Tinubu cannot be a dictator, he listens, says Nze Duru

Nze Chidi Duru is the Deputy National Organising Secretary of All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, he explains the public perception of the Tinubu Presidency and challenges of APC in Southeast.

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Certain developments in the polity, like appointments and relocation of some federal agencies from Abuja to Lagos, raise concerns that the President plans to be a dictator. Do you think President Tinubu will end up as a dictator?
No! For the simple reason that I know that our constitution does not provide for it. I also know that he is a politician; he believes in consensus building, superior ideas and engaging.

Only in the three months or thereabout, you have also seen people criticise him, some of them questioned, ‘why appoint and remove, why take a step and recant?’

But if there are superior ideas on the table, I would rather that I take a decision that I consider to be right and then change my mind if there are superior arguments on the basis of that. So, that already tells you of a man who listens, of a man who wants to- and I also believe that he is a man who have a date with history- who wants to ensure that he is remembered for the right things; for the good things, the things he did for Nigeria. That is his legacy.

The legacy of pulling Nigeria from where we are today to a land of prosperity; of giving voice to the average Nigerian; creating an enabling environment that will enable businesses to flourish in the country; our best talents to find an outing for their talent and ability. The soft power we have in the world, to utilise it effectively to be able to attract investment opportunities in Nigeria. To make Nigeria stand tall and proud wherever we are, because we are a people that are blessed.

We are a people that the rest of the world is waiting on; people that the world believe that if we step out there, we will take our rightful place in the comity of nations. We will overtake the world and that is the destiny of Nigeria and Tinubu has that calling; it is for him to deliver.

The perception out there is that while the Ninth National Assembly was an acclaimed rubberstamp, this 10th Assembly has been associated with being on Presidential errand. Does that not dispose the President to be a dictator if he wishes?
Well, if you take a meeting of 109 persons in the Senate and 360 in the House of Representatives that is not predominantly APC and made up of majorly members of APC, PDP and Labour Party, tangentially SDP (Social Democratic Party), APGA (All Progressives Grand Alliance) and NNPP (New Nigeria Peoples Party) and they are working to give the executive what the executive needs to deliver its mandate to the people of Nigeria. I believe that rather than condemn, they should be commended.

And like the president has said often times, he did not beg for this office, he worked for the office; he wanted it. Therefore, nobody should have any sympathy for him or propose that he failed, because he was not prepared for it. So, in that preparation is also the fact that he has certain tools that he will need to be efficient, to be able to actualise the essence of his being elected as the President of Nigeria.

Therefore, what the National Assembly has done so far, in my view, is to give him those tools that he requires. So, he will be measured on the basis of that fact that; not that he doesn’t have the tools, but that he is unable to use those tools.

I think it is commendable and I hope that will also show to Nigerians that everything he needs he has gotten and the buck now stops on his table to actualise those tools for the purpose of enhancing the benefit of the people of Nigeria and making sure that Nigerians do not suffer unduly and unjustly.

When he was Governor of Lagos State, one key developmental strategy of President Bola Tinubu was periodic review. Having become the President, do you see him encouraging that kind of periodic review with the party to assess performance?
It is currently happening and I am happy that I had a long discussion with some group and we were basically thinking. And, his position is very clear. Again, extrapolating from what was in Lagos, when he was elected, there was a retreat and periodic retreats where the agenda of the government is set. What needs to be achieved, what needs to be delivered; there was a measurement tool. Not having that done at the federal level will appear to indicate that the government will be a government of just noise and politics.

And in answer to that, just recently, a Ministerial retreat was been held; deliverables have been set. Agenda for the ministers, measurable too, under an agency of government have also been put in place. What that then tells you is that the point you made is already noted; the ministers will be benchmarked and measured against deliverables. If you measure up, your being in government is dependent on your ability. If you don’t measure up, your being in government is dependent on your ability. So, it is black and white; you will know whether you are measuring up or you are not.

And I think that the Nigerian people should give this government, his presidency, his ticket, a time and a chance to prove itself. I believe that the last few months is too early to write it off, but another seven months from now or five to six weeks from now going to the first or second quarter of this year, will signpost whether this government will deliver on its agenda.

