By Dapo Akinrefon
Dr. Fredrick Fasheun is the founder of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) and interim national chairman of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). In this interview, Fasheun faults the opposition by some northern political leaders to the bid by President Goodluck Jonathan to contest the 2015 elections. He also bares his mind on the on-going National Conference and the Boko Haram insurgency. Excerpts:
You are championing the revitalization of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) founded by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. What is the party bringing new to the polity that the existing parties have failed to offer?
The UPN is purely an ideological party; the people first. The people first means that UPN will be a welfarist party. In a situation whereby in our recent political history sinners suddenly become angels and sinners mingle with angels; we don’t know what ideological manifestation they offer to the country. When you mix hot water
with cold water, you neither get hot nor cold water but lukewarm water, which cannot make tea, and that is what we have in our polity now. The sinners of yesterday have become angels of today and sinners and angels have mixed together; what do they offer us?
Nigeria, the biggest black nation, should be a leader in world affairs and leadership involves a lot; you must be able to meet and overcome challenges. That is what leadership is. A leader should leave the stage as an icon and let the people feel nostalgic that he is leaving the stage.
We have been unable to overcome our internal challenges; Boko Haram has become a nail in our soul for some years and it seems that the country has no answer to what is going on. If Nigeria does not know that after killing more than a thousand of her citizens, she is at war, then she will never know anything.
Over a thousand citizens of our nation have been killed, and if it is a fact that government is in place for the comfort and welfare of the governed, where is our comfort in the midst of this insecurity? Where is the convenience of the governed in this country?
That is why UPN has come to introduce discipline into our national polity and to remove impunity which gives rise to corruption. There is so much impunity in this country and that is why we have not been able to fight corruption. UPN won’t stop people from becoming multi-billionaires, but they must pay their taxes; they must obey the rules.
We reviewed all the other political parties and what we saw was indiscipline, corruption, anti-people-policies. It may interest you to know that one of the greatest political leaders that we’ve ever had in this country was Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and even foreigners regretted that he was not allowed to lead the country.
That is why those of us who know about him are saying that enough is enough; that there shall now be a political party that will not only instill discipline in our polity, but also democratic enough to allow everybody to unfold his or her wings. We will spread our common wealth, so that Nigerians will enjoy it. There is a lot in this country to go round and make every Nigerian to beat his or chest and say ‘thank God I am a Nigerian.’
We have seen some people claim in the past that they were Awoists, but immediately they got into power, they abandoned the ideology of late Chief Awolowo. How will the new UPN guard against this?
I have told you that leadership is about challenges; we will confront the challenges headlong and proffer change. It would be like the second day after creation because all the good things that Nigerians have been yearning for would be made available. We will not allow any Nigerian to starve even if he or she wishes because our common wealth would be made common.
When you see some civil servants smiling to their banks because of the looting of our treasury, you realise that some people are taking more than their normal share. A civil servant was found to be having N27 billion in his bank account, and I ask: What for? Will that not pay what we in the UPN call social benefit to unemployed graduates for three to four years? It can be done, just put UPN in government and you will see that every Nigerian can feed from our natural resources.
How will your party handle the challenge posed by the All Progressives Congress (APC), which is already on ground in your supposed base – the South-West?
We will not acknowledge threat from anywhere because ours will be politics without bitterness; service to the people and let the people decide. If they choose to go with sinners mingled with angels, we won’t mind, but we will offer service to the people and allow the people to decide the way they want to go.
Some political parties have already kick-started campaigns for the 2015 elections against the provision of the Electoral Act. Don’t you think that they are heating up the polity unnecessarily?
I believe in democracy and like Chairman Mao, during his march in 1948, said: ‘Let a thousand flowers blossom.’ Do you know what he meant? Let a thousand political parties blossom. And about five decades later, China has emerged a world super power. So, let the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) allow parties to blossom and allow the system to weed off weak ones. INEC should not hold the hands of the political parties. If we are holding a confab to build a nation and INEC is holding political parties in shackles, then we are not building democracy.
Will the UPN contest the 2015 elections, particularly that for the presidency?
I don’t think we will contest the presidency, but we will contest all other positions.
Why is the UPN opting out of the presidency? Is it against the backdrop of the allegation that the party is being sponsored by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party to cause crisis in the South-West, which is the stronghold of the APC?
President Jonathan wants to go back to Aso Rock Villa and he has been campaigning for five years now, do you want a UPN candidate to just wake up and challenge him in ten months?
Does that mean that your party will adopt him in 2015?
If they want to discuss with us; we will table our terms and, if there is a consensus, why not? But nobody should attempt to water down our ideological commitment.
Do you think the President should go for a second term, given the belief in some quarters that he has not performed to the expectations of Nigerians who gave him massive support in 2011?
Let Jonathan contest for a second term; that is what the Constitution says. The moment you say he cannot contest; you are denying him of his constitutional right, and should he turn round that you must vote for him, that would be unconstitutional. So, what I stand for is: Let him enjoy his constitutional right, but let Nigerians also enjoy their own right. Nigerians have the constitutional right to vote or not to vote for Jonathan, but he has the constitutional right to contest the election.
