By Dapo AKINREFON
THE controversy continues to gather storm over the seeming refusal of the former lecturer to handover
to his vice, Goodluck Jonathan as stated in section 145 of the constitution. In this interview with Vanguard, spokesman to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Dr Doyin Okupe joins in the train of those calling for ailing President Yarâ€™Adua to hand over power. He bares his mind on other burning issues. Excerpts:
YOU were one of those who always sounded optimistic about President Umaru Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s government. Do you still feel the same way with the state of the nation today?
I had every reason to be because I believe that President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua had enough zeal and goodwill and support of the people to run the country well. And from the little knowledge of him that I had also and the kind of programmes that were articulated right from the beginning especially as it concerns power, I had very great hopes.
But unfortunately, the health of the president has been dominant in determining the success or otherwise of Mr President.
This is even though in the aspect of power, some other issues mitigated against the achievement of the target by December. So in spite of the condition, President Yarâ€™Adua has performed excellently well. But unfortunately and such is the nature of man and such is what you find in the history of men including great men, illness came and became devastatingly threatening to the extent that the president had to be rushed abroad and for him to have been away for over 50 days.
The way and manner by which he left and the failure to respect and adhere strictly to the constitution has put a very dark cloud on what ever goodness that the gentleman may have achieved. Without any fear of contradiction in my mind whatsoever, this president has been surrounded by the worst advisers ever in the history of this country.
I have been in government before and have been an adviser to a president and I know that I have stood my grounds on many issues with perhaps one of the most difficult human beings in this country in the person of President Obasanjo.
The people who surround Yarâ€™Adua have been selfish, self-centred and they have not served the interests of Yarâ€™Adua himself or Nigerians themselves.
But in your view, what is the implication of Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s long absence on the polity?
They are many. One which nobody is thinking about is that the President is Commander in-chief of the Armed forces of Nigeria and if anything happens to this country today, how many people would sleep in their houses without the services of security people. Right now, Nigerians are sleeping with nobody on the watch.
If we are attacked tomorrow like if the Cameroonian gendarmes attack Bakassi people tomorrow, who is going to give an order for the Army to reply? I watched pathetically the events in the National Assembly in the last few days and I understand their difficulties and constraints. But I want to ask the National Assembly question. Yes, there is no provision for the National Assembly to intervene but when the country is drifting to anarchy, what do you do?
But in the circumstance, who will bring the people together?
Truly speaking, it is the interest of the nation in their heart, the commitment they are given and the fact that the people have impacted them to have given them the opportunity to serve that would make them restless. I am surprised that certain people in this country can still sleep in the situation in which we are. I have been in government at the highest level, I have been in party politics at the highest level. If you are a responsible and patriotic leader, in time of crisis, you cannot sleep.
If you are a pilot of a plane and all of a sudden, the hydraulic of the plane is not working, you donâ€™t go to bed. At least, you are not an engineer but you say what can we do? You must find a way to save the lives of the passengers. We, the Nigerian people are passengers in this aircraft. The pilots are the Vice President, Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives and former Heads of state of this country. Right now, the hydraulic is not working and the engine is failing. We need to do something.
Shouldnâ€™t your party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) be blamed for the seeming failure of leadership in Nigeria since it is controlling a greater percentage of the country?
At the leadership level, the party has performed very woefully. There is nothing wrong with a party controlling 28 or 30 states out of 36 states. If you go to Japan, the popular party until recently has been running the government for decades.
But you see, what you do with popular support is what is important. It is not enough to boast that this is the largest party in Africa. That doesnâ€™t make any sense. It is the largest party but what direction is the party showing? Where is it leading the followership to? What is it achieving with the popularity and support that people have given it? These are the things that we should be worried about. The PDP is still a party without a soul. It is yet to develop a soul.
How would you react to the impression that the North is not in support of the Vice President Goodluck Jonathan taking over because it will make the former president, Olusegun Obasanjo to continue to have influence on the polity?
That argument is pedantic and does not hold any water whatsoever. We should not because of one person either is Yarâ€™Adua or Obasanjo drag this country into the ocean. If you need to hold Obasanjo and tie his hands for the country to move forward, then go and do that. But do not because your afraid that Obasanjo would have influence on the polity violate the constitution and say nobody should be in power, excuse me.
