By Olasunkanmi Akoni
Senator Ebenezer Ikeyina, a Social Democratic Party, SDP, chieftain, in this interview, speaks about the reason President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor should come from the South, why the President’s successor should have courage, capacity, empathy, among other issues. Excerpts:
You are a very strong advocate of a president of South-East extraction, is that the reason you threw your hat into the ring?
Beyond regional sentiments my love for a united Nigeria is what inspired me to take the decision. It is true that the South-East region has been greatly marginalized and for us to have unity in the country where the citizens will live in peace, have a sense of belonging, we need to address some of the burning issues. We cannot pretend that there is no problem when the problem is glaring at us straight in the face. We used to have a Nigeria where you had a Fulani man as a mayor in Enugu. We want to get to the level where as a graduate you have a job offer before you write your final exams in the university. At that time companies go to the university to seek graduates, join their workforce, but now, a graduate would have left school for ten years he or she is still unemployed and even when the person tries to start something on his or her own the infrastructure is not on ground to enable that to happen. There is need to have all these issues addressed. We cannot be servicing our debts with 80 percent of our revenue and we sit down and say all is well. The killings across the country are frightening. We need to be concerned. It is true that I have been advocating for a president of South-East extraction because if there is no equity, fairness and justice there is bound to be strive. If you have three major tribes in Nigeria and two, Hausa-Fulani and Yoruba have all tested power at the highest political level in the country, while not the third one which is the Igbo nation. My party decided to elect me as the party’s flag bearer in rancor free primaries. They elected me not on the basis of ethnic or religious leanings, but on the basis of capacity. My party has a national outlook, the chairman of our great party, Chief Supo Sonibare is not from South-East and we have other members of our party spread across Nigeria.
Your party is not as popular as the two major political parties, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC); how do you want to achieve that under the party?
How do you measure popularity? SDP may not be popular in the context of being in control of states. SDP is a known party and I can tell you that Nigerians are tired of the parties that you referred to as popular; they want a party that is populated by men and women who are concerned about the plight of Nigerians, the party that will present a candidate with courage, capacity and empathy. President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor should have courage, capacity and empathy. He should be worried about the killings across the country and should be ready and courageous to stop them. SDP is a party that has national outlook and it is prepared to address the challenges confronting Nigeria with all sense of commitment.
Can you face the likes of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the PDP, who has been in the race so many times, and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of the APC?
What I will tell you is that it is not about what some people will call a popular politician. At the state that we are in now, in this country, Nigerians are tired of these recycled politicians. They want to see real change. They want to see the killings stopped, they want to see their children go to school and they want improvements in the economy. We cannot be servicing our debts with 80 percent of our revenue and we are still talking about gurus in the contest, people who are used to the game of politicking, people who have been in government before. We should be talking about people who have the capacity to do the job. The ordinary Nigerian should be concerned about the capacity of candidates to positively affect their lives. We should be concerned about candidates who understand roadmaps to tackle the country’s multifaceted socio-economic challenges. Nigerians must not just be content with the assumption that a politician means well. The demand this time must be meaning well and being able to do well. People have made a lot of promises in the past that they did not fulfill. We should be concerned about visionary leaders. Nigeria at the moment needs a courageous leader. This involves the ability to make the best decisions in the interest of the country without fear or favour, not a leader who will look at his people before making decisions at the expense of the nation or other regions. I can emerge the president of Nigeria with the support of Nigerians. It doesn’t matter who is contesting in the race, what matters is whether Nigerians are behind you and I will conveniently tell you that in the 2023 general elections there will be lots of surprises because people reject the statuesque. The voters are wiser now, they will reject money bags and vote for the candidate that will lead them to the Nigeria of their dreams.
Do you have the capacity and courage as you just mentioned considering the fact that you have never been a governor before nor held any executive political office where Nigerians can assess your performance?
You don’t have to be a governor to be seen as competent and courageous. We have governors who have been president of this country but we have not really seen that level of change that we desire. I have been a Senator of the federal Republic of Nigeria. I know my contributions in the senate at that time. I have held leadership positions of my association, the Surveyors association at national and continental levels and I know the impact that I have made. I have held so many other leadership positions and my legacy is still there. I am a selfless Nigerian and a nationalist. I believe in one great and united Nigeria. I am concerned about the state of the nation. We are really drifting as a nation too fast which is the reason I am an advocate of a restructured Nigeria. People need to have a sense of belonging.
There is speculation that some of you from the South joined the race banking on the support from the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum which has told its people not to vote for presidential candidates from the North, did you join the race because of the group’s support?
There is no right thinking Nigerian who will not support power shift in this country. It has been guiding our peaceful co-existence, harmony and unity as a nation. We cannot shift the goal post at the middle of the game. No peace loving Nigerian will want a Northerner to succeed Buhari.
We must do everything in our power to sustain the unity of this country. The Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum under the leadership of Chief Edwin Clark has done the right thing by the decision they have taken. It has encouraged some of us to still believe that there are people who are committed to ensuring that Nigeria remains a united indivisible nation. We need to have Nigeria before we talk about a President of Nigeria.
You have at different fora expressed support for true federalism, if elected president how do you intend to make it happen?
It has not happened because the political office holders don’t have the political will to make it happen, and that is why I said that Buhari’s successor should be courageous and have empathy. My dream is to have a restructured Nigeria where every state will grow at its own pace. There is no state in this country that doesn’t have the mineral resources that can sustain it, if we have true federalism this entire rancor that we witness across the country will stop. Oil is not the only mineral resource that we have. We had the era of the ground pyramid, we had palm oil plantations, just name them. Let us go back to the period. Again we have state and local government police to fight insecurity. You cannot have a federal government controlled police defeat insurgency. Fighting insecurity should be localized. If you have traditional rulers, the locals as stakeholders in the fight against insecurity you will get positive results. Of course the use of technology is also necessary but intelligence is key in the fight against insurgence. If you create jobs for young people they will be too busy to consider getting involved in crime. Restructuring will open the economy and states will be buoyant enough to take care of their people. SDP as a party has been singing restructuring for years and when we get into power we will restructure Nigeria.