By Clifford Ndujihe, Deputy Political Editor
C hief Akin Osuntokun, a renowned journalist, former managing director of the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN and Political Adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, in this explosive interview speaks on why the 2019 elections may be tight on account of moves to form a third force by aggrieved members of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC and main opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP. He also spoke on why Nigeria must be restructured urgently and why President Muhammadu Buhari may beat Alhaji Atiku Abubakar if the 2019 presidential election boils down to Buhari vs Atiku.
On the state of affairs in Nigeria
The most newsworthy developments in recent times are the national convention of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP and the defection of former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar from the All Progressives Congress, APC to the PDP. Of course, both events have great implications for the APC and the anticipated 2019 general elections.
I think the PDP got it wrong by not reserving the national chairmanship position for the South-West geo-political zone. It looks like a self-inflicted injury. I cannot rationalise it unless you want to regionalise PDP as against being a national party with a potential to win elections at the national level. The development poses a lot of problems for the PDP and makes calculations towards the 2019 election a little bit problematic.
With what has happened in the PDP, there is an allegation that the South-West is marginalised and poorly treated in the PDP, which makes the APC much more likely to win the election, taking all things for granted because the APC itself is fraught with problems.
There is the likelihood, and I think it is even imminent, of what we call implosion. There are conflicting factions within the party. It is difficult to see how the interests can be reconciled before the elections. All these taken together compels the emergence of a third party. Personally, that is what I will wish for Nigeria. The APC and PDP have lost a lot of appeal from Nigerians. The APC has been seen as a big disappointment even within its stronghold in the Muslim North.
I don’t see how it can positively transform that image between now and the next election. The PDP, even with the baggage of what it acquired when it was in power, was trending towards this general idea that the party in opposition is always the ideal, in other words, you promise everything that the party in power cannot do, which was what the APC did in 2015. The PDP was looking good going forward until it shot itself in the foot.
The defection of Atiku to the PDP has long been foretold. He too is a damaged good. The magnitude and scope of the failure of the APC government maximize the odds of defection from the party in the run-up to the elections. There is, of course, also an element of opportunism in jumping from one party to the other.
Realistically, Atiku has the wherewithal financially and viable network to competitively vie for the presidency but if it comes down to a choice being between him and President Buhari, I think the president will carry the day. However, his coming to the PDP is an asset. The party will need the additional strength it brings in terms of financial and structural support. It does not mean he will emerge as the candidate of the party but he is a potential candidate for the party. He still has to go through the rigours of party primaries.
The greatest obstacle he has is that there are formidable stakeholders and game changers in the system such as Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and Buhari himself, etc, who cannot countenance him as a potential president. That is an albatross for him. How he is going to contend and grapple with that challenge remains to be seen. It is a big and formidable challenge.
Why do you think Buhari will beat Atiku? Don’t you think that Atiku’s support for restructuring will give him an advantage in the South after sharing northern votes with Buhari?
The Muslim North does not support restructuring. They will oppose Atiku on account of that.
Apart from the national chairmanship seat, don’t you think the South-West can be compensated in a PDP government with the vice- presidency, senate presidency, secretary to the government of the federation among others?
A bird in hand is worth several in the bush. Secondly, the chairmanship had for long been zoned to the South-West by assumption, goodwill, and convention. So, it is an act of deprivation because the South-West has every right to expect it because it has never produced the chairman. The argument that the PDP does not have a foothold in the South-West is self-defeating and contradictory.
The way to address that is not by making the party less relevant in terms of organogram and identification. Yes, potentially, there are other positions but politicians are realistic people. In any case, it is condescending and demeaning for the South-West the way it was treated. There was really no need for it. They just made it easier for the APC or any other party to get the sympathy of the South-West.
As it is today, it will be difficult for people in the South-West to say there is anything for them in the PDP. What makes it worse is that it seems a continuation of what had happened when former President Goodluck Jonathan was there. I am wondering what was the political permutation that makes trifling with or trivialising the South-West a worthy gamble. Of course, Jonathan paid for it. So, there has been that tendency right from when President Jonathan was there-to trivialise the South-West.
