Former Minister of Youth and Sports Development, Solomon Dalung, speaks to JAMES ABRAHAM of The Punch on his ministerial appointment by President Muhammadu Buhari and the crisis rocking the All Progressives Congress.
W ould you say you did well as a minister under the present regime?
It is left for Nigerians to judge my performance while in office, but I think I did my best to leave the Ministry of Youth and Sports Development better than I met it.
Were you surprised that the President didn’t reappoint you to his cabinet?
For me, I have this attitude which people hardly notice. I am not a man of second chances. In every opportunity I have in my life, I don’t anticipate coming back, rather, I take my time to do everything I can do. I sometimes told my friends that I was brought in as a minister by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria not to come back for a second term. I only made sure I spent the four years in such a manner that if I was not returned, I would have achieved what I wanted to achieve. So, I am not surprised because appointment is the will of God; if it is not meant for you, you will not have it. For me, it is never at all surprising. It rather props my conscience to begin to think otherwise because if peradventure I was (re) appointed, I might not have been alive today. Considering the office of the Minister of Sports and the travel schedules, I possibly could have travelled out of the country at the beginning of this coronavirus pandemic and nobody knows what could have happened. When I think of these things, I pick up my Bible and thank God for sparing my life.
Looking back, would you say you are happy to have been part of the Buhari regime and the ruling All Progressives Congress?
I am indeed happy that I am a founding member of the ruling All Progressives Congress. We conceived, alongside other founding members, the idea of the Change mantra and we had the idea of what we intended to achieve and, of course, we won the election in 2015 . Even though we might not have met the expectations of Nigerians the way they expected, I think we have been able to impact positively more than they were when we came into office. Even though there are challenges in some of the areas we promised to deliver, we have succeeded in so many other areas and, personally, I have no regrets at all in being part of changing the social order, sort of.
Which areas was your party unable to deliver on its campaign promises to Nigerians?
We have not been able to tackle the issue of insecurity well because when we came into power in 2015, there were about 21 local government areas in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, where the insurgents had kept their caliphate flags. We were able to repossess those areas within a short period and flush out the kidnapping insurgents. But as it is now, we are dealing with something more than insurgency. Banditry has been added and it has changed the dynamics of violent crimes in the country. We have not been able to contain these challenges well so that we can beat our chests and say we have delivered on our promises. This is one area in which I think we need to scale up.
What do you think is the cause of the escalation of insecurity in the country?
Perhaps I should share my personal opinion because I am not a security expert and I think that beyond the poor performance of the management of the security situation in the country, underlining it is a political factor that has contributed immensely in escalating the situation. And this has to do with the lack of support the government is getting from the citizens and the political class generally because governance is not an issue of one person or a party elected but a collective responsibility of the political class to lend their support to the government and I think this is not coming in as expected. Again, they think that since Mr President had won his election on integrity, everybody now decided to fold their hands and say: ‘Let me watch how integrity alone will be able to deliver on his promises.’ The ‘do it, let’s see’ attitude of the political class is responsible for the barrage of criticisms and attacks on the government and these do not proffer solutions to the problems. I think that, instead of constant attacks on the government on the challenges, those involved should be able to provide answers to the problems. That is the way to go.
You described the APC as a dying party. Given the benefit of hindsight, what exactly is the problem with the party?
The problem of the APC is that it is not organised alongside the tradition of a political movement. When a party is elected into government, it is the manifesto of that party that is elected, not the individuals who participated in the election. Therefore, personifying the individuals over and above the manifesto of a political party elected into government is evidence of the fact that the party’s cohesion is internally weak. The party, since the 2019 election, has been moving from one crisis to another. A sitting national chairman of the party was suspended by his ward and subsequently, a court order was secured to remove the man from office and he had to step aside. And immediately he stepped aside, the second dimension of the crisis emerged where the question of who was legally qualified to take over from him became a big deal. That crisis rocked the party to an extent that a sitting governor who contested and won an election on the platform of the party and who wanted to recontest after serving his first tenure was disqualified even before the primaries; it is the peak of a crisis in a political party. Not that he lost the primaries, but he was disqualified outright. Consequently, he defected to the opposition, contested the election and won.
Again, the National Working Committee of the party was dissolved as a result of litigation against the leadership of the party. Unfortunately, the dissolution of the NWC did not provide a strong legal foundation for the reformation of the party because a sitting governor emerged as the chairman of a caretaker committee.
