National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in this interview with ENIOLA AKINKUOTU, speaks about the oncoming presidential election
Your party’s presidential candidate, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.) has been accused of several cases of human rights abuse and that he only jailed politicians who were non-northerners during his War Against Indiscipline campaign.
When a person is a military Head of State, that regime is a military one. The first thing a military Head of State does is to suspend the constitution. So, when the military comes in, the programme it implements depends on the circumstances that warranted the take-over. I was not young when Buhari took over. He came in against the backdrop of massive corruption, electoral heist and general indiscipline. The nation was in a shambles. It is completely untrue to say that he jailed some people from one part of the country and did not jail some people from another part of the country. Go and see how many Nigerians were imprisoned then. I know that when Chief Bisi Akande (now APC leader), was in prison, his closest colleague there was from the North. To me, it is a faulty argument to say he jailed only non-northerners. Was former Kano State Governor, Sabo Bakin Zuwo, (sentenced to 300 years in jail) also from the South-West? Was former Kaduna Governor, Abba Rimi, (jailed for 21 years) also from the South-West? Let us not stand history on its head.
Buhari has been accused of inciting the 2011 post-election violence through his comments.
Buhari spoke in Hausa in that interview on BBC Hausa and one problem with interpretation is that it is like a prostitute. When it is faithful, it is not faithful; when it is beautiful, it is not faithful. The context within which he gave the interview was misrepresented. This is just an attempt to taint his image. I was already working when Buhari came in and I can tell you that every Nigerian sat up. People were even afraid of taking bribes. People were queuing at bus stops. The only people who are afraid of a Buhari presidency are those who want to continue on the path of impunity and corruption. But more importantly, the issues that defined today’s politics in Nigeria are completely different. You need a man that can be in charge, you need a man that can stop corruption, a man that can stop insecurity. You need a man that can turn around the fortunes of Nigeria. You need a man that will stand up to say he will stop corruption and people will believe him. No corrupt government can fight corruption. Everything Jonathan needed to prosecute the war against insecurity was given to him by Nigerians. Money was given, a state of emergency was approved by the National Assembly three times but it is just beyond him. On the contrary, it is on record that while he was Head of State, Buhari rooted out the Maitasine terrorists from Gombe. As the General Officer Commanding 3 Division, in Jos, when some Chadian gendarmes were messing with Nigerians, he chased them all away. He is the only Nigerian who has been a Head of State, a military governor, head of the Petroleum Trust Fund and yet has no house in Abuja or Lagos. He has no other business apart from his military pension. This is the kind of man that Nigeria needs today. I am happy that Nigerians have now turned their backs on this government and are now clamouring for Buhari. That is the truth of the matter. So, they can spend their time vilifying this man. And those who say he is an extremist have forgotten history. When he was Head of State, his deputy (Tunde Idiagbon) was also a Muslim and he refused to drag Nigeria into the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation). Does that portray a person that is a religious fanatic? This is an historical fact. We all know who registered Nigeria under the OIC. So, if they don’t have issues to campaign on, they should stop trying to foul the air, let them sell their own candidate.
The Presidency says Buhari is too poor to be the President of this country and he has never run any industry and lacks economic experience.
You see, this man has run Nigeria before and when he did, within 20 months of being in office, he reduced our foreign debt which was about $4.6bn. Within that period, he ran a surplus budget. He refused to devalue the naira. He refused to remove subsidy from petroleum and refused to take a loan from the International Monetary Fund. And these are some of the reasons why he was overthrown. So, how can you say a man that has run the country before has no experience? This man was governor of the North-Eastern state which is six states today. He was Minister of Petroleum Resources for three and a half years and yet they say he has no experience. I think most times, they don’t reflect sufficiently when they make statements. In any case, when did poverty, honesty and integrity become a vice? I think the truth is that the APC has presented two candidates which you cannot objectively vilify. They are Buhari and Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN).
The APC says it is a party of change. How does it plan to make this change and why should Nigerians vote for the party?
