“The ANN is offering a ray of hope that captures their imagination. They are already leaving the two parties in droves…”
Mr. Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim is a Presidential aspirant on the platform of the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN), a party formed mainly by technocrats and professionals. The party had its first national convention in Abuja recently. And on the sideline of the convention, Olawepo-Hashim told journalists that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had lost its values, while the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has demonstrated lack of capacity to run a united Nigeria. He speaks on other issues.
You were a well-known member of the PDP when you served as the Deputy National Publicity Secretary at its inception. What is it about the PDP that is so objectionable to you, that made you dump that platform for ANN?
I left PDP in November 2006 about 12 years ago. I had issues at that time with the PDP and I think the party now is worse than then. The issues we had were issues of internal democracy and the standards were even pretty high in terms of values and we even questioned those standards then that they were not adequate. So, you can imagine what it has become now. I think it’s pretty worse now than when we formed the party. We started with issues of internal democracy right from around year 2000 and 2001, when some of our colleagues in the National Working Committee (NWC) wanted automatic extension of their tenure from two years to four years. Late Harry Marshal, myself, and others challenged it, even though we were supposed to be beneficiaries of that extension. We felt it was objectionable. We had just come from military dictatorship and coming into democracy, we were not supposed to be conducting ourselves with impunity. So, that was the fight then around 2000, almost two decades ago now.
Then, by 2006, it was clear that the party was not ready to reform itself and a lot of people exited the party including the founders of the party that made victory possible. That was why you saw that the 2007 election was perhaps the worst election that Nigeria ever had. It was like a warfare because they had lost support of most of the members that made victory possible. So, they needed to rig election massively. So, the perfidy did not just start today. It started from that era and of course it began to go from bad to worst.
But the other dimension was that as you had people who were not reflecting genuine popularity, who were helped into office through rigging and all that, they had less loyalty to people’s welfare. So, it also took a toll on the quality of leadership. You had some governors who were going to hand over to their successors, virtually just making their houseboys governors. Some of them made their cash officers or account officers in banks to become governors. Some of them never had any kind of political tutelage of any kind. You can imagine I just make my account officer in the bank; I say ‘I’m going; you are the one who can cover my track. Come and become a governor.’ The guy had never participated in politics. He had never even been a student union leader. He has never been a leader in the CAN or a Muslim organisation where we have some rudiments of organising people, and straight, he becomes Chief Executive of a state.
Are you not generalising the situation?
All these things have consequences – when you turn out leaders who do not have political tutelage, no ideological training, they just come into public office and just behave like rascals. That’s what you had in the PDP and of course, the APC that succeeded PDP is not any different. In fact, it’s the worst because they are not even a political party. It was just a conspiracy to remove (Goodluck) Jonathan out of office and as soon as they came, they were confused.
They were completely confused about how to approach the economy, how to approach politics and they were running a disorganised government. The National Assembly under the APC government was a different party entirely from those in the Executive and they were perennially at war from beginning to the end of that government. So, they were worse than even the PDP.
It appears your home state then has changed from what you have today. Today, you are contesting from the FCT why the transformation?
That’s the Nigeria I want. That’s the Nigeria the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) wants. I‘ve lived in Abuja at least for a while, doing business for more than 20 years. So, you shouldn’t have a problem with Mrs. Clinton doing politics and then going back to New York to contest for Senate, or in Nigeria, (Governor Rauf) Aregbesola moving from Lagos. So, this is not the first time we are having this type of thing. The country we want to build is the country where your regional descent should not define you politically. In my case, of course, I have heritage in about three states and apart from that, I have lived abroad for about 10 years of my life. So, I’m completely a cosmopolitan person and we have a lot of Nigerians having dual citizenship. I don’t have dual citizenship. I have only the Nigerian passport. I’ve had the opportunity of taking citizenship of other countries but I had never done that. What I’m saying is that you have people who were born abroad who could even contest to become British Prime Minister. So, why should that be a big issue in Nigeria?
