A former presidential spokesperson, Dr Doyin Okupe, speaks to FEMI MAKINDE on how the northern part of the country was able to get more states and local government areas than the south during the military regimes, killings in the North-East and other national issues
You left the PDP for the Accord Party at a time. When did you return to the PDP?
I returned to the party a long time ago. I came back when the likes of Senator Bukola Saraki and others returned to the PDP. I was a member of the Presidential Campaign Committee of the party for the 2019 elections.
The Buhari regime has been blaming the PDP for the woes of Nigeria since 2015. Do you agree that your party caused the problems the nation is facing today?
I think that is a lame excuse and a mundane precept really. It is a lame excuse for those who do not know what to do. If you take over from a government and you know what to do, you go straight and do it. If it was excellently done, the people might not have voted for you, but if you offered yourself and promised that you would do better than the previous government, to now be giving excuses show unseriousness. It is an unnecessary self-adulation to keep referring to what the previous occupants of the position did as an excuse for your failure.
We have seen examples of those who met economies in a very bad situation when they came to power and they turned things around without giving excuses. Examples of these abound in the world. Barrack Obama, former United States President, came and met an economy almost in recession; he did a lot of sound economic manoeuvrings and brought back the economy to prosperity. No serious-minded person will take them seriously because they have continued to give the same excuse they have been giving since 2015. After five years, that rhetoric is stale.
Are you saying this regime has failed to deliver the change they promised during the 2015 electioneering?
It is obvious and you just ask anybody and they would tell you that nothing has changed. If there has been any change at all, it has been a change for the worse. That is the truth in every aspect of our lives. Economically, things have become worse; there are no jobs, no money in circulation and our Gross Domestic Product is wobbling. Insecurity is growing worse and everybody is lamenting. That is the situation so far.
You are reported to be advocating that the PDP should change its name to make it win in 2023. Is this necessary?
Yes, that is my position but I believe very strongly that unless the PDP drops the baggage- the political burden on it, it will be difficult to convince the people to vote for it. The rejection of the APC in 2023 will not necessarily translate to the acceptance of the PDP. Although I may be wrong, that is what I believe.
The PDP has allowed the APC to totally disparage and damage its name. In the minds of most Nigerians, the party has been painted as a party of election riggers, looters and people who have brought untold hardship on the nation. The APC did this because of the control they have on the media and their propaganda. The way the PDP also did not respond over the years has made many people to believe this and perception is everything. The bad picture of the PDP painted by the ruling party has been allowed to go on unchallenged for so long and this is affecting the party.
But in the future the two dominant parties are likely going to have implosions and it is better to prepare for that. Those who will pull out of the APC may not be comfortable to carry the toga of PDP which they have disparaged openly. If it is a new party, everybody will be comfortable.
Have consultations started on this proposed change of name?
We started this before now. We started even before the 2019 elections and out of the six zones, four geo-political zones did not oppose the proposed change of name for the party. The zones are: South-West; North-West; North- Central and North-East. The South-East and the South-South vehemently opposed this. There was a committee set up for this and former Governor Liyel Imoke was the chairman of the branding committee, this matter was tabled. The two zones which rejected the plan to change the party’s name are emotionally committed to the PDP. If you look at it, the PDP is totally entrenched in these two zones. They did not understand why anybody would want to change the name of the party while nobody was thinking along that line in their zones. It is understandable but the situation is not the same in the South-West and other zones. But things are getting better for the PDP now because the APC have messed themselves up. Before now, if you said you were a PDP member, you were seen as a pariah or a leper. We suspended the idea at that time because we did not want to upset the applecart.
Is the change of name still going to be possible or have you dropped it?
We will continue to push for it. We will continue to consult and see if it is going to be possible.
You said the PDP is very strong in the South-East and the South-South. The party recently lost Bayelsa and Imo states. Will this not affect its fortunes in these two zones?
PDP did not lose these two states because the party was rejected. That is not correct. The election lost in Bayelsa State was not free and fair. The Imo case was abracadabra. The South-East and the South-South zones are strongholds of the PDP. I believe very strongly that these losses will not impact too much on the popularity of the party in these zones.
Do you agree with the claims of the CAN president that Christians in the North are facing persecution?
