From Tony Osauzo and Ighomuaye Lucky, Benin
The candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for Edo State 2020 gubernatorial election, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, has stated that the character of the Presidential candidates, their programmes and track record will influence the outcome of the 2023 general election. Ize-Iyamu in this interview in Benin spoke on various issue.
Looking at the general mood of politics in the country, what does it portend?
Just recently, you heard about the security alert in Abuja from America, UK and some other countries have joined. What are we expecting?
Well, it is going to be a very interesting campaign and election. Our people are getting more politically aware and that is evident by the high number of people who registered for the first time.
It was not as if many of these people were just coming of age. The truth is that many of them were qualified to register in the past but they were not interested. But they come to realize that it is not enough to complain about the kind of government that we have; they need to be a bit more involved by also voting their preference. Many of them are actually beginning to believe that through the ballot box, they can make a difference in their choice of who leads them and that is very interesting.
So, what you are going to see this time is quite different from what was there in the past. In any event again, unlike before when the contestation was primarily between two major political parties, the APC and the PDP, this time, some new parties have come in that are showing some level of promise. You cannot completely underrate the labour party for example or the NNPP. So, and of course there are also some other parties which may not have that national spread but might also make some impact in their different states.
So, for the first time, we are looking at a situation where we have more than just two choices and the number of those who have registered is beyond what the political parties’ leadership will say they coordinated. Because usually before, we are the ones who coordinate voters’ registration. So, many of those who go and register, we can beat our chest and say that we encouraged them to go and register and so we are sure of their loyalty but this time, there are many persons who went to register without even our knowledge. It means that we have a lot of work to do, trying to talk to these people who went to register on their own who we cannot with all sincerity say that we control.
At the end of the day, the character of the candidates, their programme, their track record, all these things are going to have a major say and influence in the forthcoming elections but I am a member of the APC and I am confident that even with this new development, our party still remains the best option for Nigeria in terms of national spread, in terms of track record and more importantly, the experience and even promise of our candidate. Yes, there has been a lot of propaganda on social media but that is to be expected. I also think that as the campaign intensifies, people will begin to separate propaganda from facts. This election will not be won on the basis of lies, how many lies you are able to say. Just as you have access to the social media to spin all sorts of lies, people also have access to social media to correct those lies. These lies could boomerang because when people realize that you have been consistent in lying about a particular candidate, either you bring a lot of sympathy for such a person or there will also be anger against your own candidate for championing this kind of very unbecoming attitude.
So, at the end of the day, how the parties campaign, the quality of their candidates, what they want to offer and the strength of their political parties, will all play a significant roles. It’s going to be quite interesting.
Many people are angry given the turn of events, especially when it comes to insecurity, while others have said APC and PDP are two sides of the same coin, that they should go. Do you say this will not play out during the election?
You have re-echoed what a lot of people are talking about. I think Muhammadu Buhari, the president is not as bad as people have tried to portray him. I listened to one of his interviews when he went to Imo and he had to practically become his own image maker when he began to reel out the achievements of his administration. What he said could not be contradicted. It was very impressive. Because there are many people including very educated Nigerians who will tell you that the man has done nothing and yet, this man could reel out so many landmark projects all over the country. And he was talking about the place where the cry of marginalization is very strong, the South East and he could point to a lot of landmark legacy projects which his administration has done.
So, number one, I really don’t believe that the president has been as bad as people try to make out. In trying to assess the performance of a leader or a political party, you can’t turn your eyes from the situation that was on ground before he came on board. Whether we believe it or not, the world has been going through very serious economic recession. I know that years ago, everybody tried to ridicule us with the progress in Ghana but today we have also seen that all that glitters is not gold. Britain had to sack a prime minister because of a very disastrous economic policy that she enacted within a short period. Yes, Nigeria has gone through turbulent times but has Nigeria collapsed? Contrary to the opinion of many of the critiques of our government, you will think that by now, this country would have totally collapsed.
In fact, we have attempted to de-market our country rather than promoting it all in the name of politics. Nigeria has gone through challenges. The insecurity for example, anybody will tell you once terrorists have entered your country, to dislodge them, can’t be a matter of days. It is not a short term thing at all. When America went to Afghanistan, when they went to Iraq, all these were supposed to be a short term intervention, but they realized that it didn’t work because these are not a conventional army that you are dealing with. They are not people that are localized let’s say Warri for example, and you say let us go and attack them and capture Warri, by the time we capture Warri, it will be all over , that is not how they operate. In conventional war, you know where your opponent is located, you move against them and after a while, you have the final battle and somebody wins but when you are talking about terrorists, these are people who are everywhere and nowhere. They deliberately hide themselves among the populace, they spring out like a thief in the night when you are not expecting them and a lot of times, they choose what you call soft targets. They attack schools, market women, farms and of course some time you will say what about military formation, but when you attack them unexpectedly, it happens, you ambush them. The army no matter how alert they are, can’t be alert 24 hours. There is a time to sleep, there is a time to relax and these people, they have mastered the act, of striking when you think there is no problem. All these things have escalated the tension. But Give and take, we know that they have not taken over any parts of the country. Anywhere you even hear they operate maybe in the villages, eventually the military drives them out. I believe that the security situation as frightening as it may appear, is still under control.
