Kassim Afegbua, former campaign spokesman for ex-Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, tells ENIOLA AKINKUOTU about 2023 presidency, his relationship with top politicians and other issues
You were accused of working against the re-election of Governor Godwin Obaseki? Why did you think he was not the right person for the job?
From hindsight, he has proven to be a dictator kind of governor, always wanting his whims and caprices to suffice. He’s not a team player and I felt that an ingrate, no matter the status, must be reminded at all times who he is. All the lies told to whip up sentiments have expiry date. They (lies) have started manifesting once the governor got into the PDP and purportedly suspended those who helped him to campaign across the 192 wards of the state. Once he did that, people now started saying “oh, so Adams Oshiomhole was actually not the problem”. I am sure you have heard one nebulous theory of harmonisation as propounded by the governor, wanting executives of the party, who contested and won their positions, to vacate their positions for those tenants who came with him from the APC. Those who insulted me, castigated me and called me all sorts of names have come to realise that I was right in my judgment of not supporting the governor. Those who campaigned vigorously for him have since been shown the other side of life. They are all agonising now, and I am in my little corner smiling at the unfolding drama.
You are a member of the PDP, why were you campaigning for the candidate of the APC, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu?
You see, in politics, you don’t have to be blinded by partisan loyalty to the point that you won’t be able to respond to that inner being of your personality or emanations. Fact is, as a party, you cannot impose someone on me, and you expect me to keep quiet. I am not wired that way. I expected the party hierarchy in Abuja to sit some of us down to tell us their intention at the time Governor Obaseki was conscripted to join the party. When you sit down, you can then negotiate power sharing formula and come to a definitive conclusion about the distribution of power. They didn’t do that. They just woke up one morning, postponed the party primaries and before you say jack, they hurriedly imposed Obaseki and Philip Shuaibu to take over. Now, having won, the governor returned all his APC followers to all positions and left the old members of the PDP who had laboured to keep the party afloat. For me, my action from the start became justifiable. At this stage of my life, I cannot swallow hook, line and sinker what anybody is dishing out. I have to process it and see if it fits into my convictions and conscience. I am not an employee of the PDP. I am just an ordinary member.
Did you defect to the APC from the PDP when you worked with the former governor of your state, Adams Oshiomhole?
I left the PDP in 2001 to join others to form the National Democratic Party, and rose to become its Acting National Chairman in 2006. Owing to the crisis in the party because I refused to allow some of the executive members to dip their hands in the till, we had to split into factions. At the end of the day, INEC deregistered the party and we found our exit door. In 2009, Comrade Oshiomhole prevailed on me to serve as a Chief Press Secretary to him. I accepted the position after much pressure and resigned my appointment after four months. I couldn’t understand the process of the government at that time. Again, in his second term campaigns, he pleaded with me to join him as Director of Publicity of his campaign, which I accepted, and after the victory, he again prevailed on me to serve as Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, then later as Information Commissioner. I was part of the APC campaigns in 2015 before I left in 2017 when I discovered that the Muhammadu Buhari presidency wasn’t doing what they promised and captured in the party manifesto. I left in protest and joined the opposition PDP to afford me the opportunity to be criticising the APC and their visionless approach to governance.
So, what happened?
Nothing happened, other than the fact that I left them to team up with the PDP to fight the APC. The APC has been behaving worse that the PDP which they de-marketed in the 2015 election. I saw no reason why the kettle would be calling the pot black. All the front roll chieftains of the APC were once chieftains of the PDP.
Did you reach out to him (Oshiomhole) when he was having issues in the running of the APC?
I have a robust relationship with Adams Oshiomhole as a friend who always speaks the truth to power, no matter how bitter. Oshiomhole also appreciates me for being outspoken on issues I feel bad about. Even as his appointee, I spoke out my mind always. When he was the APC chairman, we had one or two occasions that we compared notes. The fact is, people in the APC were just afraid of the stance of Oshiomhole on many party issues and so, they teamed up to remove him from the party as the national chairman. Politics in Nigeria is very interesting and awfully so because people feed on lies and lies all the time. Any honest man in politics is a lonely man, just like I am. When you speak truth in politics, you will get insulted and castigated for daring to speak the truth. I don’t give a damn anyway. I speak my mind always and get a lot of reprieve or call it rest of mind if you like. I still maintain good and cordial relationship with Comrade Oshiomhole till date. I served in his government in Edo and shared in the positive and negative sides of that government. I cannot disown him by any standard.
Who were the people that moved against him and what do you think was or were their motives?
The fact of Oshiomhole’s problems was a function of the President’s inability to play politics of inclusion. Oshiomhole could not have unilaterally taken decisions about the role of the party without the President being briefed. When it became necessary for the President to protect him, he looked the other way. The whole stalemate was a function of Obaseki’s politics of qualification or no qualification. The governors ganged up against Oshiomhole to undo him in preference of their colleague. At the end of the day, they deployed those conspiracies to return Governor Obaseki at the 2020 election. We knew what transpired and those who played certain roles are already regretting their selfish and conspiratorial actions. Nemesis, as you know, will always catch up with you if your hands are soiled in any political undertaking
You were one of the spokespersons for former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, in 2019 during the election. What was the experience like in marketing him?
