By Jide Ajani, Editor, Northern Operations
Senator Akinlabi Olasunkanmi, Minister of Youth Development, has been in the Federal Cabinet since 2007. One of the few to do so!
In this interview, he x-rays the state of national politics and concludes that President Goodluck Jonathan will cruise home to victory in the April polls.
What are the chances of Mr. President in the April presidential race?
The political scenario speaks for itself. There is no competition, Mr President will cruise home to victory.
Are you saying the opposition cannot stop him?
Where is the opposition? Mr. President is a consensus candidate of Nigeria and for Nigerians. His candidature appeals to a wide spectrum of Nigerians, most especially the Nigerian youth. Other bloc votes of women and professionals belong to him.
So, there is no rival as such come April because these segments or if I may say, blocs, did not only desire a breath of fresh air but they want it to be matched with experience and performance. There is no single candidate that combines these attributes except Mr. President.
Was your optimism based on the collapse of the alliance talks between ACN and CPC?
Not at all! Even if the gang up that you prefer to call alliance had surprisingly worked, it would still not have posed any threat to the election of Mr. President. I say surprisingly because no gang- up has ever worked in Nigerian history. The alliance is of strange bedfellows who can hardly cohabit. PDP remains the strongest, the most nationally-entrenched political party.
There is no rival to PDP as yet. This is in addition to Mr. President’s personal qualities which have been tested right from the time he was in Bayelsa State as a Deputy Governor to this present time when providence threw him up as president.
But your party is facing serious challenges.
What challenges? Which of the smaller parties is not facing similar or greater challenges than PDP despite the fact that they are one man parties? Whatever the case may be, we have the capacity to manage our internal differences. We organised a widely-applauded presidential primary. We are already reconciling the few aggrieved members. And, of the 36 states, we have resolved outstanding issues in more than two-third.
But, look at the opposition parties. As small as they are, none of them can even conduct primaries. You know of the on-going crises in many of these parties. PDP remains a party with immense capacity to manage power and governance for the short and long term benefits of the nation.
What in specific terms qualify the PDP candidate for victory as you have insisted?
Many! In fact, considering the state of the nation in the last one or so years, Mr President deserves kudos for his simplicity, maturity and unwavering commitment to national unity and prosperity. He has recorded for the nation unparalleled advances in the power sector, education, health and agricultural sectors.
The administration is tackling headlong the challenges of youth joblessness and disengagement. Governance has been brought to the doorstep of our youths with Mr. President interacting on daily basis with Nigerians through the social media.
For the youth sector which I supervise, we have under his watch built several youth centres, mainstreamed youth issues, revived a national youth policy, placed Nigerian youth in strategic international bodies and introduced a national youth employment action plan which is to be fully funded in this year‘s budget.
You remember the National Youth Summit we held late December? Nigerian youths endorsed Mr. President because they witnessed his deeds and actions for the progress of the sector and they won’t pray for a break but rather continuity.
Above all, Mr. President surpassed his predecessor, the first graduate to ever rule Nigeria, by being the first Ph.D. holder to govern this blessed country.
Compared with his challengers, Mr. President is the most suitable for the presidency at this point in our national history. This is not my opinions but that of millions of Nigerians across the sectors.
But the North would not support him?
Which North? My friend, please, don’t drag the nation back by reminding us of our sordid past. With due respect to our elder statesmen, Nigeria has moved beyond canvassing for votes based on primordial sentiments. They tried to use same during the primaries but the outcome of the primary debunked such insinuations.
Even ACF said it is ready for dialogue. Ditto for the former Vice-President! Mr. President will end up with victory across the length and breadth of the country. But, we in the South- West will lead other zones.
South-West? What about Ribadu whose party is leading in the South-West?
I don’t want to go into the grave injustices inherent in substituting electoral victory with judicial victory. The nation knows better on that. But to your question, Mr. President is the natural choice of most Yoruba for many reasons. Even ACN chieftains are secretly supporting him because they know they have no chance with their imposed candidate. And, Buhari and Ribadu put together cannot upstage the popularity of Mr. President in the South-West.
This is one of the reasons why I told you earlier that the gang- up of the one man parties cannot work. The South-West you know is more politically- sophisticated; our people are more politically-savvy; they share in the national reconstruction agenda of Mr. President. General Buhari lacks the national appeal and support Mr. President has garnered in his presidency. Ribadu has not even started.
Let me assure you that the PDP is still the party to beat not only in the South-West but across the nation. The reality is that there is no alternative to PDP. Do you think the Yoruba are happy with such statements as “imposition of candidate is our party policy“? The Yoruba are thoroughbred democrats. They won’t be led by the nose to support an autocratic party and governance model which the opposition represents.
You have been working with Mr. President since 2007. What type of man is he?
Thank you for that question. His Excellency is a good listener; your suggestions are given ample hearing and due considerations. He loves Nigeria and has scientific approach to governance. His credential as the first Ph.D. holder to rule Nigeria and his governance experience enable him to see through issues more discerningly than you would imagine. That is why he cohabits easily with opposing political blocs.
Policy wise, it is enlightening working with him. For me as the minister in charge of youth, the situation is unique. Due to Mr. President‘s love for Nigerian youth, we shared a lot of intimate passions.
Our programme he attended all the time; youth concerns he has prioritised in his agenda Mr. President is a simple but deep leader. Because of his simple disposition to life, just like his predecessor, the late President Yar‘Adua, many people have taken him for granted to their own peril.
Nigerians have no room for dictators or boss who order them around. They don’t want a demigod as their leader; they want a democrat to lead them. It is his type of leadership that will enthrone national reconstruction, unity and prosperity. All these they found in Mr. President.