The Director-General of the Progressives Governors Forum, Dr. Salihu Lukeman, tells JOHN ALECHENU about the crisis rocking the All Progressives Congress, Nigeria’s leadership question and the 2023 elections, among other national issues
Would you say the crisis that led to the dissolution of the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee was an existential threat to the All Progressives Congress?
To the extent that we were having difficulty in getting the critical organs of the party to meet; that could have led to existential problems. If you look at the nature of the crisis, it was a leadership conflict. Certainly, it would have led to breakaways with a section of the party moving out. It is really a reflection of what I call the intolerance of our leaders. As you could have seen, a meeting of less than two hours provided the solution that was needed.
What was the magic?
An atmosphere was created to speak to the issues, and once meetings could not hold, the existence of the party was under threat; it was an existential problem.
A combination of factors must have led to the situation which the party found itself before the President, Major Gen Muhammadu Buhari(retd.), intervened. Where do you think the roof started leaking?
The truth is that the roof started leaking way back during the party primaries that produced candidates for the 2019 general elections. This was due to the inability of the party leadership to call for a meeting to review the problems and begin to find a solutions to them. I think things got so bad when the mentality of the 2019 elections appeared to have taken over the driving seat in terms of the management of the problem leading to the Edo State governorship primary; and unfortunately, the main person who could have provided leadership became a major disputant. Unfortunately, he was our National Chairman. Again, I will play back the resolution of this problem; the President was able to find a solution because he didn’t take sides with anybody in the conflict. So, the reality of political crisis is that if anybody is to find a solution to it, the person must not take sides. Once a leader takes sides, he becomes a part of the problem and I think in some ways, the APC is blessed to have someone like the President, who was able to insulate himself and took a decision. People may grumble about his approach but in the end, people cannot rebel against whatever he said was the solution.
Do you see our faulty leadership recruitment process as a nation as a problem we can quickly find a solution to?
No, you can’t deal with it in the immediate because it has grown to become a culture. So, it’s something that has to be worked upon over time and consistently. There has to be a commitment on the part of some people to constantly work on it. And I think the opportunity we have in the APC is to start that process of working on it. This is the first time it is happening in the political history of Nigeria, there has never been any time when we woke up and a whole leadership of a political party was dissolved. This presents a fresh opportunity for us to begin to do that. Maybe we need to broaden the qualifications on who become our party leaders. I am an advocate of the need to benchmark political party leadership with public service condition of service. A member of the NWC is as good as a minister. Therefore, our party needs to begin to put in place this screening process on the basis of the fact that people who will emerge as members of our NWC should be as experienced and as good as ministers. A situation whereby you have people who just follow whatever somebody they regard as their main person is doing without questioning it ought not to be.
In the light of what you’ve just said, what are the qualities you expect of the next national chairman of your party?
Let me make the point that I am one of those who believe that Comrade Adams Oshiomhole is one of the most qualified persons to lead this party and I have my reason. Even when I started criticising him, I raised the point that there was the need to appeal to him to apply his negotiation skills, politics is about negotiation. I have worked with him in the past and I know how excellent he can be in managing very difficult dispute situations. Unfortunately, this was a dispute situation and he became too involved. He became a disputant; the reality is that I am not sure I have seen him in that kind of situation in the past. I still believe he is one of those who really qualify to address the problem but unfortunately, he allowed himself to be sucked into the dispute to the extent that he became a disputant.
What lessons would you say have been learnt from this situation?
I think what the experience has thrown up is that you need someone who can really step back and relate to everybody in the party. Even when a leader is angry, his first disposition is not to fight. I think that is where comrade Adams missed it. I have heard him over and over again. When a conflict becomes based on narrow, self-interest, it’s entirely different from a conflict which is for public good. All the struggles he may have led in the past were for public good. Now, this particular one on Edo is basically a conflict based on his narrow interest. In order to maintain grip on what is going on in Edo, he lost it completely. Instead of providing leadership for the party at the national level, he was more concentrated on reducing everything in the party to the narrow happenings in Edo. We do need a leader that is dispassionate in terms of conflictual issues; a leader who should be able to relate excellently with everyone without having to run roughshod just to make a point.
Some people have said that the recent sack of the party leadership was targeted at decimating the influence of the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, who is being speculated to be nursing a presidential ambition. Can you share your perspective on this debate?
I think it’s really quite unfortunate because many of us hold Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in very high esteem. I have argued that if there is anybody who is at the forefront in terms of succession for 2023, he certainly is ahead of everybody. But the main issue is basically that I think we should avoid a situation where we set up our leaders in a way that brings them into some form of conflict with public sentiments. Many of us were not happy with what was going on in the party. I don’t think our leader took sides, he didn’t take sides but what those analysts attempt to do is to imagine other people have developed an ambition for 2023; and that is why they are against him. I take those people who make such analysis back to 2015. President Buhari, by every means in 2014 would have been equated as the undisputed candidate of the APC. Nobody should have come out to contest against him, but how many people came out? Four other people came out and one withdrew. President Buhari never attempted to kick those people out or mobilise sentiments against those people. Instead, he encouraged them, I remember at the venue of the convention when President Buhari made the point that he didn’t have money to give delegates; yet, he got the votes. I really get worried when those people make such arguments by creating a circumstance that may work against leaders. Let’s not forget where we are coming from democratically as a nation. We are coming from the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo days of the Peoples Democratic Party. Obasanjo ran politics like a garrison command. Nobody could disagree with him and be spared. Interestingly, here we are with President Buhari who people say is a dictator, but he appears to be more amenable to allow people to express themselves. There is a liberal atmosphere; that is why even the crisis in his party could reach this point. Could this have been possible under Obasanjo? He would have muscled people out of the party. We must never encourage a situation where people set up our leaders to take them back to Obasanjo’s model of leadership. We must aspire to build on what President Buhari has started. He is certainly not perfect but I think in terms of liberal disposition, he has created a situation where members of the party can disagree with the party at all levels. We had a situation in the party where meetings were not being held. At one time when one who was called the chairman didn’t allow anyone to talk. On the one hand you have President Buhari who is willing to allow people to express themselves and on the other hand you had a national chairman who didn’t allow people to do so. On whoever is going to succeed Buhari, we must not prevent contests. Supporters of anybody in our party should not present a situation where leadership becomes a divine right of one person.
Some have called for your sacking at some point; they argued that you were doing the bidding of governors opposed to Oshiomhole. How would you react to this?
Interestingly, the same media who said I was being sponsored by these set of governors said members of the section that was sponsoring me were in the minority. My simple response is that people who have responsibility should try and be very honest. My disposition both as a politician and the DG of the PGF and in any capacity I find myself is that first and foremost, I believe that our leaders need help. There are problems facing them which they are required to provide solutions and as individuals, they can’t provide these solutions; we need to rally round them. I believe when you do things honestly, our leaders can see through even when there are insinuations. In fact, some sections including the former national chairman said they saw me going to some governors’ houses to collect Ghana must go, even though he knew me. He knew how selfless I was as a young person in the 1990s when we worked together. If I had attempted to take a brief from any governor, by now I would have been in trouble. The fact that the governors saw that I was doing it sincerely even when they disagreed made them to respect what I was doing. We should engage the issues instead of talking about personalities.