Senator Ayo Arise, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and governorship aspirant in Ekiti State in 2018, speaks exclusively with Senior Deputy Editor, TAIWO AMODU, on the chances of his party in the South-West ahead of the general election. Excerpts:
There is the perception that the goodwill President [Muhammadu] Buhari latched on to earn the victory in the 2015 elections has been depleted in the last three years. What is your take?
I would say that it isn’t so much of a surprise, if the atmosphere appears that he doesn’t have 100 per cent of the people that were supporting him in 2015 at the present time.
So many reasons can be responsible for that. One of his major focuses is to fight corruption and there is nobody who can successfully fight corruption without making enemies for himself. Otherwise, you aren’t fighting corruption. His major focus has been the people at the grassroots. The elite, the rich people, those who have amassed wealth, have their own influence as well, because they have so much money that they can throw around to ensure that they whip up sentiments against the incumbent president. It isn’t totally strange. You would see that in every society, when you take on the corrupt people, you know that you are taking on very powerful people. The moment many of them start realising that the pipe of free money is drying up, a lot of noise begins.
They say the president isn’t doing enough, yet, it is the responsibility of the ruling party to go out and showcase his achievements and ensure that the voices of those who are against the serious fight against corruption don’t override the voices of those who are in support.
The government has, so far, been judged based on the agenda it set for itself: fight against corruption and insurgency as well as diversification of the economy. Even the fight against corruption has been described as selective, given the kid-glove with which the Senator Musiliu Obanikoro issue was handled by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), while the insurgency is still very much with us. What does this mean to you?
Well, I don’t think there is selective fight against corruption. Let us look at Obanikoro example you gave. In every nation of the world, when you wage war against drug lords or corrupt people, you find out that there might be times to be able to successfully prosecute and you would require the assistance of somebody who might have a case of being a conduit for the gang; he becomes a government witness. And as a government witness, it is a trade-off: the government would say ‘for you to witness for us, these are the things we would do for you.’
That isn’t strange anywhere, even in the most sophisticated democracies of the world. Once they make a person turn state witness, the whole scenario changes. If you were supposed to be sent to 10 years in jail, they could give you one year. They negotiate. I think that’s the kind of arrangement in the Obanikoro case. Everything isn’t 100 per cent perfect. But people have gone to jail; people have lost even at the Court of Appeal.
The opposition always argues that those convicted were those the EFCC arraigned under the last administration, that the APC-led administration, despite its claim of fighting corruption, has failed in securing judgments. Doesn’t this seem to be so?
Now, let me put it this way. When you talk about cases initiated by previous government, there were cases initiated by the Obasanjo-led government that others inherited. So, government is a continuum. The question is, if a person commits this crime, is there the will power by this government to fight the crime or corruption? The answer is yes for Buhari.
So, nobody is running to him! These guys have been sentenced. We have been in this country for so long. It was only when this same Buhari came in as military head of state that they jailed some people that they assumed were corrupt; though there were questions on the process, you can still give it to him that he has the will power to ensure that we move forward. If we aren’t rescued from corruption, it is certain that this nation will go under!
Look at the roads that this government is tarring, and the rail lines; some said they were started by Jonathan. Where is this coming from? We have had rail lines from the colonial days. In what state are they now? Did the past administration build upon it?
So, whatever Jonathan put there, the present government took it over and built upon it for the benefit of our people. Whatever the former administration left, this [one] has continued to improve on it and make tremendous progress.
So, for me, yes, things are hard because, one, the money that this government is now voting into the economy is actually reaching the have-nots, the hopeless, the poorest of the poor. We have Trader moni. We have feeding programmes; everything targeted towards improving the lot of those suffering in the society.
Now, we are all used to flying first-class and private jets everywhere. Those who can’t fly first class anymore and have been downgraded to business-class would blame it on Buhari. It isn’t that the economy is so bad, but the free economy is suddenly no longer free as it used to be. You must work for your own money. However, there are some challenges on the budget, because at a point our foreign reserve went up. But I think now, the price of crude oil has dropped. So, we expect a low benchmark for the 2019 budget. This can’t be blamed on government policies. This government is ready to actually put money in Sovereign Wealth.
You said the fluctuating price of crude can’t be blamed on government?
Is there a concrete step to diversify the economy so that we can move from our mono-cultural status?
Yes, of course. If people can’t see that, it is because there isn’t enough publicity of so many of these programmes. The other day, I saw the minister of agriculture and I told him that I had some hectares of land in one of the satellite towns of Abuja. He told me the government had so many initiatives; that it was giving money to people who had land to for food crops and livestock for export. He said there was money given to people to grow cassava, rice, corn and millet, depending on the size of land you had and that government was giving money to rural people to begin farming. They are trying to help a lot of those who are into mechanised farming.
