A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress and former Senate Chief Whip, Prof Sola Adeyeye, speaks with OLADIMEJI RAMON and TUNDE AJAJA on Buhari’s seven years in office, the ongoing party primaries, the 2023 general elections and why he supports Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s candidacy
The All Progressives Congress has adjusted its timetable several times and it looks like the party may adopt the consensus option, do you think that’s a better route to take despite having about 28 presidential aspirants?
Honestly, I don’t know what is going on and I will not want to pre-empt the leaders of the party, who must find themselves right now in tough situations, trying to make sure that they avert a crisis. In the past, things like this led to the implosion of parties and in the end, everybody ended up losing. If you remember, the original Nigerian Peoples Party had Ibrahim Waziri as the chairman and he also wanted to be the presidential candidate, but other members of the party like Adeniran Ogunsanya, Areoye Oyebola, Nnamdi Azikiwe and others said no, it couldn’t be like that. The party then split into what became the NPP and the Great Nigeria People’s Party, because Waziri and others walked away (to form the GNPP). By the time the election was held, the GNPP came fifth among the political parties; the NPN came first, UPN came second and the NPP came third.
But in terms of geographical spread, the party had one-quarter in so many states. It outperformed Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s party, the Unity Party of Nigeria, when it came to geographical spread. What it showed was that if you had combined the votes of the NPP with the GNPP, they could have come first and they would have had the geographical spread, and all that drama would never have taken place, but for the implosion. Imagine if Zik (Nnamdi Azikiwe of the NPP) had been a presidential candidate and Waziri (of the GNPP) had been a vice-presidential candidate, and they were able to maintain the same votes, they would have won. These are the kind of things parties at this critical juncture must be trying to balance and it will not be wise for me to pre-empt them. I can only be praying for them that they will be fair to everybody and do the right thing.
On a number of occasions you have maintained that one of the frontline aspirants, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, is not fit to be president mainly on account of his health, what in your opinion are the odds against his candidacy?
In Nigerian politics, anybody who speaks with absolute confidence is a fool. I said so because the truth is there is a lot of deceit in Nigerian politicking. Let me give you an example; the night before the Senate and the House of Representatives voted on the attempt by (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo to alter the 1999 Constitution to have a third term for himself, voting was first done in the Aso Villa. In fact, the present Chairman of the APC, who was the governor of Nasarawa State, was at the villa on that day. The then governor of Bauchi State, Adamu Mu’azu, a handsome young man then, was the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum. They took the votes and they had 83 senators saying they would vote to support the alteration of the constitution.
The following day when Ken Nnamani (the then Senate President), called for a vote, only three senators voted in support of the third term. He then explained what the voting was about and asked that they vote again, one of the senators, who had previously supported it, changed his mind. In the end, only two senators out of 109 supported the alteration of the constitution. You see what happened in Kaduna when Tinubu went there. You saw the abracadabra that went on there. We all saw what happened when Amaechi, Fayemi and Osinbajo went there. Great things were said about all of them. What do I mean exactly? I believe some of these governors are playing games.
How do you mean?
They want to see who will offer them the number two slot and whoever offers them that slot is who they will go for. What I will say is, first, there is no constitutional provision setting up an upper age limit to contest the office of the president, so you cannot use age on its own to disqualify anybody and I have never canvassed that. What I believe we ought to pay attention to is the health of the candidate. Quite frankly, Nigeria will be in a bad place if they don’t. Given what we have gone through in the last seven years, which was why we elected a General, old in age, but we all assumed he was in good health. It turned out that either he was not in good health and we didn’t know, or he became ill after he got into office.
Whatever happens, the truth is, the experience we had with President Buhari ought to tell Nigerians that once bitten, they should be twice shy. I have no malice whatsoever towards Bola Tinubu. None whatsoever, but for the love of country, I believe Nigeria ought to be careful in seeing that we elect a man who is in the best of health. Sometimes, he (Tinubu) speaks during his consultation that he’s not competing to be a wrestler or bricklayer or carpenter, but there have been events where he was speaking and he lost his train of thoughts. Whether we like it or not, we must pay attention to these things. That’s why I believe that for the sake of the country, we need a man that we will be sure is in better health.
As a chieftain of the party and one of those who convinced Nigerians to vote for Buhari in 2015, what will be your response to those who say the APC owes Nigerians an apology for selling Buhari to them, because they believe it’s part of what brought the country to where it is?
Those who say that are mischievous. They are saying the APC could play God. In my heart of hearts, I believed that when Buhari got into office as a General, he would be able to stem the tide of insecurity. That belief was not based on a capricious statement, it was based on the fact that in the 1980s when the riot started, Buhari was decisive; he curbed it. So, one was thinking he would bring that kind of experience to bear. Secondly, when Buhari was in he was absolutely devoted to the fight against corruption and the war against indiscipline. Even one of our national heroes, Gani Fawehinmi, over and again applauded the policies of Buhari, even at a time those policies bordered on what today we may call infringement on the civil liberties of Nigerians. But out of a desire to curb indiscipline and corruption, he (Gani) threw his total support behind Buhari. Those of us who experienced that era expected something better.
