Why Buhari can’t resign —Doyin Okupe
Dr Doyin Okupe was the Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs to former President Goodluck Jonathan. Before his appointment by Jonathan, he was former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s spokesman. He speaks with KATE ANI on the intrigues that attended the administration of former President Jonathan, the fate of the PDP and other salient issues. Excerpts:
The government in which you served is being probed for allegations of frauds. What do you think went wrong?
If you look at it very well, government is very big but like Paul said in the Bible, just a little bit of yeast is able to turn out a whole dough. What has happened is that a little speck has blown out the entire garment of the government. These shameful financial transactions are actually not pervasive. They are not. There are about 30 ministries in the government and hundreds of departments, how many of them are affected? The corruption uncovered is restricted to almost only one or two sectors of the government, which is the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA). Seventy per cent of the mud being thrown out today is coming from that office, then maybe the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). We all know that, not just during Jonathan’s administration, the oil sector of Nigeria has always been corruption-laden. There are ministries of housing, works, education, health and many others, how come we haven’t heard of corruption uncovered in those ministries? It becomes a very sad thing if the discovery of fraud in two sectors suggests that all the other sectors are corrupt. But then, it is an action that is not excusable, which we must accept. We can’t say because there are 30 other ministries and corruption was only uncovered in two ministries, therefore, we are saints, no. if it affects one, it affects all. That is why I am not giving any excuses but I am just trying to open your mind to see that when push comes to shove, when searchlight is properly beamed and we can discern unemotionally, we will see that the probe is restricted to a very tiny portion of the government.
One of the issues that confronted the administration of former President Jonathan was the manner in which it handled the issue of the kidnapped Chibok girls. At first, the administration was accused of being slow in responding to the development based on its belief that no girls had been kidnapped.
That is not true. It is absolutely false. Neither President Jonathan nor his government denied that the girls were kidnapped. We didn’t deny it.
But how come it took the president two weeks before reacting to the news of the kidnap?
That is also not correct. I was directly involved in it and I know everything about it. What we did not accept and what Nigerians termed as slowness in responding was the unreadiness and unwillingness of the Borno State government to make correct proclamations. Do you understand? On the day the girls were kidnapped, the governor was in touch with the principal of the school. The former Director of Defence Information, General Chris Olukolade, spoke to him by 8.00 a.m. that day and by that time, he had already spoken to the principal of the school who confirmed that the incident happened but that the majority of the girls had since returned, leaving about 57 of them yet to be accounted for; that the parents of the girls had been asked to go home. However, shockingly, within 24 hours, the same principal went to Maiduguri and held a press conference with the commissioner of education and said 227 girls were missing. You know, it is a federal system, that state is headed by an elected government and Jonathan was a civilised president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who didn’t want to override what the state government had already put in place. So, under that arrangement, a lot of water was passing under the bridge. It was not that Jonathan did not accept that the girls were kidnapped, we believed they were but unfortunately at that crucial time, nobody was able to give information as to how the girls were kidnapped, the exact number of girls that were kidnapped, in what manner they were kidnapped or how they were taken away. Nobody was able give that information. There were so many questions that could not be answered. The Federal Government did not want to confront the Borno State government; it was rather looking for ways to work with it in spite of obvious contradictions.
But how could a president who was supposed to be the commander-in-chief and chief security officer of the country not have been given vital information that could have led to the immediate rescue of the girls?
I didn’t say he wasn’t given first-hand information but the information that was available was conflicting, unreliable.
And when it became evident that the information given was inaccurate, weren’t there consequences for those who misinformed the president in that regard?
Whether he was a president or not and whether he was the commander-in-chief or not, we have to understand that there is rule of law in this country. The president could not just go to Borno State and start meddling in an affair which the governor was on top of. It is wrong; it was not a military regime. People do it but it was not right and Jonathan was not willing to do that.
With the discordant tunes which emanated from the presidency over who was to sign the 2017 budget into law, what is your reading of the make-up of the presidency in the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari?
