Why I insist on northern president in 2023 — Dopkesi   

As a south-southerner and member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Raymond Dopkesi has confounded his critics over his campaign against the wish of many sections of the country for a northern president in 2023 by which time the position would have already been occupied for eight years by the north. He explained his position in an interview with a select group of editors in Abuja. LEON USIGBE brings the excerpts.

As a political actor that has seen it all, what do you think is wrong with Nigeria?   

It boils down to both leadership and followership. I believe that we need to restructure Nigeria effectively. You like the word ‘restructure’ or not, it is the foundation and the first thing we must do in moving ahead.

So, you need to look for a leader who believes in restructuring and reorganising Nigeria, so as to move the country from being an oil-dependent economy to a diversified one. We need somebody that believes that creating jobs does not mean taking people who have finished school, whether qualified or unqualified, into the civil service. It is production that will bring about the growth of an economy. So, the people have to be industrious.

The same people, who closed down Ajaokuta Steel mill, are running around borrowing money today to build railway lines. (Former President Shehu) Shagari saw this problem way back in 1979 and embarked on the development of the Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill, Delta Steel Rolling Mill and the Katsina Steel Rolling Mill, and most of them came into terms, except the Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill, which was supposed to be the backbone of our industrial development.

But the Ajaokuta mill hadn›t started production when the 1983 coup took place. Alhaji Mamma Makele (former Minister of Steel Development) was described as being corrupt and a thief as he ran for his dear life. He eventually died in the UK.

Mr Paul Unongo, who was then the Minister of State, went through trauma, frustration, interrogations and so on. He was also alleged to be corrupt.  So, for that reason, the Ajaokuta mill that cost N500million became grounded. Then, what remained was for the mill to be completed and start production. This is how all the steel required for our rail lines, standard gauge, which was supposed to connect every village in the Federal Republic of Nigeria died on the verge of completion.

If we had finished the Ajaokuta mill at that time when we were using wood and slippers, we would have been able to have metal underground beneath our roads. We would have generated employment and created opportunities for Nigerians. No country will come to develop Nigeria, Nigerians must develop Nigeria. Nigerians must be given the opportunity to partake and participate in formulating; we have trained people in all fields, but we don’t believe in and respect ourselves.

 

You became chief of staff of Governor Bamanga Tukur in old Gongola State even though you are from Bendel State. Looking at the country today that is divided along religious and ethnic lines, what do you think is responsible for that?  

It is completely bad leadership. You see, when these issues come in, people run away from reacting. It is not the Fulani man that is bad. Shehu Shagari was a Fulani man, who served Nigeria in my opinion very meritoriously and conscientiously.

We have had military heads of state that are northerners, but they were visionaries and ready to accommodate all others. They pulled together the best brains that were available to bring about development and they gave them opportunities.

In those days, I remember my uncle, Chief John Umoru. He was a Mayor in Port Harcourt and he is from Agenebode. Even in Lagos and Enugu, there were northerners and Yorubas, who contested and won. People were living freely in Kano. So, there was unity.

When we were growing up, the whole idea was that Nigeria was going to flow with milk and honey. But all of a sudden everything changed with religious extremists and people, who exploited the very thin lines of unity we had then. And that is why we are here now. But I strongly believe that there are still Nigerians, who believe in one united Nigeria and appreciate the value of what Nigeria is supposed to be. These people must come out.

Most of the younger generation that I am seeing, clamouring for the disintegration of the country and so on, I sympathise with them and I am sorry for them. But I also feel very strongly that they are demanding disintegration, because of the injustice that is going on in the country as different laws operate for different parts of the country.

Even look at the electoral law. In the south in 2015, you said this law is what is applicable and it must be applied and then in the north, you allowed free voting. So, people were able to vote normally. There was no electronic transmission. Borno, which had a bomb blast in the morning of the election day and populated by very few people turned out to have 1.7million votes, while Lagos, which is densely populated, could hardly get 1million votes to return.

 

You created 44 local government areas in one state. There is no problem with that. But you don’t fund the federating units at the state level now. A lot of the states are not economically viable; they can’t sustain themselves. For how long can we sustain the unsustainable states? They need to merge together. But people said no. How then will these states go as we can’t fund and sustain them?

In very simple terms, the jobs that used to be done in the northern region when there were 19 states are now being done by 19 people inefficiently and ineffectively. And the jobs that used to be done in eastern region by just one person is now being done by seven persons with different approaches. So, it has not helped our development.

