Former Senior Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan on Public Affairs, Doyin Okupe, in this interview with Musikilu Mojeed, says the ruling APC will not win future presidential elections. He also speaks on his corruption trial, Sowore’s trial, the Buhari administration, and why his party, the PDP, cannot provide effective opposition to the ruling party.
PT: It is about five years since your party, the PDP, was voted out. What is your impression of the current state of the nation?
Okupe: There seems to be tension everywhere and virtually in every area of our daily existence.
PT: Can you expatiate? Why is there tension?
Okupe: Reasons for tension are obvious. The recent Sowore court drama has created a lot of fear and bad blood among citizens in the country. The assault on the rule of law and the fear of the emergence of totalitarianism are issues heating the polity.
PT: Sowore has accused the government of ineptitude and poor governance. He wants a revolution. How should the government have responded to his call for protest?
Okupe: His call for a revolution should simply have been ignored. At the time he made the call he was merely filibustering. His call was a mere attention-seeking and rabble-rousing escapade.
PT: The government says it was treason, an attempt to unsettle or dethrone the Buhari regime.
Okupe: The courts are competent enough and the institution empowered by the Nigerian constitution to make a decision on that.
PT: You are a PDP chieftain. How do you rate the APC/Buhari administration so far?
Okupe: I am no longer interested in rating or criticising Buhari or APC government. One is that the government has no tolerance for criticism and has not shown any evidence of taking advantage of copious beneficial resource materials, criticisms and advice thrown at it from various segments of the society.
I am more interested and wish to devote my time and energy towards educating the upcoming political class and the general public on non -partisan issues that have bedevilled our polity for years and have resisted solutions. I am also interested in helping to rebuild PDP so that it can be remodelled, rebranded and better suited to take over governance from the present incumbent APC.
PT: It is almost five years since the APC dethroned your party. The APC has repeatedly claimed that it has rescued Nigeria from the path of destruction on which your party placed it for 16 years.
Okupe: The APC can claim what they like. The taste of the pudding is in the eating. Nigerians now know better, even non-Nigerians too. All indices and parameters for assessing government functionality and effectiveness are there for everybody to see. The only misfortune here is that approval or disapproval by the electorate based on their rating of government performance cannot be reflected electorally largely because of an absence of free and fair elections and judicial interference by the government.
PT: Are you saying the last generation elections were not free and fair?
Okupe: No argument. Most of the recently held elections in Nigeria have not been free or fair. In this saga, the electoral umpire is also culpable notwithstanding the outward facade of purity or innocence the leadership of that organisation puts on. It’s not me just saying this. Local and international observers have repeatedly and resoundingly echoed this position.
PT: But there are many people who believe that the PDP was too weak and disorganised to have won the last presidential election.
Okupe: Absolute fallacy. After the Port Harcourt Convention, the PDP became a highly mobile, resilient and unconquerable fighting machine. Only the massive rigging machinery of government with the connivance of INEC and security forces could have subdued and defeated the PDP.
PT: While your party put up a gallant fight during the election, it does not appear to be have been an effective opposition so far. Why is that the case?
Okupe: I don’t totally agree with that. Many things contribute to being an effective opposition, including disposition of the media, the existence of respect of rule of law, absence of undisguised repressive intimidation by security forces and retrenchment of personal liberties and respect for human rights. Having said this, I also believe we can still do better than we are currently doing. It is heart-warming to note that social media is in the forefront of opposition presently and it is quite reassuring.
PT: What will you say is slowing your party from being an effective opposition?
Okupe: Many things, both intrinsic and extrinsic. The PDP for a long time had been in power and suddenly finding itself in opposition is something the party is still grappling with quite uncomfortably. Also, the cleavages that existed prior to the presidential primaries seem to be resurfacing. Also, a substantial support base of the party is still undecided where to put their loyalty, the ruling APC or PDP.
The calculations for 2023 is also a major challenge, fuelling lack of internal cohesion within the party. Everybody is looking forward to acquiring political office without thinking of the wellbeing of the platform they intend to use or show commitment to capacity building and reinvigorating from the bottom (grassroots) up.
Majority of presidential hopefuls are from the north and the north does not fit in the mode of opposition politics naturally. The mainstream northern elite by culture and disposition are not confrontational and the fact that the incumbent president is a distinguished prince of this elitist group makes it difficult for the leadership and political stakeholders and front runners from the north to criticise the president and his party. Unfortunately, the majority of erstwhile critics from the south all have one or two mesmerising cases in court, seriously engaging attention.
Lastly, the lack of universally acceptable party ideology within the rank and file of the party makes it difficult for the emergence of a political national consensus within the various conclave existing in the party. For a fact, there is no consensus within the national parties, not just the PDP, on important national issues like restructuring, state police, revenue sharing, place of religion in governance, VAT, Equity, the power to secede by component units of the nation, census, federalism etc.
