•Party members now calling for ‘change the change’
Dr Femi Olufunmilade, a member of the Governing Council of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta is a stalwart of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He chaired the Buhari Survey and Strategy Committee during the 2015 presidential campaign. In this interview with IHEANACHO NWOSU, Olufunmilade explained the reason the incumbent administration is not succeeding in some areas. He expressed frustration that most key APC members who worked for the emergence of the government are still sidelined. He also spoke on the 2019 election, the ambition of some APC members and other happenings in the country.
Recently the southwest APC met and declared that the presidential ticket should be open to everybody, do you feel that is the way to go for your party?
You know we are in a democracy. In a democratic system, the rule of the game is the rule of law. If we get to a point where presidential candidates have to emerge, the normal procedure is for primaries to be organized and those who are interested that might have taken nominations will be free to compete, at the end of which a winner will emerge. So what Chief Bisi Akande echoed was nothing new, he was just stating the obvious that we will be as democratic as required; and whosoever feels he has what it takes to be president of this country should be free to contest as the flag bearer of the party. And he also added that whosoever emerges at the end of the day will get the full support of all stakeholders including themselves.
Don’t you see it affecting the unity of the party, because the party’s governors and NEC have given tacit endorsement of the president for another term?
Well, I don’t think it will impair the unity of the party in anyway, rather it will strengthen it because you are saying that anybody who has ambition is free to throw his hat into the ring. And since that statement was made, it is on record that prominent members of the party who have declared interest in contesting are from the north. Senator Adamu Alero is from the north and has indicated interest, you are aware of former vice president Atiku Abubakar, these are northerners; there has not been any prominent southern member, to the best of my knowledge ,whether prominent or non prominent, who has come out to say that he will contest. So, if anyone is aggrieved in the north, he doesn’t represent the entire north.
There is also this belief that it is a smart way by the southwest to make the contest difficult for the incumbent because of a seeming displeasure in the way the government has been handling not only the party but also governance The incumbent, for all I know, has not even indicated interest in the office for a second term. Baba Akande said that he has not indicated interest for a second term. If he has indicated interest, then it will be a different ball game. Whether we like it or not, the mobilization for 2019 elections with the use of INEC timetable has started informally and it is for the president to come out and tell us if he will be contesting. As regards the issue of members of the party not being satisfied, I don’t think that is limited to the southwest. If it is an issue, it cuts across the entire country. I was privileged to coordinate a research to support his candidature in 2015, it was called Needs Assessment Survey of 36 States and the FCT, which he approved through his then chief of staff, Colonel Hameed Ali on the platform of Buhari Support Organization. Approval was conveyed to me by Dr Ibrahim Dauda, who gave the contacts of the BSO coordinators across the 36 states and the purpose of the research was to find out if beside the general items of the manifesto, the specific needs peculiar to the various states of the federation. I organized that and all the people that assisted me in doing that were senior members of the APC.
At the end of the day, most of them have been sidelined in the way things are done in this government. Most of them have not been given any appointment. What is more annoying is that most of the appointments made in this administration went to the party that we fought to remove from power. A lot of their members are getting appointments while members of the APC are left behind. Some critical appointments were not only given to PDP members, they were given to those we defeated. I’ll give you examples, you look at the NDDC, Senator Ndoma Egba was the Senate majority leader for the PDP, I personally cannot place my finger on when he defected to APC before the election but today he is the chairman of the NDDC. You look at someone like the Minister of National Planning, Senator Udo Udoma, I don’t know if at anytime he formally moved into the APC, and so on and so forth.
So if you find people aggrieved, you can’t blame them. It is not all about appointments, there are also many positions we thought would have been open to members of the party, but as we speak, they are still being held by PDP appointees in various MDAs.
Is your grievance only in the area of appointments or are you also displeased with the president in the handling of things?
It is not about appointment per say; but you know that in the United States, when the president has won an election, the president has the power to appoint about 4,000 appointees. It is during the transitional period, the period between when he wins the election and when he is sworn in that he makes most of the appointments. It is taken as a very serious business. It is taken as a very serious business because the understanding is that those who share your philosophy and ideology and have bought into your manifesto will be better drivers of the manifesto and agenda you have for your country than those who were in the opposing party. So when we are talking about the way Buhari appointed a lot of people, this is what we are talking about. Even his own wife echoed it in the famous BBC interview. She said those who didn’t share our vision and mission are getting the appointments. It is not as if we are crazy about appointments, there are people you could appoint who are not necessarily APC members if they are professionals who have unique skills that can help to drive the change agenda forward. But to retain people and appoint people that were on the opposite side of the pole to us and put them in critical positions shows that the government lacks focus.
More than two years after, are you okay with the policies of this government?
