INTERVIEW: We overrated Buhari in 2015 – President’s ally

Femi Olufumilade,

Recently, Femi Olufumilade, a presidential aspirant on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), visited the corporate headquarters of PREMIUM TIMES in Abuja. During the visit the professor of International Relations and strategic studies and Dean of College of Arts and Social Sciences at the Igbinedion University, Okada, fielded questions from Festus Owete and Lois Ugbede. He spoke about his presidential ambition, his role in the election of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2105, why he dumped APC for SDP and other sundry issues. Excerpts:

PT: We have always known you to be pro-Buhari and in fact you were a prominent member of his campaign teams. Although the president has not declared his intention to seek re-election, why do you want to run when you should be supporting him?

Olufunmilade: I have four good reasons why I want to run. The first reason is that I believe that I can do better than what President Buhari has offered Nigerians so far. It appears that we overrated the president in terms of his capability and competence. The problems facing this country right now requires utmost competence and capability. If you ask the president what his achievements are, he will tell you he promised three broad targets. One is to fight insecurity and he would tell you Boko Haram has been degraded but not eliminated. But if you juxtapose that with the ongoing guerrilla warfare being waged by the so called Fulani herdsmen across all the states of the federation……. The president’s move to check this onslaught seems to have been borne out of pressure on him. Left to him, he doesn’t appear to think there is anything going on. So if you say you have delivered on the promise to fight insecurity I will say by the same token that your inaction has opened a new dimension of insecurity. So when you place his achievement on security on the balance sheet you will see that he has scored zero.

On anti-corruption, I will concede to him that what we have seen in terms of fighting corruption is unprecedented in the anal of history of anti-corruption. Having said that, I will also say that he should watch out what will happen after he has left office to some of those around him. He only knows himself. The case of Babachir Lawal is well known and the case of the NIA DG Ayo Oke is also well known. So far they appear to be untouchable despite the glaring allegations. The Maina case is also there, the pension scam.

Then in the area of economy, I will say that the bottom line when it comes to economic achievement is the welfare of the average Nigerian. So the indices I will want to use will not be the ones that they will brandish. The National Bureau of Statistics will say the foreign reserve has risen and the inflation rate has gone down but the issue is how many people have been employed? This is because there is no security unless you have a job. The agency has also told us that in the history of this country there has not been a time many people lost their jobs on the scale it has happened under the Buhari administration. We are talking of close to eight million or 10 million people who have lost their job.

I believe I can do better than President Buhari. In the first place all my life I have studied nothing other than politics and government of Nigeria. I began studying this at age 16 when I was admitted to study political science. I went through Masters programme and PHD in teaching. I also made commentary in Nigeria leading dailies particularly the Guardian newspapers since 1990. I began writing for the Guardian as a freelancer and later joined the Editorial Board. When you talk of the challenges of the Nigerian state, right from colonial times till date under various administration, these are things we have studied in the university.

So, for me if I become president I am going to return Nigeria to the era of rigorous economic planning.

The third reason why I want to run is that there is a clamour across the country. This country needs to be saved except we want to deceive ourselves. If care is not taken this country as speculated might break up. The way things are right now, people are losing faith in government. When I say government, I mean federal government. Governors are losing faith in the neutrality of Mr. President to protect all without any form of bias. A situation where the governor of Benue State is being harassed, more or less by the Inspector General of Police is uncalled for. A situation where the president is lamenting publicly that he gave directive to the IGP and he did not carry it out, and he did not sack him, leaves much to be desired.

The job on ground is not for a 75 years old man who will be moving into his 80s very soon; it’s for a young energetic man who is sound, courageous and understands this nation and who will be able to salvage the young people that are hopeless.

The fourth reason why I believe I should go for president is that so far, none of those who are emerging and showing their faces that they are likely going to contest, is inspiring. Most of them belong to the old gangs, former this, former that. What are their antecedents? What have they done? If they have done well will this country be where it is today?

PT: When are you doing your declaration?

Olufunmilade: Some time later in April. I have written my promising papers and it’s encapsulated in a book that will be unveiled when I will do my public declaration. I am going to work on a 16 year plan and I will get the National Assembly to back it up with a law to show that subsequent administration will not just throw it away such that it will be a multi-stakeholder plan that all those who need to buy into it will buy into it.

It won’t be like am trying to gag subsequent administrations. After I have left office maybe after four years I will have that peace of mind that whoever will succeed me has some jobs to do because there is plan there backed by law to follow.

