Spokesperson to former Vice President Atiku Abubarkar’s presidential campaign organisation in the 2019 election, Mr Segun Sowunmi, in this interview with ADELEKE ADESANYA, says National Leader of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, does not possess the courage needed to become Nigeria’s next president in 2023. Sowunmi, who is also a Peoples Democratic Party chieftain and a governorship hopeful in Ogun State in 2023, speaks further on other issues of national interest in Nigeria. Excerpts:
What are your perceptions about the current administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari?
I think Professor Wole Soyinka as almost historically opinionated, as he may appear, got it right this time when he said that he would rather not lose his sanity by worrying about the Buhari presidency. And truly that maybe the right place to situate it. The Buhari presidency, to some extent, you can say one can appreciate their struggles, the direction and the intentions, but the challenge is that you must lead a nation like Nigeria in a manner where all of Nigeria as many as in the country’s parts will feel at ease. The challenge is that presidency has an issue, they didn’t create an environment that suggested that they wanted to represent everybody. It appeared as if they were going to lean too much towards either their friends, relatives, the people of his tribe, some other consideration other than equity, justice and fairness or an all-inclusion.
So, that was a major challenge and as people began to complain, some minimal adjustments were made to things that tried to appear to be balanced but unfortunately once the perception has hit the street and everybody has accepted it, it becomes difficult for you to change.
There is also the issue that they do not like communicating their opinions and their programmes as well as they could and their opportunity to respond is always seen as an opportunity to insult people and their accessibility by thinking that they speak at the people, instead of speaking to the people or explaining the concepts they are running and the whole of their directive principles.
On the handling of the economy, will you say the government has scored a good mark?
When you look at the economy where they have scored the least mark, they have not been lucky. Some parts of it have to do with the fact that some circumstances were beyond their control, like the price of hydrocarbon, with oil and all that, even at that, we have seen Nigeria’s economy better managed, more creatively managed and we have seen the Nigeria economy in spite of global economic downturn in the housing market and all of that, Nigerian economy has seemed to be a bit better managed and so it appeared to be more resilient. But under the Buhari presidency, every little shock has impacted it negatively because they have left the economy on a free fall and basically, in my opinion, they have little knowledge on what to do.
Also, if you look at their approach to revenue generation for projects, they have been more interested in piling up debts. Only God knows what the figures are now, but the last time I checked, we were owing more than we ever owed in the history of our country and borrowed more than we have ever borrowed. We have borrowed so much that we have borrowed the future pension of people. Now, we are trying to borrow their dormant accounts. The monies people have left in their accounts, that they have not touched for six years and we are going about trying to borrow that. We are borrowing, we want to take the unclaimed dividends of people, probably even things that they are leaving for the inheritance of their children, we are trying to borrow that. You get the impression that this governments, in spite of its inability to manage the economy, it also has the heavy appetite for creating debt and when you look at the infrastructural development that they say they are doing, you begin to wonder what exactly is their model because if you are going to borrow money for infrastructure, you must be sure that that infrastructure can pay for the loans and therefore can dropdown its own debt. But the way we see it, they seem to be chasing after glory of oh, well we are the ones that did this or perhaps we were the ones that started this, at the expense of very huge debts, which could then become a major problem for future generations and future governments.
There is no doubt that Nigeria is under siege with the various security challenges. What is your take on how this is managed?
On the security aspect, they have not really understood that policing and military and soldiering are two different approaches to security. You cannot really police a big environment like ours by insisting that the only way you are going to be showing that you are providing security is by sending soldiers to go and probably pursue and eliminate or rescue and you now rehabilitate, whatever it is they are doing. So, I think that from a security philosophy point of view that they are not bold enough to do what is right for now, in our opinion. What would be right for now would be for us to simply accept that the policing structure we are using in the country is not working and it would be a good time now to look at the possibility of state policing, community policing and so many other layers so that we can at least be sure that we can have enough manpower to cover all of the land mass area we have, especially our very long borders.
