After delivering a speech on ‘Democracy and the rebirth of opposition in Nigeria’, the National Leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, entertained questions from the plethora of guests gathered at Chatham House, London on Monday, July 18, 2011. Our Abuja Bureau Chief, YOMI ODUNUGA, was there. Excerpts:
In your speech, you alluded to the fact that the attempt to wrest power from the ruling Peoples Democratic Party failed because the opposition ‘danced but did not embrace.’ What did you mean? And how would you react to allegations that the merger talks between your party and the Congress for Progressive Change failed because of your ambition to run for the presidency in 2015?
The truth is that we danced but we did not embrace. The handshake was just not there. The accusation or allegation or the blackmail of Bola Tinubu being the ambitious one is not tenable. First, I have what it takes to run for president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I feel I am superior to the candidates of the two parties. We conceded several things to them up to the last minute. They came with a rough, and untidy mind. I don’t want to belabour that aspect. It is unfortunate that we made all the sacrifices; our presidential candidate was ready to step down.
But what do you concede? It cannot be one-sided. Ideologically and the fact that we said ‘okay, we are ready for the handshake, provided General Buhari is ready to embrace certain political norms’. We still have the memory of Obasanjo, coupled with the fact that Buhari had chosen a running mate without considering that our party was even stronger than his, our party was stronger; we won many National Assembly seats more than the Congress for Progressive Change, which is Buhari’s party. We had in existence four governors; he had none. And we still went ahead to concede the presidential ticket to him. So, who is more ambitious? Truth is: Buhari is more ambitious.
As an opposition party, you should be concerned about security, especially as it relates to the Boko Haram crisis. What is the opposition doing to assist the government in tackling the insurgence?
We are all concerned about the security challenge and we are working on it. The challenge is so serious that it could adversely affect the economy of the country and its political stability. Without peace, we cannot achieve our developmental goals. We have made it abundantly clear to President Goodluck Jonathan that we are ready to help him. But this is a political challenge. This is a product of over-rigging. If the former President Olusegun Obasanjo could describe the previous elections in 2003 and 2007 as do-or-die affairs for the ruling government, then those who wanted to keep their political territory organised these other people to defend it. They do not have uniform army; they do not have uniform police; all they could do was to organise within their area because they do not have any other means and this has metamorphosed into a dangerous menace confronting the Federal Government now. However, it is a duty of the entire country for us to work together, advising the government. Because they have introduced a dimension that is volatile, that is the religious dimension. It is a lie. It is a fluke. Look, they tried to use that during the Sharia situation. Today, where is the Sharia? Where is it? Nowhere. What we need is a political solution; deep reform with assurances that votes will count in Nigeria will solve the problem. First, there must be a serious effort to ensure the economic development of the people. Stealing, corruption and mis-management of the economy are equally parts of the problem. We all have the collective responsibility to assist the President. The election is over and the campaign is no more. It is another four years. We have a nation to defend, a nation to build. Definitely, you and I and the other people in the political class must do everything to keep Boko Haram from consuming all of us. I assure you we will do it.
Few weeks ago, the vice presidential candidate of the CPC was here in Chatham House and he accused the ACN of not having a horse in the presidential election. What do you think the opposition should do so that they can have horses to challenge the PDP in the 2015 election?
I am glad to hear that the running mate of General Muhammadu Buhari of the CPC, Pastor Tunde Bakare, was here in Chatham House. First, let me say that the person in question is not a politician. He has never contested and won a councillorship seat. He is a preacher who suddenly found himself in politics because we backed him when Yar’Adua was incapacitated and the National Assembly became an institution of do-nothing. We wanted the country to move forward and we came together and gave the Save Nigeria Group the best support possible that the National Assembly should be compelled to follow the path of constitutional democracy by allowing Jonathan to act. Bakare was in that group. For me, I have never lost any election in my country. I have been a Senator since 1985. I know my political terrain very well. Obasanjo stood and could not defeat me with all his arsenal. And we have built this party from one governor to six governors across the country. They are the ones without a chicken not to talk of laying an egg. If they allow the understanding of the political terrain and come up with a programme that is consistent and not parochial for the country, Jonathan will probably not be President today. No matter what you say, Jonathan won the election fair and square. It might be exaggerated result. I am not here to lie about that, but if they are being consistent and have listened to the masters in the politics of Nigeria, yes, they would have been the candidates to beat. What happened when we conceded the presidential ticket to him, has he won the election? Where is his horse? So, that is the truth.
