•‘Jonathan contending with the most formidable opposition since 1960’
•Lists the quick fixes Jonathan needs ahead of polls
•‘How S/West will vote in 2015’
Mr Akin Osuntokun is not new on the nation’s political terrain. He operated at the highest level of government when he was Political Adviser to former President OlusegunObasanjo. Before then, he was the Managing Director of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). In this interview, Osuntokun diagnoses the polity, fielding questions on the forthcoming elections and the contenders. Excerpts:
The N21b donated to the PDP presidential campaign has generated interest among a section of the public with some people saying those who donated the money committed illegality. Some people in fact called it obscene while a group of lawyers were reported as calling for the prosecution of the PDP and some of the donors. Should mere donation to a campaign generate hues and cries?
With due respect, Nigerians tend to be sensational even at the risk of sounding hypocritical, most of the time. I was a director of a presidential campaign like this in 2002. I can tell you that just paying like N1000 or N2000 per agent in all the polling booths all over the country amounted to about N10b. That is just paying them, all over the country. When people hear that it is N21b, may be it is generating reaction because it is PDP.
Everything the party does, they think it must be discredited but, more importantly, I think I have mentioned this fact once which is that there is a lack of rigor and seriousness about the way commentators and observers respond to issues. They are given to cheap and careless talk. I would have expected that there are relevant facts that should be taken into consideration. One of such is, what does the law permit?
And within the context of what we are talking about, is that law even reasonable? Because I was reading a while ago that the presidential campaign donation should not exceed N1b. How can that be possible when paying your agents is a lot more than N1b? You are going to travel around the country, charter planes and hire buses, hotel expenses are there.
The logistics of going round the country for a presidential campaign are enormous. May be political editors should, through their writings, speak to the minds of those who crafted the law, it is an unrealistic law. It is not logical given what is on ground. But, campaign finances, like in the advanced democracies, you saw what happened in the last presidential election in the U.S., the money spent was well over 1b dollars and their own Supreme Court was the one that actually gave judgment and removed any ceiling on the money spent on election.
The money spent during the last congressional election in the US was well over 400m dollars. Yes, it is good to limit the impact of money so that it can be regularized in such a way that, having taken into account what you need to spend on logistics, you can now use that to factor what the law should consider excessive spending. I think Nigerians need to be educated and counselled not to get carried away by figures easily.
I think the source of the funds is also important and that is what the critics are querying. You find Jerry Gana and friends donating N5b, Tunde Ayeni, an operator in the power sector, donating N2b, and people are saying when these people contribute this much to the campaign, the chances are that they will have some influence on government when the party wins the election at the end of the day.
Was the government of America taken over by those who contributed money especially the Republicans? There is no logical correspondence between the two. The fact that you put down money does not mean you exert needless influence over government activities. Obasanjo said so in 1999 that ‘consider the money you have donated as a wise investment but nothing further’. Jerry Gana was able to mobilize N5b, all well and good.
If you want to investigate it as an issue, go ahead and do it, but why should you bother yourself if some people among themselves decided to raise a certain amount? In any case, don’t let us overreach ourselves. The problems of elections in Nigeria, if we were to give them priority, donations made would not rank high. I think we should be more concerned about credibility of voting on the day of election so that every vote would count, establishing a conducive atmosphere.
Whatever the peg you put on donation is ultimately irrelevant if you cannot attain the standard of credibility that was achieved in Ekiti and Osun states. I hope you know that it is on record that the single most expensive application form in the history of Nigeria was paid by General Buhari. This is where the hypocrisy of some people like Buhari begins to come in.
How can you say you stand for probity and you find it in yourself to pay N27m? it would have been credible of him to say, ‘look, if this is what I need to pay to get this, I am not going to do it’. If you want to live by example and image his supporters are projecting him to be, then he has no business paying N27m to get application form. He went head telling stories that he got it from a bank manager and so on, tell that to the marines.
If they say the N27m application form was intended to weed out unserious candidates, to the best of my knowledge, none of the five applicants stepped down on account of the application fee. But I am saying here is a man who says he has only one house, I don’t know whether it is true or not, you are this and that. If he refuses to pay the money, will APC disqualify him? I assumed and it was proven at the primary that he was their most formidable candidate, and I thought he would have used that platform to insist that the right thing must be done. He didn’t choose that path
What does that tell you about Nigerian politicians generally?
