Alhaji Ibrahim Bako Shettima, the governorship candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in the 2011 general election, is the chairman of the Niger State chapter of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He speaks with ADELOWO OLADIPO on a wide range of issues, including the preparedness of his party to dislodge the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 general election.
Some aggrieved governors of the PDP have now defected to the APC. How prepared is your party to absorb these high-profile politicians and wrestle power from the PDP?
The leadership of APC embarked on high-profile membership drive specifically in the interface with the G7 governors of the PDP with the view to giving them an exit from the fractious PDP, so that they will use their wealth of experience to join the new party and galvanise opposition against the PDP’s misrule come 2015. You will agree with me that this tactical move of our leaders is meant to strengthen the hands of the opposition in the 2015 general polls.
Well, I would say that the level of our preparedness is more than that of 2011 because if you recall, in the 2011 elections the CPC alone, mind you, gave PDP a fight for its money. In spite of all the shenanigans, the CPC put up a very sound performance in the elections in Niger State in particular and came out with a Senator, three members of the House of Representatives and three members of the state House of Assembly. The gubernatorial election which would have been the icing on the cake was lost not because the CPC did not win at the polls but we suspected foul plays and connivance between the PDP and the electoral officials who robbed us of victory. And with the benefits of experience and the merger of the opposition parties in the state, we are closing resources, we are closing ranks and the 2015 is just ours to lead and I assure you of that.
What plans does your party have to assuage the feelings of the relations of the bereaved non-indigenes and victims of the post-2011 elections violence in the state?
We have long forgotten about that in the state. There were, of course, some pockets of protests in Niger State but not as pronounced as in other parts of northern Nigeria after the presidential election.
The security agents moved in to quell the situation while some people were arrested, though most of them unfairly, because the mob action was actually what it was, a mob action which was unprecedented but was not ignited or instigated by any party leader. Beyond that, the CPC itself closed ranks and the national headquarters of all the opposition parties initiated this merger and there was the crystallisation of the merger in July this year. It seemed to have sunk all the differences that were partly responsible for the loss in 2011. So, there may be new challenges which are not unexpected in a merger. In any marriage coming from different backgrounds, different cultures, there must be conflicting interests. But the common objectives of salvaging the people of the state and the country in general, the shared values of good governance in the country and the states in particular and the aspirations among the people to bring about change in their lives would restrain us to close ranks and achieve all these objectives. So, I do not see many problems. Like I said, it is natural in a marriage and in a merger that conflicting interests would pose problems at the initial level.
So, you do not see any need to appeal to aggrieved people who were affected one way or the other in the post-election crisis in the state because it was only the Federal Government that stretched a hand of fellowship to the victims by giving them succour even three years after the unfortunate incidence...?
As I said, the crisis was actually as a result of the presidential election but not post-gubernatorial election and the Federal Government moved swiftly by setting up a committee headed by Sheik Ahmed Lemu. Incidentally, Sheik Lemu is from Niger State and the committee was to look into the remote and the immediate cause of the crisis and recommend compensations, recommend punitive and reconciliatory approaches to the issues. The report has long been submitted but I am not in a position to confirm but snippets of the reports from the media indicated that the Federal Government has set aside some amount of money to compensate the victims though I cannot remember now. Some people lost their lives, some people lost property and some of them that lost their limbs and their relations would be duly compensated, I believe, by the Federal Government. Actually it is a federal issue because there was no violence after the gubernatorial elections. The violence we witnessed in the North was actually after the presidential election.
We have started seeing some pockets of crisis within the APC, with former Governor Attahiru Bafarawa of Sokoto State and his counterpart from Kano State, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, saying there should be no imposition of candidates on the party by the leadership of the party in view of the defection by PDP members to APC. What is your view on this?
I did make an allusion to the fact that a merger is a unique initiative in the political history of this country. All previous attempts had been falling short of merger because we usually talked of alliances which I think it were ineffective. But since we have achieved merger for the first time in this country, we must expect some challenges. It is like when a flight is taking off and the pilots advise you to fasten your seat belt; that is the situation we are in now. Once we achieve cruising level, we will relax in the flight and we will land in 2015 with resounding success. The fact that the leadership of the party has wooed the G5 governors, it is natural for those that were hitherto entrenched in the APC fold to feel threatened and since they spoke out, corrective measures would be taken. In fact, I heard Mallam Shekarau mention when he was interviewed on the Hausa service of Voice of America. He did say what happened in Kano State was not a registration of any faction, he was only sure that mistakes were committed and he hoped that those mistakes were corrected so that such suspicions would be minimised for the betterment of the party. And the party has moved swiftly to address that. The same thing applied to the incident you talked about in Sokoto State with regards to the outcry of former Governor Bafarawa and former Governor Aliyu Wamakko. So, in any human interaction, you are bound to have conflicts but how you resolve the conflict is the strength of leadership. And every confidence that the leadership has exuded will do justice to all at the end of the day.
We have learnt useful lessons, especially in CPC over imposition of candidates. So, I believe APC will avoid such mistakes of imposition of candidates. So, it is within the rights of people like Bafarawa and Shekarau to warn the APC leadership to avoid the pitfalls of imposition of candidates and equally the leadership should be realistic to listen to such admonitions. So, with that kind of mindsets, we anticipate that we can surmount all challenges.
There is this belief that states like Niger have over the years been noted to be dominated by conservative politicians and they usually do not belong to opposition parties. Do you foresee Niger State joining forces with you to give the PDP a fight in the 2015 general election?
Absolutely, I have no doubt that the citizenry would join forces with the APC in Niger State, because as I told you earlier, in the 2011 elections the citizenry spoke with one voice and Niger State actually changed from what you called governing party or establishment party to opposition party. That was why we won a number of legislative seats that I mentioned earlier and a number of councillors in the local government elections. In spite of the violence, the official INEC results showed that the presidential candidate of the CPC got double the votes of the incumbent president in Niger State. The gubernatorial election result was also keenly contested up to the level of the Supreme Court. If the people did not believe they won an election, they would not have pursued it to the Supreme Court. The only permanent thing in life is change and that change has now come to Niger State since 2011. And it has been enhanced with the merger and it can only get better and I do not see it suffering any setback again.
What are the road maps APC has set for itself?
The road map is that, for now, I mean at the national level, because it is not peculiar to Niger State, the National Interim Executive has been put in place, while at the state level, the template has been reduced to Interim Executive Committees. A number of states have already held their elections and have principal officers of the Interim Executive Committees in place and they are about to be inaugurated. After the inauguration or before inauguration, the registration exercise will start afresh. The party has already issued a statement that its registration will start soon. At least, we will do the registration because we have the minimum members required across the country to go for the first round of congresses from the polling units to the wards, to the local governments, the states and now the national convention of the party. After that, the duly elected officers of the party would take charge and be there until the party will go for the elections. That is the roadmap for now.
What should Nigerians expect from APC in 2015?
For now, the party is busy taking the structure from the national level down to the wards, local government and at the state level. It is only after this home work has been done and seemed to be done fairly and with all sense of responsibility that we can now be on a firm footing towards the challenge of 2015. I am assuring you that the national leadership of the party and the leadership of the party in Niger State are very much aware of the heavy responsibility that is resting on our shoulders; we believe that the structures that are emerging from the congresses and even from the interim to the congresses would be solid enough to give us a pedestal to face the challenge of electoral contest in 2015. So, the prognosis is that all things being equal, Niger State would become one of the states controlled by the progressives Insha Allah.