• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Internal processes in our political parties are weak, flawed – Abe

Internal processes in our political parties are weak, flawed – Abe

MAGNUS NGEI ABE is a politician, lawyer and administrator, who was house minority leader in Rivers state, commissioner for Information, and secretary to the State government at various times. A two-term senator, he has been in a long-drawn battle with Rotimi Amaechi, the minister of Transportation over control of the Rivers APC. In this exclusive interview with OBINNA NWACHUKWU in Abuja, he explains all the details.

After you left the senate in 2019, you contested for the governorship seat in Rivers state but lost. Right now, what actually are you doing politically?

Politically? I remain a member of the All Progressives Congress. I remain committed to the ideology of change, building a better Nigeria, doing away with impunity in our public life. And I remain committed to the concept of giving the Nigerian people control over their lives and their future in a free electoral environment where the vote of the people actually decides what happens in the country.

I think there are many Nigerians and even some members of the All Progressives Congress who do not fully subscribe to the ideology of the party- of doing things differently from the way it has been done before, which is the concept of change but I still believe that the President and the core leaders of the party are committed to that as we witnessed recently in the conduct of Anambra state elections. So, I believe that within this party, Nigerians can still work together to achieve the dream of a better Nigeria, no matter what the challenges may be I will still remain a member of the All progressives Congress.

What do you mean by “doing away with impunity in public life”?

Well, as we all know, part of the challenges of Nigeria as a country is the disregard for process by people in power. Doing away with what is the obvious truth, manipulating the truth and then imposing their own will or understanding on every situation, regardless of the rules and regardless of the needs and requirements of the time. That’s my understanding of the kind of impunity that goes on in this country. When people in power choose not to obey the rules that amounts to impunity.

I do not think that a lot of Nigerians understand that we can do things better, and we should be able to do things better but like every other thing, that people want, opinions alone will not change the world; it’s our actions that will change the world. A lot of people may have opinions, but if there are no actions in support of the opinion you hold, then your opinion is basically of no consequence. You must be able to go out there, confront the challenges, surmount the obstacles so that the nation can move forward. But that will need courage and understanding to accomplish.

Are you hinting at the ongoing crisis between your faction of the Rivers state APC and the one led by the minister of transportation Rotimi Amaechi?

I don’t think there is anything particularly significant about the crisis in the Rivers state APC. It is a crisis over the control of the internal structure of our political parties, the way we run them and understand them. What is happening in Rivers state is a reflection of what is happening across all political parties. You see the whole concept of party as built by the British is that there is equality of persons.

Fraternity of persons and people with similar ideas, visions and ideologies could come together, submit themselves voluntarily to their own rules and then, work within those rules to achieve their ideologies for the betterment of society. Now, when people say the party is supreme in that context, the party is supreme because it is expected that the majority of the members take decisions for everybody, and that the rules that they have agreed on will bind everybody within the party. Now, when you take that rule of party supremacy into the Nigerian arena, where people who are in powerful positions will not obey the rules and where the views of the majority are either not determinable or nobody wants to determine it, or nobody is even interested in what the majority means, then party supremacy becomes nothing but tyranny. Because those who have power or control of the party structure can permanently impose their will on others and if you don’t like it, you can leave; that’s what it is.

Whereas the underlined understanding that brought about party supremacy is that everybody in the party is on the same level and will submit to the same rules, but you now have people who decide to manipulate the system for selfish purposes, the concept of party supremacy becomes meaningless. So even in Nigerian context, the courts will enforce party supremacy and not enforce the contract, which is the constitution of the party. That kind of politics can take us nowhere. So what is happening in Rivers state is just a reflection of a kind of impunity, which is happening all across the country in varying degrees. That’s why you see the National Assembly now passing the law on direct primaries within our political parties, because everybody has seen that what is happening in the parties cannot take the country anywhere.

