How Jonathan was misled on Chibok girls’ abduction
Former Senior Special Assistant on Public Affairs to President Goodluck Jonathan, Dr. Doyin Okupe tells ADETUTU FOLASADE-KOYI and WILLY EYA how PDP governors hijacked the party and that, only a coalition can replace the APC. He predicts a major political change in 2019, away from the two leading political parties.
You served two presidents, can you compare them?
Yes, I served two presidents and they were two different people but were people with good hearts, who meant well for Nigeria. In (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo’s case, he is somebody you don’t need to second-guess his position on anything. You knew where you stood with him; he was forceful, highly energetic, extremely hardworking, focused. He may not be too much of a visionary, but, nevertheless, he pursued any goal he set before himself. He pursued it relentlessly and he also pursued his enemies with the same vigour. Former President (Goodluck) Jonathan was more soft-hearted, kind, good man, who also meant well; may be not too decisive but was obtusely liberal.That worked for him and it also worked against him. It worked for him in the sense that the people he appointed, he gave them the leeway to operate to their fullest capacity, in their respective offices and because he appointed some good people, many of them excelled; like former minister of Trade, Olusegun Aganga, former Agriculture and Rural Development minister, Akinwunmi Adesina, former coordinating minister of the economy and Finance minister, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, former Works minister, Onolememen and a host of others. They did well but it also worked against him in the sense that knowing that the leader was not too much of a forceful person and he was liberal, some people took undue advantage of that and as we saw, subsequently, misbehaved and did things that also spoilt the good image of that administration.
Have you ever lied to Nigerians to please your boss?
Lying and looking after the image of your principal are two different things. In the first instance, I have religious constraints; you know I am a christian and we were told that lying is of the devil. I will not lie for any reason. I will not lie for any reason because it is the same mouth that I am going to lie with that I am going to pray with and they don’t work together. Luckily for me, the first person I worked with was Obasanjo, he hated the word ‘propaganda’ because he felt that propaganda was about lying, although that is not true. But, basically, you can still do a good job, even with the worst principal without lying but by emphasising and deliberately delving or over-indulging on the positive sides of your boss. So, If I get cornered by a journalist with lots of negativity, I always find an exit, with the positive side of any situation in which I am in and then, dwell on that.
Jonathan was called the clueless one. Did you ever hear that?
Yes, we did.
What was your reaction then?
We just laughed and we tried to debunk it but, you know the voice of opposition was too loud and they were too strong. I admit now that the opposition was too much of a robust machinery that it drowned every efforts we made. You know, the media was totally subjugated to their whims and caprices and it was difficult to make any much sense then, but, we were not in doubt of what we were and what we were doing which was contrary to what the public was made to believe. Unfortunately, perception is almost 80 percent of truth. I have said it before and I am saying it again, that, since 1960 to date, and I am not being sycophantic, I am not in government. I don’t need to impress anybody or anything but I am saying it in good conscience that whether by providential support or assistance or by happenstance, the Good Luck administration is still the very best in terms of quantifiable achievement as a government in the entire history of this country.
Did Jonathan believe that 219 Chibok girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram on April 14, 2014? If he did, why was his response slow?
The President’s response was slow because he was ill-advised. In retrospect now, we didn’t know those who were Fifth Columnists in that administration; those who wanted him to fail and those who actually aligned their forces with those who were against the president. I say this because, on the night of the kidnap, I met with the president, one on one, and I told him, ‘sir, you must make a national broadcast tomorrow morning, on this Chibok girls’ kidnap; otherwise, it would be something we may not be able to handle.’ And, he agreed with me and instructed me to go and prepare a statement.
After I left him at about 11.30pm and I called one of my staff, Mr. Bamidele Salam, to meet me at home. I called a friend, a Public Relations Consultant, who had just flown in from the United States of America (USA); I told him to meet me at home and one or two other people joined me. We worked all through the night on that document; until 4:00am.
By 7:30am of the following day, I was with the president and showed him the document and, just then, he told me there was a national security council meeting at 9:00am and that I should come along with the speech.
As directed, I went to that meeting with the speech and it was killed!
Killed? How do you mean?
It was killed. They said there was no need for the president to make a broadcast and that the full details of the kidnap was not known yet, and that it would be preempting whatever details that come out.
Can you mention names?
No, I won’t mention names here; it is not possible. But, I had the document with me and I read it but the decision at that meeting was that the president should not make a broadcast.
But did the president believe that those girls were kidnapped?
It was not just the president, did we, all of us in government? It’s not just about the president alone believing they were kidnapped. Yes, the president is the leader of the team but we were his advisers and his people. Now, I want you to look at it this way, as on that day, everything that was around the kidnap was questionable.
