A former Political Adviser to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, Akin Osuntokun, in this interview with FRIDAY OLOKOR, says President Muhammadu Buhari will be more vindictive if he is re-elected. Excerpts:
On Saturday, Nigeria will go to the polls once again to elect a president. What are your fears about the elections?
My fear is the incumbent President(Muhammadu Buhari) and his associates. They will be desperate and panicky. The most significant revelation in that respect is the statement by Kaduna State Governor, (Ahmad Nasir el-Rufai) about the international community. That is a very volatile statement and what it implies is very grievous. They are not preparing for the other outcome. The more the option of losing gets real, the more panicky and desperate they get. It looks like an element of going for broke. When you put yourself in a position in which you are prepared to become a pariah in the international community, that is an indication of desperation and a desperate person is a dangerous person.
It is very tragic to think that is the exact opposite of what his predecessor, (Goodluck) Jonathan did, when he elevated himself and showed him (Buhari) the best standards of democracy. He called his opponent before even all the results were released. We cannot over-emphasise what President Jonathan did in 2015. He stabilised a potentially very volatile political environment. It brought calm to the country. It gave the incoming government a stable and solid base to apply themselves to governance and what have they made of themselves? They have proved themselves unworthy of that kind of gesture and spent most of their time in escapism and criminalising Jonathan in all imaginable ways.
I am not aware of many projects that this President has inaugurated, but there are three that stand out; the development at the Abuja Airport and the Port Harcourt Airport and the Abuja-Kaduna rail. These were projects that Jonathan paid for before he left, and yet this President has the effrontery to tell you that ‘they were just stealing money, they didn’t do anything,’ In all indices of assessment, this present government has taken Nigeria backward in almost all areas: economic regression, corruption as rated by all credible international organisations, insecurity localised in the North-East but which has spread to Kaduna and Katsina to the point of the governor of Katsina State crying out that he can no longer even guarantee the safety of the Government House.
Will somebody like you go on exile if President Muhammadu Buhari is re-elected?
You must be a mind reader, of course, there is a likelihood of that because he is going to come back more vindictive. Then there is going to be intense power play within his own circles because his incapacity can only get worse. So what we are seeing now is going to get multiplied if he is re-elected. The only problem I have is that I cannot imagine myself living elsewhere. I am so emotionally and mentally attached to my roots.
You are a key actor in the South-West politics and from what we have seen, it appears the zone has become polarised this time than in previous elections. Afenifere, for instance, has been factionalised. Are you not worried that the so-called Awoists have deviated from the ideals of Chief Obafemi Awolowo?
In all organisations, even when Awolowo was alive, you would always find renegades. I don’t see how they can make any legitimate claim. The only known person among them in the Afenifere leadership has excused himself and has not been taking part in their activities, but I think they just found him useful to use his name and his status. So long as we have takers, there will always be givers.Any incumbent President of Nigeria has the capacity to play divide and rule politics and entice a few people; but at the end of the day, people are not children, you can make a distinction between fake and reality.
Do you see money influencing all these actions?
Yes, of course; what else will you attribute it to? Before Atiku emerged as the candidate of the PDP, in all Yoruba circles, which have affiliations with Afenifere or Awolowo, what we were saying was that restructuring was what we wanted and that we would support any candidate that adopted it. Hence Atiku has been on it for a very long time and even at a cost to his popularity in the North.
So when he emerged as the PDP presidential candidate with that agenda, then we started seeing leaders and elders speaking from both sides of the mouth, about what we all knew then. It is a pity.
Nigeria is in a very traumatic state and of course because of the harsh economy, complexity of human frailty and weakness and some for evasive reasons, we have witnessed a lot of that.
We have seen them talking about Olusegun Obasanjo as if he is the one contesting the election. So this is a kind of escapism, they will focus attention on Obasanjo and I said ‘if you want to criticise Obasanjo, for you to have legitimacy to criticise him, you must reject what we have now; if you are not rejecting that person, that means you are just playing the game you are sent to do.’ The only way you can be considered credible and legitimate is that you disown what is happening. In all indices you may think this government has done badly. How does a President seek reelection on the platform of anti-corruption, accept Adams Oshiomhole as the leader of his campaign? He went to Kano to raise the hand of Ganduje and before that he was making excuses for him. This is an anti-corruption government making excuses for somebody who was caught on camera.
