PDP Govs in defection talks with APC leadership — Mustapha
By Demola Akinyemi
POLITICS DIGEST – Alhaji Saliu Mustapha, 49, has his eyes fixed on the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC). With over two decades of experience in party administration and developmental politics, the accomplished international businessman with an interest in real estate and construction believes he is the man for the APC top job.
After attending St. Bartholomew Primary School, Wusasa, Zaria, he proceeded to Command Secondary School, Kaduna for his post-primary education.
For his higher education, Mustapha studied mineral resources engineering at the Kaduna Polytechnic, Kaduna. Through Saliu Mustapha Foundation, he has rolled out charity projects in his Ilorin hometown and beyond. On average, he spends over N100million in hard-earned funds annually to execute projects under the Foundation, including an annual financial empowerment programme, annual scholarship and educational support services, among others.
Politically, he is a force to reckon with Kwara State. For years, he has nurtured and maintained his SMS political movement that cuts across the 16 Local Government Areas of the state.
In 2019, the group joined forces with other progressives in Kwara under the Otoge political mantra that installed the current state administration. Specifically, between 2001 and 2002, Mustapha was the National Publicity Secretary of the Progressive Liberation Party (PLP) under the leadership of Dr. Ezekiel Ezeogwu. In 2003, he and other like minds came together to form the Progressive Action Congress (PAC) where he was returned again as a National Publicity Secretary.
At about the time President Muhammadu Buhari conceived the idea of coming back into public service as a civilian President, Mustapha keyed into the vision. Thus, he became a member of The Buhari Organisation (TBO) and the Buhari Campaign Organisation (BCO) respectively. He was a key member of the Buhari Presidential Campaign in 2003 when the latter ran under the platform of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
In 2007, he held the forth for the ANPP in Kwara where he contested as a member of the House of Representatives for Ilorin East and South Federal Constituency but lost.
In 2011, Mustapha became a NEC member of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) first, as an Ex-Officio, and subsequently as National Deputy Chairman under the leadership of Prince Tony Momoh (of blessed memory).
The CPC later merged with other legacy parties to form All Progressives Congress (APC). In fact, he was signatory to the merger agreement on behalf of the CPC in the coalition. Since then, he has remained true to the progressive ideology as a stakeholder of the APC both at his home state and at the national level. Mustapha, in this interview, speaks on why he is qualified more than anyone else to be APC Chairman as the race to fill leadership positions in the ruling party at the federal level intensifies. Excerpts:
It is no more news that the Kwara APC has been in crisis since the commencement of the AbdulRazaq administration. What is your take on this?
It is quite unfortunate that Kwara APC had to find itself in this kind of situation; it is uncalled for; it is unnecessary because it started way too early. But it is understandable that in politics, there would always be a divergence of opinions, views and interests. It is now a task for people like me now to see that we reconcile everybody and find a solution to the crisis that has been rocking the party for the past two years. This is my state, and I will take this as a challenge to communicate with all stakeholders and bring back everyone on board in oneness. The crisis in Kwara is going to be a litmus test for my capacity and ability to manage the crisis.
I believe that in the shortest time possible, I would be able to achieve this by sitting with the governor and other party stakeholders as one family to resolve the issues. The problems are not beyond us to resolve. I believe we can sit down together again to laugh, play, strategise and, most importantly, deliver on our party promises, so that we are able to win the next election in the state as overwhelmingly as we did in 2019.
Don’t you think the crisis can affect your ambition as the saying goes, a house divided against self cannot stand?
Let me tell you for a fact, for any progressive organisation to succeed, there must be conflict. It helps us reflect on the ideology upon which the party was formed and chart a way forward. And it’s a phase any serious group would go through. But what is of importance is that we are not beclouded by these hassles when making sacrosanct decisions. Beyond party lines, we also see ourselves as partners in progress. And it is on this premise that many of our brothers in the Kwara APC, irrespective of the crisis, have been contributing towards my emergence.
What is the position of the Kwara governor on your aspiration to be the National Chairman of APC?
To be honest, I am not supposed to be discussing that on the pages of newspapers. But for the avoidance of doubt, I have always enjoyed a good relationship with Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq. He is aware of my ambition and he is very much supportive of it. With all sense of humility, this aspiration has taken a life of its own in Kwara. It has obviously become a pan-Kwara agenda, and everyone that matters in Kwara today from the governor to the party stakeholders and ordinary person on the street is on queue behind this aspiration. Nothing gives me bigger joy than the fact that my state has found me worthy of their support.
