Oshiomhole’s highhandedness, dictatorship forced me out of APC – Bolaji Abdullahi, Ex-APC Spokesman


Oshiomhole’s highhandedness, dictatorship forced me out of APC – Bolaji Abdullahi, Ex-APC Spokesman

... Explains why Saraki political dynasty crumbled in Kwara


Having served as a two-time Minister in the Sports and Youths ministries, and the National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), a Commissioner in Kwara State and above all as a reputable Editor of a national newspaper, Bolaji Abdullahi actually requires little introduction.

However, despite proven himself as a competent crisis manager, having undertaken the roles assigned to him at the most critical periods, for example, by managing Nigeria’s sports when it was threatened by crises and litigations and serving as the APC spokesperson during its most sensitive period when President Muhammadu Buhari spent over one year in a London hospital, it has become almost practically impossible for Abdullahi to shed the toga of Bukola Saraki boy in the perception of many. Fielding questions from Sunday Sun in Abuja, Abdullahi took time to refute the impression that contrary to speculations that he resigned his position as the APC spokesperson because Saraki left the party, it was the highhandedness and dictatorial disposition of the APC National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, that forced him out of the party.

He equally revealed why the Saraki political dynasty suffered a setback in Kwara State in the 2019 general elections, among other sundry issues.

You seem to be very inactive and too quiet since you left the APC as the National Publicity Secretary and Nigerians want to know what you have been doing?

I won’t say that I have been so quiet. You are aware that I participated in the last electoral exercise in my home state Kwara, trying to be the governor, but things did not go the way I envisaged. I think it is important and natural that I give myself an opportunity to recalibrate and decide what next to do with my political life. However, I have not always been a politician; I am also into other things as well. I am a writer and mentor of young people. So, I am doing enormous work in that respect as I had opportunity to do in the past. But, as far as politics is concerned, I believe that there are so much uncertainties at this time and so much clarity in the political terrain. Every sensible politician will know that this is the time to hold back and reappraise to truly understand the direction things are going, hoping that there will be an opportunity to be part of something bigger than all of us and part of something that will be really useful for the future of Nigeria.

How true is the thinking in the minds of many that you made a political miscalculation leaving the APC for the PDP?

Well, let me make it clear to them that I don’t feel undone in any way. The question I have asked and provided answer to myself is why do I want to be in politics and why do I want to be governor? I wanted to do it because having worked closely with the state governor then for eight years, I understand the enormity of power in the hands of governors especially the power to do good. A serious minded governor can change the story of his people and his state within the time that he has. For me who has worked at the federal and state levels, with my education, I believe that I can change the story of my people and add value to their lives. If it did not happen, I don’t tie to my fortune, my fate and I don’t think that is what should define me.

So, since the opportunity did not come, I continued to do other work. For me, the question of been undone or making political miscalculation does not arise as far as I’m concerned and that is why you see that nobody who has encountered me will see any iota of regret the way I carried on since then.

Why has it become impossible to stand on your own instead of always following Bukola Saraki?

Let me start with the first example you gave that I left the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan as Sports Minister. It was actually very unfortunate situation because he is someone I had a lot of regard for especially the way he went about his work. He is a real gentleman and we had a lot of mutual respect for each other. When I say he has respect for me, it was the work I was doing in the sports ministry then. But unfortunately things happened the way it did at the time that we were getting to know each other quite well. Initially, I suspected that he used to see Saraki in me each time he looks at me, but at a point, he began to see the real me and the value I could bring to his administration. But, unfortunately, that was the time the political situation changed and the people around him, his political advisers and actors around him, felt that with Dr Saraki leaving the party, it was an opportunity to capture Kwara State.

The president went to Kwara to campaign and I was to be there as the most political office holder from the state. There were expectations of me to demonstrate my loyalty to the president. They felt that I ought to do certain things as a loyal person to Mr President. Some of the things they expected me to do were things that were directly contradictory to my personal principles.

