Abdulaziz Yari, a two-term governor of Zamfara State is one of the aspirants gunning for the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Chairmanship position. In this interview with JOHNCHUKS ONUANYIM, he speaks of his ambition, crisis in his party, the tenure of the Caretaker Committee and other issues
What are your thoughts on the Supreme Court judgement on Ondo governorship election and the alleged implications for the party?
Well, thank you very much for finding time for this interview. My take on this issue is the fallout from what happened in the Supreme Court in the case of Ondo, where the Supreme Court made pronouncement on the issue of governorship petition before them. Before the Supreme Court came out with this position, we were not in the known that there were issues like that.
We thought that we were doing the right thing. Now, we have given support to what has happened. We did not expect any backlash to some extent that our Caretaker would be in this kind of situation.
So, my take is that we should allow the experts, who know the constitution very well to discuss on this issue for the purpose of strengthening our party. The decision of the Supreme Court is going to mar our process, more especially the congresses and convention.
So, we have to take that decision. It is not about one person here giving his opinion and another person there giving his opinion. No! We have to come together as a party collectively and sit down and look at the issues critically.
We can call emergency NEC or emergency stakeholders meeting, so that we can discuss this issue.
This has to be former Governors, the governors, members of the National Assembly and the President and some of our Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) who know the constitution very well, to look at it very well and know if we are on the right part or otherwise.
What is happening today, we must accept it that we are in dilemma. Some persons are saying what we did was going to be annulled by court, some other persons are saying no, it is not so. So, let us come together and have a harmonized position on this matter.
The Caretaker Committee was brought in to spend six months. Today, they are going to one and half years. Are you worried about this?
Yes, every party member must be worried. I told them, look, I am one of the 11 governors who were given the privilege to form APC. So, if something is happening in APC, I must be concerned. Just look at it.
The earlier agreement was six and another addition of six was given and now they are still there. We should do something right that people shouldn’t start to ask questions about what is going on. Baba Bisi Akande was the first interim National Chairman.
When we shifted our National Convention the first time, the second time, he objected to it and said if we do it, he would resign as interim national chairman. He said to us, ‘before you became governor, I had been governor.
So, you go and prepare for National Convention and allow this party to continue. If you shift this Convention again, I will go away.’
He was Chairman and the party had hope of taking over government but he didn’t start thinking that okay, this adjustment of shifting the Convention was okay, so that if we put government in place he would be the chairman of the party.
No, he didn’t think that way. He said you brought me in as Interim National Chairman and we all agreed that we were going to have Convention at one time, you shifted it. If you do it the second time, I will back out.
So, I think the Caretaker Committee should respect the honour given to them by the party and go on agreement. They were given six months and I think that six months was enough for them to go.
The party is for everybody and it is not for any individual. What a leader should have at the back of his mind is his tomorrow.
Some people would say it is 2023 that is playing out. Do you accept that fact?
Yes, that is what every Nigerian is saying, including me. That is what many people in the party are saying that 2023 is being played on this thing.
And it should not be so. I began to suspect that because there is no reason why we cannot have a party with the governors, with the whole structures and we cannot sit down and sort out issues.
Many people and as I am talking to you, I can sit down and talk to Mai Mala Buni that this is what people are saying about you. Do you know what people are saying about you?
Now, I can see that your party, the APC is still on this old order of ACN, ANPP and CPC. Don’t you think it is high time you people stopped this because it is bringing problems into the party?
Let me tell you the truth, they are still meeting. ACN is doing its own. I believe CPC has done one or two and l believe ANPP is planning to do another meeting. What does that mean? If there is confidence in the party, these things are not supposed to be there.
There are meetings already taking place. Somebody contacted me as an ANPP that we should have our meeting in one governor’s house and that they have done that of CPC somewhere. ACN has done their own somewhere.
So, you can see that there are issues but if there is a competence in this leadership, there would be no need for all these kinds of clamouring or calling for one meeting or the other. So, these are some of those things and you should also know that at the same time, we are just eight years.
We are not yet 10 years as a party that came together in a merger. So, that is the misunderstanding here, left, right and centre but the issue is, if there is competence in the leadership, there would be no need for all these.
You just spoke about 2023 and I would like to ask where do you think the presidential ticket of the APC should go? Some of you colleagues from the North are saying that there was no agreement on rotational Presidency, while some are saying that there is an agreement. For you, what is your take?
You see, I do skip this question because sometimes because of my ambition. Of course, If i want to be National Chairman, under normal circumstance, I am from the North.
Automatically, the President should come from somewhere else. Sincerely speaking, I don’t do justice to the question and I do skip it because I don’t want to be seen as someone whose personal interest supersedes other interests.
