*Says Jonathan is nobody’s stooge
*Ribadu needs tutelage

By Emma Amaize, Regional Editor, South-South

Minister of State for Education, Olorogun Kenneth Gbagi, in this interview, speaks on the presidential aspiration of President Goodluck Jonathan, the other contenders for the office of president and the April polls, among other issues.

In spite of everything, a good number of Nigerians still  see President Goodluck Jonathan as a weak president and stooge of former President Olusegun Obasanjo and that when the come  comes to become … in the jingoism of the late political juggernaut,  Chief Kingsley Mbadiwe, he would not be assertive enough.  How do you see him?

I completely disagree with those who are  of the opinion that President Goodluck Jonathan is a stooge of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Recall that given my level of intellectualism as a criminologist, lawyer and businessman before I accepted the office of minister, I have sat down with Mr. President in council and other forum and I can tell you without doubt that the man is not a pushover, he is not a stooge of anybody, except that he is a careful person, who looks at issues very deeply.

One thing that endeared him to me is that he is a man who listens when you talk to him; he has a listening ear, but, unless you are in the dynamics of the divide, you will not truly understand and people who are talking from outside, as to the man being a stooge or a weak president, they are making a mistake. To the contrary, President Jonathan is a tough guy, he knows his onions, and he knows where he is going.

The national chairman of the South-South Peoples Assembly, SSPA, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, the first civilian governor of Edo State,  is currently a vice-presidential running mate to a northern presidential candidate of the ANPP; don’t you think with his influence, Odigie-Oyegun will split the votes from the region?

Goodluck to Odigie-Oyegun for the descending political step that he decided to take. I feel very bad because, before now, I have personal respect for him. For him to condescend with all his academics to go and vie for somebody who is not half as educated as himself was, first and foremost, a cheap and unfortunate mistake.

 Secondly, the result of the election will be out in no distant future, April is around the corner,  Odigie-Oyegun will not win election in his local government against Jonathan. I am talking of his village, not to talk of the South-South. The force and inspiration of Jonathan is such that it is beyond the imagination of the extent your eyes and my eyes can get to. So, we are not bothered about Oyegun. In fact, as we speak, we have not gotten opponents. So, the issue of Oyegun, being the national chairman of SSPA, means nothing. Look, if Oyegun had come and said he wants to be a presidential candidate of one of the parties, it will make some meaning, but, to say that he (Oyegun) is going to be deputy to somebody else is an unfortunate situation and I think before what happened to some other supposed political giants happens to him, he should retrace his footsteps.

Talking about not seeing political opponents that can match Jonathan, some people think that, in terms of ideology and courage, former head of state, General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), towers above him?

We have related very strongly.  My friend, Jimoh Ibrahim, was one of the financiers of former President Buhari. With greatest respect, Buhari has moved from one party to the other, moved from one grouping to the other, we have passed that level, we are not in a military era, we are not in a military cabal, we are in a democracy, we have moved beyond the sectarianism of ‘I am a Muslim’, if not, the vice president is a Muslim for that matter.

The question is, when did Buhari suddenly become  a democrat; does a leopard change its spot? The Buhari kind of democracy is tailored through his military background. Have you seen Buhari in any political conversation with anybody in the country? Will he agree to serve as a vice president to anybody in the country?  Where lies his interest?  Must he be a leader?  Must he be the president?  Is it by force?

But with somebody like Pastor Tunde Bakare as his running mate, don’t you think Buhari is not the little guy you want to paint of him?

Like I said, you cannot change a man like Buhari unless you are not close to him. In any case, if you recall very quickly, Pastor Bakare made a pronouncement  that former President Olusegun Obasanjo was going to die before his second tenure. It was a spiritual report that he had communed with God and God  told him that Obasanjo was going to fail, we discussed with Obasanjo at that time – he said these are prophets of doom. So, if a man at Bakare’s level could say that just because he doesn’t like Obasanjo, then you can imagine what vice president, God forbid, he will become. So what is Bakare’s pedigree?  What has he done in life?  What does he know about the political state of affairs in the country?  I am sure that even in his congregation, 80 per cent of them will not vote for Bakare, they will vote for Goodluck Jonathan.