Then again, when you look at their rehabilitation philosophies, it’s quite faulty. If a government makes it a habit that they are going to be eager to pay ransom and to rehabilitate offenders of terrorism, they will inadvertently make terrorism become a trade where people will now use kidnapping as the instruments by which they now make money and get money from government. There is nowhere any government can ever protect itself from such because we never know when the next crisis or the next attack or the next kidnapping is going to take place and again they have themselves to be completely blamed.
Their attitude towards their inability to call Boko Haram what it is, their reluctance to call Fulani herdsmen issue what it is, their desire to treat everything with kid’s gloves and again people have complained in the country and I have lent my voice to it.
Nigerians believe the current service chiefs need to be changed based on the worsening insecurity in the country. Do you believe this?
I think they seem not to understand that you cannot have an armed forces structure that does not respect its own rules; which means that if you are supposed to leave at a particular number of years, then you should leave so that fresh, young and other people who are waiting down the line can take control of the core and probably inspire the system to do better. But the way it is now, they have their desire to retain the service chiefs in spite of the complaints and quarrels.
Concerning restructuring which Nigerians have been clamouring for, do you think it is achievable under this government?
Everywhere you turn, you see that they don’t get it and the big thing is that in spite of this, they are saying they will do restructuring as the major agenda when they were coming in 2015 but they seem to get into office and pretend as if they don’t even understand the meaning of what they themselves signed off to. So, when you find that there is a bit of lack of honesty in their approach and then so be it. So, I think Nigerians are tired, everybody is just waiting for 2023 to just come and get us out of this very difficult situation that we have found ourselves.
One of the aides to the president said security is well managed under Buhari’s government compared to Jonathan era, especially considering the rescue of over 300 students abducted in Kankara, Katsina State, recently. How do you see this?
If you are one of those who have created enabling environment for insurgents and people who are probably criminal elements in the country to have a black channel by which they can trade and you give them money and they release the boys, you will likely find out that for their own benefit they would quickly reach the table. Whereas in the Jonathan administration, there was a zero tolerance for pampering or engaging and even funding terrorism. It seems to be that the Buhari presidency is more eager to just pay what you can call a finder’s fee for the boys and if money is to be made, insurgency or no insurgency, there is always a motivation for them to get unto the business side of it. If that is what you are considering to be successful, I tell you that is not successful. No nation should allow its security philosophies to include negotiating paying of ransom as a policy. You cannot, that can’t be the policy. I have looked all over the world and I have never found any government that has to deal with insurgency in that way.
…but the government said no ransom was paid.
Well, the government can say whatever they want to say. They can tell us every cock and bull story they want to tell us from the mouth of their spin doctors. The question will be how were the boys released? The question would be, what was the basis of exchange? The question would be who did the negotiation? The question would be what did the other side get to release the boys? The question would be, why are we not having an investigation? The question would be, was there a struggle or to bribe them? These are issues; so when you start to see something like a Hollywood movie, if they say it has a happy ending, then you say thank God it has a happy ending. But that does not mean that you are not going back to the script and you are not going back to query some of the actions and the plots that took place there. We have been at this for some time, we are supposed to be garnering enough experience, not playing to the gallery and making a fool of ourselves in front of the comity of nations. Don’t forget, during the EndSARS protest, after the whole of the issues, they saw a lot of satellite imagery from CNN, from BBC, all over. So, how come they have not gone to those people to look for satellite imagery of how 400 boys were being moved without anybody having any eye in the sky. Too many questions, too many questions, some of them, of course have been classified as security questions but if it doesn’t taste right, then it probably isn’t right. So, what they say that they are managing security, as far as I am concerned, they are enabling new ones because now people are kidnapping on a daily basis and they are paying. They can say whatever they want, but we believe they are paying and I am sure in the fullness of time, when government changes hands, we would be able to look at the record and say whether we can declassify some information to know clearly what happened when and how and why and who is responsible.