My take is for APC to get the centre in the next election and how we are going to do it, is to sit down and do the arithmetic and bring it to pass but if there was agreement done by the leaders, which we at the second layer of the party didn’t know, I advise that that agreement should be honoured. If any, I don’t know.
There was a layer. There was discussion at two levels. Even being a governor, I was not in the discussion of zoning or rotation but there were some certain things that happened because you as a governor, you have a father.
There was no President then but as governors, we gave some persons respect to go and discuss and tell us what we were going to do and then we will go and implement them.
When they put the committee of Tomi Ikimi to lead the merger and then come out with the name, come out with motto, come out with flag, come out with the logo, the Committee was about 80 people and somebody among the elders advised us that you governors are the critical stakeholders of this matter.
So, you should go and put up these things. He said it was so we can come up with the name, proposal and give to the committee for them to accept what we came up with because from what they were seeing, they were Committee of over 80 people and as at that time, everybody was in the fear that PDP should not use their might may be, to get some people inside to stalk ing or what we were trying to do.
So, we went as 11 governors and came up with a proposal and gave them. We didn’t say we did it but we came with a proposal and they accepted the proposal and part of the proposal, we gave the name APC. The report is there. After accepting this, they also gave us another task.
We should go and come up with how the logo was going to look like, how the flag would be and we did that in Lagos House, with Fashola as the Lagos State governor. So, the issue is that if there was anything on the top level, which didn’t come to the second level, it ought to be respected.
Why do you want to be the national chairman of your party and who do you think is a challenge to your ambition?
I have no challenge because I know I have something to offer as far as the party is concerned. One, I am from the grassroots. I started doing party politics before any other thing.
I started from party secretary of the ward to local government, state secretary, state chairman, National Financial secretary of the ANPP, came to the National Assembly and became governor two times and chairman of the NGF. I think I know all the circle.
So, how to manage the party wouldn’t be a problem for me. When Yusuf Ali was the chairman in Zamfara state, I was the secretary and I knew how we coordinated the chairman because he was not good in his official language. So, I attended every meeting of the NEC of the ANPP then since 1998.
So, I knew the intrigues. When I became the chairman, it became easy for me to manage and I knew all; the channels of party administration before then. So, we coordinated all we were looking at as best for our party.
So, I think if I have that opportunity to lead APC, I believe the party would never regret it.
The governors’ forum has said they are supporting the embattled caretaker committee, insisting that the ruling of Supreme Court on Ondo governorship election didn’t invalidate the chairmanship of Buni. Do you think they were hasty with such decisions?
In this kind of situation, it is good you enter into something that you know and ask the experts. Being a governor does not accord you any right to think that you know everything. If I want to succeed, I have to check with the people that have the intellect, knowledge and professional on each and every area and that is how I will succeed.
So, governors should go round and know the truth. But they have right to say otherwise. It is their opinion to do that and they have rights to do that and if I say something different, I have right to do that. But what I am saying is that the best thing to do is to come together, argue it there and know that everybody is carried along.
If we sink, we sink together and it would not be that governors sank us. I saw one cartoon that we are all in the truck and Malami is to put us in the ocean. Let us come together and collectively agree and argue.
With what is happening, if something goes wrong, those governors, their grandchildren would not forgive them because you are governor does not give you finality of opinion on an issue. The best is to come together as a caucus and agree on what we are going to do and then move forward.
This party belongs to all of us. I was a governor. I never claimed that this party belongs to me. It belongs to all of us in Zamfara State and likewise, I believe that the party does not belong to Governor Kayode Fayemi in Ekiti. It belongs to the Ekiti people. So, the Ekiti people must come together with their representatives as a caucus on an issue. Like the saying goes, two good heads are better than one.
We have bloc of governors, bloc of former governors, bloc of senators and bloc of SANs, who are in the party to argue this and come up with a position that we have agreed to go this way.
If we go for it wrongly, the governors would not be blamed. We will all know that we have taken a wrong decision and we will collectively say we are sorry to ourselves. So, that is how I am looking at it.
What about the issue that among the three legacy parties – ACN, ANPP and CPC- two have tested the National Chairman, remaining one?
Which ones have tested it?
ANPP, in the person of Chief John Odigie-Oyegun and ACN, in the person of Adams Oshiomhole?
No, Oyegun was APP, ANPP and later he joined ACN. He left ANPP long ago and joined ACN and he came into the merger under CAN.
That I know and we in ANPP, we came with Ogbonnaya Onu. Oyegun was not our Deputy National Chairman like you are trying to insinuate. Our Deputy National Chairman was from Lagos and we have another Deputy National Chairman, who was from Bauchi.