Where this is significant is the gap between deed and precept. He projects himself and he is being projected as a cut apart. The man that has come to fight indiscipline, corruption and so on and he had not even started the race before exhibiting contrary tendencies. This is my personal problem with people like Buhari, they will say something and not want to be judged by it regarding the kind of statements made all over the place. I must have mentioned it somewhere in my writings.
He championed the destabilization and subversion of Obasanjo government, because Obasanjo probed PTF and he was invited to clarify issues that did not bear out the reputation of integrity. And he then exploited the issue of Sharia to instigate division and incite regional rebellion against Obasanjo. And here lies my fundamental objection against his aspiration-that anybody who uses the instrumentality of division and polarizing the people of this country should not be rewarded with the presidency of Nigeria.
He attained to political popularity by pandering to the base sentiment of religious persecution. Until a year ago, what was he saying about Book Haram? He said when the Niger- Delta militants did their own, they rehabilitated them, sent them to schools abroad, this and that, but when it came to Boko Haram in the North, they are burning their houses and killing them (Boko Haram sect), and for that, it is an injustice to the North.
This was what this man said, just barely a year ago. And Nigerians tend to have short attention span and are given to wilful ignorance. Choose that which they want to remember and choose which to forget. The impression I have gathered in some of my write ups on him is that some people don’t want to know the truth; they care less about putting their own candidate under scrutiny. And, I say that is unfair.
If Jonathan is being put under 1000 megawatts light, his language, body movements, everything is scrutinized, every second of the day, it is only fair for the opponent to be subjected to a measure of scrutiny too.
In essence, Buhari is not under adequate scrutiny
Most certainly he has not. Look at his antecedence. He has the dubious distinction of heading a government that was the most unbalanced and parochial in the history of Nigeria. He was a Muslim from the North, the late Idiagbon, his deputy at that time, was a Muslim from the North also. You can see the trend of his instinct. When he was the Chairman of PTF, almost 70% of the expenditure of the PTF was expended in one section of the country. He was Chairman for five years. During those five years, no single staff of PTF was tried for corruption, is it realistic to assume that for those five years no corrupt act was perpetrated at the agency? PTF was perhaps the only agency on record that handed over its mandate to just one consultant-the Afri-projects
Some people may argue that as the boss who set the rules and lived by example, people under him were able to key into that?
Well they didn’t key into it and it was his duty that he ensured they did.
When you say they did not, then you must have a contrary view.
I am telling you that they didn’t key into and it is unrealistic for you to assume that nobody was corrupt in PTF. In any case, there are papers that established sundry acts of corruption. The buck stopped on his table which is what they are saying about Jonathan. If your wife is unable to deliver safely today, they will find a way of attributing it to Jonathan; that is an exaggerated way of saying he takes responsibility for everything. You as the executive Chairman of PTF, the buck stopped on your table on everything done there. I think Nigerians need to think more and beyond the superficial.
I thought that was in the past and the past should be in the past
Oh I see! They belong to the past. Okay, what Jonathan did yesterday should belong to the past too, right?
He is an incumbent president, his case is different.
So the standard of judging an incumbent president should be different from somebody who says he is better than him? Buhari has record. It is the height of hypocrisy to say that you don’t want to hold him to that record. The aspect of it you think is convenient for you, you want to trumpet it to high heavens, who is fooling who?
Even if you want to discountenance the past, the act of him purchasing a form for N27m alone speaks volumes of Buhari. Again, it is very unwise politically for him to have done that. I think that is where he should have started his anti-corruption crusade. What we have in Buhari is the character of a man so desperate and obsessed with power. After he lost the election in 2011, he said he was no longer going to contest again. A year later, the story has changed
You worked closely with Obasanjo and in the emergence of Jonathan as running mate to the late Yar’Adua. I can’t find the connection between the present Obasanjo’santagonism towards somebody he is supposed to be guiding. What went wrong?
