In this interview conducted with Premium Times two days before his controversial removal as the APC’s acting national secretary, alongside other members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party, Waziri Bulama speaks on a wide range of issues affecting the party to a select group of journalists.
PT: Is there any hope of your party overcoming its current crises?
Bulama: The crisis that we see and hear within the APC causes no existential threat to the survival of the party. The APC at the moment is united and it is working together as a family. The APC in terms of size has 16 million registered members.
We have 14 organs of the party from the polling unit committee to the National Convention. All the 16 million members of the party, those elected and those not elected, stakeholders, all of these, I can tell you authoritatively answer the name APC. Their identity is APC.
Secondly, all these 16 million people, from the ordinary card-carrying members to the highest elected including senators, house of representative members, house of assembly, chairmen and all elected and non-elected members of the party are all 100 per cent united under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari. This is the foundation I want to lay for you to understand whether there is an existential threat, division, threat or crack or breakup. None of such threat exists in our party.
Going forward, I want to also make you understand the context within which we are managing the party. A political party is an association of people, groups and communities who have all come together under this party and in line with the constitution of Nigeria to pursue a common political goal.
The objectives of a political party are many but key among which is that it is the pathway towards getting ticket to contest for elections. But there are other functions of the political party like educating Nigerians on good programmes and policies to choose and elect people to implement in government. There are issues like ideological ones which members have to fashion on how they behave in the party as to people who are like-minded.
There is also provisions to fashion out policies, programmes and so on to capture a manifesto and present to Nigerians is the best way of taking a country forward. There are many other things.
This context is necessary for you to understand the crisis. But going forward, I can go ahead to explain how the party operates and why is this so much negative noise and bickering. But there is no threat of crack or breakup within the APC, we are all united.
PT: But how would you explain all the bickering around party positions and all the crises even when a number of people are laying claim to the leadership of the party? It appears you are living in self-denial.
Bulama: Yes, that can also be understood if I explain the context within which these things are happening and why we are all united and why we are all loyal to the leadership of the party.
This is as a result of many years of dormancy in the administration of the party. The party’s bureaucracy has not been working effectively to respond to the day to day challenges and demands of members.
And then communication among members, coordination among members. Not all these things were happening because largely at the core of the party, the office of the national secretary has largely been dormant; it is not working. The office of the national secretary has been vacant for almost a year and a half.
The national secretary is supposed to run the day-to-day administration of the party, trigger activities in all the 14 organs of the party, communicate and coordinate the party and to also that the machinery and the engine room of the party is working. That office had been dormant hence, there are pent-up expectations that even rose up to the point of frustration.
That is why, for instance, some are agitating and calling for the NEC meeting of the party. The NEC is the policy authority organ of the party. However, everyday policy implementation is in the NWC.
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However, the party has 14 organs from the polling unit committee to the national convention. But, you see, in the last two years all these organs have not been activated. People talk about NEC, what about the Zonal Executive Committee (ZEC), or the State Executive committee (SEC), Local Government Executive committee (LEC) or the Ward Executive Committee which is WEC. All of them have not been meeting, they have not been discussing party issues, they have not been discussing community and national issues, they have not been sending reports to the leadership for evaluation, to influence policies or to assure members and so on.
PT: It is said that the rope tying the party’s symbol of a broom is President Muhammadu Buhari and once his administration ends and he leaves, the broom will scatter. What do you make of this statement?
Bulama: There is no doubt that President Buhari is admired personally and respected by all members of the APC as well as Nigerians who have voted him twice. He enjoys not only the loyalty and support of our members, he is a binding force which I earlier told you is a rallying factor.
Majority of our members adore and respect him. Fundamentally, let me say that all the members of this party and all the people who are following Buhari follow him because of what he symbolises. They follow him because of the values he upholds and what he stands for.
President Muhammadu Buhari is a man who has been known to be a man of integrity. He is a man who believes in the rule of law, transparency and accountability. All his political life, since 2002, has been focused on advocating free and fair elections and the right of Nigerians to choose leaders they want and to ensure that policies that affect them only are implemented in government. He has been pushing for transparency and accountability, which are his focus. Now all our leaders in the party are committed to this cause.
If you remember, this merger as a result of which the APC was born, was formed by radical elements of the Nigerian political elite. The entire political life of the South-west has always been a populist politics. Politics focused on the need to address the need of the majority of the people in education, health and so on. This has been since the days of (Chief Obafemi) Awolowo up until now. They have always hated imposition and political dictatorship. These elements came and met Buhari’s background that is focused on ensuring that the masses vote and their votes count. These radical tendencies with similar commitments brought others to form the APC.
