The Sun crew had to wait three hours for him to extricate himself from politicians that daily lay siege to his Ikoyi, Lagos home. But the wait was worth it for when Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu finally showed up at 8pm, he was shooting from both hips. Samples: Nigeria’s heart is working barely enough to postpone a funeral… PDP has undermined the nation and its helpless citizens until we all feel like the third wobbly wheel of a cycle going downhill…
Former President Obasanjo having worn the army camouflage has perfected the art of deceit… General Muhammadu Buhari should have stepped down for Nuhu Ribadu, who, by the way, has not resigned from the Action Congress of Nigeria… And he is upset with Dr Olusegun Mimiko because the Ondo State governor threw his (Tinubu’s) political engagement ring back at him.
He spoke with Tony Onyima, Managing Director, Femi Adesina, Deputy Managing Director, and Funke Egbemode, Editor, Sunday Sun.
We will start with your personal reflection at 60. So, let’s share your thoughts at 60, looking back from where you are coming.
Well, if I have to look at what is personal to me, I can only say I thank God almighty for what he has been able to do for me. He spared my life and kept me strong in good health as well as little achievements in politics. On national reflection, political platform and in totality of socio-economic policy of the country, I’m still very disappointed and not fulfilled because of one’s dream of what Nigeria should be. On democracy itself that should have been the mother care for this socio-political re-engineering of the nation, I’m still not fulfilled because the country is still politically unstable and politically dishonest. There is lack of transparency in our electoral system and whether you talk of partisan politics or general politics as a whole, you cannot say honestly that this country is half way anywhere successful in the politics of our country; you cannot say that.
If you want to look at the checks and balances, the judicial arm that should be the protector and the transmitter of constitutional democracy, we are also not near where we should be. After that is the feeling for all the folks not just for me but for the larger populace. The quality of life of our people is nothing to write home about. We have achieved nothing; the human development index is a mirage for us so far in all aspects. For this, we can only nurse hope out of hope and continue to work at it instead of painting the gloomy picture. But, are we going to talk to ourselves on a realistic page; analytically and sincerely, tell the truth to the poor and everybody involved or we will continue to deceive ourselves that everything is fine? If the truth must be told, we have unacceptable level of poverty, neglect and insincerity.
60 years down the line, what battles have you fought and what victories have you won that are quite significant to you?
Yes, I can look back and be happy that I didn’t take the easy route out when I joined the political train. It’s not just to make money; it’s not for ordinary lamentations; it’s to affect the lives of Nigerians and ensure they are safe through democracy in the country. At the time our democracy was prematurely terminated, I had the option to go back to my previous employer, ExxonMobil, that gave me leave of absence for four years. I would have taken the easy way out; go back, resume as the treasurer of the company but I didn’t. I joined a crusade to democratize the system and asked the military to hand over. And that earned me a lot of persecution, I would say. I worked with like minds to form NADECO which continued the struggle both at home and abroad until we achieved democracy one way or the other, even if you will call it a partial democracy.
That is a battle; it was a very serious battle. We put our lives on the line; we denied our families what they should have enjoyed; we denied ourselves the freedom and the military dictatorship then denied us our freedom. They imposed an interim government which went away later. They imposed another military dictator, Abacha and that one was as wicked as it could be. To stand up to a tyrant is not easy in any society but to run away from them is even more dangerous for the generality of the people. So, we stood up, confronted it and we won that battle, today we have democracy. We have a new constitution that is workable always and we have a civilian regime, even though headed by a military in civilian garb but a nation is reflected by the kind of leadership it throws up. We had to live with it because we want democracy. All the same, that battle was a well-fought battle.
Can you recall anyone you lost?
I think it was the democratization process itself; it’s true that I didn’t want Obasanjo to be the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and there was no doubt about that. I lost that one; I didn’t want him. I didn’t want to see him at all from inception.
Because anybody who has worn the uniform described as camouflage has learnt the art of deception and that’s the way I see Obasanjo. He had meetings and meetings with MKO Abiola. I was with him, I believe four of us including Dele Alake, and we had ‘amala’ and vegetable soup with hot pepper in Abiola’s house. Everybody was yawning, sweating and looking for water with MKO Abiola and Obasanjo behaving as if it wasn’t as hot as we made it seem; behaving as if they had this deep understanding. Then, not up to two weeks after that, Obasanjo went away to Zimbabwe and announced from there that Abiola was not the messiah.
