Chief Olusegun Osoba is a former governor of Ogun State and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview monitored on Arise Television, he speaks on the zoning arrangement of the party, the 2023 presidency, restructuring and Bola Tinubu’s presidential ambition in 2023. ANAYO EZUGWU reports
The politics of 2023 has already started understandably and there are persons who are saying that the presidency should go to the South-East to ensure justice and equity. But there are also persons in the South-West who are saying the zone can also make a bid for the presidency. However, there are critics saying that there should be nothing like rotation because rotation or zoning is not in the 1999 Constitution. Where do you stand in all of these; what is your position; should the South-West that has been president for eight years and also vice-president be talking about the presidency in 2023?
Why not! My honest opinion is this; I was the chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee of the All Progressives Congress (APC). We of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), we were the dominant group from the South and the South-West is the home and root of progressive politicking. Part of the conventional understanding was that the presidency would move between the North and South.
I don’t want to use the word zoning because we definitely did not put zoning in our constitution because we know it is going to be conflict with the Nigerian Constitution which says that anybody who is a Nigerian, who has read up to West African School Certificate, can contest and at the age of 35 I think for the presidency of the country.
But there was a clear gentlemanly agreement that the northern part of the country should produce the president when we did the merger in 2013 and the chairman of the party would then come from the South. We have had a president for six and half years now from the North in APC. The president will be there for eight years until 2023.
The chairmanship has moved from Chief Bisi Akande from the South-West to John Oyegun from the South-South to Adams Oshiomhole also from South- South. Of course, at the end of the tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari, the gentlemanly arrangement is that the presidency should come to the South.
I talk of the South in terms of the territories that were forced to amalgamate in 1914, which means the South-South, South- East and the South-West zones. They should be allowed to produce the next president for this country.
Therefore, those from the South-East, South-South and South-West can put up candidates for the party’s primary and whoever emerges from the primary can then be the candidate of our party. That is the gentlemanly understanding that we reached when we were doing the merger arrangement.
So zoning is not part of your constitution but restructuring is something that your party touted about. You alongside other APC chieftains have identified the need to restructure the governance style to address not just the problem of insecurity but that of the unity of the country. What exactly do the APC and the president have against restructuring; why haven’t we seen it?
I want to be very honest to you. I’m one of those who were given the mandate by the ACN then because the ACN was a very crucial party and very crucial part of the merger because we were the strongest in the South. We had all the governors in the South-West. We produced the highest number of governors at the point merger among all the parties that were involved in the merger.
The Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the ACN were the major players. The All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) did not participate but the then governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, participated as an individual because APGA as a party did not participate. He was a governor under the umbrella of APGA but he represented the South-East so to say.
We of the ACN went into the merger because we had all the time, when we were in Alliance for Democracy (AD) as governors, fought for the restructuring of Nigeria and we were always in court with the then President Olusegun Obasanjo on fiscal federalism.
We went to court to make sure that all revenue go into the federation account from where it would be distributed according to the formula stated in the constitution. President Obasanjo went in breach of that provision. He was just spending the money as he liked. He even went as far as tampering with local government funds by using it to buy vehicles for police. We warned and warned, but when he didn’t listen, we went to court and won the case.
Secondly, he started tampering with the local government system. He kept encouraging the local government chairmen to form what we call Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) and we told him pointedly that he had no right whatsoever to interfere with the affairs of local government in our states. We then of the AD were very strong on those issues and he didn’t listen.
He encouraged them to be forming a federation of local governments and we said local government is purely the affairs of the state. When he didn’t listen to us, we went to court.
In actual fact, he brought a memo to the Council of States on local government reform and we threw it out on the ground that we were in court. The following week, we won the case again that the affairs of the local government should be within the federating states. I’m just giving examples of some of the reform that we took and how we fought President Obasanjo on many issues.
So, we have been carrying this philosophy. At a point, he seized the funds of the local governments in Lagos State because Lagos State created Local Council Development Areas. I did the same thing. I created Local Council Development System in Ogun State and took the creation up to the National Assembly.