One, the Nigerian Army Public Relations man, Major. Gen. Chris Olukolade spoke with the principal of the school that night and when I spoke with him, he told me what transpired between them. The principal told the military that yes, there was abduction but majority of the girls have returned, that only about 50 girls were not accounted for. That was the information the government had, that was given to us in the state house that yes, Boko Haram attacked the school and some girls were kidnapped and they were preparing for exams but that majority of them returned in the morning and that the principal said that she was on her way to Maiduguiri. When she got to Maiduguri, in the presence of the Commissioner of Education, held a press conference and said 257 girls were missing! The same woman, that same morning, after I had spoken with the Voice of American Correspondent, confirmed to me, because he spoke with the principal, who told him the same thing she told the army spokesman. So, we were in complete, confused situation. Then, in the morning when we spoke with the Divisional Police Officer of Chibok, he said they were engaged in gun battle with the kidnappers from about 11:00pm till about 5:00am and that they stopped shooting only when their bullets ran out. So, we asked how the girls were taken and nobody was able to tell us what kind of vehicles came to carry 257 girls at the same time and if 257 girls were carried at the same time, were they herded in a place and taken and none of them tried to run? Nobody could answer those questions and the state government was not helping matters. So, that was the initial situation on that night. Mind you also, that, it was on the morning of the kidnap that the Nyanya (Abuja) bombing took place, the same day and two days later, Shekau took responsibility for the Nyanya bombing but he did not mention anything about Chibok girls. And, neither did he say anything about the Chibok girls until 21 days after. Will a terrorist, who needs maximum international attention forget the prized action he took ? So, bombing Iyanya was not news? But, we were meant to believe that Shekau forgot and only remembered 21 days after. So, there were so many unresolved issues but, today, everybody wants to crucify Jonathan for that but, there is God Almighty and, in the fullness of time, the truth about Chibok girls will be known.
What is your perception of the change agenda?
The change agenda was obviously not very well thought about. It was good in principle and what I feel is that maybe, those who actually conceived the idea of change, who ought to have constituted the engine of the government were substantially missing when the government took off. So, there is a problem.
You are not impressed?
Impressed with what?
With the change agenda?
I told you, in principle, it’s an excellent idea and, in any case, a government has been in place for 16 years. So, a change was so desirable and Nigerian people wanted the change.
So, what was the PDP legacy in 16 years?
Some people are trying to make PDP look as if they did not achieve anything; even some very responsible and respectable politicians. Pure balderdash and total nonsense! You know PDP did a lot.
Some Nigerians say the greatest legacy PDP left was corruption.
That is not true; that was what they said during (General Ibrahim Badamasi) Babangida’s time but, it is not true. I agree that corruption is an endemic thing in Nigeria but, it is a Nigerian affair, it is not a PDP thing. Which ministry will you go today and you want to collect or submit your form and you will not pay money? Or you want progress for something and you will not pay, even in the private sector? So, we have an issue with corruption and the earlier we agree that that is a national malaise, the better for all of us. And, it is not by scapegoating people that we will get out of it. We must first agree that this is an endemic illness and then, we treat it generally.
Do you agree that governors are the problem with the PDP?
That is obvious, that is a fact. Unfortunately, they are very few, they are only 11 or 12 now. I don’t know but because the president did not institute proper leadership before we left government, the leadership fell on the laps of the governors who were not too really grounded in the art of national politics. Whatever policy they have done is restricted to how they were able to manipulate in their states. And, all of a sudden, they became national stars and they thought every other person was a fool; this is where it has led us. The governors are needed, they are useful and are very important arm of our political machinery but, they must know their limits, they don’t own the parties, the governors cannot own the parties. It is even worse, 12 people cannot take national organisation for a ransom, it is not possible. One or two of the governors, who were, six months before their election into government house were civil servants or working in the private sectors and, all of a sudden, just came into government and you are a governor, then, you set up a committee where prof. Jerry Gana is a member and you are chairman of what? That is a joke.
Can PDP ever bounce back?
It will take providential intervention.
Nigerians are not happy with the APC, yet, PDP is factionalised, What is the way forward?
APC, too, is factionalised, only that it is hidden.
So what is going to happen or what should happen?
Let me tell you, I am not a soothsayer but let me tell you what is going to happen; when we needed to get the military out, we put together a coalition and that coalition was PDP. That was how we got the military out. When it was necessary to get the PDP out, another coalition was put in place. Unfortunately, by Nigerian standards, both PDP and APC are really two brothers who are not too serious-minded, so, we need another coalition to get them out. But, Nigeria is a funny country, every 20 years, our destiny changes; from 1959.
How do you mean?
I am telling you for a fact, go and check it. 1959 was immediate pre-independence; 1979, you know what happened. 1999 was another one and we are looking at 2019. The destiny of Nigeria will also change in 2019. Every 20 years, from 1959, major political change occurs in Nigeria.
Not many people are comfortable with the way things are going in the country today. What are your own feelings?
Things are hard but it is not unusual. Economic situations in many countries are cyclical. Even in the best countries in the world where you have World Bank, International Monetary Funds(IMF) Breton Woods experts, things do get awry. There are a couple of things that probably led us to this recession. Going into a recession is not the issue but how to get out of it. From my own perspective, we went into this recession due to situations that were beyond the control of the present administration. For instance, recession basically by definition is if you are having negative growth for a consistent period of about two or three quarters. When the government came in, the economy was on a slight decline because following the election, the hands-on situation on the economy has weakened slightly. It had to be so because the last year of any government anywhere in the world, people would face election and any leadership that emerges tries to repair it. But when Jonathan lost, the new administration did not know that things can slide down. They just assumed that all was well. Number one is that there was a major slump in the price of crude oil. Again, there was a drastic cut in the volume of oil that was being exported. Those two alone combined with the fact that foreign investors were waiting to see which way the new administration would move, and it took the administration quite some time to really kick-start the government. All these factors came together to create the present recession and that is why Nigerians are in hardship. But I also believe that there are indices now that tend to point out that we may be getting out of it soon.
