We are a party in governance. The PDP called itself the ruling party and acted with all the hubris that such a description connotes. We do not see ourselves as such. We must be careful of the words used and thoughts conveyed. We do not call ourselves the ruling party because that is not the language of democracy.”
Senator Tinubu in an exclusive interview with African Leadership Magazine gives a detailed analysis of activities which formed the build up to the formation of the All Progressive Congress, APC; and the elections which saw the ouster of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP. The story no doubt seems more revealing in the retelling. Excerpts:
Since the return of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, you comfortably settled in the opposition. From the AD to AC, ACN and finally APC; and we are also aware that some of your colleagues who were also in the opposition with you, either left for other political party or gave up the struggle. What would you say was your driving force?
First, there is no such thing as comfortably settling in as the opposition. It is difficult to place to be but at times traversing the political wilderness is necessary to bring the progressive change and reform the people crave. Given its ideological slant and its political culture, the PDP was never to be the vehicle for the political and economic development Nigeria needed. Those of us who believed in this vital change were faced with two options. Either forfeit our beliefs and succumb to the harmful politics of the PDP or stand in opposition and seek to convince the Nigerian people that we knew of a better way to govern and lead them. I chose the latter option because I decided that siding with correct principle was better than surrendering to corrupt power.
To seek political leadership is to assume the responsibility of improving people’s lives. True leaderships seeks to lighten the burden of our people, alleviating poverty wherever poverty is to be found, providing jobs to the jobless, shelter to those without, tending to the hungry and infirmed, building our public institutions and public infrastructure that the economy might expand and bringing actual light as well as the light of education to our people that they may be prepared for the challenges and ways of the 21st century. These are among the things that compel by involvement in politics and my commitment to the progressive cause.
“To seek political leadership is to assume the responsibility of improving people’s lives.”
The desire to achieve these goals has been my driving force and the longing to see Nigeria moving along the road to prosperity, justice and unity sustained me during the years in opposition.
I dared not bring myself to the point of aligning with forces that viewed this vision of a better Nigeria as something to suppress instead of something to nurture.
It is my strong belief that the people are invested with the right and duty to demand governance that listens to their voices and promotes their wellbeing. That should be the essence of democracy in Nigeria and anywhere else. If the government fails in this, it is no longer worthy of its name. It should be changed so that a better one can stand in its place. That has been my belief and my personal creed.
The journey to reach the current point where the opposition finally defeated an incumbent in the presidential election has been long. We have suffered our share of hardship and setbacks. It would have been easier to join the ranks of power. It also would have been wrong. Thus, we endured because we believed we were on the side of what is right and good in Nigeria. After 16 tough years of struggle and perseverance, the people of Nigeria decided to give themselves a chance at a better country. They voted for change. For this alone, the years of toil in opposition proved worth it.
Most of the major stakeholders in the APC have credited the success of successful merger, which is no doubt the biggest and most acceptable merger in the political history of Africa to you. Most Africans would like to know, how it all started and what was your inspiration?
It was clear that the lack of success in 2003, 2007 and 2011 was largely due to the failure of the opposition parties to unite. The only beneficiaries of this fragmentation of the progressive opposition were the PDP and its proclivity for misgovernance. Melding the parties together would be an arduous task. Many were apprehensive about leaving the known confines of their established parties to embark on an unprecedented merger the outcome of which was uncertain.
However, we summoned the courage and determination to prosecute the urgent task because the merger was an idea whose time had come. Nigeria was cast in a dire state. The nation could not endure another four years of the governance the PDP provided without suffering irreparable damage. Nothing less than the future of Nigeria hung in the balance. While some of us in the progressive fold had taken steps, instituting good governance at the state level, governance at the federal level was abysmal. Under President Jonathan, the nation had been set adrift. Neglect and profligacy had become the hallmarks of that administration. Boko Haram was on a terrorist rampage, killing, kidnapping and seizing territory as if they were stronger than the entire nation that detested them; corruption permeated all aspects of federal governance. The economy belonged to the few to the detriment of the many. Our people were in despair. Many had lost hope. The state-level achievements of those of us in the progressive fold were in danger of being consumed by the dysfunction at the federal level.