When we got to the venue of the event, people mounted the podium and took turns to haul all manners of abuses and insults on Dr Saraki, condemning him and the same was expected of me. But I did not because I had no reason and basis to do that and I did not also think that the way to demonstrate my loyalty to President Jonathan was to join in attacking Dr Saraki. Of course, I refused to do that and by refusing to do that, it was interpreted to mean that I was not loyal to the president. I knew that the consequence was very clear when I took that decision. I don’t have any regret over my action because you should expect consequences when you stand for something. Let me say that Dr Saraki did not put me on notice when he was leaving the PDP for the APC, he never asked me for one day what was going on in the government, he never tried to influence me to behave this or that way, but there has always been mutual respect between him and myself. I can proudly say that anyone associated with me was very proud of the work I was doing as Minister of Sports and nobody wanted to take a position that will truncate the good work. Dr Jonathan did not want to do anything to stop the good work we were doing. But I also know that there were political hawks around him and even back home in Kwara, people who wanted to be minster and already eying my position, fuelled things, trying to influence things and force his hands that I was disloyal to him and that he needed to get rid of me. This particular incident, for me, was not about following Dr Saraki, but about staying through to a principle. If I have worked with him for 12 years and he has influenced my life and career for those years without any personal problem with him, why would anybody want me to start insulting him? If I had done that, I don’t expect then President Jonathan to respect me anymore. That would portray me as an opportunistic person. I would have disappointed my upbringing if I had behaved the way they expected me to do. On the second instance of your claim that I left the APC because of Saraki, I will say that this one is more complicated in the sense that the arrival of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as the national chairman changed a lot of dynamics within the APC. And I think that there is a way my being one of the closest persons to his immediate predecessor, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, and also Dr Saraki combined to define my relationship with Comrade Oshiomhole. We had very cordial relationship before then and he even used to tell everybody how much of regard he had for me when I was a minister while he was a governor. So, many things happened that time that you could sense the tension especially how some of us that are part of Oyegun’s cabinet were treated with the attitude of ‘what are you people still doing here’. Again, it was like the only way you could be accepted was to take whatever he threw at you and if you attempt to raise any dissenting voice, it would be viewed as your continued loyalty to Oyegun and disloyalty to the new regime. Oshiomhole did not understand that as a national chairman of a party, he is like first among equals. He had a mentality of treating the NWC as members of his cabinet, but someone like me, having been a federal minister; I did not just come from nowhere. So, I would not for any reason allow that to happen. We were always having tensed and difficult relationship with him. Again, the transition thing that happened in Kwara politics, where the state party executive was sacked and replaced with someone else also compounded my relationship with him. Things were done very inappropriately with the sole objective of getting Dr Saraki out of the party. I belong to that political group and as a member of the NWC; I felt that if you are going to take a decision about Kwara party executive, it is only fair that you inform me. But when he took the unilateral decision to sack the state executive that was never discussed at the NWC, it was a fragrant act of disrespect to me and I would not have let that down. Don’t forget that I told journalists when Dr Saraki left the party that I will not leave through the back door if I was going to leave. But, even if Dr Saraki did not leave, I think I would have left my position as a member of NWC because as someone who cherishes personal relationship, my remaining as member of the executive of the party would have damaged my personal relationship with Comrade Oshiomhole. So, for me, politics is different and relationship is equally different. Don’t also forget that I wanted to contest for governorship and felt that I had very few months left. You could say that I was not calculative enough for not staying back maybe they would have given me the ticket, but there was no guarantee because of the kind of relationship that I had with Oshiomhole that time. He is not someone who has respect for group think or shared responsibility. He has that master-servant relationship mentality. People tell me that he is not a difficult person and how wonderful person he is, I don’t have any reason to doubt all that, but maybe I didn’t just have the right temperament that could deal with some of the things he was projecting. My relationship with him was terrible and grew very unbearable. So, my leaving the APC was not about following Saraki.

Did ‘Otege’ in Kwara State come to you as a surprise and what actually happened?

I think that the Otege thing, if you follow closely what happened in Kwara, was partly helped by our own internal challenges as a political group. I think that over time, we did things in a particular way that people felt we were no longer serving them.

People were no longer happy with us and no matter what we did; people were not just ready to listen to us. Because politics is about perception, at that point, people perceived that our political group, they supported over time, was no longer good for them. If you try to unpack that, you can begin to allocate responsibilities at every level over who did what wrongly, but the system that we built, inherited and worked with began to weaken due to different factors, which I am not going to say now because I am also writing a book on it. However, the truth is that people were no longer comfortable with us, they no longer trust us or have the kind of confidence they had in us previously. It was such that anyone would have won against us in Kwara. People did not know any of these persons that won the elections in Kwara, but the truth is that people did not just want us again. One of the guys that won the House of Representatives election was even on a sickbed. If you look at the composition of the members of House of Assembly in Kwara today, it was a mix grill of lucky chaps that just gambled and found themselves there. It was not as if there was a formidable force that wrested the power from us, no. It was so bad that we have become so weak and unable to convince the people that we are still the better option for them. But, if you live outside Kwara, there is a tendency to romanticise a slogan and conclude that there was one irresistible force that swept people away, but it is not true. We lost because the people have lost confidence in us not because the other people gave them a better option. I don’t want to go into the thinking that Kwara is not better off now because it is too early in the day to begin to pass judgment. I actually hoped that they will be able to justify the trust the people transferred from us to them. Kwara is still our state and that for me is what matters. I want to see a situation where things work. My primary interest in wanting to be the governor is to deal with the issues of youth development, which is my number one priority and by extension, any leader.