They have always been under siege. That did not just start to happen now. It has always been like that. When you go deep into the problems of Christians in the North and what they go through, you will know it is pathetic. They are rated as second class citizens; they have no rights that others enjoy and many of them cannot even practise their religion. Governors do not give Certificates of Occupancy to churches. Whenever there is a riot, churches are burnt. Even this Boko Haram thing has been very hard on Christians in the North-East. Majority of the places that have been ravaged are Christians’ strongholds. Chibok and others have about 95 per cent Christians. The lot of the Christians in the North is a socio-political embarrassment to the nation, it is intolerable. It is unacceptable and it should not happen in any modern society.
Can we then say the US is justified if Nigeria is placed on travel ban?
I cannot speak for the US and I don’t know the criteria it uses.
You worked with former president Olusegun Obasanjo and ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. You can assess Muhammadu Buhari. Who among them will you say is the most knowledgeable about governance?
In modern democracy, the knowledge of the president is not the issue. A president cannot be knowledgeable about everything. Ronald Regan was not one of the most knowledgeable persons in the US when he became the president. What he did was that he assembled the very best Americans who were committed, patriotic and ready to serve their nation. Those who would put their country first in everything and who would put their lives on the line for their country are important to the nation.
It is not an issue of who is the most knowledgeable. Once a president is voted into power, he should sit down and search through the whole country and bring the best amongst us to work with him. However, some of the best professors may not be politically sound in their judgements. I have worked with presidents and when some professionals give recommendations on issues, you will see that those recommendations are good but they are not politically sound. For example, selling fuel at the same price in Lagos, Sokoto and Maiduguri is not correct economically, because the product will be transported over thousands of kilometres before it gets to Maiduguri but it is not politically right to sell it at higher prices in those far states. This is one of the things that hold us together. That is why when experts give recommendations, a leader will now use his political judgement and knowledge of the country to attenuate the recommendations so that they won’t create bigger crisis than the one they are attempting to solve.
Who will you then say assembled the best brains amongst the three presidents?
I think Obasanjo did. Jonathan also came close to that. He brought Okonjo Iweala, Akinwumi Adesina; there are other very competent ministers he appointed. But this APC government has not pulled its weight in terms of administrative capacity. They have not.
So, do you agree with critics that appointments by this regime have been lopsided?
The lopsidedness in appointments is bad and that is not acceptable. The competence of individuals also ought to have mattered to the president who put them there. If I were the president of the country and I put Yoruba people to fill 80 per cent of the offices, it’s not good. If I put 80 per cent who are Yoruba and they are competent and efficient people, then that may be tolerable. Although it is not acceptable in terms of politics, in terms of performance and efficiency, it is tolerable. When you put people from one section of the country in office and they are not even competent, then that is very unfortunate. In this year, 2020, there is no part of the country where there is no aggregate of scholars, professionals who are competent to run this country. We ought to have outgrown this and that is why we are very far from where we ought to be. In this country, care must be taken because we appear to be retrogressing rapi
The South-West governors inaugurated Operation Amotekun, a security outfit, which has come under severe criticisms. What is your view about this outfit?
We are not sincere people in Nigeria. Nigeria’s political elite are not sincere. Within democracy and true federalism, Amotekun is very legitimate and it ought not to have generated any furore where there is sincerity. There are some body movements which suggest that the government is not in support of it and it is unfortunate. It is not proper to do what causes disunity. The North will be held responsible for anything that goes wrong on this issue of Amotekun. The northern elite should be held responsible. People in government do make errors of judgment. Political elite from where the president comes from must have readable recourse and leverage on that administration to tell the president that some actions or inaction will destabilise the nation and that he should not take it.
When I was in Obasanjo’s government and at a time, northern governors, contrary to what any right-thinking person may be favourably disposed to, declared Sharia Law in the North. I remember sitting down with President Obasanjo then and leaders from the South-West and the South consulted with him and told him to leave the governors alone. They said provided they did not force Sharia on anybody, Obasanjo should leave them alone. This is how a country is run. The northern elite cannot close their eyes and say it’s Buhari or APC. It is not acceptable. That is how the North has consistently assaulted the psyche of southerners over the years. When the military was ruling, northern leaders said they did not have control over the military guys from the North. That was why it was easy for them to get away with cheating in local government and state creation and all that. This is civilian government and we expect those who want Nigeria to remain an indivisible nation, lovers of democracy, those who want Nigeria to be a progressive country ought to prevail on the government not to do anything that can destabilise us. Amotekun is a legitimate desire of the governors of the South-West to protect their people and it should be left alone.