"PDP is a party designed to be in power and to provide leadership. APC is in power but designed to be in opposition. PDP was not designed to be an opposition party, and you can see how badly we have performed as an opposition party. APC was designed to be an opposition party and you can see how badly they have performed as a governing party. So that is the difference"
If Bolaji Abdullahi, a former editor of This Day newspaper, former Senior Special Assistant, Commissioner, Minister and National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Party was born in the heady days of Nigeria's pre independence struggle, he would be counted among some individuals the Vice President recently described as the "pantheons of the heroes of free speech", the “luminaries of the anti-colonial and nationalist movement”
Professor Yemi Osinbajo was of course paying tributes to the leading lights of the pen profession, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ernest Ikoli, Anthony Enahoro, and Herbert Macaulay, who first established themselves as journalists of repute before foraying into politics.
Taking a breather from the journalism profession, Abdullahi has pitched tent with the political class while maintaining close affinity with his first calling and even finding time for his literary exploits.
Today, he is seeking a seat in the Red Chamber and his party, the Peoples Democratic Party and the people of his senatorial district, Kwara Central have given their unambiguous consent through a roaring 'yes'. He was the lone candidate during the party's primary at Mariam Event Centre in Ilorin.
Midlandpost’s Gbolahan Balogun and Laro Adebayo were at the media parley in the evening, immediately after his nomination, which was organised as he said, to thank the journalists for their abiding support over the years, solicit for their support for the difficult journey ahead and also share with them views and ideas on why he is gunning for the senate seat.
He said though he got the slot through the overwhelming support of the people, it is an opportunity that he is not taking for granted. “It is one I take very seriously because I believe that in a democracy, the National Assembly is a centre of representation of the people. It is where the business of government fully takes place in every democracy”
The interactive media parley, as you will read in this excerpt was as incisive as it was deep on national issues; an inkling to what 2023 elections portend.
CONSENSUS TO SOME POLITICIANS IS NOT DEMOCRATIC. YOU'VE JUST WON THE PRIMARY BY CONSENSUS. YOUR REACTION TO THIS.
It is democratic because the entire idea of democracy is about people having a say; agreeing on representation. Consensus is the whole idea of democracy. When you say you give people a voice to decide, that is democracy. When some people come together to decide that this is the one person we are putting forward, what is more democratic than that? Some of you were probably at the venue. The question was put publicity, "do you all accept Bolaji Abdullahi as your candidate?" And everybody gave a roaring yes. There was no single voice of dissent.
If there were to be a single voice of dissent, we would have been obliged to do an election. But everyone without an exception, there was no second nomination, unanimously, they agreed that I would be their candidate. So I think that is democratic enough, and is an accepted form of selection- abiding by all accepted form of selection abiding by all regulations of election.
WHY THEN THE RIFT OVER CONSENSUS WITHIN THE TWO MAJOR POLITICAL PARTIES?
I cannot say I understand the full extent of the rift mentioned in the two parties. What I know is that the definition of consensus is that there is a unanimous position on an issue. Where there are voices of dissent, no matter how minority those voices could be defined to be, then they must have the opportunity to have their days in accordance with the regulations of the election. Where there are no such dissent, and where nobody is saying no, I am not part of that, then you should not expect to have any rift as you called it. But what you are saying possibly is a situation where everybody is not on the same page on the mode of election. So, when everybody is not on the same page, it is difficult to talk about consensus.
And there is alternative to consensus, which is competitive primaries. We have seen that happened yesterday in our party in this state. Some of our aspirants said no, we don’t agree to consensus, we are not going to withdraw for one another, then the party said go ahead and conduct primaries. You could see what happened. Competitive primary elections were conducted in the two House of Reps constituencies in PDP and winners emerged. So it is not as if we shut down the space for competitive selection process. I think the situation you described happens where there is no such agreement on everyone pulling in the same direction. And I also think a corollary to that which we will all object to, is what we call imposition, where candidates are imposed on the parties or constituencies and majority of the people don’t want the person. By whatever reason, if leadership of the party imposes a candidate against the will of the people, then that is undemocratic.
