Akib Abiola is a frontline activist and a protege of Moshood Abiola, the winner of the annulled 1993 Presidential Election. He was one of the founding members of the defunct National Democratic Coalition, NADECO. In this interview, Mr. Akib spoke to PREMIUM TIMES about how Jonathan’s re-election campaign was torpedoed by those closest to him and how, at a point during the campaign, he trusted no one except his wife.
Mr Akib also described how the former president failed to take action even when it was clear that campaign funds were being stolen.
He also spoke about his relationship with Tinubu and how Mr. Tinubu betrayed members of NADECO and US-Nigeria relations.
PT: Buhari recently visited the United States to seek assistance of the US government in the fight against Boko Haram. The United States has previously placed an embargo on the sales of arms to Nigerian due to allegations of human rights abuses by our military. As a foremost activist based the US what do you think the Nigerian government needs to do to secure more assistance and to further strengthen bilateral relationship with the US?
Akib: There is a long history of great relationship between the U.S and Nigeria. The U.S. government has always been interested in the security and development of Nigeria. The mutual respect and bilateral interests can be traced back to the period following our independence. In fact, our first Prime Minister Alhaji Tafa Balewa was one of the first world leaders to be invited to the U.S and given the honour to address the joint session of the U.S. Congress which consists the Congress and the Senate. This was an honour bestowed on our country and our leaders because of our promises, potential and resources way before that honour was extended to Sadat of Egypt, Netanyahu of Israel or Blair of U.K.
I was very excited to see the level of respect accorded President Buhari during his visit by President Obama and his officials. President Buhari was welcome warmly everywhere by the Americans and its government officials. We have not seen such treatment of our President since Obasanjo left office. For whatever reason, President Jonathan never nourished the good relationship that President Obasanjo built with the American government and the American people. Some of the development in Atlanta Georgia and the successes of some of our fellow Nigerians in Atlanta and other cities can be attributed to the great relationship that Obasanjo built with the U.S. government and the Americans. The respect and the goodwill that they have for our leader and our country was passed to most Nigerian professionals in various American cities. U.S. has always been a great partner with Nigeria in fighting terrorism and civil wars in West Africa. Nigerian Army and its Generals have always been one of the finest in the U.N. peace keeping force. I was really shocked when I heard about the abuses levied against our Army and the Generals. Personally, I think some of the accusations were exaggerated and can be attributed to lack of good relationship between Jonathan and Obama.
As the world leader on war against terror, there is absolutely no reason for U.S. not to support Nigeria in our war against Boko Haram. President Buhari said all the right things while visiting the U.S except the speech where he blamed the Leahy’s Act for our failure in the war against Boko Haram. However, with the New Service Chiefs and the restructuring of the Security agencies and the mutual respect between the two countries, I believe the U.S. will soon remove its arms embargo on Nigeria. It is in the U.S. interest and the interest of the world that Nigeria is victorious over Boko Haram. The total eradication and decapitation of Boko Haram insurgency is not only for the safety and security of Nigeria, it is also in the best interest of the United States and its allies.
In order to strengthen the bilateral relationship between Nigeria and the U.S, I would like to see President Obama reciprocate the visit by President Buhari by visiting Nigeria this year. Also, in addition to his war against corruption, I would like to see President Buhari initiate a war against Internet Scams and frauds. This is one thing that has damaged Nigerians reputation in the U.S and around the world. Even though Internet scams are committed by different nationals, it is mostly synonymous to Nigerians in the U.S and U.K. It has given Nigerians a black eye in the world. Nigeria is losing billions of dollars annually in potential foreign investments due to Internet Scam scare by potential investors.
If President Buhari can articulate great policy pronouncements on drug trafficking, Internet Scam in addition to his war against corruption, he would build a good relationship with the American government and its people. Also, a good Nigerian Ambassador to the U.S. like Hakeem Olajuwon or Professor Wole Soyinka will also strengthen bilateral relationship with the two countries and promote American investments in Nigeria. Hakeem Olajuwon is well respected in America and one of our first shinning stars.
PT: President Buhari was full of praises for President Obama for the role played by his administration in ensuring that President Goodluck Jonathan honoured the result of the election. What role, if any, did Nigerians in the diaspora, especially in the U.S., play in bringing that awareness to U.S. policy makers?
Akib: President Obama and the American people were highly appreciative of President Buhari’s humbleness and gracefulness. They could not believe that an Army General could be that humble and appreciative. President Buhari’s appreciation of the roles the U.S. played in ensuring that we had a transparent election and a smooth transition has really built a lot of goodwill for President Buhari and the people of Nigeria in the U.S.
