…‘Obasanjo should have done only four years’
..Managing two presidents: OBJ is an extrovert, GEJ misunderstood as a weak leader
… ‘Nigerians do not take on their presidents, it is crazy’
…Narrates Chibok girls’ abduction ‘lies’
By Kennedy Mbele
Dr Doyin Okupe can be called a senior politician having been around on the political scene for decades. Additionally, Okupe was the spokesperson for former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo (OBJ) and Goodluck Jonathan (GEJ).
He was a witness to many of the things that happened at Aso Rock Villa. In this interview first aired on Vanguard Live, he speaks about his experiences among other issues in the country. Specifically he corroborates a statement earlier made by another former presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, that there were demons in Aso Rock Villa.
You have been in the political scene for about 40 years. Can you take us down the memory lane, the good, the bad and the not so good moments you have had?
It has been a mixed bag; some good and some not so good as you said. My coming into politics is something quite extraordinary. I trained as a medical doctor. But, during my last year in training, I had a stint at a hospital in the United Kingdom. I was just there on an elective program for about three months. I saw that most of the students were whites.
There were just about two or three black people in my group. There was nothing so fantastic about them. In fact, I was stunned and at a point, I had to pretend as seeing something wrong, so that it will not be as if I was always right. One day, I called one of them whose name was David. He was about 21years old and said “you guys look average, how come your society is better than ours?” That was in early 1976 when General Yakubu Gowon as head of state. He replied that United Kingdom is run by the five per cent that constitutes the most brilliant, wealthiest, most progressive population, that is top of the pyramid, but “in your country Nigeria, the leadership comes from the bottom pyramid”.
I was hurt but it was true. I decided that day that when I completed my studies, I was going to get into politics. I made a vow that I will be part of the group that will be taking a decision in the country.
You have been there for a long since after David’s statement. Has anything changed?
I feel personally sad because I don’t feel fulfilled. My purpose in going into politics was to be part of the policymakers that would effectively make contributions that would change the country. I have not been able to do that, quite sadly. If we look at the antecedents, I was not in the corridors of power but, at least, the ante-room of power.
I am not boasting, the two presidents I worked with, I did not work with them just like an ordinary aide, I worked with them like a friend and a partner. I had all the opportunities to contribute and get things done but, somehow, it didn’t happen.
Why was it so difficult?
It is due to the structure or nature of our politics whereby the president seems so powerful, but power does not end in the president of a country. Even former President Olusegun Obasanjo, with all his strength, gusto and panache, there were things that he couldn’t do.
I put this in my Facebook before; that I told one of the presidents I worked with that we would get somebody to run certain things for certain reasons, and the president was excited and even asked me to get the person to come to Abuja to talk with him and I got the person but, overnight, that decision was toppled by some very close and powerful persons. So that is the nature of our politics.
You mean that there were more powerful persons that were more influential. Was it the respect that would make a president change his mind on a policy he had agreed to implement?
This is a very large country and balancing is a political situation that requires serious ingenuity. Only blessing from God will help you to do it in this country. We are so complicated and complex in nature.
A simple decision that would help a nation will be interpreted until… I will give you another example as it happens in India where there is the outsourcing of positions, employments from various companies; we wanted to set up a platform that would facilitate such a thing, nationally. I gave the name of a guru, 1st class person on this matter. The president agreed and called on one or two people, after which this did not happen.
A few days after, a very important person walked up to me as I was leaving the Villa and asked, “Doyin, what is the matter with you? You created such an important platform and you want an Igbo man to head it, are you crazy?” Do you understand that? I didn’t think that was an issue, I was only concerned with who can do it best.
Democracy in Nigeria had a very promising beginning, having started with people like Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe,
Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. If it had such a promising beginning, why is it……?
Cuts in… Democracy had a very promising beginning but, like an aircraft, Nigeria ran into bad weather somewhere along the journey and nearly had a serious crash.
The advent of the military is the greatest disaster that befell this country. We derailed. I am not too good at philosophy but it was like a passenger travelling to Umuahia from Abuja but boarding a plane going to Kano. When this is done, destiny changes immediately.
You were there in 1993 when the late Chief MKO Abiola wanted to get everything done. Would this not have affected a promising president also?
