Tinubu is a billionaire without a business; Obi is Atiku’s creation —Melaye, Atiku’s campaign spokesman

‘Says What Nigeria needs in 2023 is a healer not a patient’

Senator Dino Melaye is one of the spokespersons of the Atiku Presidential Campaign Organisation. In this interview by TAIWO AMODU, he explains the reasons why former vice president and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar, remains the man to beat in next year’s presidential election.

With the general election only a few months away and the PDP still beset by internal wrangles, what do you think are the chances of the party going against a formidable opponent like the ruling the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the next general election?

Democracy is not easy and politics is about management of disagreements. So, there is nothing unusual about what is happening in the PDP, and I will not call it crisis because it has not graduated to that level. There are lots of misgivings as regards the presidential primary, which is normal and acceptable but I assure you that in a matter of days, all these problems will be solved. They are domestic issues that will be tackled domestically and it is not in any way going to impugn on our electoral advantage and capital.

I disagree with you that we have a formidable opponent because the APC has succeeded in campaigning for the PDP as a result of their colossal failure, mismanagement of our resources, as a result of the insecurity in the country, as a result of total collapse of the Naira and massive unemployment. The indices and statistics are there for you to see that we are becoming a failed nation. People are disenchanted and disillusioned about the APC even at the grassroots level. Everybody is just waiting for the APC to leave. It is outrageously calamitous that in a country, you have 90 million people living below the poverty line. It calls for massive amelioration.

When [Goodluck] Jonathan was the president, the total budget for security in the entire country, all defence and security issues, was N66 billion. Between 2015 and 2016, Buhari raised the budget to ninety-something-billion naira. In 2017, he raised it to N140 billion. In 2018, the budget grew to over N200 billion. When the security budget in the country has quadrupled, kidnapping, banditry and general insecurity have escalated. When the budget is increasing, the menace is also escalating. That means that there is no concomitant effect with the increase to justify the budgetary provision.

 

Some of these challenges you have highlighted to justify the failure of the APC, if you ask the average chieftain of the ruling party, they will refer to the PDP as being responsible for the problems. 

Only a comparative analysis can vindicate the PDP. In 2015, when the APC took over from the PDP, a dollar exchanged for N210. Today, a dollar is about N700. This is pure comparative analysis. A loaf of bread in 2015 was N120; today, it is N800. I bought diesel N180 per liter in 2015; today, it is N800. I flew economy to Lagos N23,000 in 2015 but today, I am paying N100,000 for economy to Lagos. These are verifiable facts and even the insecurity they are talking about was limited to Yobe and Borno states at that time. Today, no part of the country is secure, not even the Federal Capital Territory, to the extent that the president is being threatened with kidnap. Anywhere you see bandits, kidnappers, insurgents looking stronger than the government, or the government doesn’t seem to know how to handle the security situation, automatically, the government is involved.

 

Are you saying that the [Muhammadu] Buhari administration is complicit?

It is not possible anywhere in the world for insurgents to be stronger that the government but here they have proven to be stronger than the government. The last line of defence in any country is the Brigade of Guards and the Brigade of Guards has been attacked. Officers, soldiers of the Brigade of Guards have been killed with no apprehension, no suspects paraded. So, automatically, they (criminal elements) have proven that they have more capacity and for any insurgents or groups of idiots to have capacity beyond the government, it is either the government is part of it or the government is incapacitated or the government lacks the technical know-how. And you cannot be saying this because this government has demonstrated that they are not ready to fight these bandits. Service chiefs who failed woefully to prosecute and win the war against insurgents were given extension of service as reward for failure. That can only strengthen failure. Even when they finished serving their extension, they were decorated as ambassadors to various countries. How do you rationally, logically explain that? How can the fight against insurgency and banditry stop when the government has shown encouragement for failure, when the government has not been decisive? The Buhari administration has not been categorical. He even gave a two-week ultimatum four weeks ago and weeks after, nothing has happened. The word of the president fell to the ground. In a civilised environment, it cannot happen that the president gave an ultimatum and there are no concomitant effects after the expiration of the ultimatum. He has not even gone back to address his ultimatum three weeks after the expiration of the ultimatum. How do you think the war against insurgency will stop? These are the issues that the PDP is coming to correct and ameliorate.

 

What will Atiku do differently?

Atiku is going to be decisive. Atiku, as president, is going to have a direct evaluation and monitoring department. The president seems to be aloof; he seems to be overwhelmed; he doesn’t even have the knowledge of what is going on and I can buttress the fact because when the threat to kidnap him was given, [Nasir] El-Rufai confessed that he was the one who told the president that bandits said they would kidnap him. That is supposed to be the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces who is supposed to get security reports on a daily basis from all security agencies. So, we are in a pathetic situation. We are on the edge because we have a president that is deaf and dumb. We have a government that is ineffective. We have a government that does not have the capacity to engage insurgents and bandits.