We realized that the 2015 election was more than a political exercise. We came to see it as a national rescue mission. It gave us a sense of urgency. Something had to be done, and we had to do it. The history of the past elections had made it clear. We knew that if we remained separated in our small parties, we would be handing victory to the PDP, and that would be tantamount to handing defeat to the nation. Our moment of truth had come. All of us had to ask ourselves whether we cared more for the nation or our personal ambitions. The bulk of the leaders and rank and file members of the CPC, ANPP and ANC decided to hold the national interests above our personal ones. We went into the merger without any side deals or guarantees to anyone. All offices and nominations were open to every member but were earmarked for none. To become our nominee, presidential Buhari had to submit himself to a primary that he was just as free to lose as he was to win. He did so without murmur or complaint as he knew this was the democratic way.
Equally important, we decided not that people would not become a member of the APC by virtue of their former membership in the old parties. People had to join the APC as individuals. We did this because we wanted the party to be a true merger and not an alliance. Thus, we did not allow the APC to become a mere composite of factions. There were to be no parties within a party. We needed unity and oneness of purpose and organization. Some people still try to refer to the legacy parties as if they are still present. This is old thinking; it is trying to breathe life into things already past and buried. We do better by looking to the future so that we continue to strengthen and perfect the progressive stance and cohesion of this party we so proudly built. The old parties are nothing now but objects of our nation’s political history.
“Some people still try to refer to the legacy parties as if they are still present. This is old thinking; it is trying to breathe life into things already past and buried.”
At bottom, the merger was inspired by the urgent need to end 16 years of destructive PDP governance. Ours was a mission born of necessity and nourished by principle. Our objective was to ensure that Nigerians from all walks of life and the social station could gather under one tent to develop the nation on the basis of equity and shared prosperity. We sought a fair social compact for all the people. Under the PDP, Nigeria was reduced to a land of vast wealth inhabited by people living in vast penury and a people of great talents and energy made helpless by a government that was supposed to help them realize their potential. For many of us who embarked on the journey, we surmised that we had worked too hard and long for the progress of our people to leave Nigeria on the path of certain combustion. We realized that we had to make compromises and personal sacrifices to remove the hand of misgovernance from the neck of the people.
What actually gave you the conviction that the APC could wrestle power from the then ruling PDP, knowing that incumbency factor has always played a critical role in determining electoral victory, especially in Nigeria and Africa at large?
My simple answer is: ‘Common Sense’! Common Sense dictated the urgent need for change. So, I came up with the phrase ‘Common Sense Revolution’ to describe what was obvious to all those who cared to see.
The truth of the matter was that the APC did not wrest power from the PDP. Even now, the APC is not in power in the way the PDP claimed to be. We are a party in governance. The PDP called itself the ruling party and acted with all the hubris that such a description connotes. We do not see ourselves as such. We must be careful of the words used and thoughts conveyed. We do not call ourselves the ruling party because that is not the language of democracy. We are to serve the people not rule them.
Thus, we did not wrest power from the PDP. The people took power from the PDP for it was only the people who had the legitimate right to do so. Power belongs to the electorate, not any political party. The people exercised the power that belongs only to them by removing the PDP entrusting governance to our party.
Several months before the election, I was approached by a group of students to mediate a matter with their school’s authorities. I became somewhat passionate and as I spoke on the specific matter brought for my consideration. I started addressing it from a wider perspective as I considered their dispute symptomatic of Nigeria’s bigger problem. I made a call for the youths and the politically active in Nigeria to begin a ‘Common Sense’ revolution against what had become our chronic misgovernance. To them, I spoke of how a nation so endowed with human and material wealth could leave so many of its people in jobless penury. I talked of how the past administration claimed enormous economic growth by simply by changing the way the nation calculated its GDP. They roughly doubled our GDP figure with the stroke of a pen, but that trick did nothing to add new jobs, lessen old poverty or rebuild the nation’s dilapidated infrastructure. The PDP spend billions of dollars on the alleged improvement of our powers sector, but the only success the power holding company of Nigeria could claim was that it continued to hold the nation in darkness. We asked the people to exercise their common sense. Things were getting worse, but the PDP was claiming they were getting better. If they continued with the PDP, things would worsen still.
