“If you ask me, the APC as a party and the president inclusive, have not demonstrated to me that they are committed to a free and fair election.”
Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
The Presidential candidate of the Olisa Agbakoba-led Peoples Trust (PT) and Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) in the 2019 general election, Mr Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, who recently emerged the candidate of a coalition of political parties popularly called the Third Force in this interview said the President Muhammadu Buhari administration is not marching words with action in the area of conducting free and fair elections.
He cited the recent Osun governorship election won by the ruling party as a clear indication that the APC government is not ready for free and fair election. He also spoke on a range of other key national issues like the economy, 2019 presidential race and the future of Nigeria.
You have emerged the presidential candidate of your party, the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN). How prepared are you for this challenge now that your party has given you the ticket?
First I want to thank God for the opportunity of being elected as the candidate of the ANN. The job is to continue to educate the electorate on our intention. There are two things that people will like to know – your commitment to what you stand or and your capacity to carry through your stated objective. The APC, for instance, campaigned on the platform of anti-corruption basically, but having been elected, they showed no capacity to implement anything against corruption. If you look at the fact that under Obasanjo, there was no EFCC when he was elected; EFCC was constituted by him with the laws written, the ICPC and everything. But it has taken the APC all the four years they were given and they are not able to appoint substantive chairmen for these bodies. That’s talking about capacity.
So, what I’m bringing to the table to the electorate is not just going to be my stated intention, but also the capacity to drive whatever I commit myself to, which they can see from my own record of performance as a businessman for 27 years. I have built a business that God has helped me. Having not inherited any big money from any family, I built it from the scratch. I went to public school as student in primary school. I didn’t attend any private school. I didn’t attend any mega secondary school. Just a regular school and I got to a level in life whereby in my post-graduate studies, I studied in England and I was the best in my class. There was no help from any family in terms of having special privileges and all that, but God helped me.
This comes to underscore capacity. When we came into ANN, it was like a non-existent political party. Within a year, we have developed effective structures in all the states of the federation. We have strength now in over 28 states that we can compete seriously. Even the big political parties like APC when it was voted into power, it didn’t quite have structures in most of the Southern states. The structures were basically in the Northern and Southwest states. They didn’t cover the whole country. But within a short time, we’ve been able to transform the ANN to the fastest growing political party in Nigeria and to a recognizable brand. So, that’s also still talking about capacity.
Do you believe the structure you have now can deliver you the presidency in 2019?
Well, the structure of this campaign is not just the ANN as a political party. One of the things that our party adopted was a strategic alliance with the NIM and a number of political parties that have already approached us to align with us with a view to supporting our political aspiration, based on shared values and objectives. So, the platform that we are going to be running on to the general election is a bit bigger than the ANN. I’ve only underscored to you the issue of capacity, using how we were able to transform the ANN within a short time.
What you have done in the party is almost overshadowed by the crisis that has engulfed it. Just as you are emerging the presidential candidate, another faction was busy addressing the media to distance themselves from what you were doing?
You know this is typical of our emerging democracy. We have done two decades in democracy, but a lot of people are still learning democratic principle and this has nothing to do with whether you are a soldier or you are a civilian. It has to do with what background the people are coming from and all these come to play in the run up to the primary elections and the contestations of various parties. This is happening in almost every political party and the truth of it is that once the party gathers some capacity, what also comes with it is a lot of internal contestations because people see a pathway to be interested. On some occasions, it is even people who are external parties. Once they see a party is getting strong, some oppositions to those parties get interested in the internal affairs of those parties and they begin to put their fingers and hands in such parties because they don’t want that platform to be available to contest against them. What that underscores is that that party is strong. Any party that is strong will attract that kind of interest and internal contestations. The bottom line is how are these issues resolved in the final analysis, going forward.
We are very experienced in this game. I was a student union leader many decades ago and we’ve been active in the struggle for democracy, both at the local and the global level for about three decades plus. I understand the nature of the organisation and association and all these come to the table when you are confronting people who don’t want to leave power.
The next election is a different election. It’s not the type of election we have seen before. The 2019 election is a referendum on the future of Nigeria. Whether we consolidate our democracy or our democracy relapses into totalitarianism, that’s one question we will answer as we go to 2019; whether Nigeria will continue to be a united country under God or it is going to be a country that will subsequently be enmeshed in further ethnic cleansing, divisions and religious bigotry. This is what this next election is all about. It’s an unusual election. So, the type of candidates that this election calls for are the ones who have strong values, who are tested, who have records, who have stood for principle and along the line have not compromised. All that we’ve brought to the table or acquired during the struggle against military dictatorship are going to be useful in the next election because Nigeria is facing imminent dictatorship.
With what we saw in Osun, agents of political parties being tied to the stake and the brazen and aggressive manner which victory was snatched from the victors, the next election is going to be tough. So, it’s not a kiddies’ affair.
