Hajia Fatima Mohammed is a member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and former national financial secretary of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). In this interview with CHIBUZO UKAIBE, she speaks about the power tussle in her party as well as the subtle jostle for the 2019 presidential ticket.
As a Board of Trustees (BoT) member of the APC what is your assessment of President Muhammdu Buhari in light of the huge expectations many Nigerians had upon his emergence and the economic crisis facing the country today?
I will score President Muhammadu Buhari 80 percent so far. This is because during the era of Former President Goodluck Jonathan, even those of us in Abuja, couldn’t sleep with both of our eyes closed because of the unprecedented level of insecurity in the country. We could hardly go to market or worship centers. People were postponing events including weddings because of insecurity crisis. It is important that we do not forget where we are coming from so soon. Security is paramount in the life of any government. Since President Buhari emerged, we can see that the first thing he did was to focus on security and I give him 100 percent for that. On the economy, as we know the Nigerian economy is not very different from that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other oil producing countries because even people that went to hajj recently saw the difference there. Normally, when you go to Saudi Arabia you will see how they take care of their visitors and give them goodies. But this time, it was not like that because of the economic recession which affected all oil producing nations not just Nigeria because of the slump in oil price. Nigeria’s case appears to be better. Before, two weeks to Alfar, the Saudi Arabians usual stop the issuance of visa. But this year two days before Alfar, they were still issuing visa. You can see that they have adjusted their economic policy to encourage more visit and by implication more money. So it is not peculiar to Nigeria. Every country that depends on oil are facing the same problem with Nigeria.
Some other people believe that the activities of militants in the Niger Delta have also affected the production of oil, what do you advise on this issue?
I want the President to threat the militants the way he threats Boko Haram because they have become nuisance. Why I say so is because during the tenure of Goodluck Jonathan, they were all over Abuja collecting free money and now that kind of money is not there. The sad thing is that they are not fighting for development of the area. If they were fighting for development, Mr. President has already commissioned the cleaning of Ogoni communities affected by oil spill. And that will generate a lot of jobs for youths there. But they don’t seem to care. They are not talking about such development. What they are after is for the President to be giving them money. But this President will not give money to anybody. They should corporate and allow President develop the area or they should be treated like criminals.
The international community has commended the President on his anti-corruption war but there are allegations that it is selective and targeted at members of the PDP.
Yes, they will be targeted because they have been in power for the past 16 years. But again, if anybody says there are corrupt members in the APC-led government let them come forward with facts and evidence. This President will not see the truth and turn away even if you are his own child. President Buhari that I have known since 2003 will not see something wrong in his government and turn a blind eye to it because you are in the either same party with him or in his cabinet. So those who think the corruption war is targeted at opposition members should come forward with facts against members of the APC and see whether action will lot be taken. We can’t just go to the pages of newspapers or social media and make allegations and expect the President to arrest them. Government deals with facts not rumors.
Your party is going through a tough time now. One of your national leaders and former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, recently called for the resignation of the national chairman over the outcome of the party’s guber primaries in Ondo State, what is your reaction to that?
When I read about it, I laughed. APC is a merger of four and half defunct political parties, which were CPC, ANPP, ACN, New PDP and half of APGA. So it can’t be business as usual. You can’t say because you don’t like my face and so I can’t be. In the era of ACN, He was the alpha and omega of the party. He could do whatever he likes. But APC is a national Nigerian party. So no individual can get it the way he or she wants. Talking about the Ondo primaries, going by what I was told by some members of the National Working Committee (NWC) the delegates, they (delegates) that lost got it wrong. There is no place it is written that those fake delegates voted for one particular aspirants. They didn’t use option A4 where people queue behind a particular candidate. What was used was balloting, so we don’t know who was the actual beneficiary of the fake delegates. Even in the United States there are mistakes in their primary elections. The truth is that you cannot go to primary and get it 100 percent. And so, after people have come out to vote, you can’t just sit in the comfort of the national headquarters and cancel the votes. If that was so easy to do INEC would have canceled the Rivers and Akwa Ibom elections. Winners and losers in the primaries have followers. As a leader in the party what I expected him to do was to advised the national chairman to bring the winner and aggrieved aspirants together and reconcile them. We can get them to serve in other capacities. But we just can’t cancel an election that everybody watched on national television that was free and fair. I was even joking with the governor of Jigawa state who served as chairman of the primaries that after his eight years in office he will be made INEC chairman. And he laughed. I watched that primary from the start to finish and I can say that the primary of Ondo State was better than that of Edo State. I watched the two of them. So you expect less than 20 people here in the national secretariat to cancel that primary. That would create anarchy. This government is for peace. However, the national chairman of our party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun that I know is a man of integrity. I worked with him for three and half years in the national working committee of the defunct ANPP. He was deputy national chairman, while I was national financial secretary. And all the time we had problems in the states, he was the one that solved the problems. He would proffer advise to solve the problems. Before we worked closely at the party level, his excellent record as a permanent secretary in this country before he became governor of Edo State still stands for all to see. He has high level of integrity. So somebody that calls Odigie-Oyegun a non democrat or corrupt, does not know him.