“Thus, we did not wrest power from the PDP. The people took power from the PDP for it was only the people who had the legitimate right to do so.”
Only a small group of the PDP inner circle luxuriated while the rest of the nation was slowly ground to dust. Things had fallen so badly under the PDP that its incumbency had become a double-edged sword. Its record was one of serial failure. Sure it held the might and money of government but these things could not erase its record of ill performance.
Thus, the election became a between the common sense of the people and the contrived tales of the incumbent government. With their pockets empty, homes in darkness and jobs disappearing, the people were in no mood for false tales. Despite its vast war chest and propaganda machine, the PDP lost. The power of incumbency could not defeat the power of the public’s wish for a better life.
The people saw the APC as a credible alternative to the PDP. They saw that our ideals and our policies better matched their interests. They saw that our candidates were a cut better than the PDP’s. In a way, they voted twice in the past election. They voted to oust the elitist, reactionary PDP, and they voted to trust the progressive APC.
Your Excellency, we would like to take you back in the days when the Alliance for Democracy (AD) ran into stormy weather and was hijacked by the reactionary elements funded by the government in power, you quickly featured in pioneering the birthing of another progressive party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).Today, the defunct ACN has not done badly as a party in many states in Nigeria. I’m sure you will like to share with us how the journey started from the AD, crisscrossing the ACN and finally settling with APC?
The history of these parties traces the ups and downs in the fortunes of progressive politics in Nigerian since 1999 to the formation of the All Progressives Congress and its landmark election feat this year. The Alliance for Democracy was formed in late 1998. It served as the political platform for progressives in the 1999 and the 2003 general elections.
During the 2003 election, the PDP attempted to infiltrate and take over the AD by proxy. Promises were made to certain AD figures for this subterfuge to work, and many believed these promises. As quickly as they were made, the promises were broken. The PDP strategy was to break the AD in the southwest. They nearly succeeded. However, those of us in Lagos state did not fall into the snare. We did not accept the handshake offered by the PDP. We understood it was false friendship, and false friendship is nothing but true poison. We stuck to our progressive ways and stood alone. The PDP seized control of the other states in the southwest but not Lagos. Had Lagos fallen, the prospects for the maintenance of multiparty electoral democracy in Nigeria would have turned bleak as it was the PDP’s objective to turn Nigeria into a one-party state under the PDP’s banner. Democracy had been pushed to the edge of extinction. Determined not to go under, we began to push back.
From our solitary redoubt in Lagos, progressives began to reorganize to fight back. We did so with superior ideas, programs, and performance. We also remolded the party to separate the true progressives from those who were merely members of the party out of the transient commitment of political convenience. Thus, in September 2006, the progressive wing of the Alliance for Democracy merged with the Justice Party, the Advance Congress of Democrats, and several other political parties to form the Action Congress which later became the Action Congress of Nigeria. Under these banners, we would win elections in Edo, Ekiti and Osun states. Slowly, step by step, political momentum was turning as the people were being exhausted and becoming more alienated by the PDP.
“Had Lagos fallen, the prospects for the maintenance of multiparty electoral democracy in Nigeria would have turned bleak as it was the PDP’s objective to turn Nigeria into a one-party state under the PDP’s banner.”
In February 2013, the Action Congress of Nigeria announced plans to merge with the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), and a faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to form the All Progressives Congress. Then we worked hard to unite and present the best case for progressive change to the electorate in the 2015 election. The people decisively rendered their verdict. History was made, and a new Nigeria is now under construction because of it.
Your Excellency, in the build-up to the elections to date, Change remains the most common word amongst the party, and Nigerian have embraced it. In clear terms, what does Change represent for the APC?
The All Progressives Congress (APC) promised substantive change, and we intend to honor that promise. First, we start with a change in political mindset. No longer will the federal government function like a royal court. It shall behave as a modern, efficient democracy intent on delivering services to the people instead of feeding off the skin of the people and the fat of the land.