Constitutionally, and even in the constitution of the APC, you cannot be holding a position in government and, at the same time, hold a position in the party. That is a constitutional violation and the party, in trying to solve one crisis, jumped deeper into a bigger problem. Why I say the APC is heading towards foreseeable danger is (because of) the chairman of the caretaker committee, who emerged as a result of the violation of our constitution. Can he give our party the desired democracy we are yearning for? This very serious question was what agitated my mind to say we are not heading towards the right direction because an established legal maxim, ‘Nemo dat quod non habet,’ says you cannot give something which you do not have and you cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand. So, with this situation, I do not see how the current political structure will be able to reposition the party and then unite the party in preparation for the future.
Is there a cabal or are there some factions within making it difficult to be cohesive?
The concept of a cabal is common within the power base of the Nigerian political system. Hitherto, it has been quite remote but has now become a dominant phenomenon that people use. I have always been asking this question and I will continue to ask until I get the answer: Where is the office of the cabal? And who are they, because, most of the time, I hear even the media referring to this cabal in the government? I do remember when I was still in government when this issue of cabals became so notorious, I asked the same question in the Federal Executive Council: Where are the cabals? And can we identify these cabals and whether their offices can be found within or outside government?
I asked the question because I know that President Muhammadu Buhari, who is the Commander – in – Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is in charge of the affairs in the country and he is accountable for everything as somebody who has been elected to pilot the affairs of Nigeria. I don’t see the President as somebody who has accommodation for easy manipulation. Others may have different views about him but, personally, that is what I know of him. I think what is happening is a kind of overzealousness of some people within the power base who oftentimes misrepresent the intention and vision of leadership. Since they are located within the corridors of power, every action of theirs is taken to mean the action of their principal. This kind of thing is common not only in Nigeria but wherever power resides.
But critics of Mr President have argued that his failure to checkmate their activities is an indication that he is not in charge.
What is your take on that? Why can’t the President take control of the party and his government?
I agree with Nigerians who share the opinion that Mr President should checkmate the excesses of people within the power equation. That is why I said he is accountable for everything, therefore he cannot excuse himself from their wrongdoing. But the point here is that some of these excesses may not be able to trickle down the communication network of government business to get to the knowledge of the President. Sometimes, he may be able to know of it, perhaps when the damage might have been done. This is common in our own climes here in Africa where we have not been able to develop a sophisticated public administration. That is why it is important that for anybody to be appointed by Mr President, he or she must be somebody who believes in his vision and mission for the people and the country; such a person is expected to assist in promoting those ideals. If those he has entrusted with the responsibility to work for him are not defending him or insulating him well, just like the APC and most of those in government have not been able to do, they should know that it is part of their job. If they do that, they should be able to shield the President from public pressure.
Like what currently obtains, it is not right that the office of the President has been reduced to the official megaphone of the government and the party. The presidential spokesperson should only speak for the office of Mr President and the President and nothing else. There is the official spokesperson for the government and there is also the official spokesman for the party. The party gave birth to the government, and so, the official spokesperson for the party should be more up and doing alongside the spokesperson for the government. A situation where the spokesperson for the President, who should rarely speak, is the one saying everything is abnormal. Those in government should be able to speak and defend what they are doing and not to be quiet and expose the government to the barrage of criticism coming from different directions and directed at Mr President without any shield in between.
One of the campaign promises your party made to Nigerians was restructuring. The party later set up the Governor Nasir el-Rufai- led Committee on True Federalism but if anything at all, little is happening to show that the party intends to fulfil this promise before 2023. What is happening?
I have a different perception of what is called true federalism. I know that we are practising a federal system of government, but what people refer to as true federalism is a distortion of the federal system which we adopted at independence to this system of federalism where we have a stronger centre with weaker components. And the agitation for restructuring is simply a quest for a return of the earlier system adopted at independence. I wholeheartedly support the call by Nigerians for the country to go back to that system where we had regions or states now where power devolves to them with a weak centre.
In answering your question as to why it is difficult for the APC to fulfil its promise on restructuring, I do not see the promise in the first place being fulfilled because doing so will require the government to commit political suicide. In other words, the President and the 1999 Constitution will be jettisoned and every person who derived his power from that constitution must relinquish his power for restructuring. And we now have what we call the sovereign national conference, which is to be presided over by the chairman, who is going to be elected among the delegates, who themselves must be popularly elected. There must be no string of anything anti-democratic, whether in position or whatever, in the entire process. What this means is that Mr President and other heads of the arms of government will surrender their powers. And this sovereign national conference will draw up a constitution for Nigeria and this constitution will be subjected to a referendum for Nigerians to endorse. Thereafter , elections will take place. Who do you see – among all the officers of these very powerful offices under this federal arrangement – that is willing to sacrifice the office? If you can find them, you will also find the answer as to why the APC has not been able to fulfil its promise of restructuring the country.
What do you think is the way to go on the restructuring Nigerians are clamouring for?