It is also for you in the press to hold us to account, because when we campaigned, when we went the length and breadth of the country, we had our manifesto, we had our deliverables, which we put before the Nigerian people. I think the people of the Fourth Estate of the realm should be able to look at it and then highlight it to Nigerians. They should be able to say in these key deliverables, we have delivered as a party. In these, we have not or we have run short of. And this is what I think that the informed public needs to know, instead of the general noise; there must be something that we are measuring it against.

Yes, we agree the removal of fuel subsidy as necessary as it is have also occasioned some measure of hardship in Nigerians. Is it a necessary economic policy, yes it is. Are we doing something about it to help to better the condition of the average Nigerian people? Yes, we are trying to do that. Will the public hold us accountable to it? Of course the public will hold us accountable to it.

The emergence of the foreign currency, the parallel and unofficial market, is it a tool that the government needed to have done; we should have done that like yesterday. Why did we do it now, because we must do it. Now that we have done it, what are we going to do to ensure that the hardship that is fallout that will occasion on Nigerians do not happen? These are things that I believe the public should be talking about and holding us accountable to ensure that we measure ourselves based on what we put out to Nigerians.

Looking at the 2015, 2019 and 2023 elections, it seems the narratives around APC in the South East is beginning to change. With a president that is a politician, how much do you think things will really change and how much do you think the stature of the current President will help the party, given the perception that South East is not beholden to the party?
Well, I will like to say that if you look at the demography and the spread in relation to the two dominant political parties in Nigeria, which you will all agree with me are APC and PDP, you will agree that APC have gained more than PDP had gained in the South East, particularly in the 2023 election.

Unlike before when the PDP was predominantly a South East political party, giving South East all the support and all of that. In the 2023 election, you will find that the major tendency or the support base of the South East seems to have gravitated towards another political party, which was the Labour Party (LP). And, outside the LP, the next party in the South East is the APC. APGA and PDP may decide who came third.

But, the point I am making is that of the two national political parties, APC appeared to have gained more grounds in the South East than PDP. And I also think that in putting all of these into consideration, when it matters most and it comes to the party that the South East will use for negotiation, you can only but begin to suggest that if we can extrapolate this into a voting pattern.

Perhaps APC, unlike in the past, had began to earn the confidence of the people of the South East. Particularly with the recent engagement between the party and a number of critical stakeholders who now think that it is now time to have a review, it is now time to engage, to discuss, to find out what they can do to give our people a voice in the party.

I have mentioned to you that in the history of political parties, this is the first time a political party will offer strong positions in the party to every state in the zone, every state in the South East- Imo, Enugu, Ebonyi, Anambra and Abia- has an NWC position. And, we are talking of 25 positions in a political party and all states in the South East have a position in the NWC of the party. What does that say? It is a party that listens, it is a party that wants to engage, it is a party that wants to negotiate and see whether the narrative can change.

You are also beginning to see a movement and those movements if you think in terms of numbers; you will begin to see that more of the number is in the attraction of strong players. I mean, you will find somebody like Senator Ifeanyi Ubah, a very strong force, a very strong personality, with a strong constituency, leaving his political party and joining APC with no condition, other than the fact that he thinks and he believes that this party represents an avenue for him to help his constituency, help the state, help the zone and then of course help the country.

And, I have a long list of people like him who want to join the party and of course, the question you asked, now that we have a President who is a politician- a President who understands the nuances of politics and the game in politics and all of that- he would want to do things that will encourage other people to say look we are all part of this, how can we then engage to have a voice in the party.

So, I see an optic in the party politics- in APC in the South East- changing the orientation and all of that, then of course, in the leadership of the party. It will come to a decision that says, ‘look, we cannot again continue to be in the opposition. We need to put our house together; we need to engage.’ And we are holding meetings at regular intervals, encouraging people and telling them that this time around, only those who have worked for the party and who believes in the party will be given the ticket of the party to realise any personal ambition. Of course, that personal ambition must always align with the collective ambition of the stakeholders and that of the party itself.

