“All the presidential candidates put together, both the serious and the unserious, will not be able to unseat Buhari.”
Chief Joe Igbokwe is the publicity secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos State. In this interview, he speaks on the chances of President Muhammadu Buhari in the 2019 presidential election against the backdrop of the emergence of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar as the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the main opposition party. He says there is no vacancy in Aso Rock in 2019, insisting that all the presidential candidates put together will not be able to unseat Buhari.
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The 2019 presidential election will be a straight fight between President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, and many Nigerians are looking forward to a tough contest. What is your view?
The contest is going to be between integrity versus corruption. And if that is going to be the parameter to judge, it means that there is no vacancy in Aso Rock. If corruption and integrity were to be in contest, then integrity must win. If integrity must win, therefore, Aso Rock is not vacant for now. There is no meeting point between light and darkness. We cannot trust Atiku with the keys of the national treasury given his antecedent. I don’t know whether you have watched Obasanjo’s video on Atiku. If there is anybody that knows Atiku very well, that person must be Obasanjo because they worked together for eight years. Obasanjo said some Americans came probably from FBI and said that they wanted to investigate some Nigerians and Atiku was one of them. After that, Obasanjo was also inclusive, but they couldn’t find anything on him. Meanwhile, on Atiku, there was a damning report. And given what Obasanjo knows about the findings of those people, he said that God would not forgive him if he supports Atiku. If Obasanjo says that kind of thing, then we cannot trust Atiku with the keys of the national treasury. Another point is what played out in Port Harcourt at the PDP national convention. It was a bazaar. It was an audacious and thunderous celebration of corruption, where dollars were used with reckless abandon to buy delegates’ votes. We cannot have that kind of person in the saddle. His wealth is questionable. Also remember that PDP told Nigerians that they had repented and pleaded that they should be given another chance. With what they displayed in Port Harcourt, we can’t give them such a chance; we will chase them out. They are going to remain onlookers for a long time to come in the governance of this country. But we will fix what they destroyed in 16 years. We suffered in their hands for 16 years and Buhari has been in the saddle for three years and some months. I think he should be given time to rebuild this country. Do you know why? We can trust this president. Do you know why we are following this president? I have five reasons. Number one, this president can be trusted; number two, he cares; number three, he stands for something; number four, he knows where he is going; and number five, he is dependable. The other side we cannot trust. All that they destroyed in the past 16 years are being rebuilt. Is it that we cannot see them? People are pretending not to be seeing all those things. I appeared on a television programme recently where I said that what is happening in Nigeria today is similar to what the Israelites experienced when they left Egypt after over 400 years. On their journey to the Promised Land, at the slightest problem, they would want to go back to Egypt. That is what is playing out now. People are abusing the president just because there is no free money again; feeding bottles have been removed from their mouths. That is why they refuse to see what is going on in the agricultural sector. They refuse to see what is going in the area of infrastructure in respect of roads, bridges and rails. They refuse to see what is going on in rebuilding the national career. They refuse to see the micro credit this administration is giving to the poorest of the poor in this country. They cannot see our relationship with the international community since this man came into the saddle. They cannot see how the man has blown our foreign reserves. I can go on and on.
But the opposition argues that virtually all development indices have been on downward swing since this administration came on board. They also argue that the PDP administration did better in the war against corruption, which is like the sole agenda of this administration, given that Nigeria has dropped on Transparency International’s corruption index under Buhari’s watch. What is your take?
It is not true; anybody who tells you that is being economical with the truth. They are liars from the pit of hell; they cannot see. This man has given corruption a deadly blow in this country. Aren’t they seeing the money recovered? They couldn’t see the houses recovered? They couldn’t see people returning the money they stole voluntarily? Are Nigerians listening to people that are paid to report nonsense? No! We can do better than this. Two former governors are in jail. Is Dariye not an APC member?
