PRESIDENTIAL candidate of the National Conscience Party, NCP, Bashorun Dele Momodu during a visit to Vanguard Newspapers’ Corporate Headquarters bared his mind on why his aspiration should not be taken for granted. He also spoke on his plans for the country, if elected and why power should return to men of the Fourth Estate, who fought for and won Independence for the country. Excerpts:
Why are you in Vanguard?
I’ve been quite worried since I joined politics that even my own colleagues have refused to see my participation as a big deal. But when we go down in history, you will find out that, most of the founding fathers of Nigeria, came from the background of our profession.
If you go across to Ghana, even Kwame Nkrumah, had a stint in journalism; but for some curious reasons, it would seem that journalists have become dregs of our society, who are not respected by anybody. We can respect a soldier who forces his way into power, we can respect a Customs officer, who became Vice President and almost became a president; we can respect a police officer in politics, but most people think that a journalist is an empty barrel.
Unfortunately, that is not my story. I believe, like someone mentioned recently that if I was a lawyer, I would have been a Senior Advocate of Nigeria by now, by the level of work one has done.
From Labour Party to NCP, what is the story?
The story is very simple. I joined Labour Party based on principle, the principle was simple. I wanted to use the platform of the labour unions to reach out to the workers. The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP has intimidated Nigerians into believing that they are the biggest and the largest party in Africa. it’s an exaggeration, I don’t know who coined the idea for them, but I think it’s too hyperbolic. If you ask them (PDP) today to produce two million registered members, they cannot and this is a country of 150 million people.
We did the same statistics in 1993 with late Chief MKO Abiola, I was one of the people who wrote to Chief Abiola as far back as 1991, that the next time he’s going into politics, because we knew eventually he was going into politics, that he should consider joining the party of his people At that time, of course there was no GSM, he sent for me to come and he asked why I said so?
And I said from our simple statistics, more than 80 per cent of Nigerians don’t participate in elections; more than 80 per cent don’t belong to any political party, they will not register to vote, they will not queue up to vote, they will not wait behind to protect their votes.
The assumption, therefore, is that PDP will be in power forever. In fact, they’ve boasted about it that they intend to rule for the next 60 years. They speak with the authority of God, but I’m not persuaded by such arrogance of power. I believe that today, the biggest party in Nigeria is what I call the floater’s party. Those floaters are the ordinary people, the workers and so on and so forth. So, the idea of going into Labour Party, was to tap into that big party of the ordinary workers and you can see what happened in Edo State when Adams (Oshiomhole) came.
The PDP was the ruling party. I’m from Edo State, my father is from Edo State, while my mother is from Osun State and I know that out there on the streets, if we apply the same formula we applied for Abiola, we should be able to galvanize about 50 per cent of members of the floater’s party unto the streets on election day; and once you are able to do that, you will overwhelm the less than 20 per cent who constitute the entire political class in Nigeria.
So, I went into Labour, believing that Labour was controlled principally by the Nigerian Labour Congress; but after joining, I realised that the man who is the chairman, Dan Nwanyawu, had actually hijacked Labour for himself and it’s obvious at this moment. I tried thinking that it was possible to persuade him to see beyond today and look at the future of Nigeria, but he was not persuaded. He kept telling me that for anybody to contest election in Nigeria, you must have billions of naira. I don’t know of anybody who has billions now apart from (President Goodluck) Jonathan and maybe Atiku (Abubakar).
There are young people who are making donations to us, we have volunteers.
My chairman then, granted a newspaper an interview and he said he was not interested in the presidential race, that he was only interested in getting about 10 governors to Labour. I have never seen such a thing where a man would voluntarily sell his birth right. I called him, I wrote him a letter, he didn’t respond; so I knew it was time for me to move. I looked at the party that was close enough ideologically and that was why I settled for NCP, the National Conscience Party.
Looking at Nigeria and its economy, we are not growing the way we are supposed to grow, we have mass unemployment and industrial failure. What would do you do to address the ugly situation?
It is very ugly indeed and that is the reason I’m in politics today. I look at the caliber of people who are ruling at the moment, I look at the people who have joined the race and you will realise that most of them, at one time or the other, they were in power. They were in power and they could not achieve anything and yet, they are the ones we are promoting as the leaders of the future.