This is an argument that does not have any intelligence basis. It is idiotic and senseless. Why is that in this country that one man at any time can always control every body.
During the regime of late Sanni Abacha, it was him. Now it is Obasanjo because you do not want his influence to continue to grow; still one man. During the administration of Ibrahim Babaginda, it was still the story of one man. Is Nigeria not more than one man? You know that Yarâ€™Adua is the president of the Economic Organisation of West African States (ECOWAS) There are regional issues not being attended to because you want one man to be in charge. When Yarâ€™Adua was here, was he an enemy of Obasanjo? Anybody who says that has told you a lie. Some times, you take life as it comes.
It is like a dice. Heads or tail, you roll it. Heads you win and tail you lose. Let us even play the devilâ€™s advocate. Let us say if we swear in Jonathan and Obasanjo is going to take control, how many more months are remaining? Are those remaining months enough to destroy the destiny of this country? And in any case, we are running a presidential system.
There is no absolutism in this type of government. Can the President of this country wake up and do whatever he likes? Is there no legislative arm or the judiciary and even the media? So, the issue of the North not supporting handover to Jonathan because of fear of Obasanjoâ€™s influence is fishermanâ€™s argument.
The President recently spoke to BBC and you are still insisting that Jonathan should take over. Is it proper?
The fact that the President spoke does not in any way change the situation. There are two facts we should look at. He is not in the country now and he is not well. So, based on those two facts alone, you must swear in his deputy. And on the BBC interview, the people who pretend to be helping Yarâ€™Adua are his greatest enemies or that these are the worst of all the people in the country.
This is because the BBC interview came about only to prove that Yarâ€™Adua is alive. Why do we need to go the extent that somebody had to write a fiction in a newspaper in America before he could speak to us? Nigerians have been asking for over 50 days and nobody answered us. Now, one Chronicle magazine or newspaper wrote bout Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s death and everybody is running crazy.
All of a sudden within 24 hours, you can now grant an interview. You see the content of people who run our affairs have. And in any case, the BBC interview of Yarâ€™Adua is nonsense. One thing it established is that the President is alive but is not well.
Two is that this President from the way he spoke is not a man that is coming back in a short while and is also not a man that is fit to run any government. Nigerians are even more desperate now than even before because if they didnâ€™t know the President was sick, now they know and have an idea of the gravity of the sickness.
Do you agree with those who insist that the development has shown that the North does not have respect for the South?
Let me tell you before God and man and I am saying this with all sense of responsibility. I have played politics in Nigeria for over 30 years. I started politics in 1978. And up till now, I have had discourse, intercourse and exchange of views with very important and senior northerners including the ordinary people of the area. We still do not have a nation because our leaders do not know what to do.
This impression that the North do not have respect for the South and that is why Yarâ€™Adua has not handed over is not correct. I can tell you that 98 per cent of people in the North whether they are traditional rulers, retired soldiers, teachers, students and peasants, 98 per cent is for the leaders to follow the constitution. I mean it. It is only an unimaginable and indescribable and miniscule percentage are the people behind what is happening in the country today.
They are giving the North a bad name. The real people of the North should rise up and condemn the situation and jettison the perpetrators for the collective interest of the country and themselves because the impression is not a good one. I do not believe in parochial sentiment. When I left school in 1978, I joined the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) which was generally then regarded as a party of the North.
I believe in the unity of this country. I have never had a regret up till now and I am yet to be disappointed by the people that I have had social and political relationship with. I have related with the highest level of northerners. The other day, I was in Babagindaâ€™s house and I know what he told me and I know what he says publicly. So, it is an erroneous statement that the North does not have respect for the South. It is something we must remove from our head.
The average northerner sees himself today as a Nigerian. The ordinary people in the North are asking, Is Jonathan not a Nigerian?
A High court recently ruled that Jonathan can perform presidential functions but not act. What does that mean?