In any case, none of us anticipated that he (Buhari) would have health problems. So, how do you blame yourself? You can’t blame yourself for that. In any case, those who are saying you should blame yourself for that are also adults. If I sell you a candidate, did I force you to vote for the candidate? However, part of the issues we have in Nigeria is this; an election is coming, they say let’s have a debate and some candidates say they won’t come for the debate, and people still vote for them. Whose fault is that? So, that means it’s not new. As far back as 1979, Obafemi Awolowo said he wouldn’t go and debate with Zik until Zik went around the country to campaign first, because elections should not be won on eloquence alone. The truth is that in democracies, one of the traditions that have evolved is debating, so you get to ask the candidates questions. In Nigeria where you have this multiplicity of candidates, the debate becomes a joke, unless you have the leading candidates face one another, else, it won’t make sense.
Sunday, May 29 makes it seven years that Buhari was sworn in, from your previous explanation, is it safe to deduce that you agree that the President has not lived up to expectations, using his cardinal promises of security, economy and anti-corruption as the benchmark?
Yes, I do subscribe to it that Nigerians have been disappointed with the performance of the APC and of Buhari. However, the truth of the matter is that Buhari was a victim of multiple circumstances. First, he came into after the treasury had been emptied. No matter what you want to do, whether in the area of infrastructure or fighting corruption or security, you need money. My wife is an extremely hardworking person, but guess what, when she took over at the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, the agency did not even have vehicles to take its officers to places where they could apprehend people who were trading in fake drugs. Would that be my wife’s fault? No. She was lucky she was married to the then Chief Whip of the Senate, so I had vehicles; because anytime their vehicle broke down, she took one of my own. So, there were dire economic circumstances that she inherited and had no resources to quickly cure them.
In the case of Buhari, the money given to the Armed Forces had been stolen. You saw the story of Sambo Dasuki and all of that. The police and the military were not well equipped, so fighting insurgency became seriously difficult and at the end of the day, corruption was not just a disease in the system, it had become the Nigerian religion. Otherwise, see the number of people who have been exposed in the last few days and the magnitude of the amount of money they siphoned. That’s the kind of system we have. You can say Buhari is not fighting corruption, but he’s just one man.
Could he not have strengthened institutions and surrounded himself with like minds?
How many times did I speak on the floor of the Senate to say there must be a way we can cut the cost of running the Of course, every time you do it, you get lampooned, heckled and laughed at by your colleagues and the citizenry will not even rise to your defence. At the end of the day, they will say you were there for eight years, what did you do? What could I have done? I had only one vote out of 109 senators. So, if Nigerians are disappointed, all of us are, even APC members, but we will be unfair to heap all the blame on Buhari. In the meantime, Nigeria is the only member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries that imports petrol. Even if you want to build a refinery, it’s not something you build in three or four months.
But Buhari has spent more than four months in office…
The money to build a refinery is no longer there, so what do you do? I was in Ivory Coast just two weeks ago, that country has the biggest refinery in West Africa. In fact, Ivory Coast is refining for other African countries. These are part of the problems and they cannot be solved overnight. These are problems that accumulated over the decades. Part of the sad thing, typically, is that a politician makes promises as if he can solve every problem in minutes but in real life, it doesn’t happen.
If the President did so badly in the first term, why did the party give him another four years?
In the first term, he spent considerable time attending to matters of his health. As we were approaching the second term, I met with him personally, and he looked better in good health, so people have expectations that things have turned around. But having said that, if you want to say the party didn’t turn him down, again, the party nominated him, but the citizens elected him. So, let’s not pound the head of the party too much. The truth of the matter is that people were afraid of the reputation of the opponent. Some people felt if this man was not competent, if you put a competent man there and the person ends up being a thief. I don’t know how that reputation was earned. Those were some of the considerations. All we have to say now is that hopefully, we will get it right this time. That’s my prayer.
If indeed the Goodluck Jonathan squandered the nation’s resources, as claimed by this current regime, how do you reconcile that with the way the APC is courting him, and there are indications that he’s being considered as a likely consensus candidate of the APC?
Honestly, I think it’s not possible. I think some people are basically playing a game with the psyche of Nigerians. I think these are evil people. I don’t see how Jonathan will become the presidential candidate of the APC, not even after the man himself has repeatedly debunked the idea. But if by any act of commission or omission some rascals work that out, I can predict that the APC will collapse if Jonathan becomes its candidate. When did he become a member of the party? In any case, in what other civil nation do they see this kind of nonsense being peddled? I don’t think it will happen. I think some people are basically just playing with that.