My plan is very simple. I come from a background of business. A businessman is a builder, a businessman knows that the first thing you will need in business is fiscal discipline. Our leaders are spending money as if money is going out of hold. Fiscal discipline is the first thing we must enforce and a leader can only do that when he has made a success of his own personal life. So, for you to grow the economy to the extent where you can begin to generate employment to improve on the education of our children, you must have a leader who sees government and governance as business.
With the people that we have, it is not possible if they come back to power. PDP is never going to change. For us in NCP, we don’t have such fat cats. The biggest man in NCP is my chairman, Mr Femi Falana. And Falana is not going to sit down with me and be talking of how to appoint ministers. We are looking at having a star studded cabinet of distinguished Nigerians, who are genuine about bringing about the change that we all shout about.
When we are in government, by the grace of Almighty God, I can assure you that generating employment is not a difficult thing. Already today, I know how many employment I have been able to generate on the streets of Nigeria through selling my magazine. It is about creating opportunities for people. I have had the opportunity of living in Ghana, which has not lifted any oil, but has enough money to generate employment and build their infrastructure. So, what is wrong with Nigeria?
The problem is that we have a leadership that has encumbered itself with oil, everything they dream about when they sleep is oil. When you have a leader like me, who has been exposed to other cultures in the world, I can see that the country can make progress without oil. All these things we have already put in our manifesto, which was initially written by late Chief Gani Fawehinmi and others.
There is a lot of tension among the major political parties on shifting the office of the presidency to the North and even in the ruling party, there is division. So, how do you now situate your own aspiration after eight years of former President Obasanjo, who is from the South?
The only people who are agitating for the North to retain power are in PDP, not the rest of Nigeria. And like I said already, PDP controls less than 10 per cent of our population. As for me, I’m the only candidate who comes from the South-South and the South-West. So, whether Obasanjo ruled or did not rule should not stop other people from coming out to vie for the presidency.
Where Nigeria is today, the country needs a good leader and I don’t think what is important is where the person comes from. But even if you’re talking about that, I come from the same zone as Jonathan. So, if Jonathan is qualified to run, I don’t see why I cannot run. And Jonathan is not the best representative of my zone. I know the terrain very well and I think the best bet is to give me the mandate. I also have another advantage in the South -West, that is important and definitely, my running mate must come from the North. We have a very good chance to win this, I can tell you.
You are fresh in politics…
(Cuts in) I’m not fresh in politics.
You are coming out for an elective position for the first time. How much work have done to woo the electorate and change the mentality of voters in favour of fresh contenders?
That mentality is not the mentality of Nigerians. I’m the one on the road and that’s why I am here. It is the media, which has a fixation whereby we only, always promote those who are already there. Nigeria is the only place where a government has failed for 12 years and we continue to drum support for the same government.
Let us get Nigeria to that situation, where it becomes impossible for PDP to form a government. I told you, 80 per cent of Nigerians don’t belong to any political party. We are reaching out to students.
I can tell you today that I’m the only candidate who has been going from campus to campus, none of them will enter into any of those campuses. I’m the only one talking to okada riders, I’m the only one who met with herbal practitioners, I hosted them on the eve of Nigeria’s independence, you cannot imagine their network. Nobody is talking to all these people.
And so, we are building, we are talking to pressure groups. You are not going to win that election just by campaigning. There is no part of Nigeria today, where I have not touched lives. Abiola was not a governor, he was not a Senator when he ran for elections. There is nobody who can fight government, money for money.
Abiola tried it, what was the result? Death. It’s not even about death, all his businesses were crippled. So, there is no way you are going to run an election and then, you are going to fight Jonathan with your own personal money. It’s not by money, it is by how many lives you have touched. We underrate the ordinary man. I realise that the ordinary man knows us very well because I go everywhere. I have been an household name since 1988 in this country, when I joined the Concord newspapers.