The consequence of all this is that there are no true parties in the country. What we have are broad platforms on which people and individuals of diverse and varying ideologies and tendencies come together or oftentimes conspire to seize power for personal, regional or class benefit. Sadly also, politics is an all-comers game. You don’t need knowledge, experience, education, proven ability or pedigree to become anything. All you need is an ocean of resources and affiliation with an effective national or state elite clique.
PT: You have been in this political game for a long time. Don’t you think the PDP is planning to lose again in 2023 by not putting its house in order?
Okupe: Specifically, I have been in politics for 40 years. No. I don’t think the PDP is planning to fail. What we must not do is to fail to plan. I believe there are still enough men and women of goodwill with knowledge, experience and resources to push the party to success in 2023.
PT: There are those who argue that the problem with your party is your lack of access to public funds to rig elections.
Okupe: That is quite uncharitable. The PDP is the only national party that is not owned in part or whole by individuals. It is the only one that has an almost immovable political grassroots infrastructure in every nook and cranny of the country. That is the reason why without rigging it was and still is impossible to defeat PDP fair and square in any election.
PT: But a number of PDP chieftains and INEC members are being prosecuted for receiving and distributing public funds to rig the 2015 elections.
Okupe: Yes, because the APC won elections and not PDP. PDP and APC both rig elections. The NRC and SDP before them did the same and so did the AG, NCNC & NPC in the 60s. Our problems are self-deceit, dishonesty and abhorrence of the truth.
PT: Are you saying the APC is as guilty as the PDP in using public funds to rig elections? What evidence do you have?
Okupe: I don’t have to give any evidence. I am not an ordinary Nigerian and I have been around for more than three decades. I know how things work around here. You also need not believe me. But I stand by what I said.
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PT: Our country will have another election in less than four years. With what appears the weak state of your party, the APC seems well-positioned to overrun you once again.
Okupe: If you say the PDP is weak, what about the APC? It’s now that the weak bonds that have loosely tied the immiscible components parts of the APC together will separate. The APC as presently constituted can no longer win a presidential election in Nigeria again.
PT: Why can’t it win again?
Okupe: When it’s time to cast the dice they would have been sufficiently weakened and their fighting apparatus severely damaged. Coupled with the fact that the APC administration is not likely to achieve much before 2023. Lastly, President Buhari is naturally not a political ideologue so he may be just satisfied with completing his term and retiring peacefully.
PT: Nothing much is heard from you of late. Are you on political retirement?
Okupe: No, not at all. I am not in retirement. There is still much to be done and the real labourers are few. I am not saying much these days because I have said a lot in 20 years. The world is a big stage. You act your part and allow others to act theirs. Besides, I have an ongoing court case that occupies my time and focus. But I can tell you with certainty that as God who created heaven and earth, and unto whom all powers belong, liveth it is not over.
PT: They accused you of illegally receiving public funds from NSA Sambo Dasuki. Where are you in the court case?
Okupe: How can I, an employee of the Presidency, receive money from an officer in the presidency? The main charge is that I received N10 million monthly from the NSA to run my office on the instruction of the President. They claim in the charges that I reasonably ought to have known that the money with the NSA from where I was paid was from a fraudulent source. How on earth am I supposed to know that?
Also, the NSA started funding my office in 2012 — two years before the issue of Dasuki’s $2.1B case. Even the prosecutor’s witness, Alhaji Shuaibu, the DFA in the NSA’s office, on cross-examination stated categorically that he did not pay my office from any illegal funds and that they paid from their regular budget. It is there in the court proceedings. They also claimed I violated the money laundering act by receiving 10 million cash instead of N5 million stipulated by law. This is an obvious and mischievous fallacy. I never received any money from the NSA as Doyin Okupe.
I collected the monies for and on behalf of the office of the special assistant to the president on public affairs, which before the law is a corporate entity by itself and existence. The money laundering act allows companies and corporate bodies to receive up to N10 million cash payment. Besides the act specifies quite a lot of other provisions before you can be guilty. There must be concealment, intention to defraud, a criminal diversion into use other than what the money was meant for or evidence of the purchase of properties or personal materials the acquisition of which will clearly show that they are far above the expected income of the person concerned.
All these have been investigated for two years by EFCC and absolutely nothing has been found against me. I am simply a victim of malicious prosecution and political vendetta for my role as spokesman for the Jonathan regime.
PT: I like you to do some stargazing. How do you think the 2023 elections will play out? Will your party fare well, giving its present state?
Okupe: Concerning forecasting for 2023, it’s too early for any serious political populations. A lot will still happen in our polity that will shape the outcome of 2023 elections.
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