From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja

Former Deputy National Organising Secretary, Yekini Nabena, has gradually built himself into an independent-minded political figure, and is one person who says it the way it is without minding whose ox is gored.

Speaking to Sunday Sun in Abuja, the Bayelsa-born politician bared his mind on a wide range of political issues, ranging from the state of his ruling party, APC, his grouse with northerners on their overbearing influence in the Nigeria political dynamics and why former President Muhammadu Buhari should be stripped his military rank for allowing monumental corruption happen under his watch.

Nabena also alleged that the presidency supported Governor Douye Diri against Timipre Sylva, his party’s candidate in the November last year Bayelsa State governorship election, announcing bluntly that President Bola Tinubu is yet to impress him in the areas of economy, security few months to his first anniversary.

Considering the continued appreciation of Naira over Dollars, should Nigerians start to clap for President Tinubu?

It is wrong to clap for Tinubu on the recent appreciation of Naira over the Dollars. Before we start counting it as an achievement, we should ask how much his administration met in dollars and how much the current exchange is now. The appreciation is manipulated. They know the target they want to peg it and they may have deliberately pushed it close to N2,000 before allowing it to crash. It will continue to crash until it gets to the rate they want to use to impress Nigerians. If he wants Nigerians to clap for him he should first return it to the rate he met it.

In which areas will you say that President Tinubu has impressed you?

I think he may have good intentions, but for now, I don’t think there is anything he has done to impress me. We are not talking about the propaganda machine they use, but the reality on ground. What is on ground today, from economy to security and other areas, he has not impressed me. If we must tell ourselves the truth, we should admit that people are suffering. The distress calls from the village are increasing every day.

Farmers can no longer go to their farms because even the farming equipment is increasingly becoming very expensive for the people in the village to buy and use for their farming. Now is a farming season, but most of them cannot even afford to buy seedlings, farming equipment, and chemicals. So, I don’t really know where we have to give Tinubu a pass mark.

On the economic aspect, we don’t actually have a budget as far as I am concerned. How do you run a country without a budget? The first budget passed was pegged at a particular amount but the prices of things have changed, especially the price of cement for construction projects.

Everything is just a mess as far as I am concerned. For me, the country does not even operate efficiently because the economy is off and on. Maybe they want to use this one year to gamble, hoping to get it right in the future.

In two months, the ruling party you served as spokesman will be in power for nine years; will you say that APC has failed Nigerians?

Sincerely speaking, and if I should tell you the truth, based on the propaganda and the tension we gave the PDP, I thought that all our promises were supposed to have come to reality. If we base our judgment on the promises we gave Nigerians, I will say that we have really failed the country. We didn’t keep any part of the promises. For example, even the incumbent was part of the promise we gave to Nigerians in 2015 that we would make the exchange rate one dollar to one naira. The current exchange rate confirms that we have failed the country.

Based on other indices and campaign promises we have failed to keep, I will admit that we have failed Nigerians, just like the PDP failed for the 16 years it was in charge, starting from 1999 to 2015. There is no difference between PDP and APC in terms of failing Nigeria.

Yes, the current administration is still less than one year old, but we may have to wait to see if they can perform magic. My concern is that the same strong forces and elements against the government are all still there. They are the same people that feel that the government belongs to them. They are the same strong and greedy elements that feel that they must always be in the corridors of power.

In terms of the economy, we still have the same cabal controlling and dictating the growth of the economy, otherwise, how can the government allow two persons to be in charge of the production and sale of cement to 300 million people in Nigeria? The monopoly will never give room for competition.

Dangote bought all the cement companies so that nobody will compete with him yet he has never run any company successfully. It is not done anywhere. Today, he is one of Nigeria’s biggest problems if the government really wants to face the fact.

The purpose of establishing Dangote refinery is very simple. They were to take our crude oil, refine the product and then sell the refined products to Nigerians. They are part of the entities fighting the government because this government has exposed them.

Could it be because of the failure of APC that your party did not win the governorship election in your state, Bayelsa last November?

APC did not lose the governorship election in Bayelsa state. Yes, we did not win but we knew the politics involved in it. APC is now in a different era altogether. APC is no more the party we know. The ruling party now has more PDP members than the founding members of the progressive party.

It is even more painful that PDP members are benefitting from the system than the APC members. PDP members have infiltrated the APC 100 per cent. Take Rivers State for example, the APC members who politically fought for the party have now taken the back seat. In fact, they are not even there because nobody is seeing them again.

In Bayelsa, they took PDP man into the State House Abuja and presented him as the candidate to win the governorship election. This is something I warned them when Comrade Oshiomhole refused to support the APC in Bayelsa state.

Remember the election, and how Rotimi Amaechi also worked against Oshiomhole in Edo with the promise that Governor Godwin Obaseki will return to the APC if he wins with the PDP ticket. They made the same mistake in Bayelsa that Diri will join the APC if he wins the election. We are waiting to see.