Haba! After that, I developed that mistrust on him; I couldn’t believe that a man could do that. Stand by some principles, stand by some integrity, stand transparently and honestly on matter of facts and as you lead other people to believe you and support you as a key pillar. Then, I start to think whether this man came to Abiola and collected information; information that we had heard that he wanted to be Shonekan; he wanted to be an interim leader and not Shonekan. So, when they presented him that he was going to be the candidate of the other party, I said that Nigeria was in for trouble. Can I believe this man? No, I cannot trust him.
Is that one of the reasons why you have not congratulated him on his 75th birthday?
I didn’t even remember his birthday. I opened the newspaper and saw it. There are so many problems confronting us. I won’t blame anybody who doesn’t read my birthday greetings. I won’t blame them if they say they didn’t see it, there are so many problems confronting the nation. There are so many news items that are seriously more newsworthy than to be looking for Obasanjo’s congratulatory messages in the newspaper. A man who had great opportunity to put Nigeria on the right path and failed to do so; failed to do even the Otta road, not Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. What am I celebrating about him? That’s the truth. He deceptively dealt with the country and he handed over to a man who knew he was ill. Obasanjo is a leader that could not find another successor capable of driving through his vision for the country.
From where the nation stands now, do you see hope; do you see things getting better?
We must see hope even when it is opaque, otherwise we are all doomed. If we stop searching for hope and for any improvement, then we have stopped thinking and it means we have stopped breathing – we are all dead. So, we must challenge all our intellectual capacities to bring about that hope and discuss or chart a new course for the country because right now, we are drifting. Now’s the time that we should harp on industrial and economic policies. We should be building on a stable democracy. This is the time we are using to confront myriad of problems that are domestically and externally dangerous for the country such as religious division- a Boko Haram not Boko Halal; promoting division and intolerance among the tribes. We are still solving that problem but we have not seen the cause of our problems and we are addressing ordinary symptoms; we are not seeing that it is poverty, neglect and lack of good economic policies and programmes that is leaving people more destitute.
There is the creation of violent reaction; we are not seeing electricity or power generation and supply to various homes and villages and for industrial use in our industrialisation but that is the most critical discovery of humanity in the last 1000 years. We have been searching for alternative in the last one century; we have not developed one and we have not even achieved any goal. So, if we have not done that, we must give hope to our new generation; we can’t give up on them. Do away with these tyrants by strongly opposing electoral malpractices in this country, by getting leaders to do away with deceptions; by mouthing and making noise about good governance without putting it to practice. Call on the judiciary to wake up and do what is right and adhere to liberty, freedom, democracy and justice for all. That is where all our efforts must lie, otherwise we will neglect those areas at our own peril.
In 2011, you tried to provide alternative platform by mobilizing like-minded people to have some form of coalition but at the end of the day, it failed. Can we have an insight into why it failed?
Why would everybody want to know why it failed? Or why it should succeed?
Why it should succeed is because the way you led it, there was so much hope. Everybody felt that at last we had an alternative. You were talking to people that the progressives were coming together again and there was a glimmer of hope. As a person who motivated all these, why do you think it failed?
That was silver lining then. We were going along with majority of Nigerians. So, if that is the case, let’s look back at what happened. I had wanted not to address that issue again but sincerely, I took away from the episode the fact that Nigerians must be led and led right. However, some political leaders in the country lack the understanding for political victory. They lack the give and take in the democratic setting. They might not be sincere until after they discover that they have failed. I don’t want to apportion blames but why it failed was because we were not committed sincerely to giving and taking; to compromise; to accommodate one another; even to take risk. To me, what would have been wrong with Muslim-Muslim ticket in the country; it had been done before; Abiola/Kingibe ticket was there. But did we rigidly hold on to that? No, we did not. As a political party, you cannot negotiate with your arms behind your back. If you go to a doctor to check your ankle and he says that your two legs should be amputated without providing you a wheelchair to move with you can’t be comfortable with that.