PT: You said you have realised that the president does not have the capacity to move this country forward.

Olufunmilade: He doesn’t.

PT: You have always campaigned for him. At what point did you realise he is not competent?

Olufunmilade: I would tell you that two main things made me to support General Muhammed Buhari to become president of this country. The fact that I followed him should tell you that I am not a bread and butter political person because there was nothing like bread and butter with Buhari. I used to spend my own money to lodge in hotels, fund my flight to Abuja, do campaign materials and at times out of patriotism and passion for Nigeria. It (support) was based on his antecedents when I was much younger that he fought corruption. He introduced War Against Indiscipline. I believe corruption is the number one killer of the hope of this country and anybody that will transform this country should be somebody that has zero tolerance for corruption. These were attributes we believed he had and must be a self-disciplined person. I interacted with him fairly closely and I was convinced that he had all this. Other accusations about his being provincial, ethnic bigot, a religious bigot and all that I did more than anybody else to disabuse the minds of Nigerians that he didn’t carry any of such baggage. I want you to get this clear that it’s not because he did not appoint me for any position. Now I will give you three reasons why I came to the conclusion that this man is not as competent as I had thought he was. I have mentioned the issue of those around him stealing money. I mentioned Babachir Lawal’s case. The day I became heart-broken completely over my support for him was the day he sent a letter to Senate President, more or less exonerating Babachir Lawal of the allegations against him, saying he was not given fair hearing by Senate. I told myself this is not the Buhari I had worked for. So it was overwhelming but for him to have withstood it for months and do nothing about it is disheartening. If they have elected you on the platform of anti-corruption and discipline and the whole thing is being rubbished before our very eyes, then you still expect me to still be having faith?

PT: Are you saying you overrated the president?

Olufunmilade: The way I will put it is that maybe age has also done a lot of damage to the fire in him. The first time I met General Buhari to discuss his becoming president was in 2006 in the company of a son of the late Sultan Maccido. He took me to his resident in Kaduna and I asked him a pointed question that day that he was serving us Five Alive (refreshment). I said General, do you know why I want to work for you? You know in his introverted way he will not talk, he will only smile. He just smiled. I said the reason is that ‘when you were head of state I saw fire in you. I said the way you were jailing those corrupt politicians 250 years, 300 years, 120 years it was really satisfying to my infant mind.’ I was a young child then but things were not hard and it was like yes these people are getting their due. So he starting laughing. I said ‘so is the fire still there?’ He smiled. He didn’t respond to me but it meant to me that he didn’t want to blow his own trumpet like wait and see. So, I was looking at General Muhammed Buhari with the eye of a school boy that I was using to look at him when he was a military head of state. I was thinking that the man will do the same thing. I am not talking of jailing people for fraud 300 years but at least even though you take people to court, the court will create delays. What about where he needed to take administrative action like sacking somebody who has been found to be corrupt? The fire is already dampened.

PT: Didn’t you have the opportunity of meeting him closely at least offer advice?

Olufunmilade: I have written series of memos to him but he will not reply. Those who will give him normally give him by hand and one of them happens to be one of his spokesperson. He is a mutual friend from New York who at least will meet him if not by any other means. Even if they fence him off on Friday, he will deliver to him and he will call me. Don’t get it wrong; I still love him as a person to be honest with you. I used to exchange messages with him on phone after he became president. The day he swore in his minister for instance I sent him a message just to crack a joke……..     and he replied back to say ‘haba, Professor Femi looking handsome at 73?’ So we still engaged in communication until after his medical trip and that line stopped working.

PT: It does appear that you want to run against him that is if he eventually declares his intention to seek reelection because he didn’t give you any appointment?

