Senator Ayodele Arise is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He represented Ekiti North senatorial district between 2007 and 2011 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and served as Chairman Senate Committee on Privatisation. In this interview, Arise who won a return ticket speaks on moves to impeach President Muhammadu Buhari, how the APC arrived at Muslim/Muslim presidential ticket and the 2023 polls among others. Excerpts:
The issue of APC’s Muslim/Muslim ticket is still generating ripples in the polity. What do you make of it?
The Muslim-Muslim ticket is a decision that cannot be said to be perfect. But the condition on the ground is very clear. The Northern population may be 60, 70 percent Muslims and we are talking of numbers, if you are to win election. After calculating very well, you will discover there are very able, intelligent, technically sound Christians but the question is how many votes would they command to be able to win election, particularly from the North. So, in reality, anybody who wants to govern this country must not make religion his priority. If you make religion your priority then our chances for development would be zero.
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In this country, we still don’t have electricity to work, people don’t have electricity in their homes. Are we looking for solutions like that or we are looking for solutions to resolve our religious differences? What concerns a leader should be providing minimum acceptable standards for the citizens, security, availability of amenities and facilities for livelihood, employment. These are things I believe should be the focus of leadership. And I think Nigerians should be more worried about these things at this point in time. How do we resolve our security challenges, unemployment, cure the situation of our nepotism, tribalism, these are the issues that are paramount and Nigerians should be more concerned about. It is not practically feasible for Tinubu to say he is dropping his Vice because he is a Muslim. So, not only would he lose face, people will start wondering, is this the type of leader we want to have? We all know that Tinubu’s wife is a Pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God and they have been living together for God knows how long. So, I do not think that the basis of discussion in their home is religion.
Personally, I’m one of those who will say let us give Tinubu and his vice a chance. If we are being directed towards becoming a Muslim nation, I believe there are people in Nigeria who will stand against that move and I don’t think that will ever come to the mind of Tinubu and of course, the Vice is quite an educated person.
I think we should continue to appeal to the Christian Community that this is not a slight.
Tinubu has promised to build on Buhari’s legacies. Do you think these legacies will move Nigeria forward?
I read a few things that Tinubu said he would do and one of the very first one, in terms of tackling security, is the fact that he would automatically start the process of having state policing. I don’t expect that he would just become president and start rubber stamping everything that Buhari did. In terms of policies of this administration, you will notice that a few things are focused on social benefits to the people, to ease the burden of the downtrodden. Now, the implementation might be another issue. Have those policies achieved what they were set out to achieve? Let me make it very clear, I do a few things for the government. I think our Civil Service needs total overhaul. We are the ones responsible for the ailment of the country. Even though a leader can come in and begin to change things, the rots are so deep that when you even try, it becomes a problem. When Buhari started, we started hearing the slogan “corruption is fighting back.”
People didn’t know what this means and when you look at where we are today, those people that surrounded him, what is their thinking? Are they thinking about how to bleed this country to death or about how to bring infrastructure to benefit all? If a leader does not go beyond his advisers, the chances are that he might not know half of what is going on in the society. So, it is still part of our responsibility to tell those in power what is going on, these are the problems we are facing. So, I think, he will come in and do his best.
Some lawmakers are threatening to impeach President Muhammadu Buhari. What do you make of this?
It can’t be achieved. It is a question of numbers in the Senate. I believe it is a mere threat. It is not a threat that can actually happen because the majority of people in the Senate are APC and this is their president. Whatever you think the President has done, it is the solution that we are looking at, not impeachment. If you look at the voting pattern, you need two-third majority to carrying out the impeachment.
Are you sure loyalty to the party is still there because some of them have lost their return tickets? If it comes to voting, do you think they will have sympathy for Buhari?
Well, until that one is carried out, I won’t know that something is really on fire. But when you look at the way the Senate is structured, take it this way: during Obasanjo’s time when he was faced with impeachment, he didn’t have votes per say in the South West but the simple fact that they wanted to impeach him, was what galvanised votes for him to win the second time. The question that comes to mind is, those people that lost their elections, does it mean they cannot run and win another time? I already have my ticket to come back, there is nothing these people can do to me. Many of them don’t want to retire and go home; they are looking for appointments here and there in the coming dispensation.
So, the truth is that it cannot happen and why did they wait if it is truly based on altruism or in the national interest? The president is leaving by May next year and we are in August, before they carry out any impeachment process, don’t forget they will involve the House of Representatives, and if you look at the people marshalling this impeachment, do you now want to make sure that you damage your party so much that you cannot win the next election? There are so many reasons and dynamics that will guide us.
Based on my experience in the Senate, I know it will not happen and those who are aggrieved now only need to do the Nigerian factor and that is why we are in trouble in the country. To impeach a state governor is not easy not to talk of the president. How many have they impeached before? So, whether it is a correct move or not is another issue, but it is something I know cannot happen. They don’t even have the numbers. The estimation that some people have lost their ticket will not work because that is not the end of their lives, they will still come back. Don’t forget that Buhari is very popular in the North regardless of what he has done. We have been on this security problem for so long, and there is nothing anybody can do in six months. They should put options on the table, these are the things we expect Mr. President to do within this period.
Do you think the party is doing enough to help Tinubu reach out to the aggrieved Christians over the issue of Muslim/Muslim ticket?
We must constantly appeal to the Christians, the Christian Association of Nigeria, the leaders of churches to stop their fears of marginalisation and discrimination. I will not negotiate it at all, because you have the Chief of Staff to the President, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and so many other areas that you can put Christians.
In many instances, we have seen that the Chief of Staff can be more powerful than the VP. So, some of these positions can be reserved for Christians. You cannot dispute the fact that a number of the educated people are Christians because Christianity came with the establishment of schools in those days. You cannot say you can’t find qualified people, but it cannot even be all of them because it has to be just one VP.
The question you may want to ask is ‘What are you bringing to the table?’ Of course, we have a serving governor who is a Christian from Plateau State. It is not as if there is none but you have to ask what kind of votes they will deliver. That was the major consideration; it is just a question of number, even if you like me from now till end of time and you don’t win the election, I will be useless to you. So, let us find a way to win the election. That should be paramount in the mind of those who are really angry.