Alhaji Lai Mohammed had been well known in the country even before he ran as the Alliance for Democracy’s gubernatorial candidate in Kwara State 12 years ago. His ten-year tenure as the Public Relations Officer of the Nigerian Airport Authority (now Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria), his tenure as Chief of Staff to former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, between 1999 and 2003, coupled with his successive appointments as the spokesman of the AC, ACN and now APC have made him perhaps the most quoted man in the Nigerian media today. WESTERN POST’s Lagos Bureau Chief, SAMUEL OGUNDIPE, stopped at his Lagos residence on Thursday to speak with him about his party’s position on burning issues…
Governor Ayo Fayose has repeatedly said General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd.) is too old to be president. He said your candidate has shown that he’ll be going for frequent medical attention abroad if he’s elected. Wouldn’t you agree with the notion that General Buhari’s controversial trip to the UK and his failure to turn up at your recent rally in Lagos are a harbinger of what Nigerians would experience if he’s elected president?
In the first instance, the Constitution of Nigeria does not stipulate an age limit on who is qualified to contest. So it’s unconstitutional for us to say because he’s above 70 he cannot participate in our primaries. Mandela became president at what age? Reagan became president at what age? Those who are directing the affairs of the PDP are above 80. Tony Anenih is above 80. Bamanga Tukur is above 80. Edwin Clark is above 80. Even their serving governors, like Jonah Jang, are above 70 and still running for Senate. So, they should look inwards, look in their own house before they start making accusations. Only the challenges determine an election and not the age of candidates.
Today, between a 71-year-old man who has mental alertness and physical fitness and a 55-year-old man who’s clueless and who, for six years, has been unable to take advantage of the goodwill Nigerians gave him, the choice is very clear. Muhammadu Buhari is a man who has no other passion apart from Nigeria. He has no habit that is going to distract him from governing. He’s a well-disciplined man who’s passionate about Nigeria and has no issue whatsoever. That is why we chose him as our candidate. The party chose him in a very transparent primary in which you, Ogundipe, were present.
General Buhari and your party command a large following amongst the Yoruba. In fact, Buhari’s most formidable backers are Yoruba. Bigwigs like Senator Tinubu and yourself are amongst his ardent supporters. But there exists a gulf between your belief and that of the de-facto Yoruba leaders who’ve promised to leave no stone unturned in their quest to ensure that Jonathan’s reelection is actualised. Do you suppose yourself and your colleagues within the APC are better informed of the plight of the Yoruba people than the Afenifere elders, considering the fact that they’re also ideologically progressive?
Which leaders? I am a Yoruba man. Will Ayo Adebanjo dictate to you whom you’re going to vote? I’m asking you. Look, I’m a Yoruba man, Ayo Adebanjo cannot tell me whom to vote. I respect him tremendously, but clearly, on this issue, we disagree. I am not going to sit here and pass any disparaging remarks about anybody, but what I can tell you is that the soul of Yoruba, we know where it is. The Yoruba people have seen the difference between the APC and the PDP. People from Ogun, Oyo and Osun have seen the difference; Ayo Adebanjo cannot tell them whom to vote for. Is Amosun not a Yoruba man? The people he’d constructed roads for. The people he’d built markets for. The people he’d given free education. None of these people will listen to Ayo Adebanjo. Well, the president is free to give money to whoever he wishes, but he’s deceiving himself.
Are you inferring that Baba Adebanjo’s support for Jonathan may have been influenced by pecuniary measures?
Well, as I’ve said, I have tremendous respect for Baba Adebanjo, but we all know that Jonathan was in the South-west to distribute some money.
There’s been a palpable improvement in the war against Boko Haram as attested to by your party. You’ve been on record commending the efforts of our gallant troops. But why’s it a tad difficult for your party to give credit to President Jonathan, if only to show that you’re playing patriotic opposition as against the bitter one your political adversaries had always accused you of?
Number one, why did it take the president a whole 6 years, 15,000 dead, 10,000 widows, 700 schools destroyed in Yobe and 800 in Borno, to find his rhythm? Look, whatever Jonathan is doing against Boko Haram today is just to catch votes, it’s not because he has interest in the people of the North-east.