So, opportunities are there. Doors are open for people who want to work now. But let me tell you, it isn’t overnight that politics became the only thing in town. All of a sudden, people became local government chairmen and buy big houses, cars and everything within the rural setting. Even the Okada job some were doing was no longer attractive; everybody now wants to be in politics to be able to lay hands on public funds.
Reversing all these will take determination and time. It isn’t what the government or party can do in four years. These are the rot that we have inherited over a long period. We know a number of mismanagement of our resources occurred under the previous government, but why are we in a hurry? Under previous administrations, there was no addition to our generation capacity; no addition to the transmission capacity so that we can have electricity. These are things that we should have been building upon since we attained independence.
To reverse the trend, somebody must have the courage to do it so that we can begin to put this nation on the right path. The way I look at it, there is nobody that can come into government anywhere in the world without his shortcomings, but there is concrete evidence that this government is moving us in the right direction. This nation is going through a rebirth.
It appears the APC is going into this election, a divided house. The aggrieved governors haven’t been placated. What is the way forward?
Yes. But as I said, there is no party that is immune to dissatisfaction. I was reading in the dailies that many of the PDP governors from the East didn’t attend Atiku Abubakar’s turbaning, saying they weren’t informed about it. The way I look at it, many of them who could have wished that they were picked are fuelling this crisis.
So, it isn’t unique to APC. The problem is that some people feel that their candidates weren’t made the party’s candidates and they aren’t happy. But I keep on telling them that nobody can have everything in life that he wants. If the reverse were to be the case, then, it isn’t going to be one person that would be governor; we could have had many people as governors. We should sit down occasionally and thank God for what He has done for us.
When you look at it critically, some things would work for some people, while some wouldn’t. I believe the APC family will work together to ensure that APC wins the coming election.
President Buhari recently overruled the APC National Working Committee (NWC) which advised aggrieved members that filed suits against the party to withdraw them. Was it proper for Buhari to have done that? What is the place of party supremacy in all this?
Well, the head of the ruling party is actually the president. The president might have done that to protect the rights of members of the party, or the statement of the chairman of the party was misconstrued. The constitution of the party actually frowns on litigations and we believe that as a family, we should be able to resolve our differences and this allows the party to actually expel whoever goes against what the constitution of the party says.
But when you look at the position of the president, he is looking at the fact that there should be freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So, if he is looking at it from that perspective, he is correct. If he is looking at it from the party perspective, the chairman of the party is correct. The two positions are correct, but you know the one that is superior in matters like this is the one canvassed by the head of the party; that’s the president of the country.
Yes, even in the United States! The head of the Republican Party is Trump. Can you even remember the name of the chairman of the Republican Party? When the Democrats were there, the head was actually the president. That’s the way the presidential system operates and we should always understand that.
When a president makes a statement, it doesn’t really mean that he is overruling the party, because he relies on his advisers and the information given to him. Maybe one of those people went to whisper to him and he knows that the Nigerian Constitution allows you to seek redress in court. If he hears that, that is what he would respond to.
Maybe the chairman of the party went to whisper to him, “If these crises continue, it can destroy what we are trying to do.”
The greatest threat to any party is those people who are inside working to undermine it. Some of us who are at the grassroots understand this.
There is a power tussle in the South-West ahead of 2019 general election. The Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere has endorsed Atiku Abubakar, the PDP candidate, while Bola Tinubu is leading the pro-Buhari camp. What is the choice before the zone?
You see, the Afenifere is a socio-cultural group, not a political party. The people there are our fathers. We listen to them on issues that affect Yoruba as an entity. There is no way Afenifere can ask the Yoruba people to go and vote for anybody, outside Buhari when our son is the vice-president.
But they are already saying it. Aren’t you aware of their disaffection for Buhari?
We won’t listen to them! That’s the truth. Why would they be saying it; that we should go and vote for Atiku so that Peter Obi will now become vice-president of Nigeria? Then, what will now happen to the Yoruba?
The argument, according to them, is that Professor Osinbajo as vice-president is tokenism. What they see as more fundamental to the South-West is restructuring, devolution of power, which Atiku is willing to address. They are saying Buhari has been averse to true federalism and its proponents in the last three years. Are they wrong?
Now, we are both Yoruba. Do you really believe we can achieve restructuring without going through the amendment of the constitution? That’s the question we should think about, because I was in the National Assembly. At the end of the day, the best thing that we will get is to get the National Assembly to continue to address the issue of true federalism which has been pushed to the front burner in this country, because, right now, Nigeria is preparing for free and fair elections and there are things you cannot force on the polity; it must be gradual.
You hear more noise about community police now. They are avoiding the state police. Let us even have the local police. Later, we would get the state police. This is federalism and we aren’t practising it yet. Once we begin to put all those things in place, gradually, we would realise that we would achieve all those things we are planning on achieving.