Political strategist, scientist and writer, Mr. Akin Osuntokun, served as Political Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo and subsequently served in the Umaru Yar’Adua administration as the director-general of the News Agency of Nigeria, NAN.
A steadfast loyalist of Dr. Obasanjo, it is no surprise that Mr. Osuntokun became a leading light in Obasanjo’s Coalition for Nigeria Movement, CNM, a body he served as publicity director.
In this interview, Osuntokun speaks on the state of the nation, the collapse of the coalition into the African Democratic Congress, ADC and how the body hopes to enthrone a new culture of probity in the polity. Excerpts:
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
What were your critical goals and objectives in the CNM joining the ADC?
The practical purpose of politics is the attainment of power. What we want to achieve is to get as many as our members into political offices so that they can go and represent what ADC stands for in government so as to bring about a change that will set Nigeria back in the right direction and in the right course. The critical objective is to first, solidify the party as a national party with the capacity to be competitive in seeking elective offices all over the country especially at the presidential level.
This is because the president of Nigeria has a domino effect on all other levels of government. So, if we want to achieve the maximum impact, the party has to be in control of the presidency whose present occupant, both party and individual, their incumbency has really been a disservice to the people of Nigeria.
In what way?
In so many ways. Fundamental lack of competence in almost any area you can imagine. And of course the way they are governing Nigeria in a very dangerous manner. You would have heard of the cliché that the country is more divided today than at any other point in its history. To give a good mention of the tragedy of the situation is that it has almost become normal to read on a daily basis, the massacre of Nigerians in all parts of the country, especially in the Middle Belt.
You look at the papers today, you will see that 10 persons were killed yesterday in Makurdi and you just flip through it because we have become so immune, because it has become a regular occurrence that we are taking such an abnormal, such an exceptionally destructive situation; it has almost become normal for you to expect it. Off course, Wole Soyinka described it as ethnic cleansing.
Are you bothered that one of the selling points for those who voted for Buhari was security against the background that President Goodluck Jonathan was weak on it?
Now we have the liberty of comparing the two, of precepts and example. What we seem to have with the Buhari presidency is long on precepts but short on example. They themselves were boasting about their own relatives in fighting corruption and insecurity. On those two critical issues, Nigeria has degenerated and not improved. I have just made mention of the fact that we now live on a daily basis with massacres which prompted perhaps the most decorated soldier (Gen. T.Y Danjuma) to come out and say that this is what is going on. That is the extent to which we have gotten ourselves.
On the contrary, we have a president and a government either deceiving people or living in denial or trivialising all these. You see the president saying that those who are killing are not Fulani herdsmen but people who came from Libya. This is something that conspicuously does not square up with reality, this is the mea culpa of the government that we have in place. So if by omission or commission that they are complicit in what is going on. We had the minister of defence saying that what do you expect them to do if you don’t let them graze on your farmland?
In terms of corruption or no corruption, corruption has gotten to an extent in this country where APC governors this week accused NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation) of fraud.
The accusation is that the consumption of fuel in the country is grossly inflated. The governors of APC said that! So you can now imagine that even APC governors are saying that themselves are not saints. That is a situation in which they are accusing the so called NNPC that you want to reform! So, what we are now seeing is that this is the answer to the changes that the president did to the NNPC. Removal of this, replacement of that and this is where you have the chief of staff to the president, unprecedentedly is a member of the NNPC board, his brother now in charge of crude sales and has also now been nominated to represent Nigeria in one OPEC board and the president himself is the substantive minister of petroleum; and look at what is happening!
With all that going on, you can see not me, but APC governors saying that this is what is going on now. Is this a vindication of probity or transparency and this is just a tip of the iceberg.
When you say government is fighting corruption, how does this explain it? You have two non partisan organisations; Transparency International told us that on corruption, that it is business as usual if it is not worse. There is also the United States Annual Country Report on Nigeria accusing the present dispensation in Nigeria of massive corruption and impunity. Then you will see officials of the government having the effrontery telling you just like in George Orwell’s 1984, that black is white!
Are you limiting the realisation of your goals to only ADC?
Some are limited to ADC, one is not; and that is the presidency of the country. Obviously, if we share the same perception of what is going wrong in the country and the desperate need to salvage Nigeria from the present president and the government at the centre which is shared by almost all political platforms, and Nigerians know that if we are realistically seeking that kind of goal, the more unified the operation the better the chance we stand of being able to defeat a desperate and ruthless incumbent. So, to that extent, what that objective prescribes is that ADC has to work in collaboration with other well acquainted political parties or platforms to fight the presidential election.
Is President Obasanjo still involved in your activities?
Well no, he is only involved as a guide. He is the founder of CNM and he said in his maiden address that the moment CNM evolved to become a political party that he would not be a member of that party. His own participation remains at the level of CNM, but of course he is interested in ADC being a political party that evolved from CNM. So, the role that he is playing is as a guide of the party.