Why I have gone far to explain this is that Buhari as a person is very influential and very strong and clearly, he is the rope that is tying this broom. But the principles, background and the pedigree our leaders brought to this party are what sustain APC and would carry us forward. Even if President Buhari goes, and already he has put one of his legs outside by saying, he is not going to run or influence 2023. So already, President Buhari’s position is clear.
This is what is propelling some segments of the party in struggling to take control of the party because some elements within the Nigerian political elite see the political party as only within the limited scope of a function of a party as a special purpose vehicle for elections; thinking that if they seize control of the party and without Buhari, they can steer the party in one direction or the other. And this, actually and truly is one of the philosophical and political issues and tensions we are facing in the party. There is no doubt about that. But certainly, the party can withstand this.
PT: Are you saying the crisis in the APC is as a result of ambition or from the lack of coordination of the organs? If this is so, what is the way out? The party has a lot of litigations hanging round its neck. How will you address this?
Bulama: There are various people and groups in the party with different needs and aspirations. There are some who want power, there are people who only want empowerment, there are those who want influence, employment, some want respect and acknowledgement. The interests in a party are very diverse and varied.
Before last week or the last couple of days, before I took charge, the heart of the party was not working. It was not servicing the party. But here we are today, we have arrived, taken full control and restored authority, sanity and order in the whole secretariat. I have taken full charge, we have hit the ground running and we are working for 15 hours everyday.
And when I say these pressures, interests and demands within the 16 million registered members cause no threat to the survival of the party, I am talking with authority. I have not seen threat of breakup of this party. But I have seen pressures, tensions to occupy one post or the other especially calls for why is there no NEC, why is there no this and that? …
The court cases are triggered by some of these interests some of which are political, some personal. For instance, political ambition, someone thinks that if he takes over the party, he can use it for this purpose or that. To secure election in the local government, state, or the national level and use it to his own advantage. This can trigger agitation within the party. And this can make people to mobilise, lead to demonstration, they may even go to court or release information to the media direct. All these are interests; some of which are political, economic and even personal are the things that derive agitation and conflict within the party. But the party’s constitution has already provided for conflict resolution.
For me, a party should function like any well-established institution. When you say institution, the police and army are institutions. The federal civil service with head of service is also an institution. The Nigerian government with the SGF is an institution.
An institution is an organisation that has systems that are known, which has process that are known, which has culture that are known, that has members who are known; a place there is no place for self-help, impunity, self and reckless behaviour. We have not taken enough steps to make sure that the political parties are institutions except for about six months ago when President Muhammadu Buhari addressing Oshiomhole and APC governors, as if he knew, said “please go and institutionalise this party” because he wanted this party to become a much institutionalised institution that can stand the test of time.
Even if Buhari is not there, the founding fathers, even if Asiwaju (Bola Tinubu) is not there, even if Baba Akande is not there, even if Owelle (Rochas) Okorocha is not there, 50 and 100 years down the line can survive, party loyalists who are technocrats, bureaucrats, have built this party to the point where its existence can be sustained and carried forward so that their unique contribution to Nigerian development deepening of democracy and also implementing pro-poor, pro-workers, pro-youths, pro-women are sustained.
PT: In the light of your privileged position, is there any basis for setting up a caretaker committee to run the affairs of the APC as some of the party leaders demand?
Bulama: When I was trying to explain the context within which this crisis came about, you know I told you that first, the party is one; united and loyal to the APC and President Muhammadu Buhari.
Number two, the administration of the party, under my leadership has triggered the bureaucracy of the party to life, we are working 15 hours a day is functioning and also servicing 16 million members of the party. Then the organs of the party, the NWC made up of rugged, experienced politicians, is working and functioning. For instance, the greatest challenge against the NWC that they are calling for disbandment was last week Tuesday when the Appeal Court judgement came validating or affirming the suspension of Oshiomhole from his ward, in fact a meeting was conveyed the following day which was a Wednesday, already I had fixed a meeting of the NWC for Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the Appeal Court judgement affirming the suspension of Oshiomhole came. On that Wednesday, 16 members of the NWC which made 80 per cent, turned up in the meeting. The NWC is made up of 21 members and with Adams Oshiomhole out, there remains 20. Out of the 20, 16 turned up for the NWC meeting.
The meeting was supposed to be chaired by Oshiomhole. Now Oshiomhole was not there. We nominated one of us among the 16 members that were present. The National Vice Chairman, South-south, Hilliard Eta, presided over that meeting. The next thing was that I as the national secretary of the party and then secretary of that meeting brought out the agenda and with the chairman of the meeting looked at the agenda, deliberated on it and held a normal meeting.
