Davidson Akhimien, the national president of the Association of Licensed Private Security Practitioners of Nigeria, is the presidential aspirant of the Grassroots Development Party of Nigeria, one of the parties newly registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria. In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES’ Ben Ezeamalu and Oluwakemi Adelagun, Mr. Akhimien, a 53-year old pastor and author, speaks about his presidential ambition, the security challenges across the country, and the solution to the country’s perennial epileptic power supply.
PREMIUM TIMES: Why did you decide to throw your hat into the ring?
Davidson Akhimien: Into the boxing ring? (laughs). Well, having grown up in this country, having been part of the system in the last 53 years. Growing up with, you know, aspirations, expectations, great expectations – like I always use the word ‘great expectations’ because we were proud to be Nigerians when we were growing up. We saw how Nigeria had its pride of place in the comity of nations. We had great dreams, of leading the black race in the world. Remember when wherever you went in the world you held the Nigerian passport, you were looked upon with high regards. Wherever Nigeria was mentioned out there in the world, it was in positive light. And over time we saw how all of that went. And domestically speaking, within the domestic terrain, we saw how the people moved from an average living condition to very poor condition. We saw how abject poverty became the hallmark of our existence. We saw the indices by the United Nations how that 70 or 75 percent of Nigerians live below $1 a day. And we try to do a comparison, when I say we, I’m using myself, talking about me, you know, to bring my people in. And we saw how that even though blessed as a nation, the abundance national resources that we have. Even though, you know, having been the sixth or seventh largest producer of oil since 1958-60 or thereabouts, all of these have not translated to development, it has not translated to better living conditions for the people.
So there is a disconnect and it is all within the ambit of governance. So there had been, what I call a preponderance of poor leadership, mismanagement of economic resources that we had over these years, that is why all of these cannot translate to a better-developed nation, to a better-empowered people, to the elimination of poverty from the land. That is why I decided to step into the fray, to provide that leadership that the country needs to take it from the doldrums that it found itself.
PT: You spoke of poor leadership, but there is a saying that a people deserve the leader they get…
Akhimien: (Cuts in) There is also a saying by Mahatma Gandhi that the fact that a portion of water is bad does not make the entire ocean bad. And that’s to say that, there is always an exception in every rule, there still exist a couple of people who stand out in the midst of what you call mediocre, so to speak. There’s still, let me just put it this way, even in stark darkness, there is some glimmer of light and hope. And so it cannot be all bad, and that’s why within the Nigerian society there exist some people who can turn things around but because of the system that we operate, such people may not be able to come to light. The politics, as it is played in Nigeria, is a politics of big money, big money politics. It is still the bane of our political system.
PT: People say the failure of the Nigerian people to hold their leaders accountable is also part of the problem, that we have followers who don’t ask questions, who don’t want to know how the government is run, and that it had largely led to the government or the rulers doing what they want once they get into office. Do you think that’s true?
Akhimien: That’s part of it, and that why I say I will continue to blame successive administrations for this condition. Why? Because, you see, fundamentally a country is as advanced as the intellectual capacity of its people. I don’t know if you get my point. That is to say, there was no proper investment in human capacity development all of these years. And that is why 60-65 percent of the Nigerian population is still an illiterate population. Where you have a very high percentage of literate citizens in a country, I mean they will be able to hold their leaders accountable.
But look at what happened in the Ekiti election, people still selling their conscience and their votes for N2000, N3000, what does it tell you as far as their mental state is concerned? As far as their economic state is concerned? Our people are poor. It would appear that it has been a deliberate action of the political class to pauperize the people, keep them where they are so that those stipends and little inducements will cause them to sell their conscience, sell their votes. So one of the things that we need to do as a country is to ensure that we have a literate population. And that’s why in my government, education will be given one of the highest priorities. The quality of a nation is determined – or what I call directly proportional – to the quality of education that are available to the people and the accessibility to that education.
The people are pauperized, no money and when you give hungry dog crumbs, he rushes for it, it was evident in Ekiti election and we fear that 2019, it may also play the same role that it played Ekiti. So we are really troubled, and that is why we call on the Nigerian people to use their head and use their heart, let them not just pander towards, you know, pecuniary gains, let them use their heart, let them use their head, let them reflect in the over how many years of independence, let them reflect in the over how many years that we have been in democracy unbroken. What has this gotten them? Where has it gotten them?
