Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe is a former Minister of Works and a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with GEOFFREY EKENNA, he spoke about the ongoing campaign, the controversies about and chances of the APC presidential candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu and other national issues
The presidential election is less than 100 days away. Few days ago, your party flagged off its campaign in Jos. What are the optics you are seeing?
Things are getting clearer and more interesting on daily basis that issuebased campaign is better that fighting, quarrelling and abusing on the television, particularly, through the spokespersons of all the political parties. They should concentrate more on enlightenment of the content of their manifesto. What will Nigerians gain from their manifesto?
What should Nigerians expect? They should leave fighting, quarrelling and use of abusive languages. They should leave those because we have passed that stage. As far as I am concerned, APC is on course. It should only concentrate on what will make Nigerians happy and make them vote for APC again. Why do you think Nigerians will vote APC again?
A change in personality is going to be critical because I have an experience a lot at the federal level of being a former minister. The quality of ministers is most critical and important than even the content of the manifesto because the implementation of all these policies will rely on the quality of the ministers. It is the not the president that would perform or implement any of these functions; an incompetent or less diligent minister can crumble all the aspiration of the party, irrespective of the content of the manifesto.
So, winning an election is not too critical for me but assembling the best material to implement the programme of that President is very important. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu should start immediately to recognise personalities, who are very creative and efficient to drive his aspiration and he has proven this when he was the governor of Lagos and I am assuring Nigerians that he is still well-groomed that the success of the programme of the party could be guaranteed.
But APC presidential candidate appears to be facing so many obstacles, scandals, things about an unclear past. Few days ago, there was a documentary ‘From a drug lord to presidential candidate’. There is another one from Deloitte not having any record of Tinubu as their staff. Could it get worse than that? Is the president not the image of the country?
Honestly, all these issues are not clear but I can assure you he will get over them. He is used to them. Nothing that is being said now is new to him.
Is it about being new or true?
If one tests whether it is true or not, it is up to the person who is making the allegation. As far as I am concerned, all these allegations are not new at all. The truthfulness of the whole thing is about who alleges, and it is who alleges that proves. It is not for Tinubu to prove. It is the person that is alleging that should prove the accusation.
…and you are aware there are several cases against him in court concerning all these allegations?
He will get through it. I am too confident he will get through.
Talking about party manifesto, I remember the last time I spoke with you; we talked about Buhari not being aware of the 2015 party manifesto. What is the guarantee that in 2023, the president of an APC extraction will implement what is in the manifesto?
We have always known Tinubu as somebody that advocates for change, restructuring, state police among others.
What guarantees do we get? It is the skill that he has got. He reads a lot. He has capacity to read and assimilate. I am sure he would have read the entire 80-page manifesto before approving.
He does take chances at all. You cannot catch him unprepared. I can assure you he would prepare well and make sure he implements everything in the manifesto to the letter, depending on the quality of his team, because the team is so crucial in the implementation of the manifesto.
If he has a deviant minister, who will not key into the vision….any minister that may want to come board should be interviewed, a panel must be setup, so as to interview so as to assess how much they know about the manifesto and how much they would key into the manifesto.
Was that responsible for Buhari’s failure?
I wouldn’t say because I wasn’t part of them at that time. …but you know the cabinet composition of Buhari… We all can see the result.
For instance, is Buhari a good point for Tinubu to campaign with?
You don’t expect him to criticise Buhari. That is the President for now.
Whatever anyone wants to do, the person should wait until he is President. It is going to be foolhardy of somebody, who is campaigning to be criticising the person that is meant to support him. He needs to be careful. He needs to toe the line until victory is assured.
Are you saying one needs to pretend…?
One needs to key into whatever they are doing now. One cannot criticise the government one belongs to, irrespective of the shortcomings. Just make sure you are aware of the shortcomings and when the opportunity comes, one can change most of the things that are believed to be wrong.
But many Nigerians have argued that if Tinubu can improve Nigeria as a president, why didn’t he make the input for Buhari to improve his own government?
When one is outside the government, one is handicapped. Tinubu is not a minister or cabinet member. Nobody would want to listen to him. There is no way one can run a government outside the government. One will be blackmailed. It is so difficult to run a government when one is not part of the structure.