I am enjoying every bit of it, and I am immensely grateful for it.
At the fullest of time, you will see how this enormous support will pan out. But for now, I think the most important agenda on his table is for the governor to sit with fellow governors and the party leadership and, of course, the President to agree on an equitable and widely acceptable zoning formula. It is when the chairmanship position is zoned to the North Central, as we are fervently praying for, that we will see clearly where everybody belongs to.
What is your assessment of the Buni-led Caretaker Committee of the party in the last one year?
They have been doing very well in the circumstance they found the party, especially when you know that most of them have separate mandates to fulfill in their various states as either governors or senators or House of Representatives members or even Special Advisers. Members of the Committee have one or two other things they are doing with their time. In that case, I must commend them and give them credit for work done so far. It is work in progress, and we can all see how they’ve been able to manage the exercise so far. They are winning new members for the party, and an example is Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River.
That is so good of the committee, and I know they are working on other bigwigs within the political landscape of the nation. Part of their mandate is to stabilise the party and conduct congresses from the ward level to state and then the national convention. These are not easy tasks, especially in the circumstance the former NEC of the party was dissolved, I know they are mindful of the time, and as a responsible Caretaker Committee, they will do everything possible to live up to it.
So, are you giving the Buni Caretaker Committee 10/10?
Maybe 9/10. Not because of the things the committee has not done but for things they could have done better but excusable due to the circumstances beyond their control. Perfection is to God. Humans can only do their best. That is why some of us are coming out to step into their shoes, to take the baton from where they are going to drop it.
But many believe that Ayade joined APC because Cross River was delisted from oil-rich states. What do have to say?
Gov. Ayade did not hide his reasons for joining APC. He boldly faced the camera for it. We all listened to him. You see people like Gov. Ayade do not belong in the PDP. He is too decent, too progressive minded, too cosmopolitan to be in the PDP. And that is why he was stifled so hard in the PDP. And like I said in my public reaction to his defection, APC will be more than just a home for him.
It will also be an ideological pathway for him. I trust that he and the multitude of Cross-Riverians will begin to see the difference in the days ahead. Be that as it may, if people say Ayade joined our party because of the delisting of oil wells, is Ebonyi State also oil-producing? Invariably, there is something noteworthy these individuals have seen that propelled their intention to camp with us. And you’ll be surprised that more governors will also come to the light in coming days. Take my words; there are more (PDP) governors who have advanced defection talks with the APC national leadership. Apart from governors, there are other big fishes in the polity who are porting soon.
So, the question that should agitate your mind is, if the APC is unattractive as naysayers are painting it, why are all these big guns trooping into the party? You can connect the dots. There is no politician of means in this clime that will open his eyes wide open and join a sinking ship. It is both expensive and unrewarding to do.
In recent times, there have been heightened security challenges in the country. What do you think is responsible?
First, I acknowledge that there are security challenges bedeviling the country. I also acknowledge that the issue of insecurity is a global challenge. There is hardly any country in the world that is not facing one internal security challenge or the other. So, since it is a global phenomenon, Nigeria, being the largest black nation on earth, is naturally not going to be immune. So, that explains that. On the other hand is the fact that insecurity is heightened as you have rightly put it. So, the question we should ask ourselves is, why is insecurity heightened at this period? The answer is simple. Nigeria is going into yet another election season.
Politicians naturally believe that two years is enough honeymoon in the life of any administration. The rest is largely for subtle campaigns and elections, and what’s not. So, if you are a keen observer of the Nigerian political history, you will know that when there’s an election on the way, there is this deliberate orchestration of violence by sections of the country who either fell out of favour or who believe the only way to negotiate their way into political relevance in the next dispensation is to create an atmosphere of chaos and fear.
In most cases, they fall back on ethnic irredentists. They provide incentives for non-state actors to create an artificial climate of unrest, with the hope of blackmailing the ruling government to negotiate power arrangements with them. It is these non-state actors that have occupied the ungoverned space, in some cases with the aid of complicit residents, to carry out mayhem. Unfortunately, some of these people venture without knowing the deeper motive of the sponsors. It is a recurring decimal and, as long as this kind of culture does not stop, insecurity will be heightened at one point or another in our polity.