Recently, the story we heard about Abuja you would have thought coming from where it came from, that bombs should begin to explode all over the place but nothing has happened. I want to give kudos to our security agencies even though we constantly vilify them, for keeping our capital safe and we pray to God that nothing will happen. But you see, some of these things can be very destabilizing when you just look at the country and say everybody start leaving now that nothing has happened; the question might be asked what is the basis for this kind of situation. We are not saying that such thing cannot happen anywhere in the world. It happens but sometimes, the way we talk about it is like we deliberately want the country to collapse. So, number one, I believe that, considering the circumstances we must admit that when this government came in, things were at ground zero. Yes, we can begin to cry; now is like when the children of Israel when they left Egypt, they cried about just because of some little suffering in the wilderness before they got to the promise land. Some of them began to say how I wished I would have gone back. Yes, some people want to go back but there are also many who remembered and that is why they are telling you that PDP is not an option because they remember that these problems they are talking about whether is insecurity, high cost of living, corruption, all these things started during the time of the PDP. They grew and their roots and were seriously entrenched all over the country. For anybody to think that because APC has now ruled for eight years, automatically all these things will be over, it can’t be.
Oil theft for example, did it start during Buhari’s government? No, it’s been there, it’s been entrenched. In fact, a lot of the pipelines we are now discovering, that are attached to the major export pipelines, from what we are hearing, these things were put there as far back nine years ago, which means even before the APC came into government, these were already there. It takes time and with sophistication and equipment and security to lay pipes in the seas and in the waters. It was done not when APC was in government. In fact, you should even commend the APC that in their time, all these things are now being discovered. Yes, the consequence is that we have lost so much but who is to blame? Is it the one who discovered it and who have suffered by the reason of this theft or the one who during their administration, there was connivance to put these things in place? So, between APC and PDP, the choice is obvious. PDP does not have a moral, political or even legitimate right to criticize the APC because the APC is still trying to clean the mess that they left behind. I have never heard where you say you people have not cleared all the dirt and so you want to continue but you put the dirt there. So, that is the problem.
There is also an agitation that look, these two major political parties, did not try. The PDP was given the first opportunity. They came in at a time there was stability, the naira was strong, foreign reserve were there, and some people expected so much from them but unfortunately, they messed up completely and so they have to be replaced by the APC. Then, the APC, the change that they promised has not had the desired results. They have expected that by now, everything would have changed after all, APC promised change in every area but things have not changed. But you know the truth is that some time, things must get to their worst level before you begin to notice the change that is the truth about life. There are certain things that must go through their natural course but those people who are thinking like this are saying what Nigeria needs right now is a new alternative and that is why it is interesting that among the parties that have sprung up, we have two that we can even take with some level of seriousness. It is good for our democracy, the Labour Party and the NNPP. Sorry if I didn’t mention other political parties, I know that they exist.
But let’s even assume that these two have potentials, unfortunately for a lot of Nigerians and like I mentioned earlier, Nigerians have become very politically aware; for many, they realised that these two political parties you just mentioned, are parties that still need time to become national political parties. As at today, some of them are just parties having popular presidential candidates. But in terms of parties that cover what you call Nigeria, a party that has representatives of all shades of Nigerians, no matter the ethnic group, no matter the religion, no matter the profession, no matter the social class, you will find out that these two other political parties fall short of it. And because of the complexity of our country, we want a political party that we are comfortable with. My people in the village do not need to know Tinubu before they are comfortable with APC. They are comfortable because they know Pastor Ize-Iyamu is their son; he talks to them every time, so he tells them about APC, that is the comfort that they have, that they have their prominent son who is a member of that party and who can tell them about what happens. That assurance is very important. But you see, in these other two political parties, you look around, and many places, you don’t see anybody you can hold accountable. The man who is talking to you as their president is very far off, that I see him on TV does not equate intimacy, does not equate that I have somebody I can hold accountable and somebody that I can hold in case you support them to say look, look at what you promised, what are you going to do for us. So, these other two political parties, there are so many parts of the country that they are short of representatives.