Olufunmilade: I have asked myself this question that I worked for this man I am not here or I am not there. Believe me I value life and I value honesty. If I were to be in his government I would have perhaps had greater access to be able to talk to him on some of these things happening, For instance the wanton killing going on and these corrupt people. There are even allegations that many of the people that we never knew where they came from were being given appointments. We also learnt that some people are even collecting money for those people to be so appointed. These were people that were in PDP and it’s not as if they have any good track record there and they are holding plump position. His own very wife came to lament it that if you see her husband giving 50 appointments, 45 of those appointees he doesn’t know where they are coming from. He doesn’t even know their antecedents. These people do not know our words, our vision, our mission, they never bought into it but they are there. So if I was not given an appointment and some of our comrades, our ideological soulmates, those who share the same philosophy of integrity, of service, of discipline are in various positions, I will have a lot to do assisting them here and there though I have a lot to do even in my university. As dean of arts and social sciences, I have eight heads of department under me. I have a small empire of my own without being in government. Heads of Department of Political Science, International Relations and Strategic studies, Economics and Development Studies, Theatre Arts, Mass Communication, Sociology, Geography and Regional Planning and English are all under me. I am also a council member at Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta and I also run a programme. I teach in a programme at East Carolina University in the U.S. which takes me to the U.S. from time to time. If am not there I teach by video conference. So I am fairly contented and am fairly very well occupied. I have doctoral candidates, some of them in the Nigerian Army that I am training. Some of them have gotten their PHD in strategic studies. I gave you other reasons why I want to contest. It’s not just about not being given appointment. As a matter of fact, I want to believe that God probably has his reasons why he didn’t give me any appointment. It is either I would be very sad holding that appointment while these things are going on or I would have been forced to resign.

PT: If the president calls you today and says come over for an appointment, won’t you drop your ambition?

Olufunmilade: The thing is even if I drop it, somebody else will pick it up. What I am saying is that I am not talking for myself alone. We have groups and the groups that are behind my coming out are the amalgam of various groups. Some of them are in Diaspora and many of them are those who have been following him too. They are the ones that said I should go for this. We have a platform APC United Kingdom and Diaspora. We discuss what is happening in the country at the initial stage we were full of excitement and full of commitment that this man had gone to succeed.

If the president ask me to drop my ambition and he calls me and say take an appointment, even if I will take that appointment I will let him know that my presidential ambition or aspiration stays. I am still going to contest and it will be in his interest. What is Buhari looking for? Buhari wants a country that will be led by an honest leader, a leader who is selfless and who can give support to the common downtrodden and poor people.

PT: So, why did you choose the SDP?

Olufunmilade: For ideological reasons. People don’t bother about ideology in a nation like ours. If you go and read the ideologies, the policy papers of APC, I will say it is a little to the left. I am always a little to the left. I am always for the people. I am a welfarist. The ideology of the SDP is much the same thing as we had when the late MKO Abiola contested. So it was from the ideological standpoint that we decided let us go for the SDP and since we decided to do that since last year I have met leaders of the party like Chief Olu Falae and the rest of them. I can say the fortune of the SDP has taken a turn for good as people are moving in here and there.

PT: Prior to the 2015 general elections you wrote a strategy paper for Buhari entitled “Opposition Victories in Africa.” Did that paper play any role in the victory of Buhari and the APC in the elections?

Olufunmilade: Chief John Oyegun (APC national chairman) called me to acknowledge it and he got it downloaded. He gave me the e-mail address to which it should go and all that. The president was in London when the paper was ready and it was given to Tunde Sabiu and Sarkin Abba both of who are presidential aides now. If you look at the paper carefully, it helped because for instance I identified diplomatic pressure as one of the factors that aided the ascension of opposition in the eight countries I reviewed where opposition had defeated incumbency. You discover that shortly before the election, John Kelly, the then secretary of the United States visited Nigeria. These were some of the things I advocated for in the paper. He came and he met the APC leaders in Lagos after having met with the president in Abuja. He also held meetings with Buhari, Bola Tinubu, and Chief Bisi Akande and co in Lagos. Those were the overt pressures. There were also covert pressures diplomatically such that President Jonathan realised that should he succumb to the pressure of his party members not to hand over and then create some scenarios like there was rigging in Kano and all the rest of that he would have become an international pariah, he would lose face in the international community. He counted the cost. Some said he chickened out. No, he didn’t chicken out, he was just a realistic person. He was a gentleman who felt he had to keep to his word that the life of any single Nigerian was not worth his clinging to power.

I also mentioned the issue of coalition, mopping up as many groups that were dissatisfied with the status quo. The victory of President Buhari was not an APC victory alone. There were so many support groups both home and abroad that also teamed up with the APC to deliver that victory. One of them I led – Buhari/Osinbajo Support Organisation (BOSO) at least in the six south west states because the south west was the battle ground. I had to leave the campaign headquarters to focus on south west in the heat of this struggle for Buhari to be president. I noticed that the PDP was moving a lot of funds and personnel to the south west so that they will be able to upturn whatever hope we had then. BOSO played a crucial role by giving background campaign support to the Buhari/Osibanjo ticket. At some point, Osinbajo, a very humble man, invited me to Lagos. I remember he lodged me around Victoria Garden City and he came to me around 11 pm as we were brainstorming on how to go about it. We were both falling asleep. It was late in the night. Then he said I should bring the campaign leaders and I brought about 30 persons. All of us were hosted at the Airport Hotel in Lagos where he met with us in the company of his younger brother who happens to be a lawyer. And we brainstormed there and then to get our back up campaign machinery running. Osinbajo campaigned more than anybody in that election. So I will tell you that part of my recommendation in the paper is that there should be a kind of coalition, not just purely political, even trade unions, NGOs, tribal associations whatever you could gather together to form a team against incumbency. That is what has happened in other African countries.

