APC’s Problems Began With Saraki’s Coup As Senate President – Lai Mohammed

Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, in this interview with journalists in Lagos, spoke on the gale of defections rocking political parties in the country and other issues affecting the polity. Excerpts:

What will be your immediate reaction to the gale of defections in APC. Was it an event you were expecting or it took you by surprise?

I don’t think anybody who has been a close watcher or observer of this political landscape should be taken aback by the defections. I think that it even came so late, we shouldn’t be surprised. A Yoruba adage says, ‘If we build a house on spittle, the first fog will demolish it’. The foundation for what you see today was laid the day the Senate President forced himself on the party as Senate President. That was the day the day the foundation for what you are witnessing today was laid because traditionally it is the party’s prerogative who becomes the presiding officers in the two houses. Here, we were met with a fait accompli when Dr. Bukola Saraki, against the wishes of the party, did the unthinkable by aligning with the opposition and making them an offer they could not refuse.

I can’t quite remember the number but in a situation whereby almost the entire 40 plus Senators in PDP voted for him. So he needed only a minority from the APC. So we were all waiting for Mr. President to come and address us on this issue at the International Conference Centre, it was announced that he (Bukola) has emerged as the Senate President.

From that day, we know we had two problems. Number one, we had a Senate President who imposed himself on the party and to make it worse as an insurance, he arranged for an opposition person to be Deputy Senate President and that makes it impossible for us to remove him. We have a situation like ‘If you remove me, you are going to have a PDP Senate President’. I think from that day we had a problem. I think this is not a surprise at all. Of course you could see the behaviour of the National Assembly since then. We have a National Assembly in which we had a clear majority in both houses but which treated the Executive with contempt and who actually slowed down the work of government. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, our budgets were delayed. We can understand 2015 budget because we came in in the middle of the year. But 2016, 2017, the earliest we got our budgets was June. Key appointments, nominations and confirmations for key organisations that could move the government forward like the CBN, like the NDIC, were delayed. Really, it couldn’t have been worse if the PDP had a majority in the National Assembly.

Some are also blaming the APC for its refusal to zone those positions before and after the elections were won and lost, some are also of the view that those who are members of the APC today arranged with former Speaker Aminu Tambuwal to go against its party’s decision in 2011. You should have expected what happened in 2015?

It is not exactly the same thing. In 2011, there were two aspirants from the PDP. Each of them knew that they needed the opposition to emerge. So the kind of horse-trading that took place in 2011 is normal in any democracy since the party did not succeed in getting one candidate. Now when they approached us, we looked at the offer and we believed that the other party didn’t do as much. What we did in 2011 in helping him to come to power was a normal thing in democracy because once you don’t have absolute majority, you would need the support of the other smaller parties. And in 2011 we were the biggest minority in the House of Reps. The difference is this. Tambuwal did not destroy his party in the process. He didn’t offer Gbajabiamila Deputy Speaker, that is the difference. I don’t know what took place in PDP then. In our own case we tried to get all parties together, we called meetings which were boycotted by their group and at the end of the day when we realized this thing was getting so bad, Mr. President was to address all of us. We were waiting for Mr. President to come with majority of our Senators there when it was announced. So it is not the same thing.

So does your government want Saraki removed or it is just a party affair? 
I think the Chairman of the party has spoken and he has asked him to resign.

What is the difference between Tambuwal’s defection in December 2014 and Saraki’s defection this time? At that time you issued a statement as party’s spokesman that it was justifiable and he needed not resign. Now the party is asking Saraki to resign, what is the difference? 
You see in 2014, the political climate was completely different. By 2013, three major political parties and factions of two had collapsed into a new party. We had ANPP, CPC and ACN and a faction of APGA that came together to become a new party. In 2014, there were internal wranglings within the PDP and they decided to defect to meet us in APC. Even now nobody is saying people can’t defect. Mr. President said it that many of the people who defected did so for selfish purposes because many of them want to come back to the National Assembly but many of them too when they were coming reached understanding with their local people as to the arrangement. You know a Senator sometime represents up to eight local governments, sometimes 10 and there are some unwritten rules that if this side of the Senatorial district produces a Senator for four years, it has to go to the other side in another four years. So many of them are facing re-election problem because they can’t go back to their constituency and say they want to run again.

At the party level they know themselves. If you are going to do a primary to be a Senator and you have agreed that it has to come from Shomolu this time around and Mushin says it wants it, they will tell Mushin it can’t get it and they won’t vote for it. So there are so many reasons why some of them defected and probably they can get the ticket in another party. Defection is as old as politics itself even in the First Republic.

The fundamental thing is that for us, it would have been better that they left a long time earlier because they have strangulated this government for too long. When you are now being betrayed by your own party it is more painful because we can’t fight back as much as we want to fight back.

I just want to establish that the foundation of what you are seeing today was laid as far back as the day he (Saraki) became Senate President.

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