Upon accepting the party nomination, then candidate Buhari made several important pledges to the people. Among these, he promised to govern honestly by the Constitution, secure the nation and efficiently manage the economy. He vowed to tackle poverty and all forms of bias. He said he would return Nigeria to a position of international respect.
This will require a government of dedicated and capable performers. The main objectives of this government shall be to end corruption and sanitize our public institutions, defeat Boko Haram and rehabilitate the affected areas and populations, create jobs through government works and infrastructural programs, encourage industrialization, modernize agriculture and provide a social safety net for the poor, aged, and vulnerable. We shall place primacy on education and work so that this society can reach optimal productivity and wealth creation. This is the way to break the hold poverty has on too many of our people.
Nigeria must also return to fill its role as a leader on the continent and as a spokesperson for Africa in the global arena. For years, our voice has been absent. Africa and Nigeria have suffered as a result of this lack of foreign policy. We need to reclaim this leadership. We seek to lead Africa into an era of peace by working to resolve longstanding conflicts that plague various nations. From there, we must seek greater economic integration of African economies and become better advocates for Africa’s interests in international fora.
Politics in Nigeria and other parts of Africa is seen by many as a call to self-enrichment, rather than a call to service; what would be your advice to the younger generation, seeking to hold political offices in the future?
As signalled by the electoral victory of the APC, my advice to the younger generation is to embrace the new brand of politics and activism that we have championed in Nigeria: the politics that vigorously promotes the welfare of the electorate and activism that courageously and doggedly pursues the rule of law and business as “unusual” for the greater good.
Corruption remains one of the greatest problem bedeviling the country, and the leadership of your party have promised to assist the President in fighting corruption in the country. How feasible is this, in the light of the fact that, it has ravaged nearly all facets of the society?
We were once a nation known for honesty. Now our reputation has been smeared by the actions of a few. Our name is synonymous with corruption. Corruption, misgovernance, and injustice walk hand in hand. Where there is one, you will find the others. We cannot have the Nigeria we seek while corruption infects our institutions of governance and is the main tenet of our political culture. As President Buhari has stated, we must kill corruption or else it will kill us.
It shall be hard, but we can end the reign of corruption just as we ended the reign of the PDP. We must return to government by rule and by law instead by whim and arbitrary fancy. No one can be above the reach of the law’s consequences, and nobody should ever fall below its protection.
We also must end the belief that government is the leading industry in Nigeria. The government is not a place for one to get rich. It must return to being seen as a place where dedicated people perform public service. If your objective is to get rich, go into business and leave governance to others. Public vice can no longer be virtue and virtue can no longer be seen as vice or foolishness. Honesty, integrity, and service must be trumpeted while avarice and unjust enrichment must be publicly scorned.
“It shall be hard, but we can end the reign of corruption just as we ended the reign of the PDP.”
Some of this will be done by public awareness and teaching the people a better way. However, some of this must be done by strict accountability. People should be rewarded for their honest actions and be punished for malfeasance and misconduct.
We also need to plug the structural flaws in governance that have been intentionally created to facilitate corruption. Our budgetary and procurement processes need to be amended to eliminate inflated pricing and kickbacks. Too many government ministries and agencies keep two or more sets of financial records, one to fool the public and others to hide the public’s funds. NNPC and other revenue generating bodies have been notorious in disguising their revenue intake. Thus, we never know if the amounts they tender to the federation account is the right amount or a small fraction thereof. The Accountant General should not be entrusted with the account books of the federal government and also the federation account. This is a conflict of interest. Already the president has begun to attack some of these anomalies by requiring all government bodies to use but one federal account. This will reduce the ability of unscrupulous officials to hide public money in obscure accounts for their personal usage.
Last, this government is on the right track by calling on other nations to help it trace the stolen monies with the view of confiscated the funds and returning them to Nigeria where they can do good. Given the reduction in oil prices, this is not only a moral imperative it is an economic one as well. Nigeria is not in the position to be giving such financial aid to nations wealthier than we are.
With a resolute and capable leadership, the opportunities and incidences for corruption will be reduced and significantly so. Fighting this battle is the greatest moral challenge facing Nigeria. It will determine whether we are a nation proud, honest and strong where a Nigerian will be eager to proclaim his citizenship wherever he goes in this world or will we be one where our people are always ashamed and making excuses about the conduct of our leaders. To me, there is no choice but to fight this battle and to win it.