Your party demonised the PDP for running the country aground, yet it opens its doors to supposedly corrupt PDP members. Some of them are even holding key positions in this how do you want people to take the APC and the seriously?
I think you are even being modest; some of them are ministers. For me, that is the most disappointing thing Buhari has done. If you came to power with the reputation to fight corruption, and you find that the judiciary is so corrupt, likewise the police and the civil service, and that makes it a herculean task for you to fight corruption, I believe you must take a retreat and work out a strategy by which you will fight corruption. A situation where people against whom most egregious allegations have been made and those allegations have not been discharged are now appointed into very visible offices, honestly, every Nigerian has a right to be disappointed.
We are praying that whoever comes into next, we will not have such nonsense again in Nigeria. Let me tell you, people always say a man is innocent until proven guilty. I agree, you cannot put a man in prison or jail until he has been convicted by the court of the land, but the standard of appointment into visible political offices must be higher than that. You must say before you can get into a certain position, you must have your record thoroughly examined and pronounced clean. There are people in every state, so why must you get a man who is guilty of the most visible corruption charges in that state to be the one to represent the state in the cabinet? Honestly, I’m offended and disappointed by it. But I tell you that even if Buhari makes the mistake of making such nominations, in the name of God, why would the Senate confirm such people? This is part of the most ungodly system we are running.
But you were once part of the Senate, why didn’t you object?
I tell you; when Malami faced the Senate, there was a consensus in the Senate that he did not perform well. I felt the two people who did not perform well; the other one, a professor from Ondo State, should have failed. But of course, those from Kebbi and Ondo states went around begging their colleagues on behalf of those people, and at the end of the day, we passed both of them. While we passed those two people, who should not have been passed, they were waiting to see what they could do to fail Lai Mohammed, because he came from Kwara State and had an axe to grind with Bukola Saraki (the then Senate President). They also thought of how to fail Amaechi. I knew of course there was no way Amaechi would fail the hearing. If we were going to fail Amaechi, it would have to be because (Rivers State Governor, Nyesom) Wike had found him guilty of something, and even at that time, that had not taken place. So, the point was that Amaechi was not going to fail. He had the gift of the gab, but some people were waiting to see what they could do to fail him. Eventually, they couldn’t.
The two people we should have failed we refused to. If we had failed them at that time, the Senate would have established its authority as a true and authentic legislative check on the executive and they couldn’t just bring anybody. In fact, people were saying this man (Malami), a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, was sweating. By the time you become a SAN, you would have been used to appearing in the Supreme Court and other courts, and it was said then that they couldn’t make him the attorney-general but maybe a Minister of State. It was said that the late James Ocholi (who was the Minister of State for Labour) would be made the attorney-general. Ocholi, another SAN from Kogi State, was brilliant. Babatunde Fashola was magnificent and they said any of the two would be the attorney-general. But, when the portfolios were assigned, Malami was the one who got the Justice portfolio. There are Nigerians who will tell you that as the attorney-general, Malami has been a disaster.
The President has one year to go, do you think he can still redeem his image and that of the party based mainly on his promises?
There is hope and there must always be hope. We must remain incorrigible optimists, otherwise we are done for. The truth is, what we have seen in the last few weeks in which there has been a prominent expose of corruption won’t just end there. So many former ministers and officials have been exposed, but they are still walking freely. So, we just pray that this will not be the case. Let’s pray that in the next one year, the President will enjoy good health and hopefully, he will find people around him, who can help him to at least preserve his name on the good pages of history. The President, against all odds, has done some things well.
When we had plenty of money, billions of naira were voted for road construction, like the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, which could have been done in those years. They never did it, but this man came and did it. He did railway, airports, roads and a lot of things. One of the things I thought the has done wrongly is biting more than it can chew. The number of universities that have been approved in recent times, I believe, is a serious mistake, because you have not been funding the existing ones well. ASUU is on strike. Are you going to open new ones so that they can have more reasons to go on strike, because they will never have the things they need to provide the kind of education they should provide? So, there have been mistakes here and there, but who do you blame for that? You get to the National Assembly and everybody is proposing a bill for this or that. We are too unserious.
For 2023, you haven’t hidden your preference for the candidacy of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, but there have been claims that Tinubu nominated him as Buhari’s running mate since he couldn’t nominate himself, to avoid a Muslim-Muslim ticket, which they believed would have been rejected by Nigerians? Did Tinubu truly nominate Osinbajo for that position?