You are not my friend on Facebook. If you are, you would be aware that I recently addressed this matter. The Nigerian elites are full of deceit. We do not tell each other the truth. The north is afraid; they have the deja vu feeling. Because of the situation of the health of President Buhari, they are afraid of the scenario of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua playing itself out again. They don’t want that. And nobody should, if they want peace for this country, envisage such. I have heard some young people saying some things but the truth is that they don’t understand how we delicately balanced the polity. In this country, it may not be written in the constitution but once a southerner is president and completes his term, the next president will come from the north and vice versa. It is an unwritten constitution that we politicians follow and we ought to honour and respect that arrangement. For instance, when you pick a Christian as president, automatically, his vice president would be a Muslim and vice versa. These are unwritten laws that we all have an abiding faith in but we had a situation whereby Yar’Adua had a promising eight-year tenure, which was the turn of the north, but he did two years and died and constitutionally, they installed Jonathan, a southerner. After completing Yar’Adua’s term, Jonathan, with the support of some of us, went ahead and contested an election, won and by so doing, deprived the north of their legitimate turn. It was their legitimate turn. I can say that the reason I supported Jonathan was that it was a providential provision. It was something like an act of God and some of us felt that the people from the South-South have never been president before and if God brings a candidate up, why should we reject him? Based on that, we supported him. All the problems that Jonathan had, including Boko Haram and the kidnap of the Chibok girls, coupled with all the abuses he got that he was clueless, all the difficulties he had in governance were a result of that action. The majority of the people in the north felt that they were being cheated and didn’t say anything. It is the same thing that we are facing now. People in the north are afraid that such scenario will play out again but they don’t want to talk about it. Many people in the south are gloating and wishing that acting President Osinbajo assumes the office or run for presidency after completing the first term with President Buhari. No, it can’t work. We cannot punish the north because of an unexpected development in the polity. If we have an agreement that this is how we should run our country, neither sickness nor death should cause a violation of that agreement. That is where the elites err; rather than talk about it, they want to be deceptive about it. The south is being pretentious that they don’t know that such an agreement exists, while the north wants to be deceitful that they have a special answer. This is a national problem that needs to be openly discussed by the leaders so as to move the country forward, instead of playing games. You don’t play games with the destiny of Nigerians.
Are you also of the opinion that President Buhari should resign and hand over to acting President Osinbajo to attend to his health as advised by some PDP members?
There is no power vacuum in the country. Nigerians voted for President Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. It was a joint ticket of for-better-or-for-worse, like marriage. Of course, if something goes wrong, Osinbajo takes over. There is no power vacuum, so what are we talking about? And Osinbajo has shown a high degree of competence and capability. Osinbajo is capable and competent. Let him continue to run the government while President Buhari tends to his health. I am not Buhari’s friend. Let no error be made about my statement. Those who are asking President Buhari to resign are playing the ostrich. They are pretending that they did not know that we are in Nigeria. In Nigeria, the president is not just president for himself; he is president for his zone. I know a lot of people may not like this statement but that is the truth. There is a lot of insincerity and childishness in this country. Let us get this straight, what is going on is not a Buhari problem, it is a problem of power sharing and power rotation. If you ask him to resign, what you are saying is that the north, who waited patiently for Obasanjo to finish his eight years, who, again, waited patiently for Jonathan to finish his own term after death prevented Yar’Adua from completing his term, should relinquish power now that it is their turn. It is not done like that. I have no apologies for this statement I am making. That is the truth. When Olusegun Obasanjo became president, it was not him that we made president; the Nigerian people made Obasanjo president because of [M. K. O.] Abiola, who died after having won an election. It was a national consensus. If you remember, the two key parties during that election were PDP and APP. Obasanjo was Yoruba and the candidate for PDP, while (Chief) Olu Falae was also Yoruba and candidate of APP. Head or tail, a Yoruba was going to win. You see, we are liars in this country. We don’t tell ourselves the truth. We are pretenders. The truth is that as long as President Buhari is alive, he is not going to resign because to resign is to relinquish and surrender power to the south when it is actually due to the north. We can’t change the rules in the middle of the game. Once the north serves out its term, the south will do theirs and be alternating it but it seems that death and sickness are now threatening that alternation of power. We should use common sense to overcome that debacle. Just asking President Buhari to resign does not make sense without giving guarantees and assurances to the zone from which he comes. I am not a liar, I don’t like to pretend and I don’t like to deceive myself.