They wanted us to surrender everything; our candidate to withdraw; no vice-presidential slot and nothing. And if you look at it, we have more governors in ACN. So, all of that unfortunately played out. We all learnt from it; I don’t want to apportion blames. Now is the time to start early, to start building that understanding, that cohesion that can really provide a strong alternative. That to me is what we should do at this moment and we are working hard at it. We are still talking; you will have some people behaving like house rats immediately they are given some little fund. They’ll go out and abandon the ship. They never progress in their calling anyway but engage in political prostitution to gain something for themselves. You equally have scavengers around corridor of powers that will not make it possible but I won’t blame the other party not wanting to get together anyway. It is their prayer and it makes efforts to destabilize and sow seeds of discord among you. They must have their destabilizers; they must have their surrogates one way or the other; if you are not conscious of that, you are doomed to fail. So, going forward, we will. We will find apples and apples, not apples and oranges. That is the difficult part.
You think we are not stuck to PDP in this country?
We are not stuck; we are not. It will never be a one-party state. Stuck with PDP? God forbid!
What then happened in the presidential election, particularly in the South West because we have heard all sorts of stories. Was there a last-minute alliance and you gave instructions that ACN votes must go to Jonathan? Or some states just rebelled against the ACN and voted Jonathan in the presidential and voted ACN in the governorship; what exactly happened?
Why do you want to know what happened?
The presidential election had been fought and won; it has been affirmed by the Supreme Court. I think we shouldn’t cry over spilt milk; we should go forward from here. To me, we left our house wide open and we allowed our people to vote anywhere they wanted and they did. Anybody coming out to say whether there was deal under the table or not is wrong. We want good governance; we want devolution of power; we want fiscal and true federalism in the polity. I believe generally that Jonathan having been a deputy governor and governor at one time or the other will understand the pain of the states and the value of devolving more power and more revenue to the states.
We don’t need this overbearing federal system that is unitary. We are waiting for those changes. That election went that way because Jonathan had sympathy. Remember there was crisis of succession on whether he should be acting president or not and you have a little bit of equal sabotage because two days to the final discussions, the media was awash with news that our candidate had withdrawn and stepped down for Buhari. Buhari himself could have equally seen a young dynamic man in our candidate. To me, I believe he should have been the one to step down for him. We have more governors but we conceded the candidacy to him but they could have done better. And with that conclusion, Jonathan was stable; he was appealing and he was innocent in appearance. We believed he would carry Nigerians along. If a man says he had no shoes, we felt he would provide many shoes for other shoe-less people.
Do you still feel like that about Jonathan?
I won’t analyse him as a person. He is already the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I want to see his programme, his party’s programme; that’s all and I could talk from that angle. His personality and character are left for Nigerians who voted for him. I’m not in his party and I will not be in his party; so anything I say now will be from that angle. I don’t believe he has his hands fully on the plough about Nigeria’s transformations. I don’t see him embark upon rigorous economic policy that will benefit the greatest number of the populace. He is in ultra-conservative party where they have no plan for the middle class, no plan for the downtrodden. Is there any infrastructural policy and funding and on long term basis for this country? Is there any specific programme tailored towards rural integration? Large numbers of our populace live in rural areas; you have seen influx into Lagos, Abuja; those are the two active cities in the country today out of so many. And you don’t see coherent programmes for human development index where we spent more money per capita and not revolving, complaining and lamenting that we are growing at eight percent growth rate and that growth is not reflected on the standard of living of the people.
Those are the questions that are sincerely relevant here and you wonder whose economic barometer is functioning. Why is it that after the removal of subsidy, the prices of fuel that we consume had gone up by almost 100 percent? Ok, N97 is the 57 percent of the 65 percent; if you add them together, mathematically it will rhyme. And the reactionary effect of that on the goods and services for the country is only two percent; on which class and in which market? Where is your market? You are the people of the fourth estate of the realm, you go to the same market, you have the same common family around here, you would have seen what is out of your pocket since then. You would have seen the effect of it on garri that you eat and common food that is made in Nigeria. We are not talking of cassava bread that they say we should eat now, but let’s even talk of garri that is 100 percent Nigeria; no additives, go and look at the price; check if what you have is two percent increase.