So when people keep talking about Rivers state, the state is just a reflection of the same impunity everywhere because without the same kind of mindset or without the same kind of disregard for rules, or insensitivity to the feelings, needs and aspirations of others, what is happening in Rivers state will not happen but it’s happening everywhere in varying degrees. So if you have party supremacy, where the party claims to be supreme, but will not respect its own rules, then it is unfortunate. For example, in our party constitution, we don’t have any provision for leader of the party. But in reality, everywhere someone is being identified as the leader, So if you’re the leader, and you will not subject yourself to the rules, and will take sides on the same issues in which you lead how do other people in the party who don’t subscribe to what you believe or what you understand survive within that environment. Nobody is providing for that within our own peculiar kind of politics.

Today, Prof Yakubu is the chairman of INEC. There is no election in which he may not have a personal interest because his brother or friends could be contesting or people he knows. But he cannot come out openly and declare that this person or that person is my candidate because he knows that that will scuttle the entire process. So the whole concept of being a leader is that you must be a leader to both those who agree with you and those who disagree with you. That’s the only way your leadership can work or people will have confidence in the leadership that you seek to provide.

If you’re a leader who takes sides against other people, of course, those people will not follow your leadership because they know that it is a leadership that is pre-determined against them. So we have to rethink the whole context of our political parties and how they operate, if we are to get the best for the Nigerian people, and that includes you. So when you talk about Rivers state, you have to talk with the understanding that at the end of the day, you are also a reflection of the political challenges within the society in which you live. If we don’t resolve it in a manner that accommodates the aspirations of the majority of Nigerians, we will still be where we are. Therefore, I don’t see it as a River’s problem. I don’t personalize it. I see it as a structural problem; as a process problem within the Nigerian polity. And I’m glad that everybody’s seeing it. Everybody’s feeling it and people are imbibing the message as to the importance of addressing this issue if our democracy is to move forward.

Can this be attributed to lack of internal party democracy?

That’s what it is. This is over 20 years of democracy, we are still doing membership registration. The truth is that the structure of the parties and the commitment to internal democracy are actually weak.

How do you balance this with the common phenomenon of jumping ship by politicians including you because you were in PDP but in 2014, you joined APC. Common practice now is for people to move from one party to the other

What I’m telling you is that it’s a reflection of the fact that our internal political processes are weak and flawed. People know how the system works. If you are here, and the godfather is against you, there’s no point being here because you won’t get anything. If you can’t survive, you move.

And the godfathers know that you have no option other than to move; that’s how it is. Therefore, what is happening today is that human beings are trying to survive in whatever environment they find themselves. But that doesn’t address the problem. People have to stand, people have to be committed, and people have to take risk to achieve things. Like I said at the beginning, opinions don’t change anything actions do. So when you stand and say things shouldn’t be like this, you become an enemy. But let us remember that people who changed the world are not those who are afraid of what people will say. Rather. they were those who understood that achieving the objective you set out to achieve is more important than what anybody thinks or says.

A lot of people may have opinions, but if there are no actions in support of the opinion you hold, then your opinion is basically of no consequence

The whole concept of being a leader is that you must be a leader to both those who agree with you and those who disagree with you

Are you in support of electronic transmission of election results?

I am in support of free, fair, transparent and secret voting in this country. It is left to INEC to determine what will work best and how we can achieve that. What is happening now is that majority of people that have a stake in any election work against the process that’s why they tell you that in internal party democracy if you bring INEC to conduct party primaries, it will be too expensive and they can’t afford it. Elections are basically a clerical job it shouldn’t cost so much money. Why it costs so much money is because all the stakeholders work against election; they don’t work for the election.

Read also: Nigeria’s voter turnout fails to offset huge expenditure on elections

The truth is that during elections in Nigeria, everybody tries to see how he or she can bribe INEC officials, the police and other personnel involved in the electoral process. All these things are not part of election. Election is a clerical job. All you need to do is to count the papers and ascertain the numbers of people who voted for each candidate. If you go to countries like Ghana or UK whoever is conducting the election brings the material. You don’t have to hire boys for those materials, you don’t have to get the central bank involved in transporting materials, you don’t have to get the Navy or the army to protect the election materials. All those costs in the electoral process are brought about by the fact that the key stakeholders in the political process, who are the parties and the politicians and the contestants, all work against the process. They don’t work to enhance the process. They don’t work to make the process competitive and fair. They work against the process, they manipulate the process. That’s what makes our election expensive if not; election essentially is a clerical job. It’s just record keeping.

