APC Will Reform The Military

Special Interview

APC Will Reform The Military

lai-muhammedGetting him to give an extensive interview is a herculean task, but once Lai Mohammed, national publicity secretary of the All Progressives Congress, APC sits with you for an interview, he fires from all cylinders. Little wonder that some people say that he is a torn in the flesh of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.

Truly, when it is time to hit at the PDP, he adjusts his agbada [the flowing male traditional gown], shifts his moderate frame on the chair and speaks with a voice that rises to a crescendo and a gesticulation that tells you ‘PDP is in trouble’!

Mohammed dissects opposition like a surgeon will his patient in the theatre, except that this ‘surgeon’ makes no pretence at helping the patient regain life. Rather, he converts the patient’s problem into advantage for his party, the APC.

Welcome to Lai Mhammed’s study in his Lagos residence, where he hosted the TELL team of Wola Adeyemo, executive editor, publications; Adejuwon Soyinka, deputy general editor; Sunday Adedeji, senior photo editor and Olusegun Adeosun, reporter.

He is as frank on the APC situation as he is unsparing of President Goodluck Jonathan and his party. Mohammed is not a dour pugilist. He also makes you laugh. For instance, when after the interview the crew once again asked him to work on an interview for us with Mohammadu Buhari, APC presidential candidate, he lowered his gaze [like the judges do when they are about to make a remarkable pronouncement], raised his face again and looked mockingly at the journalists sitting in front of him, saying, as if he meant it, ‘Eni lati soogun’ [literally meaning ‘You guys may have to do juju’]. He said with the commitments of Buhari, and the hot race the general is engaged in for the election that is just about one month away, it will be a miracle for anyone to be able to track him down for a chat. Mohammed may not be the candidate; he nevertheless makes a good mouthpiece of the party that has put the ruling party on its toes, even in this interview. Excerpts:

 

Did you envisage that there would be attack on your campaign rallies and party officers?

Yes, we did. We knew there was act of desperation on the part of PDP; especially when they felt they were losing power. Any unbiased political watcher will agree that the last two months have changed the political calculation and even the perception of Nigerians. I don’t think the kind of resurgence that APC is now experiencing was even contemplated by many members of the party. Many members of the APC didn’t know that they were going to hold election based on the fact that they knew that they posed the kind of characters that can make a change. Politically, they had a stronger wheel. And they also felt that they had a date with history and then make it happen. They were more driven by passion and commitment.

 

What then brought home the reality today?

I want to say probably, a combination of many factors. I think gradually, the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria, TAN overreached themselves. It got to a point when all you could see on television were just TAN advertisement. And these advertisements were so aggressive but they bore no correlation to the reality on ground. People actually started questioning the credibility of these advertisements. Two, the worsening economy disillusioned people a lot. Especially when about two months ago the federal government said they were going to introduce austerity measures and the value of the Naira fell. That was again, another turning point. Then, insecurity didn’t get better. Sometime in October, when the chief of defence staff announced they were to reach a truce with Boko Haram, those who were sceptical about [President Goodluck] Jonathan then felt he was going to get it right. If he had got it right, that would have changed the issues. But unfortunately not that he did not get it right, it came out that the whole thing was a hoax –either incompetence at its best or sheer fraud. And I think this combined to put people off Jonathan and PDP.

I have never seen a person that scores own goals like Mr President. On first errors, which political party has been in power in the last 16 years? He’s indicting the PDP. Why do you have to go back to 30 years ago? Which party has been in power since the last 16 years? I have never seen a man that is making our campaign so easy.

The issue of running mate, the party did a lot of permutations about where the candidate has strength and all that. It was also hoped that the electoral strength of the candidate would be complemented by who comes as running mate. But it was like on the issue of religion, your party lost courage in presenting one of the most qualified candidates from the South because of religion?