They are liars driving the economy and feeding the public with fake statistics. If you have a solid economic programme, you will be able to articulate that for the country and you will strengthen our hope and determination. You would also have been able to say with this, let there be 10 years incentives for refineries to develop in the country; don’t go and borrow money. You can put an incentive on the table for the next 15 years to encourage people who will bring their money here and establish a refinery. You can stabilize if you benchmark fraudulently the rule of return; Where is it at 70; where is it at 72; what yardstick are we using? It’s fraud. We are creating an hydra-headed accounting fraud but let’s leave that. Where is the number coming from; if not from somebody’s magical thinking?
In the last seven years, we have oscillated or revolved around 60, 65 to 70 percent benchmark. So, if you can determine that, you could as well determine that the crude oil that will go to the refineries will stabilize at a specific price for the next 10 years if you bring your refinery to the country. So, from the refinery, you will have multiple by-products to make Nigeria an economic success. There is no way you put those incentives in place for economic policy even in the oil sector that you understand right now, that you will not make Nigeria the centre of plastic for the rest of Africa and for export to Europe because you’d have cheap labour here. See how much magic; how much exponential economic development you can achieve from that commonsense programme.
We have been speaking since Obasanjo started talking and still lamenting about the rehabilitation of railways. Who says that Nigeria needs the speed-of-light train now, when you are still as backward as ever, that you don’t have the one that can move at 110km per hour to do even haulage? It would have been a very good holiday trip for a Nigerian to be on a coach and enjoy a ride that will say good night Lagos and good morning Abuja. We are still travelling on night buses that will do the same thing with more dangerous exposure and much risk to our lives. And can you now imagine the skill development programme that would have come up to create skill, employment opportunities and means of livelihood to many who will be in fabrication and repairs of that industry.
And like my friend was talking to me this afternoon, he said we should ask Japan what they have. If they have been dependent on rice alone, which is the only thing they have; they don’t have steel there but they are one of the largest exporters of steel, what happened to our own steel? Ajaokuta Steel for example?
Are we cursed?
I think so.
All our political leaders travel abroad and they see all these things work. What you have just analysed is a very simple thing that people will implement. Why is it that when they get into Government House, even the ones you think are intelligent will totally change?
Maybe we should relocate them from The Villa. But, more seriously, if we are not jinxed, a nation is measured by the type of leadership it creates. We are blessed with human and material resources and the capacity but we are not thinkers and doers. As citizens, we are equally too complacent and full of lamentation. I’m sorry, maybe it was the way our mothers carried us on their backs with loads on their heads and that has made us so indulged and lazy. Otherwise we should be out on the street fighting. If the leadership that we are talking are made uncomfortable, they would be forced to think about us. But these ordinary lamentations that they didn’t do it, they have rigged me out, they have done this or that and nothing is done other than complain and newspaper writing will never take us anywhere. Nobody will fight for your freedom for you. Power is not served a la carte; that’s the truth. You have to go and struggle for it. Look at Americans, they don’t want any more 9/11; they don’t want the Al-Qaeda close to them. So, they traveled as far as Afghanistan to wage a war against terrorism; that’s a serious nation. They make sacrifices for their country. Nigeria is a nation of lamentation. Even if you watch us playing soccer, “They’ve beat us again.” It is a race and we are asking the truth in the fact that pen is mightier than the sword. You, in the fourth estate of the realm and indeed all of us must join the crusade of getting Nigeria better; challenging our leadership.
That is what is lacking now. We once hat it in the early 80s and 90s. What is wrong? Is the Nigeria media not being extremely critical again of our judiciary; of our decisions; of our electoral malpractices? Because I think if you arouse the thinking process, you will see that Nigerians believe you; they do. But publishers will soon start to experience poverty of readership because it will continue to dwindle, not because of the internet but because the out-of-pocket disposable income of individual is being eroded. Maybe they will start shouting when they are close to being bankrupt. In some newspaper organisations today, it is hard to pay salaries and dedicatedly you want to be out daily on the street; you want to be read but what is the number of buyers? Why are you not lambasting the government on industrialisation? Why do we still have to continue to import newsprint? What’s the government policy on that?