I quite understand that the strategy of the APC is to register many parties that can suck the vote of the young people who ordinarily will not vote for Buhari. So, they want to give them as many young candidates who will just be making empty noise and they go with e few thousand votes that otherwise would not have gone to the ruling party. The APC is up to the game of promoting very weak candidates in virtually all the political parties, even in PDP. We know the candidate that they are encouraging to emerge. They want the candidate they can beat. That is what they are doing in every political party. So, it’s not just enough for you to stand aloof. The same crisis is going on in APC. Every primary of APC virtually in every state is contested bitterly with serious factions and people protesting. In PDP, it’s the same. So, any party that is of consequence, you must see these internal contestations because what is going on is an organized thing. Some people want to stay put in power and they are putting their hands in virtually every party and those who want to move forward will not allow it. What are you talking about? We should just sit down and surrender for them to overrun us. We will never do that. The minority will have their say, but majority must have their wish. That is democracy. You have some people, a few number of them; no NEC, no NWC, you know the party has a structure. You just went around and gathered some people, about 200 of you and you say you have produced a presidential candidate. But there is another one, about 600 delegates. So, put it on a scale and you know what is what. I’m not saying that they are not members of the ANN who organized a rival convention. But they are few people who don’t want to subject themselves to democratic process. There is a process. The party has a constitution, which has to be followed. That’s what democracy is all about.
You are fingering the APC for what is happening in your party?
Yes. The APC is responsible. They gave them a lot of money. Number one, these guys who are making this trouble, they walked away from the party. They said they were not members of the party any more. When we had the last convention, three of them walked away from the party and they made press statements that they have left the party. And then about few weeks to the presidential convention, they came back and said we are now presidential candidates. We have organized our convention. I can understand if people can forget what happened 20 years ago. But I have no explanation for people whose memories are so short that they don’t remember what happened six weeks ago. We are a people and there must be some commitment to some integrity. Why don’t you go and ask them? You said you have left the party. Why are you in the party again to cause trouble? You should be asking them that.
Still on the internal crisis, don’t you see this having an effect on the impact the ANN will have in the general election?
I just told you that we have consummate alliance beyond the ANN. The platform I will be standing on is a broader platform than the ANN and we have gotten the authority of our party to participate in such alliance. So, we have a more formidable structure than the ANN in the Peoples Trust/NIM/ANN alliance that will be prosecuting the next election.
The president recently promised the international community when he was abroad that his administration will deliver free and fair election and so far, do you have any reason not to agree with such position?
Well, I think we will have a free and fair election by the commitment of all Nigerians. I also want to believe that those who are in the electoral agencies are patriotic Nigerians. At some point in time, they will also have to take positions as to where they want history to record them and these are personal questions that everybody will have to individually ask. But if you ask me, the APC as a party and the president inclusive, have not demonstrated to me that they are committed to a free and fair election. They have not acted in any way that shows that the APC is committed to a free and fair election. They have been acting like dictators. They have been acting like some fascists. But I believe that the electoral umpires can still be neutral and still write their names in gold at the end of the day.
How do you justify the claim that the APC is not ready for a free and fair election?
You saw what happened in Osun, the way and manner they went about doing things. That was not what happened under the watch of President Jonathan. If Jonathan did what they did in Osun, Adams Oshiomhole would not have been governor. He would not have been calling himself a former governor now. We had that kind of election in Edo that were ordered for rerun and all that under Jonathan and even Oshiomhole was full of praises for the role of Jonathan played at that particular time. Can we say the same of Buhari? You cannot. So, we need some serious commitment from President Buhari. The man is fast losing his integrity because when you say something and you act contrary to what you say, it is called hypocrisy. That’s what it is called. You go and arrest some and prosecute them for corruption, you clear some people and don’t touch them. On one hand, you promise free and fair election and people are being tied to a tree and nothing is being done about it. I don’t think anybody will take that seriously.
But just to be clear, our rescue mission for Nigeria is unstoppable and is not dependent on the whims and caprices of Buhari. If he doesn’t want free and fair election, his tenure will expire on May 29, 2019 and if there is no free and fair election by then, every legitimate means will be used to have a free and fair election in Nigeria.
Are you not bothered by some allegations that INEC’s body language seems to suggest that it has sympathy for the ruling party?
I’m not bothered by that because I believe that the people in INEC are not APC members. At some point in time, they will have to take individual positions about where they will want to be, whether they want to be on the good side of history. I don’t want to join issues with INEC and soil the integrity of those gentlemen and women who are running that institution. I will rather concentrate my analysis on the steps I’ve seen the APC as a political party take. If they really want a free and fair election, there is a way and manner in which they will behave as not to put those who are operating those institutions under undue pressure. I will rather put the responsibility squarely on the APC government for them to create a conducive atmosphere for a free and fair election.
We have a system in Nigeria where people believe that our jobless youths will have a country that its economy is almost totally gone…
It’s not that people believe. We have jobless youths. Youth unemployment is the highest in Nigeria’s history as we have it now.
