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Assent to Electoral Act now subject to Presidential wisdom — Adamu

By Leo Sobechi and Adamu Abuh
06 November 2021   |   4:13 am
Thank you very much for taking interest to come and have a word with me. I want to start by appreciating God for directing the leadership of the caretaker committee to see us, as fit and proper persons that they believe will do the job of reconciliation.

Adamu

Senator (Dr.) Abdullahi Adamu is currently the chairman of All Progressives Congress’ (APC) nine-man Reconciliation Committee. He spoke to LEO SOBECHI and ADAMU ABUH on how his committee plans to resolve various crises in the party, as well as his activities as a Senator and former chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN).

*Absence Of BoT Not Responsible For APC Crisis
*Nigeria Has Capacity To Repay Its Debts
* Farmers At The Mercy Of Middlemen

How far have you been able to reconcile aggrieved party members ahead of the national convention of the party?
Thank you very much for taking interest to come and have a word with me. I want to start by appreciating God for directing the leadership of the caretaker committee to see us, as fit and proper persons that they believe will do the job of reconciliation.

It is their conviction that the nine of us understand the extent of the problem that brought about the need to establish the committee at all. I thank the leadership of our party for the confidence bestowed upon us.

Now, it is a notorious fact, like any other party in Nigeria, including the APC, to have its share of squabbles within the party’s rank and file. And, as you very well know, we are heading for the 2023 general elections. No party, in the wildest of imagination if it is worth its name, would want to go into an election year with identifiable problems.

So, the party is brave to be honest with itself and followership to say ‘yes, we have some problems here and there, and we want to take deliberate steps openly to see how best we can resolve the problems identifiable thus far.’ That is what gave birth to this committee on national reconciliation. It’s our hope that God would give us the wisdom necessary and required to help and resolve conflicting interests within our party.

What is your take on the nagging issue of consensus arrangement? Is it helpful to the party or destructive to the cause of internal democracy?
The whole thing about consensus is well intended. Sometimes, in the application of a well-intended objective, some people may run foul of the entire philosophy of the concept of the consensus choice.

Instead of the voting that accompany the process, if the party leadership, stakeholders; come to agreement. Then, they persuade those who want to hold particular offices on the need to do away with whatever will bring about acrimony among them and accept an approach aimed at preserving our strength, goodwill. They coming up with a choice based on compromises; that is what consensus is all about. And it is the better for all of us.

But sometimes, in the course of wanting to go on that path, you have some hiccups here and there. There is no political system or regime where you don’t have such frictions. Of course, in some cases the friction is more than in other cases. So ours is not an exception.

What about the claims that it has to do with Governors hijacking the entire structures of the party, which is at the centre of the crisis?
Well, I have to be very careful on what I say, because I am the chairman of the reconciliation committee. For me to accept your notion that the governors have vested interest on the issue of consensus or choice of candidates, I don’t want to go into that issue for now.

We are just starting now. I would rather get first hand information along with my colleagues as to what has happened and what has not happened and who is complaining about what. Until I am able to assess that, I don’t what to comment on whether any governor is overbearing or not.

But, for instance in Enugu State, where one of your members comes from, there was an idea to have a consensus arrangement where one of the parties said no, let us go to the field and settle it…?
(Cuts in) I am afraid I have said to you earlier that I will rather take the general principles of the issues on the ground. I don’t want to go into specifics, because it would amount to prejudice. The moment I air my views on the issue now, if what I say is not favourable to some groups, then I would have undone myself and my leadership of the committee.

Don’t you think that the absence of a Board of Trustees (BOT) or an Elders’ Committee gives rise to some of these recriminations?
I believe it is wrong to say it is absence of board of trustees. There are parties with BOT, are they doing any better than us? We take every issue on its merits. Without BOT, how many elections have we won?

It is not because it doesn’t matter to have one, but you don’t start quarrelling over what you don’t have. My early teachers said to me, in any situation that I found myself, I should always start with what I know and go looking for what I don’t know.

Yes, the party’s constitution provides for a BOT, there is even another organ called caucus. We as a party know best which part of the organ that we have that is itching us, why we are having the crisis. And, when we look at areas of the conflicts, we find out what is causing those conflicts.

I do know that every state has a committee of elders. The matter is whether it is invoked in settling those conflicts. So, there is no fixation or rule. Of course, we have a constitution, which is the grundnorm of the party. We try as much as possible to see that anybody not operating within the confines of the laws of the party, we raise posers and see how to approach him. We blame where we need to blame and see where we need to give advice to bring amicable resolution to whatever dispute that arises.

What explains the sudden about-face by the Senate to include electronic transfer of results in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill?
Well, you see, we have one problem as a people. And I say this without prejudices to the assignment I have as chairman of the reconciliation committee of the party.

