Abdullahi: Kwarans Voted Out a Government They Didn't Want for a Government They Don't Need
Former Minister of Youths and Sports and the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party for Kwara Central Senatorial District, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi spoke with Hammed Shittu in Ilorin shortly after he won the party’s ticket for the Red Chamber of the National Assembly. Excerpts:
You just emerged through consensus, but to some politicians this is undemocratic, your reaction to that?
It is democratic because the idea of democracy is about people having a say and agreeing on representation, that is the idea of democracy, when you say you give people a voice to decide, to choose, that is democracy so when those people come together to decide that this is the person that we want and we are putting forward, so what can be more democratic than that? The question was put openly: Do you all accept Bolaji Abdullahi as your candidates for the next election? Everybody gave a roaring, yes! There was not a single voice of dissent. If there was a single voice of dissent, you would have been obliged to do an election, but everyone, not an exception there was no second nomination, unanimously said that I would be their candidate. I think that is democratic enough and it is an accepted form of selection of candidates by all regulation of election.
With this submission, why is this method causing a rift at the national level, among the two leading political parties?
I cannot say I understand the full extent of the rift you’re talking about in the two parties. What I know is that the definition of consensus, is that there is a unanimous position on an issue. Wherever there are voices of dissent no matter how minor those voices could be, they must be given the opportunity to have their say, in accordance with the regulation of the election. When there are no voices of dissent, when no one is saying, ‘No, I’m not part of that,’ then you should not expect to have any rift as you call it, but the situation I think you are describing is when everyone is not on the same page in the mode of selection, so when everyone is not on the same page it is difficult to talk about consensus, and there is alternative to consensus. It is competitive primaries. We have seen it in our party in this state. Some aspirants said, ‘No, we are not going to step down for one another.’ The party said go ahead and contest in the primaries, you could see what happened, competitive primaries was conducted in two house of representatives constituencies, and winners emerged. It is not as if we shut down the space for competitive selection process. I think the situation you described happens when everyone is pulling in the same direction, and I also think in corollary to that, what we would all object to is imposition, where candidates are imposed on the party or the constituencies and the majority of the people don’t want this person, by whatever reason. If the leadership of the party now imposes a candidate against the will of the people then that is undemocratic, and those are the kind of situation that can cause rift as you call it. But, we didn’t have that kind of situation in regards to my election. The party believes that where consensus is not possible then competitive primaries should be allowed as we demonstrated recently.
What are your plans for youths and women if elected as a senator?
I want to believe that every politician has a reason for playing politics it is not the most enjoyable occupation given my experience. I have my own reason, and it is the same reason in 2019 when I attempted to contest for the governorship, I announced clearly what my reasons were at that time I wanted to promote youth development, that is why I said my first priority is youth development, second priority, youth development, third priority, youth development and that has not changed, I mean when you have 60% of your population as youths, between the age of 18 and 25 ,you can’t do anything else that makes sense beyond youth development , how do you give skills and opportunities to young people? How do you help young people in their career? How do you give young people the right kind of values that can make them patriotic citizens? These are the reasons I am a politician, and when I get elected into the National Assembly, that will be the main purpose of my representation. It is about how to help young people- education, skills development, those will be my priority and I believe that I will be a voice for my constituency, Asa, Ilorin West, Ilorin East, Ilorin South in the National Assembly because the situation we are going to face in 2023, I want to think that it is remarkably different from where we are coming from. It is going to be turning point for Nigeria. What every constituency will get will depend on the quality of the voice that is representing that constituency in the National Assembly, and I believe I can give that quality voice.
How difficult do you think the journey will be given the fact that your party has been out of power in Kwara State and Nigeria for a long time?