PT: Are you still in touch with Osinbajo?

Olufunmillade: Well I consider him a good friend. He has been in touch with me at least annually. He sends us some Christmas and New Year hampers.

PT: Not a one-on-one chat?

 Well, if I need to see him I know exactly how to reach him. I have his numbers, but he has also given me about two names that in case he doesn’t pick his numbers….., his private email, his private line, his secretaries, his aides, those that if I need to, there are occasions where I will even be sending messages and he will say why won’t I come over. It has happened like that.

PT: From what you said you are fairly close to the stalwarts of the APC. It is therefore surprising you left APC.

Olufunmilade: The reason why I left APC I told you is because the government of APC is like you have the pregnancy of an elephant and then you give birth to a rat. What I am doing is in the best interest of the country. Shakespeare said Ceaser is dear to me but Rome is dearer. Buhari and Osinbajo may be dear friends to me but Nigeria is dearer to me. The younger people need to be given hope. I live and work among them. My students are my friends, they are my drivers. We eat together, we move together, we play together. I don’t want them to live a life of sorrow. Many of them have left the universities and they are jobless, not because they are not clever but because the situation within which they find themselves in this environment is just simply impossible. I am not talking of children from the south, I have children from the north begging me from Kano, from Yobe for jobs.


PT: Some critics say the performance of APC is worse than the PDP government. Do you agree with them?

 That is their own opinion. It’s like comparing death with sleep. For all my criticisms of the APC, I will not by any stretch of imagination compare APC with PDP. The PDP was a party of thieves, a party of criminals, and a party of callous wicked people who have no concern for the common people. It was a gang up of thieves from all over the country. It was a pan Nigeria thievery.

PT: You described the PDP as a party of thieves but a few persons have moved from the PDP to your party, SDP.

Olufunmilade: They are welcome. The important thing is that when you join an association or a group, if you are going to submit yourself to the rules and regulations of that association, you are welcome. I believe that human beings are dynamic beings, the possibility of change is there and that is why even with God, God believes we can change and that is why there is redemption. You know God will say if you can forsake your ways – let him that steals steal no more, let him that tells lies tell lies no more and let them turn a new leaf and I will accept them, I will receive them, they will become my sons and my daughters. So, those who steal, they are ready to steal no more, those that are without ideology, they are ready to become ideological, are welcome.

PT: If you are rating APC this way, rating it higher than PDP, then you have no reason to come out to contest.

Olufunmilade: I have every reason to come out to contest. That someone scored A or C and another one got F9 doesn’t mean that the person who got C has performed wonderfully well.  After C you still have A, you still have B which is excellent. Only the best is good enough for Nigeria and that is what I want to give. We can do much better than that. The problem on ground requires the best of hands and they are available in this country both home and abroad. We must put forward our first eleven otherwise we will suffer defeat in the field of play.

PT: Some political analysts say your party SDP may be the third force, do you see it that way? 

Olufunmilade: I want to see SDP as the first force. The idea of being a third force is not a slogan I want now. SDP in terms of documentation, ideologically, manifesto wise…. go and read its manifesto, its policy direction and you will agree with me that it is a party that has the interest of the common people at heart.  That is why I gravitated there. And I want to hope that all those who are saying they are joining the SDP have read its manifesto, they have read its constitution to know where they are coming to. It is not a party of anything goes; it’s not a party of as usual. It is a party that has high ideals and high principles, high people oriented ideology. That should be the basis of those coming in. I want to believe that they are going to be our ideological soulmate. Everybody is welcome. And if they don’t know what the ideology is, we will need to re-orient them.

PT: But when you look at the membership of the SDP they appear to be people who cannot win elections?