So, those are the kind of situation that may cause rift as you called it. But Alhamdullahi, we don’t have a situation like that in regard to me. Our party believes that when consensus is not possible, then competitive primaries should be allowed as we demonstrated yesterday.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE WOMEN GENDER GROUP AND THE CHILDREN?
Well, thank you very much. For me, I want to say that every politicians has a reason for playing politics. It is not the most enjoyable occupation given my experience. Therefore, I will think every politician has a reason for being a politician. I have my own reason, and it is the same reason when in 2019 I wanted to contest for the governorship election. I announced clearly what my reason was. My reason was, I wanted to be governor at that time to promote youth development and that was why I said my priority number one was youth development, second priority, youth development, third priority, youth development. That has not changed. When you have 60percent of population being youths between the age of 18 and 35, you cannot do anything else that make sense beyond focusing on youth development. How do you give skills to young people, how do you give opportunities to young people, how do you help young people in their career, how do you give young people the right kind of values that can make them patriotic citizens? These are the reasons.
I am a politician. So when I get to the National Assembly, In sha Allah, this will be the main purpose of my representation- how to help young people, education, skills development. Those would be my priority, I believe that In sha Allah I will be a voice for my constituency, Asa/Ilorin West/ East/ South in the National Assembly, because the situation we are going to face in 2023, I want to think is remarkably different from wherever we are coming from. It is going to be a major turning point for Nigeria. So what every constituency will get will depend on the quality of voice that is representing that constituency in the National Assembly. And I believe I can give that quality voice.
HOW EASY OR DIFFICULT DO YOU THINK THIS JOURNEY WOULD BE GIVEN THE WAY YOUR PARTY WAS SHOOED OUT NOT TOO LONG AGO?
You said not too long ago, but for us it is like a thousand years ago. If you are in opposition, one that had been in power for 16years, then you suddenly find yourself out of power, then you will know that one day can be a very, very long time.
Well, what happened in 2019 was an aberration; it was not a normal flow of things, and we will be the first to tell you that we accept the responsibility for what happened in 2019. I think we got to a point that we were not doing some things that we were supposed to be doing; things that worked for us over the years, we appeared to have abandoned them. So, the people said, no, you guys cannot keep doing that. So we have learnt our lessons and we have come back. But more importantly, like someone said, in history people have voted out a government they did not want and ended up with a government they did not need. So that is the situation we have found ourselves. In the last four years we have seen things happen, the All Progressive Congress which is the ruling party at the national level and state level, has taken this country to a level that we could not have imagined some years ago. Who would have thought that a time will come when I cannot get up here to say I am going to Kaduna. You cannot get to Kaduna by rail by road unless you have N25M to pay to kidnappers. You cannot get there by air. So how did we get to this point?
You can say ok, you can look at 16years of PDP rules and say what did they do? We can say what we did over those years, but what is going to give us the opportunity is that Nigerians have suffered a lot. I am a Nigerian, I know Nigerians don’t like to suffer. What has happened in the last- going to eight years is that Nigerians have suffered too much under the hands of these APC people. And Nigerians are going to say “enough, our suffer head don do”. That is what would give us a chance. We have government here, we have someone here who is a senator. All of you live in Kwara, you can tell us, do you think what has happened in the last six to seven years is what you would expect as citizens in this state? I want to think the answer is no. So, if the answer is no what alternative do you have? Someone asked me a question earlier, what gives you an edge over the gentleman that is currently occupying the seat? I said look, experience is everything. I was the only one who started as a Special Assistant, who was a Special Adviser, who was a commissioner, who was a Federal Minister, who was a National Officer of a ruling party. That is a robust portfolio of experience that cannot be matched by any of them. It cannot be matched by any of them and if you say okay, those your experiences, what did you do with that robust experience? I can tell you what I did with my experience; with those years I have occupied those positions. So I believe this is what stands me in better chance than them. And that is what I believe stands our party in a better chance than them because my party is fielding a quality candidate and I am that quality candidate.
PERHAPS THIS IS A PERSONAL OPINION BUT I BELIEVE YOUR SENATORIAL DISTRICT OVER THE LAST FOUR YEARS EXPERIENCED LACKLUSTER REPRESENTATION BY THE INCUMBENT SENATOR. WHAT WILL YOU DO TO CORRECT THE SITUATION IF GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY?
