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I can’t support an 18th Century president – Afegbua

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Kassim Afegbua was a former Commissioner for Information in the administration of immediate past governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole. He is the national publicity secretary of Reformed-All Progressives Congress (R-APC) – a faction of the ruling APC. In this interview with OWEDE AGBAJILEKE, Afegbua speaks on how the APC allegedly reneged on its campaign promises; the prospects of the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) in the 2019 general election and other issues ahead of the elections. Excerpts:

Until recently, you were a member of the APC. Why this sudden turn around against the party and the plan to oust President Muhammadu Buhari?

It’s not a sudden turn around. I’m an adult, number one. Number two, I should be able to rationalise what is bad for me and my country. I have taken an introspective view of what is happening in the country and I have seen that the Buhari Presidency is a complete failure. Failure in the sense that the government has not been able to deliver on the primary responsibility of government, which is protection of lives and property, as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). So, to that extent, it means the government does not have requisite capacity, intellect, and competence to manage all the contending developmental issues as they affect us as a country.

And for those of us who were in the APC before we decided to factionalise the party to R-APC, we are saying that this was not what we promised Nigerians. We have a manifesto with restructuring as an item, with solid health facilities, with new generation education, revamping our economy and all of that. But the manifesto has been put aside. So, we are now running the country, when they dream in the night, they want to translate it into practice during the day. No country runs in that manner.

And insecurity in the country is becoming alarming. Rather than having opportunities for young men and women, there are job losses.

But insecurity has always been there?

Why did Nigerians vote for us? Because they felt that APC would be stronger to meet up with the challenges of insecurity and nip it in the bud. As we speak now, three local governments are under the control of banditry in Zamfara State. Boko Haram has not abated. You have forgotten that there were reports that 600 (six hundred soldiers) were taken into captive. Nobody is talking about it, they are killing the story.

So, there are quite a number of issues and we are worried that this is not what we campaigned for. It was convenient for you to take thirty thousand policemen to Ekiti to go and rig the election but you couldn’t even take one thousand to Plateau where two hundred souls were slaughtered like cows just within a night. So, we are worried that this was not the type of government we promised. We wanted a government that was participatory, interactive, engaging so that constructively, we can engage ourselves and also bargain on issues. But as it is today, it is just the whims and caprices of those who cause the levers of power.

Maybe, you lost out with the cabal. If you were part of the cabal, would you be saying all these?

It’s not about cabal. It’s even dangerous for the health of the country for a cabal to be the one dictating the tunes because under a democracy, there are different arms of government: executive, legislature and the judiciary. And responsibilities of political parties are also contained in the constitution of the country. What Nigerians want is a leadership that is engaging, interactive and understands the problem based on our peculiarities. We are over two hundred and fifty to three hundred ethnic stocks in this country and yet, you can see the outcry. Poverty is high; unemployment is higher because the percentages we inherited had been quadrupled as we speak. 7.9 million National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) record of job losses as of December 2017. These are very serious statistics that any country should worry and by the time you say 7.9 million and by 2018 nothing has changed, it is likely going to increase to about 10 to 12 million job losses. So, what is government even doing to take up the youth from the streets? What are they doing in the area of power generation? Only recently, Discos say they want to hands off power distribution because it is not paying them. Another man who spoke some days ago said they cannot distribute beyond 5,000 megawatts. That means there is a serious issue. What is government doing about it? We thought an APC government would be able to break the barriers of underdevelopment, unemployment and insecurity.

Do you expect the government to solve all these problems within three years?

Three years is a long time in the life of a nation. Even the decision of a President in one day can turn things around. Do you remember that the delay – six months – of not appointing ministers; do you know what it did negatively on our economy? Because people were wondering, what is going to be the direction of this government? So our foreign investors took away their portfolios. And by the time the cabinet was formed even for you to know the economic direction was a problem.

Three years, that is three dry seasons. Our roads are still in the same shape they were. Travel round this country, you will see the roads in terrible shapes. It is only dry season you do roads. But what were they doing during the dry seasons? Another dry season is coming now. We are waiting.

Your former boss, Adams Oshiomhole and current National Chairman of APC, said all the defectors have no electoral value. What is your reaction to that?

When he said we don’t have electoral value, let him come and help me deliver my polling unit or my ward. But I had electoral value when I was with them abi? So it is now they know I don’t have electoral value. I have people who follow me in my little ward in Okpella where I come from. And I have never lost my unit. I know how much impact and influence I put to make sure that I sustain my unit. Elections are coming. It’s not about me, it’s about the country.

If we don’t have electoral value, why are they going at night to go and be begging people? Buba Galadima doesn’t have electoral value? Saraki doesn’t have electoral value? Tambuwal doesn’t have electoral value? Ortom doesn’t have electoral value? But they praised them to high heavens sometimes, only for them to make a reverse three hundred and sixty degrees and say that they are persons of no consequential value. Thank God we were able to catch some of them at night to see them moving through the homes of persons. Rabiu Kwankwaso, they took him to the President, he promised him heaven and earth, the following day, they said Kwankwaso is a nonentity, inconsequential and that he was a problem to the party and all of that. Our leaders should learn to speak with truth and honesty. Even though we know that politics is a game of immorality, quote and unquote, there is some level of participation that when you see individuals contributing into public discourse you will be able to extract some commitments that this person is different, he is not like this other person. Nobody can accuse me now of opportunism. Comrade Oshiomhole is my friend; I served under him as Commissioner for Information in Edo State but it’s not about him. It’s about the governance of the country and I told him pointedly that I can’t support an Eighteenth Century President when there are options elsewhere for the good of the country. Whether you like it or not, this country is sick. The country needs serious leadership intervention. We should not pretend about it. Every day you go out, you see poverty written on the faces of people. It should pain you if you have conscience. But when powerless conscience confronts conscienceless power, it’s always a battle. So, they are the conscienceless power because they don’t have conscience. But we have conscience. And I said no, I can’t continue with this. It’s not about me feeding. I can feed myself and my family. But it’s not about that. Very close to my house, they killed seven policemen sometime ago at Galadimawa. And till today, nothing is happening. They killed other policemen in Edo again, nothing has happened. There is insecurity every day. When you are travelling on the roads, you are at the mercy of kidnappers. What are you doing about it? So, it is not about pretending that all is well when all is not well. We are in serious crisis as a country and we need serious leadership.

