Kehinde Bamigbetan, a former commissioner in Lagos State told KEHINDE OLATUNJI that the internal crisis in All Progressives Congress (APC) is a normal political process towards strengthening internal democracy. He also spoke on Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu and his chances in the race for 2023 presidency.
There are crises in All Progressives Congress (APC), and that has taken a toll on its stability. Are you comfortable with that?
APC national convention is still some months to go. Maybe what you want to say is how are we preparing for the convention. Whenever there is a convention, it means that various tendencies in the party will contest and engage one another as a way of getting the largest number of votes to be able to represent the party in one position or the other and that is not crisis, it is normal.
As a journalist you may see it as crisis but with politicians there will be contestation, arguments and engagements, these are normal in the process of bringing out a new set of leaders. So for us it is not a crisis, it is mainly the way the system works.
If you say it’s not crisis, what about some of your members who say they are tired of godfatherism and imposition in your party, which they claim have stalled their political ambition?
In the first place, the process starts with you picking forms; nobody was disallowed from picking forms. In Ejigbo where I operate, over seven groups came together during the ward congress to have a consensus list; it is only normal that the consensus list will win over stray elements because politics is about numbers. Many of those groups came together and developed a consensus list, it is not an imposition; it is knowing our strengths, and using it to work with others instead of fighting one another. Let us all agree and that was what happened during the ward congress.
The party is meant to be an integrative format where various people come together to use their strength to push their cause. At the local government election, essentially the same thing happened. People came together and agreed on a candidate.
The other side, what did they do; they went and held a parallel congress, that is not democracy. In the process of party formation, there is what is called discipline – the party must be obeyed. Before the state congress, the national party put together a reconciliation team. You write to the party, explain your grievances and the party will visit it, but to now take the law into your hands and organise a parallel congress, you have already waived your rights essentially, that is not how to play politics.
In politics, you don’t get all the things you want at the same time. I have contested an election before, and 24 hours to the election, I had to step down because in that moment you look at the same system that had given you chairmanship, that made you commissioner, if that system now says that for the good of the all, you step down, you will oblige.
What I am basically saying is that, going outside the structures and laws of the party to do a parallel congress obviously means that you are not a true party man and that is why you call it crisis because what is abnormal has already happened.
And how are you resolving all that?
All the tendencies in the party are already working, people are meeting, people are drawing consensus list, people are doing horse-trading and at the end of the day,
I want to assure you the party won’t be in crisis. Meetings are being held to bring everybody into the fold, all the aggrieved members and what they are aggrieved about will be checked. Of course, it is a democratic party and there is internal party democracy.
There is a group calling for immediate resignation of the Buni-led caretaker committee?
They have the right. It is a democracy; they have a right to agitate and to advocate.
But has the Buni-led caretaker committee not overstayed its relevance?
The Buni-led committee has done several things, it has done registration, it has done ward, local government and state congresses. So why would you now want to create a crisis by asking him to go when he is set to organise national convention. If you have agreed with him up to this point and the crowning point is the convention why would you then create a crisis?
The Buni-led caretaker committee claimed to have set up a reconciliatory committee, but till date, it has not come up with any resolution of the disputes arising from the ward and local government and state congresses
Was there substantial compliance; we always use the theory of substantial compliance, out of 774 local governments in Nigeria, if 600 or 650 were able to do their own successfully that is substantial compliance, you will not use the case of 100 to now delay the process. And then we are talking of negotiating and orchestrating the consensus, it takes time, some people will say no, they won’t agree, you can’t rush it, it is better you take it easy so that at the end of the day whatever that is agreed will last forever. So those in the party doing some of the work are good at it, they know that it will take some time before people agree.
Part of their complaints is that party leaders are imposing unpopular candidates on those who sacrificed for the party?
That is not likely to be true, the way the system works; I have been involved in this system as political reporter and editor. You know as chairman, and as commissioner, it is not likely for anybody who has not been in the system to suppress others.
I was Chief Press Secretary to a governor, then I contested as chairman, I did two terms, I contested for the House of Representatives, they said ‘No, don’t go for it, wait’. Later on, I was allowed to be special adviser, before I became commissioner. Because some people haven’t got something doesn’t mean they will not get it. If you want to come into the system through the back door, you are going to have some problems, you have to recognise the fact that in this system there are tendencies and structures. People have been there before you and you cannot clear them away. They also want to maintain their positions, so if you have not done ward before, you have not done local government and you suddenly want to do state work, it is not as easy now.
You are close to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. What are his chances, talking about the presidential ticket of your party, APC for 2023?
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has had a history of contributing value to the political process. As governor of Lagos State, he has made his mark as an administrator, human resource manager, innovator and visioner.