What I can tell you is that, the APC government is performing to the extent of comparing the government to the PDP government, that is what I can say. We can’t compare APC government by any stretch of imagination to the PDP government. Look at the anti corruption crusade for instance, I don’t think it has ever been this good. It is not as if it is perfect, it falls short of our expectations still. There has not been any conviction and we’re talking of legal processes. What about insecurity, all the territories of Nigeria have been reclaimed from Boko Haram. Without Buhari coming into power, Boko Haram might have been in control of states today not to talk of local government. Money meant for arms were shared and looted, soldiers were afraid of facing Boko Haram because they were not equipped. That trend has been reversed and the international community has come to our support, we have the multinational joint task force, for which President Buhari when he came into power traveled to Niger, Chad , Cameroon, and we were able to cobble this multinational joint task force together. So when you look at this, you need peace for progress, he has been able to achieve relative success in that regard. The idea that impunity can go unchecked, he has checked that to a great extent through the anti corruption war. I’m not saying that he is excellent, there is still insecurity, for instance, the Fulani herdsmen, which he has not been able to fix, a lot of deaths go unreported.
We also have the low side of the anti corruption which one of them is the Maina issue that just came up. Someone who was arraigned on graft of monumental proportion, declared wanted by EFCC, he ran away from the country but he was brought back into the country and was even reinstated in the bureaucracy. That is unacceptable. It is sending a signal that no one can really explain. And it boils down to what someone can call having a government within a government. Some people who have a different agenda from Buhari are busy scheming for men and women of various character to hold positions within the government as a form of self help. And that will explain why a lot of the characters are in government. On that side, I’ll say the president scores a very poor mark. If your aides are doing the wrong thing and everyone is shouting about it, what have you done to check it?
The APC UK recently said it is ready to support a fresh hand, that it will back intellectuals like you for the plum office. What do you make of such position?
Like I said earlier, it is not news. The wife of the President came out to say some of the things happening in government. Recently she also voiced out her dissatisfaction with the financial management and operations of the State House clinic. She said they don’t have panadol or syringe, she needed to do an x-ray and they were advising her to go to London. She made enquiries and discovered they don’t have one functional x-ray machine, she had to go to a private hospital which is 100 percent owned by foreigners. She checked it up and realized that this same hospital had a budget of N3 billion. So it is not just APC UK members that are dissatisfied with the performance of this government, It is widespread even within the country. Look at the APC as a party, how many times do we have meetings as a party? Before the recent NEC meeting, when last did we have NEC last? How many times since we won the election? We are running into the third year now, by May next year we will be in the third year in power. How is the party faring? Are the staff paid? People are not interested in paying party dues, because they don’t see the party as representing their interest anymore. There is a lot of dissatisfaction within the APC and most of it are self inflected because they are really uncalled for. Most of the APC members within the country are also joining the clarion call of ‘change the change.’
The party still has more than a year to go before the next elections. Do you feel that it can correct some of its mistakes?
Well, I think it has gotten too late. A lot of people have made up their minds on what to do already because the way the party is, doesn’t really exist because there are no activities. Go to the party offices across the federation, you visit and you don’t see anybody. The party is just like an abandoned project. A lot of people are unhappy, they may not be as vocal as some of us who come out to say our minds from time to time. People feel that this is not what they worked for. You don’t need to be given an appointment to make impact, but there is even no room on a party platform for you to meet and make proposal on what they think about the expectations of the government in power. The leadership of Chief Oyegun is not inspiring. He ought to have been the one to put his feet down and say how the president should relate with the party, but that is just the case. You can give it to PDP in terms of internal democracy, until they imposed Jonathan. I will score them a high mark in PDP. If there was anything to be done, a lot of input and representation was allowed in the PDP.
Do you see a stronger party coming up for 2019?
I want to go beyond the normal Nigerian traditional way of looking at a political party whereby the objective is mainly to take power. It doesn’t matter who the people scheming for power are, whether they have what it takes to transform the country or deliver public goods to the people. All it is about is who the heavy weight is. They will say someone has a large purse or a large pocket, and those are the things they look when it comes to having a new alignment of forces and all that. Usually, it’s the same old people who are disaffected here and there that come together. It is an ideological alignment of forces. What I want and what many of my colleagues across the country within the APC and even other parties, is where people find themselves to be like fish out of water, people who are ideological, patriotic, principled, people who really want Nigeria transform for good in their life time. What they want is a meeting of like minds. We are not looking for who has money or who has a deep pocket, we are not looking for former this, former that, someone people will say we know him.
So you’re suggesting that if APC insists on Buhari in 2019, the party will likely implode?
I don’t want to use the word APC insisting on Buhari flying its flag. If we have a free and fair primary election in the APC today, President Buhari is going to lose fair and square. And a lot of delegates if they are not picked by the governor of Kastina State to do Buhari’s bidding, even a lot of delegates from Kastina State are going to vote against President Buhari. I know what I’m saying because I interact with them. The northerners are even more blunt, they may not be as outspoken as some of us. They are not happy. They think things can be done better than what we’re having.