To us, it is like a thousand years ago, if you have been in power for 16 years, then you suddenly find yourself out of power, then you will know that one day can be a very long time.You See what happened in 2019 was an aberration it was not the normal flow of things, and we would be the first to tell you that we accept the responsibility for what happened in 2019. I think we got to a point we were not doing some things that we were supposed to be doing, things that have worked for us over the years. We appeared to have abandoned them and the people said, no. We have learnt our lessons and we have come back but more importantly like someone said, in history people have voted out a government they didn’t want and ended up with a government they didn’t need. That is the situation we have found ourselves, in the last four years. We have seen things happen the All progressives Congress which is the ruling party at the National level and at our state level have taken this country to a level that we could not have imagined was possible some years ago. Who could have thought that a time will come when I can’t get up here and say I’m going to Kaduna? You can’t get to Kaduna by rail or by road, unless you have N25million or so to pay to kidnappers. You can’t get there by air. How did we get to this point? Look at the 16 years of PDP and ask, what did they do? We can say what we did over those years. What is going to give us the opportunity is that Nigerians have suffered a lot. I know as a Nigerian that Nigerians don’t like to suffer. What has happened in the last seven, going to eight years is that Nigerians have suffered too much under the hands of these APC people and Nigerians are going to say enough, ‘our sufferhead don do’. That is what is going to give us a chance, we have government here,we have someone who is a senator ,all of you live in Kwara. You can tell us, do you think that what has happened in the last eight years is what you should expect as citizens in this state? I want to think the answer is no. What alternative do you have? What gives me the edge over the gentleman that is currently occupying the seat is experience. I am the only one who started as a Special Assistant, a Special Adviser ,a Commissioner, a Federal Minister and a National Officer of a ruling party. That is a robust portfolio of experience, that can’t be matched by any of them. You can ask what I did with the experience. I can tell you. I believe this is what stands me in a better chance than them. That is what I believe stands our party in a better chance than them because my party is fielding a quality candidate and I am that quality candidate.
Many people are of the opinion that your Senatorial District this time around has suffered a lacklustre representation,if given a chance, what are you going to do?
I will do what I’ve always done, which is to work harder than expected. If you were in this state when I was a Special Adviser you would know how I worked. I worked with many of you in those years, when I was the Commissioner for Education. When I was a Federal Minister for Youth Development you know how hard I worked. I will simply do what I always do. I will work hard and take my job very seriously. There are two levels for a Senator and a member of the House of Representatives. One level is the business of legislation and oversight, the second is the business of community development. You cannot do one and leave the other. You have to do both. If you like you can do a thousand legislation in Abuja, if you don’t help your own people it is like you have not done anything, and If you help your own people and all you do is to help them, and you are not giving quality representation at the national level your people will still suffer all the same, so you have to be able to balance the two and I think this is what my experience has prepared me for, the ability to do that.
There have been cross-carpeting between the two major parties and others, what makes PDP better than APC?
We like to condemn the National Assembly. When you are looking for politicians to blame , you blame the National Assembly. They represent the people. They are the meaning of democracy, I’m not saying they have done everything they should have done over the years but what I am saying is that there are people in the National Assembly, who are passionate about this country, who believe the National Assembly can be used to develop this country called Federal Republic of Nigeria, my hope is that I will be able to join them and other people too will join so that we will be able to form a critical mass, if out of 109 senators we have only 40 pulling in the same direction with progressive ideas ,I believe the the situation and the image of National Assembly will change. Now to your question about what is the difference between the PDP and APC, I will tell you the difference. PDP is a party designed to be in power and to provide leadership, while APC is a party designed to be in the opposition, PDP is not designed to be an opposition party, you can see how badly we performed as an opposition party. We are designed to be the ruling party. APC is designed to be an opposition party, you can see how badly they have performed as the ruling-party, so that is the difference.
What can you say about the insecurity in Nigeria today? And do you think the present government has the political will to fight insecurity?
I don’t think it is about political will. I don’t have any evidence to say that there are moles within the security circle, because silence is interpreted to mean consent. I don’t have any evidence what I know is that, it is a very complex situation. If you go beyond your campaign on three things, if you vote for us, we will improve the economy. We will fight corruption. We will fight the problem of insecurity, as complicated as the situation of insecurity is, we know where we were in 2015. We know where we are now.. These people have not only failed to solve the security problem as they met it, it is infinitely more complicated now than the time they were taking over. I listen to people in the security circle, and they talk about the situation under which they operate, and the policing model which we have used in this country when we have population of about 50-60 million people, it can’t work for a country with a population of about 250 million people. The policy template will have to change, and that is why I am fully in support of community policing, I’m in support of state police. Some people believe that when there is state police, the governors will use them to oppress their opponents, we can only make laws for today, not forever. If we have fears that the governors will use them, we can build in legislation that forms safeguards to ensure that state governors are not able to abuse it, but we cannot have a the police system that will cover the entire country, and the gentleman sitting in Abuja as the Inspector General of Police, no matter how brilliant and committed he is, cannot be the only one that decides what happens in Nigerian policing. I believe the structure, the security architecture needs to be overhauled completely.The issue of political power is another thing, you see one of the reasons we talk about is that the reason why the government hasn’t done this is because they lack the political power. Some of these things are not actually political power, it is just gross incompetence and I’m not saying that I have all the answers. We cannot solve these things overnight. It is very complex, I’ll give you an example, how can someone say he has sent an AIG to a state where there is security problem but wasn’t sure if the AIG is in the state or not, I mean how do you explain that? Some of these things could have been avoided. You heard the minister of transportation sometimes ago lamenting when the train was hijacked. He was saying that there was something he was asked to procure that if he had procured them, maybe the incident wouldn’t have happened. We know it is a classic act of buck passing, but that gives you an insight into what is going on in that place.
