Mr. Sunday Dare, the Chief of Staff cum Special Adviser to the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is a journalist of 25 years experience in both print and broadcast media at home and abroad. Dare, who worked for eight years as the Chief of Hausa Service, Voice of America (VOA), Washington D.C, shares with OKORIE UGURU his experience as Tinubu’s aide in the task of building the pan-Nigerian opposition party that defeated the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in last week’s presidential and National Assembly elections. He also drops a hint on what Nigerians should expect from the Buhari government.
How would you describe the just concluded presidential election, which was won by the APC?
I think the just concluded election is a watershed for our country. Many pundits and analysts have described it in so many ways. It is the first time the opposition is coming to power through election.
Considering how long it took the country to get the nation to this stage of its democracy, what do you think the elections mean for our country?
It means we are beginning to mature. It also means we have political parties that are beginning to mature. It means we have political parties that are beginning to develop ideologically so that Nigerians can differentiate which party stands for what political ideology.
In the past, they used to say that all the parties are the same. This election has shown that Nigerians are beginning to draw a line, a distinction between the All Progressives Congress (APC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the rest. As such, they can make a choice.
The most important lesson from the victory is that for the first time, we have two clearly defined parties, a two-party system. We have never been at this point before: APC is a strong party and PDP is also strong. A two-party system is now clearly in place. We must give kudos to leaders and thinkers of APC for making this possible; forging political mergers and moving ahead to energise the Nigerian public.
The mantra of the APCparty, that is ‘change’, resonated with multitude of people across the country. That was clearly demonstrated on March 28. In spite of distractions, in spite of the challenges, in spite of fierce competition from the PDP to dominate the landscape, APC has clearly thrived. There is nothing you can do to stop an idea whose time has come.
When you look at the political trajectory of this country and examine it in tandem with the political trajectory of opposition parties, there has never been a time that the opposition has won. What had been missing really was strong political characters who were willing to make the necessary sacrifice, build bridges, make compromises and be courageous enough to take risks at the expense of liberty and reputation. These were the things that were clearly missing. To cap it all, the opposition lacked a well defined message and a popular front to sell that message.
With the coming of the APC, the merger provided a solid political platform. You have experienced and courageous characters to drive that message in the like of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Gen. Muhmammadu Buhari and Chief Bisi Akande. They were supported by a cast of progressive governors and experienced politicians who have passion for change. That was the difference. Did Nigerians expect this? You name a country and a people whose desire for change has never disappeared. What was needed was that gentle critical tweak that would turn on the generator for the movement for change. That was what APC and the leadership provided.
Passion was inflamed during the campaigns, with some of the messages leaving the issues to attack individuals. Don’t you think that this would affect the post-election relations?
Our focus should be on healing broken system and the broken processes of governance. Political campaigns anywhere always have a good messaging and bad messaging. It is when the focus on issues is less than the focus or the attacks on personalities or mundane issues that you worry.
In any political system, when you have campaigns, you cannot do without personal attacks and all the rest. I think the APC stood above the fray better than PDP. APC stayed on the message and was able to sell its manifesto to the Nigerian people. There is no contest about that. The voters have become more sophisticated than we think. In spite of what the parties threw at them, they were able to make a clear choice when it was time to vote.
How does the APC intend to manage the weight of expectations?
You have a party that parades a presidential candidate, now president-elect, who is a former Commander in Chief almost 30 years ago; a time when some of those ruling us today hardly knew their left from their right. He has been in and outside for almost two decades, serving this country at points of policy formulation and implementation. In General Buhari, you have a thoroughbred public servant who is trusted and competent.
APC is a party that parades so many former governors, ministers and public servants. Let me single out Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, governor of Lagos State for eight years. Till date, his administration stood for transformation and creation of a modern state in this country. He brought a fundamental restructuring and rebuilding of Lagos. He laid the foundational structure for the growth and development of Lagos. We have several other former governors.
We have a crop of current governors, from Governor Kwankwaso to Fashola, Rotimi Amaechi, Oshiomhole, Wamako, Yari of Zamfara and others. Don’t forget that Baba Bisi is a former governor, as well as Kabiru Gaya. There is a long list of those that served this country; there is a longer list of those still serving this country and they are in APC. So, APC knows what it is getting itself into. The APC is ready for governance. The APC not only has the tool box to restructure this country, it has the right tools in the tool box to fix the country.
I will refer to the acceptance speech of the President-Elect and he was clear. He identified corruption, poverty, challenges in education and agriculture. He made a promise that even though we can’t tackle all the problems overnight, we are ready to confront them. And he said with the help of everybody, the APC taking the lead, Nigerians must support the initiatives they put in place. There is also something he said: corruption is worse than terrorism; and you know that our greatest problem in this country is corruption. When you deal with corruption, you will know that the budget meant for energy will be applied and we will have power, the budget meant for road construction will not sit in somebody’s bank account, but will be used. So also the budget for education will be applied to develop our educational system. So, if you want to fix the country, you deal a blow on corruption.
Let me say this, the manifesto of this political party has not only been internalized by the leadership but remains well articulated among its membership. It has resonated with the larger portion of Nigerian populace.
The Nigerian economy is not in the best shape with the global fall in oil price. How will the APC government be able to deliver under such situation?
Even before the fall of global oil prices, the APC’s position has been consistent. It has been on the diversification of the sources of revenue of this country. One of the core policies of APC is developing the Nigerian agricultural economy. The plans were laid out. Part of the element is the Minimum Price Guarantee (MPG). That way, you build up capacity and get more people employed, and then you have massive agricultural production. That is just an example.
The Nigerian economy is so dynamic that there are up to 10 other sources of revenue that we can explore to wean ourselves of the over-dependent on oil revenue. Let me also say this: when the APC economic team comes together, they will do further assessment of the Nigerian economy and proffer dynamic and pro-active suggestions.
What has it been like working with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu during this period?
It has been a heck of a journey. For me, it has been one of the best political tutelages that I have ever had, working with him and working for him. I have come out with two major lessons: one is that there can be no substitute for being dogged, commitment to principle, political vision, and determination to succeed.
Second is that courage and ability to take risks, making sacrifices and political success are bed fellows; they are inseparable. I have seen a man who is fiercely diligent in the pursuit of the common good; a man willing to make necessary sacrifices in time and resources to build political bridges, and someone committed to the advancement of society. I have seen him remain focused, unwilling to be distracted, even when I begin to be distracted about what people are saying. He is so focused on goal with his eyes at the tip of the spear because of his belief that this country can be better governed. What you see today in the emergence of solid opposition, now ready to lead this country forward, now taking over the rein of government, is a vindication of his political worth and sagacity.
He has fulfilled a historical mission set by Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the late Sardauna—building bridges between the South West and the North West. This he has done with the help of other strong political personalities in the APC.
What should Nigeria look forward to with the coming government?
On the campaign trail, the party had a consistent message: that the party is ready to bring about change, to change the old way that has brought us to our knees. That message is that this will be a government for the common good. The party also rode to power on the strength of character, integrity and reputation of the ticket they presented to Nigeria, that of Gen. Buhari and Prof. Osinbajo.
I believe that with the goodwill this party has enjoyed, the leadership has a responsibility to perform and fix the problems that plague this country. The APC government cannot afford to deviate from the promises it has made to the people and the policies that it has committed itself to. Finally, I believe that with General Buhari on the wheels, we all must get ready for one heck of a ride.