In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Festus Owete and Ibanga Isine, the national chairman of All Progressives Congress, APC, John Odigie-Oyegun, speaks on remarks by a popular Enugu-based cleric, Ejike Mbaka, on the Jonathan administration, the controversy over the qualification of APC’s presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, how the former head of state emerged the party’s presidential flag bearer, Tinubu’s influence on the party, February polls, APC’s threat to from a parallel government, predictions of election violence and more. Excerpt.
During the cross-over service at the Catholic Adoration Ministry, Enugu, the spiritual director of the ministry, Ejike Mbaka, openly canvassed for Nigerians to vote for your party’s presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari. What is your take on this?
I must say I am glad because for the last few months, you can recall that there have been discs making the rounds from a Pentecostal church and particularly someone connected to the Redeemed Christian Church. Of course the church has disassociated itself and reacted strongly to what has been going on. A video was posted that painted gory pictures and sermons with gory faceless killings by the crazy Boko Haram. And the linkage based on the perception the crazy pastor has made is that the APC is a supporter of Boko Haram and that we were responsible for the killings. In any sensible nation, you don’t play with religion (because it) is something that can cause mayhem. But somebody put that in the public domain and nobody has called him to order. Nobody has disciplined him. The law has not even been invoked against him because he is inflaming passion. It was a scenario for ethnic passion and religious passion where people could slaughter themselves. Till date, nobody has called him to order.
This is the first time that somebody from a credible religious field has given reasons; not based on sentiment, emotion, religion and ethnic colouration. He (Mbaka) argued with reasons on why people should not vote for the president that has failed to perform. Why I say it is different is because he is a man of the cloak; a properly ordained minister of the gospel and he gave all the possible reasons. He even said things I never thought about before now – that here you are in a nation and you have this man as president, corruption has become a style of governance, which means the nation has deteriorated morally. And the linkage I did not think about is that the president has destructive influence. What happened to his former boss, President Yar’Adua, and the governor of his state are uncanny and I have not for one second thought that the president had anything to do with any of these but it is just uncanny. Today, something that has not happened before, the economy has nose-dived, today state are not having what they are expected to have from the federal revenue sources and the allocation has gone down by almost 50 percent.
Today, almost a third of our oil which is unheard of is being stolen. How do you account for that? How? That is a clear indication that something is wrong. It is either pure bad leadership – for those of us who do not believe in superstition – or total disconnect or something worse is responsible for it. But whatever they are, they are not good signs.
Are you saying you agree with Rev. Mbaka that the president has destructive influences?
Oh, if I did not agree with him, I would not have been in the APC. I didn’t agree with him I wouldn’t have joined others to work so hard to bring about the APC. The whole idea of the APC was born because we saw what was developing and three separate parties and part of others were ready to make the sacrifices. Their chairmen made the sacrifices, their secretaries and other executive and leaders made sacrifices. In this country where position is something people go about trumpeting, even those who have left office print complimentary cards that read, “Former Governorship Aspirant,” former this and that. Positions have become something people have worshipped and wear as tags.
Three parties came up and merged. It was a sign that things are wrong. Things are going worse and things will get worst. That was why people like us who love this country said that we must make sacrifices for the sake of the nation and since then, we have been making progress. The priest knows what he said. He was doing something that is dangerous to his person but he felt impelled by the spirit to say what he said.
But the worry is that just a month ago the same priest had a harvest thanksgiving and bazaar where he invited the Mrs. Patience Jonathan as Special Guest. The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, was there too. At the service, Mr. Mbaka extolled, prayed for and endorsed Mr. Jonathan for a second term. Are you not concerned that the priest made a U-turn and attacked the president barely a month after. Does it not amount to double speak on the part of the priest because the Bible says a fountain does not produce both sweet and bitter water?
You have just quoted the Bible; let me also quote the bible for you. One day, Saul was persecuting Christians, the next day, he had an encounter with Christ, and the day after, he was being prosecuted because he was one of the greatest preachers of the Christian faith. This man, Mbaka said look, I supported the president. He didn’t hide it. He said he supported the president. He said he brought doves and wanted them to fly, they refused to fly. He said he tried to cajole them to fly but they still refused until the Spirit told him to stop. The Holy Ghost told him to forget what he was trying to do. It was like a messenger that has now been sent to tell him that all the things he had been doing were wrong – this is no longer his time, my people are suffering, my people are dying. Whatever it was that opened his (Mbaka) eyes, God is using him to as an instrument. For a man to be ready to swallow his pride, having done something that you describe a month earlier – for him to have agreed to swallow his pride and come out the way he did, for a man to be ready to offend a president in office, whose wife he anointed a month before, takes the ultimate courage. This is one thing a lot of leaders don’t recognise. A leader that is able to admit that he was wrong is the most courageous than the one that bulldozes everybody and says ‘to hell with everybody.’ A leader that is able to make a U-turn is the most courageous kind of person. So God uses people and often God uses people who have behaved strongly but differently and did not see the light. It is those people he uses in critical points in history and Nigeria is presently at a critical juncture, very critical.