Leadership remains one of the greatest issues confronting Africa; as an African Leader, what do you think can be done to enthrone responsible leadership at all levels?
To bring responsible leadership, we must break with a vestige of the past. African nations won political independence over fifty years ago, but we did not liberate ourselves from the ways of colonial rule. The colonial government was never intended for the benefit of the populace. The government was meant to service the interests of a foreign elite. The people were merely tools to be employed toward this unjust, undemocratic aim. Sovereignty was not theirs. The government ruled instead of served them.
“The main thing is to shift from the belief that leaders once elected should be allowed to behave as medieval potentates unanswerable to all but themselves.”
Political independence was not accompanied by an independence of political thought and of culture. In too many instances, the domestic elites took over the role vacated by the departing foreign elites. Even the secreting of public funds to foreign lands mimicked this behavior. Religious, regional and ethnic divisions were exploited by this cynical elite to divide the people that the people may not unite to claim the governance they deserve.
We are now in a belated transition from this unhelpful past.
The main thing is to shift from the belief that leaders once elected should be allowed to behave as medieval potentates unanswerable to all but themselves. We must continue to educate the public and those who seek to lead that national sovereignty resides in the people, the government is meant to serve them. Elected officials are their agents, not their overlords.
We have to make people understand and believe that government is theirs and should work to benefit them. Those who lead must perform according to the needs and interests of the people. It will no longer be enough to harbor great ambition and greed. Leaders must have compassion and be competent. People should not aspire or be elected to leadership unless they have something to offer that will advance their community, state or nation. We must elevate political discourse from personalities and base considerations of ethnicity, religion, and region. These issues have to recede as governance begins to, more seriously look at how to develop our nations and improve the daily lives of the people.
The people must begin to demand leaders committed to reforming their economies and instilling justice and fair play in their societies. This change does not come easily, but it can be had as we have just experienced in Nigeria. Today, I am proud of our nation. After years of stagnation, we are at the forefront of the march of democracy and good governance in Africa. Nigeria is poised to help lead Africa into a new era of responsive and just government.
What are we to expect from an APC-led government?
Africa can expect the APC-led government to honor democracy and the rule of law while eliminating Boko Haram, battling corruption and restructuring the economy in a way that ends our reliance on oil yet brings employment, industry and broadly shared prosperity. These are our chief aims, and we will do all that is humanly possible to achieve them.
On a final note, who is Asiwaju Bola Tinubu?
I am a Nigerian and African and proud of both. I have devoted the bulk of my adult life to fighting for good democratic governance and economic reform that will defeat poverty and build a more durable future. I have been a senator. I fought against the Abacha military regime and was forced into exile because of my stance. I have served as Governor of Lagos state. With a population approaching 20 million people, it is larger than many nations and its GDP would make it one of the largest economies in Africa. During my tenure, we established a long-term program for governance that has helped revive our state and placed it at the vanguard of progressive and responsive governance in Nigeria.
“I hope to be remembered as one who carried his load as best he could. Whenever I stumbled, I got up to go farther”
Today, I am the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress. I spend my waking moments thinking about the challenges confronting Nigeria and Africa. I believe in the people of Nigeria and Africa and that Nigeria as a special role to play in leading the continent. I believe in the goodness, ingenuity and potential of our people. I am touched by their perseverance and ability to make due with less than is their due. I am committed to doing my best to make sure that they will not have to suffer in this way and that Nigeria and Africa are made better so they may assume their rightful place in the world.
I hope to be remembered as one who carried his load as best he could. Whenever I stumbled, I got up to go farther. Whenever I erred, I learned to do better. When it was easy to quit, I continued to fight for the people. I did my best move Nigeria and Africa in a better way and to clear a path that might not have been easy but was right so that the subsequent generations that follow may be able to surpass and go beyond what we have achieved. While I live in the present, my heart and mind are focused on constructing a better future. I have worked as I have not for acclaim or glory but because I love the people. In the end, I hope it can be said of me that I helped make my land and our continent better than I found them.