PT: We always hear people telling the electorates to vote their conscience during the election. But when the election comes, politicians share money and it’s largely those who shared the money that wins. To use the most recent examples, it happened in Anambra, Ekiti, and from all indications, Osun. Do you worry that that would also play a huge role in 2019?
Akhimien: Now I will tell you what, when a revolution is about to occur in the life of any nation or in the social order anywhere in the world, it is not precipitate, you understand what I mean by that? It doesn’t just happen. Gradually. First, you begin to see the indicators and then something gives. As a political party, we stand by a principle and the philosophy of our thought is that there must come a new order in the way things are done in the political space and we bring that message to the people.
If by 2019, the people have caught it, glory to God. But if it’s the election after that the people catch it, all well and good but the message remains. Because you must initiate something, if you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. That is why we as a party, this is what we stand for. Even if it is only us that stand for it, truth in politics, truth in governance, no money politics, we will stand by it. One day the Nigerian people will come to see that it is better to take side with the truth than to take side with falsehood. Politics may be called a game that is dirty, a dirty game but for us, we are not in politics to play a dirty game, we are here to deliver and if it will take Nigerians 100 years to grasp it, to grasp the message and run with the message, so be it, no problem, but the point is that the seed is being sown. We are here to sow that seed and to nurture it, to see that we bring about this transformation in the lives of Nigerian people. We are not in politics for money, we are here to serve.
PT: You’ve said that you are not in politics because of the money. But you need money to implement structures. You need to pay people to run these structures. Are you not thinking about the enormous funds you’d need to put these things together?
Akhimien: I want you to note there are many people of my ilk, who have this strong desire to see a new Nigeria, who have this strong desire to build proper foundations for the new Nigeria. So this political party, Grassroots Development Party of Nigeria, is a coalition of like minds and those like minds dot the entire landscape of this country. You find them in Kaura Namoda, you find them in Nguru, you find them in Idemili local government of Anambra State, you find them in Oyo, you find them in Ore, you find them everywhere. These are light bearers in the society. We share the same thinking and wherever they are, they are beaming the light. It is not all about money, money is required no doubt, individual sacrifices are being made by this light bearers, to educate the people on the need for this transformation that we are talking about and you will be surprised. They say bad news spread fast, you will be surprised how this good news is spreading faster than bad news. Unprecedented.
So we are raising a very huge movement all over the nation. In the 36 states of the federation we have our structures and we have not pulled it by money, we have just pulled it by appealing to the conscience of the average man. And I can tell you on good authority today that of all the new political parties in Nigeria that were registered by INEC, we are at the forefront, we are the foremost. The people are catching the message and like I said, it is a movement, It is a movement that is catching on, gaining traction with the Nigerian populace. I tell you lies can only abound for a while, in the end, truth will speak and truth is speaking in the nation now. Like I said, it may not be 2019, but we desire 2019, but someday truth will hold sway in our country, our people will be liberated from the grip of falsehood.
PT: When you say you have structures in the 36 states in the country, are they physical structures? Or just individuals?
Akhimien: No, I’m not talking about physical structures, I’m talking about membership. Our membership is spreading fast and wide, we are on ground, you can confirm.
PT: Are you using your personal money to run this campaign or the ‘like minds’ are also helping out with financial contributions?
Akhimien: Like I said, it’s a people’s party, the party is for the people and the people are contributing… no matter how small, they are contributing all the same. And everywhere, all across the nation you find these contributions. This is a party where we don’t entertain godfathers or godfatherism. It’s a people’s party, people own it and we all advocate for people’s ownership of grassroots, that why it is grassroots, Grassroots Development Party of Nigeria.
PT: You’re are saying it’s the people that contribute the money?
Akhimien: Yea, the people…. what I have I put, what the people have they contribute, willing minds, willing hearts wanting to see a new Nigeria.
PT: Is there an accountability process for these monies?
PT: So far, there are at least 20 political parties aiming for the presidency. But the most popular ones remain the APC and the PDP. Recently, we have been hearing about a Third Force that will provide a stiffer opposition to these two? How do you see that possibility?
Akhimien: Yes, it is a possibility. It’s only that, how they are going to be able to manage their different ideological standpoint is what I think will pose a challenge. What will now be the ideology of the emergent grand coalition or what do you call it? But it’s a possibility. Politics is all about numbers and if one party with it’s candidate is not able to defeat the party in government now, I think that possibility exists, where there will be a coalition of, like there’s is now, I think PDP is already gathering some parties to.. so that is it. Yes there is a possibility.