Olufunmilade: I am a political scientist, I don’t believe that there is anybody who cannot win election except you have no reputation. Winning election is about having a vision and then sharing the vision with the people who have the votes, and convincing them that that vision is worthy of their votes. For instance I have a presidential policy book that I am going to unveil. It has 18 chapter spelling out what I will do in housing, education, power, internal security, defense, sport, industrialisation, agriculture, even national unity, restructuring – all these things are there and that will be my pact with Nigeria. But if you think maybe because I am not well known, you will be surprised that those who are working for me, they are 21st century breeds and they are in every nook and cranny of this country. They will make me that candidate to beat. We are developing politically and that was why somebody like Buhari could even be president. The voters are now wiser that they were in 2015.


PT: The presidential project is a major project. I don’t know if you have enough financial muscle to pull through in this race.  Secondly, I also believe that you might not be the only aspirant on the SDP platform. What are your chances in picking the ticket during the primaries?


Olufunmilade: For me I go to sleep and I sleep very well since I said that I would be part of this race. For me it’s not a do or die affair. I am into this because of compassion for people. It is a lot of risk coming out. I have been spending my own money so far but I believe that you make sacrifices in the direction of what is noble. It is not a bad thing. I want to start with General Muhammadu Buhari. This same thing you said was what people were telling me when I began to work for him in 2006. They said then he stood no chance because he had no money and of course his one kobo never entered my hands rather I had been spending my own money to promote him because I believed in him. Now when I say spending my own money I mean to fly to Abuja and fly back; while in Abuja I lodge in hotel for two or three weeks and I am spending my own money. We were doing posters in my area, circulating it, we were doing face caps and vests etc. General Buhari was not a presidential aspirant that gave money to anybody. But those of us who believe in him were the ones cracking our heads on how to raise funds and today after many trials….. I want to believe that his outing in 2003, 2007 and 2011 contributed to his emergence in 2015. It was incremental. In 2011 he recorded his highest vote so far, that was the third attempt. That was possible because we had also learnt from the failures of the past and we were able to mobilise voters in a way that they also were vigilant about the votes. So there are people who also believed in me just like I also believed in Buhari. I belong to the campus community, the students, the professors, so I have a constituency that is unique. I used to be a non-teaching staff, I was PRO of Association of Nigerian University professional administrators before I crossed to the academic sector. I have worked with Dr Olu Agunloye when Chief Bola Ige was minister of power. He was the special assistant while I was the personal assistant. Agunloye is a very close friend of Wole Soyinka. They are like twins. These are men that have values. Because of the kind of people I see there I have that faith that I stand a chance. If I do my homework well I stand a good chance of becoming the ticket holder of the SDP.


PT: So you were an aide to Bola Ige?

Olufunmilade: Yes.


PT: Maybe that will also push up your chances in the southwest.


Olufunmilade: We formed the AD together. I kept the original draft manifesto and constitution of the AD in the late Chief Bola Ige’s library at his Solemilia Courts residence at Bodija Ibadan.


PT: You left AD? Why?


Olufunmilade: Not that I left AD. AD more or less died a natural death.

PT: But it is still there as a party.


Olufunmilade: I have always followed somebody who is principled. I initially thought Bola Ige would be president and that was why I left my university job to work for him but eventually he didn’t emerge. Chief Olu Falae was picked and we campaigned for him. I followed Bola Ige to Mapo Hall in Ibadan to campaign with Olu Falae alongside Chief Abraham Adesanya of blessed memory, Chief Ayo Adebanjo. When they came to Ibadan that day for the grand rally in Ibadan it was Bola Ige’s house they all came to and then they led us with Bola Ige to go to Mapo Hall to campaign. When Bola Ige now died, I was in a political wilderness and by 2006 I told you I am always looking for someone who is highly principled, not necessarily a money bag. Bola Ige didn’t have money too. The highest amount that ever exchanged hands between me and Bola Ige was $200. That was in 1999 and that was the amount I needed to give somebody who assisted my return to Nigeria when I opted to work for him to be president in1999. He got to know of it that I was owing somebody a couple of dollars and he slipped in $200 for me to just pay that person. I was the one doing the documentation during the campaign. It was apprenticeship. There are two things I look at. I look at party and I look at personality. I felt Buhari fitted the bill of the kind of person I will follow. If you look at Bola Ige and you look at Buhari they had some things in common. Bola Ige too was a disciplinarian. Bola Ige too was a man of integrity and of course Bola Ige was exceptionally brilliant and a gifted orator too. That is why we call him Cicero. So it wasn’t like I abandoned AD. I needed to support someone else to become the president of Nigeria and that was why I moved over to General Buhari.

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