APC needs 16 years before you can compare it with PDP —Bolaji Abdullahi - THE NEWS FOUNTAIN


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

APC needs 16 years before you can compare it with PDP —Bolaji Abdullahi

Bolaji Abdullahi is the National Publicity Secretary of the ruling All Progressives Congres, (APC). In this interview by Senior Deputy Editor, TAIWO AMODU, on the occasion of the 19 years of Nigeria’s democracy, he says it will be uncharitable to compare the 16 years under the erstwhile ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), with three years under the APC.

19 years of democracy; what is your appraisal of our democratic transition?
I think the fact that we are celebrating 19 years of uninterrupted democratic practice is itself an achievement. It is worth celebrating by itself, given that it is the first time in our history as a country that we have this long stretch of democratic practice going to two decades.

We should congratulate ourselves as a country and continue to work hard to build democracy, regardless of its imperfections, believing that it is the only form of government that can best serve the interest of our people.

Now having said that, if you look at some of the defining progress this country has made, it has happened in the last 19 years. Whether it is the revolution in information and telecommunication technology, whether it is the entertainment industry, the movie industry, you can look at the broad range of the social revolution that has happened in Nigeria in recent times, they have all happened under democratic rule.
These are the non tangible benefits that democracy brings to a country, because people will have the liberty to express themselves; enterprise will thrive and that’s what has happened.

For me, I believe that we have every reason to continue to celebrate democratic rule in our country. 19 years is nothing in the life of a country. As a matter of fact, 50 years is nothing in the life of a country. If you look at other advanced democracies that we admire for what they have achieved, they have been in existence for 100 years or more. I think we are making steady progress. There are issues; there are challenges, some of them that require immediate solutions: issues of poverty, health care, education. But as long as we continue to work on this, I believe that definitely we will be able to deal with some of these issues.

You have enumerated the achievements that we have had as a nation under democratic rule. What is your take on the perception that we haven’t fared better in terms of fidelity to democratic ethos? Some are of the opinion that yes, we have democracy but we don’t have Democrats.
I don’t think so. If you read the work of Professor Ali Mazrui, you will see clearly that one of the pathologies of post-colonial Africa is that the choice tends to be between dictatorship and what may sometimes be regarded as anarchy. If you look at countries that have had longest periods of one party rule, or military dictatorship, they tend to be the most stable— whether it is Libya you talk about or Cote D’ Voire until recently. Some of the countries that have one party rule or have outright military dictatorship are the ones that tend to be most stable, while those ones that have had longer interactions with democratic practice tend to be the ones that appear unstable. And why is it so? It is very simple.
Dictatorship is repressive, it tends not to allow or permit opposition. It doesn’t allow dissenting opinion; it doesn’t allow views and ideologies to compete or contest. It is command and control.  Viewed in this context, you find that what you call stability is actually stability of the graveyard and that’s why when a strong man leaves the scene, the country tends to collapse completely: whether it is in Libya or Cote D’Voire. That tends to be the case, but when you see countries like ours that tend to prefer democratic practice you find that because of the weakness of our democratic institutions. Like I said, they are still very weak, given the relative youthfulness of our country as it were and you tend to have all kinds of contending forces. So I have no doubt in mind that after the election of 1964 in the First Republic, if the military had not intervened in 1966, despite the sheer anarchy of the election of that year, Nigeria would have achieved so much progress; it could have achieved greater stability. Those parties would have been stronger, the democratic processes would have been stronger, the national parliament would have been stronger. The Federal Electoral Commission, (FEDECO) at that time would have been stronger. If we had taken that into 1979, maybe the same political parties would have been in existence up to the Second Republic. But if we have had that long and consistent practice of democracy, we would have had a more robust practice, a more assured stable democratic practice.
I think if we are looking at the discontent or the problems that exist within the democratic space, we have to look at it from these theoretical points of view and look at how things could have played out differently if we didn’t have the kind of military intervention that we had and allow democracy to be practices for as long as we have existed as a country.

But in the last 19 years, can you really say we have tried to build strong institutions?
Certainly. Even you will agree with me today that the kind of thing that was possible in the political arena, especially regarding elections in 1999 is difficult to happen these days. Why? For the first time in 2015, we had a sitting president defeated in an election and he conceded defeat. That’s a remarkable achievement for our democracy.

It used to be that whenever there was an election, people would just snatch ballot boxes and papers and go and stuff them. Yes, some of those things may be happening in isolated cases, but the introduction of the kind of electoral system that we had in 2015 had revolutionised the voting process to a very large extent. Now, we are talking about everybody going out to collect their Permanent Voter’s Cards, (PVCs). I think whoever wants to rig elections is going to have a herculean task. It is still possible, but what used to happen in the past that people would sit down at one corner and write results is now extremely difficult.

Coming to governance, in the first four years of governance in 1999, we had four Senate Presidents. But by 2011, I think we had only one Senate President, David Mark, up to 2015. Now since 2015, despite all the issues that surround the election of the Senate leadership, we have had only one Senate President. That’s evidence of stability, that’s evidence of maturity of our democratic practice.
I believe if we look at our democratic journey and we see it half way and you ask me, whether it is half empty or half full, I will tell you without equivocation that it is half full.