So, in reality, I am sorry to say, they don’t really qualify as national political parties. They are emerging political parties and election is around the corner. It’s just a matter of three, four months. Probably if they have three, four years, one would say the way these people are growing in the next three, four years, they will become extremely formidable but knowing the dynamics of our politics, I think that the absence of key players in the different parts of the country will have adverse effects on their fortune.
You talked about the security alarm that was raised some few days ago. People are saying could it be a conspiracy against the African countries, because the alarm was not only in Nigeria. In South Africa, they said also that terror attack was imminent. The South Africa president said he was worried that the Americans didn’t share any intelligence with them before they went on with the information. Do you think the international communities are up to some mischief?
We have seen terrorists attack in Western world and we all know that there has always been a coordinated effort by many of these Western countries to deal with the problem. We have never seen an approach where because they have information that there will be attacks and we ask their people to leave such countries; rather they show commitments, they share information. Many at times we even get to hear of it only when they have prevented what was to happen. As they are making arrest, they will now reveal that they have been working on this thing for the past three, four weeks without letting anybody know but they are on top of it. We concede that some of these countries have better information. Even in our country, we concede that they have the technology to get the information but I think that they should share such information and not only share such information but even go out to help us suppress this problem because this problem is not localized. Many of these people, their real grouse is not against us but against these Western countries. They have become an international network and they are also looking for soft targets. So, if you know that such cell has sprung in a place like Nigeria, one would expect that you will use your superior intelligence in quotes and technology to help us out; we will applaud you but to say that your people should leave and then abandon us with the problem does not speak well of the kind of global brotherhood that you preach. It shows that if we have a problem, we will be abandoned and if that’s the case, then all these international groups that we all join, what are the benefits? That because you think there is a problem, you abandon us when you know yourself that you also have the technology to deal with it. If the problem was to have been in your country will you tell your people to leave your country?
For me, it is not even good neighbourliness to have acted the way they did. I think what they should have done was to privately inform our security agencies, our government of about what is happening and support us to deal with it and we would have applauded but nobody is praying for anything to happen and so far, nothing has happened. In fact, British Airways cancelled their flight to Abuja and a lot of people were stranded. People who were supposed to be in Abuja were taken to Lagos but the same British airways had gone back to fly to Abuja. One of the major malls in Abuja has to be closed but again, it has been reopened. And again, you will be asking yourself, all these panic and all this information, how credible were they? Can the Western world be part of this kind of false alarm which some people are now beginning to interpret as conspiracy? And the reason why they are doing so is that these people should have known better. They are better equipped to deal with this kind of situation. If we were the ones behaving like this, we will say well, we don’t know better. So they know better. Why would they want to crumble our country by creating this kind of situation? Because What they did was enough to have created total destabilisation. People would have begun to abandon their naira to look for dollars. So, when you look at it, if not that God is with us, those pronouncements were like a vote of no confidence in Nigeria that would have created a stampede. People rushing to the airport, people leaving the country by roads but thank God nothing like that happened because Nigerians still have implicit confidence in their country. And that is why when they were leaving, Nigerians were coming back. I didn’t see people postponing their flights. The flights that were coming to Nigeria were still filled. If Nigerians believe that the country was in a serious danger, many of them would have cancelled their flights and say I am not coming back immediately, so the flights would have been coming back empty but the flights were still full. So, Nigerians believe in their country and I believe by the grace of God, this country will still be a great country.
In spite of the promise to fight corruption, there is still high corruption in this government Are you not worried?
My answer will surprise you. I am not too worried, rather I am even happy at this revelation. It is better for us to know that money has been stolen than for money to be stolen and we are not told. The truth is always better. Before, many of these things were happening and they were swept under the carpet and nobody hears about it. It is years later you will hear, look at what happened? I was listening to my friend, EJ Agbonayinma who was a House of Representatives member representing Ikpoba-Okha and Egor and I remembered that when he was in the House then, he raised a serious cry about the level of oil theft. And the figures that were mentioned were staggering. He had to go to America where they gave him figures of tankers that birthed from Nigeria with illegal crude. In Nigeria, there was no record of their departures but in America where records are kept, there was record of their arrival and what those crude translated to was billions of dollars which can cancel the debts that we owe now. Nobody said anything. So, a government was there before where there was massive plundering of our resources and everybody kept quiet because the conspiracy was all over the place, from the top to bottom but now, we have an administration that continues to blow the whistle that is embarrassing but it is good. Some will say you know these people are in this government, so let us sweep it under the carpet but he said no, let’s tell the world what is happening and the more we cry out about it, the more we begin to set up an enduring structure that will make it impossible for this thing to continue. I have always told people that in dealing with corruption, it’s not apprehending the culprits that is the most important. What is more fundamental is to make it impossible for these things to happen. In many civilized countries, people don’t do things not because they don’t want to do it because of how difficult it is to do it but in Nigeria there is so much ease in doing things and even when you are caught, nobody talks about it because everybody is settled, and everybody believes that they are all part of the system.