We must accept certain realities. One is that at no point in the history of this country have we ever elevated religion and ethnicity. Today, all of a sudden, religion has become an issue in politics. So much that even your own friend who normally is moderate about religion will say no ‘we cannot have the same face in a ticket’. So, it would have been an error of judgement on our part to ignore that religious sensibility. Because if we had ended up having a fantastic team of two competent Muslims, the issue today would not have been what APC has as its manifestoes. It would have been completely submerged by issue of religion and we would have had no answer to it. In politics, it is about compromise.

How will your party tackle the major insecurity situation in the country; Boko Haram for instance.

For us, we will look at the insecurity from a holistic viewpoint. Because we have realised that this present administration is inefficient and ineffective, what we intend to do as a government is that while we are addressing the underlying issues of this insecurity, we are going to put in place a very robust and comprehensive security sector reform. For instance, what we will do in the immediate is to tackle Boko Haram. And not just Boko Haram, the first thing is to expand the capacity and capability of the security forces. You must make immediate employment in all the five arms. You must do a security audit check to know exactly where the lacunas are. The structure of the Army and the entire security must be revamped to give autonomy and accountability.

In specific terms, if you look at our manifesto, we intend to employ in our first year in office 100, 000 policemen. We will also upgrade the Navy, Air Force, and DSS and also increase their capacity. And of course, we will expose them to most modern training and equip them appropriately to face modern day challenges. You will be shocked to hear that the liability and death insurance payable to soldiers today is so ridiculous. We intend to raise that to a minimum of N1 million so that we can give to our soldiers a sense of belonging. They must have something while they are fighting! It never happened not even at the height of Nigeria’s civil war. But what do you expect when soldiers who are ill equipped, ill trained, ill nourished? We will look at security, which like politics is all local. You must involve all authorities – Federal, state to the local government in a way that Governors under us will nominate police Commissioners.

 

If we had ended up having a fantastic team of two competent Muslims, the issue today would not have been whether APC has its manifestoes or not. It would have been completely submerged by issue of religion and we would have had no answer to it

 

That will mean that the [office of] Police Commissioner will be politicised

No! Its so annoying when people start talking of politicisation of the security. Elections come once in three or four years. The issue about security is that I want to be able to drive from Lagos to Ibadan without armed robber stopping me. I want my daughter to take a bag and go to school without being raped. I want my son to be able to go and spend his holidays with his friend without being kidnapped. That is the issue of security! It does not mean that you are going to devolve power from the authority. It does not mean that you are not going to have federal Police. All you need do is to look at the constitution and say this day-to-day burglary, rape; attempted murder will be state affairs. Then, other issues you know have political coloration, should be made federal.

 

Is that a precursor to state police?

There is nothing called state police anywhere in the world. What people call state police is actually devolution of state power when you actually make security local. In other parts of the world, even local government police have certain settings and the state doesn’t even bother with it. State police should start tackling serious matters like armed robbery. What we are talking about is that you must devolve power. Democracy is at that local government level. There is no federal politician or citizen. No! We all belong to one village or one ward, one local government. Why security was so effective in the first republic is because security was localised.

 

The current president said the challenge of the security is that of equipment and that you cannot equip the security overnight that it ought to have happened over the years. So how do you intend to fix that?

I have never seen a person that scores own goals like Mr President. On first errors, which political party has been in power in the last 16 years? He’s indicting the PDP. Why do you have to go back to 30 years ago? Which party has been in power since the last 16 years? I have never seen a man that is making our campaign so easy. You inherit the liabilities and assets of government. Most of the projects he commissioned, he didn’t start them. But if you want to take the benefits of institution you can’t refuse its burden. How can he be talking about equipment now, how about the huge amount of money that has been voted to the ministry of defence annually? What has he been doing with it? In an attempt to defend himself, he’s just making a ridicule of himself and his government.

 

You must do a security audit check to know exactly where the lacunas are. The structure of the Army and the entire security must be revamped to give autonomy and accountability

 

We know how problematic it has been tackling the issue of power and the current president will say he has succeeded in unbundling PHCN. Moving forward from where energy is today, when your party gets to power would you see what has been done as part of what to build on or you have to do an overhaul?

