Atiku experienced, others are learners, says ex-VP’s spokesman

A spokesman for the Atiku Campaign Organisation, Daniel Bwala, was until recently the Special Adviser on Legal and Constitutional Matters to the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege. In this interview with ADEBAYO FOLORUNSHO-FRANCIS, he justifies his defection from the All Progressives Congress to the Peoples Democratic Party

How would you describe your experience in the APC before you left?

I started supporting the APC because of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). I considered him someone honest and who meant well for Nigeria, and I thought that was enough to bring about change. So I decided to support him and the platform upon which he was running and was governing.

I also thought that at that time, we had tried the capitalist philosophy, which was canvassed by the Peoples Democratic Party (free market economy), and there was an outcry and widespread belief that there was poverty in the land.

We thought the socialist ideology of the APC was going to help through social investment programmes and interventionist policy. But after seven years, I realise that has not worked because all the social investment programmes of the party that were implemented in one state or the other always had strong criticism from people owing to lack of accountability and waste related matters. When you look at the privatisation of the downstream sector in the oil industry, even when they say they have turned it into a limited company, you can see it is still controlled and influenced by the government.

After seeing how public institutions and enterprise are dying because of corruption and lack of administration, I decided that the idea of a free market economy where you allow full private participation in business is likely going to help Nigeria lift people out of poverty.

You cut the image of a man fed up with everything when you dumped the APC. Is it just down to the contentious Muslim-Muslim ticket or were there other things about the party that made you disgusted?

You are right! I cut the image of a man who was fed up with everything in the APC.

This is the reason; we made a lot of promises to the Nigerian people. In the first few years of the APC administration, they tried their best, especially in fighting insecurity in the North-East.

Sadly, the gift became the curse, and insecurity became widespread in Nigeria. Some of the reasons for fuelling insecurity, especially in the Niger Delta South East, are the posture, body language and policy direction of the government, which were not geared towards integration and not all-inclusive and continued to give an impression to a section of the country that they don’t matter.

Many Nigerians still have an eerie feeling and palpable fear over this Muslim-Muslim ticket. Isn’t it?

Exactly! As I told you, the fault lines were lack of integration, lack of inclusiveness and nepotism. All of these things were expressed by various people.

In fact, the agitation was such that it almost affected the entire constitutional arrangement and the constitutional review, where the people were asking for total restructuring because they felt excluded within the current framework.

To make matters worse, they came up with the Muslim-Muslim ticket, which further divided and widened the fault lines. I felt this, first, contradicted my belief system and inclusivity because a section of the country that was not considered part of the ticket constitutes about 80 million Nigerians.

In addition, some people made the argument that the vice president would not influence any policy, and there was no need, but that is a fallacy because the VP is the chairman of the economic council and heads the parastatals of government as given to him by the president constitutionally. The VP will also sit in on every security meeting. So when you have a one-faith ticket that will sit in all security meetings in the absence of a balanced ticket, there is every tendency that the suspicion of the Nigerian people will be emboldened and increased when they see things happening in such a manner that they think there is persecution in one way or the other.

A week after you left the APC, you told me that you were uncertain about your next destination while in London. What eventually made you settle for the PDP?

I was uncertain about the party I was headed to because I felt you do not jump out of a political party and immediately enter into another. I resigned owing to the decision taken by the party, which quite contradicted my beliefs.

And since I was going to be made a spokesperson for the presidential campaign, I felt I shouldn’t be a salesman for something I don’t believe in.

After that, I waited for a while, but I discovered that if you leave the APC because of a divisive direction it has taken, and you know that you have the capacity to influence policies, but you fail to take part in politics to stop that arrangement. It means that while you sit in mourning over the party’s decision, you may witness the party stage a comeback and the worst is yet to come.

I felt I needed that active participation in politics to ensure that the Muslim-Muslim ticket does not succeed. It was very easy for me to choose the PDP because it is number one, in contrast to the APC, which was constrained. The PDP has clearly demonstrated that it has a vision for a Nigeria where everybody can own the party and be a part of the nation-building process. So, what the APC lacks, the PDP makes up for.

Again, the PDP is the only party with a realistic chance of defeating the APC at the moment and since my target is to ensure that the APC does not promote their agenda, I have to be a part of the party that will stop that from happening in the first place. That explains why I joined the PDP.

Another is that Atiku Abubakar is among the most experienced politicians who have had the privilege of sitting in on the affairs of government in Nigeria. It was under their government that we have the Oodua People’s Congress, Sharia, Bakassi in the South-East and insurgency. They managed it in such a manner that they didn’t last long and we have restored peace. He has experience of dealing with the issue of insecurity, and I felt there was a need to choose a presidential candidate with such experience, not one with a theory.

Many critics expressed shock after you were announced as spokesperson for the Atiku Abubakar presidential campaign and insinuated that you probably must have been working for the party before you crossed over. How will you react to that?

Law allows critics to express their opinions through criticism, but facts are what we use to make decisions. How could I have left just like that? A party I built with the APC standard-bearer where I single-handedly canvassed and campaigned for him in the media when the people who were working around him now were the people peddling terrible things about his character and his health. It is because of principles, and PDP is a party that didn’t come from outside of the moon. It is a party that has been around, and politics in Nigeria is such that all political parties relate. We talk and we see. And so it was very easy for me to make a decision.

However, I made a decision to leave APC, after which I carefully considered the party to join, and I decided to join PDP.

What’s your assessment of your former party’s standard-bearer, Asiwaju Tinubu, and PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar?

My assessment of them is very simple. They are both gentlemen and are both Nigerian. They have worked on their energy and ideas over a period of time.

However, there is a vast or marked distinction between both of them. When you mention one’s name, you will call it experience. When you mention his name, you will refer to the past and uncertainty. The problem we are confronted with as a nation now, honestly, is that we cannot afford the luxury of someone that will come to the job to learn. It has to be somebody that has experience. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s experience was limited to Lagos State. Lagos had already been a city of progress even before Asiwaju was born. There was nothing magical that he did in Lagos. The state was a colony even before Nigeria became a country, and Lagos would continue in its commerce and industry even if it were a state without a governor. You can’t use the yardstick of managing Lagos to say that automatically translates as experience in managing Nigeria. Do you know why? It’s because it is a common knowledge in Nigeria that the legislative and judiciary branches of the state are like departments of government, the governors run them without independence and autonomy.

Largely in a state, you govern one type of ideology and one type of direction. When you become a president or when you get the opportunity to work in national politics, you get the opportunity to be exposed to the diverse ways states of the federation operate and how to interrelate and manage them. That experience, Asiwaju doesn’t have. Atiku does.

In the first four years of the administration led by Obasanjo and Atiku, remember that Obasanjo was flying all over the world to build consensus and get debt cancellation for Nigeria, and it was Atiku who was practically like a sitting president. He had experience managing governors and managing inter-relationships between states and the federation. He had experience of dealing with other branches of government, like the legislative and judiciary branches. He had the privilege of establishing some of the reforms that brought about the institutions of government that we are all enjoying today. He led the privatisation process of the country, which opened up Nigeria’s economy as a free enterprise. So he has better experience than Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.

In other words, when you mention their names, one is synonymous with experience; the other one is synonymous with going to learn on the job.

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