Are you suggesting a review of the system?
What I am saying is that, this thing must not be swept under the carpet. Every corruption case should be exposed. It is good for the system because the more we expose it, the more we say no, this thing cannot continue. How come this thing appears to be so easy? Do you know what it means to just take 10 billion? Where are the checks and balances? So, what we need to do is to sit down and say look, how was this thing possible. You know banks, people that hacked into their systems sometimes, they go and recruit them. They will say we want you to come and work for us. Look at the way you hacked 10 million dollars from our bank and how do we stop it that others cannot do it and the man will begin to talk. They have that. And in the same way, let us now sit down on the basis of this revelation and we will now say how do we now deal with it. When the Nigerian government chose Tompolo to help us deal with pipelines security, many Nigerians were complaining saying how can? These are people that were declared wanted but is he doing a good job? Yes, he is doing a good job because he knows the game. Nobody is saying that that choice was a brilliant one. We are happy that you were humbled enough to take somebody that you once declared wanted to help secure our pipelines and the results are evident. That his coming in has made changes that we never knew about. So, for me, there is hope. I think that corruption is being fought but corruption is also fighting back. But this government is fighting corruption. Because it is no longer business as usual. Things are no longer being swept under the carpet, they are being exposed. I think sooner or later, many of the loopholes will be blocked.
In view of the myriad of problems you have talked about, do you still believe that APC will win the general elections?
It is not for me to categorically say. It will be a decision of the majority of the voters who will come out on that day. But certainly on my own, I, my friends, my associates we will vote for the APC and we are not doing it because we are partisan. The level that I have reached in this country, I can afford to be objective and when it comes to the survival of my country, I can afford to also be courageous and do the right thing. Looking at the candidates we have right now, I sincerely believe that Tunubu has a track record of performance and I believe he will do well. And I am irritated by the lies they constantly spew out against him. I remembered when he won the APC primaries and he was doing his acceptance speech, I happened to be at the podium that day when the flag was given to him by Muhammadu Buhari but you can imagine my disgust later, when I saw all over social media, they were showing Buhari trying to give him a flag and he could not hold it because his hands were shaking. It was not true. I was right there. And people I saw later I have to show to them the correct video which we took so that they can look at it with the doctored ones which they were circulating and many of them shook their heads. I can’t support a system that is built on lies and I will not allow a candidate who has potential to be discredited because of orchestrated lies and propaganda. People talk about health, Tunubu is older than me but in terms of work, in terms of the time he puts in everyday, I will even tell you he is more hardworking than myself. There is a time I need to go and sleep, he can stay awake as long as the business is to be done. I have seen his itinerary, it’s unbelievable, that is not a man who is sick. A man who is sick can’t be jumping from plane to helicopter, from helicopter to road, road to boat, he can’t do that. The man is not sick. But all of us, as we grow older, we have different types of ailments which is normal but mentally and even physically, the man is alert. So all the campaign against him is that the man is not well; they are all lies. Which doctors had told them that the man is not well? So, I know his track record. No matter how biased you are, you can’t but appreciate that, when you look at Nigeria today and the states, the only state that has been able to make themselves truly viable, is Lagos. And those who come with the bogus argument that is because Lagos was a federal capital in the past, my question to them is that Abuja that is the federal capital territory, how well have they faired? Let us begin to appreciate leadership when we see it and not begin to look for excuses to run down the good thing we have seen in that leadership. Tinubu has shown capacity, he has shown courage. This is a man that has a clear vision of what he wants to do and he is not afraid to say we should give him the chance. We are tired of putting people who are not prepared and the reality is that he has a party that is well entrenched in Nigeria so whether you are talking about the North, East, South or the West, you can be sure that there are many people who can stand to say we know this man and this is the kind of person that Nigerians need.
What is your advice to Nigerians as they prepare for the general election?
I want to appeal to Nigerians to continue to have hope in the country and they have demonstrated the hope in several occasions and if not the resilience that we have shown, this country would have collapsed; even when people tried to create all kinds of impressions, Nigerians have constantly shown that they love their country and they believe in their country.
I also think that this election is critical. Nigerians should turn out enmasse but no matter the situation, in coming out to vote, we must not vote on the basis of sentiments; we must look at the track record of those who are contesting, we must look at the parties they belong to because again, we don’t want to sentimentally go vote for somebody who will not get the required votes and invariably go and allow somebody who is not going to win to win. I think that we should be able to vote wisely.