The Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Timi Frank, in this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Festus Owete and Samuel Ogundipe, speaks on the crisis in the ruling party, the corruption trial of the senate president, Bukola Saraki, the Buhari administration and other issues. Excerpts:
PT: Why are you troubling your party?
Frank: I think it is a very funny one. Let me just make it clear that I am not troubling my party; I am only trying to put my party on the right track. That’s what I think I am doing right now.
PT: What is really your grouse?
Frank: Just like I have always said, there are issues in my party, very critical issues. First of all, let me set an example with my case. Since my immediate boss (Lai Mohammed) was appointed minister of information, automatically since I am his deputy and going by the party’s constitution, I should act as spokesperson of the party pending when we’ll go for a convention and elect a new spokesperson and then I’ll come back to my position and continue as deputy spokesman of the party. Since this happened the leadership of my party has refused me my constitutional right. Being somebody that knows my right, definitely I’ll have to fight. I don’t need to keep quiet because this is something that I don’t need to lobby anybody for. I don’t need to beg anybody. My party should accept what God has put in place. My party also failed to follow the right path by honouring God’s decision.
PT: What reasons are they giving for not elevating you to the position of spokesman, at least in acting capacity?
Frank: As a journalist, you have every right to go and ask the leadership of my party and the national chairman ‘why is this man not acting when the constitution of your party is very clear?’ It is not just about the constitutionality of the matter; there is also the issue of federal character. That is why we have office of the deputy. But today, that case does not play out in our own scenario as a party. The APC I belong to today, sorry to say, has made Nigerians to start thinking twice: ‘Is this a party we can trust? A party that cannot allow a process to take place! So, it’s a very sad one. But for me I’ll keep shouting because there are issues and we cannot run away from these issues. I cannot see why my party should refuse me from acting as spokesperson. So, if my party knew that I did not have the capacity, from day one, they should not have made me the deputy national publicity secretary; they should have looked for something else for me.
PT: What reasons did your party’s leaders give for not appointing you into the position?
Frank: Since this matter started till today, not even my chairman (John Odigie-Oyegun) has called me for a discussion to give me any reason why they’re not allowing me. I’ve written an official letter and at the appropriate time, I’m going to publish that letter for Nigerians to see. I wrote not just to the chairman but the entire NWC of my party. I wrote and I copied including the president. I sent out these letters through DHL Courier but till today I did not get any response.
PT: Even from the president?
Frank: I have never got any response. Again, it boils down to my national chairman. If the chairman truly has the capacity I bet you we would have created the right development.
PT: The national chairman told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview recently that you were not elevated to the position because you’re not from the North Central zone.
Frank: Is there anywhere in our party’s constitution that made it very clear that if the spokesperson is not there the deputy should not act because he’s not from that zone? That shows you that we have a chairman that does not even understand the party’s constitution. The chairman should have resigned for making such a statement to the public. You can’t say because I am not from the North Central I cannot fit into the position of acting spokesperson. It is laughable. That shows we have a chairman that does not have the will to put the party together. That is a very big failure on his part.
PT: You’ve been telling us what your party did to you, what did you do to your party?
Frank: Well, as far as I am concerned, I have not done anything wrong to my party. The only thing I did to my party is to put my party on the right path; to make sure my party did the right thing. Let me take you back a little bit. We have two factions of the party at the National Assembly, especially in the Senate – the Ahmed Lawan group and the Saraki group. As a party, till today, we’ve not been able to summon those two factions and say ‘come what are the issues? Let’s harmonise these issues. Let’s stop this infighting.’ Till today, the party has not found itself to be seen as a party that can unite the family. This cannot happen in PDP. We saw it very clearly in 2011 when the former Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, emerged. Even though he wasn’t the product of the PDP, as soon as he emerged as Speaker, the party had no option but to accept him. They felt that since they could not throw him away, the best thing to do was to harmonise that situation at the time. Mulikat Akande (an aspirant for the position) and others came together to accept him. But in our own case today, the party has not been able to do that. It’s very important for the leadership of the party to be interacting with party members and the leadership the leadership of the National Assembly. So, so far as I am concerned, the leadership under Oyegun cannot manage our party.