Nigerians in the U.S have always been in the forefront of promoting democracy and good government in Nigeria. In 1993 when the election of MKO Abiola was annulled, if not because of Nigerians in Diaspora, the annulment would have ended up just like the disqualification of Shehu Yardua, Chief Olu Falae, Umaru Shinkafi and all the other politicians that tried to be elected during the tricky and unscrupulous transition programme of Ibrahim Babangida. The man never had any intentions of leaving office or completing a true transition to democracy in 1992/1993. He was only playing with the emotions of Nigerians and the gullible political class.
Just like Nigerians in Diaspora took the lead and alerted the U.S, U.K, Canadian governments and the world about June 12 annulment and the plight of Nigerians under the military dictatorship, they once again alerted the world, especially the U.S and U.K. governments, about the ramification of a failed election and a smooth transition in Nigeria in 2015. The whole world was aware that anything short of a transparent election that reflects the will of the people would lead to a complete breakdown of law and order in Nigeria and might lead to a civil war or the break up of the country. The social media played a very important role in the awareness and so were different organizations and groups. The instant publications of results made rigging impossible. All Nigerians became the protector of their votes, the guardian of the fundamental human rights, their right to chose their own leaders.
The Nigerian election of 2015, has become a model for the world. It was democracy at its best with all the fanfares and colourful parades and rallies. The Aso Ebis (Identical clothing) at rallies, the music, the speeches, the drama, the passion and the level of competition and in the end, despite the charged up atmosphere, the manner the incumbent President conceded was classic. Nigerians proved the world wrong and we became the new beacon of democracy.
PT: Tell us about your your plan to raise N2 billion for Jonathan’s re-election in the US. How did that go? How much did you eventually raise? What happened to the money?
Akib: I will try not to mention too many names here. Initially, I was not a Jonathan supporter. I was not PDP or APC. I have never been a party man because in Nigeria, there is no ideological-driven party. I have always deal directly with leaders. I had dealt directly with MKO Abiola, Umaru Shinkafi and Abubakar Atiku, not because of their parties but because of what I may have defined as their good characters and abilities. Unlike in the U.S where a party is driven by its ideology. It would be a taboo to be a Republican and be a pro gay rights or pro abortion or a Democrat who is an anti labour and women rights. When I was approached to join Jonathan’s campaign, I did not hesitate because I felt he was not being treated fairly. I felt that his administration was handicapped from day one because of Boko Haram. I felt that he was not being respected because he is from a minority tribe and I felt like he was being discriminated against because of his tribe and religion. I read somewhere where Boko Haram demanded that he should convert to Islam as a condition for ending the insurgency.
As an activist who fought against the Apartheid government of South Africa and who has fought against discrimination against Blacks in America, I was not going to sit idle while the President of my country was been discriminated against by his own people because of his tribe and religion. I wanted him to win re-election in order to make a point that there is no place for discrimination in our society. Any Nigerian, regardless of his tribe or religion, should be able to aspire for the highest office in the land. Therefore, because of my commitment to his re-election, I did not hesitate when I was approached to raise money for his re-election in the U.S. We organized five city fundraising dinners for him, which includes New York, Washington DC, Atlanta, Houston and Los Angeles. We also organized a press conference for President Jonathan at the National Press Club in Washington DC and meeting with the U.S. Congressional leaders, Jewish Federation and African American leaders. As a matter of fact, I was talking to some of the producers of the True Housewives of Atlanta and they were interested in sponsoring the fundraising dinner in Atlanta.
Unfortunately, the events never took place. We changed the dates several times and finally, I think those who were working against the re-election of the President within his party and his campaign prevailed on him not to come to the U.S.
PT: Talking about Jonathan and his failed bid for re-election, you said he was betrayed by some members of his kitchen cabinet. In what ways did they do this?
Akib: There were more people working against the reelection of President Jonathan within his own cabinet, campaign team and even some of the people in his kitchen cabinet. It got to a point that the only person the President trusted was his wife. Just like they discouraged him from coming to the U.S. for the fundraising events which would have given him exposure and funds. The press conference at the National Press Club was designed to help him discuss the challenges of Boko Haram, highlights his achievements and highlight his agenda and programmes for the next four years. One of the things that I had developed to help him win re-election was the stimulus plan program. The economic stimulus plan was similar to the Obama Stimulus Programme that bailed out Americans after the economic meltdown of 2008 and that of President Roosevelt’s New deal that resurrected America after the great depression of the 1930’s.
The proposed Jonathan’s Stimulus Plan calls for five million Naira lifetime investment in every Nigerian. Every Nigerian would be eligible for five million Naira in the form of grants, cash, tax incentives and subsidized loans during their lifetime to be used towards their education, business, home ownership or home improvement. However, those within his kitchen cabinet working for the opposition discouraged him from making any policy pronouncement on the plan.
