Dr Doyin Okupe was Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs to former President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. Ahead of next February general election, he says the greatest challenge before the main opposition party and victory is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and security agencies. He justifies the choice of Peter Obi from the South-East geopolitical zone as running mate to the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar. He spoke exclusively with our Senior Deputy Editor, TAIWO AMODU in Abuja.
YOU left PDP and suddenly now you are back. Why did you decide to return?
I can say two things were responsible. One was my relationship with the Senate president, a long time relationship. When he stepped out to contest for the president, I felt highly obliged.
That was a major contest in his life and I also believe in his candidacy. So, I felt obliged to support and I knew that the country more than personal dispositions matters most and this reason is not just mine, every other person that I have met in this business of 2019 also feel the same.
So, if he was going to run for president and he decided to change his party from All Progressives Congress, (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), I have no choice but to come to PDP.
The second reason was that when I left, I didn’t have problem with anybody. I didn’t have trouble with anybody. Nobody denied me of anything and I didn’t ask for anything but I wasn’t just very happy with the structure of leadership of the party, which I think has changed and it can accommodate people. I can say we are professionals in this business.
You said one of the reasons you came was Saraki’s return and ambition. Now that he has lost the ticket, are you still comfortable with the party?
We agreed to contest the election under certain conditions and as gentlemen, we stick to those terms. We agreed that whoever wins, we are going to back the person. We have lost, somebody has won. We stick to the terms of the agreement. So, for me, no problem. You know in politics the saying is correct: that no permanent friends or enemies, but only permanent interest.
There is a permanent interest in me and in many people that Nigeria is being undermanaged and it is presently directionless. Worse still, the level of poverty and squalor in the country is too grave for anybody to be thinking of his own personal interest alone. The desire to remove the present government is a national imperative. It isn’t even a partisan thing. It is something that everybody must put hands on deck for.
All of a sudden, we have become the capital of poverty in the world. How does that come about? I was going through some statistics the other time: water supply in 2015 was about 35 per cent but today it is 7 per cent.
You know how fundamental water is. At 35 per cent, it was nothing to write home about but if it now falls to 7 per cent. That has nothing to do with money, that’s heavy suffering for majority of people. I have a borehole in my house, but I am just one out of 200 million people. If it is just 7 per cent penetration, that means people just don’t have access to water.
In this country, if Buhari wins again, the rich will die. So for me, all what you are asking me aren’t issues because the country is in a national emergency situation. That’s isn’t a PDP affair, not a religious affair. No.
You have painted a picture of rot and concluded that the country is in an emergency situation.
But those on the other side, the ruling party, continue to point fingers of scorn at PDP as being responsible for the mess in the country today, having ruled for 16 years. What is your take?
That’s bunkum, nonsense talk. What was the rot? An economy that was the largest in Africa in 2013, the third fastest growing economy in the world? Today, we aren’t ranked amongst the first 20 even in Africa. Ghana is the highest growing economy in Africa. We are not number one or 10. So, what kind of rot are they talking about?
You see, APC is a despicable party, a party of confusionists, liars, people of no honour or integrity. It is a shame that they wear a cloak of integrity, but most discerning Nigerians are beginning to see through. From head to toe of APC is rotten nonsense, evil and destroyers of human destiny. These are people that but for civilisation, they shouldn’t be allowed to walk freely on the streets. These people have destroyed the country, damaged the future of Nigerian youths and totally made nonsense of the economy. It is a shame.
PDP has promised its faithful that it is approaching this election as a united family. But there is disaffection within. Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the most senior person holding elective office on your platform is aggrieved over the choice of Peter Obi as running mate to Atiku. How is your party addressing it?
I think the good thing about this is that this is a very big party and we recognise our limitations. No matter how well received the party’s ideas are, internal cohesion is paramount and everybody seems to understand this.
So, a lot of work is going on beyond what you have identified. It isn’t just Ekweremadu, quite a few people in the East aren’t too pleased, but it is understandable. I remember when I was with President Olusegun Obasanjo and Atiku was picked as the PDP candidate, some people in the North were displeased. A majority of the stakeholders in the North wanted the late Abubakar Rimi. So, a lot has to be done. It isn’t unusual, when you look at a whole zone and you just picked a man when there are about 200 men who are qualified and who also feel that they are qualified or even over qualified. So, it is something that we have to manage and we are managing it well.