Once you have a mind that is prejudiced, the chances of pursuing any goal reasonably is polluted. So, in good faith and in believing that our ability, no matter what anybody will tell me, I know as a Nigerian and with the exposure I have had this far in my life, not every part of this country can boast of energy 24 hours of the day. I know this as a fact.

Any Nigerian who uses electronic equipment knows that you need energy to power these systems. And, if we are honest to ourselves, we must ask the questions: how many parts of Nigeria have the kind of facilities that Abuja, Sokoto, Port Harcourt, Ilorin or Enugu have? If your answer is ‘yes,’ then I will say you are not being honest with Nigerians.

As I speak to you today, there are parts of Nigeria that have not had energy or electricity for months or probably for years. If you go to Borno State, you will witness that without asking questions. There are other parts of the country, indeed the southern part of the country that cannot boast of energy 24 hours of the day, seven days a week.

Now, we are talking about transmission of results electronically, nobody is quarrelling with that. The issue is, we have tested electronic voting and where there is no energy as in national grid, they use generators. They take the voting equipment and charge them and when they go low you have to recharge them. Sometimes, they have to go somewhere to charge the batteries. It is as bad as that in Nigeria of 21st century. There is nothing wrong if we want to modernize; I see nothing wrong with it. But, for heaven’s sake, let’s be honest with ourselves.

There are areas with issues in this country that you cannot rush them beyond reason with the so-called electronic collation and transmission of results. Knowing our politicians, because I am a politician myself and I have been in this business for God knows when, I am 75 years this year. I can say on authority that some people deliberately want to have that as leeway from where they could go and start problem with transmission of results.

But, if we agree there is no energy and we agree on alternative way of transmission of results, which people are familiar with, the better. This will not be forever. As we improve, we introduce transmission of results through electronic means.

All these talks about electronic transmission of results was not there before, but today, we are there. If we are patient to get to this point, why do we want to rush with e-voting? Let us get there first. You can’t provide electricity in a place, you can’t guarantee how your equipment is being charged to do it when you need it, so what do you do? That is what we are afraid of.

During the debate on the issue at the National Assembly, people from a particular part of this country gave evidence in persons as to the state of energy availability in their areas. Who am I to deny that? They say he who wears the shoes knows best where it pinches him.

So, the principle is, let us go for what we know and work on what we don’t know. But, because some people have made up their minds, they say, ‘oh, it’s because some people want to rig election and so they must have it.’ You see, there is something we do here. When I was growing up, when you point at a person and say you are a bastard, only one finger actually points at the person you are referring to. The other three fingers are pointing towards you. All those who think that those of us who opposed it have got some ulterior motives; they also have motives. That was why they did what they did. It’s as simple as that.

Are you saying that if you have your way, you will advice the President not to assent to the Bill?
No, no it has been passed. I will wait for presidential wisdom to asset or not to assent to it. It is not my bid. That is all I can do as a legislator. The Bill has passed through the National Assembly. The process is not complete until the President assents to it.

Part of this problem arose from disconnect from the use of card readers and recourse to incident forms, which do not give a credible head count of those who voted…?  
I am a voter; you are a voter. You vote within the system that you are required to vote. If you got a card reader and for some reasons it fails to function, will you disenfranchise the person holding his PVC? You cannot do it.

So, you have to get the alternative and the alternative is to give him a form to fill in good faith that the information there is correct. If you don’t do that means you disenfranchised the person so involved.

As a founding member of the APC, are you aware of any power rotation arrangement between the North and South?
I have never been part of any formal or informal arrangement regarding power rotation. As a party member, I’m bound by the constitution of the party and I believe in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. In fact, I’m under oath as a Senator to uphold the Constitution and to the best of my knowledge.

As some people have articulated already, the reality on ground is that there is nothing like that in the country’s Constitution.

Has your position on power shift changed?
You don’t talk of power shift in a vacuum; there must be a middle ground and there is room for consultations. If you want power to shift, I’m in APC come and talk to me. There must be an exchange of ideas between and amongst us as to what is best suited for the country and the party. There is no fixation on this. And the fact of the matter is anything that is outside the Constitution; I’m not part of it.

There is an undercurrent over where the next chairman of the APC should come from, arising from the push and pull for 2023. Would you say the Presidential contest should be thrown open?
Throwing the presidential contest open is your opinion not mine. Again, zoning the chairmanship of APC is not my immediate concern. My concern now is that there are conflicts between and amongst my party members and I have been trusted to work towards reconciliation the best we can. That is my immediate concern and not where the national chairman should come from.

What if in the cause of this reconciliation, issue of who gets what comes up?
It won’t come up. The presidency is not within the mandate of my assignment. The issue of political offices is not within the purview of my committee. I have the mandate to reconcile aggrieved party members and that’s all there is.

