain in the party they believe in. But at the heart of all of these, in fairness, is poverty, or if you like, absence of ideology in our political composition and it makes our politics very difficult to manage and extremely difficult to predict.

You mean that even as a party leader there is nothing you can do about it?

Not much. But my personal opinion, which I canvassed in my electioneering campaign, is that I want my party to be able to deny somebody membership on account of what we know about him; not in terms of criminality, whether he is a convict or not a convict. You can be a convict and later be reformed, particularly now that we call our prisons correctional homes. You are not condemned to death. But I am talking about the fact that we are in the progressive party; we are pro-people, we are pro-poor; we want a public service that works; we want public education that works. We do not believe in the survival of the fittest. We believe in …call it a welfare state; we are social democrats. PDP on the other hand, their pro- philosophy is right wing and they believe in survival of the fittest. They believe in the free market forces and the trickle-down theory of the old Kraska School. We believe on the other hand that the state should not be an idle observer. We believe in an interventionist state; that the state should intervene to protect the weak from the powerful and to create a robust social safety net, using state funds so that you don’t have a country where few people are extremely wealthy and more and more people becoming very poor, given that the resources of a nation, at any time, are limited; so the more the few powerful take, the less that is available for the rest. So, a party that is progressive will put specific social policies in place, whether in form of taxation, VAT policies, housing policies, etc., that are designed to ensure that whatever happens, no Nigerian should starve. We count our blessings in terms of the number of people we have bailed out from poverty and the extent to which we have reduced inequality between the richest and the poorest. That ought to be the guiding principles of all that we do.

The other party is unapologetically committed to market-based, market-driven economy, non-interference, etc., and the market does not share human sentiment. I used to say, and it is a fact, that for those extreme right wingers, proponents of free market, free trade; they need to be persuaded to understand that the primary purpose of government does not always coincide with the profit motive of a private enterprise. So the state must intervene to ensure that the green factor that drives private initiative does not stifle out the poor. That is why the state ought to be the defender of the common good. Unfortunately, at our level of development, there are many people, even top players in our political parties who do not understand these issues. My dream was and remains to have a party that is able to educate its rank and file, its cadre and its leaders to understand who we are and why we are in business. So that when you get to a state and you look at the policies of the government you will be able to say, without anyone telling you, that this must be an APC state. You look at its attitude to education; you look at its attitude to public health; you look at its attitude to job creation and its attitude to big services like mass transit and you can say this state must be governed by APC. Even the one that Governor Hope Uzodinma just referred to, a socially concerned government can’t afford not to pay salaries.


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