Okupe

•Says common northerners tired of northern candidacy

•‘I was Obasanjo’s alter ego, ate breakfast with Jonathan four times every week’

CANCER: A doctor said I could die within 14 years

By Yinka Ajayi

Presidential aspirant of the Peoples Democratic Party [PDP], Dr. Doyin Okupe, is 70. In this interview, Okupe, who served as presidential spokesperson under two different Presidents, recounts life’s experience, his lifelong pursuit and aspirations, thoughts about the nation as well as his reasons for wanting to be President in 2023. Specifically, he says PDP is heading for catastrophe if a northerner emerges as its presidential candidate ahead of 2023. Former VP Atiku Abubakar, erstwhile Senate President Bukola Saraki and Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, all northerners, are font runners in the race for the party’s presidential ticket. Excerpts:

How do you feel at 70?

For me, it is just something remarkable, because I remember that, when I was very young, someone in an association I belonged to died at 51. I went there thinking I was visiting someone who was very old. Here I am now at 70 and it is something really wonderful. I was with Oba Tejuoso some days ago and I told him I will be celebrating my 70th birthday soon and he laughed in absolute disbelief, saying “that little Doyin of yesterday” and that is the truth, it is a wonderful thing; above all things, it is God’s grace.

Your low and high moments…

I have had so many low points in my life. Life is full of so many ups and downs and the prayer of many is that the good times should be more than the bad ones. My lowest point was some 15 years ago when I visited a clinic in Florida, and the doctor said I had prostate cancer, and that they would do their best to see if I could live 14 years more. I was very devastated because I understood what this meant as a doctor. In terms of high points, God has been very gracious to me. When I celebrated my 40th birthday, it was such a glorious event. I felt very elated and accomplished. 

As of that time, I was the National Publicity Secretary of the Third Republic National Republican Convention, NRC, and I had a reception party at Eko Hotels and it had in attendance many first class personalities. Here it was as if life was sprawling right in front of me and that anything was possible. Also when President Obasanjo, on the 29th of May, 1999, announced my name as Special Assistant on Media and Publicity in the Presidency, I was the very first person who was announced in that administration and that was something which was absolutely incredible.

You are a medical doctor by training. Now you are a media mogul, how were you able achieve this?

That is something which I have never been able to explain myself, but I think it was God who pushed me in that direction because, when I look back at my life, there were things that prepared me for this. I remember when I was in primary school, here in Iperu, the teacher then always insisted in my coming out in front of the class to speak about a topic which we had been taught and I did this very well. 

Then it was as if I was the assistant teacher and, from there, I deliberately made efforts on how to speak in front of people and how to also speak good English. Also medicine helped me a lot. In those days, by the time you finished medical school, you will learn nothing less than 35,000 new words and the way we were taught, the books which we were exposed to which were rich in vocabulary and good usage of English really helped us.

 Also there are two people who I will never forget, they are Chief Duro Onagboye and Chief Akin Ogunmade-Davies; they are the ones who finally grounded me in media. They were very good friends. Chief Onagboye was the Editor of Concord Newspapers while Chief Akin Ogunmade-Davies was the Publicity Secretary of then-National Party of Nigeria, NPN, in Lagos State. I was like Chief Onagboye’s protege, he was so much older than me, I carried his bag, he took me around, visited all the media houses and he would talk to me, ask me to write press releases which he would later correct. With him and Chief Akin Ogumade-Davies, I understood how the media worked. I understood the language of the media. I did not just jump into the media, I was tutored. These are the things that prepared me for my media career.

Why do you want to be President @ 70?

I do not think age has anything to do with it. I went for an elective program in a hospital in London and I found out that I was better than most of my American colleagues and I was amazed because they had better teachers. 

The people who wrote the textbooks that we read in UCH were their teachers but I was still better than them. There was also a bright boy with us then, his name Gilly and his father was a Lord (in British House of Lords), went visiting him and we had a chat. He told me that in the United Kingdom, only the very best runs the system, but where I came from, it is the bottom of the pyramid that rules the country and this was true. I decided that whenever I was through with my programme, I would return to Nigeria to participate in the politics of my nation. I did not just want to become a surgeon, or become a professor at the university, I wanted more and I decided to come back home. And God was kind to me; twice was I opportune to get to the center of power, not just walk in the corridors of power. 

There was no President I worked with that I did not have that closeness. In the first term of President Obasanjo, I was almost his alter ego and with President Jonathan, if he did not travel, I was with him four times in a week for breakfast. When we left in 2015, I confided in people around me that I felt unfulfilled, but people said if that is how God wants it to be I should let it be. But then in the interim period that I was not in government anymore, especially in this present dispensation, things have become very challenging to everyone and governance is looking as if it is a mirage, that black people cannot govern themselves. And things are getting out of hand, especially on the issue insurgency and banditry that has continued unabated. I am not a soldier, but I can assure you, I can stop banditry and insurgency.