Thank you very much, I will do what I have always done, In sha Allah, which is to work harder than expected. You were in this state when I was special Adviser. I worked with many of you in those years. As commissioner for education, you knew how I worked in this state. When I was Federal Ministers for Sports, you knew how I worked very hard. So I will simply do what I have always done, which is to work hard and take my job very seriously.
There are two levels for a senator or a members of the House of Representation. One level is the business of legislation, and oversight, the second level is the business of community development. You cannot do one and leave the other. You have to do both. If you like you can do one thousand legislation in Abuja, if you don’t help your own people, it’s like you have not done anything. And if you help your own people, if all you do is all about that and you are not giving quality representation at the national level, your people will still suffer. So, you have to be able to balance the two and carry the two. I think this is what my experience has prepared me for, the ability to do that.
CROSS CARPETING, APC TO PDP AND VICE VERSA HOW IS PDP BETTER THAN APC? HOW WOULD YOU WEATHER THE STORM AS A PARTY MAN STRICTLY OBEYING THE PARTY?
I don’t know what your assumptions are and you are scaring me! Let me say something. We like to condemn the National Assembly. We like to attack the National Assembly, When you are looking for politicians to blame, we blame the National Assembly. They represent the people, right? That is the meaning of democracy. And I am not saying that they have done everything they needed to have done over the years. But what I am saying is that I am sure that they have good quality people in the National assembly. There are people in the National Assembly who are passionate about this country; who believe that the situation in the National assembly can be used to develop this country called Federal Republic of Nigerian. They are there. My hope is that I will be able to join them and hopefully other people too will join, I will be able to form a critical mass. If out of 109 Senators, you have only 40 pulling in the same direction with progressive ideas, I believe that the situation for our country and the kind of image the national assembly will have will change.
Now to your first question of the difference between APC and the PDP. I will tell you the difference. PDP is a party designed to be in power and to provide leadership. APC is in power but designed to be in opposition. PDP was not designed to be an opposition party, and you can see how badly we have performed as opposition party. We are designed to be a ruling party. APC was designed to be an opposition part and you can see how badly they have performed as a governing party. So that is the difference.
ANY POSSIBLE SOLUTION TO INSECURITY? WHAT WILL YOU PROFFER AS SOLUTION TO FIGHT AND DEFEAT INSECURITY-BOKO HARAM AND BANDITY
Well to me I don’t think it is about political will, I don’t have any evidence that there are moles within the security circle. Because silence may be interpreted to mean consent, I don’t have any evidence. What I know is that it is a very complex situation. But I know that if you build your campaign on three things: if you vote for us, we will improve the economy, if you vote for us, we will fight corruption, if you vote for us, we will solve the problem of insecurity.
As complicated as this insecurity issue is, we know where we were in 2015, we know where we are now. Yoruba will say “Orisa boole gbemi semi boose bami” (If the deity cannot help my cause, it shouldn’t add to my problem). These people have not only failed to solve the security situation as they met it, in fact it is infinitely more complicated now than it was at the time they took over power. Now ask me what do we need to do? I listen to people within the security circle and I know the kind of situation under which they operate. The policing model we have used in this country since independence when we had a population of just 50 to 60 million people cannot work for the same country where we have a population of about 250million people. So the policing template will have to change and that is why I am fully in support of community policing. I am fully in support of state police. I believe that people say if you have state police, the governors will use them to oppress their opponents. We can make laws not for today, we can make laws for ever. If you fears that state governors may abuse the state police, we can build within the legislation that allows certain safeguards that ensure that state governors are not able to abuse the system. But we cannot have one police system that will cover the whole of Nigeria, from Abia to Zamfara. The gentleman seating in Abuja as inspector General of police, no matter how brilliant or committed he is, cannot be the one person that decides what happens in Nigeria policing. So I believe the security architecture needs to be overhauled completely.
