Atiku shot himself in the leg with ethnic sentiment – Olusola Oke

Former governorship aspirant of the All Progressive Congress and member of the Legal Directorate of Tinubu-Shettima Campaign Council, Chief Olusola Oke, speaks to ADEBAYO FOLORUNSHO-FRANCIS on the chances of the party and other issues

How will you assess the recent inauguration of Tinubu-Shettima Presidential Campaign Council?

Great! I was particularly moved by the statement of Mr President that he would personally lead the campaign. It means that our family is together and no sign of cracks anywhere. Any candidate will be delighted to have the number one citizen on his side.

How will you defend the exclusion of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige; his counterpart in the Ministry of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, among others?

I don’t think I am the appropriate person to comment on why some people were dropped and others added. But I believe that the All Progressives Congress at this moment is one big family. Therefore, all of us cannot serve in the Presidential Campaign Council. There are others who will have more roles to play at the national, international and regional levels. Since the PCC inauguration, we have not received any discordant tone except from analysts who will want to know certain decisions were taken.

Don’t forget that we now have on board a strategist, a person who is a master of the game. You will observe that he is taking his time to kick-start the campaign because the world is gradually moving away from advocacy to reaching out directly to the people that will vote. In those days, one man can vote for the entire world and return a result. Not anymore. We must give it to the Independent National Electoral Commission; it is international standard at this moment. If you can remove some collateral things that are not within the INEC fold like vote-buying, Nigeria’s electoral system is coming to perfection.

That means you support BVAS

I support it totally. It is an innovation that will sanitise the Nigeria’s voting system. Rigging starts from accreditation. If you cannot tamper with the accreditation, you cannot rig the election. Once you can load the accreditation and verify that 10 or 20 persons are present, there won’t be an issue. So, I am a supporter of BVAS and so is Asiwaju.

What about the allegation that the APC is seeking every means to pressure INEC to dump BVAS?

But INEC has disputed and denied it. We in APC believe in our numbers. If you look at the last revalidation exercise, if all APC members alone vote for our candidates, they will win. This is why we don’t believe in manipulation. You know I was on the other side; so, we know ourselves. Therefore, when they accuse you, they are indirectly telling you what they intend to do. They will do it and put you on defence. That’s what the opposition is doing. The APC is the majority in the National Assembly that passed the BVAS and allowed INEC to carry on their activities with Information Communication Technology to sanitise our electoral system. It couldn’t have been the same APC that will now turn around and be asking for anything less than the best for Nigerians. Of course, you heard the President saying clearly that this election will be a litmus test of his commitment to electoral sanity. So, I am for BVAS any day.

Why is APC not penalising Aregbesola, former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, and Ngige, who recently refused to endorse Ahmed Tinubu on live television for anti-party activities?

That is to tell you that we respect rights of dissent in democracy. Even with that, we are members of the same family. People must be allowed to express dissenting opinions. The onus of bringing everybody on board lies on the leadership, which is what we are doing. Ngige comes from a region in Nigeria that also wants the presidency. So, if it was out of emotional outburst that he made the statement, the onus is on us as party members to understand. I am sure that is being taken care of.

What about the absence of Ngige’s name from the PCC list?

The task of his office is demanding. We know what he just went through with the A. So you can’t task him with additional responsibilities. He has other burdens and problems coming up. I believe some ministers must be allowed to run the government, especially now that the president is now the chairman. So if you take out the vice president, you want to paralyze governance. Therefore we must allow some of them to continue with their jobs. This present government is not coming to an end until May 29. So there must be governance and the onus of dotting ‘I’s and crossing the ‘T’s is on the government. That’s why we cannot pull out everybody at this moment.

Does that also apply to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo?

Yes, that is why Osinbajo is also there. While the President is going out for campaign, Osinbajo must be there to stabilise the government and ensure things are running. We are conscious of the need to win and also conscious of the need to have the government running until the last day. I think that is the politics behind his exclusion. But the world is free to read meaning into it. Osinbajo is a gentleman, a party member to the core and he remains Asiwaju’s (Tinubu) son, if you must know.