PT: Are you saying in clear terms that Oyegun is incompetent?
Frank: I can tell you without any fear or favour. That is my own position.
PT: That he’s incompetent?
Frank: I can tell you without any fear or favour. That is why you have so many issues in the party. I am very, very worried. I am always saying it that I am very, very worried because I love this party so much. I mean well for the party, I mean well for the president. As a party we should be able to support the president on his activities. Whenever the presidency is going wrong, the party should be able to harmonise issues. We should be able to tell Nigerians that ‘look, we can still make it.’ But because we have a chairman that cannot manage issues every state chapter of the party today has crisis.
The best way we can resolve the crisis in the party is to first of all acknowledge that we have problem. After acknowledging that we have problems then we should be able to go round within our leaders or set up a reconciliation committee to reconcile all differences. But today, as I speak, no reconciliation process has been put in place at the centre to harmonise all these issues. That is why they’re talking about suspending (Senator Rabiu) Kwankwaso in Kano. Go to Kaduna, they’re talking about suspending Senator Shehu Sani. Go to Bayelsa, the former Governor Timipre Sylva has been suspended by the party.
PT: Do you think all these problems are caused by the PDP bloc within the APC?
Frank: I believe for some of us that came from the PDP, we’ve not been treated fairly. Tell me, if this party (APC) has been treating us well, why would they refuse me to speak? I still repeat: Is it because I came from PDP to join the party? Today, they have turned some of us to be like an outcast within the party. And that is why when my chairman made that statement about the Senate President that the party does not mind if the PDP takes over the position and so on. Shortly afterwards, because of some pressures, he came back to fine-tune his statement by saying that the party still wants to hold the position. But he never denied making the statement. How can you allow your number three citizen, no matter what…….? It’s because the party is not mediating between the executive and the legislature. The party has every power, to go to the president, to appeal to the president, to make it clear that this issue is not just about Bukola Saraki. This is beyond Saraki. It could be anybody. Anybody could be in his shoes. As a party, we’ve not been able to take a position that will please Nigerians. What is happening to Saraki is not just Saraki but it’s something that is making Nigerians to look at APC as a party having issues. Our chairman came out to demonstrate that statement. I wasn’t the one that said it. I also read it in PREMIUM TIMES. So, these are issues that are very, very critical that we must go back to our drawing board because if we don’t, my worry is this: I don’t want us to have a scenario whereby we have power today and in the next four years we’re not in the office. We worked hard to bring this change and we must defend this change. This is because we have a president that has the goodwill to deliver the change agenda. But how you can do that lies on the party?
PT: You said Saraki shouldn’t be going through what he’s going through because he’s the senate president. If the senate president has done anything wrong, is the senate president above the law?
Frank: Well, you’ve asked a very sensitive question. The senate president is not above the law. But, what I am trying to say is that this is the first time the number three citizen of our country is being tried. Nobody is above the law. But there is a way we should have addressed this issue that it will not put our party in a bad light before the public. There’s a way we could handle internal issues.
I wish, as a party, we took a position from the beginning after the president has emerged. As at then, I wish we had made it very clear from the beginning that the senate presidency should go to a certain zone either North Central, South West or the North East. Then we also defined where the position of the speaker should go. By today, we would not have been in this kind of situation. But again, it still boils down to the fact that we don’t have an effective leadership within the party. We were confused at that time. As at that time, if my party never wanted Saraki to run they should have called him before the election and told him so. For God’s sake, he’s a loyal member of the party. If they had said they didn’t want him, he would have stepped aside. But the party didn’t say anything.
PT: Do you think your party is having all these issues because it is not ideologically based? By this I mean that the politicians from all the merging parties don’t share common principles and APC was a special purpose vehicle to get power?
