Atiku Has Managed To Embarrass Himself By Visiting Obasanjo, Says Akande

No Comments » January 25th, 2009 posted by // Categories: Nigeriawatch



 

 

GUARDIAN

Sunday, January 25, 2009

 

Atiku Has Managed To Embarrass Himself By Visiting Obasanjo, Says Akande

When he is supposed to be resting after an eventful 70th birthday ceremony held recently, the National Chairman of the Action Congress (AC), Chief Bisi Akande, appears to be having a task in his hands trying to assure party faithful and political watchers that the house he chairs is not crumbling. Speaking with KAMAL TAYO OROPO, the former Osun State governor insists that contrary to insinuations, the AC presidential flag-bearer in the 2007 election, former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar is not leaving the party for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Akande also sees nothing wrong in the visit of former governors who are now in the AC to the Presidency.

Before the visit to Ota by your presidential candidate, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, which has caused quiet a stir, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola accepted to serve in the Economic Team of the Federal Government. What does this romance mean to the party, starting with that of Fashola?

THIS country, Nigeria, belongs to everybody. In a good polity, when the country finds itself in economic crisis, the type Nigeria finds itself now; you don’t draw a line between government and opposition. It’s a line of duty for Fashola to participate in the promotion of the economic fortune of the country so that the Lagos State people would not suffer from the consequences of economic breakdown.

That Fashola accepted to serve in the economic committee of President Yar’Adua is normal, everywhere in the world. That has never created any disquiet in my party. My party is very happy about the development, we never grumble about it and in fact we support it wholeheartedly.

The question is, given the fact that the government at the centre is controlled by a rival political party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), would it not be difficult for your political party, the AC, to point accusing fingers if things go awry?

There is a lot of difference between advisory committee and executive committee. The Economic Committee in which Fashola is serving is merely advisory; it’s a committee of governors, technocrats and economists from several sectors of the polity. The advisory committee’s function is merely to look at the situation and advice the President. The man, Mr. President, may take the advice or reject it.

Even as an opposition political party, if you have been following the releases the Action Congress as issued by the National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, you would have seen a lot of advices directed at President Yar’Adua. We, even as opposition party, have a duty to criticise the government and advice on what to do.

If Fashola belongs to the Economic Advisory Committee of the President and anything goes wrong in the future, the advisory committee cannot be blamed for it, but the executive arm of government that implemented the advice. For example, the reduction of fuel pump price by N5, who can be sure what the advice was? The advice might say, I am not saying I know what the advice was, I am only been hypothetical, but the advice might be, ‘last year we were buying crude for $140 before we get it to the refinery, but this year we are buying the same crude for $35, which is one quarter of 140, Yar’Adua cut the pump price by 75 per cent’. Maybe that was the advice. But it is for Yar’Adua to say, ‘oh no, if I cut it by that percentage, what if the price goes up tomorrow? The President has many means of getting advice, it is for him now to coordinate all these advices and come out with what he considers to be of best interest for the country. If anything goes wrong, nobody will call the adviser. The committee in which Fashola is serving is merely advisory.

But what happens in a situation where Governor Fashola feels disappointed along the way? Will he resign his membership?

How can Fashola feel disappointed in a committee of many? He’s just one out of many. That committee is made up of about 15 or 20 people. How can he ever feel bad if his committee arrives at a decision and advices the President accordingly and the President refuses advice? You don’t feel bad about such matters. When Fashola and his group completed their advice they never sent it to the public; they never said ‘oh, this is what we were advising the President to do’. Fashola belongs to just an advisory body to help the country stand on a sure foot and not to derail. It is left for the president to say, ‘this advice given to me, I am going to use to the left or to the right’. If he fails, it has nothing to do with Fashola.

There are some insinuations that Governor Fashola accepted to serve in that committee not because of party decision but to satisfy former governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, who is a personal friend of Mr. President. Would that be a perverted way of looking at the issue?

Indeed, that’s a very perverted way of thinking and I am sorry for those making such asinine insinuations. Fashola in his own right is a governor of Lagos State. When you talk about the economy of Nigeria, Lagos comes number one. If you are setting up a committee on the economy of Nigeria and you don’t let Lagos be represented, you have not done anything. Fashola, as governor of Lagos State, acted sensibly by being part of the committee that will talk about the economy of this country.

For anybody to think that he’s merely fronting for Asiwaju or he’s representing Bola Tinubu and not the party is a perverted way of thinking and it is a very a bad way. People who are well informed about governance will not think that way at all. The way any sensible person will think at all is, what is the position of Lagos in this matter? Is Lagos important to the economy of this country? If the answer is yes, then it will readily come to everybody’s mind that Fashola is being asked to serve because of the position of Lagos in the economic calculation of this country.