So, Oyegun came from ACN when we were forming the merger. I don’t like the argument of where people are coming from but what are they going to offer? I am concerned with the capacity of the person. He should look at our party, where it is and where it should be.
That is all we should look at. It is not about shifting to this place and shifting to another place. It should be the person; is he trusted, can he do it and so forth. That is all.
But to clear the air, Oyegun came to the merger under ACN. In 2007, he went with Atiku to AC, when Atiku was contesting President and later ACN. Likewise Adams Oshiomhole as a sitting governor of ACN came under ACN.
So, both the ANPP and CPC, they have not been in the position of APC National Chairman. What we have got is National Secretary, Mai Mala Buni. We negotiated it. We negotiated to be given a Deputy National Chairman and National Secretary.
They all came from the North and we gave National Secretary to North East, where they had two governors. That is Borno and Yobe and I took the position of Deputy National Chairman and gave it to somebody, who was eventually from ACN because I looked at his quality and what he can do.
He was also APP, ANPP and in 2007, he joined PDP and later ACN. I looked at his quality and what he can do and I had no other person at that material time, who can do that job better than him.
I presented him before the convention and they accepted him. But for the national chairman, both the CPC and ANPP, we have not had it. But it is not a wrong thing if another ACN in the North is qualified to be. What I am looking at is who is going to take us to the Promised Land.
Mai Bala Buni has been wooing some Stakeholders in the opposition party. Some have argued that not all converts in some states, especially in some states where the party is strongly footed can add value to the party. What would be your take on this line of thought?
No, I won’t say that but I don’t think the way they are going is the best way to go about it. It is good to have Governors in the party whether he can do one thing or the other. But the truth is that we shouldn’t put our strength as if that is the only strategy to advance the party.
We had two or three sitting governors that lost election. What do you say about that? It is not about a governor. It is about his performance. So, Nigerians are going to judge us on what we are giving them.
So, we should gear up to work and convince Nigerians that we can give them what we told them that we will give them than what we are doing. For instance, in Adamawa, we had a sitting governor. He lost; we had Bauchi as sitting governor, who wanted to return and he lost.
What do you say about that? In Oyo State, we had a sitting governor, who wanted to bring his own candidate to be there, we lost. What do you say about that? So, the party should not be about governors but about what those governors can achieve in their states.
For instance, in my own case, I was a member of House of Representatives, when God in his infinite mercies gave me an opportunity to become a governor. So, it is not about governor, it is about the people. What do you do with them? How do you convince them?
Have you convinced the people that they are going to remain with you because election is general election where people are going to take decision on what they are going to do, either APC or another party.
So, the best thing that I will advise that would make us try as much as we can is for the party and the government to work together to see how we can improve on the lives of our people who have been with us for long.
What are the issues there? How can we correct it? If we put it on that perspective, I think we will be better off than getting people that may be, you don’t know their secrets and later, you will come and start having problem with them, where we were more rooted in the party.
Your Excellency, you said you don’t have challenge but some persons believe that the challenge you have is the zoning. It is being alleged that the party would zone the National Chairman to North Central but the challenge the party has in this is the Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello who has shown interest for the Presidential ticket of the party. How would you react to this?
Can the governor of Kogi State hold the party to ransom? No, he cannot. No governor can hold the party because of his ambition. There is no such Governor. I believe that each and every governor is eligible to contest and he is looking towards the success of the party than his personal success.
So, I don’t think the governor of Kogi State means anything bad for the party. But in case the party decides to take it to North Central, good luck. I know how it is and as a grassroots person, I know how we started.
From 1998, at least, when I came to limelight, I have been through all kinds of politicking and I know how party chooses its leaders. If they say North-West, then it would be me because in that zone, I am the only person who has come out to show interest
. Talking about challenge, are you not worried that even in your state, a prominent member of your party is also having an eye for the Presidency?
Who is the person?
Former Zamfara State governor, Senator Sani Yerima is having an eye for the presidency.
I have no idea about what you are talking about. For instance, I told everyone I am looking for the National Chairman of the party and so many activities are happening in the South and in the North for my own campaign.
So, what you just asked I don’t know and I don’t think that Senator Yerima can go for the Presidency without contacting me. I don’t think so. What I read in the social media is not enough for me to judge him.
If he contacts you what would you do?
I will advise. He will not tell me I want to contest. He will come to me, seeking my advice. When I decided to run for the National Chairman, I consulted very wide, including those who were not my colleagues but it is not a do – or – die affair. APC is not mine. If they zone it to my place, I will go for it. If not, I wish APC the best of luck.