Apart from the issue of the economic downturn, how do you look at the incessant face-off between the executive and the legislature? The most recent is the back and forth movement between the presidency and the Senate over the confirmation of the acting chairman of the EFCC?
The face-off between the executive and the legislature, go and check it all over the world, it is nothing unusual. I have seen the Senate president say this a couple of times but what bothers me in Nigeria here is that there are mischief-makers who are deriding the Senate. That does not make sense. As an institution, the Senate is a very important pillar of any democratic setup. You paralyse the Senate, you create a democratic anarchy and dictatorship, and only God knows where that would end. This is because the Senate is the powerhouse that in conjunction with the lower house, create a balance of forces between the legislature representing the people and the executive. And the adjudicator is the judiciary. These three arms of government must be distinct, must respect one another and must function independent of one another. We must have a mindset that accepts that, otherwise, we have not started at all. For me, this is perhaps one of the best Senates we have had in a long time. It is made up of mature, experienced men and tested men. People talk about corruption cases but we have come to see now that corruption is a major endemic problem in Nigeria and I think the attitude of the present administration to it is correct. They have taken the bull by the horns and they are fighting it doggedly and they have achieved some limited success. At least, the fear of God has been driven into the heart of government functionaries and politicians that you cannot just take government’s money and spend it as you like. So, for me that is a major success for this administration.
But if you look deeper, do you think the frosty relationship between the presidency and the Senate has anything to do with the politics of 2019 general elections?
You cannot remove 2019 from it because the positioning of the next general elections is long underway. It looks as if it is a global phenomenon that people now fight desperately for power. Everywhere, it is almost a do-or-die affair. What happened in America surprised me. In actual fact, I think John Kerry should come and apologise to us as a nation because based on what we saw the Democrats do after Trump won, then John Kerry had no right to come to this country to tell us anything about democracy or how we behave after election. But back to your point, it would be impossible to remove 2019 from the face off. The Senate as an institution, especially this 8th Assembly, it would also be impossible to ignore what their contribution in the next general election would be. The way the present Senate is constituted, they are formidable. Politically, they are very strong and would constitute a threat to anybody who has ambition. It is not surprising that a lot of bricks are being thrown at them.
You were an insider in the past administration, what was it like working with Jonathan and what in your view led to his eventual fall?
President Goodluck Jonathan by all human standards is a good man but whether we need a good man as a president is another matter entirely. And he is also a lucky man. I have said it before and I am saying it again. His administration recorded the greatest achievements in the history of governments in Nigeria. I am not saying it was only him who did it but it was his administration who did it. The people he appointed, the policies that were enacted, the support that were given to pursue and do certain projects, he was largely successful. Politically and in retrospect as events have shown, if you lose an election as an incumbent, there is something wrong with the politics. I also agree that there was something wrong with his politics and I think it cannot be totally devoid of the political structure in Nigeria. Majority of the people in the North saw Jonathan as a usurper; they believe he was spending time that was due to the North and therefore, they were hell bent on pulling him down. Nothing was spared with regards to that and unfortunately, Jonathan is not the type of person that meets force with force. He is a gentleman who as he said does not want a drop of blood to be spilt because of his ambition. That is commendable but how he did it is a different phenomenon altogether.
Before Jonathan conceded victory to Buhari, at what point did it become obvious to you that the former president had lost the election?
I never at any point believed that we could lose the election. God is my witness; I never believed that we could lose that election. It did not make sense. All the indices from all perspectives were in our favour but that is a story for another day. But I am telling you for a fact and I am a child of God, I do not lie, I never, ever believed that we could lose that election. My fear was with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and that if we were going to lose, it would be a flagrant abuse of office. That was the only condition I felt we could lose. In terms of the voting capacity and potential, I did not see us losing the election. But that like I said is a story for another day.
The issue of sabotage within Jonathan’s government, do you share the view that some of those he appointed actually worked against him?
There was no doubt that some of those he appointed worked against him; people that the president depended and relied on largely betrayed him. That is a fact and there is no argument about it. But you know that mischief and treachery are also part of politics and power play. So, it is not unusual.
Is it that Jonathan did not understand the dynamics of politics?
I do not think that he does not understand the dynamics of politics but he trusted wrong people. A lot of confidence and responsibilities were given to people who failed to deliver. It was not that they were not capable of delivering but they failed to deliver.
What is your next political move? Are you moving to the APC?
God forbid. If I leave the PDP, which I may, I either stay in my house and watch developments or team up with credible people to form a new coalition. I have noticed that over the past few years, it is such coalitions that have brought about major political movements. It would be another coalition that would bring the next president in 2019.