Most of the people making comments and they are not part of the government are just jokers. The only person that is implementing the progress, programme and policies of this government is the one that can evaluate it and talk about it. No one can evaluate it outside the system. As far as I am concerned, that person is just trying to play to the gallery because he/she is not involved, it is whatever we read as documentary that we will
As an APC member, are you particularly proud of the performance of your party since 2015?
I am talking of a party that inherited $1 to N180. Today, it is $1 to N770 to N800, and that has a very big spiral effect on the economy of the country. From what angle will the APC seek the vote of Nigerians? Is it insecurity, poor economy, polarisation of Nigerians etc? For me, the critical thing is what the next President will do.
We don’t need to be assessing outgoing government. Let’s fix our eyes on a new government. What do we expect from a new government? Brooding over all the inadequacies in the past would not change anything. Let’s fix our minds on what a new government is promising to do…
The past is a reflection of the present and what is to come…
It is not the person. We are talking about a different personality, and let’s see how things can be done differently for the betterment of Nigerians. There is no doubt there are lessons learnt from the mistakes of the past but we need to move forward.
Why do you believe that Tinubu is the man to elect?
Tinubu is a listener; someone who does not open up or listen to people doesn’t usually know when people are not happy. But he is a person who opens his door, he assimilates comments, he listens to criticisms and change. He is not a rigid person.
So, he has an advantage of being able to tap from many sources, listen to so many people. Irrespective of the content of the manifesto, when the reality comes to the implementation, there are so many ways of getting to the Promised Land and it may be not restricted to the content of the manifesto. I have been part of it and I understand what openness does to leadership, when one listens to people, one should not hide oneself when in leadership.
Allow people to talk to you and one might know the information one can get that can change everything. There are so many brilliant Nigerians outside the system, many of them are not politicians but they have problem-solving skills and that would depend on how open the person at the helm of affairs is; how accessible the person is but if the door is shut, the person’s horizon will be limited.
People that have the ability to advise will not because they know they will not be listened to. A leader must be able to open up and be available. There must be time to interact with people. That is the way to go. There is no way one can be a good leader if your door is always closed to the people in Nigeria. There are so many people with good ideas that are willing to sell for free but they would need access; the cabal might limit you from coming to the knowledge of your wrongdoings.
The 2023 election appears to be mirroring 1979 type of election where there were strong regional persons competing for the presidency. We had Nnamdi Azikiwe from the South-East; Obafemi Awolowo from the South West; Waziri Ibrahim from North East; Aminu Kano and Shehu Shagari from the North West. Comparing with the present situation where there is Peter Obi from the South- East, Tinubu from South-West, Atiku Abubakar from the North- East and Rabiu Kwankwaso from the North West, it is like a four horse race.
How do you think this will play out?
My perception from SWOT analysis is that APC has an advantage because we have about 22 governors. We have majority in the National Assembly, houses of assembly, majority of chairmen of 774 local government areas.
Some people don’t know that the character of a person at the state is so important; the character of the chairman of the council is also important. The members of the House of Assembly, senators and representatives have a lot of role to play in campaigning for their presidential candidate. If we look at the number of people available to campaign for APC, they are far more than other political parties.
There would be flashpoints, where other parties will dominate but that might not be significant enough for them to win the election. APC’s advantage is very wide, if it is being explored properly.
How will they explore it properly when they have made a mistake of picking a same faith ticket?
That is explainable. If this is discussed in some sections, we are at disadvantage but to some, it is an advantage. If this is balanced up, Muslim-Muslim may be an advantage, particularly where it has been placed up with Lalong, a Christian, as the Director-General of the campaign organization, which is also an advantage. They should now try as much as possible to assure Christians that other post like Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief of Staff will not be negotiable.
You are aware that Buhari, a Muslim, has been in power for eight years. Tinubu will likely spend eight years and will handover to a northern Muslim for another eight years. That is 24 years of Muslim dominance and rulership at the presidential level. How does that sound?
Those are not only people that would govern the country; there are other positions like the Senate president…
Must it be a Muslim President for Nigeria?
For me, the religion of the President is not significant because he is not going to be the sole dictator, what about the senate president, speaker, they also have roles to play in the government, there are also the Chief of Staff that can balance things, presently, what is the role of the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo being a Christian in governance, it depends on the role one wants to play, and as far as I am concerned, a Vice President role is limited and not comparable to the president of the senate and speaker of the house, they also have a lot of roles to play.