It is going to be a critical factor. The APC is almost like a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. That is why a third party is so much compelling and appealing. There has to be a third party today to give the people something to hope for. I will join others to work for the emergence of such a party.
Which of the other 65 parties do you think will fit the bill of the desired third party? And don’t you think such move will further weaken the opposition and boost APC’s chances?
No, it won’t because the third force will include aggrieved and alienated members of the APC and PDP. It is a very exciting prospect and will catch on given the mood of Nigerians. Even in terms of raw political calculations, stakeholders and gladiators with grassroots support and machinery will see a bright prospect in the third party. The PDP faction that joined the APC was the decisive factor that took APC to victory. The same thing will happen to the third party. Giving a name to the third party is not the issue. The movers can adopt the shell of any party and work with it.
On comments that promoters of the third party are political lightweights without electoral value
I know some promoters who have tremendous electoral value. There are people, who are playing critical roles in the APC and PDP that will go to the third party. The sympathies of the game changers will not remain with the APC and PDP. You are going to have idealists and propagandists. You cannot minimise their contribution. Some of them may not have electoral value but can play decisive roles in swaying people’s opinion. You need both opinion moulders and those with electoral value in party formation.
What the PDP lacked in 2015 was the presence of an intellectual core that could have advocated and propagated its ideals. The PDP did not have it either by taking the role for granted or choosing to be blind to the intrinsic value. The field was left open for the other party, which had it and knew the value of public opinion
That point was made in the last election. There is no party that will, given the experience of the PDP, take public opinion and the role of intellectuals, publicists, and propagandists for granted. It helped the APC a lot because they were able to mobilise the weight of enlightened opinion against Jonathan and the PDP in the 2015 election. While their feet were on the ground, their head was in the air and they were able to maximise the input of both.
Given that the PDP zoned the House of Representatives’ speakership to the South-West during the Jonathan administration but it was truncated by the opposition, is it right to say that the PDP trivialised South-West support under Jonathan?
Yes. You can make an amends for it. If you are looking for an excuse, that is an excuse for not doing what you did not want to do. The government could have compensated the South-West since the zone did not get the speakership. Although Jonathan attempted to do it towards the end of his tenure but it was too late.
On the APC claim that its government is doing well in terms of the war against corruption and insecurity, and management of the economy
The government is itself, the chief prosecutor against that claim when, like a bolt from the moon, the announcement was made that the Federal Government needed to withdraw $1billion from the Excess Crude Account to fight Boko Haram two and a half years after it got power and repeatedly claimed that it had defeated Boko Haram.
What they have done defeats their claim of defeating Boko Haram, which they claim as one of their strong points. Within a year, the government took delivery of a lot of weapons from the US, which lifted sanctions on the ban of sale of weapons to Nigeria in the belief and conviction that this was what was needed; I read somewhere of the government voting N120 billion for procurement of weapons from the Trump Administration, etc to fight Boko Haram. Less than a year, you are again asking for another $1billion after telling us that Boko Haram had been technically defeated. However, Boko Haram is still strong and resurgent. It has not been defeated except in the imagination of the APC government.
On corruption, little or nothing has been achieved. Look at the Mainagate; has anyone been penalised for that? Look at what the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr Ibe Kachikwu, said about the rot in the NNPC. There are so many indicators that argue against the rhetoric that this government is fighting corruption. A friend of mine made a very crucial distinction the other day, which I will like to repeat: Probing the past government is different from fighting corruption. If you close your eyes to what is happening within your government that is staring everybody in the face, it becomes difficult to stake a claim that you are fighting corruption. It is all over the place, people talk about nepotism and lopsided appointments. Nepotism is corruption
They are fighting corruption at the level of rhetoric and propaganda, crucifixion, probing, and criminalization of the last government. So fighting corruption is not a strong point of this government. There are infractions on the TSA-as recently claimed that NNPC was relatively exempted from the policy. These are not credentials of a government that is fighting corruption. There is also the perceived incompetence. They said Nigeria is out of recession.