Will it be right to say that you have found political haven in the PDP since joining the party?

Don’t forget that I earlier alluded that I went back to the PDP because I was part of Dr Saraki’s political family and when he left for the PDP, I had to make my own assessment to see whether I should stay in the APC given what was happening at the time, especially as I don’t know what was waiting for me in the PDP. But I knew that my continued stay in the APC especially as an NWC member was no longer attainable as at that time. Above all, personal pride is very important to me. I think people should also be ready to draw the line and ask themselves, how low they are willing to go down to pick up power. If power is deposited in a pit latrine, are you willing to go in there to pick it because of your desperation for power? Those questions are very pertinent. For me, there are lines I have drawn which I will never cross no matter the type of power I am looking for. It was that more than any other thing that pushed me out of the NWC and by extension the APC. Don’t also forget that I was the chairman board of Nigeria Sugar Development Council, but I had to resign that position because I didn’t want anybody to accuse me of hypocrisy that I was no longer in the party, but still want to keep the appointment. It was not because of any certainty or guarantee of anything, but I felt that it was the moral and ethical thing to do.

Then, as for joining the PDP, it was only natural that I join my political family because that is where I belong and that is why I have to join PDP at that time. However, like I said, what has happened since the last 2019 general elections, is giving everybody an opportunity to reassess their situation, to recalibrate accordingly regardless of whether you are in the PDP or APC. If any politician tells you that he is not reassessing his position and his political direction, maybe he does not really know what is going on at this moment.

What is your assessment of the political temperature ahead of 2023 general elections?

I think we should talk about the parties first. I saw the political parties undergoing a lot of realignment. The parties are seriously under stress whether PDP or the APC or any other party and I think that going forward, we are going to see a lot of internal dynamics that have been managed before coming forward because what is at stake is power. Don’t forget that there will not be an incumbent president in the 2023 general elections which throws the political playing field wide open. We are likely going to see many people who feel that they have opportunity and real chance of going for the post. There will be a lot of contestation within the parties themselves and that could have consequences in the survival of the parties at different levels. At the end of the day, every politician who comes forward wants to win. We will see lots of negotiations, alignments and realignments happening. We will see strange bird fellows coming together again. The political terrain is in a state of perpetual flux at the moment. This is the period of uncertainty and when you say people are talking, they are doing so because they want to find an anchor. Saying that people are talking also confirms that there is uncertainty and everybody is struggling to find their bearing. I think sooner rather than later, we will see all kinds of realignments happening. I am not saying that there will be no APC or PDP or that things will remain the way they are.

Did you know anything about zoning of presidency in the APC while you were with the party?

Zoning never came up because I was in the APC when the dominant conversation in the Nigerian politics was about transition and how to deliver on the 2015 campaign electoral promises of the APC government. So, when I was speaking for the APC, the biggest task and agenda then was how we can convince Nigerians that we are keeping the promises we made to them during the 2015 presidential election. We were concerned about showing and proving to them that we are the better option and that they did not make mistake voting the APC in 2015. All these are the dominant agenda for us then. So, the conversation around zoning or who gets what after a particular period was not discussed. We were talking about election of four years period that has not ended and that will be followed by another four year period where an incumbent was likely to contest the election. So, the issue of zoning was not on the card and if people had any agreement prior to 2015 about how power should be rotated, I am not aware of it or it may have happened at a level higher than me.

Oshiomhole’s highhandedness, dictatorship forced me out of APC – Bolaji Abdullahi, Ex-APC Spokesman Oshiomhole’s highhandedness, dictatorship forced me out of APC – Bolaji Abdullahi, Ex-APC Spokesman Reviewed by JNJ GLOBAL GIST on October 27, 2019 Rating: 5

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