So, what is the solution?
We may need to start to seriously look at measures to disincentivise politics. The moment politics become less attractive by being more of service to people than to self, there will be less desperation for political powers, and there will therefore be no reason for people to resort to violence, large or small scale, to grab power. The other solution is that the people should pay more than a passing interest on their own security. Government is no doubt doing its best in the circumstances it found itself. But the people too have to join hands with government at all levels to nip this crisis in the bud. As I am talking to you now, I have lost a dear friend, Barrister Gulak Ahmed, to the insecurity going on in the country; he was shot in broad daylight in Owerri. We should join hands to end these criminalities. We should not leave government to it all alone.
In the midst of all of this, you have announced your intention to contest for the APC National Chairman. What is the underlying motivation?
First and foremost, I believe in service to the community and, to me, the community is not just where you live; the community comprises of what you do, where you work, and people you associate with. My being in APC, as I’ve always said, is an ideological pathway; I have always found myself with the progressives, and if I can be of value or I can add anything to make it better, I think I will be most humble to do that. I am part of those who brought about a merger that gave birth to APC. As the Deputy National Chairman of defunct Congress for Progressives Change (CPC), we know what we did then, we all had to forgo our positions to allow for a bigger picture because we believe putting all hands on deck and forming a unifying front was what Nigeria badly needed at that time to overcome its challenges.
So, there are so many things that I would say are part of what have motivated me to come out to contest this position; it is a party I am part and parcel of from the beginning, and I would not want to see a project so noble as APC just go down the drain. I believe I have a lot to offer especially coming from someone who knows where we started from and the whole ideas and dreams of our founding members. So, I believe we can do better, and some of us can offer a lot more to consolidate on what is being presently achieved, because, of course, APC has done well; I must say and also acknowledged that, but we can do better; there is room for more excellent work to be done.
In this particular contest, you are going to be contesting with bigwigs in the party – former governors, senators and others. When you look at that, do you not feel intimidated by their profiles?
Like I said earlier, this is a call to service, and when you are called to serve, you are not intimidated by names or titles; the most important thing is what you have to offer, how well are your intentions, what new ideas do you have to bring to the table and how accessible will you be because in politics and party administration, you have to be very tolerant, and accessible to allow people to come on board the ship. So, I state it again and again that it is not a contest of titles, it is a contest of ideas that will grow the party.
Those who you are mentioning today, at one time of their lives, were never governors; they were not born with titles of governors or senators, they also aspired for it based on what they believed they could offer then. So, if my ambition today is to be the Chairman of the party, on the strength of my experience and network, I think I should be given the chance. I am a thoroughbred party man. In terms of party administration, I have the widest experience so far. The records are there to show. I’ve learned to manage people, I have learned to accommodate different interests, and I have learned to stabilise the platform from some of the best hands that have managed political parties before. I have also paid my dues.
Are you aware that there is an unwritten agreement for power to rotate between the North and the South of the country in APC?
Thank God you said it is an unwritten agreement.
So, what is your take?
As a founding member of this party, what we did in 2014 was we looked at those vying and, like you all know, President Buhari has always had a vote bank that is irreducible since he has been contesting in elections. So, we saw him as our best chance to win in that general election, and, if you notice, almost everybody went for him. But that did not stop those who wanted to contest to contest. Rochas Okorocha from the South-East, Kwankwanso is from the same North-West as Buhari, Atiku Abubakar from North-East and late Sam Nda Isiah of blessed memory from North-Central all contested against President Muhammadu Buhari, and he emerged the winner.
If by chance, any of these other people from the North-Central or South-East had won that primary, they would have been given the ticket. So, sometimes when you talk about power rotation, it is an internal winning strategy of the political party, and nothing more. For us in APC, you are right to an extent to say there was an unwritten understanding that says let this position come from the North because we were contesting against somebody from the South-South then. I have always told people that APC is one big family, and we will decide on which strategy to employ as time goes on because it is a family affair. For me, in all honesty, anything that would bring unity in the polity, I am 100% for it: anything that will give all sections of the country the needed sense of belonging in the Nigeria project, it is absolutely welcome. I will always abide by what APC as a family would adopt to win an election.