Your inks and others are by-products of oil. You cannot be silent; you cannot criticize the politicians alone; criticize yourself too if you want to survive. You must endorse and bring about popular candidate with popular mandate; you must be part of the struggle for this democracy for us to survive; for your brothers and sisters to be gainfully employed and not dependent on your daily handouts. Don’t be carried away by the hope that it will soon get better; that’s for a disco night. It cannot get better unless we work at it; unless we are all determined to bring about necessary change; of following the direction of change. Are we saying that we are sadistic citizens of a nation? If a non-performing political party continues to win all the elections, that means there is no reward system. We don’t care about performance any longer. We are happy to be cheated; happy to be rigged out; happy to be abused. I can’t believe PDP is still winning all the elections after the removal of subsidy. All by-elections, no state disagreed with it; we must start protest; it is a voodoo freedom.
Your Excellency, let’s look at South West. Your party is trying to galvanise all the states in the zone to form an economic power bloc, do you think it’s feasible in a federal system where another party is at the centre?
To me, the economic integration of South West is possible. It is practicable; it is a matter of people looking inward and saying we can create a commonwealth. It is not on party affiliation now. We can create a commonwealth to develop our infrastructure. We can create a commonwealth to develop our agriculture. We have the right, the capacity, the land mass and the raw materials to do that. We can develop our cocoa industry and teach our children how to eat chocolate and be cautious of dentists but still create jobs for them.
How exactly are the states going to do it?
Rural integration, direct subsidy to the farmers; forget this fertilizer theft and do it direct to them and guarantee prices in a commodity exchange environment. You can borrow money and create silos and have your corn. Integrated irrigation is possible in the South West and you can feed yourselves. There is nothing that is prohibiting the Lagos State government from investing in agriculture in Oyo or Osun, when you have a huge market for it. I cannot say because I am a Muslim, you cannot produce pigs for food Christian homes. And if they take a numeric analytical evaluation of what is possible, they can come together and develop cassava plantation now that cassava bread is popular, at least it is in the villa. We have fertile land for that. How much have we tried to experiment with kolanut? We are just stuck with chewing it; nobody is experimenting, researching or evaluating.
No incentive to do that but if you pursue an aggressive policy and put money in research and development, you can even copy or take consultants from outside instead of being dependent on imported wine from South Africa and other countries. Maybe we can come up with kola wine you see, the man who invented Red Bull is a common pharmacist who eventually invited a good marketing company in and they all became billionaires. Why won’t Bola Tinubu envy of such a person? He was a pharmacist who wanted a healthy drink; just playing around with mixed drinks. Go and read the story; bold endeavours, solid ideas. Year after year in the last 12 years, we have budgeted huge amounts for infrastructure; which infrastructure? Where are the roads? Nobody is asking that question. Ok, they chase Bola Tinubu once in a while; slap somebody else in their party. Ok, don’t steal no more, take plea bargain and you go. Bola Tinubu, you are in the other party, come and show why. If you have a waistband that is 52 and I have a waist band of 36, who will need more food? The guy collecting 52 percent or 58 percent of the revenue generated by Nigerians, call him little cat or little kitten.
It looks like it’s PDP that is the problem of the country.
Yes, that’s the truth.
So, how do we get them out?
We vote them out. To be honest with you, and we are not kidding here no deal with PDP, we must vote them out. Until we start to change parties, you won’t see a good programme crystallizing into development of this country.
See what is happening in Britain, David Cameron is being forced to move to the middle from far right and they are serving the British people. The same thing is happening in the United States of America; Americans are challenging Obama every day on his economic policies. He is forced to work harder. He knows the congress can change tomorrow. He knows his own job is at risk. Everybody is throwing bait. The other time, Obasanjo threw his own bait on constitutional review and it ended up in third term agenda. The other one came and said will look at one term of seven years. It is because they are not busy with the big picture and no challenges; they are not busy formulating policies for this country. We have to ignore people who believe they can compromise any system. I believe INEC as it is today is extremely compromised.