On April 13, this year, we read that you were flown on a Presidential Jet to Abuja. We want to know whether that was true and if it was true, what was the purpose?
The story of the presidential jet is false. I never rode in one except when I travelled with President Umaru Yar’Adua. That story was a subtle blackmail. But as a President of country, it is true that he sent for me and that he wanted to see me. And I was in a jet, a friend’s jet to Abuja. It was not the presidential one. But when you take off from the presidential wing of the airport, every jet they see out of that place is a presidential jet. But to go to the substance of the matter, what was the discussion there? I can make it public and I have made it public. It was a question of who becomes the Speaker of the House of Representatives. And I said that instead of supporting the President’s nominee, I’d rather support the candidate for my party. If not, I would give our votes to whichever candidate we believe would do well for Nigeria and who believe in what we believe – true federalism and fiscal discipline of the revenue allocation. And that person is the current Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal. We won and I didn’t accede to the President’s request. That is what we discussed.
What measures are in place to consolidate the gains of the opposition in the last election with particular reference to making an inroad into other regions of the country aside from the South West?
But that is the problem of the opposition and we have faced the challenge. We are being led by a man who is focused and other parties are trying to join us. Watch the next two and half years, the Peoples Democratic Party’s time is limited. If you go to Benue today, you will know that the ACN is the party of the time. We are in Kebbi, Taraba, Bauchi and the All Nigeria Peoples Party has just dissolved completely in Kogi State. We are very strong in Kwara and Plateau is also a good area where our party is making strong showing. I sympathise with the foreign observers. But we have to continue to drum this, the opposition needs to come up with a strong programme and articulate the difference between it and the PDP and the future of our country. What is important again is for us to be ourselves and be on the side of the people. That is crucial. Once we do that, you will see the difference between Coca Cola and 7Up.
What is the opposition doing about youth employment and curbing illiteracy which may be partly responsible for the Boko Haram menace?
On the youth, you might be right that it is partly caused by the inequity in the system. But it is due to the failure of the PDP government to focus attention and a discipline financial institutional development. We have our party and we have our governors and they concentrate more on the youth. And we won all our elections from commitment to the development of the youth. The Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi is here sitting among the guests. He has just created 20000 jobs; in Osun, Rauf Aregbesola has created 20,000 jobs. While I was the governor Lagos State, I created over 150,000 jobs for the youth, established skill development centres for the youth and established the second chance for the girl child.
So, we are investing in youth. But what you see in Boko Haram is political selfishness. Inequity in the economy and the perception that the economy is being mismanaged and leadership deficiency have created problems for the country. For all of us, we have the responsibility , whether you are in government or not, to put the government and the leadership to question; to continue to put pressure for accountability, transparency and better management of Nigeria’s resources. Nigeria is not poor and, therefore, we should not encourage poverty. With just 150 million people according to the census figures and with $200 billion a year in oil revenue, you can restructure and run the country properly. Go to Lagos today, it is the flagship of the Action Congress of Nigeria. That is what we want to replicate everywhere. And that should also answer the question on the spread of the party’s policy paper and manifesto. We are working on that. To me the challenge is clear and we are equally happy that the Nigerians in the Diaspora are giving encouragement to the party. It is a journey that is critical and we will definitely make a difference for the country. We are determined to reshape our nation; we are determined to make Nigeria a country of justice; rule of law and economic progress for the people. We will do it. It is a big challenge. It is for you and I to convert the brain drain to brain gain.