Senator Ayodele Arise, chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), in this interview with TAIWO AMODU, x-rays the chances of the presidential candidates of the predominant political parties ahead the general election, saying the candidate of the Labour Party, Peter Obi will cause a stir in Lagos State, the stronghold of APC standard bearer, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Excerpts:
A lot of stakeholders have expressed concern over the Fbruary 10 deadline for the new Naira policy by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), describing it as a good policy hampered by poor implementation. The Supreme Court also gave a restraining Order asking the CBN to halt its deadline. What’s your take on the whole scenario?
I think it’s a very welcome development. The Supreme Court intervened because it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that there is peace and order in the nation. A lot of people are walking about with a lot of anger. A little thing can trigger unexpected consequences.
And this currency thing has festered for weeks. We’ve seen the effect, we’ve seen the consequences of lack of good planning, and ordinarily should not have required the Supreme Court to intervene for this policy to have been changed. Having said that, it is the prerogative of the CBN to change currencies, but it’s not part of the Act; everything has a procedure.
There is a procedure for changing currency. It is always good for us to learn from other climes. I have lived in America now for over 40 years. They have changed their currency about twice, within the space of about 25 years and you will never know that any currency is being changed.
It is when you take your old currency to the bank, they will take it; the bank will give you the new currencies. There has never been a time when the Federal Reserve Bank in America would actually say they are banning a legal tender.
To change the currency is not a problem, but you now simultaneously say that you ban the old currency within 30 days without making adequate provision to give people money as they bring their monies into the bank.
Just imagine, if you keep your money in the branch of a bank and you go there and they start rationing the amount you can take, they don’t know your commitment and the bank gives you N5,000 today , another N5,000 tomorrow. Some ATMs were dispensing N1,000, whereas the CBN is saying you can dispense N20,000.
If the CBN says you can dispense N20,000 for somebody who probably brought N1 million, that can’t be acceptable because you can’t fail to honour the legal tender that the person brought to your bank It is his money.
If you say we must change the currency, yes, but the person who puts his money in the bank, you must give him full access to his money. It is good that we are trying to decree electronic banking in Nigeria, but we are trying to resolve one problem but creating multiple problems for the society.
You have to be on queue at the ATM for an average of two hours! How can you inflict such hardship on your people and you are now saying, please, bear with us! If the bank is going to change currency, they must have printed more than enough but you are now giving excuses and people are suffering.
People don’t have money in their pockets but they are expected to pay money at airport toll gates, Federal Government toll gates!
The presidential candidate of your party, Bola Tinubu has said he is the target of the naira policy. Even some of your governors have aligned with him on this and the Federal Government has attempted to deny that, but hasn’t succeeded in convincing Nigerians. Do you also share that view?
Well, let me say it the way I see it. Even if that was not the intention of the policy, it is not rocket science for us to see who will be affected most by this policy.
We were here in 2018/2019 when we were campaigning for the second term of our president, what was going on was people like (Yemi) Osinbajo going into markets, going into every state doing market money (trader-moni) to relieve the burden and the pains on the people, to show that this government cares.
So if the same government now says we have about two weeks to our election and they now say they want to visit hardship on the people, so do you think that the average man on the street would like APC as a party when you have such a keen competition?
So, it might not be the original intention or their purpose, but that is what we’re seeing on the streets. People are angry. When you want to go to an election, you don’t create an atmosphere that will bring so much anger to people on the street.
The everyday person who’s going to vote, they have forgotten all the good things that APC did in the past. They’re only going to remain with this knowledge of what have been visited upon them.
So, if Asiwaju says it is targeted at him, he’s speaking correctly, because we have seen other elections in this country. When we are doing a presidential election, apart from the fact that you continue to say that the person has done well, you try to ensure that people are comfortable with your party.
Even PDP was saying then that we were bribing the market women, despite the fact that that policy already enjoyed the buy in of government. So, what is happening now any rational thinking person will understand that you can’t be in an election and be creating hardship for the people that will ultimately vote. A man that was on the ATM yesterday, was there this morning, and will still continue to be there.
There was a report in one of the national dailies that the APC is scheming to seek election postponement by four weeks. Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir El -Rufai, is alleged to be the arrow head of this. Is that the plan of the party?
Let me put it this way: believe we read today that INEC has gone to meet (Godwin) Emefiele that he doesn’t have money to prosecute this election. What do you think would be the result? The result would certainly lead to postponement.
Invariably, some people have already foreseen where this thing is headed to. And when you look at it, on the day of the election, the drivers that will carry the ballot papers and all that, that will drive to the respective locations and distribute in all the polling units are cash-and-carry people.