Nigeria and the rest of the world have been battling COVID-19 for about a year. Has our government handled this well?
Honestly, their active response was too late. They were supposed to have closed the border and lock up the airspace early; they didn’t do it until they got us into trouble. They were supposed to figure out a way to give people palliatives directly to their accounts like we suggested. They made a mess of everybody and we were all looking like fools where people were just hoarding palliatives or hustling for same. That’s not a way to run a country. Any philosophy or thinking that believes that there is integrity at the presidency but there is no integrity at the state or there is integrity at the state and there are no integrity at the local government, that is just telling yourself a lie. Integrity either exist across broad or it doesn’t exist across broad, therefore there is the need for us to look at the ways we do, done some things and to ensure that you escape from that. In terms of the mobility, which is the number of death per the people that were affected, would be very lucky during the first curve and I hope that we would be very sensitive and know that the second curve seems to be more dangerous and seem to have a higher level of mobility than the previous one. Therefore, my message to Nigerians will be protect yourself, wear the gloves, wear the mask I beg your pardon, wash your hands and keep to social distancing, avoid crowded places, all of the rules that have been created to flatten the curve must now be enforced and enforced vigorously at individual level so that there is individual responsibility that we take to protect the whole but the govt must also not lag in its duty. We cannot reduce the covid pandemic to some money making venture for certain individuals.
Is former Vice President, Atiku Abubarka, contesting again in the 2023 presidential election?
The truth of the matter is that election with the contest issues are personal issues to be determined by an individual. Many things goes into determining whether anybody wants to throw their hat into the ring and I believe that that consideration will be ongoing in his mind relative to his ever readiness to serve this country. The other thing I want to say is that the issues that Atiku holds is very vital and very dear to his heart, are they not still germane issues? unemployment, national unity, security, economy, our restructuring all of these issues are still very important issues that have not been dealt with and if the elephant in the room has not been dealt with perhaps we still need the big hunter to come and take out that elephant. In that regard, what would determine whether is going to run or not is still in the future in any case the present administration has not even done two years. So ,it will be a bit premature to make a frontal attack as far to make the whole country worry about 2023. We are not there but surely, Atiku Abubakar is a very deliberate and firm person ;when it gets to that bridge he will cross it. And I believe if he has the vitality and the energy and appetite, I believe he should with due respect present himself one more time so that at least it can be on record that he gave Nigerians every opportunity to serve them.
People from the Southeast believe that one of their kinsmen must rule the country in 2023. Do you agree with this?
Well, I think that is true. There are some zones in this country that have never produced the president and I think lumping Nigeria into two halves does not show precisely what’s going on in the country. You can’t do that and if you’re going to take the six zonal arrangement, then you will have to look at it from a 6 zonal arrangement. For instance, when was the last time anybody from the North East became the President in Nigeria? Should the people of the North East not feel the desire to feel included in Nigeria? You must also go back and I ask that when was the last time the people of the North Central have been given the responsibility in democracy to lead Nigeria? Should the people of the North Central not feel that they can be allowed? When was the last time the people of the South East were given the opportunity to rule Nigeria? Should the people of the South East not be allowed? So, what I’m saying is that if you say that you’re dividing it to a n o r t h- South dichotomy, you’re going to keep saying that if the north-central and the northwest have been producing the president, then that means the whole N o r t h should be satisfied and then in that form it should then follow that if the southwest is producing the president, then the whole of the South should be satisfied. But you know that is not the truth and I also believe that there comes a time in the history of the nation where you just say enough and you say enough at a time when you see that you’re not making as much progress in your country because you are not using the right metrics to find hook and lead and who can lead should not be really reduced to where he comes from, how tall is he, how short is he. It must be about the idea and when the parties do their zoning, we’ll look at it and I’m sure everybody will pick their compass from the zoning. But let me send a note of warning that the Peoples Democratic Party in Nigeria is not under the obligation to follow the zoning arrangement of the alternative party, APC. APC has the responsibility to their zoning according to their own rules and PDP has the right to do their own zoning according to its own tradition. Therefore, I will say when we get to that bridge we will cross it.