What would be your reaction to the agitation that the Yewa/Awori section should produce the next governor of Ogun State?
It is legitimate. If you go into history, they will tell you that there are four subdivisions in Ogun State. There are Ijebu, Remo, Egba and Yewa. If you look at these four subdivisions – the modern politicians would like to talk about the senatorial districts but predicating the senatorial demarcations, we have those four divisions very clearly in our history. The Egba have produced governors many times. The Ijebu and Remo have also produced governor. It is only the Yewa that have not produced the governor. So, based on that, it is a lawful, legal and just agitation but you know, some of these were the reason some of us championed a Yewa governor a couple of years ago and we supported General [Adetunji] Olurin. The problem really is with the Yewa people themselves. You see, there is something about politics, a minority group can never produce leader in a political constituency unless the majority endorses it. So, we need an endorsement of the majority to produce the governor in a state like Ogun. There are two minorities in Ogun State; Remo and Yewa. When Remo produced the governor in the person of Gbenga Daniel, the majority group conceded. The Egba and the Ijebu agreed that it should be so and if Yewa is to produce the governor, the Ijebu and the Egba should also agree. But what makes it difficult for us perennially is that Yewa find it difficult to come to a consensus. They divide themselves and produce rather unserious, lackadaisical disposition towards seeking power. In a situation where they produce 15 or 16 candidates and none of them would be willing to step down for the other, what will happen? They will lose out.
Are you not nursing any ambition to become governor in Ogun State?
No, I have had my bit. I will not run for governor or any political office whatsoever.
I have been running for political offices since 1982.
And you never got the opportunity to be elected? There must be something you are not doing differently or is it that you are not marketable?
(Laughs) I have had my fill. I would rather other people run and I assist them.
Which faction of the PDP do you owe your allegiance to?
Very good question. Neither. I don’t owe my allegiance to either of the two. I have nothing against either side of the factions but my position is this: I am knowledgeable enough to know the genesis and the antithesis of this problem. I am also knowledgeable enough to know that the handling of the problem by the leaders of the party was not the best. Therefore, whatever fallouts that have come from this poor leadership management capacities, I do not blame any of the conclaves. Ahmed Makarfi emerged from Port Harcourt, therefore, it is a legitimate group. Senator Ali Modu Sheriff was a private person until some very top members of the PDP went and cajoled him to come and run for chairmanship and they broke every law in the book to ensure that he emerged. Having emerged as chairman, for certain reasons, they had issues with him which were private and personal and then want to pull him down. Why should I lend my support to that? I agree with Modu Sheriff that you cannot undress me in public and think that I will not defend myself. What Sheriff is doing today is that he is trying to protect himself, his integrity and maintain whatever honour he thinks he has. My position is that I do not see why it was absolutely impossible to reconcile the two groups. I have been long in politics. I have seen crisis upon crisis and have come to understand that modern-day politicians are only power mongers; they are not interested in discussing for a solution. Their mentality is usually, ‘it is either my way or you go down’.
As a result of this unrest in your party, the Supreme Court reserved judgment and adjourned indefinitely in the matter filed by the Ahmed Makarfi faction against the Ali Modu Sheriff faction. Consequently, Makarfi has asked party members to consider contesting on other platforms for now, if possible. Also, Governor Ayodele Fayose who is the chairman of the PDP Governors Forum has vowed to leave the PDP if Ali Modu Sherrif wins the judgment. Is this not an indication that the PDP is dead and buried?