Yet, some still say that the AC is participating, through the backdoor, in the Government of National Unity (GNU), which it had rejected. What’s your reaction to this?

That’s not right. Government is made up of three essential arms – the Judiciary, the Legislature and the Executive. When we were asked to come and participate in the Government of National Unity; it is to participate in the executive arm of that body. In a presidential system of government it is very difficult to draw a line between government and opposition.

Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora and his colleagues are in the National Assembly; can you now say because these people are in the National Assembly AC is participating in the Government of National Unity? No. Fashola is in that committee by his being the Governor of Lagos State, not necessarily by his being in the AC. It is not AC that sent him to that committee. He’s not there because he’s AC. He’s there because of the importance of Lagos to the country’s economy and he’s also there because he’s the governor of Lagos State and therefore, AC is not participating in the government of national unity.

Would you adopt the same stance in the visit of Atiku to Obasanjo? And why has Atiku purportedly snubbed the invitation by the NEC of your party to clarify issues?

It is unfortunate that Atiku Abubakar accepted to visit Obasanjo the way he did, because Atiku Abubakar has tremendous goodwill and Obasanjo has none. Goodwill is like Bank Account, the more you draw out of it the less it becomes. If you use your goodwill to deal with somebody without any goodwill at all, it can reduce your goodwill and increase the goodwill of the other man. I congratulate Obasanjo for having the benefit of Atiku in his home and I sympathise with Atiku for allowing himself to be lured into parting with some of his goodwill to Obasanjo who had no goodwill at all.

You must have spoken with Alhaji Atiku on this matter. When you did, what was his reaction?

His visit to Obasanjo was just outcome of pressure. He merely succumbed to pressures. The pressure had been on him for well over as year now. Even as part of the pressure, some of the leading members of our own political party, the AC, were part of it; were collaborating with people who are putting the pressure that he should make it up with Obasanjo. The told him: ‘Look you are an important personality in this country, nobody will say Obasanjo is not good for any bitterness or bad blood to exist between the two of you, but please forget the past, try to talk together, try to be friends’ and so on. He told them, abinitio, it would not be in his, Atiku, interest and it would not be in Obasanjo’s interest for them to start talking at that time. But the pressure continued to mount. The pressure was so much and he was over-whelmed by the pressure and he gave in to the pressure – he visited Obasanjo. But there was nothing to the visit. Nothing was discussed that can be of negative consequence to the Action Congress.

But for embarking on the visit without the consent of the party, will there be any disciplinary action against Alhaji Atiku?

We discussed it. Some people actually did raise the issue of discipline. But we said, ‘yes, you want us to discipline or punish him, but which section of our constitution has he contravened?’ None. It’s like a convention, when you break one you embarrass yourself. You may not have offended against any law, but you will be embarrassing yourself. Atiku has managed to embarrass himself by visiting Obasanjo. From all the telephone calls and all the comments, he too would have seen by now that it was a misadventure because he has succeeded in embarrassing himself; that’s why I sympathise with him.

But did he tell you he’s sorry for the visit?

He was not happy at all with the outcome of it. Atiku was not happy about the outcome of his visit, because there wasn’t anything substantial discussed there.

Looking at it from the perspective of the 2011 election. Where does that put him as your party’s presidential candidate in the last election?

Obasanjo is no more in government. Obasanjo is almost none existence in the party, PDP, now. Well, he’s the chairman of the Board of Trustee (BOT) but what powers has the BOT? If Atiku wants to be President of Nigeria come 2011, even via PDP, can Obasanjo make him? When Obasanjo had the opportunity of making him, did he make him? Atiku could not go to Obasanjo to seek how he would become President of Nigeria, he merely got himself overwhelmed by pressure, he gave in to pressure and he visited Obasanjo to say, ‘let bygone be bygone and let’s be on talking terms’.

If you find out, Obasanjo and Atiku were not friends before they met in the Federal Government. To worsen it, Obasanjo made sure they came out of government as enemies. And some people say, ‘don’t go out as enemies, be friends’ and he said, ‘no, I don’t want to be his friend again, but I want to be on speaking terms with him. If I see him I will shake hands with him’. There is nothing wrong with that, except it removes, very substantially, from the goodwill of Atiku.

From your experience over the years in politics, just how confident are you that Alhaji Atiku will still remain in the AC?

From my experience of human beings I still have absolute believe in what Atiku is saying to me that he remains in AC and that he would never be in the PDP.