Even after Jega…
He changed one cover of the cookie; does that change the jar? Are these leaders credible? If you talk about credibility, you set up a panel headed by a distinguished and highly respected retired justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Uwais. He wrote a blue print and you looked at it and said: “If I allow the chairman of INEC to be appointed, it’ll erode the power of a president.” The Nigerian president is the most powerful president in the world; more powerful than Obama. What a stupid argument; for your own nation? You are going to be there for only one term or maximum of two terms. You are not thinking about long term impact on this country. What are you talking about? You rejected the man’s report; he laboured with his members. Ok, if I take one of them who was an ASUU president, they will be satisfied. It is like giving us a pacifier. They now came with, “let’s keep them quiet and hopeful on a deceptive terrain by creating an amended option of open ballot without open ballot.” Show me who has challenged the accreditation process? Who has conducted validity test? did you vote? You didn’t see your name, you presented your card, was it swapped against any screen to check if they were duplicated? Is that not what they told us; that by having our DNA, they will detect duplicated names at the polls.
In otherwords, we are still at the same point
You call the small dog poodle and the big one dog. They are from the same animal kingdom. This man just changed his name from Iwu to Jega, pure and simple. Nothing has changed. I can show you samples of where the registered voters’ figures from INEC is even lower than the result announced and you are saying you have done accreditation, and gone through the process. Oh no, forget it. Rigging is still prevailing and that is why this government will not sit tight but perfect their game. Until Nigerians are out there challenging it. I’m not afraid to say this, maybe after all these contradictory pronouncements, and once public confidence is no longer there in our judiciary, the next is anarchy. I will defend my right, you will defend your right. Maybe, revolution is close by.
Okay. Let me take you back to that issue of South-West integration. Why is there so much heat on the Ondo state governor? Is it a matter of do-or-die, that ACN must rule Ondo. Must all South west states be under the ACN?
(Cuts in…) Who says we want to die? I want to live and see the victory. You see, we have a better programme. You cannot question our right to contest – our party’s right to contest
Ehen. So, what is the hullabaloo about?
There was an attempt made to ask Mimiko to come into ACN
But he refused it. And we have the right to contest elections. Is that not democracy?
But you called him an ingrate at a time?
Is that not personal to me and himself?
No, it is already in the public domain
No, let him deny it
What is he supposed to be grateful for?
Because, he made a promise that we will work together, and that he will join the ACN at the end of the day. And that is why you saw us working together for the election. You saw myself and his photograph several times over. It was a serious political courtship.
And it didn’t lead to marriage?
That is why one may be bitter than the other. You know in a separation, when you have exchanged engagement ring, if you throw my engagement ring at me, I may be bitter and say thank God and walk away from it. But I may call you names. That is the truth.
But whichever way the election goes in Ondo, either ACN or Mimiko wins, and continues to be the governor, integration goes on?
Yes, integration goes ahead. Look, as long as election is free and fair, it is only someone who is not a democrat that will not accept the result. And if you cannot respect that result of a free and fair election that is transparent, you do not deserve the day of victory. So, we talked about courtship between us and CPC before the presidential election, it did not work and we ran our own election. You know, PDP came like a thief in the night and since we had to be there you could not say we had no right to contest. We will contest; we will challenge in any way possible that doesn’t create bad blood. That is how it is in any democratic system. I ask you; look at one man in America running in the Republican Party who says he is a Libertarian…
Let us talk about the candidate of your party in the last election. How he became ACN candidate came as a surprise. When you were governor, he accused you of certain things and then he quickly joined your party, became candidate. Now, he has gone to take a job from a government you have philosophical opposition to. Is he still a member of the party.
He is still a member until he resigns. He is a card-carrying member of our party. Let me just go back. You mean Nuhu Ribadu?
All those years, PDP fed him stories about me, he echoed it. I mean the damaging stories. But he never accused me of corruption. The only time they published my name among disqualified people, I went to court and won. For that I was awarded N10m damages by the court. But I respect Ribadu as a genuine Nigerian who wanted facts. If he wanted to follow a persecution crusade the way PDP wanted him to pursue it then, he would have found a way to manufacture charges against me even if they would lose. He resisted that temptation. So whatever he said then or his suspicion, it did not result in the manufacture of fraudulent charges against me. If he were to grant the wishes of Obasanjo, Obasanjo would have had me in jail without trial. He wanted me in jail without trial. He said it loud and clear he wanted me out of the way. And you know Ribadu would have been a good instrument. But even if I opposed him, I am
No tags for this post.