So, if we want to move ahead, we must reduce our administrative and consumption costs, we must give more attention to development. Today, over 80% of the money we have in our budgets are for recurrent expenditure, payment of salaries, cars and all. But for development, you have less than 30%.

So, if we are going to move forward, we must reverse it; we must produce and be involved in industrialisation, development, which is the only way through which you can create jobs for people. It is not by bringing them to the ministry and given them letters as administrative officers. What does it bring, what does it add? He doesn’t even have a table.

When we finished school in those days, jobs were already waiting for us and not us looking for them. They will come to you and say Shell is recruiting tomorrow, do you want to go to Shell or the ministry? Do you want to go to this other private company? They were chasing you everywhere and you had a choice. But today when you get a PhD and then come back for works, the sole of your shoes will fail as even ten years afterwards, you will still be looking for jobs.

 

You are a member of the PDP BoT, but you are canvassing for a northern presidential candidate under the party amid calls by your fellow southerners that they should produce the next president. For you sir, is it just a matter of getting a candidate to win the election or a matter of doing the right thing? Why do you take this position?   

In 1998, when PDP was being put together after G34 had confronted the military. But I know we still have elder statesmen, who still believe in one Nigeria and who went through the trauma of the military torture in prisons. Some of them like Solomon Lar were sentenced to a ridiculous number of years by people who are today occupying the same position. I was arrested and tried at that time. My offence was that I held political office. That became an offence and yet, they are holding political offices today and they are not tried.

But your question is very simple and clear. There is a constitution of the PDP, which states very clearly that there shall be rotation and zoning of offices both for party offices and for political offices and I have remained very consistent in my argument.

In 1998 after the G34 it was Alhaji Lawal Kaita, who moved at the G34 meeting. I was going with Alhaji Bamaga Tukur to attend all those meetings and it was moved there that Chief Alex Ekwueme should become the next president by Lawal Kaita, a northerner and Alex Ekwueme said it was a group G34 and not a political party. When we transform into a political party, we will surely then canvass whether I should be or not be.

When the party came in, the party recognised that all the northerners decided that because of the injustice that has been done to the southwest that the southwest should be given the opportunity to run.

It was in Jos, AIT transmitted it live. That was the first live transmission into the United States of America. President Bill Clinton called President Obasanjo, the PDP candidate at that time to congratulate him on the floor and Obasanjo was surprised, and Clinton told him that he was watching him on a Nigerian station, AIT. So, because of the necessity, agreements have been reached that there will be zoning and rotation. But where do we start from? They said let us start from the south and we chose to zone it to the southwest.

Don’t forget that in 1995 draft constitution which Abacha conducted, in the reports and records, they had entrenched this idea of zoning and rotation where it was envisaged that the six geopolitical zones will have a turn of five years so that in 30 years, we will end up from zoning and would have been one united country and from there, we can start exploring merits.

But after deciding on the four-year rotation, when Obasanjo came in, there was an expanded party caucus where it was canvassed that the military had done a lot of damage, the programme of the PDP could not be fully implemented within those 3 years, and it is desirable to extend it as the constitution has provided for them to do 8 years.

So, again, all the founding fathers including Alex Ekwueme, Ogbemudia, all the big wigs of the PDP were present at that meeting and again, it was the northern delegates who said we have no objection; we shall exercise patience and allow Obasanjo to have another four years, but with the provisory that if he does 8 years, we too we will do 8 years. So, let it be understood that this is the foundation and everybody said yes. Ogbemudia gave the vote of thanks, appreciated the north for their understanding and so, Obasanjo did up to 2007, eight years.

And so, by that agreement, power was supposed to have rotated back to the north. But when I was in the South-South People’s Assembly, I led the delegation to say, the south-south had not had any opportunity, that south-south should be given. I travelled round, I did not carry a gun. I did not shout, I did not fight; all I did was that I engaged the Nigerian public. We travelled everywhere, drew the best of the names I could have from the south-south to travel to lobby for a south-south president.

By the time we got to the convention, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo said look, Dr Peter Odili, you have done very well. If we go into this convention, you are going to win overwhelmingly but we have had an understanding with the north. Please, let us allow the north to be the president and that was how Umaru Yar’Adua came in. Yar’Adua unfortunately did not live long enough to see his eight years as he did only two years, if you like two and half years because in actual fact, I can tell you for free of charge that by November 2009, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was not available and therefore, the vice president was the one.