In spite of that optimism, there are still echoes of former divisions, leadership squabbles in the party in the South East. There is the subtle interplay of political interests between Imo State governor and the Minister of Works, David Umahi. Although they may not verbalise it, everybody knows that both of them have eyes on possible run for the Presidency of Nigeria. How do you think this may impact on your observations?
I would like to say again that unlike before, the schism or the division that was obvious not just apparent in the party in the last many years have almost dissolved, if not disappeared in the politics of APC in the South East.

We have great respect for our leaders. We respect the Honourable Minister, Senator Dave Umahi. We respect His Excellency Governor Hope Uzodimma. These are very strong voices, strong forces and personalities that have worked hard to give the party a voice and representation, not only in their states, not only in the zone, but also nationally. It will be our wish that either of the two emerges to become our flag bearer if that opportunity does come to the South East and the South East will come together to give them that support.

Also, it is on the strength of that in the entire South East, we do not have any dissention. Leaders are clearly known in the states and leadership of the party is known. Those who are leading the party are known, the party structures in the South East are known; there is no balkanisation. If there are people that are imported and implanted to create a sense of division in the party, they are quickly dealt with under the leadership of the Deputy National Chairman South, Chief Emma Eneukwu.

We hold meetings at regular intervals; we engage to see how we can support the party across the length and breadth of the South East. We hold regular meetings and then the feedbacks, we take them to the critical stakeholders in the zone and decisions are quickly made and all that. So, there is respect for law and order in the South East and that gives comfort.

After the elections on November 11, 2023, you saw that we not only retained Imo as an APC state, but that again re-enforces the two APC states in the South East. The next trial now will be Anambra State, where the focus of the party will be and that will now begin to validate the position that APC in South East are coming together, are working together.

Unlike the point you made before where they were not apparent, but obviously not working together among the leaders. We are working together, we are emboldened, we are empowered to understand that unless we are on the table, we will not be able to negotiate and that is beginning to manifest.

The 2024 budget has gone into operation, what assurances will you give APC supporters in the South East that project conception and implementation will be favourable to the zone, given the recent award of federal contracts?
I think that if there is any assurance that the South East needs or wants or will ever require, it is validated by the fact that for the first time in the history of appointing officers in the cabinet, a person of the South East has been given the Minister of Works, a key ministry. And with that, even without the budget, before the budget of 2024 that you asked of, you can see that the ministerial Executive Council of President Ahmed Tinubu have already granted special approvals for a lot of projects across Nigeria. It is not just for South East; it is across Nigeria, because it is important that infrastructure becomes what is required to take our people away from poverty to prosperity.

It is not a question of if you develop the entire South East and the rest of the country are landlocked or inaccessible, it means nothing not only to the people of the South East it means nothing to the people of Nigeria. So, there is an aggregate structure of ensuring that we infuse infrastructure, infuse development across the length and breadth of Nigeria.

APC has also shown to the people of the South East that the greatest vote or the greatest budget allocation ever in the history of this country in the last eight years was the result of the consequence of the Niger Bridge and the development surrounding it. We don’t speak so much of it, we don’t make a history of that, but the reality again remains that, when that is completed, you already begin to see the development that it is bringing to the people of the South East and all of that.

So, that critical appointment I believe signposts the fact that APC means well not only for the South East, but also Nigeria. So, in the context that we should be talking about Nigeria in this makes a whole lot of meaning.

And our people are involved, are engaged and are on the table negotiating. And, we have a President who is political, who understands that to retain power, he needs to be able to do balancing, he needs to be able to carry the component units, the leaders along. Because, if one part of the country is not part of that negotiation, then there will be a gap and when that gap exists then you know there is a problem.

And the 2023 election threw it up, majorly the North voted for PDP, the South East that ordinarily would have voted for PDP, voted differently in the presidential campaign. So, it was a tossup game and it was a collection of the other support base that now enabled APC to win the election.

So the need for engagement, the need for discussions, which this 2023 election threw up, reflects the possibility that if we put our house together and come to the table as we would come to the table, then we will remain one very strong voice that can make a demand and see that our demand is actualised and then of course listened to.

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