But Atiku is going to be a decisive president. He is going to reform the security architecture of this country. He is going to put square pegs in square holes. He is not going to be nepotistic in the appointment of service chiefs. He is not going to be tribalistic in the appointment of relevant security heads and there is going to be ultimatum for performance. In this case, there is no ultimatum for performance, no standard, no line of action. Atiku is not going to do that. In 2001-2002 when the sharia crisis started in Kaduna, Atiku with [Olusegun] Obasanjo was very decisive in tackling that problem head-on. The OPC raised its ugly head at that time. MASSOB raised its ugly head at that time. The Niger Delta crisis also came up at that time, but it was tackled head-on and it never surfaced again. Maitatsine was about to raise its head in Borno but it was tackled head-on. Since Atiku was part of that government, whatever the strategy was at that time, it will be reemployed again.

 

What about the economy?

In fact, we have no economy again. The devaluation of the naira is so pathetic.

 


What is Atiku’s blueprint on that?

The solution from the Atiku camp is very simple. The agenda for economic reformation is very simple. Atiku is going to make sure that the gap between the black market price of dollar and the official price of naira is bridged. Once there is a gap between the official rates of dollar and naira, and there is a gap between the official price and the black market price, we will continue to have problem with the economy. But Atiku is going to make sure that the price is the same. He is going to bridge the gap. Today, the difference is about N240. Nowhere in the world can you get that. Number two, Atiku is going to diversify the economy. He will also make sure that an enabling environment is created for the private sector to thrive because all over the world today, government is a business, must be handled like a business. And a man who has succeeded in transforming N500 to N5,000, a man who is into manufacturing, education, gas and oil, logistics, health and other sectors of the economy, who has succeeded in these private businesses, there is no reason for him to not succeed in handling government fund and that is the difference between him and the APC candidate. The two of them are multibillionaires. The difference is that Atiku is a billionaire with an enterprise; you can see him in manufacturing, logistics, banking, education, oil and gas; you can see him even in humanities but Bola Ahmed Tinubu is a billionaire without an enterprise.

 

How do you mean?

What can you associate with Tinubu? He even denied the ownership of Alpha Beta. The only two things he admitted he runs are The Nation newspaper and TVC. So, we are talking about [Tinubu] a billionaire without an enterprise and [Atiku] a billionaire with an enterprise who has succeeded, who is a major employer of labour in this country. Over the years, he has managed the businesses into successes and these businesses have grown to become intercontinental in nature. Atiku understands the dynamics of the economy. He understands the private sector. He understands what liberalisation of our economy will bring for us. He understands what the privatisation of our economy will bring for us. He understands the role of the private sector in modern-day economy. He knows the pros and cons of the economy. Now, he has gone to garnish his knowledge with Masters in International Relations and Diplomacy from a university in Cambridge. He has updated his education. Has Tinubu gone back to school since he left school 30-40 years ago?

 

It appears that the three major presidential candidates are trying to be evasive about discussing power devolution. Many Nigerians see a fundamental nexus between insecurity, economy, corruption, which they believe are tied to the country’s defective political architecture. Why do you think none of the PDP, APC and the Labour Party candidates is actually talking about restructuring?

That is not correct. I disagree completely because Atiku has five cardinal points on his agenda and devolution of power is one of them. You know that Atiku Abubakar was the first apostle of restructuring in this country. When it was dangerous for Nigerians, particularly the Northerners, to talk about restructuring, Atiku mentioned restructuring. Atiku not just talked about restructuring but he also authored a book on restructuring. He was in Lagos a few days ago at the NBA annual conference. There, he talked about devolution of power and restructuring. He talked about power being too concentrated at the centre and power having to be devolved to states and local governments.

 

Will he walk his talk and confront the establishment in the North?

Atiku is a man of his words. He means what he says and says what he means. This is a man who made devolution one of the cardinal items on his agenda.

There are five things that Atiku has in the direction policy of his government. Economy is there. The unity of this country, which is topping our agenda, is there; education and devolution of power are also there. He is even saying that power should be decentralised. The Federal Government has no business with a lot of businesses they are engaged in. Power should devolve down to the states and local governments so that the states can become stronger and the impact will be felt more at the grassroots.

