Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe is a former Minister of Works and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview monitored on Arise Television, he speaks on the crisis in the APC and chances of the party’s National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, in the 2023 presidential election, among other issues. ANAYO EZUGWU reports
Where do you stand on the leadership crisis rocking the APC; do you think that the party took a good decision in supporting the Governor Mai Mala Buni-led caretaker committee going towards 2023?
We are back to the era 2007 politics; an end to a president’s tenure. It happened then and it was managed properly by one party and mismanaged by another. So, my take is that the position of the Progressive Governors Forum is the best thing to do. They should stabilize and stampede Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to hold its congress first. This is the tactic APC used in 2014. The national convention is one of the critical aspects of party politics in Nigeria. Once you get it wrong at the national convention, the centre will never hold again. So, they should stabilize because there is no need to panic. Let PDP panic and hold their own national convention first and then you now plan on how to manage your own. There is no problem at all. The decision of the Supreme Court is neither here nor there; it is for the party to focus and know what to do. And that is exactly what they are doing.
The position of those, who are opposed to Governor Buni is that if he remains in office as the governors have decided, the party maybe at risk because the legality and constitutionality of his position could be challenged later either by members of the party or the opposition?
I’ve had the opportunity of reading that judgement of the Supreme Court. The first part of it was against Buni but the judges said it is an internal affair of the party and that the party can go ahead and do it. So, why do you want to stampede a political party to do your own bidding? This is strategic because Buni is here for a purpose, which is to stabilize the party and to have consensus candidates from the ward to the national, so that there will be no destruction. Why I link it up with the national convention is that at the national convention, the party can scatter if the leadership is not strong. So, it is somebody like Buni, who can now say let us do consensus. There will be a percentage that would say no but what he is doing is the appropriate thing that would stabilize the party. My take is that he should continue.
Does it worth the risk because there are people who are ready to test the legality of Buni’s continued stay in office in the APC caretaker committee chairman and as a serving governor as well, and are you saying that they do not understand the matter on the ground?
They do but when we get to the bridge, we will cross it. You don’t panic because somebody is saying don’t go ahead with what is right. The majority of APC members are saying that what Buni is doing is the correct thing, while a small minority is saying no. The governors are the soul of the party in the absence of the Board of Trustees (BOT) and they have met and have taken a decision. That is the path to go and they should just go ahead. The court is not meant for one person. If you go to court, the other party will submit its position as well and then you argue. So, going to court should not be a matter of concern because that is the purpose of the court. Present your own case; APC will present its own case.
Some people argue that APC is just pushing the evil day forward and it was evident in the ward congresses. What is your reaction to that?
The ward congresses were properly managed because it was not done independently of the membership of the party. I participated in it; everybody sat down ward by ward with the leadership of the ward and deliberated on who should hold the positions at the ward level. Nobody lost out and everybody went home happy.
There is the belief that APC leaders agreed that the presidency in 2023 should come to the South, and we had the governors of the South, including the PDP governors adopting a resolution that the next president must come from Southern Nigeria. Do you think that it will be in the best interest of APC to adopt a southern candidate, and who will be your favourable candidate?
My prayer is that the presidency should be zoned to the South-West because we have the capacity to manage the economy of Nigeria very properly and there is no other person in the South-West I can support other than Senator Bola Tinubu. I will also add that no matter how much you publicize the names of some people, they must show the willingness to contest because nobody is going to offer them that presidency. It is important to note that power is not offered on a platter. You must come out and tell people that you want to contest, give them your manifesto and travel round Nigeria to make sure that you have the structure. If you don’t have the political structure; whether they publish your name in the newspapers or not doesn’t matter. Politics is an investment; you have to invest your time, you have to invest your money and you have to invest your knowledge before people can listen to you. Credentials do not matter at all in Nigerian politics.
Do you think that Tinubu stands a chance because you said he is your preferred candidate?
We have people who have followed politics in Nigeria for quite a while, which we have learnt from and Tinubu is one of them. Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar is another person. When you want to balance things and say who has the mental capacity to manipulate things in his favour as well as structure and investment, Tinubu is not a small person in that. He knows his onion and he knows what to do and how to get it because he has done it severally. So, if you want to compete with him; please start early because he will out-maneuver you and win.
Given General Ibrahim Babangida’s position that the next president should be in his 60s, do you still consider Tinubu the perfect fit for Nigeria?
If you talk about age, maybe, he was not referring to Tinubu but all the other criteria General Babangida mentioned is so close to Tinubu’s description. Babangida is not saying this thing for the first time. When he was military president; he said that the younger ones should be able to take over and he banned 24 political leaders from participating in the electoral process. At the end of the day, it didn’t work out. You have to be grounded in the politics of Nigeria to survive, it is not about description, you must be knowledgeable and you must know people. Who knows people in Nigeria more than Tinubu? He is grounded and well educated though age is not on his side. But on the balance, I think he fits 80 per cent of Babangida’s description. You cannot restrict age in politics because it is a perception. That is your own view that you wish a younger person but this battle is not about age. The battle for Nigeria’s presidency, my dear, it is not easy at all. Looking at what it takes to be a candidate and win Nigeria’s presidential election, age is irrelevant.
So, it is a battle of money as well as what you have to give out, and what is your take on “Lagos4Lagos” campaign by some members of the APC in Lagos State?
Let me address the ‘Lagos4Lagos.’ I appreciate their passion for Lagos and their strategy to participate and upstage the establishment in Lagos, which is good but believe it or not, it took me 10 years to build a structure. You don’t build a structure on the pages of the newspaper. It is not an easy thing to build a structure even at the local government level; it will take you years to do so. So, they are starting and this is not the end. They can continue but I don’t think they can survive because the majority is on the side of APC leadership in Lagos State. It will be too difficult to upstage them, very difficult if not impossible. On the politics of Nigeria, 33 per cent of the population is unemployed, illiteracy level is between 60 to 70 per cent, the poverty rate is highest in the world with over 100 million. Do you think that democracy and poverty are friends? They are not friends. So, you have to have the money to make sure that you are relevant in the system.
Many Nigerians will agree with you that age should not be an issue but at over 70 years, Tinubu is battling with health issues; do you want another Umaru Yar’Adua and Muhammdu Buhari as president?
Are you saying that if Nigerians add that to the consideration, it should not matter? Well, health challenges are common and normal for persons that are above 70 years. Just let us wish him all the best of luck to survive. That he will not be sick is not part of human being. The life of a human being is susceptible to sickness. So, sickness is not only Tinubu’s matter; it is everybody’s matter. Everybody that is above 70, it is either you are diabetic or hypertensive because you have to manage something. So, sickness has nothing to do with what we are saying. If he survives, he should go ahead but if his family decides that his health is not going to take it, fine. You have made a case for Tinubu but there are others the South-West can present; people like Vice-President Yemi Osibanjo, Governor Kayode Fayemi, Senator Ibikunle Amosun and ex- Governor Babatunde Fashola, among others… If you know the history of politics in Lagos State and Nigeria, you will agree with me that all of them are members of the same family. The father of that family is Tinubu and whatever he says, all of them will accept. There is no doubt about that at all. I know what I’m talking about. Who can face him one-on-one among those you have mentioned. He made them and he will tell them how he has been able to raise them and they will sit down and listen to him.