A former National Auditor of the Peoples Democratic Party but now a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, Chief Bode Mustapha has disagreed with members of his party calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to seek a second term in office, saying those asking him to run despite his age and health challenges are being unfair to the president. He spoke to Tobi Soniyi and Femi Ogbonnikan. Excerpts:
What is your reaction to the call by some people for President Muhammadu Buhari to seek another term?
When people begin to call on President Muhammadu Buhari to re-run in 2019, to me, it is the height of sycophancy. God has used President Buhari for one thing, in particular, fighting corruption. Because if he did not start to fight corruption, corruption would have killed Nigeria. If we have continued the way we used to do, the naira today would have become toilet paper money, quoting Idia Amin of Uganda, in those days, because of the level of corruption. Now, what we need to do, in this country, is to strengthen the institution. The National Assembly should, as a matter of urgency, pass into law, the bill the president sent to them, almost two years ago, in respect of a special court to fight corruption. Where you know; that within such a time frame, you will start the prosecution of a case and, then come to an end, and the country moves on. When you call on Buhari whose health is failing, two, on whose side age is no longer there to say, at late 70s, Nigeria is not Zimbabwe, Nigeria is not Tunisia, in terms of intellect of people, in terms of the complicity and complexity of the various 250 and 300 nationalities, in terms of, even everything about Nigeria. It is just like, wanting to kill the poor man. In life, people come, like Buhari came at a time, that he came, chosen by God to help Nigeria take on, head on, that cankerworm called corruption because it has eaten deeply into the tissue and fibre of our society. I believe that people who are calling for him to run again, have their own agenda, either they will think that, if it is ok, that I say, he should run, he would support me to run or some of them are positioning themselves to be either vice president or senate president, etc and they think, they would make it. You see, telling it as it is, is never served 'a la carte'. No! You just have to face the reality and say it, just the way it is. So, I don't believe in it at all and I don't subscribe to it.
What does such call portend for the country?
Let us face it. When APC was coming, the mantra at that time was "Any Other But Jonathan" (AOBJ), but that had come and gone. Now, the PDP is trying to put its house in order. Now, APC is beginning to make the same mistake that PDP made. I was privileged to know this because by the gravce of God, I was the first person from Ogun State to be a member of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the then largest party in Africa that was ruling this country. And at that time, the governors thought that they were invincible and infallible. They were thinking that it was about them, they were imposing people. Internal democracy was thrown to the dogs and immediately that thing started happening, danger signals were there. APC should not fall into the same pit or trap that PDP fell into. That is why, I believe that again, in Nigeria, we should stop exercising, celebrating people but we should start to strengthen institutions. There is a party, strengthening the party, open the doors of the party to people who wish to join the party, who believe in the party, take the party back to the people, not about imposition. Let the people choose who to represent them, whether as councillors or as House of Assembly member or House of Representatives member or senators or as governors or as president. Because in Nigeria now, we are not in Nigeria of about 20 or 30 or 40 years ago. Today, people would vote for individuals in this country. I see many people who would say to me, in that Oyo State, I don't care what it is, I am going to vote for Mr X, Y, Z. I have seen people who have told me, who are not politicians, talking to me, that they would vote for the same person each of them have been mentioning. Now, they are going to vote for individuals and if we don't get it right, you would just make mockery of the so-called party. So, I think that the party should be given back to the people and in the process, let the strengthening of that institution begin or emerge or run at the grass root level, all to the Presidency and then, we would get a good candidate. Of course, that candidate could be supported by the incumbent, based on many factors that we would take into consideration. And topmost of all them would be the continuation of the fight against corruption, which in any event, nobody can get there and dismantle that. God has given that to Buhari to ensure for Nigerians. That is my take.
Do you subscribe to an independent candidacy?
Well, the challenge, I have in an independent candidacy is that, it would be abused in this country. What do I mean by that? If we have 30 candidates for a house of assembly, does it mean; they would have to make ballot papers that would carry 30 photographs because you must know who you want to vote for? So, I don't think that we are very ready for that. But if that would be the panacea to the imposition of candidates by parties so, let it be.
Can't the issue of independent candidacy be moderated by setting tough conditions that will allow only serious - minded people to contest?
Once certain conditions are being put in place and it does not become a thing for all Tom, Dick and Harry or a free-for-all thing, I am totally for it. Why am I totally for it? If the person believes he has what it takes to be voted for. But unfortunately, why I support an independent candidacy, abinitio, subject to certain modifications, is that the governors that we have in this country always see themselves as tin gods who should control parties and control who run for what office. Whether the person is popular, whether the person is wanted by the people or not, they don't care, as long as the person is ready to be their stooge and do their bidding. And because of that, if a man believes that he has what it takes, I don't know what INEC is going to do in that regard, whether it is going to be by a referendum or it is going to be whatever, to know how to make the conditions quite tough, to make sure that this man has what it takes, believe in what it has to be voted for, so be it, totally.