Tell me where Jonathan was in 1988. I read in Reuben Abati’s article that Jonathan joined politics in 1998. That was the year I ended my exile and 10 years earlier, I had been on the streets of Nigeria. I have operated in over 60 countries, there is no part of the world I went that I did not interact with Nigerians.
I will give you another example, you cannot rig elections without the connivance of the police and the army. I can tell you that winning my primaries, was a touch game, but one of the things that helped me was the popularity of Ovation magazine, we invaded everywhere with copies.
If a change is ever going to come to Nigeria, it can only come from people like us who have managed to build our networks everywhere. It’s not just about money. Atiku, with all his money, could not beat Jonathan. I can tell you that in terms of structures, even before coming here, we have been talking to a lot of people in labour.
In the media, there is this fixation that only a few people can make it. There has never been a time Nigeria was in crisis that I didn’t defend my country. 1993, Babangida put me in detention, 1995, Abacha chased me out of Nigeria, for three years, that was how Ovation started. Why can’t we encourage people who want to change our society, why this fixation with those who have been in government? If they didn’t have access to public funds, they will be local champions. I have met the Queen of England in my private capacity, but I’m not a government person.
Do you think you can manage the resources of Nigeria?
Jonathan, for me, is the most experienced politician Nigeria would ever have, who went through the whole gamut of governance. From deputy governor to governor; from Vice President to acting president and then to president.
Leadership is not about experience, it is about management of resources, people and resources; and that I have done well. When Jonathan was teaching in the secondary school, I was teaching A levels, some of my students are bank directors today. I’m not fresh to politics, I have been in politics, but I have not been in power, there is a difference. There records are there.
So, are we saying that unless I’m a police officer and I stop corruption, then, I can’t rule Nigeria?
How do you intend to confront PDP’s machine? In Akwa Ibom for instance, is your friend likely to sacrifice the PDP?
Akpabio is not my friend, he had to respect me because I’m a presidential candidate. That is the mistake we make, when we break it down to nitty gritty, I’m not a mad man. You think I just woke up to run for president. I didn’t just wake up as a mad man and said I wanted to be the president of Nigeria. God has been preparing me, I’m a child of destiny. God had been preparing me, I didn’t just realise it, how come of all the candidates, I’m the only one from South-South and South-West? The problem today is how anybody would tell a man from South-South not to run for election, when they’ve never had the president and the oil comes from there.
If you go to Bayelsa, will you tell me, in good conscience that Jonathan is very solid in Baylesa? We all know the problems between him and the governor of Bayelsa. Do you want to tell me that, truly, in Rivers State, Amaechi would go all out and fight a Dele Momodu? I have known Amaechi for years before he became governor. We will fight our battle, I know what I’m talking about.
If you go everywhere in the South-South today, you will understand that Jonathan is the only person who does not have solid base. In Yoruba land today, if you look at the latest equation, there is not a single Yoruba man in the race. Unless may be Nuhu Ribadu will pick a running mate from Yoruba land, it means there will be none. So, I will still be the closest. If you are talking about the ethnic configuration, I don’t believe in it, but I can say it’s more to my own advantage than to the advantage of any of the candidates.
Well, it’s possible Buhari is likely to pick Pastor Bakare any moment from now from what I’m reading in the papers. So, if you look at the permutations, I am not going to bother myself about the politicians, I will follow my catchment area religiously. I’ve picked my own lifestyle of the rich and famous and not so famous. It’s the same way in politics.
What is your message to the public?
The message is don’t write off Dele Momodu, there is nothing God cannot do. There is no nation in the world that has lived perpetually in stupidity and backwardness and Nigeria is not going to be an exception by living perpetually in backwardness. I am very determined to carry along especially the young souls, the first time voters, those who have given up hope on Nigeria. I can tell you, we have a very big data base of youth corpers, of unemployed graduates. Like I have been telling all my friends in the media, you don’t have to declare support or endorse Dele on your front page, just give me my own quota.
I don’t have money, but I have good will. How come we want to die without seeing a better Nigeria? Why are we so intimidated by power that we will allow these people to use the same money they have stolen to oppress us?
The only person the oppressed fear in this life, is his oppressor and he will only hope by miracle that one day, God will also turn him into an oppressor. That must not be our case.