They also brought back Bauchi governor with the same arrangement that he would join the APC if he won his second tenure.  The situation was even worse in Adamawa, where they worked against the APC and even molested APC members with security agents during the election, including the State party chairman.

They said that the governor will join the APC but what has happened to the arrangement today? That was the same thing they did in Bayelsa state during the election last year. These people are not loyal to the party but loyal to their pockets. Anything goes and that is where we are where we are today.

We are going for the Edo election again. There is already controversy over the choice of anointing of aspirants among the party chieftains. They disappointed somebody like Oshiomhole who wanted to bring a candidate. They caught his wings but he only managed to get a spare tyre position because that is what they believed that he deserved.

All the problems Oshiomhole had as a national chairman was because of President Tinubu. Unfortunately, the set of people who fought him because of Tinubu are the ones dining with Tinubu now. The problem of APC is APC.

I read recently that somebody like Mallam Nasir El-rufai is planning to join the SDP, but all I can say is that I am waiting for the day we will put up his resignation letter to leave the APC. He is among the people that caused problems for the APC and not only APC but also Nigeria.

It is people like him that caused all the problems of insecurity we have in the northern part of the country. I will go after him when he resigns formally from our party and exposes even the role he played during the presidential primary election and why he wants to rock the boat because he was not made the vice president.

I am waiting for the day he will leave the APC. I will remind him a lot of what he did in Kaduna, what he did in the country, what he did in the party and what he did during our party primaries. He thought as the lord, he was on top of his game. He is aggrieved that he could not get the ticket to be the vice president or super Minister. It will even be better for APC if he leaves the party. We will meet him in the field.

Are you claiming that the presidency supported the PDP candidate against the APC candidate during the Bayelsa election?

I said that the presidency was fully in support of the PDP candidate, Diri, during the Bayelsa governorship election. Nyesom Wike was also part of those that supported the presidency against the APC candidate. It is understandable because they have their own differences with Timipre Sylva.

If you can remember, he wanted to contest the president with them. You see, political sins are never forgiven and if they want to come after you, it will be all out.

This Lagos political family don’t forgive, but my problem is why they should consider 99 per cent of other party members when they go against one person they want to crush. Why should they sacrifice the other greater number of the party members? We can’t continue like that? The presidency supported him.

What are your biggest fears concerning the Tinubu-led government?

All I have continued to do is to pray for good health for Mr. President. I believe that the President has good intentions for this country, but they should also allow people to criticise him when he is wrong so that they will do the right thing.

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Nigeria is for everybody. And I believe that is what he stands for. That Nigeria is for everybody, not some people from certain sections of the country that feel everybody must seek their intervention before getting what they want. The one that made me go crazy was this idea of pushing some Southerners to get permission from one Emir or Sultan before they could become something in their states.

That is how the South-south and the entire South have caged themselves in their own state with these northerners. It is even more confusing when we know that they will not be there in Rivers, Bayelsa, Edo and the South East on the day of the election.

Even when we know that the government will not appoint a northerner for a position statutorily meant for somebody from the South-south, the indigenes will still travel to meet the Sultan or Emirs to facilitate the appointment. We failed to ask ourselves how many times a northerner travelled to the south to seek such favour?

What do you think of the threat by the North to vote against Tinubu in the 2027 presidential election based on biased appointments?

You see, that is what I said that some people feel they are more superior to others. We are in this same country where all appointments are concentrated in one place. They did not complain and they are also still benefiting from the current system more than any other part of the country.

Yes, Tinubu is appointing people from the South West and also appointing from the North. How many appointments has he given to people from the South-south apart from the statutory ones? The South-south has not benefited from crucial appointments like the head of NIMASA.

My problem with them is that they are all interested in the Niger Delta Development Commission affairs but what about the North East Development Commission? Nobody from the South is hearing or talking anything about that Commission or arguing with them on who to appoint. They cannot be monopolising affairs in Niger Delta Development Commission when activities in the North East Development Commission are shrouded in secrecy.

As for voting against Tinubu, that was why I said that I am only praying for him to have good health. They should also accept criticism because we want them to succeed. I won’t stop criticising him because I want him to succeed. But, some people should not claim ownership of this country where we all have equal rights.

Based on statistics, we are even more than them. So, why should they feel that they own the country more than others? Why do they feel that they are more qualified than other parts of the country? There is no problem if they don’t want to vote for Tinubu because they are not the only people in the country to vote for Tinubu.

Let them cast their votes and stop threatening other parts of the country. They have failed to understand that we have passed that stage. We, in the South, have made mistakes in the past, but now we are ready to correct those mistakes. We will vote for any southern candidate at the ballot box. It will never happen again.

Can you say that there is peace in APC now?