Frank: Yes, because everybody knew at the time that the PDP had maltreated Nigerians and that was why we left the party. We were tired of the impunity that was going on in our party then in PDP. We said if our party can’t give Nigerians the best, then some of us that are progressives will take a decision to leave, and we left that party with good intention. We said let’s join our brothers from the ACN, from the CPC, from the ANPP to build a party that would rescue Nigerians at that time. But it’s just bad that we don’t have a chairman that could unify the party. We could be from 10 different parties but if there is one man that can unite the party there will not be issues. But today, they’ve made the party look as if some of us are enemies. If you talk, they’ll say you’re Saraki’s boy. If you talk, they’ll say you’re Atiku’s boy. That is one of the major reasons why they don’t want me to be the spokesperson of the party.
PT: But there was a mock election which produced the party’s candidates for the principal positions in the National Assembly…..
Frank: (cut in) Nobody violated that process, neither the Speaker nor anybody. For God’s sake, that was the first time I was seeing a mock primary. That was a wrong step my party took, by going to do a kangaroo primary that they called mock as at that time. What is mock? The party had power to confront anybody and should not have said ‘let’s go for a mock primary.’ If we never wanted the Senate President (Saraki) or the Speaker (Yakubu Dogara) at that time we would have gone to them to talk to them and plead with them and tell them the reasons why we didn’t want them as a party. But we failed. We allowed them to go to the contest and at the dying minute when you know that you have an unpopular candidate, or a candidate that cannot win, you now said within the party let’s go and do mock primary without consulting all those involved. They didn’t call anybody and the next day they said they were calling a meeting and by then it was too late. When people have campaigned and spent their resources you want them to back out at the last minute. That was a laughable decision that we took.
PT: If the CCT finds Senate President guilty of false assets declaration charges, what would happen?
Frank: First of all, I will tell you clearly – not this current CCT trying him will find him guilty, not this chairman.
PT: But he has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the EFCC?
Frank: What is EFCC? Is EFCC a competent court of law? We cannot get justice as at today. I repeat, without fear of favour, as much as we’re thinking of kicking Saraki out of power, I want my party to also think of the repercussion of kicking him out. Look, let me tell you, this is how the case of the PDP started. When the party was trying to chase Rotimi Amaechi out of power that was when the problem of the PDP started. They didn’t do their own homework very well. They were busy fighting him as a governor and some of us were shouting that ‘this is injustice!’ But PDP failed to listen and it is the same scenario with us now. The fact that we don’t like the senate president does not mean we should not give him justice. If we want to say because we’re fighting corruption, a lot of things we’re charging Saraki for, a lot of our leaders within the party are also guilty of the same offence.
PT: If he’s convicted, what will happen?
Frank: Well, if it happens, then the party should be prepared to face that repercussion.
PT: What repercussion?
Frank: I don’t know, but that is what I can tell you now. We should not allow it to happen. If it is this chairman of CCT that will try and convict him, of course, Nigerians already know the answer. A new born baby can even give you the judgement before the time. This is the same person that Nigerians have been shouting that he is not competent to carry out this trial. So clearance or no clearance, only a competent court can come out to clear anybody. It is not EFCC that will be saying they cleared somebody. On what ground did they clear him? Why didn’t they clear him before this trial until now that Nigerians are shouting that he is corrupt?
PT: But he was actually cleared in 2015?
Frank: So why did they keep it internally? Why didn’t they say it to the general public? Again, that is the problem. If you say someone has been cleared since 2015 why didn’t they show us the letter then? Why now? The EFCC does not have the power to clear anybody. If you have a case, let the competent court of law clear you.
PT: The CCT is under the president and you’ve been praising him so far in the war against corruption.
Frank: The presidency is big. I can’t say because of what they’re doing to Saraki the presidency has failed. No, the presidency has not failed. But the presidency should tread carefully in the process of trying to get issues right. We should get issues right with justice, not by impunity or by imposition.
PT: What role is Bola Tinubu playing in all of this?
Frank: I am not going to put blame on anybody. The chairman is not a small boy. The chairman is a father. The chairman is older than Atiku. The chairman is older than Bola Tinubu. The chairman is older than everyone in the party. He should have assumed the power of a leader, to take charge and not let anybody push him around. The chairman is not someone that could take a position within the party and stand by it.
PT: Does this have anything to do with the 2019 permutations?