I think the first thing every government does when it gets to office is to study the situation. He may not have to dismantle what has been done if only to repeat the same thing. But until you are in power you won’t actually know what has been done. The first thing to do is to take an audit. You have unbundled PHCN, what form it is, how much is generated today, who generates it. You have unbundled IPP, the first thing now is, all the new IPPs, what is their capacities. All we were told is that by year 2020, we are going to have 5000 mega watts. The honest truth is that for 170 million people, you need nothing less than 50,000,mega watts. Even if you say the people need 5000 mw today, in 10 years time, they might need 10,000. So we are going to do an audit check. Where do we need to intervene?

Don’t forget that Nigerians are impatient. There are lots of expectations, do you think…

(Interjects) If you don’t do an audit, how do you know what is actually the demand as opposed to what you can give. As of today, nobody can tell us the combined capacity of all the independent power plants is X. We will also look at the area of transmission. Because the DISCOs [distribution companies] are complaining about transmission. But it does not mean because they have unbundled NEPA or power that the new government is going to hands off completely. If we need to increase the capacity, we will do so, without necessarily tampering with what they have done.

Don’t you think much of this auditing could have been done outside and when you get to office you hit the ground running?

Unless you are fooling yourself. We are not in government, do we have access to this information, no we don’t. For instance, the NNPC will let you know only what they want you to know. That was why it was easy for NNPC to cover up the missing $20 billion. It is easy, you cannot regulate from the outside. That is why one of our recommendations is that you must break up the NNPC into two distinct bodies-one, operation, the other, regulatory.

 

If you get into government and you are to set priorities, which will be the first four?

Job creation, insecurity, fighting corruption, and alleviating poverty.

 

Power is not there?

You see, you can’t create jobs without power. When you look at our job creation scheme, you will find elements in how we will reform the oil and gas industry.

 

When you talk about corruption, there is the fear that General Buhari has this credential and when he gets there, he can do it. But the problem is with some people in the APC who will have some baggage and susceptible to probe, will he close his eyes?

It depends on what people understand by fighting corruption. You fight corruption by introducing a new regime. A new code of conduct. Corruption is a matter of attitude. The best way to fight corruption, which we intend to do under our manifesto, is to bring about the reform in the public sector, institute a new code of conduct that will reward honesty, hard work and transparency and punish indolence, punish fraud and punish all shady deals.

 

The ones that happened in the past, you will let them go?

I think it will be counter-productive on the part of any new administration to say that what we want to do is trying to probe what happened in the past. It will be so time-consuming. There are laws to deals with all that. If anybody comes up today and says I have information that XY did this. You go to court as an individual, but as a government, we will draw the line. There is no time to lose on some democratic probes. But immediately you get to power, block all loopholes. It is not because APC people might be involved. The question to ask if we want to start probing, where do we start and where do we stop. Do we start from 1999 or 1983 or 1979? Now you will want to be bogged down by that. We will spend the next twenty years and get to nowhere.

 

I have never seen a person that scores own goals like Mr President. On first errors, which political party has been in power in the last 16 years? He’s indicting the PDP. Why do you have to go back to 30 years ago? Which party has been in power since the last 16 years? I have never seen a man that is making our campaign so easy

 

Considering all the ethnic and militia issues that you mentioned, are you convinced that elections can actually hold in February?

 

We have a very funny feeling that the PDP does not want the election to hold. I don’t know why. Already they are flying the kite, asking some people to say no, if Buhari wins the election, the Niger-
Delta will not accept and if Buhari loses, the north will not accept. That is not the way to run a country. As long as the elections are free and fair it will be difficult for the loser not to accept the result. So the key is neutrality on the part of the government.

One of the arguments on why the elections should be shifted is that we can’t effectively secure certain sections of the country today. So what is the guarantee that the election will hold in those places?