Yes, I was close to the late Chief MKO Abiola. If he had been able to rule the country, the kind of goodwill that was following him and the mental capacity he had, as well as his exposure, may have rescued us but, instead of being rescued, his exclusion from power changed us to another course of destiny.
We thought former President Olusegun Obasanjo redirected us to that course?
When Chief Obasanjo came into power, everything was looking real. If he had programmed to be in power for just four years and just correct the anomalies that came before him, Nigeria would have been better.
So he was an accidental president?
No. I didn’t say that. I said if he had made up his mind to spend only four years and leave, Nigeria would have been better. When you want to run a second term, it is politics that involves compromising. There is no how you are going to do it since you alone cannot vote yourself into power.
Nigeria is a vast country; multi-dimensional, multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic, multi-cultural. It is not possible. Also, the illiteracy level is so high and poverty is so rife, all these are inimical to any successful democratic experiment. Even the best of candidates will fail.
Are there demons in Aso Rock?
Laughs…. No. I have read that people say that when you get to Aso Rock, there are demons that derail people. No. There is no demon resident at Aso Rock. The demons come from the hinterlands and attack the residents of Aso Rock. The demons are from various states and regions. I have been in Aso Rock twice and I know what I am talking about.
You have worked under two presidents in the same capacity; different personalities, a retired general and academia. Tell us about your experiences.
Laughs… Do you know why I am laughing? I was tempted to say that I am like I am a polygamist. On a serious note, the job is essentially the same because whether a president is an ex-military officer, a former sailor, a former businessman, a professor, etc, my job on each occasion was to protect the public image of that person. For me, their backgrounds are not easy materials. I look at each of them as the subject matter.
That was how I saw my principal. I knew that I had a job to do which was to fill in their inadequacies, to cover their creases in public and promote. Also, to say things that were not said but were intended or things not properly said. My duty was to clarify them. They were two gentlemen. Ex-President Obasanjo was much more a robust human being. He is effusive, an extrovert to the core.
If you offend him or he is on the wrong side with you, it will be very obvious in his face. He does not mince his words. Ex-President Jonathan is a different human being, altogether. He is gentle and, because of that, he is terribly misunderstood as a weak person. He is not a weak person.
Who is a better President?
Better? You cannot have a better president when you consider two presidents. However, in what aspect, is it the human relations, policy-making, patriotism or avoidance of tribalism? You can ask, how do they react to issues? For instance, Chief Obasanjo is quintessentially a nationalist. I cannot even pretend to be close to him. He lives and dreams Nigeria, nothing else. If I become the president tomorrow, I cannot say that l have that quality. I love Nigeria and I am patriotic but I cannot say that I am like him.
Ex-President Jonathan is a good man, personified. He intends well, he wants to do well. People think that he is (pardon my word) a foolish person. He is not. But, he doesn’t come to you as a forceful person. One day, he called me and said “Nigerians want me to be wicked. I have the capacity to be wicked but I don’t want to be”. I can’t recollect the circumstances but things were going wrong and people were taking him for granted.
Let’s talk about Aso Rock Villa and the demons…
Laughs—- are you a demonologist?
I am worried that we have the best technocrats in government to make decisions and good plans, yet, things tend to turn around at the point of execution. It is worrisome…
It is caused by the leadership of the country. I don’t mean the president and his vice but our leaders from the states, regions and zones; are the people who come to cripple the Presidency. It’s only very few people that have the Nigerian project in their hearts. I have been in government and I am telling you this. I will be 70 years old next year. I have no reason to fear anybody or anything. I am not seeking anyone’s favour.
I am not in this government but I have served in two administrations. Most of our major actors do not have the interest of the country at heart. Sometimes, their interests violently conflict with that of the nation. And, they are very important people to you as a president. They are people that you rely on as a president.
They are people that look after your back in their zones. When they insist on certain things, it becomes a problem for you. If you are the head of a family and you have many mature children, you would expect them not to come and force you to take some decisions that may not be palatable to others but people can actually force you just like Satan whom the Bible described as the accuser of brethren.
For instance, if we say nobody should lie and a man lies, even if you want to be kind to him, some would insist that he must be punished because others who lied in the past were punished. But if there are people who really want progress, they have seen that this person has broken the rule, he should just be admonished to prevent repetition.
Would you work with the present administration?
I will work with anyone or the administration that wants to do well for this country.
Do you have any reservations on the way the government has been made or is being run?