The same Father Mbaka once predicted that Senator Chris Ngige will be defeated by late Dora Akinyuli in the 2011 senatorial election and that former Governor Chimaroke Nnamani of Enugu State will not get second term in office but the predictions failed. Aren’t you worried that this one may not come true too?
I am not worried at all because you can see change. You can touch change. It is there and that is why I issued a statement on Saturday to say that we insist on free, fair and credible election. We will accept nothing less. Once the election is relatively certified as such as we did during the election in Ekiti, we will accept it. But in Ekiti we were careless but we said okay; what has happened has happened and we backed off. Of course legal process has gone on. We have proved that we can accept defeat. We don’t expect defeat but we have proved that we can accept it. If the February 14 elections are transparent starting with the deployment of security forces of all types, they bring the military, they bring the Police, they bring the Air Force, they bring the Navy, they bring pensioners, they bring Customs, they bring Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps….. Why? Are we at war? If they can be restrained in the deployment of these people and allow the public to go out and vote, free of intimidation, we will not have a problem with that.
What if that doesn’t happen?
Well it depends on what we see on the ground. Everything depends on what the people see on the ground. It is not what we see and what we say. I am not going to tell anybody to fight. God forbid. We are not going to do that. We want a peaceful election.
We remember when you said that the APC will form a parallel government in Imo State? Are you still insisting on that?
I said it yesterday (Saturday) that we will consider a parallel government if the elections are not demonstratively free, fair and transparent.
How will this work, Sir?
Don’t ask me. Don’t ask me. Don’t ask me. Let the elections be free, fair and credible.
There is this prediction by Primate Olabayo that there might not be elections and that there will be serious bloodshed. If you compare that to what Mbaka said, aren’t you bothered that Nigeria may not have election this year?
I am not worried at all. I don’t know how to coin it but I am not excessively spiritually developed. I am trying to be a good Christian. But these people who see things are not my kettle of fish. I don’t even read those things and I hardly concern myself with them. So for me those are not issues at all. That am living today is difficult and challenging enough. I don’t want to know about the future. When the future arrives, then we will know it has arrived and we deal with the challenges that it poses. Why do I want to know about tomorrow? What is the excitement trying to know about tomorrow?
Primate Olabayo mentioned the issue of violence. What do you say to this?
Maybe it is the violence and the blood that is already flowing now in the North East as a result of the Boko Haram that he is talking about.
But he clearly said it was going to happen during the election?
No. that is not true. We are going to have an election. But we pray that our security services don’t get unduly politicized because already, some of them are talking a little carelessly now. As far as I’m concerned, some of the heads of our security services are making political statements which just should not happen. The spokesperson of the SSS has done that in the past, the police have done it in the very recent past and even the military. These people should not be heard. They should just get their jobs done because their jobs are so vital and so sensitive that each and every member of society must have full confidence in them. It is essential for their success in their assignments. They shouldn’t become justifiers of things that are wrong. They should just do their jobs and keep away from the limelight and even calling people names. It’s wrong and doesn’t help them.
What is APC going to do to prevent violence given all the negative predictions?
We are going to preach absolute non-violence. Absolute! This is because nobody benefits at the end of the day. What do people benefit from violence? We want to urge all the political parties in the electoral contest that is coming to adopt non-violent approach. We are calling on the government not to deploy the security services that we pay for your advantage. I mean it is wrong. It is very wrong. That alone creates a dynamics in the system that makes it necessary for opposition parties also try to convince their people that they will not be sacrificed, so to speak and that we are unable to take care of them or that we are not strong enough to prevent impunity; so to speak. The way government uses our security forces bred the type of challenges that lead to violence and we must pray that they will see the need to be restrained this time around in the deployment of security.
But President Jonathan had also warned in his New Year Message that those who promote violence will be dealt with. Do you agree with him?
I totally agree. Anybody who promotes violence should be sent to jail.
He could have been referring to the APC.
Why? We don’t have the Police, we don’t have soldiers, and we don’t import guns.
But you have followers who could be predisposed to violence?