So the Nigeria of our dream is the Nigeria where any Nigerian can get up from anywhere and contest for public office and that was the beauty of Nigeria before. I was just talking about Sir. Kashim Ibrahim running election in Benue – a Borno man in a predominantly Christian state, a Muslim and he was elected into the Northern Assembly. You talk about Zik of Africa who was elected into the Western House of Assembly. I think what we have now is a complete degeneracy in our polity in this era. The founding fathers of our Republic were more progressive and more forward looking, whether they were from the North or West or from wherever. They were more nationalistic and more patriotic. It beats my imagination that the younger generation who claims to be more educated and more exposed, are regressing into clannishness which wasn’t even the case in the First Republic. I think there is lots of irresponsibility on the part of the leadership where the body language of the various leaders have been encouraging division, rather than bringing Nigeria together. So, the fact that I’m happy to say that Abuja is my base now, we are also sending a message that that is the Nigeria we want to build.
How is your party planning to displace the APC and the PDP?
The two horses are on their way to death already. They are bleeding very horribly. They are both APC and PDP. One thing that is interesting is that you have almost 10 million voters who are going to be voting for the first time in Nigeria. Most of them are not followers of these two horses you are talking about. In fact, they are the crop of people who ordinarily were not showing interest in politics, who are incensed by the shenanigans of those two major parties that they don’t want to vote for either of these parties. These are the first line of support for the ANN. In a three-way race, if you start with 70 percent of that vote, you are already halfway through and you can do your research. These ones are unlikely to vote for PDP or APC. So, that is the starting point.
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Then you have a number of patriotic people even in the APC and PDP who have been trapped in that politics and these people have been given the impression that it’s either this one or that one. But the ANN is offering a ray of hope that captures their imagination. They are already leaving the two parties in droves.
How can your party match the level of vote buying we have seen in recent times?
That is a job for all of us, including the media. But the level of poverty in the country encourages it. So, once you de-market certain categories of people and that is the job of all of us, I think the vote buying will reduce, especially de-marketing them by making the election about issues. But when the choices are not very sharp, or when the differences in the political platform are not clear, then the electorate will say they are the same.
Specifically, why do you want to be Nigeria’s President?
I can put Nigeria back together. Nigeria is badly divided and it needs a unifier and a bridge builder. Secondly, Nigeria’s economy needs to be rescued from complete collapse. Even the growth rate of 7 percent that we have for about 15 years until 2015 was not a good enough number to grow Nigeria out of poverty. We needed our GDP to expand sevenfold to be able to be at par with the countries that were in the same rank as Nigeria, like Malaysia at independence. We want to evolve a middle income country, having per capita income of between $16,000 to around $25,000 and if we are going to be at that level, we need to grow within ten years, our GDP by sevenfold. I understand how the modern economy is organised.
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I have practical understanding of how to expand our GDP and grow our economy. There are very few people in Nigeria who have the privilege of having strong level of political training and also sound economics and that’s important for Nigeria. We have to unite the country and at the same time, we have to deal with the economic challenges. At the bottom of some of these challenges in the country is competition for resources and massive poverty.
Some months ago, we were discussing with some people who came to visit us from Shiroro (Niger State) and we were talking about insecurity, they said the kind of insecurity we are seeing now is not just about herdsmen and farmers clashes; that in Shiroro now, once they bury their yams in the ground around the planting season, some people will go and unearth the yams; some will even go and sell the seedlings in the market in order to have some money.
So, what they do now is they mark the yam seedlings with paints so that when it shows up at the market, everybody will know that this is a stolen yam. So, are you going to send policemen to be manning every farm in Nigeria? This is a huge social economic crisis. That one is no longer just security problem. It’s a serious problem of chronic poverty and collapse of all the economic lever of hope. This matter is an urgent one. You cannot discuss some of these security challenges outside the issue of poverty and the collapse of the economic support system for the people to live to be human beings in the first place. That demands an urgency of now.
But the discussions and analysis of 2019 leaves all these practical questions out. It’s about what are the chances of this person; how many House of Reps members are following him? How many governors do they have? The real issues are left out and we will ensure by the grace of God that 2019 election is going to be about issues. It’s not just going to be about the shenanigans of politics.