By Bianca Iboma-Emefu
Two-time past Lagos State commissioner under Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s tenure as Lagos State governor, Hon. Rahman Akanni Owokoniran emerged PDP Southwest scribe after elections which were held in Ibadan, the Oyo State recently.
A died-in-the-wool politician, the new scribe has a long history in politics dating back to the Second Republic.
In this interview with Sunday Sun, Owokoniran speaks on insecurity in the country, restructuring and how PDP will sweep APC out of office in 2023. Excerpt:
You have been on the political scene for a while. Can you tell us what the journey has been like?
I have been in the political scene for about four decades. I was part of the formation of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). I became a member at the state House of Assembly in 1983. I was a member of the SDP during the Third Republic. When the Third Republic crumbled, I became the chairman of the Congress for National Consensus (CNC). I was crucial in shaping the fortunes of political parties as a member of the younger generation, so when the Third Republic collapsed, I move on to the fourth generation where ADC and APP birthed before becoming AD and I was appointed chairman of the committee for the creation of the 20 local government area and 17 Local development council in Lagos State. I became the Director General of the second term governorship campaign of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu after which I was appointed as the Commissioner for Housing under Tinubu’s administration for two and half years. I was later moved to Chieftaincy and Boundary Affairs Ministry. However, I started having some bad moments when I made my intention to contest for the office of the governor of Lagos State. My intention did not go down well with Tinubu who brought Fashola to contest in the same party. However, I didn’t like his preferred candidate so I had to leave. That was how I joined the PDP while they formed the Action Congress (AC); I was never a card-carrying member of AC.
What is your assessment of the APC-led Federal Government six years down the line?
The APC-led government is a government of failure, cluelessness and propaganda. It doesn’t have a service delivery initiative and it is not people-oriented. Nigerians are being denied basic amenities like food, health, shelter and education and this has culminated in the impoverishment of the Nigerian people by this administration. It is sad that parents spend all their income to get their wards educated in a country where most of those in government had free education. Public schools are in a deplorable state. Health service delivery is nothing to be proud of. There is no access to health care delivery. At age seven while growing up, I knew the health care services around and I was able to access them. Housing is zero. Attempts to deliver houses to low income earners end up in tales of sadness and disappointment. Government will destroy local markets with stalls and re-build ultra-modern market that shop renters and traders cannot afford. Those who once had stalls in the market are displaced without compensation and their life investment goes down the drain. Leaving families downtrodden. Presently, in Lagos, if a family rents an apartment of a three or two bedroom flat today, visit the family after a while and you will discover that three or more families have joined the family to live together. The roads that government has invested so much money on are in a deplorable state because they are not motorable. Lagosians suffer every day due to huge traffic jams and spend longer hours on the road than necessary. The truth is, the APC government has frustrated Nigerians in all its ramifications. Ironically, the four years of Governor Lateef Jakande’s administration was impactful because it was a people-oriented and service delivery administration. That is the type of government PDP indentifies with.
Your party, the PDP, appears to be embroiled in internal crisis across the country. Do you think your party can defeat the ruling APC in 2023?
Everyone has to unite for us to achieve the purpose of defeating the ruling party. We can only achieve this through unity. No matter the misunderstanding and the bone of contention, we must resolve it as a family affair and everyone must sheath their swords and take each other as brothers.
Talking about reconciliation, your party set up a committee headed by Bukola Saraki. Do you think the committee will achieve the desired objective before 2023 elections?
It is an attempt to reposition our party in the Southwest region and set the pace for our 2023 victory. The objective is to unite everyone so that the party would achieve the best as we prepare for the 2023 victory. Bukola Saraki was in Lagos and he has been visiting other zones and regions. I am confident and know that the issues would be resolved amicably if there is any.
Some Nigerians have the notion that the six years APC led the government and the PDP 16 years is the same due to the hardship Nigerians are facing. What is your take?
That is not true. During the PDP’s 16 years we had a robust economy. Crime rate was reduced to a barest minimum and security challenges never degenerated to this embarrassing point where we are. It is misleading to assume that APC and PDP are the same; that is sheer propaganda! PDP unlike APC had a broad based foundation across Nigeria and was an inclusive government. Nigerians have come to realize now and they are yearning for change of these APC government and looking up to the PDP to take over. The party needs to project its image and take advantage of this opportunity and make the desired change in government. Nigerians should forgive any lapses that the PDP had in the past. PDP will work on its lapses. PDP deserves another chance. President Goodluck Jonathan achieved a lot, but Nigerians sadly only realized that after he left office. Nigerians were too hasty and so they fell for the lies of the APC propaganda machine. We have seen it for ourselves that PDP is a people-oriented party and as such we will embark on programmes that are life changing, offer transformational leadership and meet the needs of Nigerians.