I have made the criteria of attaining this federalism, which is getting us back to where we have adapted it in 1960. Alternatively, the National Assembly can do what is referred to as quasi-restructuring. That is, picking the Exclusive Legislative List of the Federal Government and devolving powers down to the two other tiers of government. Then, the local governments would be autonomous constitutionally. They can do that. The state governments would also be empowered to do certain things. For example, what is the business of the Federal Government creating a ministry of health or ministry of education? Schools are under the states. All the Federal Government needs to do is have an agency on education and on health and let health issues be handled by the states and the local governments, where people are living because that is where the population of the people can be found.
Therefore, the National Assembly can devolve certain powers from the Exclusive Legislative List of the Federal Government down to the concurrent and residual lists of the state and local governments, thereby giving them more responsibilities. The Federal Government can occupy itself with the issue of national security, foreign affairs, immigration, firearms; and other things within the purview of the federation should be domesticated to the centre. But every other area where the Federal Government should have no business should be left to the states and local governments to handle. That is the alternative way the National Assembly can address this agitation for restructuring.
But the greatest obstacle will be the provision by the constitution for amendment, which is so Herculean.
If you intend to liberate the local government, you need the engagement of a two-third majority of the states and the houses of assembly in Nigeria. However , the governors will go and ‘kill it’ because the local governments are under the firm control of the states and the state governments are very comfortable with it. So, for the restructuring to be achieved, there must be sincerity on the part of the stakeholders; they should see the need for it, It shouldn’t be left to only a few patriots to be clamouring for. The beneficiaries of the present state of things will always undermine it. To be honest, the idea of restructuring the country looks hopeless but it is only realisable when patriotism dominates the thinking of political actors in Nigeria.
Some have said Buhari is the string holding the APC broom together and that, after his rule, many members will go their separate ways. Do you share this fear?
I share the same fear with many people who believe the hope of the APC without President Buhari is shaky. If you look at the role his charismatic personality played in bringing people together and the emergence of his presidency in 2015, you will discover that those who contested elections and were elected did not spend anything and the only thing that got them elected was the general chorus of ‘APC from top to the bottom’ because of Buhari. When President Buhari was elected, he had no business campaigning but, after his election, he went round the country again campaigning for governance. So, if this was what happened and it played out in 2019, then the question will be ‘why the fear?’ I think the fear is generated as a result of the inability of the party to maximise the charisma of President Buhari to unite the people. It’s cult followership that is basically attached to the personality of the President. What the APC has not done is maximise this charisma by evolving cohesive political movement revolving around the personality attached to the President to sustain the party.
I’ll give you an example of what I mean: Chairman Mao Tse Tung of China is the political father of the Communist Movement in that country and to date since 1959 after The Great War, the Communist Party is still exploiting the charisma of that great leader. That is what some of us expected from the APC. Unfortunately, there are so many agendas that have not been galvanised into a common union. Rather, everybody is on his own and a lot of us assume that, in 2023, we can hoodwink Nigerians with the same music to be able to maintain the status quo. That will be very difficult for us.
Unemployment has reached record numbers in Nigeria, though your party promised to create millions of jobs annually which has not happened. What went wrong?
I believe mobilising people to engage in agriculture is the best way to develop our economy, but the infrastructure is not there yet, and this is a major problem. Tackling insecurity is number one because a lot of people are afraid to return to the farm again. Without security, no investment in the sector will succeed. We will get there if some of the challenges are adequately addressed.
As a foundation member of the APC, are you aware of the gentlemen’s agreement to let power rotate between the North and the South?
I am not aware of any gentlemen’s agreement in the party. But I am aware that rotation is part of the political tradition in Nigeria since 1999 and every political party has keyed into it as a way of swinging votes in their favour to enable them to win elections. Therefore, the APC cannot be different. With or without the gentleman agreement or whichever agreement that can be referred to, it is politically convenient for the APC to reappraise the power-shift arrangement and see how it will fit into it to be able to retain power in 2023. I believe the agitations for power to be shifted to the South-East are in order, but I think we are neglecting another zone that has also not benefitted from either the president or the vice president position, which is the North-Central zone. Over the years, the North-Central Zone has been made to look like the hewers of wood and drawers of water in the political configuration of Nigeria. Therefore, since it is time to dust the gentlemen’s agreement, in the interest of justice, it means also that the North-Central is also qualified in 2023 to produce the president or vice president and this should be the narrative that would be adjudged as justice where every section of Nigeria should be made to feel a sense of belonging in the affairs of the country. A situation where the North-Central, since 1999, could only produce the Deputy Speaker or Deputy Senate President or Senate President is very unfair.