“As far as the people of Kwara State are concerned, it was as if finally, the state was being liberated… akin to how Nigeria felt on the eve of Independence.”
Information and Culture minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed speaks on happenings in the party and in the polity.
What will be your immediate reaction to the gale of defections in APC? Was it an event you were expecting or it took you by surprise?
I don’t think anybody who has been a close watcher or observer of this political landscape should be taken aback by the defections. I think that it even came so late, we shouldn’t be surprised. A Yoruba adage says, ‘if we build a house on spittle, the first fog will demolish it’. The foundation for what you see today was laid the day the Senate President forced himself on the party as Senate President. We were met with a fait accompli when Dr. Bukola Saraki, against the wishes of the party, did the unthinkable by aligning with the opposition and making them an offer they could not refuse.
I can’t quite remember the number but in a situation whereby almost the entire 40 plus Senators voted for him. So he needed only a minority from the APC. So we were all waiting for Mr. President to come and address us on this issue at the International Conference Centre, when it was announced that he (Bukola) has emerged as the Senate President. From that day, we knew we had a problem because to make it worse as insurance, he arranged for an opposition person to be Deputy Senate President and that makes it impossible for us to remove him. He made it look like ‘If you remove me, you are going to have a PDP Senate President’. I think from that day we had a problem. I think this is not a surprise at all.
Of course you could see the behaviour of the National Assembly since then. We have a National Assembly in which we had a clear majority in both houses but which treated the Executive with contempt and who actually slowed down the work of government. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, our budgets were delayed. We can understand 2015 budget because we came in, in the middle of the year. But 2016, 2017, the earliest we got our budgets was June. Key appointments, nominations and confirmations for key organizations that could move the government forward like the CBN, like the NDIC, were delayed. Really, it couldn’t have been worse if the PDP had a majority in the National Assembly.
Members of your party arranged with former Speaker Aminu Tambuwal to go against his party’s decision in 2011. So you should have expected what happened in 2015?
It is not exactly the same thing. In 2011, there were two aspirants from the PDP. Each of them knew that they needed the opposition to emerge. So the kind of horse-trading that took place in 2011 is normal in any democracy since the party did not succeed in getting one candidate. Now when they approached us, we looked at the offer and we believed that the other party didn’t do as much. What we did in 2011 in helping him to come to power was a normal thing in democracy because once you don’t have absolute majority, you would need the support of the other smaller parties. And in 2011 we were the biggest minority in the House of Representatives, the difference is this: Tambuwal did not destroy his party in the process. He didn’t offer Gbajabiamila Deputy Speaker, which is the difference. I don’t know what took place in PDP then.
In our own case we tried to get all parties together, we called meetings which were boycotted by their group and at the end of the day when we realised this thing was getting so bad, Mr. President was to address all of us. We were waiting for Mr. President to come with majority of our Senators there when it was announced. So it is not the same thing.
The fundamental thing is that for us, it would have been better that they left a long time earlier because they have strangulated this government for too long. When you are now being betrayed by your own party, it is more painful because we can’t fight back as much as we want to fight. I just want to establish that the foundation of what you are seeing today was laid as far back as the day he became Senate President.
Away from defections, as you are going into election, what do you want to tell Nigerians that you have done that would warrant them to renew your tenancy of Aso Villa next year?
You see we have delivered all promises we made. We came in and we promised we were going to fight insecurity. At that time, the major threat to the corporate existence of Nigeria was the Boko Haram insurgency and despite what anybody says, we have decimated Boko Haram.
We brought Boko Haram under complete control because when we came in on May 29, 2015, 24 local governments in the North-east, an area three times the size of Lebanon, were under the effective control of Boko Haram and what this means is that they were running the administration. As a matter of fact, once we got to Maiduguri that was the end of Borno State. If you move outside, either to Kaure, Konduga or Bama, they were under the control of Boko Haram. By 2014, 2015, nobody in Abuja could sleep with his two eyes closed. They came and attacked This Day headquarters with casualties, they attacked the UN Headquarters, they attacked the IGP office, Nyanya park was bombed twice, they were active in Suleja, Kaduna, Sokoto, Plateau, Nasarawa, Kogi. As a matter of fact, there was hardly any state in the North that Boko Haram was not operating. It was nipped in the bud in Kwara.