All these we were doing to test and ensure that we have a true federalism and I’m sure because of all these actions, we didn’t allow President Obasanjo to turn the centre into a more powerful non-federal system that made him at that point to rig the election in all the South-West states and ensured that those of us who are strong and vociferous at the Council of States do not return as governors. I had no regrets. I have my peace of mind, I offer to serve and if people in Nigeria agreed to let Obasanjo rig the election I return home. These are the things we were fighting for then as AD.
It was this philosophy that we carried on into the merger. Part of the agreements were provisions in our constitution that would serve as checks and balances; we insisted on true federalism and restructuring of the country and insisted that it must be part of the promises we made to Nigerians because those of us in the South-West are the leaders on the issues of restructuring and it was embedded in the APC manifesto.
If you Google the manifesto of APC today, you will see the promise we made to Nigerians in that manifesto. I strongly advocated for true federalism and restructuring, which was accepted and put in our constitution.
So, we fought for it but after we won the election, it took some time before we were able to get to the point of addressing the issue of restructuring. It was Oyegun as chairman that set up a powerful committee under the chairmanship of the governor of Kaduna State,
Malam Nasir el-Rufai and now minister of interior, then Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State, a very strong advocate of restructuring and a genuine son of Yoruba was a member of that committee.
The committee did a very exhaustive scientific analysis. They tested opinions in all the zones and an exhaustive report was written on restructuring of Nigeria.
They accepted state police, resource control and control of local governments by the federating states as well as cancelation of 774 local governments that was put in the constitution, among others. The report was presented
to our National Working Committee, where it was fully debated and agreed on. It was brought to us at national caucus. National caucus is a group of past administrators, past presidents, past vice-presidents, past Senate presidents, past governors and past speakers. We debated it and adjusted it, and the following day, it was taking to the National Executive Council, which is the final body and it was adopted.
What was left then was to send the report to the National Assembly for debate and for them to ensure that a lot of the provisions are agreed on.
To my shock, some people sat on that report, which in actual fact, has gone through all the organs of the party and in attendance were all our governors and the president himself at all levels. I am surprised that some people could sit on a policy already agreed on by all organs of the party.
So, that was the state which we are in and I have access and I don’t want to talk too much on efforts that those of us in the South-West are making and are still making to ensure that we seriously address this issue.
What is your comment on the insecurity in the country and the formation a security outfit, Amotekun, in the south western states?
I can tell you that the totality of the Yoruba people is in support of Amotekun. And of course Amotekun is very crucial and important to our system. People misunderstand the philosophy behind Amotekun, Amotekun is first of all to operate as an intelligent gathering wing of our security because policing and security should be localized. We used to have both native authority and local government police even in the colonial days.
The colonialists operated through the age long system we had in the South-West. They are the ones who know the terrain and their areas. We need to go to that level of localize intelligent gathering.
Those who are critical of Amotekun are saying that Amotekun has not been effective; they are not right because Amotekun is a new outfit and it will take time before Amotekun will settle and for the system to work efficiently.
So, I’m happy about it and I have no regret in supporting Amotekun and in supporting our governors who had the courage because we are not fighting anybody.
Some people are criticizing why the South-West should have Amotekun; how can you say that it is an offence for me to put CCTV in my house; that it is an offence to put electrical wire around my fence. How does that affect you in your zone? If I want Amotekun for the South- West so be it because it is for my safety and protection.
You said ACN was the most dominant group from the South in the emergency of APC; is the ACN caucus still that strong within APC? We heard that Chief Bisi Akande visited the president to remind him of the agreement that was reached while APC was being put together and then subsequently former governor Babtunde Fashola also came forward to say that the APC should not violate the agreement that was reached in 2013 and 2014. What will happen if the North decides to disappoint the ACN caucus within APC?
You are asking a hypothetical question. Of course, former Governor Fashola is right because he was a very strong member among the then governors who worked very hard. I think he was the first to host the governors from ACN, Okorocha from APGA and those of the ANPP and CPC.
He played a leading role; I remember when it got to the point of not agreeing to the name or something crucial, Fashola came in to address us and his visit to the merger committee created a window where we then agreed on a major issue that was in contention.