Some of your colleagues from the South-West believe that your zone is being shortchanged in the PDP. The national convention that produced Uche Secondus as chairman and the big trade-off is fresh in their minds. They are also of the opinion that the emergence of Peter Obi as running mate to Atiku has reinforced that conviction of alienation. Do you align yourself with this perception ?
You know the Vice-President ordinarily should have been a consideration of both the South-West and the South-East. But let us logically look at what is on the ground.
The incumbent has already picked South-West as VP and there are no indications, we don’t even have the intelligence that suggests that they are going to change the VP. If they don’t change the VP and there are three zones in the South, does it make sense for us who are aspiring to take power from them to also go and pick our VP from the South-West? So, the South- East choice is logical. It is expedient and it is electorally an act of wisdom.
I am at pain myself. I am a leader from the South-West and all politics is local. So, the question is what do we tell our own people that we have brought back? Are we just in PDP to drink tea? No, but you see, in this type of game, I have seen over the years some experience that at one point or the other, some groups, some zones must pay sacrifices for the country to move forward. There was a time in this country, when the whole country surrendered the sovereignty and agreed that head and tail, South-West must produce the president.
In 1999, you will recall that everybody withdrew more or less and the race was between Chief Olu Falae and General Olusegun Obasanjo. That was a major concession from the nation. So, if at this time, the South-West is called to concede the VP position, I think it is ok. And we have always been known in the South-West to be the forbearers of unity, justice and of equity. We have always been in the leadership of righting wrongs in this country. The tradition of Yoruba people, we are self-made people who traditionally don’t rely on government. We don’t eat out of government. So, we of all people we can afford to concede such a position.
The South-West comes after the North-West in volume of Permanent Voters Cards. What is the political wisdom in shutting out such a zone in the choice of VP?
There are other things that can be used as compensation and these are things that we are going to discuss with the candidate and the party. You know politics isn’t like tablet which you can break and it will be equal. In political office sharing, there is never equality. It is just a matter of magnanimity. If you are running for a race and somebody picks the president, that’s the end. The VP, Secretary to Government of Federation (SGF) everybody is at the whims and caprices of the president. So, if you have picked the president whatever they give you isn’t a matter of equity. If it is, I will rather be president myself. So those of us who are knowledgeable enough, who are experienced enough know that when you share things in politics, it can never be equal. You wait until it rotates to your turn and you now take the large share.
So that’s what we are believing in. That’s what we are doing and like I said to you before, you can be rejoicing and be gloating in the issue of VP, Senate President. If the country is destroyed, what is the use of VP candidate? Nothing!
I prefer that we don’t have a substantial thing to hold. We have a government in place that will give comfort and solace to the citizens that will allow businesses to thrive, that will attend to fight against poverty, that will introduce honour and dignity in the establishment. The country today, the leadership has no honour, no integrity, no dignity. They have corrupted everything that is corruptible, yet they are the loudest noise maker in the issue of corruption. This is a very shameful, dastardly, condemnable administration and political party. They will not remain after 2019 by the grace of God.
The fight against corruption is Buhari’s selling point. Conversely, your presidential candidate is perceived to be corrupt. What will PDP be telling Nigerians?
No! Atiku isn’t corrupt by any standard. I am saying it and I am not being sycophantic about it. If you say Atiku is corrupt, please, come and explain to me where he is corrupt.
All these talks about Atiku being corrupt are hearsay and bad-mouthing. If a man is rich and wealthy, is there a sin in that? I haven’t investigated how Atiku became wealthy and all that but I have always known that he was a wealthy man even when we were trying to establish a platform to bring in Obasanjo as president. Atiku wasn’t a poor person; he was evidently wealthy and he provided logistics for a lot of things then. So before he came in 1999, he already had stupendous wealth.