 During the Jonathan era, I did so much research on this and I have extensive materials. It was the revulsion in me over the inability of anyone to do something about the issue of banditry and insurgency which made me threw my hat in the presidential ring because I know that I possess what is required to act right. Some weeks ago, I read that Governor Zulum said that if there are no drastic steps taken to curtail the issue, ISWAP will take over the country. I also remember that President Buhari had to cancel his visit to Borno because of bandits. At this point, we should bury our heads in shame. 

Another reason I am contesting is that, having being in government, I have seen that government has been administered dispassionately and at the sheer discretion of the ruling elites. There is no place for God in our governance and, if there is one, it is just to pray for the protection of the political office holders. The fear of God is not in government and governance and I want to bring the fear of God into governance because whatever God is involved with thrives. My third reason is that the Nigerian poor, the needy amongst us have been neglected for so long, people attend to the poor as a compensatory thought. 

The poor are the majority in the country and there must be a comprehensive plan for them. I want to go into government to relieve the sufferings of the poor in our system. I also want to demystify the situations and circumstances which make it seem like problems cannot be solved. Issue like power, I can assure you that, in 24 months, I can bring our power generation to 30,000 megawatts. 

That is something in itself which will combat poverty head on. Also, I intend to ensure a society that obeys the law. These days nobody obeys the law anymore, but if there is no respect for the rule of law, it is basically a jungle. The basic problem of Nigeria is the economy which is too contracted; the national budget of 17 trillion naira, which is slightly more than 25 billion dollars for 200 million people, is a poverty budget. Shehu Shagari budget in 1983, when Nigeria was just a little below 100 million, was 25 billion dollars, Buhari’s budget for 2022 is 27 billion dollars and that is for a population of 200 million. With this, we should not be surprised that we are the poverty capital of the world. Someone has to come and expand the economic base of this country because we need to do a budget of 40 billion dollars at the minimum in this country and this is achievable.

What have you learnt from your experience while in government and how can we resolve the agitations for secession in the country?

One of the lessons I have learnt while working in the center of power in Nigeria is that most Nigerian governments come in without a plan, and you should not be surprised. Even right now, many politicians are saying that they are waiting for people to woo them before they can run as if they are Jesus Christ. If you woo someone who has no plan for the presidency and he wins, he is an emperor, an emperor is one who has no plan but lives to glorify himself and everything he does is always at his discretion. That is not the kind of President we want come 2023, we want someone who wants to be President, who is prepared for it and is ready for it. I have also learned that there is too much insecurity in government. 

The fact that the President seeks second term makes him vulnerable. I intend to do just a term and use the opportunity to prepare the nation for strategic growth and transformation. I have seen people brandish CVs and that is ridiculous. If that is what we want, we do not have to contest elections. All we need do is visit the universities and pick from the professors who have the CVs. Donald Reagan was not one of the smartest Presidents of the United States of America but we could say he is one of their best Presidents. Same with Donald Trump, he is not the brightest but we saw what he did even though he had his own shortcomings. And in solving the healthcare issue, the fault is coming from government. Herdsmen have been around for years and they have lived peacefully. What we have right now is as a result of the influx of new herdsmen into the country, herdsmen who are used by certain people to cause havoc. There are people in government who are related to these herdsmen by ethnicity, who are not ready to deal with the situation because of their tribal/ethnic affiliation.

Your opinion about APC seeking another four years and the chances of the PDP come 2023.

APC has a right to want to continue in power and they are also well positioned because they have around 25 governors in the country, so if these governors perform well and they deliver, it is a plus for them. However, the issue with them is that the center has not done well and this may even affect the state governors. 

Also the greatest catastrophic error which the PDP can make is to elect a northern candidate as its flag bearer. It will be a regrettable calamitous mistake and I say this not because I am an aspirant but because I am a political pundit. I am going to champion a southern stakeholder forum that will resist the attempt by the party to pick a northern candidacy. 

This party conceived the idea of zoning and maintained it and we cannot get to 2023 and now say it is a free-for-all contest. The zoning arrangement must be honored. And I want to say to our northern presidential aspirants, they should not behave like the ostrich and bury their heads in the sand and pretend as if they do not know what is going on. 

The common northerners are tired of northern candidacy because they believe that these candidates have done less for them from the prolonged rule of northerners in government.  We have to treat this issue with respect and must not make any attempt to override anyone in the PDP. 

Among all the candidates who are contesting, I can say that there is no candidate who is senior to me in politics, so you cannot treat me anyhow, and this must be applied to others. Our brothers from the North cannot afford to be insensitive. It is unthinkable that someone from the North ruled for eight years and someone from the North in another party will rule the country for another eight years.

At 70, what is your dream?

My dream is to be able to achieve what I set to achieve 40 years ago and that is why I feel largely unfulfilled. If I had gone to pursue my medical line, I would have become a highly celebrated surgeon, but I left all that because I believed that something can be done for this country to advance it. I have been able to reach the center point of power, I have been domiciled in the center point of power, I have not been able to act in any capacity that will help me impact positively. I am like a modern day David, he visited the palace as a musician to go and appease Saul and he would later come back as a king, just as I visited the center point of power as a journalist. This is why I am praying and hoping that just like David, I will come back and rule in the palace

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