In the Southwest, what strategy is in place for PDP to take over government?
We have to be focused in order to take over government and deliver the dividends of democracy to the people. We need to be united and now that we are, our goals can be achieved with a formidable force. Getting the right committed people in place who understands our plight and willing to deliver the people come 2023. When you assess the present government of Lagos State, you will find out that the situation has worsened as life has become even more difficult for citizens. Governance is about the people, but APC has anti-people ideas. The tariff on electricity has tripled, but power supply has not improved. Lagosians have to generate electricity and water for themselves because there are no basic amenities for the common man. There are no access roads in most communities and major roads. Until very recently, when they started fixing the roads, the government locked down on the people. For instance, it is sad that even the palliatives donated by well meaningful Nigerians were hoarded while the people were hungry during the climax of the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is your view on the fact that the lawmakers earning huge salaries, yet are unable to pay the minimum wage of N30,000?
The APC government has never been about the people. With the prices of essential commodities skyrocketing, unstable transportation rates in Lagos, what will the minimum wage of N30, 000 do for the poor masses. The APC government has put the common man in a very vulnerable position. This is part of what PDP wants to correct come 2023 take over.
Recently, the House of Reps called on President Buhari to declare a state of emergency on security and your party came out two days after to support the call. What informed your party’s decision?
The state of security under the APC-led government has become worse to the point of being very embarrassing. I support my party’s view. President Muhammadu Buhari has been absent from the scene; he has been missing in action, gone AWOL despite the frightening reports on security and the activities of killer herdsmen, banditry and insurgency. One would think our military would be equipped to quell this upheavals and barbaric killings, but that is not the case. Where is the president? He owes Nigerians a duty and an explanation. The people can’t protect themselves and they are being killed and kidnapped everyday yet the Commander-in-Chief and the chief security officer of the country is silent. This is evidence that he has gone AWOL.
Following series of security challenges in the country ranging from terrorism to banditry, kidnapping and armed robbery, there have been calls from different quarters for the president to resign. Do you agree with such calls?
Everybody is frustrated! There is no indication or ray of hope from President Buhari who has kept a stony silence through all of this. We don’t know his mind or what he is thinking in all of this, but one thing is obvious, he is politicking with our lives. This administration has failed Nigerians badly.
Some people have argued that Nigeria is at the verge of disintegration; do you agree with such views?
Nigeria will not disintegrate. God’s purpose for Nigeria must stand because Nigeria has a huge assignment for the black race. It is rather unfortunate that we have the wrong set of people in government as our leaders. Our democratic experience under APC is not the way to go. Nigeria is a multi-cultural and multi- ethnic group. Our culture is shaped by our multi-ethnic society which has diverse elements. The leadership created must be able to translate this diversity into governance and ideas that will benefit every multi-ethnic group.
What is your position on restructuring which many Nigerians have argued is the only solution to the myriads of problems facing the country at present?
Restructuring is the only way out of the myriad of challenges Nigeria is facing today. Restructuring is a means to an end not an end in itself. It is a significant step towards diffusing tension arising from the struggle for the control of power at the centre and unleashing latent opportunities. There should be less reliance on oil. We have to diversify our economy, Dubai used their oil money to invest on tourism and now the whole world visits Dubai. We need to diversify in order to develop other sectors of the economy, so we can be more productive. Like I said earlier, the president has been absent from his duty post and Nigerians don’t know or understand his mindset. The president has not shown or made me believe that he understands what government and governance is all about. The economy has crumbled and the people are impoverished beyond words and now Nigerians are living in fear due to insecurity. How bad could it get and how did we get here? It was through the cluelessness and lack of leadership by APC. For me the president has abandoned his office and Nigeria is adrift.
The governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom recently accused the governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai of misleading President Buhari. What is your take on his opinion?
There are things Ortom must have seen before he made his statement. He could have made those statements based on the fact that el-Rufai is very influential in Buhari’s government and most of his actions show it.
How confident are you that PDP will take over power come 2023?
I am very confident that PDP will win 2023 election. We are not complacent, we are working, putting things in place, getting the right people on board, ready to work hard in order to salvage our great nation.