 

It is a sore issue but what we believe is that if the government is sincere that they want to hold that election they can do so. I think this government deliberately planned not to have the elections a long time ago. In December 2013, Yobe State conducted local government elections, you are aware. And the local government elections are the most grassroots elections. No incidents. In March 2014, APC conducted registration exercise in Nigeria, using the polling booth units as basis without disruption. So what we are saying is that I think somehow, this government is benefitting from Boko Haram.

 

In an attempt to defend himself, he’s just making a ridicule of himself and his government

 

Why do you say so?

If elections are not held in the northeast, who stands to benefit? The PDP. Because these are the strongholds of APC. If the elections hold in northeast we are the loser, PDP is the winner. So that is why I say they are benefitting from the insurgency.

You said you are going to do reform in the security sector. They say that there are fifth columnists, persons who are sympathetic to the cause of Boko Haram, how are you going to take care of those people?

 

Fifth columnist was not invented yesterday. Otherwise the word will not exist. A fifth columnist is simply somebody who you cannot trust if he is with you or against you. He is either planted from within or without. Fifth columnists in the Army or anywhere in the world may be out of 100 people you have 5. Take care of the welfare of your soldiers. Train them, equip them well give them welfare.
They will be the one to fish out the fifth columnists among themselves. In a situation where the majority of the Army becomes fifth columnists then something is wrong with you.

Suppose the election fails to hold in the northeast, will the APC accept the outcome of the result?

 

Unfortunately for us, only two states can be adversely affected – Borno and Yobe and more of Borno than Yobe, probably we lose two LGAs in Borno. But don’t forget that Adamawa, Taraba, Gombe, Bauchi are in the northeast.

 

The best way to fight corruption which we intend to do under our manifesto is to bring about the reform in the public sector, institute a new code of conduct that will reward honesty, hard work and transparency and punish indolence, punish fraud and punish all shady deals

 

Many Nigerians see political manifestos these days as mere documents, what is your party going to do, if Buhari emerges, to make sure he sticks to the plans you have outlined in the manifesto?

 

With proof beyond doubts, in APC-controlled states, there is nothing in our manifesto that we have not implemented there. Talk about jobs, the Aregbesola, O-YES scheme has employed over 100,000 youths. We have about 5 O-YES (groups) – those in maintenance, agriculture, and security. The same thing for Ajimobi, to a smaller scale. Aregbesola provides one meal a day in primary schools. That alone provides jobs for over 3,000 cooks. Today, Osun cannot cope with the demands for eggs or cattle, I can imagine if you can replicate this in 36 states. Take power, Fashola has commissioned three independent power plants in Lagos alone. If you multiply that by 36, you will have about 400 IPPs, even if it is just producing 100 or 10 megawatts each. Multiply 10mw by 36, you have about 360 megawatts. There is nothing we are going to do that is not in the manifesto. When you open the manifesto, all the pictures you are going to see are pictures of what we have done in APC-controlled states.

 

It will be counter-productive on the part of any new administration to say that what we want to do is trying to probe what happened in the past. It will be so time-consuming. There are laws to deals with all that. If anybody comes up today and says I have information that XY did this. You go to court as an individual, but as a government, we will draw the line

 

Including states of former PDP governors?

 

Borno State, Adamawa, they were ANPP.

Today, how do you refer to Amaechi, PDP governor or APC governor? How do you now appropriate his achievements to PDP?

I agree with you. Of course, we can also argue that whatever is the shortcoming of Amaechi should also be appropriated to PDP. But that doesn’t make sense to us. Why did he leave PDP? Is it not because he could not work with PDP? He could not live under the condition of PDP.

 

We have a very funny feeling that the PDP does not want the election to hold. I don’t know why. Already they are flying the kite, asking some people to say no, if Buhari wins the election, the Niger-
Delta will not accept and if Buhari loses, the north will not accept

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