And you don’t have cash to pay them. So, what would then happen? It would be a colossal disaster because some people will be ready for election and there would be no materials to vote. And you are mobilising people like graduates on national service as ad hoc staff; they need money to buy food at polling units.
Many of those rural areas don’t know what is Point of Sale; they aren’t even that educated. Even if the CBN now decides to be distributor of POS, how many places can it cover before the election?
So when you look at some of these, we are practitioners in society, I can relate at the highest echelon; I can relate with the people at the lowest echelon. Therefore, we know what is happening and we knew what could be the outcome of this policy.
At the moment, I saw that this is the outcome of this problem. We have to thank the likes of el-Rufai who could come out. Because you like him or hate him, you know he’s somebody that speaks truth to anybody. He will come out and talk and it took his intervention for people to understand there is a problem. You can’t cancel a currency, you can only change it.
Do you think President Muhammadu Buhari is doing enough to mitigate the crisis?
You all know that Buhari is trying to do everything possible to reduce corruption in the country. So, if you now put somebody as the governor of the CBN, he is the one the president will listen to.
Therefore, if he approaches Mr. President and says he wants to change the currency, people have stolen too much money, I want to be able to trace the fund, I need to surprise them, and he tells Mr. President that he doesn’t want people to have access to cash during the election, and he tells Mr.President, this should be one of your greatest legacies, the man will say go ahead because he has given the man valid reason.
Who won’t like it? May be it will require Buhari to consult another person or ask his CBN governor to set up a committee to find out what the policy looks like . We can’t really blame Mr. President.
A cabal is being alleged to be at work and everybody knows who the members are and every government always has its own cabal and that’s a group of people that are close to the president and who have access to him. They are the ones that whisper to him.
I don’t see a President who goes to the streets to take polls on what is going on. His lieutenants do that. For this cabal, since their candidate did not win, they might be apprehensive of the one that won the ticket that he might be vindictive. But from what I know about Tinubu he isn’t that kind of person.
With all of these challenges, APC is becoming increasingly unpopular with anti-people policies. Does your party and your candidate stand a chance of winning this election?
Yes, I believe, Asiwaju will win this election for many reasons. And I’ll tell you my thoughts. There are three candidates. Asiwaju seems to be the frontrunner. First because, he’s a member of the ruling party & second, the sentiments of the country is for a southern president.The other major party, which is PDP, has an existing structure and they have some governors that will certainly work with their states to seal victory for their candidates.
Their candidate is from the North and it is the general consensus that this thing, either written or unwritten, should be a rotation between the North and the South. now that President Buhari is from the North and he’s leaving, the logical thing to do to strengthen the trust among ourselves in this country, to create a sense of belonging that sometimes this thing is coming to our side is to vote for a southern candidate.
That is on the one side.
The second side is that all these things that is happening, the only place that I doubt 80 percent win is the South-West is probably Lagos. Not because of the factor of the PDP but because of the factor of (Peter) Obi. There are many Igbo people in Lagos.
There is probability that this election too we have a taint of tribal sentiment. So, just like the Yoruba will massively vote for Asiwaju, the Igbos will massively vote for Obi. But now remember that the northern governors came together to say this thing has to move to the South.
So, they’re already convinced that the work they want to do for the stability of this country is to work for a southern presidential candidate. And of the states in the north, APC controls the majority.
The northern governors, who are incumbent governors, who are coming back, running for second term, all of them in the APC, they will want to make sure they win their elections and there is no amount of deceit that will sway them from understanding the fact that if they play games with the presidential election, it will have a backlash on the governorship election.
So I’m convinced, like many other APC members that Asiwaju not only has worked harder than everyone of them, but he’s a lot more organised without being sentimental. And he has surrounded himself with people that can actually challenge his thoughts and give him advice.
So, you don’t see the election going into a second ballot?
What I see is that if it were a two-way win election, the possibility of a second ballot is very possible. But let us look at it. In the South-East, as committed as the average Igbo person is, they want to vote for Obi but, there are states in the South-East that will outright vote APC.
Imo is possible; Ebonyi is very possible, outright. But when you now look at 25 percent, they might still be a few places with surprises. One of the few places, if you look at Anambra that the governor is All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), it is not all of them that are happy that Obi left APGA, and I listened to Governor Charles Soludo who said he discussed with Obi to come and pick APGA presidential ticket before he joined Labour Party.
So some of them are not too happy and a few people that we know in Anambra who are very strong, I won’t be surprised if Obi loses in Anambra. These are realities on the ground.