That judgment is useless. I donâ€™t know why the Attorney General went to the air to deceive the Nigerian public again. I saw him on television. You cannot make lying and deception an official modus operandi of a government. Being in government is a spiritual thing and many people will in future suffer the consequences of the things they are doing today.
Government is a spiritual thing because power only comes from God. When you are given power and you misuse it, God is going to interview somehow. I have a copy of that judgment and it says that Jonathan can only do those things on the basis that the president delegates power to him. Which president is going to delegate or assign power to him now?
Is it the president in Saudi Arabia or who? And the Attorney General was busy telling everybody that Jonathan can do whatever he likes now. That is not true.
But with the constitutional crisis facing Nigeria today, do you think this nation has a future to continue to exist as a single corporate entity?
I am one of those who strongly believe that Nigeria has a future. I believe in Nigeria and I know that these are the things we must go through before a real nation would crystalise. It is good that we have this kind of crisis. If we can get over it and the Igbos, Yorubas, South South people see that the North is not against them, does not hate them or that they cannot hold on to power, we develop a new spirit of brotherhood. I believe that from the rubles of what is happening in Nigeria today, a real nation will emerge.
What is the latest in the crisis which has bedeviled the PDP in your state?
As far as I am concerned, other matters have taken my own attention. You know that at the state level, we survive if the national level is okay. What is happening at the national level has made for me the issue of the state a petty consideration. What is happening in Ogun is not important to me right now. The matter in Ogun state would solve itself out.
The matter in Ogun state is about political squaring between some of us and the governor. The governor believes he can do it alone and we said fine, let us see how you are going to do it. Very soon, elections would come and people would show their strength and we will know where we are going. It is nothing personal but we think that the governor thinks we do not matter. He may be right, he may be wrong. We used to say something in politics when I was much younger.
In Yoruba, they will say well, our meeting for the resolution of this crisis is on the election day. Whether you are the one or I am the one bigger than you, the result will show. It is a very lovely song in Yoruba. We are still in the same party but we are going to do primaries. So, at the primaries, we show the type of people we are.
What is your position on the fact Yewa people of your state are yet to produce a governor.
Let me tell you about Yewa. God is my witness that I am not against them producing the next governor. In fact, I am for Yewa to produce the next governor. But politics and political offices are never just given You have to fight for it.
The Yewa have always shown innate weakness in their ability to struggle for power. This weakness has been noted by various groups in the state. For instance, we all agreed at the beginning that Yewa should produce the next governor but now, the Egbas are comingÂ out and if care is not taken, the Egbas may take it before them. And it is legitimate because it is democracy.
The Anambra governorship election is coming up on February 6, as a major stakeholder in the PDP, what are your expectations?
Let me tell you. That state is like a finger with withlow if not gangerene. Anambra State on the part of PDP of PDP is almost like a gangerenous thumb. And a gangerenous thumb, if you do not act quickly and treat it, the gangerene can now affect the whole body.
The consequences of the result of that election in that state, I personally care less. The way the party has been organized and presented in that state needs so much to be desired. I would not because of one state destroy the good name and reputation of a party as big as the PDP. I donâ€™t think anybody should make a big deal about it. If we are going to be honest, sensible and responsible, we should allow the Anambra people to decide truly who they really want as their leader and we should accept it.
If we want to be reasonable and responsible, there are times when partisan thoughts must become secondary. The peace and good order of society must at all times top our agenda. I would think that the party and the government should allow the Anambra people free hand under proper security arrangement to let them actually decide who they want.
If the lot falls on us and we are lucky it is Soludo, I will be very glad but if not, too bad. I would accept because for me, I would accept whoever truly wins in Anambra. If we win in Anambra, Soludo is a sound and sensible man for him to work and clean up the party. If we lose in Anambra, that is also a good time to do radical surgery. You cannot be winning at all costs.
We have messed up ourselves and the image of the party. We have almost ruined the image of the government among the Anambra people because of the interests of a few people. I get disgusted when the machinery of the government or party is rolled out only to defend the interests of the minority.
That is what is happening now at the national level. Everything about the power and machinery of the government is being rolled out to defend and indefensible position, a position that is criminally against our constitution only to protect the interest of a few. It is unacceptable.