Do you agree with the position that the cracks within the APC is reflective of the defunct merger parties that formed the party?
It is not like that. The problem we are having is that ideologies differ. For instance CPC and ANPP have the same ideology because we were the same party. But ACN, New PDP and APGA have their own ideology. So it will take some time before we will fully blend and have one mind in totality. We are still in the process of becoming like-minds. We are just over one year in government. Don’t forget, immediately we merged, we went into the election and won. So we are still in the process of understanding ourselves. I am sure that before 2019 we would have blended very well.
But don’t you think that it would affect the party in 2019?
Even in your own home, if you change environment before you get your house in order, it takes some time, talk less of a country that you met with nothing working; no money, no road, no power, hospitals were not working, even the educational sector was not working. So it has to take time. If not that we have a president that has wisdom, if it was somebody else, I don’t know how we will end. But with this our president we are getting okay. Some people are concerned about appointments. But if you want the country to succeed you will not worry about appointment. If Buhari succeeds it is the party that succeeds. So Nigerians and party members should corporate with him, give him support, advise him.
Many people believe that the brewing crisis in your party is tied to the 2019 question?
They should not waste their time. I don’t want to call names but I have heard of a lot of them that want to contest in 2019. What happened to the President we have. Buhari is for 2019. So all those people eyeing 2019 should sleep. They should put their minds to rest. In 2019, there is no vacancy. We will mobilize for Buhari to contest in 2019. Four years is not enough for him to set Nigeria fully on the right path. He needs eight years to do that. He cannot bring somebody and expect him to work like him. We have seen instances where governor’s bring successors and they turn back to fight them and make a mess of the work. The gravity of work to be done in Nigeria requires a personality like Buhari to do it. Over the years things went wrong in the system. There have been systemic corruption which made it difficult for us to develop at a faster pace. We want Buhari to continue and we will take up placards, go to the streets and campaign for him to continue. I am one of those championing Buhari’s second term.
What if the President declines?
He will not. We will go on hunger strike to ensure he contests. We will go on the streets, I mean it. I will mobilise women and youths for Buhari. Four years is not enough to change this country. The anti- corruption war cannot be finished in four years. This is barely two years and we are having more corruption cases happening.
But will eight years be enough to finish the anti-corruption war?
The constitution says eight years. So let’s stop there. I don’t think they will amend the constitution to extend his tenure. Personally, I am pleading with our party members to allow President Buhari to serve for eight years so that we can get the dividends of democracy.
But your party is not managing its many crises very well?
Initially the party didn’t do well, to be honest with you. But thank God now the party is beginning to understand the dynamics now. Like what I told you earlier, we came from different backgrounds. Now we are getting to know each other better. So we will come out of the problems. Things are getting better and as members of one family, the executive and legislatures will have to come together and provide the needed change for the better in Nigeria. It wasn’t right for us that as members of one party we were fighting each other. But thank God we, the party, National Assembly and the executive, are on the same page. And it is good for the country.
Still, there are concerns that your party might lose Ondo State considering the disagreements over the primaries?
That is not true. That election will be decided by the masses. The people championing confusion in Ondo are not from Ondo. And they cannot come to Ondo and tell them what to do. You can’t come to my state, Adamawa and tell me what to do. The Ondo people know the aspirants and they know who will work for them as well as their backgrounds. However I appeal to the party leaders to reconcile the aggrieved members and allow the party win the state. Similarly, there shouldn’t be any anti-party activity there. Anybody caught doing anti-party should be dealt with. We don’t need people that will sabotage the party.
Change begins with me slogan of this administration has been criticized for being a subtle way of passing the responsibility of change to Nigerians, instead of the top to bottom approach, what do you think?
That is not true. What the President is saying is that, most of us travel out of the country and we queue up when and where we have to, whether you are a minister or a governor. From shopping malls to airports, people queue up there. But we refuse to do some here in our country. So that change should begin with you and I. Also we see situations where people pay money to fast track the movement of their files in ministries, departments and agencies. Because we don’t want to follow due process, we tip either the office clerk or messenger or whoever we can influence to move the file faster. So the President cannot stop that for us, we have to stop it by ourselves. Also, we have to start patronizing Nigeria products. For instance I have stopped eating foreign rice. I buy from my state, Adamawa, we have very good rice. I stopped eating foreign rice which I don’t even know how it processed. Same applies to our wheat and textile products. So we should go back to our Nigerian products. Many countries use their products so why shouldn’t we.
So that is what Mr president means by change begins with me. He is not trying to pass his work to anyone else. He is simply appealing to our sense of patriotism. However, I appeal to Mr. President to make electricity and farming inputs available so that farming and industrialization will boom.