In the calculation of APC, do you factor in the possibility of Atiku and a northern factor, in the sense that some of the party members, governors who are from the North may opt to go for Atiku?
It depends on their discussion with the presidential candidate of APC, listens to them, don’t allow them to be free, don’t allow them to be suspicious of you, be close to them, discuss governance, postelection promises, he should be very careful, as far as they are concerned, they are passionate about governance, let everybody aspire, he shouldn’t go against anybody, whatever they want is liable to discussion, they want their people to participate in governance, but if they are being listened to, that can drift them away, don’t give them the opportunity to believe that they will not be accommodated in your government, be open and discuss with them, they are very reasonable people, but don’t shut them out.
You believe that all things being equal, Tinubu will be our next President…
Of course, there is no doubt about that. Atiku Abubakar is an excellent politician, because he has joined too political parties, he looks unstable, it is something he fought against in 2014 that he is doing now, that it was the turn of the North and five of them left PDP to form APC, it is now the reverse, why should he be contesting if what he believed at that time was right, he should believe in the presidency of the South now and these are areas where discussion needs to be done. Is he really a pan-Nigerian person, an irredentist or opportunist?
Why the inconsistency in his belief/character? Why should he contest now when we believe the North have had their own turn to the extent all the 19 governors from the North now conceded power to the South? Those are things that are not too clear about Atiku. If he believes in rotation, why is he contesting now? ..
.probably he doesn’t believe in anything other than contesting…
This is about his seventh time he is contesting, which doesn’t give him a lot of credit. …in terms of structure There is a deficiency in PDP structure for now,
APC has an advantage of more people, there are more people in APC than in PDP throughout Nigeria and that is going to be a factor, the number of party members in APC is huge, any incumbent governor has a lot of advantages in an election, he can pull more resources, people, staff at the state and local government levels will be available for the ruling party to harness and win the election, there will be marginal votes…
What do you think of Kwankwaso and Obi?
There are going to make significant role, there is no doubt about that, but I think they are starting late, one cannot be in a hurry to be President of Nigeria, one needs a lot more time to develop one’s concept for people to accept, they might perform well in some areas, Kwankwaso might win governorship in Kano but I don’t think Peter Obi can win any governorship election, but he will have vote for himself, others will fizzle out after the election to total insignificance because after the election, there is nothing more for Labour Party.
He may likely go back to PDP if he doesn’t win…
I don’t know, if I were in government, I would start talking to these other parties like Labour Party, SDP candidate, Pat Utomi, people who are brilliant that have shown content in their discussion, we shouldn’t wish them away, Kwankwaso is also a brilliant person, believe it or not, all these people are friends, one should not be surprised if they are part and parcel of that government, which should be good for Nigeria.
Lastly, President Buhari will be handing over next year with a debt of over $42 billion and insecurity all over the country and economy in tatters. You mentioned earlier that it would be disrespectful for a candidate to be talking of not running on the achievement of the president when he hasn’t won the election; my question now is to an average Nigerian, what is the courage?
From my experience of elections in Nigeria, volume and number of your membership is so important because only five per cent of Nigerians watch the television or have access to social media or read newspaper, the majority are illiterates and poor and there are about over 100 million, so who do you think can attract those set of people to vote, it is the members of the party, so the party with huge number of members has an advantage in Nigeria over brilliance, popularity, your popularity is limited to television, radio and social media, but the people that are going to vote will listen to the members of their party in that polling unit and if there are not enough members in a typical polling unit, who is going to attract people, those five per cent may not even come to out to vote.
Doesn’t it amount to arrogance for your presidential candidate to say he is not coming out for debate?
It depends on the programme of the party, as a TV station, you have your programme and policy, the a political party is that contesting an election as its programme and agenda too , they have a way of reaching out to people.
How can a TV station compel them to abide their wish, they are two different people. I am contesting on the platform of my party, and there is a way my party wants to do its campaigning and a TV station wants me to campaign according to its dictates. It doesn’t work that way.
They are not saying they are not going to talk or campaign, all they are saying is that they are not coming for debate, anywhere they are holding a town hall meeting, send your reporters there, and participate at that level, it is going to be the same outcome.
Let them ask any questions when they get there, but it doesn’t mean they have to be at your station to talk. Let them do it their own way.
If they want to come, let them come. Don’t believe it is an insult, political parties have their own programmes, parties do what will benefit them.