I think it has one or two dimensions. Some aspects of it are political. Some aspects are genuine worries. No president is perfect. Like Jonathan said and I often tell people that they don’t have a full measure of the problems a president gets confronted. On that seat, you are going to get about 10 conflicting advices on one issue. That alone puts you on the spot.
I am a supporter of Jonathan which means that I don’t agree substantially with the position Obasanjo has taken. It is not that I believe that Jonathan is the best that has happened to Nigeria, it is not that by any stretch of imagination i think that he should not be criticized. I have no objection to that. Mine is this. If 90% of those who have access to the media are publicly criticizing a man that you cannot find any good thing to say about him, the man cannot be totally bad. I took a deliberate position to advocate for him, to put his case forward, for the sake of balance.
In the past two, three weeks, I have been asking myself, what really is the problem that critics cannot see anything good in this man? I travelled by road from Abuja to Lagos and saw evidence of works all over, and yet, people are saying he has done nothing. The railways is there. Go to agriculture and see what he has done there. It really worries me. Some of these things are so contrary to logic. By temperament and training, I believe in fairness and balance. People exaggerate the short comings of the president, they are grossly exaggerated.
Nigeria got the best rating from Transparent International since, I think, they have been rating Nigeria. This year, T.I said 37 countries are more corrupt than Nigeria. Before, Nigeria used to be either the most corrupt or the second or third. What is it that they have seen that we are yet to see? They are not partisan. They have no obligation to be. They have more access to the information they use to evaluate a country.
This is why I say people should pause and reflect. A man has to speak for himself anyway. May be they are not doing a lot of that. But, I see a lot of intimidation, stampeding the president all over the place. And, to be fair to Obasanjo anyway, he has played that role to a higher and lesser degree since he left as military head of state. So his criticism of Jonathan, is to that extent, not peculiar. But, at the end of the day, everybody would answer for himself. And one thing I appreciate him (baba) for is that, he has not in any way tried to influence me against the position that I take, not at all. Not once did he say or imply ‘don’t support Jonathan’.
If you were president today, given the fact that elections are two months away, what would you be doing as quick fixes in order to tilt that perception you said is fraudulent to positives to assure the people that you are still the best man for the job?
He should find a way of getting across to people on his achievements. But there is a problem here and this is where style obstructs actions. If only people can be open to see objectively what he has done, I just gave an instance that there is nobody who drives from Abuja to Lagos and will not be impressed whichever government was responsible for the road works. I think his style, gestures and symbols for instance matter.
Like the woman who died of Ebola, Dr.Adedevoh, I don’t see why he should not extend substantial goodwill gesture to her. Although the argument was that you cannot give her national honour post humorously, I thought he needed to have done something spontaneously. To me, if you name the National Hospital, Abuja after her, I don’t think it is too much. This is why I said it is about style. So, you ask, why has he not done it? That is why I said it is a matter of style.
Then, there is an aspect of him which is, he just believes in allowing processes and situations to play themselves out even if it is at a cost to himself. I think he has this attitude of saying, ‘Look, what is there? My conscience is clear, I have done this right, if people believe it or not, God is there’. But again, the opposition he has now is the most formidable any government can have since 1960. We have a significant segment of the South- West which is propaganda powered, plus the most entrenched interest in Nigeria, the North.
If you have those two segments to contend with… where it becomes double jeopardy is that by nature, the president is a recessive personality. And you know this 24 hour news cycle; what you do now-in 30 minutes the news is all over the world. So, whoever is in the spot light is under public scrutiny 24 hours a day. It never used to be like that. And as a media person, in our own profession, how it is damaging is that, he no longer has the luxury of time.
Before the global village era, If you receive a news item in Vanguard, it doesn’t get to the public until the following day, so that gives room for damage control, but not any longer. These are some of the problems he is contending with. And it is like something that has acquired a momentum of its own, negative news feeding negative news. Its like anything you see or read about government, you immediately push it to your subconscious that it has to be negative.
People are not ready to give him the benefit of the doubt. You assume the worst, almost immediately. I give you an instance, there was this controversy, I think, some months back about a plane taking 9.12 million dollars to South Africa. The interpretation by his adversaries and many non-adversaries too was that there was some kind of corruption involved-and that is because people don’t want to give him any benefit of the doubt but I did.