The issue of political power is a completely different thing. Some of these things we talk about, for example when we say the reason government has not done this or that is because they lack political power. You see, some of these things we call political power are actually not political power. It is just crass incompetence. I am not saying I have all the answer to solve these things overnight, it is very complex, I will give you one example. How can I say I have sent the AIG to a state where there is security problem but I don’t know if he is there or not? I mean, how do you explain that? So, what I am saying is that some of these things could have been avoided.
You heard the minister of transportation sometimes ago lamenting when the train was hijacked. He was saying that there was something he had asked to be procured; that if it was procured the situation would not have happened. We know it is a classic act of buck passing. That gives you an insight into the kind of things that are going in that place.
HOW EASY DO YOU THINK YOUR TRANSFORMATION FROM EXECUTIVE TO LEGISLATIVE WILL BE?
When I joined the government in Kwara State- especially when I was appointed commissioner for education- people said oh, how can a journalist be a commissioner for education? What does he know about education? But with all sense of humility, I think I am one of the very best commissioner for education in this state. I am proud to say I am a journalist, because the profession that raised me is the profession that prepared me for everything. The most important thing that a journalist do is what, we ask questions. That is the most important skill that I need in every situation that I find myself. When I was commissioner for education I hadn’t any knowledge of the system. When I became the Minister of Sports, I didn’t have any knowledge of the sport sector, but what I did was to deploy that important journalistic skill, which is skill to ask questions and demand the right answers. And I was getting answers from people who know better than myself, more knowledgeable than myself and that was what helped me to achieve the modest success we were able to record.
I’m going to do the same thing this time around. I am an executive person as you rightly said because I like to solve problems on a day to day basis, but I am going in now, as a legislature, and I am going to learn from people who are older than me, who have more experience than me. I am a good learner, I learn very quickly, I can learn and I believe that if I am able to learn from them, I am going to succeed In sha Allah. I don’t see any complication in the transition that you have described. This is because the fundamental principles are the same, whether you are doing it as a legislator , or doing it in executive capacity, the fundamental principles is that you are committed to driving progressive ideas; how do I make this place better than I met it. If you are committed to those principles, it does not matter whether you are an executive or legislative person. What matters is that you are committed to those principles that will make this country better than it is, because this country today needs to be made better. This is not the country we know. We need to change this country. Our young people-the best and the brightest- are leaving this country every single day. So what can we do? What can do to stem the tide of brain drain? What can we do to stop the best among us from thinking that they cannot find meaning to their lives in our country until they go elsewhere?
Those are the priorities; those are the issues. Unless we bring this to the top of our political agenda and make it the purpose of our politics, how do we help young people? How do we give young people who are educated opportunities in life? How do we help young people who are not so educated to have skills? These are the issues and unless we solve these problems, we are not getting anywhere as a country.
YOUR VIEW ON THE STATE OF STATE LOCAL ADMINSTRATION
Yes, the jury is out. Some people will say oh, you don’t need local government, you have the state government, then let the state decide how many local government they want. That is a matter of detail. But the most important thing is that you need local government administration, because that is the government that is closest to the people and when you don’t have local government administration, it will show. It will show because there are some things that only local government is in best positioned to handle. When you don’t have local government administration, then those things will show that nobody is doing them. I drive around Ilorin, I see mountains of rubbish and sometimes you think you are approaching Sobi Hill, before you know that these are just mountains of rubbish. If you had a functioning local government administration, there is no way those mountains of rubbish would remain uncleared. That is what local governments do. READ kwara-quite-unlucky-to-have-ended-with-this-kind-of-government-bolaji-abdullahi
So, unless and until we understand that the local government as a third tier of government is not just there as an appendage of the state, that it is a critical arm or level of government by itself, recognized by the constitution and with rights, then we are not going to make progress in the governance system, because it is also a question of accountability. So, where votes; allocations were made to local government and the state administration usurps everything and decides what to give to the local government then, that is not democratic. The local government is still part of government. It has its own legislative institution. It has its own executive institution. For instance, the man sitting beside me here was used to be a speaker of Ilorin West local government legislative assembly. That was when we had local government. Now everything has gone to the dogs. So I believe Nigeria will be better for it if we are able to bring back the local government not in theory but in practice.