Kayode Ajulo, an Abuja based lawyer, was the National Secretary of Labour Party (LP). Now a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Ajulo speaks, in this interview, on the controversy dogging potential contenders for the 2023 presidency. Excerpts:
By Kennedy Mbele
Horse trading has started ahead of the 2023 elections with speculations on potential contenders like Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Do you think Tinubu would carry the day come 2023?
Politics is life, it is a game of interests and, based on my personal experience, one’s political aspiration is too important to be treated as a periodically speculative affair. That is why, despite having tremendous respect for his Excellency, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as a National Leader, I will nevertheless question the rationale behind the sudden fixation on his purported 2023 presidential aspiration because, as I speak, he is yet to declare his intention to run for the highest office in the land.
All we have in the news and blogospheres are mere speculations, conjectures and even rumours and these should be treated as the names connote. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, during his time, was the undisputed leader of Western Nigeria. At every given opportunity, he reiterated his dream of governing Nigeria. The same stance was maintained while he was on trial and out of incarceration.
It is also noteworthy that after spending some time in office as Minister of Finance and Vice-Chairman to then-Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, he subsequently resigned and stated that his reason was to contest for the highest office in Nigeria. I grew up knowing Awolowo to be a keen aspirant for President and no wonder the late Ikemba Odimegwu Ojukwu described him with the best epithet, ‘the best President Nigeria never had.
Also, before the eventual election of President Buhari in 2015, we saw the zeal and zest of a man who had previously contested on three other occasions and on each of those election cycles, he did not leave his intentions to be a subject of mere rumours and speculation. Also, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has got his eyes on the presidency for almost 30 years since the 1990s. In fact, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has unsuccessfully contested five times for President. These are just some examples of citizens who were intentional in their aspirations and did not allow the same to be subjected to some wild conjectures.
I am therefore not aware or privy to any information suggesting that Tinubu is contesting for President and neither have I come across his declaration for the exalted office. The question of him carrying the day in 2023, therefore, does not arise or at best nugatory as we speak.
As someone who has been watching the political space, do you think any candidate from the South stands any chances in the 2023 presidential election?
First of all, I want to assert that I have never been a spectator in the arena of politics has been so active since my days as a teenager. I recall with great emotions when, as an undergraduate law student in Jos and in the wake of the Hope 93 saga, I had a first-hand experience of the thinking pattern of Nigerians when it comes to national politics. The political events and the resulting public outcry of that period created a strong passion for the people via the instrumentality of politics within me. Also, not too long ago, I contested the FCT senatorial seat and the political intrigues and drama involved have crystallized my understanding of the Nigerian brand of politics. Furthermore, from being a member of the Labour Party, I rose to the upper echelon by becoming the National Secretary of the party.
I was saddled alongside the National Chairman with the day-to-day running of the party; therefore, matters of administration, strategies, logistics and general elections are not strange to me. Now to your question, I only made a recollection of the above to reinforce the point that, given the current political structure of Nigeria, sentiments such as the ‘North and South divide’ are non-existent because the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended has bounded us in political matrimony where the inputs of almost all the geopolitical zones are required for a candidate to emerge as the President.
Specifically, I want to draw your attention to Section 134(1) of the CFRN, 1999 as amended stipulating that a candidate to the Office of the President shall be deemed to have been duly elected where, there being more than two candidates for the election he has the highest number of votes cast at the election and he has not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election each of at least two-thirds of all states in the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. This means a project such as a presidency cannot just be about one region, the imprimatur of at least 25 per cent of twenty-four states in Nigeria. If we are to assume some mathematical possibility, we are looking at four states in each of the six geopolitical zones in Nigeria.
This in itself is a form of national spread of the votes accruing to the winner. In view of this, a candidate of the South must of necessity be the ‘candidate of Nigeria’; otherwise, no matter the bloc votes expected from his region, he will not emerge the President. The Nigerian presidency is more than a regional project; it is more of strategic alliances and synergy.
All hands must be on deck, the North and South divide is non-existent as far as the presidency is concerned. You will easily recall that President Buhari did not succeed in his quest to become President despite his constant 10-12 million votes out of which an estimated 85% was from the North. It was, however, a strategic alliance with the South-West that ended his failures. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a southerner, was more popular in the North than the South and he ended up becoming the President in 1999.
If you have noticed, most of the presidential candidates pick their National Campaign Coordinators from an alternate region. For instance, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan appointed Ambassador Dalhatu Talfida as his Campaign Coordinator in 2011 while President Buhari appointed Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi as his Campaign Chairman in 2015. These are strategic moves I am talking about and not some ethnic or tribal politics.
You claimed you conducted a survey across the northern geopolitical zone where, according to you, there’s apathy for a candidate like Tinubu. How representative is this survey and can you shed more light?
Well, I am a man of many parts and I sit on the boards of a number of prominent Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) including the Egalitarian Mission for Africa. So what we did at the time was to commission a survey and I must state that it was not a survey aimed at projecting or diminishing the political stature of anybody.
It was more of a fact-finding survey and, at the end of the day, the question of voter’ apathy did not even arise. However, the survey favoured seven candidates for President namely: Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Dr Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti governor), Mr Akinwumi Adesina (ADB President), Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu (Ekiti governor) and others in that order of preference.
With the benefits of hindsight, do you think there can be a consensus candidate that would be accepted by Nigerians as they did to Buhari in 2015?
Absolutely, I have no modicum of doubt that a consensus candidate with a national appeal will emerge. I am sure you’ll agree with me that nature abhors a vacuum. Buhari’s magnetism and cult-followership notwithstanding, another candidate will emerge after his tenure and attention will naturally shift to this candidate. I want to believe that Nigerians will accept and love this candidate much more than they did to Buhari in 2015.