PT: If PDP approaches your party; would you also want to join them?
Akhimien: Well as it is now; we are a party running for the 2019 elections. We have our ideology, we stick by our ideology. We were brought together as a result of that ideology and that ideology is about bringing about the real deliverables to the people that own Nigeria, the people that own Nigeria are the 90 percent masses, not the 10 percent elites. Unfortunately, we the 10 percent elites, we think we own Nigeria, no, the people are the ones that own Nigerians and our ideology is to take it back to the rural areas, take it back to the people on the fringes of society. That’s, you know, the main thrust.. trying to see how we can reduce rural-urban migration, industrialise and re-populate the rural areas, modernise it, that’s the main thrust of our ideology. So, we are going with that, if in the course of forming a government, we need to come together with other parties and form a grand coalition, we will consider that.
PT: So, if either the PDP or APC approach you to join them, you will join?
Akhimien: We will study their manifestoes and see if it tallies with ours. If not, we’ll go the race alone.
PT: Are you happy with the performance of the current government, so far?
Akhimien: Well, I must tell you the fact that governance is not easy anywhere in the world. It is easy for people to criticize. But with benefit of hindsight, there are areas this government have done well, I must say, especially the area of the fight against Boko Haram, how it has decimated Boko Haram. But there are many areas that the government needs to do better.
You see, Nigeria is a pluralistic country, culturally, linguistically, religiously. It’s a pluralistic country, and to lead in Nigeria, you must look at the nation from the prism of absolute plurality. When it comes to certain actions that you must take as a government at the centre, you must look at the country through a prism of true nationalism, putting Nigeria first above other interests, be they primordial, be they religious, be they ethnocentric, we must put Nigeria first, as a nation. Actions of government must be seen to be justiciable, where all constituent parts are taken care of adequately, fairly, and according to the law of the land, respect for the rule of law.
You must ensure a balance in your social programs, federal character, for example, in your appointments. That is how to be nationalistic, that is how to build cohesion and ensure integration in a pluralistic nation. The government needs to do better in those areas.
PT: In the area that you say that they have done well, the fight against Boko Haram, we’ve also had the herdsmen attacks which is currently ongoing. As someone with a military background, are there things that you think could have been done differently?
Akhimien: Yes, absolutely.
PT: Things like what?
Akhimien: I first told you what the government should have done better, are you asking me from a technical point of view?
Akhimien: One, to start with, where else did you hear herdsmen bearing arms? Where have you heard of herdsmen bearing arms? It is important for us to deal with issues using their names and don’t cover them up, ok? We have a problem and the problem is that of our people being murdered by unknown…, you call them herdsmen? But who has been arrested so that he identifies himself as a herdsman? Are you getting my point? We have an issue of invasion, whether it is external invasion, at first we heard that some persons from external countries, or whether internal invasion, sometimes, we heard that it is as a result of some cattle routes of local Fulani men. Let’s put that aside, let’s deal with the issue, what’s the issue? Invasion. What’s the issue? Border security. What the issue? Terrorism. Give it its proper name. bros, and attack it from that point.
So our borders are porous, oh we have people coming in from, oh it is the responsibility of the armed forces of the Federation Republic of Nigeria to protect the territotorial integrity of the nation. Where people are entering through our borders and causing mayhem to communities in our land, there is a failing on that part as far as that responsibility is concerned. Immigration. Qu’est-ce qui se passé? What’s the problem? People are coming through our borders anyhow and our people are suffering it. Are you understanding me? So then they are here already, okay? Immigration, you have allowed them to come in. Armed forces you have allowed them to come in, okay now, how do we boot them out? How do we stop a carnage and boot them out? Later, you can be talking about the political part of it, saying, it’s herdsmen or whatever and farmers clash, that’s something you’ll be talking at the political end. But at the end of the military action? My God my God! How many people are these people that are causing us this mayhem? Bros, I will not talk in this interview, what I will do, I won’t tell you, okay? I will not tell you.
PT: Do you think state police is one of the ways to fight crime?