But PDP members also say that a former Inspector General of Police was dismissed likewise serving ministers and even Senate presidents over alleged corruption under their watch…
(Cuts in) That was in Obasanjo’s era. Did President Buhari start the EFCC? It was Obasanjo that set up the EFCC and it’s a good thing. The EFCC is working; ICPC is working. Buhari has not disbanded these agencies. Buhari came to fight corruption and that is why we put him there. Everything we lack in this country can be traced to corruption. And, of course, you know the achievements from the Treasury Single Account (TSA). The TSA has blocked all the loopholes that made people to steal government money that they don’t even need. And people are not seeing it. The journey of a thousand miles must start with a step. You cannot expect that the devastation that was visited on Nigeria for 16 years would disappear overnight. We have to endure these small pains to get to the Promised Land.
But you also know that people can only endure when they are seeing some level of progress, but that appears not to be the case under this present administration?
This administration raised power generation from the inherited capacity of 4,000 megawatts to 8, 000 mega watts. That is a humongous achievement if you know what it takes to generate one megawatt of electricity. I am an engineer so I know what that means. And as they are developing the generating capacity, they are also developing the transmission and distribution systems. I don’t want to talk about roads and standard gauge rail projects that are ongoing across the country. These things are being put in place one by one. Nigeria’s lost glory is coming back. We had not been a productive country. We used to import rice with tens of billions of dollars every year, but now we produce about 85 per cent of the rice we eat in this country and nobody is seeing that. All the killings you see across the country are man-made. Didn’t Buhari fight Boko Haram insurgents? Today, what they are doing is hit and run. Before he came, Boko Haram was occupying some local governments in this country. They were coming to Abuja to bomb the Police headquarters, the United Nations office and even military headquarters. This man stopped them; they would prefer that it never happened, but it happened. These are things that are going on that I expect people to be talking about. Yes, the progress is slow, but something is happening. And we have a decent man in authority that we can trust. That is the most important thing. The man is working. Don’t forget that there are good and smart people in APC, very tested and trusted people. We have never had it so good. What I am asking Nigerians is to give this president time. The president is an honest man; he has integrity; he knows where he is going. You see, there is something God found in this man that made it possible for him to be in the saddle today. He tried in 2003, 2007 and 2011, but didn’t make it. But in 2015 when he had given up, God gave it to him. Can’t you see that God brought him for a purpose and he has been fulfilling it? That’s why they wanted him dead. They are killing people in Benue; the people of Benue are killing their fellow citizens and are blaming it on the president. People will deliberately do something and start shouting insecurity, insecurity. Now, their sins are finding them out. They were saying Buhari is a Fulani man; now another Fulani man has emerged to contest with him.
That takes us to the issue of Buhari’s chances against Atiku in the North, given that both of them are from the same tribe and of the same faith?
One thing I want you to take note of in this conversation is that as long as Buhari lives, as long as he is still a contestant, no politician in the North is going to defeat him. Yes, Atiku will get some votes in the North because he is a northerner, but it will not be sufficient to even near what Buhari will score. Let me put it this way, all the presidential candidates put together, both the serious and the unserious, will not be able to unseat Buhari. Take it to the bank because I know what I am talking about. Light and darkness have no meeting point. Those who destroyed our yesterday will not be the ones to determine our tomorrow. We cannot handover to them. Handing over to them is to take us back to the years of the locust. We cannot win the battle and lose the war.
It is expected that Atiku will pull some weight in the South. So, if you accept that he will give Buhari a serious fight in the North, don’t you see danger ahead?
Southeast and South-South?
Yes, even in the Southwest?
Let me tell you, the Northwest has the highest number of registered voters with about 17 million. Southwest is another zone with huge number of registered voters. The South-south and Southeast put together is about the number of registered voters in the Southwest; go and look at it. It’s victory for President Buhari; note it. And don’t make that comparison because we are talking about corruption and integrity. I repeat that we cannot trust Atiku with the keys of the national treasury.
What are your final words to APC faithful as the 2019 election gears up?
We in the APC are as constant as the northern star, standing firm, holding what we have, building Nigeria for greatness, doing what we need to do to reposition Nigeria to have some respect when the committee of nations meet. It is not by chance that African leaders made Buhari the African champion of anti-corruption. And anytime he goes out, people surround him because they see him as the man who is bringing hope to Africa. You know if Nigeria fails Africa will fail. So, we need someone with integrity and honour like Buhari to drive Nigeria, nay Africa. God has a reason for putting him there and nobody can stop him; nobody can stop the hands of God. There is finger of God on that man.