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We’ll rebuild ANPP for more credible opposition -Sheriff
Former governor of Borno State, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, needs no introduction in Nigeria’s political arena despite keeping a low profile. The strong man of Borno politics spoke with journalists on his new position as the chairman, Board of Trustees (BoT) of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP). James Bwala brings excerpts:
YOUR party, the ANPP, has slipped from the position of the number one opposition political party to the second position after the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). What will be your immediate priority now after being appointed as as Board of Trustees (BoT) chairman of the party?
I agree that, as BoT chairman, I am the custodian of the party by virtue of the provisions of our constitution. But I also want you to know that it is not a one-man affair; it is a partnership of all party faithful, especially the leadership at all levels. I am only going to spearhead moves. Of course, I have the duty to design the roadmap for us to follow, but implementation is going to be collective.
We may have slipped from the position of leadership in the opposition, but we are not diminished as a party. We may not be speaking as an opposition party next time, but as the party in power, because, we have resolved to come together and reposition the ANPP to win. We plan to reach out to all our aggrieved members, who may have left the party for one reason or the other. We hope to win back their confidence. We shall particularly try to talk to some of our founding members, who are hibernating in other parties and see how we can show them the beauty in the new ANPP, and why they need to come back home.
We are going back to the drawing board to see how we can rebuild the ANPP, as the best alternative to the party in power. We are going to rebrand the party and market it as the most attractive bride to the electorate. We hope to partner with others who may not be in the ANPP, so that we can make our democracy more interesting.
You have been in virtual political hibernation since you left office. Is your inauguration as the BoT chairman of the ANPP a signal that you have bounced back?
Being in office for eight years without taking a single day off as leave, necessitates that one takes a deserved rest. As journalists who give us news daily without any break, I am sure some of you do take time off your seeming unbreakable schedules to rest. Even at that, I have not been off the scene completely; I have been very busy doing many other things, I have made some outings that may not have caught your attention. Be that as it may, I feel really good, and you guys have also been fair to me by giving me the opportunity to rest. As you can see I am back, having been inaugurated as the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of my great party, the ANPP. I want to thank my fellow party men for finding me worthy of that responsibility. Let me also thank you guys for giving the party very favourable reports.
How would you describe your selection as the BoT chairman, considering intrigues that characterised the contest?
I believe strongly that power comes from God. He gives power to whom he pleases at a time he wishes. I expect people to appreciate this fundamental fact of human existence. I did not emerge as BoT chairman from the vacuum; the party’s hierarchy must have consulted widely, and have perhaps taken into account many factors before narrowing down on me. As a loyal party man, I will always avail myself of the service of others. I do not want the world to think that they misplaced their priority by selecting me, and that is why I will deploy all that I have to bring back the ANPP into reckoning.
It is only normal that in situations as that which saw to my emergence and eventual inauguration, some people are bound to express a different opinion from the dominant one, and that is what democracy guarantees. I see the ANPP as the party of the future. All that we need to do to make Nigerians appreciate this fact is to make the ordinary party man the king, by allowing everybody to manifest their potentialities. One way to do that is to promote internal democracy. I mean that we should learn to accept defeat with equanimity and be magnanimous in victory.
With the way things are going in the country, people fear that the ruling party will emasculate the opposition and make Nigeria a one-party state. What sort of opposition should Nigerians expect in the days ahead?
The concept of opposition is what makes democracy very interesting. Nigerian politicians are happy with our democracy, even with its imperfections, and that is why they will never allow it to relapse. Every politician wants his party to be in the majority and to be in leadership, but it is not possible to win at all times, especially against the circumstances in the Nigerian politics. The issue of emasculation has been with us at every turn, but never have we ever come near a total situation.
I want you to also understand that opposition is not just about finding fault with everything another party does; it is about constructive engagement, where you commend whenever the right thing is being done and you condemn or criticize when the wrong thing is being done. We must build an opposition that will offer to Nigerians a better alternative to what we have and convince them also that we know how to do it better than the person in the saddle of leadership. By the time we fully reorganize our strategies, you will agree with me that the ANPP will be the party to beat in future elections.
I am not beating my chest, neither am I over stating the capabilities of the people we are going to work together with, but I assure you that the ANPP will bounce back. Nigerians should expect a more pragmatic, more practical, moderately tolerant, but critically analytical opposition.
Recently, there were rumours of your planned defection to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) along with your successor, Governor Kashim Shettima and other stakeholders in Borno State. What is the true story?
I am happy you said it was from the rumour mill. Our political atmosphere is prone to all sorts of assumptions and/or rumours. I have transcended the stage of worrying about such stories. It is better I allow events to prove that some of the things being said were mere imaginations that do not find translation into reality. I heard that rumour like perhaps all of you might have heard; as usual, I allowed it to die down, knowing that somebody somewhere just wanted to play pranks on Nigerians as usual. The true story is that my entire supporters and I have renewed our faith in our party and are planning to strengthen it beyond the mischievous imaginations of our detractors.
You can see that I have accepted a new responsibility in the party, which tells the story better than any other thing people say. You will start seeing positive signs in our new drive, when we settle. The signs are positive to the effect that our aggrieved members are willing to come back and join us in building the new ANPP. Our national executive committee (NEC) has made far-reaching initiatives, which provide us with good materials to work with. You see, I have friends across all the political parties and I can never deny them being my friends because of differences in political affiliation. It is, however, wrong for people to conclude that because I have friends in the PDP, I am planning to defect.
How would you rate the government of President Goodluck Jonathan, after having spent one year in office?
Even as an opposition leader, you do not expect me to say the president has not done very well. A leader is better appreciated when one understands the circumstances under which that leader operates. I have had my own circumstances, when God gave me the opportunity to lead the people of Borno State for eight years as governor. I give God the glory for that opportunity. But honestly, I do not envy the president. He may be doing his best, but it is left for Nigerians to say his best is good enough or not. Like I said earlier, leadership is God-ordained, and we can only pray that God gives him the courage, wisdom and will to lead the country aright. Very often, people fail to appreciate the enormity of the responsibilities of a leader.