But some also argue that it will be difficult to address the situation within four, five years because the rot is deep, our educational system and a whole lot of things, the youths are unemployable…
Employment is not about whether people are educated or uneducated. Employment is about the structure of the economy. The basic problem of the structure of this economy, number one, it’s a dependent economy where there is no internal productivity, from the level of entrepreneurial initiative, in terms of investment and from the level of even the technical knowhow and the technology to produce what is being consumed locally and that has been for a long time. It’s not just an APC issue. The other is the size of the economy. The economy is too small. Even when Nigerians were shouting that they made so much money from oil under Jonathan at $100 per barrel in 2013, Nigeria made less than $50 billion. In that same year, Disney World made as much as Nigeria in the entertainment industry. $50 billion revenue for 180 million people is nothing. That’s a Mickey Mouse economy. Even if no cent was stolen from that money, all Nigerians will still be poor. So, what you need to do is to build a size of GDP that can support the population and we have the New National Economic Development Plan, the NNEDP, which we have developed and produced that will move the GDP of this country to $4 trillion within 10 years. That is the size of the economy that will make Nigeria a middle-income economy, the size of Malaysia. This is not a target to become America in 10 years. This is not a target to become Germany in 10 years. It is a target to be comparative to the country that we were comparative to at independence. That is where to start.
When you say rot and all these things, these are just phrases that mean nothing. What is rot? You don’t even have an economy, not to talk about rot. It doesn’t exist. It’s too small. It cannot support anything. This thing about rot is just a pejorative thing, trying to say some people have done some terrible things and we are the people who want to right the wrong – that’s not it. Stealing takes place everywhere in the world, including the United States, China and all that. But because the economic structure is large and big, it doesn’t result to the type of under development that you see because the structure of the economy that you see. So, Nigerians are not unemployed because some people are stealing. Nigerians are unemployed because you don’t have industries. The industries are not connected to agric. The industries are not feeding from solid minerals. They are importing raw materials. That’s why you have unemployment. These are the things that the new economic development programme will fix and we will have a robust economy that will support employment.
I’m not saying that we should pardon rot. But I’m telling you that there is too much concentration on the wrong narrative and the new narrative is that if the economy has such a small size, even if everybody that is running government are saints, the people are still going to be poor because zero times zero will be zero.
People are lamenting that the country is getting divided everyday and that the way we are now, each ethnic group does not want to see the other one and all these things. When you become the president, how do you intend to address this?
Number one, you have to send the right signals from the day one in the way you even make the appointments. When people see your cabinet, see your aides. You have to send the right signal from the people you even appoint. If you are going to be president of Nigeria, we want to expect that you have friends from all over Nigeria. You cannot constitute a list of aides where everybody is from your village. Then it shows that you are not a Nigerian President. That is the first step because if you don’t have a diversified kitchen cabinet, the advice that you are going to get is going to be very narrow and that is what we are going to be acting on.
Two, some of the things going on in the country like killings, within a month, we should be on top of all those issues and when somebody is killed, say in Plateau, what we should see is immediate punishment for those who carried out the atrocities, not an explanation by head of security, explaining why the killing took place. There must not be justification for murder of any Nigerian. As President and Commander-in-Chief, I will put the full weight of my office in punishing anyone that takes the life of an ordinary Nigerian from wherever part that person comes from. But because we have made the lives of Nigerians so cheap, every miscreant, either South Africa or anywhere is also pouncing on Nigeria because they think there is no consequence. When I become President and Commander-in-Chief, by the grace of God, the lives of Nigerians will count and anybody that touches the life of a Nigerian anywhere, there will be grave consequences, whether in the country or outside the country.
Do you believe or share the view of those who feel that if the APC is re-elected, Nigeria will regret the decision?
Well, I think you judge on the basis of the record. The APC was elected at the time when the economy of this country, for 15 years, as small as it is, as weak as it is, but at least we’ve been 60 to 70 per cent consistently for 15 years. But within a year of the election of the APC, the economy went into recession. So, that is the record that they have on the economy and there is no need for you to mobilize Nigerians, entrust economic management for another four years in the hands of such a political party. The major problem when APC was elected was the Boko Haram problem. Now, you have herdsmen/farmers crisis, you have bandits in Zamfara, across the border and all that. Even their so-called anti-corruption programme, they have no good record to advertise. For almost four years, they have not been able to constitute even the EFCC correctly and constitutionally. Assuming they had to write the laws and create institutions the way the PDP government did in 1999, what would you say they will achieve? Even in terms of law enforcement and convictions, we have not seen any seriousness there. Under Obasanjo’s government, a serving Inspector General of Police was handcuffed in Nigeria from the same geopolitical zone as the president. So, you cannot accuse him of any ethnic bigotry because the IG came from the same geopolitical zone as the president and he was handcuffed by somebody from another region, a junior officer. But what do you see now? How can you elect these people for another four years? It’s not possible and God will not allow it.