Two, who are the people leading the war against insurgency? Nigeriens and Chadians. Why has he not provided our troops the necessary wherewithal before now? He’d sent many of them to their untimely death. So, why should we commend him? Look, we’re commending the troops because despite and in spite of this government, they still proved their mettle.
The PDP-affiliated political action group that is behind the documentary about Asiwaju Tinubu and General Buhari is threatening to release another series in the documentary it’s been running against Tinubu for almost two weeks now, how are you bracing yourself for the imminent public reaction to this new revelation and do you plan to release a similar documentary against the PDP or the Jonathan’s presidency or both?
Hen hen, what you’re seeing manifesting is the final act of desperation. Is Bola Ahmed Tinubu on the ballot? What is he contesting for? Look, they’ve gone to tell lies, but Nigerians are not stupid. Nigerians know how they met Lagos in 1999 and they know how it is today. Other than amongst the elite like you and me, the PDP smear campaign is not even scratching the surface of APC support in the South-west. The people know the truth.
Look, my wife has a shop off Adeniran Ogunsanya. Three years ago, in the raining season, she could not access it. People have forgotten that Adeniran Ogunsanya was impassable during the raining season three years ago. A man like that, who’d done a lot in the state, people will not forget him. Look, Jonathan’s government has not added a single track, a single kilometers of tracks to our rail lines. Since 1898 when the railway started, Fashola is embarking on the first elevated rail system in Nigeria. Nigerians are not stupid. So let them continue their campaign of calumny. If they released a video attacking our leaders, why are they afraid that we could do the same? There are so many things we know that we’re not saying, just because we want to make this an issue-based campaign. Nigerians are good at defining us, so we refused to be distracted. Somebody sent me a message saying she works in NTA and the station has become very unpopular because of the videos they’ve been airing.
Are you putting together a similar documentary either designed as a direct response to PDP videos or designed spontaneously as part of your campaign strategy?
Well, as I have said, we want this to be an issue-based campaign, but since they keep attacking us with these videos, we will take appropriate action as we deem necessary.
The Senate on Wednesday cleared Senator Obanikoro to become a Minister of the Federal Republic once again. Your party has been at the vanguard of a sustained campaign to pressure the senators against letting his nomination go through, what happened?
You see, I don’t want to be personal because Musiliu Obanikoro is a family friend of ours. So I am not going to be personal. But, I am going to talk about the bases on which he was confirmed. The Senate has a standing rule that any former senator who comes for screening should just take a bow and go. I think that is very dangerous. So, if a man has committed murder before, is he absolved because he was once a senator? That is my concern.
A PDP chieftain recently said your party has stopped making infrastructure, especially as regards road construction, your campaign mantra unlike it did in 2007 and 2011. He cited President Jonathan’s approach towards infrastructure for this silence on your part, what do you make of this?
What construction are they talking about? The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is still under construction. Sagamu-Benin is also under construction, and so are East-West Road and Onitsha Bridge. Let the PDP government tell us how many kilometers of road have been constructed. I run on generator and I am sure your office runs on generator also, so where’s the development they’re talking about? How many Nigerians have access to portable water? Transportation? Health? They’re making a song of their railway. Abacha was the first to launch air-conditioned railway coach 20 years ago. We’re talking about a train that travels 40 kilometers per hour when there are trains that travel 150 kilometers per hour. If they didn’t loot the $12billion meant for gas project in this country, we’ll not be having problems about power.
Rumours are rife that some elected officials within your party are negotiating a potential accord with President Jonathan?
We are not aware of this. We believe this is an attempt to throw confusion into our ranks.
What would your party do about the over 600 resolutions unanimously endorsed at the just-concluded national conference? What would be the fate of the confab if your party moves into Aso Rock at the end of May?
We will look at the resolutions and only adopt the ones that are compatible with the dictates of our manifesto. The manifesto of our party comes before anything else.
So your party will defenestrate any aspect of the national conference that is not in sync with its manifesto?
Yes, we will only govern within the confines of our manifesto.