This administration has not done well at all. I have nothing personal against the government. It is not a matter of criticism. The lapses are there, everybody can see them. That’s why I felt visceral anger on banditry and insurgency in the country.
The anger is from inside of me because people within and outside Nigeria are made to feel that nobody has a brain in this country which is not true. With all modesty, if I were the president of this country, things will not be in this situation. In Nigeria, no president tells you what he wants to do. It is just a matter of “you know, my party has given me its flag. I am from the North or I am from the South, I am a Christian or I am a Muslim, this is money, vote for me”. Nigerians do not take on their presidents, it is crazy.
For instance, there are many presidential aspirants all over the place, I don’t want to mention names, none of them has said “this is my position on banditry, economy, restructuring “etc. They don’t talk about things like that. It is just, “vote for me”.
But they have agenda on insecurity?
Has anybody given you his or her agenda on insecurity, except me, Doyin Okupe? I have advertised my agenda stating that if I was the president, this is what I am going to do. For instance, I have said that if Governor El – Rufai can give me two billion naira, no child will be taken away from any school in Kaduna and that, if it happens, I am ready to face the firing squad.
It is not rocket science. People are making us look as if we are a fossil generation or cavemen. We are not. There is technology in this world. There are satellites in the world today that can give you the location of 10 inches’ object and above. A human being is more than 10 inches, so it will identify human beings. Satellites can locate human beings and mass movement. It can locate clusters of human beings.
So, what are we talking about? If I was the president of this country, I will contract satellite operators to focus 24/7 on the disturbed areas such as Zamfara, Kebbi, Kaduna, Niger etc so that in every 24hours, I will have reliable information about people’s movement. I will buy surveillance helicopters, capable of flying high in the sky where they cannot be gunned down and still pinpoint a rat on the ground. Schools and teachers will be provided with special telephones, programmed to raise alarm.
There is no how 50 people can be hounded at once that one of them cannot press a button on the phone that would alert the nearest police station and other security points for help to come within 30 minutes.
Insurgency started at the time of PDP?
Yes, the insurgency is different from banditry. The insurgency has been with us for the past ten years but banditry is just about three years old and it is becoming a problem. A region in a country closed 600 schools, are there people with a brain in such a country? What kind of thing is that? People who didn’t go to school now tell us which school can open and which school should be closed, just because they have guns. I want to take you back to what happened at Chibok
Ahhh! Jesus! I hate to talk about Chibok publicly.
Just talk about it today. About 200 girls were hounded…
Let me tell you, God Almighty in his mercy and wisdom and kindness will reveal ultimately the truth about Chibok. All the stories you heard, I am seeing them again. The majority of the stories that were out on Chibok were lies. I was involved. I was on top of it and did not sleep that night.
On the day of the incident, I saw President Jonathan as early as 2.am and again by 6 am. The night that the Chibok girls were kidnapped was the day that Nyanya was bombed in the morning. Two days later, Shekau (Boko Haram leader) made a broadcast and accepted responsibility for the Nyanya bombing and never mentioned anything about the Chibok girls kidnap.
Are you saying that the Chibok girls’ incident was not a Boko Haram matter?
Let me land. I am trying to set the scenario very clearly for you and other Nigerians. Before the bombing of Nyanya that morning, there were multiple bombings in other places. The kidnap was not reported immediately in both the local and international media. Rather, 48 hours after the bombing, Shekau announced it and, for 21 days, he didn’t mention the Chibok girls’ abduction. Again, on that night of the incident, I spoke to the Divisional Police Officer for Chibok.
He told me that he and his men had been exchanging fire with insurgents who took the girls for four hours and that nobody was wounded on both sides. Furthermore, one Mr Clottury, an African working with voice of America, called me at about 3 am from America and asked if I heard what happened. I said yes.
He said he had spoken with the principal of the school and that she confirmed the kidnap of girls in Chibok but explained that the majority of them had been recovered, adding that they were just about a little over 50 and that the parents had gone home with their children.
We then called the principal of the school very early in the morning and she confirmed the story. About 3 hours or so later, the same principal had a press conference with the commissioner for education in Borno State and said 257 girls were missing. From where were they missing?
- Next week, Okupe concludes his narration of the Chibok ‘lies’ and moves on to other issues including zoning and the 2023 presidency and his gay son, Bolu.