Our manifesto is clear. We have been able to identify the major problems of Nigeria which are: Insecurity, corruption, decayed infrastructure, unemployment and lack of access to welfare. Agriculture is no longer what it used to be and we have detailed in our manifesto how he will address the issues. The economy is down. We have said we will create three million jobs a year. And we also explained how we intend to create the three million jobs. We will invest massively in public works programmes such as building, extending and modernising the railway and road networks. We will invest in housing and agriculture. In the long run, we will move our economy from a mono-product economy which is over-reliant on oil and we will move it to value-added projects such as manufacturing and agriculture. In our manifesto, we explained that until the constitution is amended, especially in the area that concerns the Land Use Act, we will not be able to exploit the untapped wealth on our lands. Today, you even need the government’s permission to use your land to obtain credit. We are going to introduce a new regime of leaseholds and freeholds that will allow our farmers to move away from subsistence farming to large scale mechanised farming because 70 per cent of our population live in rural areas. Forty years ago we were the major producers of cocoa, rubber and palm oil but today, we import these things. Even in terms of food crops, there is no reason why northern Nigeria cannot become the food basket of the whole of Africa. With all the arable land that we have, all we need is government involvement that will promote and encourage agriculture. How do we do these, we will encourage every state to computerise all land titles so that if you want to buy land, you can easily access it on the Internet. It is so difficult to the extent that if I want to sell my house today, it could take up to 10 years before the buyer can get the complete title and how can he get a loan from the bank to even buy it? We will also go back to the era of the First Republic where agriculture was a local affair. We will have a loan guarantee for certain crops so that farmers can be paid in advance, they will know how much to expect from a tonne of cocoa or a tonne of coffee no matter what the global economy says. That way they can go into agriculture free of the fear of poverty. We intend to embark on poverty alleviation; we will take a lead from India and Brazil by making direct payments in form of social security. People ask us where we intend to get the money and we answer by saying that if Nigeria could survive a N2 trillion fraud in fuel subsidy and another N1 trillion in oil theft, then it is possible. If we plug those holes and re-invest the money in infrastructure and education, in a short time, we will become a power house because people don’t know what you can do with a trillion naira. It takes only $1m to generate one megawatt of power. With $1bn you get 1,000 megawatts. So, that missing $20bn can generate 20,000 megawatts of electricity. So, it is all in our manifesto. What they see as challenges, we see as opportunities. Yes, there are many bad roads as well as a housing deficit of 17 million. You can exploit this by employing people and getting them to do the work. You can imagine starting a railway line.
But the Jonathan administration says the railway has been transformed.
The question I would like to ask them is how many kilometres of rail road have they added? On the contrary, they have been unable to even revive a large percentage of the railway. Go to Makurdi today which used to be a major railway station. The place today has been overtaken by weeds. What the Jonathan administration did was to revamp some coaches. I think it was in The PUNCH that I read that a reporter said it took him four days to go to Kano and back. Is that the kind of railway that is worth celebrating? You see, if the railway was revived, I should be able to go to my village in Offa, Ilorin, with my family by train. I wouldn’t be spending timeless hours on the road. What is the capacity of these trains? How long would it take me to go from Lagos to Offa? Which is faster? Road or train? They should stop deceiving us.
But what is the track record of the APC in Nigeria?
The Yoruba say if someone offers you a dress, look at the ones he is wearing. Look at the things we have done. Go to Osun State today. Governor Rauf Aregbesola has employed over 100,000 through various schemes including the OYES (Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme). He has also introduced ‘Opon imo’ (tablet of knowledge) which is the first of its kind in the whole of Africa. With the little money in his care, every pupil is given a free meal a day. So, we are doing it and are showing the way. We are also doing it in Oyo where we have created thousands of jobs. Come to Lagos State and talk of power. Governor Babatunde Fashola has three IPPs (Independent Power Projects). There’s one in Ikeja, there is one in Lagos Island and the one that powers the waterworks. Go to Kano and Sokoto, there are also IPPs. In Rivers State, the governor has embarked on a metro scheme. How were Oyo, Ogun and Osun before 2011? How are they today? So, if we say we can stop corruption, then trust us.
The PDP says your party plans to form a parallel government if it loses.
That was not the direct phrase. We said if the elections are rigged, we will form a parallel government. It is just an emphatic way of saying don’t rig elections. Are they planning to rig elections? If I say, if you rape my wife, I will shoot you; I am just letting you know the consequence. Why should you rape my wife? If you are angry, it means you are planning to rape my wife. It is an emphatic way of saying elections must be free and fair. It is even a known fact all over the world that when elections are rigged, there are always consequences which range from violence to civil war. The civil war in Ivory Coast was caused by electoral malpractice. The First Republic collapsed not long after electoral malpractice, the Second Republic collapsed months after the elections. The June 12 elections which were annulled led to crisis. So, we are not saying anything new. When we speak against what is happening in the Army, the PDP twists our words and says we are promoting mutiny. You can’t send soldiers to the warfront without taking care of their welfare. We said we agree that once you join the Army, you are governed by the military laws and that mutiny and desertion are punishable by death but we are saying that the government owes it a duty that anyone enlisted in the Army must be well-equipped and trained. Soldiers have said they were given substandard ammunition and equipment. If they (Federal Government) had their children in the Army, would they want them to go to the war front in a singlet, holding a catapult? But this government has lost every sense of responsibility.