Is it true that you are a factional leader of APC in Rivers state and why are you at loggerhead with Rotimi Amaechi?

I don’t know what you call factional leader. I am a leader of the party in the state. Yes I do have contrary opinion and views with that of the minister of transportation but I don’t see how all of us in a party will have only one opinion on an issue. It’s not reasonable and wouldn’t help the society. A key characteristic of a good political party is not about how you treat those that agree with your views but those that do not agree. How do we bring ourselves together despite different ideologies and work together?

To run a ship against anyone who doesn’t agree with us is not a reasonable way to run a ship. At some point in the future, those who agree today might disagree tomorrow as the event in APC has shown us. Why don’t we as matured people look for a way to work together and arrive at some point of concession despite our different views? The other day I heard someone saying that it was because I want to be Governor that I am ensuring that there is no peace unless I achieve my goal but that’s not true. What I want is for us to have a process that gives everybody an even opportunity and it’s the responsibility of the leader to provide that process and when that process fails, you apologize and work to improve on it. You can’t be a leader and blame everything that goes wrong on others. The leader takes responsibilities, steps out to make sure things go right and correct wrong things. This is my understanding of what leadership entails in any setting you can think of. Leadership should be a contest of ideas. You can’t be a leader who is never wrong while things are going wrong.

But must two of you always disagree?

We are politicians and we can disagree. It’s not an issue. This is a Nigerian problem and the reflection of it is heightened in Rivers state because we have people who have stood up to oppose the practices. It happens everywhere but Rivers state’s case is escalated. What is happening in Rivers state is also happening in all the political parties in different states of the country.

You, Amaechi and Nyesom Wike were once seen as best of friends. How come today, three of you are no more together?

Well that’s politics for you but one thing I believe is that we can’t have a disagreement for life. When I was contesting for the senate, it was like a war between me and governor Wike but when I had my thanksgiving service, my Archbishop asked me to invite him and he came. Since then we have maintained some form of cordiality. When he had an event, I also went. I try to be objective, the fact that we disagree over one issue or the other does not make us enemies for life in such a way that we can’t relate again. That’s not how to reason. Rotimi Amaechi is godfather to my son but on this matter we don’t agree and we can never agree that doesn’t make him my enemy. Even the leaders themselves have nothing to lose if we change how we do things. We need to act as leaders not monarchs and must have the interest of the people at heart.

Could this be the reason some Amaechi loyalists accused you of anti party activity? For instance, in January this year, APC in the state resolved not to participate in the local government election, but the faction loyal to you went ahead to conduct party primaries for the election

What’s the purpose of a political party? And who did they consult before deciding not to participate in the local government elections and what were their reasons? It is things like these that make people leave the party. Before we take decisions, we should discuss it first because we are not children. We know that if the state is conducting an election, the chances that the state government would want to manipulate the process in its favour are there.

We once ran the government and other people participated when we did elections, and we conducted a free and fair election, but because nobody believed that the election would be free and fair, the major political parties refused to participate and in some places people won with nine votes because it was actually free and fair. And by the time we finished they then realized that if they had participated, they would have won. So, I don’t think a political party should ordinarily refuse to contest in an election because it will help train your supporters as well as give you an opportunity to condemn the election if it’s not free and fair. That’s how you improve the process. In the just conducted Anambra state governorship election, wasn’t everybody shouting that APC was planning to rig the election? If other parties had decided not to contest would APGA had won? As a political party, you contest whenever you’re given the opportunity because if you decide to boycott election you weaken your party.

Why then were you denied governorship ticket in 2018?

I don’t want to discuss this but the truth of the matter is that the process that was used and is being used did not involve the participation of anybody. At a point the former state governor said he was waiting for when God would tell him who to appoint and all sort of things and when to open up the process. This is the reason why we’re clamouring for the process to be open and transparent. It doesn’t stop you as a leader from supporting anybody that you want to support but if you are the person in charge of structuring the process, you don’t start by determining the process in a given direction when you have not agreed to the structure.

President Buhari when he was contesting in the election was a candidate but he set up the process that was clear to other candidates. The truth is that if you are selfish and try to structure the process to a predetermined end it won’t work and that is the bane of our party in the state.