In the South-West politics; Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has remained a potent force and nobody has been able to withstand him….
I don’t agree with you. During the Osun State governorship election, they (the APC) lost the election and rigged it blatantly. So what are you attributing to him? Senator Adeleke defeated them hands down. They had an incumbent governor there, the treasury was open to them and yet they were defeated.
Since 1999, Tinubu has continued to be relevant in Lagos State and in South-West politics…
Don’t forget that he started on the platform of the National Democratic Coalition and because of his role, he has acquired a lot of legitimacy.
In my view, he has a lot of respect on account of that and he is also a very generous and pleasant person; so it is easy for people to like him.
You must also credit him with what you are seeing; to sustain that kind of political relevance, it takes something more than the average politician. But at the same time, he is smart to build up a lot of influence in the media. He understands the power of propaganda and he invested heavily in it. On the contrary, the PDP side seems to be very incapable when it comes to publicity and propaganda. They are like a sitting duck. A lot of it also has to do with luck and make-belief.
To what extent for instance will you attribute Ibikunle Amosun’s governorship election in Ogun State to his (Tinubu’s) support? He rarely did not support (the governorship of) Kayode Fayemi, although the election was stolen too. Like most political leaders, political preeminence has to do with myth. He has succeeded in creating that myth around himself, but if you probe deeper, you will see that he (Tinubu) is in the battle of his life now.
Do you still see somebody like Tinubu holding the aces in the next 10 years…?
Not at all; he has vested interest in Buhari losing this election. If when somebody needs you for re-election, he treated you the way he did; his wife said it publicly on the TV, when he no longer needs you what will he do? It is simple logic.
He, of course, knows that many people around Buhari and the cabal don’t like him. He has more enemies within the APC in the Buhari hierarchy more than he has friends and they are going to go after him and of course maybe he doesn’t understand the mentality of the people that he is dealing with. People like Buhari don’t share powers. There is no doubt he (Buhari) has some kind of Fulani hegemony agenda. You see the personalisation of the security agencies, doing things that imply that the others are second class citizens.
Bola Tinubu is also vulnerable in terms of allegations that have been made against him; so he is going to operate under the sword of Damocles and knowing these people, they probably want to use him to prove a point, that for our supporters, we don’t shield them or whatever it is. So if he doesn’t understand all these, then he would not be worthy of the kind of ability you are attributing to him.
Are you expecting a repeat of 1984?
That was military dictatorship. Up till 1998 when Gen. Sani Abacha died, the politics and Presidency of Nigeria was like a plain yard of the North. The hegemony they had exerted was reinforced in 1966. Don’t forget they wanted to secede but they didn’t.
The so-called northern hegemony of civilians and the military said that they were going to remain in Nigeria on their own terms and their terms of permanent domination. We will be unfair if we are attributing the shortcomings of Buhari to the North. From my own random investigation, I am sure that the majority of the northern elites are not really with him. There is something like mob democracy, so he is able now to appeal to the base sentiments of the northern masses, ‘that is our leader, this is the man, we versus them’; so, once he attains the leadership of that kind of chauvinistic ethnic base, the other leaders are being put on the spot. If you now come out to criticise them, they will accuse you of being a sellout or a traitor. You shouldn’t mistake the silence of many of these people as consent or collaboration with Buhari in whatever agenda he is prosecuting. President Buhari and the so-called cabal, have not demonstrated what I will call enlightened self- interest. They are prone to internal squabbles. The Director-General of the DSS and the EFCC chairman work directly with the President. This President kept on nominating Ibrahim Magu to the Senate for confirmation; the DG of the DSS under him was the one providing evidence why he should not be confirmed. So again this is a kind of dysfunctional administration that you have. Your own the DG of the DSS, answerable to you, goes to the Senate to provide an evidence to propose that the person you, his principal, has nominated should not be honoured. So we are going to have more of this. There is a lot of this in the way they treat Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo like a glorified houseboy.
The helicopter accident Osinbajo had in Kabba, Kogi State, was scandalous and it was very revealing. I worked in the Presidency for five years, the Vice-President of Nigeria, by protocol, has access to innumerable helicopters, including military ones and then where he found the need to go and charter a private helicopter, this is an indication of the way they treat him. He has no business taking a private commercial helicopter on an errand that is not personal to him. That is an illustration of how you can have an idea of what is going on in that place. We thank God that he survived it.