As a former Commissioner for Education in the state, what can you say about education in the state?
On education, I believe that there are some policies that bounds our educational system. There are some things that are pulling the development of our educational system, but there are some things that are under the laws that when we rejig them, it will bring progress to the educational system. For example, looking at the administration of primary education ,it doesn’t allow each school to be able to administer themselves, for example,it is the same commissioner that is stationed here in Ilorin that will be expected to oversee the schools in Baruten. He will oversee the schools in Eruku and schools in Isin, but if we can make policies that will allow each school to govern themselves and make their yearly budget in the beginning of the year for their projects such as recruitment of teachers, purchasing education materials renovation of buildings and other things and shall be presented to the authorities accumulation of budgets from different schools will inform the government’s own budget for education,and the amount that will be requested from Federal Government and when the money comes, then the money requested by the school will be given to them and they will know how best to spend the money and their priorities to be met. These are the things that I believe that when we make policies and laws to take care of them, and some other things like that, we are lamenting on the rate of unemployment among graduates, also the undergraduates have also been stuck at home all these while just because the their lecturers are protesting to the government and they refused to go to work. What can we do to forestall these things, so that when a student gains admission, he is assured that within four years he will become a graduate with ease? I’m assuring the people that if they vote for me Bolaji Abdullahi and I become a member of the Senate, I will work tirelessly to ensure that we bring those things to reality.
Looking at your antecedents, you have always been in the executive arm, but now you’re going into legislature, how easy will this transformation be?
When I joined government especially when I was appointed Commissioner for Education, people were saying how can a journalist be a Commissioner for Education? What does he know about education? But with all sense of humility, I think I’m one of the best commissioners for education in this state. I’m proud to say I’m a journalist, because the profession that raised me is a profession that prepares me for everything. The most important thing a journalist does is to ask questions. That is the most important skill that I need. When I was made the Commissioner for Education, I didn’t have any knowledge about it. When I became the Minister for Youth and Sports, I did not have any knowledge about the sports sector, but what I did was to deploy that important journalistic skill, which is the skill to ask questions and demand the right answers and I was getting answers from people who know better than myself, who are more knowledgeable than myself and that was what made me to achieve the modest success that I did. I’m going to do the same thing this time around. I am executive person as you rightly said because I like to solve problems on a day-to-day basis, but I am going in now as a legislator,I am going to learn from people who are older than me, you are more experienced than me, and I am a good learner, I learn very quickly, and I know if I’m able to learn from them I am going to succeed. I don’t see any complication in the transformation that you have described, you see because the fundamental principles are the same, whether you are doing it as a legislator or you’re doing it as an executive, the fundamental principles are the same. It is that you are committed to driving progressive ideas. How do I make this place better than I met it? How do I make this situation better than I have met it? This country needs to be made better. This is not the country we know. We need to change this country. Our young people-the best and the brightest are leaving this country every single day, so what can we do to stem tide of brain drain? What can we do to stop the best among us from thinking that they cannot find meaning to their lives in our country until they go elsewhere? Those are the priorities. Those are the issues. We should bring this to the top of our political agenda, and make this the purpose of our politics. How do we help young people? How do we give young people the opportunities in life? How do we help young people who are not so educated with skills? These are the issues and unless we solve these problems, we are not going anywhere as a country.
What can you say about the pitiable situation of local government administration in Nigeria?
The jury is out, some people will say you don’t need local government, you have a state government, let the state decide how many local governments they want. That is a matter of details. The most important thing is that you need local government administration, because that is the government that is closest to the people. When you don’t have local government administration, it will show because there are some things that only local government is best positioned to handle, if we don’t have local government administration then those things will show that nobody is doing them, I drive around Ilorin, I see mountains of rubbish and sometimes you’ll think you’re approaching Sobi Hill, before you know that these are just mountains of rubbish. If you had a functioning local government administration, there is no way those rubbish will remain uncleaned. That is what local governments do. Unless and until we understand that the local government as a third tier of government is not just there as an appendage of the state, it is a critical level of government by itself, recognized by the constitution, then we’re not going to make progress in the governance system. It is a question of accountability, whereas votes allocation were made to local government and the state administration usurp everything and decide what they need to give to them. That is not democratic, the local government is a distinct part of government. It has its own legislative institution. It has its own executive institution. Now everything has gone to the dogs. I believe Nigeria will be better for it if we’re able to bring back the local government, not in theory but in practice.
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