In the meeting, the issue of Oshiomhole was tabled and we consulted the constitution to know what the provision is when a position became vacant whether it is the national secretary, national auditor or national chairman. The constitution says that the next person in rank should be appointed. In that line, we said who is the next person to Oshiomhole from the South? It was Chief Abiola Ajimobi.
We all deliberated on it and moved a motion, it was seconded, it was voted by the 16 NWC members that Ajimobi be appointed in the interim as the acting National Chairman to manage the party as a result the Appeal Court judgement to which we all said we should comply. That was how we managed the transition last week.
In fact, in that same meeting, we discussed the ongoing processes for the Edo State primaries which also required us (the NWC) setting up a committee for the conduct of the primaries and primaries appeal. Nominations were made and the committee led by Hope Uzodinma with Senator Ajibola Bashir as secretary was formed.
PT: But the NWC was accused of bias?
Bulama: The NWC is painted in this light by certain segments in the party. Whether the interests are political, economic, personal and so on. As I say a political party is composed of people with different aspirations. Some may be grievances over some economic issues. You have to understand the political dynamics within the context of a political party.
A political party is like a marketplace. Sometimes you can see a political party as a gathering in a village square, sometimes you can see a political party as the life of a community but the point is we have rules and regulations that are guiding us. And because we under a democracy, we are in the period of the consolidation of democracy, we must necessarily test everything that we do and subject everything we do to the laws of the Nigerian constitution, the APC constitution, Electoral Act and manifesto.
PT. Let’s talk about Edo. Don’t you see the wrangling in the Edo State governorship election happening in other states? Secondly, how do you see the chances of APC in Edo in the light of what has happened?
Bulama: I have not seen problems in APC but I have seen noise. I have seen a lot of noise from Edo and I have also seen a lot of noise from Ondo. But these are two out of the 20 states under the fold of the party.
And this problem you see in Edo State or Ondo State; certainly even if the chairman of the party is not Adams Oshiomhole, there is internal crisis between (Governor Godwin) Obaseki and other stakeholders in Edo which if not resolved will polarise the party going into the election. Now, Obaseki, thank God, has left the party.
And the party embarked on the processes that led to the emergence of a candidate. I followed every step meticulously to avoid this Bayelsa fiasco or the Zamfara situation or the Rivers’ crises.
We learn from our experience. So we are very meticulous in going through the processes that led to the emergence of candidates in Edo State and we had successfully conducted the primaries.
At the moment, Ondo is another state where our party has pressures and tensions. We have issues of cohesion and understanding among the stakeholders in the party there. As you can see the deputy governor has bolted out of the party and joined another party. Now, there are many people agitating for one thing or the other in the party. You will be hearing a lot of noise from partisan interests and those who want to be governors condemning this and that; they would be saying this and that. But really, this is the issue and this is the state of affairs.
PT: What did you do as a party to ensure you didn’t lose the Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki?
Bulama: As a party, we did everything humanly possible to appeal to the feuding sides in Edo State. Obaseki was on one hand and other stakeholders on the other. Those stakeholders, for instance, the 14 members of the House of Assembly that he decided to lock out because he inaugurated the state House of Assembly with only nine members and for the past one year, he has been running the state house of assembly with the Speaker nominated by only nine members.
There was nothing that was not done by all stakeholders of our party from our top leadership to other stakeholders like the governors, APC Governors’ Forum and the National Assembly to bring these stakeholders together: the governor and 14 hose of assembly members, the governor and five National Assembly members, the governor and House of Reps members led by Hon Ihovbaire, the governor and the senator from Edo North.
Repeatedly, President Buhari talked to Obaseki, he appealed to all the stakeholders, the APC Governors Forum sent a delegation led by Ganduje. The party set up a committee led by the Senate President. Obaseki said he did not want claiming the Senate was biased. They sent another team. Look, all these options and others were explored but unfortunately all these did not work and it led to a point, regrettably, where Obaseki left the party.
But thank God, we are as a party held on to the process and continued with the process for the emergence of a candidate. It is our hope that having successfully concluded the process that led to the emergence of a candidate and flagbearer of the party, we hope that the leadership of the APC would work together as a team and as a family to carry out the campaign in a cohesive and united manner to see the victory of the party in Edo State.
Remember the person that won the primaries, Pastor Ize-Iyamu, in his victory remark after thanking our members, in the first statement he made after, appealed to Governor Obaseki to please come back to the APC. I hope he succeeds and I hope his call to the other members of the party like Pious Odogu and Obaze who also ran with him would yield.
At the level of the party, they are all members of the party and we all respect them. This feud is an internal matter and as God would have it, anything destined to happen, will happen.