There is the perception that win or lose, Nigeria will boil if Jonathan contests the election. What is your take on that?
There are only two ways; you contest to win or lose. Why is it that some people want him to lose; is it because he has not performed?. Do you say that he has not done well and he is putting up lasting infrastructure; building rail from the South to the North; constructing the East-West Road?
I don’t want to believe that Nigerians have short memory because successive administrations bastardized the economy before Jonathan came to power. He came in not as a magician but as a political president and he has been fixing what has been damaged. He has been able to fix in four, five years what it took previous administrations decades to destroy.
You said Nigeria is at war with itself as a result of the insurgency by the Boko Haram sect. How do you think the Federal Government can bring it to a halt?
I don’t think that this present government is trying to fight Boko Haram. It is rather trying to work out ways to accommodate it. Like I said, the Federal Government is not even aware that the country is at war and the definition of war is when a thousand citizens of yours have been mauled by an external force. That is warfare.
But here we are; we have declared a state of emergency in the three affected states, but the states are still being governed by civilian governors; what a paradox! Can you govern under emergency using civilians?
I had expected people to say that the military should be in charge in these areas. If you fill these states with soldiers, Boko Haram will fizzle out within weeks. And these soldiers will man our borders and make it very
expensive for neighbouring countries to allow insurgents to cross into our territory to destroy our human resources. It shouldn’t be allowed. Why are people crossing freely from Chad, Niger and Cameroon into Nigeria? These crossings should have been discouraged by teaching these neighbouring countries lessons they would find difficult to forget. Nigeria, the biggest black nation in the world, cannot even defend her children! Where is government?
You are advocating the use of force against Boko Haram, but some northern elders have insisted on dialogue. How do you reconcile these two positions?
About three years ago, I was one of those who said we should dialogue with the insurgents; but the more we preach dialogue, the more we lose our children and women to the insurgents. So, for how long should we keep losing innocent Nigerians? The future of any country is a function of its youths and we are folding our hands, looking at our children been slaughtered every day. We are compromising our future. Nigeria needs to take care of her future.
The planned National Conference has finally taken off, what do you make of the exercise?
I was one of those who started the agitation for a National Conference in this country, but see what is happening now. Even before the National Conference started, people, including Lagosians, were already agitating their exclusion. To be honest, I think we should have had a pre-conference orientation before we slammed the National Conference on the people. How many of the delegates know what a confab is or have they just gone there for the money?
The orientation should have been more superior to the confab, so that when the delegates get there, they will know what it takes to strengthen the unity of Nigeria. In the South-West, we have been agitating for a parliamentary system; in the South-East, there is the agitation for complete autonomy; in the South-South, there is the agitation for resource control and in the North, some people believe that power must stay in the region indefinitely.
How do we reconcile these conflicting interests?
Through the re-orientation that I just talked about. I have attended the meetings of the Southern Leaders Assembly and I know what we discussed. Such meetings should have gone on for some time, prescribed by the Federal Government and not just waking up to go to the confab.
There are contentious issues and we know them, so let us be seen to be making efforts to douse these contentious issues before bringing people together for a conference. I chose to opt out of the conference because I feel that the present confab may not solve our problems.
When I saw the list of those who are at the confab, I felt that the conference should have been something for the youths. Those of us are going into our 80s have no business being at the conference. What recommendations are they going to come out with that would be acceptable to the present generation? Is it the Land Use Act?; if you are from the South-South, are you going to accept 13 per cent from your resources?
I come from the South-West; am I going to accept the presidential system as expensive and corruption prone as it is? I don’t believe that octogenarians should be at the confab; some people have even described our generation as a wasted one, so are we going to formulate a wasted constitution?
The issue of no-go-areas; what is your take on it?
There shouldn’t be, else it is no longer a confab.
Did you take into consideration that some people would want to discuss the dismemberment of Nigeria?
Let them discuss it; give them the freedom to discuss it. Ethiopia had a constitutional conference, Dr. Bola Onagoruwa was invited and, before the conference, Ethiopia was so unstable that some parts of the country wanted to pull out – the Massai, Eritreans, etc. But after that conference, Ethiopia got for herself a beautiful constitution that those who had almost pulled out of the country came back, seeking their positions back.
So, saying that there are no-go-areas is wrong. May be, because President Goodluck Jonathan was in a hurry; that was why he wanted the confab to last for three months, but nobody can build a nation in three months. We started the building of our nation in 1914; how much have we achieved? And you now want to build a Nigerian nation in three months; that cannot be done.
The confab is coming ahead of the 2015 general elections. Don’t you envisage a situation whereby it could have some spill-over effects on the polls?
We are building our nation and not political parties. Nothing prevents us going on with confab and when the elections come, we stop it may be for 30 days to have the elections and after that go back to the confab. This will throw up Nigeria as a serious country willing to build a united nation. As one of the agitators of national conference, I admire President Jonathan for giving us the opportunity to sit down together and fashion out how to build the Nigerian nation, but it cannot be done in three months.