There is the issue of direct or indirect method of nomination, which the immediate past national chairman used against some members. Then there is the aspect of having to leave such choices to state to decide; what are your thoughts on the matter?
Well, there has been debate in the National Assembly and it has been passed that there will be direct primaries and by the time it is assented to, it will become law. Just like the issue of electronic voting and transmission of results was debated and passed, we have also done this.

It is now left for the President to endorse it. So, it is not within our domain again except the President queried certain aspects, which may require us to take another look at it.

In your view, will direct primary enhance internal democracy within the parties?
Like I said to you earlier, we have deliberated and we have a position already as National Assembly members and unless something different happens, I’m caught with that collective responsibility and whether I voted for or against it is immaterial.

You have a lot of caps as a former governor and ranking Senator. How did you see our debt profile and penchant for borrowing?
Somehow, there seems to be a recurring decimal in our sense of judgment. What makes anybody think that the executive or presidency would go on borrowing if there’s no need for such? How do you want budgets to be implemented when you have huge shortfalls in your financial requirements to meet the obligations that stare you in the face every day? We know that there has been downfall in our revenue; you and me know that responsibilities are increasing by the day.

We know that the infrastructure that will drive the economy and social life of this country have been on the downward trend in terms of maintenance requirement and quality. There are also the challenges of meeting the health needs of the people, education, agriculture and others. The enormity, the size of the money required to be pumped into meeting the needs of these sectors, are huge and unavailable.

What will you do in such circumstances, will you fold your hand as a President and head of government and allow the situation to continue like that? What is important is the credit worthiness of Nigeria as a country. We are credit worthy; we have capacity to repay our debts, the World Bank said so.

Why are we being so pessimistic? What I think should bother us about this borrowing, which has become a necessity and important, is the logic behind it. What are we borrowing for? Look at various projects that are going on across the country, the infrastructural transformation, which this administration has embarked on and tell me whether the monies are being be put to good use or not.

The government is borrowing, because we don’t have enough to meet the needs on ground. So, if these monies are applied to good cause, I’m for it. We have gotten the capacity to pay back and I support that.

We don’t criticize for the sake of criticism. These roads didn’t get bad during the APC administration, but from the military through successive administrations. Is it a sin for the APC and the Buhari’s administration to try and fix them? I believe it is not. We are in fact trying to address failures of the past administrations and some of the criticisms were merely out of jealousy.

But your party is part of the problem, because at the onset of Buhari’s administration, the idea of zero budgeting was mooted only for the government to return to the envelope system and that was the problem?  
That didn’t start from the APC or Buhari’s administration, but Goodluck Jonathan’s and by extension, PDP, who wanted to rule for 60 years. So we have to get our facts right.

As Chairman, Senate Committee on Agriculture, how do you feel about the rising cost of food items and cost of living?
Again, we should learn to appreciate things that are worthy of appreciation. And if there is a problem, let us investigate the source, because if we don’t do that, we can’t solve the problem.

The issue of food insecurity in general terms, I agree we do not have enough partly, because of people like you, who would rather have rice from Taiwan because that is your measure of your civilization. “I have arrived; I belong to the middle class”. Instead of patronizing rice produced locally, we prefer the foreign ones; even our vegetables come from abroad.

People go for products that we don’t produce and that is part of the reason why the President is leading in choir group of ‘let’s eat what we produce and let’s produce what we eat’.

I agree that we don’t have enough and what is aggravating our situation are middlemen, who make more money by just bringing in anything they want from Europe, Asia and other parts, as against what we produce here.

For every tonne of any agricultural commodity you bring from any country outside Nigeria, you are denying the Nigeria farmer proportionately the value of what you brought in. So, part of what you see as scarcity is artificially created by middlemen, who mop up our produce, store them and sell when the price is up there in the ceiling. So they created the artificial scarcity.

Those hoarders are going round the farms and buying up produce, even before such are due for harvest and after doing so, they don’t take same to the market, but their stores, warehouses and apply chemical and wait until the prices go up before heading for the market.

These are the people who are creating most of the problem. I’m not saying we are producing enough; no country has been able to do that. But, we are on the road and it is a long walk. We said block access to import, that’s smuggling, but there are also protests by those who smuggle behind the scene and they will always use every means in their disposal to instigate and fuel the propaganda against government directives.

Farmers accuse the government of leaving them at the mercy of these middlemen, how would you react to this?
That could be true to some extent. I was privileged to be chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) before becoming a Senator and I can understand what they are saying.

Yes, our system of cooperatives is not strong enough and well established. And, because of this, the middlemen are exploiting the situation. Once our cooperatives are working properly, the bank can lend money and you can mop up what you have and have cold stores and deal with the end users of your produces directly without much interference.