In your party, APC, statutory meetings are not being held regularly and yet everybody in the party keeps quiet. What is happening?
It is not only an issue at the national level. As per the constitution of this party, I am.a member of the state exco, I am a member of the state caucus, having once been a member of the National Assembly, nobody has ever sent an invitation to me to meet. As far as we are concerned, when a governor calls a meeting that is exco, and that is not the exco. Again, having had the experience of being a member of the National Working Committee member of the PDP, while PDP was in power, the national exco meetings were always held, national caucus meetings were always held statutorily, NEC meetings were always held, and we NWC members who were running the party, met every week, but today and I think, what has caused that is because APC was hurriedly put together, without any ideology, without anything whatsoever, just to say, like I said earlier on, Jonathan has to go because of the damage done to the economy, and to this nation, was enormous and we didn't know it was this bad and it was only a snippet of it that we heard. So, I agree with you, that the party is being run like a fiefdom.
Who should take the blame?
I would say, that the Presidency should take that blame as the leadership of the party and at the state levels, the governors should be blamed as the leaders of the party at the state level.
Is the absence of internal democracy responsible for imposition of candidates?
That was what killed PDP, lack of internal democracy. That was why you had governors of PDP who were sitting governors who ran for the National Assembly seats and lost. We had Babangida Aliyu, he ran, he lost; we had Jolly Nyame, he ran, he lost; we had Suswan, he ran, he lost. Because they imposed themselves on the people. Unfortunately APC is following the same path at the moment and I hope, it is not going to be a self-destruct path.
Shouldn't Osun West Senatorial bye - election be a big lesson for your party?
Yes, it is very unfortunate and I hope APC would learn from it. The Osun West senatorial matter was a litmus test. That test is going to be seen in the next elections in Ekiti and Osun States governorship elections. In any imposition, APC would lose the election and it would send wrong signals, if it would happen, it would be in the south west. Now, to start off with, in Osun state, the people who came out for the primary said as per the constitution of the party, Mr X was not qualified to run because he didn't fulfil certain conditions of the party, that he was resigning 30 days before the primary and as such, Mr Y was qualified. You sent people on appeal and the Appeal Committee upheld the decision of the people who carried out the primary and somewhere along the line the party in its 'wisdom' now over-ruled and said, no. Now, at that point in time, the public opinion was in favour of Ademola Adeleke because of what happened to his brother. The public sentiment was with him. Even if he didn't go to PDP and if he had gone to Labour Party or Accord Party, he would have won that election. But somebody, somewhere said, like they used to say in so many years ago, "even if you put down a dog he would win", the days are gone. And I hope APC would learn from that, and not go on a self-destruct mission.
Isn't it a warning signal too for your own state, Ogun where APC has been divided into two camps, ahead of the 2019 governorship contest?
Well, as far as I am concerned, I have said it and I have made it abundantly clear, that there are many, many people who want to join APC today, in many states of Nigeria, and Ogun State in particular. People have come to me, to say, sorry, we are not talking about APC, we like APC, we are only associating with the candidates because we are not wanted in APC. And that is a danger signal. Now, I was privileged to be part of PDP, that lost the election in 2011 to ACN in this state. And quote me, that I, Bode Mustapha, went to the governor at that time, the sitting governor and he is alive, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, and I said to him, "don't play this card of fragmentation". And I told him to his face, that if you play this card, that the best your PPN would get, would be third position, PDP would come second and ACN would win this election. And after this election, they would maltreat you and it came to pass. I hope, we are not going to allow that happens in APC. People want to join the party, the door of the party should now be opened to everybody, and I am saying it emphatically, let people join this party, open the party and when people join the party everybody who has an ambition, let him sell himself to the members of the party and let the best be chosen by members of the party, and not by any individual or individuals.
Governor Ibikunle Amosun has made it clear that he wants someone from Ogun West Senatrosil district to succeed him. Do you share that sentiment?
I don't talk about just tribe, my position is this. Every state is put on a bet, on a tripod, three different senatorial districts. Ogun East Senatorial District has has its share of ruling this state in those late Papa Bisi Onabanjo and Otunba Gbenga Daniel. Ogun Central has had its share in both Chief Olusegun Osoba and the present governor, Amosun, but Ogun West has never been governor in this state and I think, it is only right, morally in the spirit of fairness, equity and justice that Ogun West be allowed to rule this state. Now, we would not have had southwest president in 1999 if the other parts of this country did not say because of the injustice done to Chief Moshood Kashimawo Olawale Abiola (may his soul rest in peace), that let the southwest have it. And because of that, the two contending parties at that time, had their presidential candidates from southwest. So, with that, I believe it is only fair, just and right to let the next governor come from Ogun West senatorial district.