National Vice President (Northwest) of the ruling All Progressives Congress, Salihu Lukman, in this interview with ADEBAYO FOLORUNSHO-FRANCISestimates the odds of all presidential candidates and states that the APC flag bearer, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, is ahead of others

Do you see the absence of your presidential candidate on the ballot since his re-election as governor in 2003 weighs against him?

I’ve actually positively raised the point that he’s been off the ballot since 2003, just to show that he’s not one of those I call election traders. He was not an election trader. He had every reason to strive in 2007, 2011, 2015, and 2019. He had every reason to strive, but he didn’t. Instead, he entered politics in a different way in a way that produced a positive outcome in a different way.

What about Atiku Abubakar, Peter Obi and Rabiu Kwankwaso?

The same cannot be said of other candidates, be it Atiku, Kwankwaso or Obi. Of course I will not descend to the level of challenging their competence. They may be competent, but not in terms of personal integrity and trustworthiness.

Why did you say that?

Our candidate is just about the only one, along with his running mate, who hasn’t changed political parties because of the election campaign. This means that they are people with a certain level of consciousness and integrity. That means more trust can be invested in them than in people who, if they don’t get what they want in one place, move to another place.

For me, these are the topics that need to be emphasized. We are ready to debate it as a party with everyone. Not the other issues of health challenges, what do you have, or things that can’t be verified. These I mentioned are verifiable. I think these are some of the points.

What are your concerns about APC’s weaknesses and strength in the run-up to the 2023 elections?

Let me tell you something. If I have any fear, it’s about how to strengthen the party’s accountability and ability to influence the initiative of elected officials. I have argued and I still argue that it is required for us in the APC that we have the honesty to review and look at what we promised between 2015 and 2019. What are the gaps, and of course there are gaps out there? What needs to be done to address those gaps?

What are the new emerging challenges? What should we do as a party that wants to continue to rule this country to meet those challenges?

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Now there are challenges, which are normally human challenges that we should not politicize. If we politicize them, we get it wrong.

What kind of challenges are we looking at?

For example, one of these is security challenges, which are now over-politicized. People wrongly said that we used the same approach against (Goodluck) Jonathan in 2014/15, but that’s not true.

In 2014/2015, Jonathan and the People’s Democratic Party were in complete denial about those security challenges. If you remember when the Chibok Girls were kidnapped, there was a delegation from Borno headed by Governor Kashim Shettima himself. Remember he was a sitting governor. What was the reaction of… What’s her name again?

… the First Lady, Patience Jonathan?

Yes, patience, Jonathan. It was so bad that Kashim cried in public. For example, no one is saying that what happened with the train between Kaduna – Abuja didn’t happen. No one is saying that the attack on Kuje Prison did not take place.

In any case, we are as saddened as any Nigerian. That’s because I could have been the victim of that attack, too. I am from Kaduna and hardly spend two weeks without returning to Kaduna, I could have been on that train. It doesn’t matter if I’m in the APC or the PDP. I mean, the same security challenge we all face. So like any other Nigerian, I want the government to address this challenge immediately because I don’t know if it will consume me. This is why we don’t need to politicize it.

Aside from security and the economy, Buhari came to power with promises to fix the refineries and the energy sector. Are you against the idea that the APC government has failed and returned Nigeria to its original politics?

Let’s start with the issue of security and other challenges to citizens’ well-being and the cost of living. I think this is part of the challenge we face, and I feel really bad about this. This is because, as a young person in school, knowledge was one of the things we were very passionate about. We are not looking at Nigeria isolated from the world. That was why, for example, ideological politics was very strong until the 1990s. It was intense.

But today you have a situation where elementary reasoning and sentiment cloud the application of knowledge. You are a reporter. I’m sure you read media reports of protests, sometimes not protests per se, but concerns in developed countries about the cost of living, which in a sense are swallowing up leaders. What’s happening in Nigeria? My argument is that it doesn’t stand alone.

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If we want to be fair to the APC government, we need to look at the main challenge before the government comes. The only source of income has always been petroleum.

Second, there is a lot of corruption going on. Even taxes are not always reflected in government bills. The whole buzz about diversification has always been there. I mean, the PDP government in 2006/2007, I remember, voted N200 billion to support agriculture. And they distributed it as loans to (I won’t say party members) supposed farmers, which were never repaid and nothing came of it.

Right after the arrival of the APC, back in November 2015, one of the things that was introduced was the Anchor Borrower Scheme, which is frankly one of the success stories of this government.

What went wrong then?

The reality is that new challenges have arisen and for God’s sake, part of the knowledge crisis that we have faced, not just in this country, is the fact that the world has been locked up for how many months and we have a normal have led life.

Salaries were paid if the work was not done. Everyone was operating almost normally, and that’s what the world is dealing with today. You may now be hearing about the Heathrow aviation crisis, perhaps because, to some extent, the British government and its people seem to be more conservative and transparent. But it will appear in so many places in different forms. What we are dealing with in Nigeria is not an isolated one; it is a global reality.

As far as I’m concerned, as a party preparing to meet some of these challenges, we need to come up with a blueprint for how to reposition this economy to get going again. One of the things I can tell you, and this is an issue that I wouldn’t want us to end this session without talking about, is the fact that we need to get back to investing in public education.

This is because investment in public education is a necessity and not something to be taken for granted.

How do you plan to campaign for candidates in the run-up to the 2023 elections when many Nigerians, including the opposition, have hinted that the APC administration is a failure?

Life is about challenges. Those challenges exist, there is no doubt about it. But I think my answer to that is that we will be honest and open to engagement, because democracy is a two-way street. Much of the misleading propaganda sponsored by opposition to the APC suggests that the solution to the problem lies outside the APC. I will argue that the solution to the problem does not lie with a political party, but with Nigerians.

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It is the ability of Nigerians to respond by engaging political actors to take responsibility and leave them open to suggestions and recommendations that will deliver the kind of solution we expect. Don’t let anyone mislead that the APC is the problem. No, that’s not it.

In reality, there are challenges we face today that arose while the APC was in government. I am proud that our leaders are not denying those challenges, unlike in the past. If you look at the candidates from other parties, they don’t come up with recommendations. They just come up with propaganda to shoot the APC, and Nigerians have to be smarter than that.

With Atiku in the PDP, Kwankwaso in the NNPP and Peter Obi in the Labor Party, what competitive advantage does Tinubu have?

I think this is an overburdened question that has stayed there, mainly because we as political leaders are not creating new challenges for the public to see. The issue of competition is not a function of just one party simulating or responding to it.

Atiku, Kwankwaso and Peter Obi are undoubtedly respected people in politics. I will not address them.

But, as I said, in terms of lead and in terms of campaign, the advantage of our candidate is that he is not an ordinary election trader. The last time he appeared on the ballot was during his re-election in 2003.

Unlike the other candidates you mentioned, he never left the party for another party, which to me means a higher level of integrity and trustworthiness. Now it is up to Nigerians to draw their own conclusion. That doesn’t stop Nigerians from making the choices they want. Democracy is about making choices, but our job, as political party and political leaders, is to promote our candidates and compete in a way that people recognize and acknowledge their differences.

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