Ancient Roman history revealed that at the death of Julius Caesar and, contrary to what historians perceived to be the end of the Roman Republic, a second Triumvirate emerged between Mark Antony, Octavian (Julius Caesar’s heir) and Lepidus and they ruled for ten years. Octavian Caesar, despite being a dictator, became a well-respected colossus of the Roman Republic.
There was a time Winston Churchill held sway in the United Kingdom as Prime Minister and the citizens honestly yearned for his continued stay in office but for his age and health. Meanwhile, his deputy, Anthony Eden, succeeded him and the British people came to love and accept him as their leader. This lends credence to the point that no matter how popular a leader is, once he leaves the scene, another will emerge to fill that void. All we can do is to be expectant and anticipate who wears the crown.
Between the ruling APC and the opposition PDP, which of the two stands any chance at the 2023 election polls?
It is crystal clear that the ruling APC will defeat the PDP and other opposition parties at the 2023 polls. The reasons are not far-fetched; the massive infrastructural deficit inherited from the 16 years of PDP has been reversed and a lot of improvement can be seen in this regard. Admittedly, a sector-by-sector analysis will be such a herculean task, however for context, a few examples should suffice.
The first under review is the railway subsector and we can all attest to the fact that Nigerians have never had it this good. Notable here is the construction of the Abuja-Kaduna Rail (which was initiated under Jonathan’s administration), Lagos-Ibadan Rail line, the Itakpe-Warri Rail line and Ibadan-Kano Rail line. Also, a lot of road construction and rehabilitation projects litter the length and breadth of this country, not forgetting also, the completion of new terminals for international airports in Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt.
The Nigeria Electrification Project provided support and grants for the deployment of 200,000 Solar Home Systems which impacted about one million Nigerians.
Under the housing sector, the Family Homes Fund Limited (FHFL) was incorporated by the Federal Government in September 2016 and it is saddled with the implementation of the National Social Housing Scheme.
The agricultural sector under the APC administration has been impacted positively by the introduction of various programmes and policies by agencies of government. The Anchors Borrowers Programme (ABP) of the Central Bank of Nigeria has provided more than 300 billion Naira to more than 3.1 million smallholder farmers of 21 different commodities (including rice, wheat, maize, cotton, cassava, poultry, soya beans, groundnut, fish) cultivating over 3.8 million hectares of farmland.
Having mentioned few areas in which the ruling party has done excellently well, it is also important to admit the challenge of insecurity assailing the entire nation.
One cannot fail to state that the nation has suffered serious setbacks in terms of insecurity in the last few years and it is high time the President confronted it headlong. The President is indeed doing so much; however, most respectfully he can do better.
The menace of kidnapping, terrorism, banditry, separatist agitations have assumed a monstrous dimension and my general counsel is that the President should identify genuine agitations and address them patriotically while criminality of all sorts should be dealt with with with decisively.
In the final analysis and on this question, the insecurity notwithstanding, the APC is still the party to beat come 2023, it will interest you to note that its membership drive has fully commenced while other political parties are still basking in the wilderness of meaningless opposition.
What candidate do you think the geo-political zones would favour more, and conveniently if you were to pick one?
As it is, as long as the APC remains the largest political party in Nigeria, the choice of candidates for various elective positions will of course be challenging because of varying degrees of interest. It is on record that President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan spent a total of six years as President.
Also, the South-West supported the presidential bid of the incumbent President and there seems to be an undocumented agreement between the North and the South to the effect that power should return to the South. The South-East has a strong claim to the presidency.
Meanwhile, with the emergence of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan who, by virtue of my privileged information, hails from the South-East, that aspiration seems to have been fulfilled. This does not, however, preclude any Nigerian from the South-East from contesting more so, in view of the fact that President Obasanjo spent eight years in office.
If I may offer my two cents with respect to the ‘South-West presidential bid’, it is a fact that cannot be gainsaid or misconstrued that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed is a political juggernaut, he is not just a leader but a leader of great men. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has his name embedded in the gold in the annals of Nigeria’s political journey. However, my candid plea to him is that he should assume the role of the ‘Sardauna of Sokoto’ in this presidential project.
He is a pathfinder who shows the way, he remains a kingmaker and cannot afford not to put forward one of his strongest lieutenants and allies as was the strategy of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto. Sardauna was the biggest politician from the North, but he adopted the strategy of playing the politics of promoting one of his lieutenants, Sir Tafawa Balewa, to become the Prime Minister at the centre while the latter had time to focus on governance.
Examples abound in Nigeria’s democratic history of hard-core politicians never emerging as Presidents; they however played prominent roles in the election of the underdogs.
From President Shehu Shagari to Olusegun Obasanjo to Umaru Musa Yar’adua, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and even the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, one thing stands out, they are not the typical Nigerian politicians in the real sense of the Nigerian brand of politics.
As things stand and in deference to the person of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who is the highest political office holder from the South-West, I think he stands a greater chance of becoming the President as he enjoys the support of prominent politicians from not just the South-West but also the political elites of the other five geopolitical zones; indeed, the Nigerian people will be blessed to have him as their leader.
It is on record that in 2017, Osinbajo, as acting President, demonstrated sound leadership qualities which showed that, if given the opportunity, he will place Nigeria on the path of peace, prosperity and economic development.
He is a cerebral administrator and leader par excellence, a highly detribalized Nigerian whose popularity cuts across all geopolitical divides.