That is theoretical because in terms of reality, people have not seen the evidence that Nigeria is out of recession. Even among its supporters you hear comments like the ‘president is not strong on economic management and foreign affairs. I cannot see the indices of economic achievement. Look at the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, probably the most important access road in the Nigerian economy. It has been practically abandoned for years, it has become an albatross and nothing is being done about it. Look at the Lagos–Ibadan Expressway, we heard that the money vired to fund it was taken away.
Fundamentally, all these are reflections of the political dysfunction of Nigeria, which people have been saying and it boils down to the question of restructuring. The way it is currently structured, Nigeria is not likely to be efficient or optimal in the utilisation of resources, and be fairly objective in the allocation of resources. Until we have a culture where there is a positive correlation between productivity and reward, Nigeria will not go anywhere. Nigeria today is built on the culture of patronage, consumption, and distribution of largesse instead of a reward for hard work.
The tragedy of it is that it has been passed down to the lowest level of the society. That is the dead weight hanging on the neck of the country. In a situation where the federal and state governments continue to share allocations on monthly basis from the proceeds of crude oil sales (for sustenance) not internally generated revenue, there is no way the country will make progress.
On his take on President Buhari’s stance on restructuring
People fear change. There is a misinterpretation, deliberate or not deliberate of what restructuring means and entails. It is funny when people say they don’t know what restructuring means. Anybody who had been in military government of this country and says he does not know what restructuring means does not know what he is saying.
What has happened since 1966 up till now is restructuring. What the governments that took Nigeria from four regions to 36 states did, was restructuring.
The kind of restructuring we are asking for is to undo the damage and restore Nigeria to the principles on which the Independence Constitution of Nigeria was based. The idea of three or four regions did not come out of a vacuum. The reasons for abandoning the principles don’t have a lot of logic other than patronages of who you know. States were created based on patronage. So, it is not surprising that most of the states are not viable and cannot be viable units of development. If they don’t get allocations from the centre on a monthly basis, many of them will become bankrupt and collapse.
Perhaps, that is what should be allowed to happen because they should not exist in the first place. In the last three to four years, the majority of the 36 states have been sustained with bailouts from the Federal Government. Are we going to keep bailing them out? When are they going to develop the capacity to be self-sustaining, which is what federalism entails?
Is it that the states are self-sustaining or they are not allowed to control their resources?
Which resources are they going to control? One of the critical criteria for state creation is the ability for self-sustenance. Most of these states were created without regard to that. From the beginning, they were asking for take-off grant, which is antithetical to the spirit of state creation. Being allowed to control their resources is relevant if you are talking about fiscal federalism. But that is not the issue. The issue is the ability to be self-sustaining, thrive and survive without depending on allocation.
Now, states in addition to allocation cannot survive without bailouts. We need to implement policies that are economically rational and serve as an incentive to bring back the culture of hard work and reward. The thing about restructuring is where there is will, there is a way. Let’s agree on the principles first and the details can follow. Rather than do that they are demonising restructuring. If we agree that restructuring along the lines of the restoration of the framework of the Independence Constitution is desirable, we can work out the details in the spirit of brotherhood and togetherness.
His take on the government often repeated complaints that the rot left behind by PDP and low oil prices affected its efforts to turn things around for the country
It is blaming PDP for its own failure. Anybody can find an excuse for his or her failure. Nigerians did not elect the government to make excuses for its inability to deliver or develop the country. You have no business offering yourself for service if you are going there to be giving excuses. Look at Boko Haram, is it Jonathan or PDP government that is making them look helpless and incompetent in addressing the problem? Was it Jonathan that asked them to announce and boast that Boko Haram had been technically defeated?
It is not true that it is only liability that the APC inherited from the PDP government because efforts at securing sufficiency in rice production, for instance, started long before the APC government. They have gone to borrow $5.5 billion claiming the infrastructural problems of the country cannot be addressed without borrowing. And don’t forget that the increase in the pump price of PMS is another source of an increase in revenue. The same PDP government you are blaming took Nigeria out of debt. Now you are taking Nigeria back to that trap.
Anchoring the hope of Nigerians on what happens in the oil market is itself an indication of lack of vision. In the middle to long-term, oil or fossil fuel is going to be redundant; internal combustion engine is being phased out. Anybody who sees all these and is still predicating our survival on what happens in the oil market totally lacks what is required to run the country effectively.