Didn’t Tinubu disown Osinbajo at one point?

Well, when the son rose to contest for the same position, he knew his father was interested in, he might say so. But the truth is that Asiwaju can’t deny his relationship with him, just as Osinbajo too can’t deny it. I think we should leave them to sort themselves out. They have come a long way. No third party should start to pry into what they did not know.

Can you explain Tinubu’s new found fame for idioms such as his ‘rotten to bad’ and ‘poisoned Holy Communion’ statements lately?

When you are getting deeper in knowledge, you become philosophical. You also become extraordinary in your choice of words and the idiomatic approach to things.

Are you saying it was deliberate?

Yes, it is. In this case, only the deep could begin to understand some of these things. Asiwaju has become an embodiment of knowledge. He has advanced beyond most ordinary persons. Therefore, he has to speak metaphorically with simile, innuendoes and all that when you put them together. So, he doesn’t want to speak raw so that if you want to misapply it, he can tell you that’s not what he meant. He speaks above ordinary, that’s the way I see it. Don’t forget that if you want to become the president of Nigeria, you become inspirational, sometimes spiritual too. You know when Jesus was talking to his disciples, he used to speak in parables. And you will hear them asking him ‘Oga, what do you mean by this and that?’

As a politician who has tasted both sides of the divides, first as a former PDP governorship candidate and now an APC chieftain, how will compare the two parties?

It is individuals that make up parties. Whether a party is good or bad, it is the content in human beings’ life. How you are able to manage it will also depends on your size. The PDP, to me, has atrophied (decrease in size). Therefore, the management issue will not be there. Events of today have shown that the crisis they have a wrecking one and it is wrecking them. It is a case of ‘prophet, heal thyself’. Like you said, I was in the PDP. If the Old Testament was without fault, there would be no need for the New Testament. That testament was faulty.

Will the North be willing to sacrifice Atiku, who matched Buhari vote-for-vote in 2015 and 2019 elections, for Tinubu, a southerner?

Only those who are parochial and ethnical in their thoughts would reason like that. But here, we are talking about party politics. The northerners in the APC are leaders in this political party in their own right. They don’t want to become followers. So, their first loyalty is to their party. Why will a governor, who is a leader, want to be a follower in another party? All of them have access to the Villa where they enter and come out any time. They won’t want to start getting tags or seek somebody’s permission before entering the State House. The correct position is that every point I am in the APC, if I have a twin brother in the PDP, I will work against him because I want to have access to power. My first loyalty has everything to do with my political party to be at the centre.

In a nutshell, you are saying Tinubu will defeat Atiku in the North. Isn’t it?

Definitely! The logical deduction is that anybody in the APC today who is a leader will want the political party to remain. They are not satisfied with this term; they want to take another step. Even when they cannot occupy the position, they want to be known as kingmakers. A number of them came from the PDP and they have regarded the opposition party as the Egypt they are not willing to return to. Following from that logic, you will know that ethnic-seeking will take the back seat. In any event, anybody that has grown up to be governor in this country will become a nationalist. What is of paramount importance is that who among these candidates can deliver, sustain the ideology of our party and build on the legacy of this government? Atiku will come and be looking for bearing. But Tinubu already has a bearing. If you look at his policy document, you will know that this is not a man who is coming to ask questions after the first day. He is not the ‘How do you do this one? Come and explain to me’ type of leader. He is a man that has been groomed for eight years under the tutelage of Buhari. He has seen the bad, the ugly and the good side of things.

Don’t you think Nigerians need to look beyond religiosity and ethnicity in the 2023 election?

I agree. But who do you think is playing the ethnic card between Tinubu and Atiku? Isn’t it obvious? Atiku further exposed himself as a bigot when he went to address Arewa leaders in the North. Rather than address issues, he was busy saying ‘Don’t vote Yoruba or Igbo candidate.’ That takes away everything from him as a nationalist. This election will be determined by the strength of your party and who populate it. The APC is stronger in the North and we are going to expect such strength in the votes. So if anybody is deluding himself because you are from there, it will be a shocker when the results are read. Why don’t you belong to the party of Buhari as a Northerner if you believe that ethnicity is a factor? Why did you go to the opposition party to oppose Buhari? And now, you want him to reason that you are a Northerner when you actually wanted him to fail in the last election. We gave him support from the South and everywhere to win. It is now that you suddenly remember that you are a Northerner. Is Buhari not a Northerner?