Frank: Well, I can tell you clearly that the issue of 2019 should be left to God. So as a party or as a people if we start fighting over 2019 from now then we don’t believe in God. Who knows if I’m going to be alive? Who knows if any of my leaders is going to be alive? So, the best thing we should be praying for as human being is to keep praying to God to keep us till 2019 and beyond. When that time comes, we’ll decide.
PT: Are you aware that some politicians who joined APC from the PDP are nowplotting a return to the PDP?
Frank: Well, I can’t speak for others. I can only speak for myself. Everybody has their right. If you think you’re not getting justice in the APC today, it’s left for you to know whether you want to leave the APC or you want to remain there or you want to go elsewhere. But, to me, I can tell you that the way APC is going some people might be forced to leave the party. This is because I can’t sit down in a party where I am being harassed and being intimidated and not getting justice. I can’t sit there for anybody to oppress me. So I can get up tomorrow to say I’m not getting my right and go to any party I want. But that is if I want to do that. But for people like us we’re going to try our best to make sure that we reconcile and not leave the party. But if it gets to that stage, anything the party sees the party should take it in good faith. I started shouting they were not taking me serious. Today, we have Alhaji Kawu Baraje who was one of the founding fathers of this party coming out to shout that if this party is not careful it would break. So we must either act fast or we lose our members.
PT: What is the way forward?
Frank: The way forward is peace, a dialogue.
PT: How do you achieve that?
Frank: We can achieve that if we have a leadership that has capacity.
PT: Who will set the process in motion?
Frank: We have a national chairman, he should do his job.
PT: You’re close to the former Vice President Abubakar Atiku, what is he planning to do now?
Frank: Please allow the former Vice President to speak for himself at the appropriate time. But I can tell you clearly that he’s a loyal member of this party. He loves this party. He wants the best for this party. He believes in this party. That is why he tells you he believes he’ll continue to do his best. Leaving the party, to him, that is not the issue right now. He’s still a member of the APC. He wants APC to succeed. That is why he’s doing his best to support the president to succeed.
PT: What is your assessment of Buhari’s administration almost one year after?
Frank: The president has really done well. You know Nigeria is a very complex country and you cannot please everyone at the same time. Some Nigerians are very angry with the president and some are very pleased with him. But to me as a party man, I can tell you clearly that from when he took over from the PDP, you should be able to give our administration a pass mark. The president has been able to fight corruption to a limit.
PT: If you’re giving him a pass mark in the area of anti-corruption, why are you still saying Saraki shouldn’t face trial?
Frank: That doesn’t mean the president is not trying in the fight against corruption. What I am saying is that, for God’s sake, this is something the party could have managed. The senate president is not just any man. He’s not an opposition leader. I am not trying to promote corruption. But we need to be sure of the allegations because if you look at those that are testifying against him at the CCT, they cannot even come up with clear evidence to hold him as at today. Instead of mocking the fight against corruption there’s a way we could have managed the case against the senate president. But outside that, the fight against corruption is looking good.
PT: Is APC able to advise the president on critical issues?
Frank: We must have a strong leadership to tame the executive as a party. The executive can only succumb to you when they see that the leadership of the party is strong and united. But if the executive sees that the leadership of the party is not united, you cannot control them. This is where we’re having issues. If you have a strong national chairman, what is happening in the party today will not be happening.
PT: Has the president jettisoned the APC manifesto or he’s implementing them in part?
Frank: Definitely, the president is doing that. He’s a product of the party.
PT: There’s crisis in Bayelsa APC which you belong, which of the factions are you supporting? And is there any issue between you and Timipre Sylva?
Frank: Again, there are issues between me and Sylva. When the issues started, I expected the leadership of my party to either call me or Sylva but till today, nobody has called me. They all ignored me. I came out to tell Nigerians that my party, the APC, will not win the election if we field Timipre Sylva as our candidate. They should have called me because I raised a very critical question within the party. I knew then that the Bayelsa people wanted a change, but the change they wanted was not Timipre Sylva. I bet you, if we had presented Timi Alaibe, Bayelsa today would have been an APC state. But nobody listened to me. The party at the state level have now realised that I was right about Sylva all along.