I said two years ago that the PDP was on the road to perdition. If people are going to push the PDP to the grave, I will be at the graveside. I will never leave the PDP. Our members have just not done well. Fayose was a principal actor in the genesis of this problem. So, if he is now looking for a way out for himself alone, that will be unfortunate. What will happen to the other members? What will happen to a member like me? I was not part of anything so which way should I go? And there is no discussion, nobody is talking to us. There are several other members like me asking the same question. For example, my phones ring everyday for hours with members asking me where we are going or what to do. Everybody has gone their way. All those who put us in this trouble have withdrawn and are behaving as if nothing has happened. Yes, we lost the election but there were certain steps a party should take immediately it lost an election so as to ensure its borders are guarded and its foundations are steadied. We didn’t do those things. Those who assumed leadership were inexperienced, selfish and self-centered. They drove the thing aground and those who picked it also had similar intention. All everybody is trying to do is to look for a platform to use for personal political interest. You don’t use an organisation like PDP that has grown so much and has been in power for so long just for personal aggrandizement. It doesn’t work that way. It is too big an organsiation to be manhandled or run by neophytes.
With this situation, does the PDP stand any chance in 2019? Recently, President Buhari’s Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said that after this tenure, if president Buhari contests for second term, he will still win.
I believe that Garba Shehu was bored when he made that comment. When you are bored, you just say what you like. Talking seriously, in 2019, only God really knows what will happen. But there will be a lot of crisscrossing, new alliances. They are bound to be. You know, we had a coalition that became the PDP and took power from the military. Bola Tinubu and a few other people came together and put together another coalition to wrest power from Jonathan and the PDP. You will need another coalition in 2019 to dislodge the APC.
Will the PDP be part of that coalition?
I don’t know, but that coalition will emerge.
Are you still in good terms with your former boss, Goodluck Jonathan?
We don’t call each other all the time but there is no issue between us.
There is the faceless group that dictates the tune of the presidency. It is known as cabal…
(Cuts in) I hope you are not going to ask me if I was part of such during my service with Goodluck Jonathan (laughs).
But can you tell us what these people do as there are insinuations that a cabal has hijacked President Buhari’s government…
There is an over-exaggeration, over-amplification of that word. In any government, there is a cabal.
Was there one during Jonathan’s administration?
By ordinary simplistic definition, the cabal are the kitchen cabinet members who are the closest to the president, who the president depends on to take decisions, who are behind the scene. Every government has its own cabal, from Ibrahim Babangida to the late General Sani Abacha and Abdulsalami Abubakar. You will remember that Abdulsalami had a group of four or five young people who were technocrats. Olusegun Obasanjo had [Oby] Ezekwesili, el-Rufai, [Nuhu] Ribadu and so on. Look, every government has its own cabal. They may be faceless but it depends on what the situation is.
Do they dictate to the president what to do? Do they have the power to hijack power from a sitting president?
They don’t dictate; they are the people the president falls back on in times of critical decision making. Those are the people they call cabal. You can’t run an administration without your key men. They call them ‘the president’s men’. Sometimes they are overbearing like, maybe, now and sometimes they are not. They are faceless but not too obstructive. During Yar’Adua’s tenure, there were four young gentlemen from Katsina. Believe me, I have studied enough and I know enough about the presidency in Nigeria. I can write a book about the cabals that have run the country, but that is not the basis of this interview.
As a familiar figure in Aso Rock Villa where you worked for two former presidents – Chief Olusegun Obasanjo and Dr Goodluck Jonathan – what would be your reaction to the alleged spiritual side of Aso Rock, where cosmic forces are said to influence the affairs of state?
(laughs) I don’t know about any spiritual forces but I read Reuben Abati’s post about that. You know he is a very good writer and sometimes he puts anecdotes in his write-ups but, of course, underneath it was some level of seriousness as well as mysticism. If you are spiritually discerning, you are bound to come to that conclusion. Maybe there are issues about that Aso Rock. What that really is, I cannot say. But there were unusual happenings. Look at Downing Street, for instance, it doesn’t have as much checkered history as our own Aso Rock. I think we have had two presidents and one first lady die in Aso Rock. When you look at that, you begin to wonder what it is about this place. But I can’t say much more than that, really.
When are you going to write your own book? Some prominent politicians are now becoming authors?
I don’t know (laughs). There is still so much that we could do, so I am still doing compilation.