Sometimes, I would be told that the President was going to do or say something that we thought was a great idea. Speeches would be written and passed around for suggestions and the final one drafted, however when the President would make his speech, it would be something totally different. It got to a point that my main contact person told me that it has been decided that we should not copy certain people on any draft memos or emails.
I think some of the betrayers have started to confess and regret their actions. More will come out once President Buhari announced his cabinet and select his officials. My understanding is that some of the moles were promised positions in the incoming government. They would start speaking out once they are disappointed.
PT: You also described Jonathan as lacking the gut to prosecute some people close to him even with clear evidence that they stole some of his campaign funds. Can you tell us who these close associates of his were and how the campaign fund were stolen?
Akib: My first insight into how undisciplined and corrupt some of the people around President Jonathan were was when I was approached for the fundraising events. I was asked to ensure that some of the people who would be coming with him are given envelopes with dollars inside. They were shocked when I told them that I don’t work that way. Besides, I told them most of the people who will be coming to the events would write us checks and we have to deposit the money and then make proper account of how much we received and how we spent for expenditures and the amount donated to the campaign.
I am also aware first hand about one of the campaign directors who used the money budgeted for his department to buy a house in United Kingdom. When President Jonathan was told that this Director had spent three million pounds from his budget to buy a house in London, the President did not do anything to this man. He did not even fire him. If I were the President, I would have had him arrested ensure he rot in jail. One time, I was informed that all the campaign staff absconded because they were not being paid. This was brought to the President’s attention and once again, he did not do anything.
Also when it became imperative that corruption was the main obstacle to the President’s reelection, we suggested that he throws the obvious corrupt ministers in his cabinet under the bus and let EFCC starts prosecuting them vigorously. Again the President resisted the call to have them prosecuted.
PT: From our preliminary exchanges, you said you wrote an economic stimulus proposal for Atiku? Tell us about it. How did he receive it?
Akib: I have been dealing and interacting with Atiku since 1999. During this period, I developed a very good relationship with Garba Shehu. When Garba told me that Atiku was going to have a workshop at Obasanjo’s library in September of 2014, he suggested that I submit a paper. I wrote a very extensive Stimulus Plan paper about sixty pages, which was given to Garba Shehu and he gave it to Alhaji Atiku. However, a few days before the summit, I received intelligence information that no matter what, Atiku was not going to win the nomination. Both Obasanjo and Tinubu were against Atiku’s nomination. In fact, one of the reasons Obasanjo released his book the night before the APC’s convention was to ensure that Atiku did not get the nomination. If Atiku had secured the nomination, Obasanjo would have gone back to PDP and Tinubu would have sold out Atiku to Jonathan just like he sold out Ribadu in 2011.
When Atiku did not win the nomination, I gave a copy of the Stimulus Plan to a prominent politician from the North who promised to give it to Buhari. Fortunately and unfortunately, the person was a true PDP Chieftain. After reading the Stimulus Plan, the next day he was at Aso Rock. The next thing I know, I was talking directly to some of the people who sees the President 24/7 on a daily basis. My thoughts and opinions were being asked on key issues and decisions. I was told that the First Lady was reading the posts on my Facebook wall regularly. A winning strategy was designed.
However, it became obvious at one point that the President could not win without unveiling the stimulus plan. But some people felt that the election can be rigged and that as long as the South West people are pacified and any riots after the election is limited to the North, we would carry the day. Consequently, the President went on a spending spree in Yoruba land. Unfortunately the money was going to the Obas and the wrong hands. The strategy was that the Obas would be able to keep the Yoruba youths in check. Everybody missed the American factor. The whole game plan changed when John Kerry came to Nigeria and warned against election malpractices. Every election in Nigeria has been rigged to favour the ruling party or the conservative party which is usually the party to the right of the centre. The past election was the first time in history that the ruling party would lose and a liberal party would take over. I guess Nigerians and the progressives can thank the American and British governments. Also, a lot of credit goes to Bola Tinubu and Rotimi Amaechi. Especially Tinubu for having the foresight to merge the different parties that became APC.
PT: You were a leading pro-democracy activist. You claimed to have started the US wing of the National Democratic Movement, which later became into NADECO. Is what we have now the type of democracy you had in mind for the country at the time?
Akib: This is how the pro-democracy movement started. As I said earlier, prior to the annulment of MKO Abiola’s election. There have been other cancellations and annulments. When Umaru Shinkafi was disqualified, I advised him to protest it. I also advised him to go to court. During this period, I was working for a U.S. agency in Washington DC and I was privileged to know that no matter what, IBB days were numbered. No matter what, the world was tired of his military government and if he failed to go through with a transition to a democratic government, there was going to be consequences. But like a true Muslim, Marafan Shinkafi concluded that it was the will of God and that there was no need to fight IBB.