But today there is relative peace. We have been able to recover all territories and today no single inch of Nigerian territory is under the Boko Haram control. Yes, there have been suicide bombings, that is what terrorism is all about. A couple of weeks ago in US, we saw terrorist attack. About a month or two months ago, we saw what happened in Texas. Terrorists killed many children. This is not a sign of renewed threat rather it is a sign of desperation and weakness. Look at the regularity it used to occur then and now. It is all about intelligence gathering. Yes you would talk about herdsmen-farmer clashes, was it not something we inherited. The first farmers-herders’ clash was in 1947 even before Nigeria became independent but over the years we have been able to manage it.
What has aggravated the farmers-herders’ clash today is the government’s position, its stand on fighting corruption.
We found out that in Benue State in particular that some people facing corruption charges are the ones that have armed Militia. Is it not interesting that Tishau that was arrested is actually a government appointee? And since his arrest, these killings have gone down. The suspects arrested for killing those priests were not Fulani herdsmen. They are militia men from Benue State. Now we have politicians who are afraid that any re-election of Buhari they would end up in jail and they are now fueling this herdsmen crisis especially in Benue State.
What about Zamfara, what will you say about that?
Zamfara is a very interesting case study. It is a clear example that these killings are neither ethnic nor religious in nature. It is pure criminality because the cattle rustlers are Muslims and Fulani themselves and the victims also are Muslims and Fulani. So how can you talk about ethnicity or religion here? The truth of the matter is that when there is trouble along the Sahel-Mali, Libya, Chad, Niger, you can just go across the border and buy AK-47 for about maybe $200. So these criminals are now very well armed, well equipped. It is about the economy, cattle rustling. Zamfara is a very good example that this thing is not religious ditto in Kebbi.
In Kebbi State, the governor said 70 per cent of all the inmates in Kebbi prisons are there because of farmers-herders’ clashes yet the farmers in Kebbi are Muslims and Fulani and the herdsmen are Muslim Fulani. There are other reasons, apart from sheer criminality and political instigation, which are even more genuine, what about demography? What about Climate Change? Nigeria had 45m people when we became independent in 1960. Today we are 190m people. So it is about struggle for resources.
Secondly, Lake Chad was 25,000 sqm surface area in 1963. The same Lake Chad has shrunk today to 2,500 sqm yet Lake Chad was supporting 35m lives from Nigeria, Central African Republic, Benin, Chad, Niger and Cameroun. Those 35m people were using that water to fish, farm and do irrigation. There used to be about 3000 different types of fish in Lake Chad, it has now shrunk to about 500. So it is about resources that are dwindling combined with population explosion and of course criminality. The good thing is that we are looking at this problem in a more holistic manner than people want to know and that is why Nigeria has hosted twice the Conference of Lake Chad Basin Countries. The only solution is to reflate the Lake and we are talking to all the countries. It is very expensive but it is the only way out. Until more water is brought back into the Lake Chad, we will continue to have this problem. When you look at farmer-herders’ crisis, it is not restricted to Nigeria, it is in Ghana, it is in Southern Sudan, it is in Kenya. The good thing is that while we are looking at the long term solution, we are also looking at the short-term solution, which is why we set up this quick response wing of the Air Force to tackle herdsmen-farmers’ clashes in Zamfara, in Taraba, and in Benue State. The Military has established two new Battalions in both Zamfara and Birnin Gwari in Kaduna. Just recently 1000-combined force of security agencies is tackling the matter is Zamfara and every day we are recording successes.
What future for Kwara APC following the defection of Senate President, the governor and members of the National and State Assemblies?
What we have today is some members of APC decamping to the PDP. I say some members because many members have refused to go but we have gained more from those who say rather than stay in the same party with Bukola Saraki, they would rather come to APC. I was home last weekend primarily to reassure our people that there is no cause for alarm. I was amazed at the kind of reception I got. At the time I went home, Dr. Bukola Saraki was yet to announce his resignation from the party. As far as the people of Kwara State are concerned, it was as if finally, the state was being liberated. The excitement today in Kwara State is akin to how Nigeria felt on the eve of Independence.
To answer your question, I think APC can only grow stronger in Kwara State. People have forgotten that Saraki joined APC after the merger. Merger took place 21st of July 2013, they came in 2014.
The moment he joined the APC, the former ACN, former ANPP, former CPC members who are in APC, many of them left APC because they could not be in the same camp with him. So what we are witnessing today in Kwara State is like a liberation and from the support I have received so far including the entire leadership of the party led by the chairman, Akogun Oyedepo Iyiola who met with me and the National Chairman with 17 other leaders including Professor Oba Abdulraheem, Senator S.S Ajibola, all the three Senatorial district chairmen of the PDP in the state, gives me confidence that Saraki’s days in dominating Kwara politics are limited.