Given President Obasanjo’s contempt for the PDP, do you see ADC working with the PDP to achieve the common goal of displacing the APC from power?
But I have said that Obasanjo is not a member of ADC…
But he is a guide. Do you see him guiding you towards or away from collaboration with PDP?
It is not for him to be a dictator. He will just counsel and at the end of the day, we are also not dunces, we are also thoughtful people and in any case, in politics as in diplomacy, you don’t have permanent friends or foes. And then, politics has to be inclusive for you to realise your goals and objectives to the extent that you will require the utility or participation of PDP, we will work with them.
We have heard of ADC in the Southeast and in the Southwest, but nothing much in the North. Why?
Well, a lot is going on, but let me also say that we are anticipating the incoming of critical stakeholders, a lot of membership from the North who are going to leave APC. So, there is a space for them to come into the ADC. It is not as if there are no ADC members from that area in the North, but high-profile and critical political figures we are anticipating to welcome them with open arms.
You are in talks with them?
Yes, we are encouraging as many people who are frustrated with APC to come to our growing and promising platform and I am sure that is going to happen sooner than later.
Is there something President Buhari could do that will make you to drop your agitation for his replacement?
Not at all, you see, you cannot give what you don’t have. His government is a reflection of the totality of his personality. The tragedy of Nigeria is that many people, the intelligentsia, the people who supported him knew that he had these shortcomings and inadequacies that he has exhibited, they had seen it in him before. Regardless, they said let us give him an opportunity, just as you are asking now to maybe mend his ways or try and remedy what has made his incumbency less appealing. Each one of those people has been terribly disappointed and they say so openly.
I didn’t support him, I had always been very critical of him and the way he has turned out is the way I had projected him, so I had never deluded myself. Those who chose to turn a blind eye to his shortcoming have themselves to blame. If one year to the presidential election and one who said that an attack on Boko Haram is an attack on the North, why should anybody be blinded to that kind of revelation of the kind of president he would be.
It was only when he became the candidate of the APC that he started moderating and denying some of the things that he said. So, he had shown himself sufficiently enough for people to know the end result.
However, human beings are creations of hope and they said let us give him the latitude, and as Wole Soyinka said it is like giving somebody a loan for him to redeem a debt and unfortunately rather than redeeming it, he has defaulted spectacularly.
What is he going to do? When you don’t accept the reality but rather you are in denial. When you deny reality, your potential for redemption is a non starter. If the president is saying that the Fulani militia come from Libya and that they are not Nigerians, why would I expect anything different? And as I said if his own governors who are themselves not saints could recently accuse the NNPC of malfeasance, and the same NNPC is the same organisation he has inserted himself right, left and centre; purged out the leadership of the NPPC to introduce extreme political lopsidedness, nepotism, exercising the power of the minister of petroleum, you have the GMD from Bauchi, the chief of staff on the board, you have almost a total takeover of NNPC and what has been the result? It is one of the results that you have seen now; that your own governors, APC governors are accusing that organisation that you have taken over, that should be a model of what the anti-corruption that you are preaching, explicitly accusing that organisation of fraud. So, where is the potential to expect anything different?
Some months ago, the president was in Kano and said that he was happy at the large crowd because the people from the South would see that his own people from the North have not deserted him. This is what the president of Nigeria said. Not long ago, he went to Bauchi where he was reporting Obasanjo to them and said that when Lai Mohammed wanted to respond to Obasanjo’s Memo that he said, ‘no don’t respond to him because you are from the same constituency.’ They call it dog whistle. When you are speaking in coded language to an audience that will be able to get what you are saying. That Obasanjo is after me, that the Yoruba are after me.
In choosing a presidential candidate, what considerations will the ADC look out for?
Competence, potential to be detribalised, and to be competitive because at the end of the day if we have an ideal candidate and that candidate is on account of the political realities of Nigeria gets no where it is of no consequence to me. So, it is a mixed bag, you have to juggle competitiveness, competence, intelligence and of course physical fitness.
Are you restricting yourself to one part of the country?
Right now, there is an informal principle of political compromise or equilibrium in the country what people call zoning or power distribution. By that arrangement, the North is still favoured to produce the next president.
Of course, there are many fantastic potential candidates from that part of Nigeria you will find hundreds of people who are more qualified to hold that office and do better than the incumbent that we have now. The problem is that the incumbent is not only incompetent, but he is aggravating the existing problems and fault lines in the country. Look at the appointments that we are talking about because incrementally we find reasons to maintain our criticism of President Buhari.
About two months ago, the CAN or another Christian body paid him a visit and complained about the lopsidedness of his appointments and he promised that he would look at it and do something about it and this is months after? So, what is the conclusion that you would come to? The conclusion is that he has looked at it and concluded that it is okay, nothing is wrong with that! So, it is deliberate. This is a body that came to visit you and complained and you said you will look at it and if there is room for rectification you would do so, but months after, nothing has changed.
So, the logical conclusion is that you have found nothing wrong with what is in place.