Akhimien: The issue of state police keeps coming up every now and then. Many advantages of state police, especially within the present dispensation, many advantages and some disadvantages too given our political evolution, the stage we are, as far as our political evolution is concerned and political processes. State police is definitely one way to be able to fight a lot of criminal activities and the reasons are there: the natives, the geographical terrain is known to the police officers, families of the police officers and even the criminals are probably known to the traditional leadership of those geographical areas. The only fear is that state police should not be used by governors to, so that they don’t metamorphose into a militia, given our very weak national fabric, in terms of cohesion that I was talking about. And then some states are not even able to pay salaries of their workers. When you now leave armed men without salaries, it’s more dangerous because arms and ammunition are supposed to offer protection to… but there is what you call the concept or the principle of security of arms and ammunition. The security of arms and ammunition is more important than security it affords people. Arms and ammunition in the hands of unpaid policemen, poorly trained policemen that you call state police, becomes counterproductive to the society.
PT: You said education is going to be one of you topmost priorities. But we are having a situation now where the government is struggling to fund the education sector among other critical sectors. How do you intend to raise the funds needed for all the key projects that you are planning to do?
Akhimien: We are going to do a lot of private-public partnerships. Government cannot possibly handle everything, that’s the big mistake people make. The government expenditure will be so bloated that government may collapse under the weight of such expenditure. We are going to be very innovative as a government. We are going to involve private sector in almost everything that we do. There is going to be a lot of value chain in most of the programmes that we would be running. So we are going to do a lot of private-public partnership in most of our programmes that will be a win-win situation both for the government and the people themselves.
PT: But critics of the PPP model argue that it goes against the primary purpose of government, which is security and welfare of the people because it is usually profit-driven.
Akhimien: What is on the exclusive list? Like you are talking about security and the rest of them, government will not abdicate that responsibility…
PT: What about the welfare?
Akhimien: Welfare? There are many areas of welfare. If I assist you to be welfared by engaging third party, why is that not good?
PT: Because that third party is solely motivated by profit.
Akhimien: When government comes in in that area there is proper evaluations, proper monitoring of the system to make sure of its workability. You see the problem we have in Nigeria is that successive governments have come out with good programmes, policies, but it is the follow up where you find the problem. And the follow up is what determines the outcome. And if your objective is to see a beautiful outcome, then your follow up may even be stronger than the policy itself. The zeal for follow up, the will, the political will for follow up will be sustained so that you get the outcome. It is the outcome that you are looking for, therefore your political will will be sustained. So in most cases, it is the zeal, monitoring, and evaluation that you have the problem.
PT: What’s the position of your party towards women’s participation in politics?
Akhimien: Ok, you know we are gender sensitive in our party and we have, I think, 40 percent affirmative action for women, 35 percent for youth, 10 percent for the handicap. It is an all inclusive party arrangement. So 40 percent for women, and that is reflected even at the party leadership level and we will bring the same to bear also when we come into government because we believe that we should give the women their rightful place in society. We are very gender sensitive. And we align properly with the positions of the Beijing Conference.
PT: When you announce your running mate we should expect to see a woman?
Akhimien: Yes, definitely I think so, I think that should be.
PT: What are your plans towards power generation?
Akhimien: Power is the driver in any economy. Any economy in the world where there is no energy to drive it, especially the real sector of the economy, that economy will have stunted growth. And because of the cost of production as we have it in Nigeria today, which will be transferred to the consumer in the end and there is no disposable income on the part of the consumer, you see that we, ourselves, will be stunted with the economy. Power is a major thrust of our programme and policy.
Let me tell you how we are going to do it. We are going to see how we can decentralize it. We want to look at the geo-political zones, we want look at what is available in terms of the resources required to generate, transmit and distribute power in these geo-political zones.
So we are looking at the South-South for example, we know there’s an abundance of gas reserves, gas resources there, we want to say we’ll use gas in that area. We are looking at the North-Central zone for example, we know there is hydro, we’ll use hydro in that area. Then we are looking at the far North, God has given us sun, so we now look at how we can harness the sun to give us solar power to drive certain parts, we may not be able to get much but whatever megawatt we get, we can add to the grid. Then we look at where also we can use coal, I know Enugu in the south-east, we have these coal mines and they are still there, so we can still reactive them. We can also ask states to see how we can use their resources to generate power. We’ll decentralize it.
PT: What about nuclear?
Akhimien: That will be later. Now that we can’t manage these ones we want to touch nuclear. We’ll look into it but the ones that we can easily, readily assess now, we’ll do that while we research on how to do nuclear. Let’s exploit the resources we have for now.