Hon. Mutiu Kunle Okunola, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), is the National Coordinator of Nigeria Unity Forum and Tinubu 2023 Not Negotiable (TNN). In this interview with TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE, he speaks on his recent defection from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the ruling party and the 2023 presidency, among other issues
Why did you dump the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)?
I defected to the APC because the narrative has changed. Nigeria has a tradition of power rotation, which was developed because of the population, tribal and ethnic division, religious differences and other factors in the nation for the unity of this country so that a domineering tribe or religion will not continue to dominate the polity. At the same time, we want merit to be the decider and merit is going to be when we go to regions; North and South. So, irrespective of the region, which you are from, that region can decide to bring its best forward.
Even the military that handed over power to civilians in 1998 acknowledged that the unity of this country would be strengthened by rotation of power and that was why they started with the South-West in 1999 as it was adjudged that MKO Abiola won the June 12, 1993 presidential election and that after his death, if democracy is going to start, let us start from the region that won the annulled June 12 election. If they didn’t acknowledged that fact, they wouldn’t have told us in the South-West to produce the president. So, we cannot get to the middle of the ocean and abandon that; it must be sacrosanct irrespective of what some people are saying because all the factors that unite Nigeria are no more there.
How do you see the plot by the North to retain power after 2023?
What really informed our decision is the tradition of rotating the presidency. It ought to have been enshrined in our constitution. The military because of their selfishness handed over a constitution that is not a people-oriented constitution since nobody went to the National Assembly or any conference. The military just handed it over to us; we are supposed to have reviewed it. So, if not because of the innate ambition of Sani Abacha to become a life president, he would have put in our constitution that there would be power rotation between the North and South. But this constitution was just handed over to us, but It can still be reviewed.
The presidency should be rotated between the North and South. I am concerned about the unity of Nigeria and that is why I am leading a movement for the unity of the country. I am not for division. I am not for religion or tribal sentiment. It must be sacrosanct for Nigerians to unite. All factors that unite Nigeria are no more there in terms of federal character because the president is desirous of anybody he finds capable to serve with him. The only thing we can take away, which is the last straw for the unity of this country is power rotation if we don’t want war. Whatever northerners are saying about retaining the presidency in 2023, can they win Nigeria alone? It is not the right thing for the North to say they want to retain the presidency in 2023; power should be rotated between the North and South and that is why people like us defected to APC.
Don’t you think that the North can win the 2023 presidency given its voting strength?
Since the history of this country, has there been any time that northerners alone won election? Abiola won in Kano, where Bashir Tofa, his major opponent comes from. President Muhammadu Buhari, under the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) did not win despite his large followers in the North. In 2011, Buhari and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu failed because Buhari could not win under CPC while Tinubu’s party could not win under Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). But ahead of the 2015 elections, the two of them formed the APC to wrestle power from the incumbent.
Tinubu represents the whole South and Buhari represents the North and the two of them formed a party that wrestled power from the incumbent, who has been frustrating them winning independently. The first person (Buhari) has done his eight years and has represented the Northern region. So, the second person (Tinubu) must do his own and that is why we are a coming up with a movement ‘Tinubu 2023 Not Negotiable.’
So you believe that the presidency should go to the South in 2023?
That is the normal thing; normal democratic thing if there is not going to be agitation.
But the South is presently divided as the South-East and South-West are agitating for the 2023 presidency?
We are not arguing. The South-East is long overdue for the presidency. Since, 1960, they have not taken a short at the presidency. But power is not served a la carte; it is not by pronto. They must be seen to have positioned themselves to be the president of Nigeria. The ruling party, APC has presence in the South-West and in the South-East, but there is no APC governor out of the five governors in the region. Under democracy, are you going to zone your presidency to where you have no relevance? Who is going to vote for you? If we do that, just any unknown person in the North or any region will defeat all of us.
But at the same time, in as much as we want to hold sacrosanct the issue of rotation, you must look at the region that is suitable for us to win that election. So, nobody is against the South-East becoming the president; it is a welcome development and I love it, but they know where they have worked. They worked under PDP and so they should go and wrestle for power in PDP and if they get that, it means the rotation of presidency is working. If PDP honours that by zoning their presidency to the South, then we will come to the roundtable to talk. But our movement is about power rotation. It is not negotiable because that is the only thing that can ensure victory for any party in 2023.
Why are you pitching your tent with Tinubu?
It is a straightforward thing. A lot of people are just trying to play the devil’s advocate. This dispensation started in 1999 and out of the 36 states governors, who contested then, it is only Tinubu that is still standing, others have gone to the Senate and served as ministers, Tinubu is the only one waiting and he is trying to bridge the gap between the other regions for unity of this country. He ruled Lagos for eight years and transformed Lagos from low income state to a state that now boasts of large income. He has produced many public office holders; ministers and governors, he produced even the incumbent Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
He has raised up many people, including the youths. Whoever that has ruled Lagos State for eight years is capable of ruling Nigeria. Tinubu is a detribalized person. While he was governor, he appointed the Hausa, Igbo and other tribes into his cabinet. So, as somebody who has ruled Lagos for eight years, he is capable of ruling Nigeria. In 2023, we want someone who has the capacity; a round peg in a round hole or a square peg in a square hole.
So, we have narrowed the 2023 presidency to Tinubu based on his antecedent, capacity in political activities and leadership because Tinubu and Buhari are behind the marriage that defeated the incumbent, the most populous party in the whole Africa, which wanted to rule Nigeria for 60 years, but had its dream terminated after 16 years in power. If Buhari had fought corruption and checkmated criminals, we should allow Tinubu in 2023 because 2023 is our year of development. In order to sustain the gains that we have achieved during President Buhari, we should allow Tinubu to carry on with development.
But some people Yoruba seem to be against Tinubu becoming president in 2023?
During the time of Papa Obafemi Awolowo, some people came out against him. They created confusion and division. They did the same thing during Abiola’s time. We have noticed that and that is why we started our movement to correct the wrongs of the past.
But Tinubu has never come out to say that he wants to run for the 2023 presidency…
We don’t even expect Tinubu to come out. We will compel him to run. We are yet to approach him; we know that he has the capacity to rule Nigeria, so we will compel him to run for presidency.
You seem to have already pitched your tent with Tinubu, what about Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who many believe is a good candidate for the presidency?
Osinbajo cannot run for presidency. How can you run for presidency when you don’t have a constituency? Where is his constituency? Does he have any constituency? He only rode on the back of Tinubu to become the vice president, not on his own name. Who dare tell me that Osinbajo will contest? Which constituency is he going to contest from in the South-West? Is it in his home state, Ogun, where Olusegun Obasanjo, Abiola and Ernest Shonekan came from? Osinbajo is far from it, so we will do everything possible to ensure that Tinubu declares for the 2023 presidency.
What about the former PDP Deputy National Chairman, Chief Olabode George, who is also said to have declared for the 2023 presidency?
Chief Olabode George saying he wants to be president is a plus for us. He will only gather that preference for Tinubu. We will even support him to clamour to be a president because whatever support he gathers, he is bringing it back home for a younger, brilliant, intelligent and experienced leader who has worked, performed, tested and is trusted. I believe everybody will queue behind Tinubu in 2023.