There is nothing that Atiku wants from God that He hasn’t done for him. Atiku is only coming to be of service to generations yet unborn, otherwise, at 76, he has no business being in government; there is nothing new he is looking for. Is Atiku going to go and look for a new wife, drive a new car, or buy a new house? No. But because of our tomorrow, he is offering up his today, and he is mentally and physically fit to drive the process and you cannot say the same of our opponent in the APC.

 

Campaigns will start on September 28. What will you tell people who have the notion that Atiku is corrupt, people who accuse him of political harlotry, jumping from one platform to another?

I will start by saying that I don’t believe in beer-parlour talks. Today, you move with empirical evidence. Atiku has never been indicted by any anti-corruption agencies or court of law in this country and neither has any prosecution been initiated against Atiku that has to do with corruption. Obasanjo, we know, is a very deep person. If Atiku were to be corrupt, at the time he had disagreement with him (Atiku), he definitely would have initiated a probe that would indict Atiku, even if Atiku enjoyed immunity at that time. But nothing like that has happened. So, I will not join drunkards to talk about what does not exist. Some people said in 2019 that Atiku was corrupt; that he dared not step into the United States of America or he would be arrested. But Atiku went to the United States of America and he had glorious entry and exit.

So, I am not going to be part of beer-parlour discussion. Let them bring evidence of corruption against him. Atiku owns Intel and got his shares in the 80s. He did not become the vice president in the 80s. As a businessman, he provided the funds for his own election and the election of others in 1999. A man who ran for the presidency of this country in 1992 cannot be said to be a poor man. He did not become the vice president in 1992. So, all these, as far as I am concerned, are products of people on cheap drugs.

The other leg of your question has to do with moving from one political party to another. Atiku is a man who is passionate about rescuing and developing his country. If you enter a vehicle and you find out that the vehicle is slow and cannot take you to your destination, there is no crime in looking for another vehicle. It is all in desperation.

 

You agree that Atiku is desperate to rule Nigeria?

Desperation is a relative term. It is not a negative term. I mean, you can be desperate for something good. So, the truth of the matter is that if you are passionate about development and rescuing your people, there is no reason why you cannot change political party to achieve that vision for your people. Is it Buhari that has not changed political parties? He started with the All Nigeria Peoples Party [ANPP] but left to form the Congress for Progressive Change [CPC]. He left the CPC and today, he is in the APC. So, is it peculiar to us? Tinubu himself started with the Alliance for Democracy [AD]. He left the AD to form the Action Congress [AC] which became the Action Congress of Nigeria [ACN]. He is in the APC today. Atiku has not even had the mileage in terms of jumping from one party to another. So, you cannot attribute that to Atiku.

 

Would you say that Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, is still with the PDP?

I say it with every blood in my vein that Wike is a PDP man. He is not going to leave the party and he is going to work with Atiku Abubakar because I know that he is a man of honour. He is a man of his words. I was present at the national convention where Wike held the microphone and said he was a PDP man 100 per cent and that whoever emerged there that day as the presidential candidate was going to have his support. Wike is 59 going on 60. He is a matured man; he is not going to eat his words.

 

What would you be advancing as Atiku’s competitive edge over Tinubu and Peter Obi?

The fact is that Atiku has a plethora of advantages over Tinubu. Atiku is more fit physically and mentally than Tinubu and fitness is a constitutional requirement to be president of this country. Two, Atiku is more politically and economically savvy and experienced than Tinubu. In fact, of all of the candidates of the major parties, Atiku is the only one that is not running for president for the first time, meaning that he understands the route. Every other person, from Tinubu to Obi, is contesting in a presidential election for the first time. The truth of the matter is that the Villa is looking for a healer, not a patient. We are not looking for someone who will need six months orientation before he can kick-start his presidency. We want a person that will hit the ground running.

Atiku does not need any orientation. He will not be going back to the days of Buhari when, after seven months, the president had not appointed ministers because he did not know how to go about it. This will not be the case with Atiku. From day one, Atiku will hit the ground running because you have a man who is experienced, who has run this country in active capacity in the past.

I want to even announce that Peter Obi is a creation of Atiku. Nobody knew Peter Obi at the national level before he was announced as the running mate of Atiku Abubakar against all odds in 2019 because Atiku is a talent hunter. So, Atiku discovered Peter Obi, and law 5 of the 48 laws of power says ‘never outshine your master’. That is the reason why any day Peter sees Atiku, he must pay his maximum respect. There is seniority even in the beer parlour. A man taking beer and a man taking champagne, they are not on the same level. I will not say more than that about Peter Obi and Atiku. Peter Obi is a fantastic Nigerian but the presidency of this country is not the same thing as the director general of the National Bureau of Statistics. They are two different things.

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