The argument that he didn’t have executive powers or constitutional powers, let’s leave all that aside, but he was the de-facto until Yar’Adua died in 2010 on 6th May. And that was supposed to be the first term. I agitated at that time, I said for us not to break with the principle already established, let us have the north complete that remaining one term of four years, so that we will be done with the north and it can come back to the south.

Mr President as he was at that time, if you then want to run, please prepare yourself and you can even be a vice president to any of the northerners that you want to choose if you say you have to be relevant and be there. If you think that you want to leave, because you have been president, because he was actually sworn in as president, then you can go on vacation and prepare yourself to run at the end of the tenure when you come back.

But some people in the south in particular said no, it is not possible, you cannot be so close to power, and you relinquish it and so on. Crisis entered. So, Jonathan did another four years.

So, we came to 2015 and by the time we got to 2015, the PDP had done 16 years in power, if you like 14 years of the south and two years of north and that is the situation up till today. You say you believe in justice, fairness and equity; the north has done 2 years and the south has done 14 years. Is that balance?

 

What of other parties?  

The other parties that you are talking about came into being in 2013, 2014. They don’t have a background; they don’t have history.

Now in 2015 when PDP fielded Jonathan, the north had started clamouring and agitating that it is their turn. You have spent 14 years, so allow us to complete our 4 four years and we said no, we have eaten smarties; we are very smart and that is what plunged this country into this crisis.

So, if I were the PDP, which in its constitution preamble called for unity, stability and growth of this country, I would rotate the positions such that no part of the country will be neglected.

The APC, on its own, came in and also said they were adopting some zoning and rotation and in their situation, they chose to pick a northern candidate knowing full well what the sentiments of the north was. They put a northerner there to stand against the southerner.

I believe that everybody here knows what comments and my position was at that time as I did not agree with the election result, because I do not believe that Jonathan lost that election. But beyond that, what I am agitating for in the PDP is that let us be fair and just; let us put ourselves in the shoes of ourselves as one family, which this party started with. Let us still remain one and in doing so, please let us choose a candidate from the north.

Some people have come to me to say how can we allow them to do eight years again and I said sorry. In 2019, we fielded a northern candidate as recommended by the Ekweremadu’s Report, but again the PDP was out maneuvered. I don’t agree that Atiku lost that election, I don’t; I am not convinced and I am not persuaded, but INEC has said so. I am a citizen of Nigeria and so, I must live by the rules and so on. I can only sulk in myself, but I can’t do anything about that.

 

As a PDP politician, you have been eulogizing Ahmed Tinubu. Why?  

I had known Bola Ahmed Tinubu when he was still in Mobil before he became a governor. You know the headquarters of Mobil is just directly in front of my house in Lagos. As young men, we ate and drank together. I dare say we even womanised together; we were close friends. But then, he became a governor and God blessed him. But does that remove the fact that we were good friends? No! Should I say because he belongs to a political party, he is now my enemy? He is the godfather of my second to last daughter, a Muslim with a Masters degree. If there is an interview in which they ask about my relationship with this man, will I say I don’t know him because of politics? I don’t believe in that and I will never do that.

He is a philanthropist, kindhearted and supportive of the ordinary person available. He has brought hope to people. There is no journalists in Lagos who Bola has not touched his life in one way or the other. So, why should I be envious or condemn him for that. I praise him and I wish him the very best.

 

For 2023?  

I wish him the very best in whatever he puts his hands on. So, it has nothing to do with politics. It is a matter of the good relationship we have always had and I cherish it and I want to keep it.

 

There is this rumour that former President Jonathan is hobnobbing with APC, probably he is going to cross over? 

President Goodluck Jonathan has not mentioned it to another body, I am sure. Goodluck Jonathan is a statesman; he sacrificed his ambition and fight after 2015 elections, because he wants a united Nigeria.

Don’t forget that the person we have at the helm of affairs globally or when Africa matters are mentioned today is Olusegun Obasanjo. He is aging and he is going out and very soon, he may not be able to move around as he needs to travel, but President Jonathan is a younger person. He is able to represent Nigeria, promote Nigeria, and attract friends and investment to the country. That role will fall on his shoulders very well and I encourage him very well to keep that position: to be Nigeria’s number one image maker and reference point and so on. He is well suited to that and I wish President Jonathan the best of luck in achieving that.

 

Will you advise him to go to APC?  

He makes his own decisions; he is an adult and he is able to assess the circumstances, but I don’t believe he will go to APC.

 

What will you use your remaining years to do?  

Service to humanity.

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