But there is a school of thought that concedes the abstract achievements of democracy like free speech and right of association, but they have also argued that our democracy hasn’t actually translated to economic growth and development for Nigeria. What is your take?
Look at the sheer size of our economy before democracy and I give you one seminal indicator: the liberalization of some key public institutions like the Nigeria Telecommunication Limited (NITEL). I remember that up to 1999 that we started democratic rule, we used to hear stories of how market women in Ghana had mobile phones. It was a major achievement to own a mobile phone, but a tangible benefit of democracy was that the liberalisation of the telecommunication sector led us to where we are today and the effect it has had on so many other things.

Don’t forget that we say we have 10 million out-of-school children. But the introduction of the Universal Basic Education (UBE) came with democracy. The launch of UBE in 1999 brought more children into school than any other time in our history. That’s a major achievement of democracy. So, you can count so many others like that. If you look at a lot of things that started in 1999 in terms of governance reforms and reform of some of the key institutions of government that we have today, then you will agree with me that we have made a lot of progress.

The National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) was a creation of the military but even back then, despite military rule, we had more issues to deal with in terms of drugs and narcotic control than we have to deal with today under civilian administration since 1999. We have made some progress.  It is possible for us to look at the challenges and say nothing has happened; nothing has changed.  A lot of things have changed. If you left Nigeria in 1998 and came back today, I am sure even you will be amazed with the level of progress that Nigeria has made.

But what is your take on the argument that we should prune certain institutions so as to reduce the cost of governance? Some have argued that we don’t really need bi-cameral legislature in Nigeria.
That’s a constitutional issue and I don’t have an opinion on it. I don’t even think we should look at it from the point of view of cost alone. Without prejudice to cost implication of the bi-cameral system, I think our founding fathers that gave us bi-cameral legislature knew why they did so and I think we shouldn’t take that kind of decision whether to return to one cameral legislature, based on consideration of cost alone.

If you want to prune cost, there are so many other things you can look at. Like someone said, for forms of government, let fools contend, whatever is best administered is the best. I think the question we should ask ourselves is why the need for a bi-cameral legislature. Can our people be best represented if we have a uni-cameral legislature? Can they be best served if we have bi-cameral legislature? I think these are the questions we should ask ourselves.

There are some who have advocated for the scrapping of local governments, that we don’t really need three tiers of government. The question we should ask ourselves is in terms of bringing development to our people, do we need local government? If the answer is yes, then the first consideration shouldn’t be the need to cut cost. We should have a philosophical reason, looking at all the issues around our democracy. I don’t think such fundamental life-changing decision should be taken out of consideration for cost alone. No, I don’t think so.

Nigerians are anxious to see the ruling party implement recommendations of its own committee on true federalism. It has since been submitted by Governor El-Rufai who chaired the committee. How soon will this be done?
Well, as a party we have played our part. We have taken the bull by the horn, inaugurated a committee and it has done its work and submitted its report. Now, we are at the level where the party is no longer in control of what happens. We have submitted the report and the report is being considered; the appropriate authority will decide on when and how to proceed with the exercise but it is something that we are committed to as a party. We have demonstrated that commitment with the work we have done.

But where is the report as we speak?
The last time we considered the report was at the national caucus of the party and I think a committee was set up by the national caucus to translate it to a brief that the president would take and call the leadership of the National Assembly to look at. I am glad that the leadership of the National Assembly is saying that it is revisiting some of the issues, even though it has almost concluded with the constitutional amendment. They are willing to go back to the issue of devolution of power, the issue of state police and all that.
It shows that these issues are not foreclosed; so our hope is that we will be able to come to a quick conclusion on how to proceed on these matters. Unfortunately for us, the electoral process is catching up on everything but I believe that if we still want to do something there is still time.

Is that feasible between now and next February?
I don’t know; it depends on how we are able to keep it on the priority agenda of the government. For us, we are committed to it and we believe that it is one of the issues that Nigerians will continue to ask our party. We believe that the presidency is aware of this, the National Assembly is aware of this.

You were a big player in the erstwhile ruling party, the PDP and you are also playing a big role in the APC. If you have to assess, which of the two platforms has actually inspired the confidence of Nigerians, in terms of delivery of democracy dividends?
Well, I don’t think I understand the essence of your question. If I understand it to mean whether the APC has done well in terms of delivering the dividends of democracy, my answer of course will be an equivocal yes. I will be saying this in due consideration of the major challenges that we have faced, not only in terms of the economy, but also the issue of the political challenges that we have faced. I believe that we have done well. The most important thing is that it is easy to take it for granted, but if you look at the direction the country was going before 2015, I believe that if we had continued along that line, only God knows where Nigeria would have ended. We went into a recession, APC didn’t drag the country into recession, and it was an inevitable development of the state of our economy. We are out of recession, the economy is picking up again. I believe because of the situation that we have found ourselves with the economy at the time we are coming in, it is wrong to say some things  aren’t happening that are supposed to have happened. But I think if you take the aggregate of everything I believe that we have made significant progress.

However, I think it will be an unfair comparison to compare a party that had 16 years being in power with a party that has barely three years being in power. I think if you want to make comparison, then you have to wait until we have also done 16 years.

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