However, when MKO Abiola’s election was annulled, I went on the radio in Washington with Cecil Williams and condemned the annulment and connected Ms. Williams with MKO Abiola and Beko Ransome Kuti for a live interview. At the end of the interview with both men, I asked all lovers of democracy, Nigerians and friends of Nigeria to meet at the Freedom Plaza which is the Park between U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the White House at noon the next day. Over two hundred Nigerians showed up at our first meeting. After the rally, we resolved to meet at the International House of Prayer the following Saturday. At this meeting we formed the authentic Nigerian Democracy Movement with the leaders of all Nigerian organizations as Executive Board members. The first executive members were Ogunbode, Adepoju, Lanre Banjo, Oparoji and myself. NADECO came after NDM.
It was NDM that petitioned the U.S. Congress to have a Congressional Hearing on Nigeria in August of 1993. It was NDM that organized the march in Washington DC that brought over 50,000 Nigerians to the U.S. capital. When we noticed that we were still not getting the reaction we needed and IBB refused to budge, it was members of NDM that took over the Nigerian Embassy in a commando style. IBB was eased out of Aso Rock the next day.
We did everything we did to bring democracy to Nigeria. Democracy is democracy. The only difference is the operators of the system. Although, I would prefer a two party system but what we have is an evolving democracy. However, the players, the politicians running the show are far away from the people we had envisioned. We had hope that the custodian of Nigerian democracy would be people who are dedicated to serving the public. We never expected that corrupt politicians would hijack the system from well-meaning and dedicated public servants. Most Nigerian politicians see politics as the means to enriching themselves. They venture into politics in order to make money, instead of making money first and then go into politics.
PT: You and the leader of the APC, Bola Tinubu seem to come way back. However you added that Tinubu betrayed all those who worked with him in NADECO. Tell us about what happened. Did you choose to work for Jonathan during the election to spite Tinubu or to settle old scores with him. Or is it because you don’t trust him. What kind of a person is Tinubu?
Akib: I have known Bola Tinubu since 1993. If we are to mention two proteges of the late MKO Abiola, it would be Bola Tinubu and myself. I first met Bola Tinubu in Jos in 1993 during the SDP convention. After the convention we were at the airport on our way back to Lagos. There was only one seat left on the plane. MKO gave money to Tinubu and asked me to join him on the flight back to Lagos.
In 1994, I received a call from Shola Ogunbode, who was a strong member of NDM and who was also running Tinubu’s gas station in Washington DC for him at the time. He told me (Egbon….uncle) was deported from the JFK Airport and that the first time was at Dulles Airport and they needed my assistance to get him a visa. Shola knew that I knew some people at the State Department because of my employment with a U.S. Agency.
I called Ed Atkins immediately who asked me to meet him at his office the following morning. Ed had drafted a letter that he wanted me to put on the letter head of NDM. In the letter he had elevated Tinubu to the status of Prof. Wole Soyinka and that if Tinubu was not given visa, U.K. was about to deport him to Nigeria and if he is deported to Nigeria, he would be executed. He gave me the fax number to the U.S. Consulate General to U.K and his phone number and asked me to fax the letter to him and set up an appointment for Tinubu directly for the next day.
This was how Tinubu received his asylum visa. This information can be verified with the State Department and the U.S. Consulate office in U.K.
Tinubu has the tendency not to reciprocate favours to those who help him. If you look around him today, you will hardly see any of the original members of NADECO except Lai Mohammed. He has not helped any of the guys who helped him in Washington DC. I have visited him about four times at his house, not once did he offered me a glass of water to drink. When I told him I wanted to run for the Senate under his party’s platform, he snubbed me. I have heard the same story from all the people that helped him back in the days.
I spoke to Tinubu last year and I asked him why do you treat me as if you don’t know me and every time I came to see you, you are always snubbing me and you don’t have time for me. He apologized and blamed it on the pressure of his position and he also claimed that most of the time, his assistants don’t pass my text messages to him.
I think Tinubu has become a lightening rod in Nigerian politics. He is a political genius. He knows the game very well. He cannot be ignored. He is book smart and street smart. Which is a dangerous combination for anyone who may try to undermine him. Buhari needs Tinubu more than Tinubu needs Buhari. Right now, Tinubu is holding the ace card, the trump card, the joker card in Nigerian politics. He can win the hand at any time by pulling out his trump card. Overnight, he can make the majority party become the minority party and can single handily make the minority party to become the majority party. He can use the media, his international connections and his followers and the area boys to achieve his objectives and goals.
I have no scores to settled with Tinubu. We are sons of the same political father….the late MKO Abiola.