Howsoever you want to look at it, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu is a challenge to President Jonathan and some people think that he poses a strong challenge to the president.  How do you rate him?

I am sure you are not looking at the man, Jonathan. The man, Jonathan, has come out with a clean slate to governance in all his antecedents and this man has been groomed by God and the political situation in the country to become what he is today. He is the most educated Nigerian that has ever mounted the saddle of its leadership. He went to become a deputy governor, acting governor and later governor.

He became vice president, acting president and then president. In fact, this is the first time Nigeria has groomed its president through the machinery of government. Do not forget that most of the presidents we have had in the past were people that leadership was foisted on. So, Nuhu Ribadu is a bundle of controversy, a lot of people in the country believes that he did a shoddy job as the chairman of EFCC, in fact he is making waves in the south more than in the north because a lot of northerners believe he did not do a thorough job. This man was dismissed from the police in whatever circumstance by no less a northern leader, not President Jonathan. 

 Now, this young man was my student, I taught Nuhu Ribadu at advanced level in the Police College and, of course, whilst I do not want to join issues with him right now, Nuhu Ribadu needs tutelage, Nuhu Ribadu needs to grow through the process, he is a young man. I wish him the best of luck but I can tell you that, at the end of this election, you will find out that, only Nuhu Ribadu will vote for himself.  We had a presidential candidate that had one vote before and the toga he is carrying is the toga of ethnicity and religious bigotry and we have moved beyond that.   Nigeria is one cohesive, indivisible country today, we are not talking about Muslims dividing Christians and Christians dividing Muslims. Nuhu Ribadu should go through training first.  If he was an assistant commissioner of police before now, do you bother to ask where he is getting money to prosecute the election the way he is going at the moment because this is a young man who is very ambitious and got himself promoted illegally to the position of assistant inspector general of police, breaching all known rules? I can tell you that Nuhu Ribadu is not a problem.  As  my student, you know once a teacher, always a teacher; I will tell him he has a tutelage problem, he needs to learn what Nigeria stands for, for  him to progress.

Jonathan’s trouble-shooting in the north

That is a brilliant statesmanship. Former vice president, Alhaji Atiku Abukakar, left the PDP to the ACN, found out that his better sense was in the PDP and came back to the PDP. We have conducted the presidential primaries, my greatest joy was what former President Ibrahim Babaginda did, he called the president and congratulated him and asked all his followers to work for Mr. President. I expected same from Atiku. He cannot say that because he lost an election in such a brilliant transparent situation, he should not work for the party.

I expect Atiku to have joined the PDP family, close ranks with the president and move the party even stronger. So the president going to the extent of discussing with Atiku and discussing with all of those members of PDP, telling them, ‘this is your house, come and let us build it’, goes to show that President Jonathan is a man of destiny, he is a man that knows where he is headed. By the way, Jonathan, very unlike many other leaders you have known, does not tell you something
and mean something else; he does not have the capacity to lie.

Are you happy with the current state of things in the Niger-Delta?

If you put it this way, before I became a minister from this region, you would know that I am a businessman with my legs and eyes on the ground. I will say that the government of President Jonathan has improved the situation with regards to the Niger-Delta. Are there things that need to be done?  Yes! Have we solved all of the problems?  No!  Are we on course? Yes! Does he mean well? Yes!. So, to that extent, I think we have progressed. But, whether or not, we have been able to tackle all the problems, the answer is no, but I can tell you that as he comes back to office after the election, he will take them headlong.

With the flaws in the just concluded  voter registration, are you hopeful that INEC will conduct free and fair elections in April?

I am worried because we have seen registration in Delta State and other parts of the country where persons who are not citizens of the state were brought with vehicles to come and register. We have seen some slides, we have seen some photographs, we have seen some video tapes of these people being discharged from vehicles, we have seen them being paid money for registration. The Electoral Act, as passed, has made provisions for not less than a two-year jail term for people committing electoral fraud.

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