I was with my friends and I said to them that if a president wants to steal money and take it out, will it be 12m dollars that he will steal? But along the line, we now found the reason, not because they told us, but because it was the reality. They had to go and purchase arms in the black market. You cannot blame him for that because the security operatives cannot afford to tell you that ‘this is what we want to do, here is the place we are going to buy it from’.
Nigerians now know but the damage has been done. Another one: Before the Governor of Central Bank, Lamido Sanusi, left his position, he made this allegation about 20 billion dollars missing. At the time he left office, all parties to that controversy, including himself, agreed that it was only 11 billion dollars outstanding, but up till today, if the London Times is writing about it, everybody in Nigeria, it is 20 billion dollars unaccounted for. I am not saying 11 billion dollars excuses anybody, but this illustrates the predisposition to exaggerate the man’s shortcomings.
How about the issues of the economy and power which have become a campaign issue?
You talk about the economy not doing well, what parameters or yardsticks are you using to measure it and relative to what in Nigeria? I am not saying the economy of Nigeria is in good shape but you also have to look at it objectively, and relative to what? Is it any worse than before. There will definitely be areas of improvement. The government has adopted macro economy stability model-like Obasanjo did.
In the short run, it is going to impact some level of discomfort but, again, that is a policy debate. I told someone that if you want to get an honest assessment of the Nigerian economy, go to the World Bank or IMF or the rating agencies. You spoke about power, I am not happy about it too. I think the problem is circular, that is when the cause becomes the effect and the effect becomes the cause. Another political problem I found is that, people think he took the tenure that should have gone to the North.
A large amount of the hostility towards him emanates from there. For instance, people would tell you that he said he would only do one term. But where is the evidence? At any rate If Jonathan is from any of this majority group, WAZOBIA, he will be less vulnerable to this kind of political intimidation. And one of the reasons I stand up for him is that I don’t like intimidation….simply because he is from the minority and they are not as cohesive as those of us that come from the so – called majority groups. He is from minority within minority within minority.
Would you blame people when they criticize the ruling party given what is happening in Ekiti State where, with the collusion of the sitting governor, seven members of the state House of Assembly have upstaged 21 colleagues?
Can you mention any other PDP governor that has done that? If one out of 22 governors did that, why should you be generalizing it as PDP? You did not ask a similar question about Fayemi who was reported to have purchased two beds for N50m, who built a mansion at over 3billion naira with a yearly maintenance fee of N150m. and this in a state that is the poorest in the country. I am sure if it was a PDP governor, there would have been protest marches all over the country.
Where do you see the Yoruba nation of the South-West before and post – 2015?
I was reading my brother SegunAdeniyi recently talking about the Buhari fever in the South- West. Personally I don’t have a fever. And Ekiti and Ondo states, I don’t think anybody can consider them feverish for Buhari. In Oyo and Ogun States, the APC is in the minority, even though it is the government there. In Oyo state the combination of Ladoja, Akala and residual PDP constitute by far the majority.
As a matter of fact, APC has been a minority all along, it is not just now. The case has just gotten worse. At the beginning, if you added the votes of those who split from PDP to the original PDP, if you put all the votes together, APC would have lost, and the same thing in Ogun State. The situation in Ogun has gotten worse now because Chief Osoba has taken his own faction out of the APC.
So, when people write in the media, talking about Buhari fever in the South- West, I just laugh. These people in Oyo and Ogun states, they may quarrel among themselves at the moment, but they have to make one choice at the presidential election, it will be between Jonathan and Buhari, I don’t see any of them pitching its tent with Buhari or APC. Effectively, the probability is that Jonathan will win in those four states, Oyo, Ekiti, Ogun and Ondo. There remains Lagos and Osun states.
The case of Osun state is very interesting. The kind of stuff we are hearing at the tribunal is that the APC has some questions to answer, but let us assume that Jonathan wins the percentage of votes that Omisore won during the governorship election in the state, add it to those four states. In Lagos, there is an aspect of the Lagos voting population that I would not want to refer to here but in Lagos State, there is very high probability that the PDP will surprise pundits. I hope you can now see how the Buhari fever has been effectively contained in the South West-the way and manner Nigeria successfully contained the Ebola fever.