Is that the violence you are talking about – a few people struggling in a polling booth? That’s not the kind of violence we are talking about here. When you want to talk violence, you mean real violence. We are not talking about a few thugs causing problems but even thugs should be locked up in jail. I agree that thugs should be arrested and sent to jail. But we are talking of a situation that puts the nation at risk, situations that are widespread and that can disrupt the election and the democratic process and this can happen with massive deployment of security when it is totally unnecessary and when it is geared purely to intimidate. That is the bedrock that instigates a response. You know actions and reactions are equal and opposite. When you take an action, there is always a reaction. It is the law of nature. We are, therefore, appealing to them (government) to step right so that the atmosphere for violence is diminished to the barest level.
We are talking change and we know that APC boasts of members who are progressives. But we also know that there are some big names in the party who were formally in the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Have these people changed automatically from who they have always been just by joining the APC?
Why do you people (journalists) keep asking this question?
It is because we want to know the truth.
When we started this interview, we went biblical. You quoted something and I quoted the story of Saul becoming Paul. In the Bible, you are told the story of a man, who having a hundred sheep loses one and left the remaining 99 to go and look for that one. Lastly, the story of the prodigal son who totally misused, mismanaged his resources in debauchery and the rest of that, but the minute the father heard he was coming, brought the fattest calf he had and slaughtered it in celebration. In any case, apart from the biblical equivalent, it is in the public domain that these people fought for change within the PDP. They struggled for change. They tried to change to system within the party and the way the party was doing things but they failed. They then saw light and found out it was not a place for them to belong. They reasoned that the newly formed APC was more in common with their notion of how a party should be run. We were very glad to have them. Look at them. Look at their states. Look at Kano, look at Rivers. Lagos has always been with us. Look at Sokoto State and the others – exemplary leadership. I have gone to Port Harcourt regularly over the last 50 years and it is incredible from what the city used to be. I have been to schools in Port Harcourt and they have been totally unbelievable. Of course I live in Lagos and I have my career there. Look at Kano. You see the spirit of young, energetic and realistic governors who were formerly in the PDP.
They came and met people like Fashola in Lagos and Comrade Oshiomole in Edo who have transformed their states. Look at Ibadan in Oyo State. Before I met that governor personally, I travelled to Ibadan for some business. I taught in Ibadan and so I know the city very well. I was so amazed at what I saw that I sent a message to the governor whom I had not met then to say he is doing a wonderful job. I know Ibadan but I could hardly find my way round. These are birds of similar plummets and they just happen to be together. Again, look at what is happening to the polity? But for these people, both the original APC, that is those who came from the parties that merged and others, who joined, have virtually changed the face of politics in this nation. Today, there is great chance that we are going to have real democracy because we now have a balance of political forces. Today, there is really going to be contest in the polity. Today people are beginning to realise that they can use their votes to hire and they can also use that vote to fire even if they are in the remotest part of this country. See what good these group of people joining together has done to democracy and the Nigerian politics.
There is a raging controversy over General Buhari’s certificate and we know that you are aware of the issue. Does Buhari possess a school certificate?
I would like to quote OBJ who said, “I dey laugh,” to answer your question because it is laughable that it should even be an issue of discussion. You know the military and you know how they progress from one rank to the other and the several training courses they have to go through in some of the best institutions in the world. Even if somebody said he didn’t have Standard Six Certificate, he rose through the ranks, through qualifying examinations to become what he is in this country. For somebody to have an effrontery to start talking about certificate shows that we are not serious. Those who are asking are not serious- minded people because it is petty and totally irrelevant to what they should be talking about.
But the law has stipulated the minimum qualification for anybody seeking the highest office in the land?
Yes, of course. It does not only stipulate the minimum but also says ‘or its equivalent.’ So what is all the bother about? What is it all about? The man went to school. He went to secondary school and that is clear and there is no question at all about that.
Where do you think this issue of certificate is coming from?
Haba! Where else should it come from? But the fact is that it is so childish and that is my concern. Of all the important things they should be talking about is it the certificate they should be talking about now? You journalists talk of ideology and what the political parties have for the country. Why talk about a bloody certificate for a General who has also been the Head of State? For Christ’s sake, let us be serious. Let us be serious as a people. It is so petty (and) it makes me think we are not serious at all.
We have heard speculations that there was an underhand deal in the emergence of Buhari as the APC presidential candidate and that Rotimi Amaechi outspent people like Atiku Abubakar to make that possible. Is it true?