Fashola is strong and a very knowledgeable member of the merger group and when he speaks, he speaks authoritatively and I support him fully. We may not be happy but we are doing our best to still make our voice to be heard within the party.
You said the ACN caucus may not be happy, what is it that makes the caucus unhappy within the APC and I raised a question earlier on what will happen if the North disappoints the ACN caucus?
Take for example; I as the chairman of the constitution drafting committee knows that part of the problems of the APC is that we abandoned the constitution that we drafted. We have not implement most of the provisions of the constitution and that is a major issue for us. I will be honest with you; when we were debating the constitution; we debated any of the powerful forces within the merger then.
Some people where afraid that President Buhari has a strong followership in the North that is committed to him and that he may become too powerful to handle. Some people felt Ali Modu Sheriff could be the problem. We debated it. Some people felt that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu in the South-West may become a problem.
We debated all the contending forces and that was how we came to say that we do not want to produce an Obasanjo, who became so powerful in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that he was removing chairmen every other year at his will and became the perpetual chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees.
That was why we came to the conclusion for us rotate the chairmanship among the six geopolitical zones for the Broad of Trustees. We have a large Board of Trustees and that the board of Trustee is to break into committees to intervene in areas of problems and troubles all over the country. Till today that Board of Trustee has never been constituted.
Of course the ACN wing in the party is not happy about that. I’m just giving an example because that is part of the structure to create a strong party, so that we will have checks and balances. If we have started rotating the chairmanship from 2013, we would have had about four or five chairmen of the Board of Trustees.
We said then that from where we produced the president and the vice-president would not be the first to start the rotation. So, there are so many parts of the constitution which we put in to create a strong party. This is part of the things I said is frustration for some of us in ACN.
As for disappointment, in politics, when we went into a voluntary association for example, if I marry you, marriage is a voluntary thing of two parties, if the marriage does not work well whatever happens at that time, when we get to that bridge we will cross it.
As far as I’m concerned, the next president should come from the south and I’m being democratic I do not see anything wrong in anybody from southern part of this country to join in going to the primary and let us have a very open primary because in our constitution, we said there should be direct primary in which all members throughout the country will participate.
In 2018, President Buhari submitted himself to a direct primary and every member had a voice and I don’t know why as of today, we cannot do electronic membership drive. I keep saying if Nigerian banks are so advanced that they can give you alert when any kobo is taken from your account, we can see now that those fraudulent activities have reduced drastically in the bank. If the banks can operate internet banking successfully, I don’t see why any party should not do electronic membership review, so that people can have access to their membership.
The condition is that forpeople to qualify, they should be registered members in particular ward, local government and from there you can check. These are part of the things that we in ACN are clamouring for, which I can say in particular I’m not happy about.
As the chairman of the committee that drafted the constitution, we spent our money; we spent days and months to draft that constitution. We were not sponsored by anybody, we laboured. If only we follow our constitution there would have been fewer problems within the party.
Are you willing to jettison the agreement to rotate power for a president from the South-East to emerge? Secondly, speculation has been wavering around the ambition of a former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, as the potential presidential candidate for your party come 2023. Is that also an agreement within the ACN caucus?
First of all, nobody from the South-East has contacted me as a reasonable elder in the party to lobby or even to say that they are interested. I recall that I was very strong in the campaign of MKO Abiola in 1992. We went round the whole of the East. He and I went to see Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in his house, C.C Onoh, Sam Mbakwe; we went round the whole of the East to lobby them that we are interested.
I asked one of my close friends from the South-East, who is in government as a minister in President Buhari’s cabinet that there is so much cry from the East, who have you contacted or lobbied? As far as I’m concerned, nobody has categorically told me about the Igbo presidency, I read about it in the newspapers.
Secondly, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as an individual has a right to put himself forward. We have not zeroed in on an individual, so it is Tinubu’s right to put himself forward. My attitude to this is that we in the South-West should first of all unite because there are too many groups in the zone. We need to come together to speak with one voice.
When it comes to getting the presidency let all of us first fight and ensure that the South-West become a force in getting the president. We are not going to zero in on any individual now.