The last time this man was in any official position was in Customs and that was in the late 80s. I think the man is a fantastic businessman. How much money can you steal? Some people are just lucky with business. Some people it is happenstance. Some people, it is by association. I also know that Atiku was well associated and connected with the late General Musa Yar’Adua, who perhaps then was one of the richest Nigerians and these people were inseparable. So, it isn’t surprising to me that if you have a very successful friend and you do things together, it is bound to rub on you. I knew they were involved in shipping; is that stealing? They were involved in oil services, the largest oil servicing company in Nigeria, INTEL today in Nigeria. These are the people who own and direct it. These aren’t public companies; they are private corporations with gross income running into millions of dollars.
If you are a director in such a company and you are willing to spend your hard-earned money in politics, why must you call the person a thief? I am not proud of poverty. I was never brought up in poverty and I will never support anybody who preaches poverty as virtue. Poverty isn’t a virtue. It is evil; it is a sin. I will rather associate myself with a successful businessman like Atiku. Maybe by also associating, I will also get opportunity to multiply the little that God has given me.
Anybody who says Atiku is a thief doesn’t know what he is saying. APC is the worst collection of politicians in the history of Nigeria but they are the greatest pretenders. They cover up; they pretend and they are in control of media to poison the minds of the people and poison them against people who are doing their businesses right.
Everybody outside APC is corrupt, according to them, but there are people in APC government who in 2015 were collecting N5, 000 gratification from people who today are billionaires. These people aren’t only corrupt but they have neglected the issue of governance. We aren’t even talking about good governance now because there is none in the country. Either good or bad, it doesn’t exist.
If there is honour in this country, with the discussion we are having on the issue of certificate, will it ever come up? What is going on about the issue of certificate is shameful, disgraceful, it is degrading, it is demeaning and it typifies a society that doesn’t appreciate what honour or integrity is. Simple certificate! It isn’t compulsory that the president has West African School Certificate, (WASC). The law says anything that is equitable is acceptable but the issue is this: you don’t as a leader of the country lie on oath. That is perjury and he is still staying in that office!
Buhari has been using this deception of fight against corruption to deceive the people, particularly the ordinary man in the North. What he tells them is that the rich Nigerians, even when they are not in partisan politics are responsible for their poverty. But Atiku is prepared to meet them and talk to them in the streets of the North. The man claiming to fight corruption, ask him how many convictions he has secured since he came to office. We are going to meet the poor people he has been indoctrinating face –to-face and tell them the truth.
In 2019, I have said it before it is electorally impossible for Buhari to win election. Unfortunately, the PDP will not be contesting against Buhari. The PDP will be contesting against Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and security forces. If they do their job, there will be no contest. We know this we aren’t fools. Buhari is right now a lame duck president and there is very little he can do between now and February. So the contest in 2019 isn’t against Buhari. The PDP contest is against INEC as an institution and the security agencies. If they will allow fair play, then there will be no problem.
There is the insinuation that PDP settled for a VP from South -East because you know that the South-West is the impregnable fortress of Bola Tinubu, the arrowhead of Buhari’s campaign.
That is a lie! It isn’t true. The fact on the ground doesn’t support your claim. Bola Tinubu’s influence, I can analyse it for you.
In Lagos, if in 1999, it was 85 per cent, in Lagos today it has dropped to about 55 per cent. In Ogun, it is almost non-existent. In Oyo, maybe about 25 per cent. Don’t forget that Ajimobi won the election in 2015 with about 30 per cent of about total votes cast and he has lost so much goodwill that he cannot get half of that percentage. So the political influence and popularity of Tinubu in Oyo State is less than 25 per cent. In Osun, maybe 50 per cent. In Ekiti and Ondo states less than 50 per cent. Today, if there is an election where those who are with Tinubu vote, something like a referendum and those against vote, Tinubu will lose. The dominance of Tinubu in the South-West halted with the 2015 elections. Even in Lagos, the vote was 55 for APC as against 45 per cent for PDP
On the average in the whole of the South-West, it was nearly 50:50. So, the decline has started from that time. Today, if Tinubu can amass or bring electoral votes up to 40 per cent in the South-West, then he would have done a herculean job. We aren’t worried about Tinubu in the South-West.
For me, and for most of us, we only need encouragement. We need the federal arrangement to be solid. A candidate has emerged. We believe in the candidate and we are going to work for him. Mark my words: Atiku will defeat Buhari, 60 to 40 per cent minimum in the South-West in 2019.
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