Look at me. This is John Oyegun you are talking to. I promised this nation totally free and fair primary. I will not tell you that money did not change hands but we told everybody clearly, if anybody offers you money, collect it but don’t ever act on the basis of the money. Every effort was made to get to sit down and twist my hands so we may have what is referred to as consensus candidate. I said no. It was all over the place because everybody thought we could not handle a democratic process but I said no, we are going to prove to this country that these things can be done. And whatever one spends cannot determine election outcomes. Let me not start being judgmental now because I am still chairman of the party. Buhari had made it clear that he has no money to offer. He made that clear. He said, ‘money I don’t have to give you but am offering myself for service.’ Maybe I shouldn’t open up the details of most of these things because I heard most of the things that went on. But my insistence was that we are going to, as a party, prove that these things are possible. That is also why I am saying that we should have free and fair elections come February. When it is transparent, people will accept the result. You saw what happened at our convention. The process was so transparent and was always totally at the guess of the Nigerian populace and the international community. It was totally open all the time. All those that lose were gracious in defeat and accepted the outcome of the primary. I promised free, fair and transparent election and asked them (presidential candidates) to promise me something in return. They accepted and it was the case where if I performed, they too will perform. When they say that the party performed its side of the bargain, they too performed theirs and you saw how the country reacted. The country saw everything and they were glad.
Many Nigerians have spoken about the power of former Lagos State Governor, Bola Tinubu, in the running of the APC and his role in the selection of the party’s presidential and vice-presidential candidates. How powerful is Tinubu in the affairs of APC?
Normally Tinubu is powerful. There is no question about that. That man is one of the greatest political strategists that I know. Go back into his history and don’t forget that he was one individual who stood against Obasanjo, refused to accept the compromises that his colleagues accepted and fought valiantly because he saw the future. He saw what was going to happen and he was right. Let’s get it clear; we must give people the credit that is due to them. It is because of that single act of courage and how he later devoted himself to cancelling the tragedy that was happening in the South-west when all of a sudden, the zone became “PDP”. He devoted himself to getting the zone back. See what happened subsequently and I tell people who have the ear to hear now, that but for his singular act of vision we may not be having the kind of progressive politics that we have in this country today. He has his failings but we must give a man the credit that is due to him. So I accept Tinubu is a powerful force in Nigerian politics not just in the APC. He is somebody you cannot ignore because he is a dye-in-the-wood strategist. He is also somebody who puts his pocket where his mouth is and with that kind of combination, he certainly must have influence in the APC and in country’s political arena.
APC now controls Rivers, Lagos and Kano which are states with the highest voter population in the country. Let’s take you back to Primate Olabayo. He predicted that you party will lose Lagos but that it will win in Rivers. Will the APC be able to retain these states?
Don’t ask me about Olabayo’s prophesy because I am not inclined to prophetic pronouncements. But how can we lose Lagos or even think of Rivers State. It is not even thinkable. If you ask me what I think I will tell you that we are going to win in Lagos, we are going to win in Rivers. In the South-south, we are going to so totally blunt the PDP. We are not only going to win Lagos, we are going to win Akwa Ibom which is the next most populous state within the riverine area where people vote 99.9 percent. Edo State is already with us and even Delta may fall for us. There is no way we will not win the election, Olabayo or no Olabayo.
Are you satisfied with the way the Permanent Voters Cards are being distributed?’
No we are not. We have done everything we can and those are part of the strategy for possible rigging of the election. We are aware the ICT department of INEC is virtually taken over by agents of the administration. The voter registration unit is also virtually taken over by the agents of the government and we know the kind of games that are going on there and we have instructed our branches all over the country on what to do. I still get report as at today that in a few places, things are not going well especially for those who want to do fresh registration. They are not finding it easy all over the country. We are addressing these issues.
What can you tell Nigerians to convince them to vote for APC in the next election?
It is simple. I will ask you whether you like yourself and whether you have children. If your answer is yes, then you don’t have a choice but vote APC. Except you are one of those who like the situation as it is, that is the very minimum. Do you want democracy to thrive in this country in which case the minimum you should have is a two party system that is strong. Do you like the rot that is going on now where even the GSM that children play with all over the world, one cannot make a successful call for three minutes without the line going off? Do you like the situation where the Army we are all proud of is being desecrated by this administration to the extent that they now cannot fight ragtag insurgents? Are you happy with the level of corruption where over N250 million can be used to buy one car?
People believe you only talk about stopping insurgency and corruption without talking about development plan? Are those the only manifesto APC has?
Go on the internet and read our manifesto. We have figures that we want to be judged by. In terms of jobs, we have figures. In terms of social security, we have figures and in terms of the security of our nation, we have figures. In terms of housing and all others, we have figures. In terms of power, we have figures. We are bold enough to say, judge us by what we plan to do via our manifesto. But why is the nation collapsing? It is caused by the rot of corruption. It is because of that we do not have jobs, electricity and when you don’t have power, you can’t have development. Simple! We don’t produce power for the nation as what one South African town produces, so how can we grow? What are the things that fuel industries and production? Is that the kind of country you want?