Following President Buhari’s underperformance and spineless leadership, coupled with the sufferings and unemployment in the land, it would have been easier to dislodge him from power. As spokesmen, we worked hard to present to Nigerians a candidate who we thought had the capacity to manage the country better. Despite all the leadership shortcomings of Atiku Abubakar, he would have been better than Buhari in terms of understanding the issues, reaching out to every part of the country, and also being able to engage and dialogue on a number of issues. So, we put our all to it and at the end of the day, we lost. The painful aspect of that experience was the fact that Atiku abandoned us on the field and ran away to Dubai to recalibrate, while we were still here battling the APC power oligarchs, at the risk of our lives. It was later I heard he held a meeting with the president then, where he was promised to be compensated. Whether true or false, anything can happen in politics. The fact that we didn’t see him throughout the tribunal was something that diminished his profile in my own estimation. And it is the reason why I feel he doesn’t deserve to be looked upon as a candidate this time round. He has had his time, it is about time he called it quit in politics.
Did you think he was rigged out as claimed by the former VP and the PDP then?
Of course we were rigged out. They used Borno and Yobe states to rig the election. Yobe state recorded close to 84 per cent attendance; such a curious figure where insurgency has been ravaging, same goes for Borno, about 86 per cent attendance. The figures we scored in those two states affected us badly, and we felt the military under Buratai might have compromised. Don’t forget that there was this issue of bullets for ballot during that election. It was like a threat and the rest, as they say is history.
Did you think Atiku had the capacity to rule in 2019?
In 2019, Atiku was regionally suitable to be a candidate because the party allowed all the aspirants to come from the North. I was supporting Aminu Tambuwal, the Sokoto State Governor. He remains a friend, a brother and political associate. I worked tirelessly to ensure he got the ticket because I believed then that a man without encumbrances was better than one who was being alleged to be corrupt. When Tambuwal lost at the Port Harcourt primary election, I had no option than to support the man who emerged as the party’s candidate. I was appointed as spokesman for the PDP Presidential Campaign Council, and not as spokesman for the Atiku Campaign Organisation. People must understand the difference. From all the algorithms, it was obvious the Waziri of Adamawa had what it takes in 2019 to lead, but in this era and time, the political pendulum is swinging southwards. The North should allow us to present candidate in order to balance the equation. Again, at 76, Atiku is fatigued, tired, spent and aged. He should simply allow younger ones to lead while he gives guidance. He should join his octogenarian friends to play the role of elder statesman in the interest of shaping the politics and destiny of this great country. At 76, going to 77, he should not be going round in the name of seeking election. He should enjoy the comfort of his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
You claimed that he cannot be a perennial candidate of the PDP… recall that President Buhari was a candidate for the office for about four times?
The scenarios are different. Are you aware that Alhaji Atiku has been contesting election since 1993 during the MKO Abiola era? That is 29 years ago and the same man is still in the race? Haba naa. President Buhari was contesting election under his own party like the ANPP, CPC and later APC. You cannot compare those political parties with the PDP, which is a national party. If Atiku was candidate in 2019 and we lost the election, it is only equitable to allow another candidate from the South to try this time round. We cannot continue to recycle leaders who should be resting at home with their grand children to come lead us in this 21st century. We need upwardly mobile young Nigerians to take the shot and create a new paradigm shift in terms of our leadership orientation. It is time for us to say capital NO to Methuselah politics. We are tired of these tired legs. We need to breathe.
What did you think worked for Buhari that cannot work for Atiku now?
In 2019, Buhari and his party the APC rigged the election. In 2015, President Jonathan was contesting against the run of play. So, those who saw reason that it was the turn of the North, pulled out of the PDP, formed newPDP, and some governors had to pull out in protest to support the APC which gave victory to Buhari. Now we are saying the PDP hierarchy should be man enough to declare the turn of the South, they are still playing the ostrich. Please tell Alhaji Atiku that he’s old, he should quit the stage. People should learn to behave like Nelson Mandela and know when to exit the contest for power. We don’t want another President Buhari who manages his health more than responding to the leadership needs of the country.
Is it true that you always have price on who you work for?
It is the easiest way to blackmail you when they can’t fault your argument or point. When I fought Obaseki in 2020 election, who paid me? When I fought my lecturer in my undergraduate year, who paid me? When I fought College Examination Officer in Anambra College of Education, Nsugbe during my NYSC, who paid me? When I fought Alhaji Habu Fari and others in the NDP, who paid me? When you try to state things the way they should be, the convenient thing for your opponents is to use blackmail. How come they are not able to buy me too? Very ridiculous people, they always want everyone to follow their path of perfidy. So for daring to ask for political justice, that the South should be given the opportunity to present a candidate in 2023, they have suddenly turned me to a commodity? Arrant nonsense!
You think the southern part of the country can win the Presidency for the PDP?
We can win very well. Go and look at the figures of where Atiku got his votes, it was from the South. All we need is to place eternal vigilance on the field, protect our votes, and you will see the outcome. With INEC’s latest technology, rigging of election won’t be that easy again. The APC is embroiled in crisis and have run the country aground. With the right southern candidate in PDP, we will defeat the APC.