“The election will be tough among the elite, but easy among the voters. The voters know Atiku because he has been contesting for the past 12 years.”
Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe is a former Minister of Works and a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). In this interview, he looks at the chances of the presidential candidate of the party, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar against President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2019 elections. He believes the election will be tough, but maintains that Atiku has what it takes to defeat the incumbent.
The 2019 presidential race is now a straight fight between President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and many people are predicting a tough contest. What is your take?
The election will be tough among the elite, but easy among the voters. The voters know Atiku because he has been contesting for the past 12 years. They have felt his impact as a member of the Peoples Democratic Movement (PDM), the Yar’Adua political structure. And there is hardly any politician in this country that does not know the ethics and the doctrines of the late Yar’Adua. So, that is what we are going to push now; it’s the Yar’Adua structure that we are going to use to win this election. And believe it or not, it is not going to be as difficult because we have the structure; we have a family and that is the Yar’Adua family.
So, you think Atiku will carry the day?
I am not saying that he would carry the day; but you need to plan. You must sit down and plan. You have to look at your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. You have to do that analysis to know where you have your strength and where you have to work harder. It is not going to be a story in the park, but we will work to be comfortable.
If you say that Atiku is a household name in the politics of the country, who has a structure on ground, Buhari too is a household name and has a formidable structure…
(Cuts in) No! Buhari is not a household name anywhere in the South. He built his structure around religion and zoning. And he has been contesting against Christians all the while. He has been contesting against the South all the while. That is the psychology he used to bring them to his side. But this time around, it is a Muslim candidate versus another Muslim candidate and a northerner versus a northerner. So, where is his advantage again? I am part of the campaign team and I know the sentiments the northerners had for him because they believed he was fighting for their religion; that he was fighting for their zone. But this time around, that one will subside and take the second fiddle. It is now going to be what you have to offer. So, whatever anybody has to offer let him tell us. Let us list all the problems that are afflicting Nigeria as a nation. We have highest poverty rate in the world; we have 13.6 million children out of school; we have the highest infant mortality rate in the world; we have the highest illiteracy level in the world and the highest unemployment rate in the world. Health facilities are not available and the roads are completely bad. Meanwhile, they have borrowed trillions of naira to fund infrastructure deficit in the country. The only thing that they hang on now is corruption. And PDP fought corruption 100 per cent more than them. Why do I say so? In 1999 when Obasanjo came into power, he declared war against corruption. That was why he set up the ICPC and the EFCC. Which other institutions have this administration created to fight corruption? In addition, PDP sent a former Inspector General of Police (IGP) to jail, dismissed a sitting Senate President, dismissed four ministers and sent about six former governors for prosecution all for alleged corruption. All these happened during the PDP administration. Now, tell me, what APC has done to match the PDP in terms of anti-corruption. So, let the campaign start in earnest and let’s see who is going to be at the top.
You talked about Buhari contesting against the South serially. Recall that he contested against the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who was of the Yar’Adua structure you talked about, and won massively in the North. Doesn’t that tell you that he is widely accepted in the region and that Atiku might not be his match?
That time he was never tested. And he didn’t even have any structure in the South. So, that was his nemesis. And he didn’t care about any vote in the South. He didn’t even campaign in the South. In so many polling booths, he didn’t have agents. So, he believed entirely in the northern structure. But this time around that has gone; he was never tested before. I bet you, his popularity has diminished.
Now that the APC has made serious inroad into the South, what do you think will happen?
Which South? What is their benefit? Unless you show that you have been president and this is what you have done for your people, what’s the benefit? Is there less poverty? Is there less illiteracy? Is there more employment? Do we have adequate infrastructure? He must show us what he has done. What has he been able to achieve in three and half years? It is not going to be a media affair again; it is not going to be by media propaganda. It will be based on facts. For how long have they been working on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway? They have taken SUKUK bond, borrowed this one and borrowed that one, yet the job is not even done halfway. So, what is going on?
But this administration inherited some of these issues you raised from the PDP and the president’s supporters say he has been tackling them with available resources?
That is not an excuse. I have been a Minister of Works. Am I going to say that because I met a bad road that another government did not repair, nobody is going to do it? That argument is not sustainable; they are just passing the buck.
But those projects are ongoing?
Let us see what they are working on now. How long will it take them to work on them? So, let us see how far they have been able to work on them. Is it going to take them eternity to work on them? They are just not serious.
The other issue is the Obasanjo factor in Atiku’s candidacy. Recall that Obasanjo has branded him a corrupt man…
(Cuts in) Obasanjo is the father of the nation. And he will support Atiku. There is no doubt at all about that. He is father to all of us; he trained every one of us. We got our discipline from him. Obasanjo had disciplined me before; he doesn’t hold grievances. He will tell you off to your face and that is the end. He doesn’t bear grudges at all.
But you recall that he said recently that God would not forgive him if he supports Atiku?
We will pray God to make him to forgive him (Atiku). We are praying and there is no problem on that issue at all. Obasanjo is the father of the nation.
Buhari’s people say he should be allowed to complete his second term and hand over power to the South based on the power rotation arrangement. Atiku will most likely seek for a second term if elected. Do you think the South will be comfortable to be governed by the North for 12 straight years?
Atiku will only spend one term in office. He doesn’t have to be there for two terms. One term is enough for him to do whatever he wants to do and it will come to the South. There is no problem about that one. That is the understanding; he is going to spend only one term.
But it has to come from him or are you speaking for him?
That is the plan. We don’t want to shortchange any region. That is the plan; that is the consensus and that is what we are going to do.
What advice do you have for PDP members at this time?
It is to the two sides. APC should prepare its manifesto, present it to Nigerians and defend it. PDP should prepare its manifesto, present it to Nigerians and defend it. Nigerians are tired of unfulfilled promises. They now want to see the action plan of the parties that is measurable, not through propaganda. They want to see how you are going to achieve whatever you say you are going to achieve and they will measure it. So, there is no room for propaganda anymore. Let everybody sit down and prepare their papers properly and defend whatever they want to defend. Nigerians want to listen now. Nobody is going to debate with any proxy. Whoever wants to contest must come and tell us his plans. No proxy at all. We are fed up of proxies; we want to hold somebody accountable.