Honourable Rotimi Abiru is the Chief Whip, Lagos State House of Assembly. He speaks on issues of national interest, including the state of affairs in his party, All Progressives Party (APC), the 2019 elections, among other issues, in this interview with BOLA BADMUS. Excerpts:
THE All Progressives Congress (APC) is currently having some crisis as a result of the last primaries it conducted towards the 2019 elections. How would the party get out of this?
What we are experiencing in APC as fallout of the primary election, I think, to a large extent, is normal. If you can recollect, very recently, the APC had its national convention in Abuja and prior to that, there had been a number of issues that had been in contention.
Shortly before the emergence of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as APC chairman, there had been two standpoints as to what should become of then John Odigie-Oyegun-led APC, as some felt all the party needed to do was to elongate the tenure of the National Working Committee (NWC).
Some felt it was unconstitutional to do so and that the party should go and conduct its congresses. This started right from our various wards and at different categories of the primary elections. We had the ward, local government and state congresses. We had the national convention and all these happened a few months back.
Obviously, the fallout of the congresses must have been the basis for some of the reactions we are seeing today.
Oshiomhole, the party’s chairman, has been accused of taking bribe, while some members and leaders are still aggrieved over the conduct of the last exercise. Don’t you think this would have serious implications for the party during the polls?
No doubt, the development is not healthy for the progress of the party, particularly in the build-up to the 2019 elections. There have been accusations and counter-accusations.
Prior to now, I watched an interview of the chairman of the party, particularly on the Ogun State primary and it was clear that Governor Ibikunle Amosun wanted to have it all as against the wish of the majority of party members. I think we also found the same situation in Imo State. We understand that APC is trying to entrench internal democracy. The system cannot be said to be very perfect. Yet, it is a clear deviation from what we used to have when consensus candidates were being imposed on the party.
Even away from the APC, small parties with no clear identity are also in court as fallout of their primaries or convention. For instance, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) presidential issue is in court right now. SDP has little or no say in representative capacity in Nigeria. Yet, people are fighting and taking themselves to court. So, what do you expect of the ruling party that everybody wants to be part of?
There is fear among Nigerians that the party and its government would not be able to offer the country free and fair elections. What is your reaction?
Well, everybody has right to his or her opinion. It is not likely for everybody to be satisfied with the outcome of the party primary. But it is in the interest of the party and the loyal members of the party to embrace reconciliation; to embrace peace finally among ourselves on the fallout of the party primaries. I wonder how we expect every member to be happy.
For instance, in Lagos State, there are 40 constituencies. There are 40 members of the State House of Assembly and close to 1,000 people jostled for the party’s ticket. How do you expect that we won’t have people that are aggrieved? People have to be aggrieved, but what is most important is for people to look at the process. A party cannot afford to field anybody that is not popular among its people. There is no other way to ensure internal democracy than issue of direct primary.
The organised labour is asking for N30,000 minimum wage. With the governors rejecting the demand, don’t you foresee crisis?
The agitation by the labour for increase in minimum wage is genuine. It is constitutional and it is within their right to do so. The timing, for me, is not the best for the ruling party. But labour would see it as the appropriate time to do so. As I said, the request is constitutional. Personally, I think the N18,000 minimum wage being paid the Nigerian worker is grossly inadequate. I wonder how a family of say three or four can survive on such paltry sum of money.
So, requesting for increment to N30,000 is in order. But it is for us to look at the states that are being requested to pay this money. It is important to look at the finances of the states and to look at the income of the government as a whole.
Prior to now, we have had cases of states owing salaries over a period of time because of unavailability of funds, even before agitation for the increment.
Now, in the real sense of it, how do you juxtapose that? A state that is paying minimum wage of N18,000 is owing salaries, due to non-availability of funds to pay the workers. Yes, the demand is genuine. The situation of the country, no doubt, is not good enough. But how could a state that is owing backlog of workers’ salaries of N18,000 minimum wage afford increment to N30,000?
Some people are suggesting that the best way out is that there should be restructuring so that states would be able to generate enough money. How do you see this?
I am not against that. I represent the people of Lagos and at different times, I have come up with this position. We have requested for special status for Lagos State by virtue of our position and the position of Lagos State in the economy of Nigeria. We also requested for fiscal federalism for states to be in charge of revenues being generated from their area. But this issue is a constitutional issue.
We have spoken of the devolution of powers before now. Now, the word ‘restructuring’ means different things to different people. To some people, restructuring means re-organising the entity called Nigeria. Some have even proposed that we go back to the regional system of government. Some have proposed reduction of the number of states that we have. But I think what is most important is for every state to become viable. It is for every state to wake up to its responsibility of providing for its citizenry.
Election is drawing nearer and we have two major contenders as candidates standing for presidential election; Buhari and Atiku. The central issues that have dominated campaign are that people are hungry, unemployment rate is high etc. What will be the chance of your party’s candidate, Buhari?
I am optimistic that President Muhammadu Buhari would win the forthcoming presidential election by His grace. No doubt, we have challenges as a country at the moment. No doubt, the economy needs to be improved upon, but for those that care to listen, the situation in which we find ourselves in Nigeria today is neither the handiwork of President Buhari nor his administration. It was as a result of the misrule of the PDP in the last 16 years.
Now, despite the state of the nation, government, for the first time, has introduced some social intervention programmes that directly benefit the people of Nigeria. Government is trying to encourage and lay an enabling environment for businesses. There are some policies of government that are encouraging the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to take off in Nigeria.
There have two major contenders for the Lagos governorship are Sanwo-Olu and Agbaje who many believe had a very strong showing in 2015. Don’t you feel threatened that in the next election, Lagos might be difficult for your party to win?
Our preparation is towards the 2019 elections. 2015 was like three-and-a-half years ago and the people of Lagos, l am sure, know better now.
In the case of the PDP gubernatorial candidate, Mr Jimi Agbaje, I see him as our customer. This is not the first time he is coming out to contest against us. He contested against the incumbent governor even as a greenhorn then. He was defeated, though not by a wide margin.
But I think the people of Lagos know better now. I do not foresee much problem for our party in Lagos State in the coming general elections.