I was in Asokoro on the night that Osinbajo’s name was taken to Buhari. I was not privy to all the discussions that went on prior to that, so it will be wrong for me to pretend that I can talk authoritatively on that. However, look at history. Socrates was a mentor to Plato, but there are people who will tell you that Plato was a bigger thinker than Socrates. Aristotle was a student of Plato. Again, there are people who will tell you that Aristotle ended up becoming a greater man than his mentor. So, the fact that once upon a time you were my boss or my mentor does not mean that for eternity I must be subservient to you. No. When you have become the vice-president of a country, the only other post you can aspire to is the president, especially if you are still in office. That vantage position gives you the opportunity to see where things are wrong and what you may do differently. My preference clearly is for Osinbajo, but if it doesn’t go that way, that is democracy. The point that I am extremely angry about is to try to demonise Osinbajo for expressing a legitimate aspiration. That is wrong and that I will never subscribe to.
Some supporters of Tinubu even call Osinbajo a betrayer for contesting against his former boss. Is this so?
I know, and it’s silly. It’s even beneath dignifying the discussion. Let’s close that discussion.
With the recent developments, do you think Osinbajo has an upper hand in this race?
He has a good chance. Everybody has a good chance, because unbeknownst to most people in the public, there are night meetings where pledges are made, allegiance shifts, and in the end, if people think it’s going to be a game of money, then we know who is going to win. I don’t believe it’s going to be a game of money. I believe in the end, it will go one way or the other. I wish Osinbajo the best of luck and I wish Nigeria the absolute best of luck.
Based on health grounds, do you suggest Tinubu should step down for the VP?
If Tinubu chooses to withdraw, I hope he will remember the meeting held, during which all of them agreed that they would try to support the emergence of a candidate from the South-West. In that case, that may give (Dr Kayode) Fayemi or Osinbajo some edge in terms of where Tinubu will tilt his support. However, people often forget that in the history of Nigerian politics, we will never have a man again who will grip the affection of the Yoruba the way the late Obafemi Awolowo did. But, at the end of the day, Awolowo never became the President, because you don’t become the President of a country by being extremely popular in your own part of the country, but rejected in other parts. One of the advantages of Osinbajo is that he doesn’t have the baggage and negatives and liabilities that some other politicians like Tinubu have. It’s the same kind of advantage that Barack Obama had when he got into office as the President of the United States. People have criticised others but could not criticise him (Osinbajo) because he hasn’t stayed too long in the corridors of power.
Tinubu was the governor of Lagos State and he got his own company to collect tax for the state. You can’t do that in other civilised countries and get away with it. When he did it, I didn’t blame him, because those taxes had always been there all these decades and nobody collected them. Now, the fair thing to do is to let an independent company collect them, but I don’t want to go into all that. But honestly, I salute him for what he has done to increase the revenue of Lagos. Do I salute him for making essentially his own company like a monopoly? They will tell you that there are other companies, but that’s just a gimmick. It’s essentially a monopoly. People say the same thing with the signage in the state that his son does that, but I don’t know if it’s true or not. That’s what Bode George has repeatedly said anyway. If those are true, that cannot be something that speaks well of him. He will not dare do that in Britain, Japan or the United States. We cannot reduce politics to the lowest common denominators of nonsense and corruption.
On the revenue collection issue by Alpha Beta, it has also been argued that Osinbajo was the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General of the state at the time that arrangement was formed and that he cannot be totally absolved of complicity. What is your take on that?
If Osinbajo knew this was a Tinubu outfit, then there is nowhere we can absolve him. Unless we want to deceive ourselves, outfits like that are done with fronts. We hear his name was not even part of the documentation at the Corporate Affairs Commission. Let me tell you, when I first got into the National Assembly as a member of the House of Representatives many years ago, someone approached me and said he heard that I was a good man and he wanted to give me a contract. I said what for? I wouldn’t know what to do. When I told the person I didn’t have a company or somebody who could front for me, the person was shocked and asked how I won an election.
People say I’m arrogant, because the way I campaigned was that if my opponent was better than me, they should vote for the person. These and these are what I can offer and if they are not good enough for you, please vote for my opponent. However, you cannot place that blame on Osinbajo’s desk unless you can prove that he knew who was in charge and he covered it.
In Osinbajo’s declaration speech, he said he would continue the President’s legacy and many people who were dissatisfied with the President’s performance felt it would be counterproductive to say he should continue with that kind of record. What do you think?
I believe what Osinbajo meant was that Buhari meant well but he has unfinished business; things he meant to do but could not do, partly because of circumstances beyond his control, endemic problems, and that he would tackle them well. That’s what I believe he meant.
The governorship election in your state, Osun, holds in July, but with the rift in the APC, especially between Mr Rauf Aregbesola and the governor, Adegboyega Oyetola, and the drama that played out during the primary, has there been reconciliation now and won’t the crisis stand in the way of your party?
No, there has not been reconciliation, but my hope is that Oyetola will win. I’m an APC man. I believe that the PDP has not given Osun people a good candidate. So, it is a choice between Oyetola and the candidate of the PDP, and I believe Osun people will choose Oyetola.
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