You would recalled that during your birthday ceremony recently, he recollected telling you that even if it is only the two of you that would remain in the AC, it should be so. Does that underscore your believe in him remaining within your fold?

I believe even now more than ever before that Atiku remains in the Action Congress and will never go to the PDP. This is so because the PDP will not give any better advantage than he would have in the Action Congress. Go to many of the PDP states all over the north today, they prefer to be in the AC because they now realise that the PDP is not the place for them.

Most people are waiting for the day PDP will burst. And it would soon burst. When it burst, you would know that it is only the AC that is the party of the people; and it is the party of tomorrow. Atiku will not be foolish to leave the party of the people and join the party that is being hated by the people. He would not be foolish to leave a party of tomorrow and join a party of chop chop today.

With what appears to be Bola Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar’s closeness to President Yar’Adua and the recent visit by former governors, Segun Osoba and Niyi Adebayo to the Presidency do you still see the AC as a viable alternative?

Let us not make mistake about the running of a government. Before the emergence of Yar’Adua as President of Nigeria, long before that, Atiku and Yar’Adua had belonged to the same family and Bola Tinubu merely joined them. Atiku and Yar’Adua belong to the same ethnic-nationality in Nigeria. They belong to the same cultural affinity, Tinubu joined them later on and the trio became close friends. I saw a picture, which one newspaper published sometime ago, when the three of them went on pilgrimage to pray for emergence of Atiku as President of Nigeria. That shows the extent of their friendship.

Today, something else has happened. Atiku never cut off from Yar’Adua, Bola Tinubu cannot cut off from Yar’Adua. But that does not make AC, as a political party, part of their system. They are friends and we cannot quarrel with them for choosing to be friends first before they are politicians or before they chose the political party they want to join. And we cannot stop them from remaining what they were together. If tomorrow, Atiku Abubakar goes to Aso Rock and have a secret discussion with Yar’Adua, I will not raise an eyebrow. If Bola Tinubu goes to Yar’Adua and hold a secret discussion, I will not raise an eyebrow either. But the only thing that is important is that Nigeria should not fail as a nation.

For that reason, all the former governors are meeting regularly to look at the situation in the country. I am part of that meeting; I meet with them. We discuss regularly as to what should be done to make this country successful. An important part of it is the electoral reform. Since the report of the electoral commission came out, we are all anxious to see Yar’Adua implement it. We are all anxious to see it adopted. We are all studying the report. We are all trying to have an input. The former governors are meeting too to see they have an input.

If they go to Yar’Adua and say, ‘look this electoral reform has to be implemented’. What’s wrong if the Action Congress is included in such a meeting? What is wrong if Segun Osoba goes to discuss such a thing? What’s wrong if Niyi Adebayo is part of such a thing?

But you were not there?

I did not go because I did not hear about the meeting early enough. By the time I got to know, I had been so committed to attend other meetings. That’s why I was not there.

Going to Yar’Adua on how to implement Electoral Reform cannot make me PDP and cannot make me part of Government of National Unity. But as a leader in opposition, I don’t want Nigeria to fail. So I must help Yar’Adua to see Nigeria succeed. It does not matter that when election comes, we want him out of the place, because we would have been able to do it better than he’s doing it.

In specific terms, what type of electoral system do you have in mind? And position would you recommend for Prof. Maurice Iwu who has announced his preparedness to conduct the 2011 election, in the reform?

Iwu is an embarrassment to Nigeria and he’s a bigger embarrassment to Yar’Adua. He’s an embarrassment to himself and also to the area he comes from. As a matter of fact, Iwu is just making a face-lift with all those statements he’s making. But if Yar’Adua is slow in removing Iwu, the Action Congress is taking a step through the court to remove Iwu. But that is by the way.

The electoral reform is to promote the image of this country, if it is properly reformed. And towards that end, the Uwais commission was set up. The commission has written voluminous report, which we all are studying. I cannot say to you in one sentence that the recommendation is either A-4 or open-secret ballot system or whatever, I cannot say it in one sentence. It’s a voluminous report, which I have just begun to study. By the time I am through with it, I should be able to come out and say this is what it is. But as it is today, the recommendation seem to be better than most of the things we have been doing in this country before. In view of that, we want to see the recommendation look at by the government.

We don’t want the government to sleep over it. We don’t want it to be kept in the shelves and allowed to gather dust. We want it implemented. But before it is implemented we would have studied it, we would have made some input, we would have gone to lobby the National Assembly to make sure it is implemented in the best interest of this country. So that people will clap for us the way they clapped for Ghana, the way they clapped for South Africa and Nigeria would not be a pariah nation as it is now.

 

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