As a politician, Tinubu has been responsible for the sanctity of electoral votes in this country. Remember that there was a time in 2003 when a lot of rigging and malpractices happened across the country particularly in the Southwest, and the sanctity of the votes became an issue, he was the one who sponsored several court cases in which he was able to use what we call forensic strategy to expose various rigging methods used by Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to rig.
That was why it was possible for the court to reverse the victory of Oyinlola, and many others. He is not just an administrator, or just someone interested in the quality of value of our votes, he has invested in it.
In developing the APC, he has been established and acknowledged as the key visioner, designer and orchestrator of what is today called APC. You know, before APC, other parties, for instance CPC had contested election thrice and failed woefully. And for them to now come to the party ACN of that time, ACN had six governors, CPC had only one governor. Tinubu could have comfortably insisted on continuing to be a Southwest champion but he took the risk of creating a national party with them and he didn’t even insist to run for president, he agreed that somebody who had just one governor should run for president.
In the last six years of APC, he has played the role of a policy advisor both secretly and openly, alerting government to challenges, proposing his own concepts and ways out and generally ensuring success of the administration. So, on the basis of his contributions, there should be no doubts whatsoever about his suitability for the job. As far as there is a level playing field, there is no reason why Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu shouldn’t contest this election and we are asking him, advocating, begging and making all the noise to step out and contest, because it is going to be a game of numbers at the end of the day, and when the going gets tough, the tough gets going.
What are the assurances that all will be well with that aspiration?
What I am saying is that the laws of the party as far as the presidential primaries are concerned should take precedence. The rules should be observed without favoritism. Right now as I am speaking with you, there are 567 groups calling for Asiwaju to become president across the country. People have invested their resources to show they appreciate Asiwaju’s contributions to national development and want to position him for the presidency. He hasn’t even announced his intention and as at last count 567 groups across the country, from Sokoto to Port Harcourt, and Oyo are asking him to contest and offering to pay for the ticket. Legally, politically and electorally, nothing is stopping Asiwaju from contesting. I can say therefore that those who want the party to continue to be peaceful should simply play their role. Let us go and vote who should be our presidential candidate and leave the rest to history.
Some people are of the opinion that Tinubu should rather endorse/support someone rather than running for the seat?
People saying this should tell us, which politician in history has retired from politics until his death? Politics is a service. Anybody who is willing to serve should be allowed to. Why are they trying to blackmail him, will they run his life for him? When he offered himself in service as a senator, he had the largest vote per senatorial district nationwide. When he offered himself for governor, we saw his impact. People he groomed are the ones running the government now. What will anybody benefit from asking him to nominate somebody? If you still have the capacity to deliver something, why should you delegate it? All those things are blackmail tactics, which is normal in politics. They want to find a way of retiring him and you cannot retire somebody who is still active and ready to operate. You say you want him to retire and at the same time, you want his views on public policy, you want him to sponsor. So, the person who wants to sponsor does not have the right to contest? That is not fair. He should be given the opportunity. If you feel he is not qualified, when the party picks him as the candidate you can go to another party and contest against him.
What is the purpose of all this unsolicited advice?
Some people are of the opinion that age is not on his side?
Have they done a survey of leaders of the world? How old was former American President, Donald Trump when he was the president. The incumbent president, Joe Biden, is he in his 60s. That alone has negated and refuted their fallacies. Age is not the issue, in fact it’s like wine, the older it is, the wiser it becomes. In governance, wisdom is related to how long you are able to be there. Politics is an art, the longer you are in it, the better you become. You cannot say someone who has acquired so much wisdom should deny his country the opportunity of serving it.
What if APC doesn’t give Tinubu the chance to contest?
I strongly believe that APC is a democratic organisation and the rules for becoming a presidential aspirant are already laid down. By the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which determines the age and the qualification for you to serve as president and by the party rules, which has been tested in 2015 and 2019, there is no way they are going to hide in this matter. You will have to come and use those same rules to ask him to run. Like it or not, once the rules are there and he contests, it is a game of numbers, let the numbers choose and determine whether he is fit or not. Nobody should hide in the process trying to throw daggers at people based on very fallacious prejudices. It’s not going to work.
APC promised change and Nigerians now understand their definition of change. Do you think APC still has a chance in Nigeria today?
Now let me tell you something, Lagos State is an APC state and as far as this state is concerned I know that the citizens of Lagos State have been protected in the last years.
Since 1999 they have been well protected, their investment in the government has paid off. We went through Covid-19 and we learned how the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu handled the virus. Let us take APC in Lagos State as an example, will you vote APC again or not? Of course, you will vote APC in Lagos State because it has shown good husbandry of resources, it has shown responsiveness. Whenever people’s lives are threatened, it has demonstrated leadership during difficult times, that is what a party does, that is what APC in Lagos State does and if you go to Osun same thing, you go to Borno same thing, if you look state by state there is no party that can beat APC individually in the state.
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