There can never be peace in APC, judging by the way they run the party. The foundation is faulty. There can never be peace until the day the party will explode. The way they are running the party is wrong. There will not be peace in a party with a chairman nobody voted for.

He didn’t buy any nomination form to contest for the position but was appointed. And because he is appointed by Mr President, he acts as if every other person does not matter.

It is even worse when the chairman sees the position as compensation for not being the vice president. It becomes more painful when he, like his predecessors, enters Aso Villa and imposes decisions on members as what the President said just because others don’t have access to the Villa. So, they adopt name-dropping.

The party exploding is just a matter of time because when was the last time they called for NEC meeting based on constitutional provision? Most of the members of the NWC are just appointed and they don’t know what the party stands for. We lost Bayelsa because the party chairman does not even know what it takes to win an election having lost his election in Kano.

We have seen the crisis in Edo state that led to re-conducting the primary before the candidate could emerge. Ondo state is building up and nobody knows what will be the outcome. The party cannot do the right thing because nobody is checkmating anybody.

They embark on collecting money from the aspirants and it has become a tradition to go for the highest bidder. They will collect from every aspirant. We must understand that party leaders are not employed. They don’t have a job or collect salaries. They pay themselves and they are not accountable to anybody.

They collect all the money from the National Assembly, government appointees that pay straight to them but it is not even enough because of where they are coming from. What do you expect from a former governor who has enjoyed security votes running into billions of naira to do as a national officer of the party?

What will a former governor do with N3 million monthly after enjoying billions of naira every month in his state? They should do it in such a way that whoever wants to serve the party should campaign round the country for peoples’ votes not imposing them on others.

Why has APC changed national chairman more than other parties in the country and what do you suggest as the best way to stop it?

What accounts for the frequency of the changes is that the chairman of a ruling party wields a lot of power. There will always be a lot of competition and because there are power blocks, some people will be ready to fight him once he doesn’t understand the game of using the power at his disposal.

The power blocks will throw everything at the chairmen to ensure that their anointed persons get what they want. Unfortunately, the mistake they keep making is collecting money from the power blocks. If they must collect, let it be from the aspirant they know that they can actually help.

It must not be from all the power blocks because those they collected money from and failed to deliver will definitely come after them. As the national chairman, if you think you have become an octopus to play on the intelligence of powerful forces, they will fight you to submission. The unfortunate thing is that there must always be a constitutional breach that will arm them to fight you.

For example, the current NWC has breached many places in the party’s constitution, especially in the refusal to convene NEC meetings. That was one of Oshomhole’s greatest undoing. They know that they will be interrogated during the NEC meeting and ask the chairman many questions.

They can even audit the party’s account to know what the chairman is doing with the money the party is raking from the National Assembly members, the sale of nomination forms and other sources.

What do you think of the two off-season governorship elections in Edo and Ondo, and how far can your party go?

I don’t see APC winning the two governorship elections. My fear is for Edo because of the disunity in the party. The party must not wait until the primary election before initiating reconciliation. Why can’t they do proper reconciliation before the primaries? They don’t also conduct transparent primary elections so that those who lost will work for the party’s candidate.

We introduced direct primary, but direct primary is a fraud because we are not doing it the way it is supposed to be done. Direct primary is just like option A4 where the electorate will queue behind the aspirants of their choices to be counted openly. By doing so the aspirant who lost will not complain. He or she will see those who collected money from them that voted against them. But they have turned direct primary the other way round.

What is your take on the incident over the killing of the military in the South-south?

The South-south has been very peaceful to the extent that the northerners are worried that they did not join the recent protests against Tinubu. Even when it became a dry land following the movement of international oil company offices out of the Niger Delta to Lagos, the area remained calm, until this recent killing of military men. We don’t want to fight again, we want peace in our region.

Let me say that what happened in the Niger Delta concerning the killing of soldiers was totally wrong and condemnable. Those soldiers are people trained to secure our country. They are trained soldiers. But, till today, nobody has told us what the transactional problem was that resulted in the killing of the soldiers.

Up till now, the Defence House has not told us what the problem was. Why should the hitherto peaceful people of the Niger Delta just wake up one day and kill the soldiers? It is wrong to hide what happened from Nigerians. We know that our soldiers have been killed trying to rescue some kidnapped victims in the northern part of the country. But we don’t know what happened in the recent killing in the Niger Delta.

What I can say is that the governor of the state where the incident happened should be held responsible because he is the chief security officer in the state. The people involved in the killing must be fished out and held responsible.

If former president Buhari stands in front of you, what will you tell him?

I will only laugh and ask him if all that we are reading and hearing in the media is true. If he says that they are true, I will tell him that he is a big disappointment. If those things we are reading like allegations against Godwin Emefiele, the embezzlement of billions by the former accountant general, actually took place under Buhari’s watch, despite his claim of uprightness, moral rectitude and fighting corruption, I will advise that he should be stripped of his military General status.