There are speculations that Tinubu will contesting for president in 2023. How do you see this?
Well as far as I am concerned, I hate to speculate on people’s intentions. I believe that the presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a damn serious job and nobody should be harassed into trying to be president. Anybody who feels he’s constitutionally entitled to be president must determine first that I can do the job and must announce to us that he is considering doing the job. And then when he has announced that he is considering doing the job, we can then take him on the issues around the job, whether we think he is materially qualified or not. But to say that they’re pulling him or they are dragging him, where do you think we are? We are not in the former era where all political parties in the country will say that only one man can be president. No! As far as I’m concerned, the Bola Tinubu presidential idea is a non-issue because I have not heard it from the mouth of any credible person around his camp, not even from him to indicate that truly he has made up his mind. But if he makes up his mind, the more the merrier.
There are speculations that you are aspiring for Ogun governorship position in 2023. How true is this?
Well, the truth of the matter is that to answer you straight, for me, the governorship and the presidential conversation in this country are around leadership. They are not discussing the issues anymore, they are not discussing new ways of doing things and no, I’m not impressed and therefore I have started to consider very seriously and there is a very likelihood that when all the consultation is done, I may certainly go for the office of the Governor of Ogun State. But I am still very much in the process of consultations. Consultations in the sense that checking out what the mood of the society is, checking out what exactly the things that I think need to change dramatically and asking myself whether all things considered, there is something to be gained by the society by my contest and I’m beginning to get persuaded that there is so much to be gained from it by the society and the likelihood that I will contest that office is very high.
Still on Tinubu, why do you think he’s yet to make his decision known?
I think that Bola Tinubu is acting like a coward. With due respect to people that have opinions about his personality, I don’t believe that he has to be cringing to say he wants to be president. He can tell us that ‘look, gentlemen, all things considered, I am contemplating running for office of president.’ You just asked me whether I wanted to be a governor and I have told you I have started consultations towards that. I don’t see any reason why I must cringe about it. Therefore, I expect that Bola Tinubu should call a meeting of the stakeholders of the Southwest, the people of Yoruba extraction, where he comes from and he should tell us in a very clear language that ‘gentlemen, I am convinced that, so help me God, I am contemplating being the president.’ You can’t want to be the president of Nigeria by scheming. You have to have to be the president of Nigeria by telling us precisely why you think you are going to make a good president. So, as far as I am concerned, there is nothing but cowardice there. And with the rate Bola Tinubu is going, he may not even be able to fly his ambition because there will always be one million reasons for him to be afraid.
(Cuts in) …afraid in what way?
Well, I think that Bola Tinubu has allowed himself to be castrated by fear of his party men, probably even the fear of the President. The president of any country can never be the automatic owner of a political party. A political party must be created in such a way that high net worth members of that party can aspire for offices. And if anybody thinks that Bola is not high net worth enough in APC, then there is problem in that party. For we know that most of the other partners have left but Bola Tinubu is still standing there. And if what will be left of APC will be the caricature of the former CPC elements masquerading themselves as totality of the party, then let’s see how far they can go. But as far as I’m concerned, with due respect to Bola Tinubu, he should snap out of this indolence and tell the country if he wants to be the president, then we can start considering it.
…but former Vice President is also yet to declare
Are you going to consider the person that has contested for the president of Nigeria six good times with someone who could not even make up his mind whether he wants to contest? We know that with Atiku, he will tell you I am contesting. He will have the courage or conviction to speak to his ambition. He is not going to sit down in a place pretending he will contest, he will not contest and people will be running up and down, overheating the polity, pretending they are creating structures for somebody who has not even declared an ambition. No, no, you cannot compare the living and the dead. Bola Tinubu is too much of a coward for his own good.