The President told us categorically that his doctors advised him to eat more and sleep more. This country needs a man who is awake when the country is sleeping. This country needs a President that has his hands on every pile to give presidential verdict on issues, to give presidential intervention when crisis occurs. So that the country as a whole will know that there is a president that was voted for and elected to represent their wishes and aspirations. Now we have a President who sleeps more and eats more. And yet, you want Nigerians to move at the pace of that President. It can’t work. India grows at night. Why is it so? It was a deliberate policy for them to run a twenty-four hour economy. But when you now have a President who sleeps at night, and whose doctors say eat more and sleep more, how can you apply such a President to come and heal the wounds of a country that is in serious crisis? We have assumed the topmost level of extreme poverty cases in the entire world. We have overtaken India. What are we talking about? What is even the narrative? What is our global perspective on issues? You have a President who is not interactive, who doesn’t communicate. He speaks to himself more or less like a monologue? We can’t continue like this.

If you had received a juicy appointment from the Presidency, would you still be saying these things?

People know me. I didn’t ask for appointment. If I want to get an appointment, I would have remained with Comrade Oshiomhole. Perhaps today, I would be his Chief of Staff. You can’t deny that. We are quite close. It’s not about me. I have resigned from appointment before. I was Chief Press Secretary to Oshiomhole in 2009, four months I resigned. It’s not about positions; I’m a professional, an image maker. I don’t need too much money to live my life. I’ve got a wife and two kids. For God’s sake, it’s about the country. Once you have that contentment, they can’t be using appointments as a basis. If I am serving in any government and you are not doing well, I will resign. How much do I need to live my life? You can’t stay in two rooms at the same time. It’s only one room. When you are leaving the comfort of your home to also participate in politics, travel through the rigours of bad roads and campaign for somebody, it is because you believe that there will be a change in service delivery to your people by way of roads, water, housing, electricity. As I speak to you now, my community has been under darkness for the past eight months. So what’s the joy? Our roads are bad in the community. We have been raising voices, nobody is listening to us. And yet you want me to be clapping for APC? I won’t clap for APC. We promised them affordable electricity, affordable kerosene. It’s in the billboard in Edo State, go there. That is what we wrote there. But three years after, nothing of such. Kerosene has skyrocketed even the common man cannot get kerosene. Electricity is nowhere to be found. Then what do I tell them next time when I want to campaign?

Some have described the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) as a union of strange bedfellows. And that like APC, it would soon fall like a pack of cards. Do you agree with that?

All political parties are unions of strange bedfellows. What unites you is your objective. If you have a nationalistic objective, to say this is our country we want to make an intervention and we all agree amongst us that poverty is a sin to everybody, then we will be speaking with one voice. I keep hearing all those kind of narratives. Those are bunkum. I have read a lot of books on Political Science. You are either united by ideology of you are not. You must be strange bedfellows. Every human being is strange. You are coming from Ogoja, I am coming from Okpella, we don’t know each other before. Something must unite us. What is that thing? Your brother is not having job, my brother is not having job. So we decided to talk to each other and say how do we create jobs? Let’s come together and form a union. That is it! This is how CUPP was formed because different parties have their different manifestos. But we are united by poverty, insecurity, unemployment and we all agree that there is a need to move the country forward and address all of these societal and developmental ills. So, nobody should preach all those stories to you.

You know, the problem with APC is that when they became victorious, they didn’t know how to manage their victory. They became arrogant and dictatorial. Now they are applying all the gangsterism and barbarism that are peculiar with the military government. And they are applying them in a democracy. Look at the siege on the Senate President; look at Benue House of Assembly. There is so much to talk about. Our democracy preaches rule of law, due process, and respect for the constitutional rights of individuals. But all of these are being abused on a regular basis by the APC-led government. And yet we told Nigerians that we were going to behave differently from PDP and other parties when we were coming on stream in 2015. We came up with a manifesto, we campaigned with it. Now you abandon it. Which promises in the manifesto has been fulfilled? Name one if you have seen any.

What makes CUPP different?

What will make it different is because you have more than one party coming together. APC was a merger; this is a coalition. They are two different things. In a merger, you bury your identity and subsume it under one party. This one is a coalition of parties. Meaning that we are united by common strings of initiatives, objectives. If we now decide to say that we are choosing you as our candidate, every other person will endorse that candidate and say this is the person we will work for. But in the process of choosing that person, we will now do power sharing. If you are good in Engineering and you are in Party ‘C’, what stops us from making you Minister for Works? You are so brilliant in technology, and you are in Party ‘X’, what is wrong bringing you on board? But this concept of winner-takes-all which has been a problem and the bane of APC’s crisis today is what we want to avoid. That is why we say when it is a government of national unity; you spread your tentacles to embrace a number of divergent views and political leanings. That way, you will be catering for a lot of people because those parties have their followers in their different ways. And they have their appeals among their own people. Nigeria is made up of several multi plicity of interests, several configurations. So for the first time you are having a coalition of about forty political parties, which means there is something national about us.

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