Here comes the national question. We agreed after a long struggle that Nigeria must be ruled by fairness, justice and equity. And that power must rotate between the South and the North. Somebody is working against that principle was taken to bring stability to Nigeria. You want to take advantage of your ethnic colouration. Nigeria belongs to everybody. Buhari will not reason like that. He has grown about it. All our leaders in APC will not be myopic. They are going to do that which will entrench unity in Nigeria. The PDP, unlike the APC, is a party that represents disunity. Who could believe that Atiku would address Arewa leaders and would voice out that kind of abomination from his mouth. Do we have two Nigeria(s)? I can assure you once again that the APC will show its strength in the North and win.

Shortly after names of the newly inaugurated Tinubu Presidential Campaign Council were released, some CAN members claimed they were smuggled into the list without their consent. Can you explain this?

I thought I mentioned this earlier. But these are administrative matters which only the secretariat can specifically address. For instance, I never went to the party secretariat or anywhere to be added to the list. The Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, was asked to forward a list and he forwarded my name there. I had thought that I already have a lot to do in my state and local government and don’t necessarily have to be member of any committee again. But my governor said I must be and even went ahead to forward my name. He did that before I got to know. In the same vein, the case of these people could be from their leaders, who would have thought this person is part of us and has value to add, hence, the need to add his name. But if they are unwilling to serve in that capacity, it doesn’t call for hullabaloo. All they need is to say ‘I don’t want to serve’. So, it cannot be the fault of Asiwaju or the President. It can only be the fault of those who nominated them without their consent. The people flying the kite may have something to do with the noise of Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian ticket.

‘Babachir, Dogara not known in Christian circle’

Any update on Babachir Lawal, Yakubu Dogara and the Christian community’s agitation over the contentious Muslim-Muslim ticket?

Let people allow God to fight for himself. Both Dogara and Babachir are not even known in the Christians circle. They are not pastors but Christians by circumstance of their birth. So, if they want to do advocacy for Christianity, it is not at their level. The real pastors and men of God that we know are there. If those ones are showing some form of understanding, then you must know there is something biting them (Babachir and Dogara) under their clothes. After all, both Tinubu and Babachir are friends. So, if he turns round and start fighting his friends, then you must know that it is personal ambition. That is driving him. Is he a Christian leader? Which church or flock is he leading? Because you aspire and wanted to be vice president and the man said it is not politically expedient for you to be, then you must pull down the roof? Am I not a Christian? In fact, I can say I am more Christian than most of them because I have a small church I lead in my house. Babachir or Dogara deas not even lead anyone? Let’s leave all these issues behind. It will be like that.

Let’s leave the messengers and focus on the message. Are you saying their call for a Christian running mate is not justified?

I am not suggesting that the place of Christians in Nigerian politics must be relegated. I didn’t suggest that because I am one myself. But sometimes, there is what we call expediency. Anybody who advises Tinubu to pick a Christian from the Middle Belt or anywhere is not being political. The truth is that (Muhammadu) Buhari has been President for almost eight years. Has he been able to change my name from Olusola to Yusuf? Can he or anybody do that in Nigeria? That’s why I just laugh anytime they say someone wants to islamise Nigerians. Where are the Muslims to islamise me or other Christians? Religion is something personal.

To you, most of the so-called Christians are going to hell likewise most of the Muslims. How many people in Nigeria can you sincerely say will go to heaven? Let’s not delude ourselves. Political calculation is what we need, not the toga of religion. Who is that man that fears God? I always believe in my mind that God will accept Christians and Muslims that are good, including the ‘Babalawos’ that have not done evil into heaven. It is a place for those who fear God. At this moment, the religion of who is leading Nigeria is of no use, even if the person is without religion.

Are Dogara and Babachir still card-carrying members of your party?

By their actions, we shall know. If they are still APC members, they won’t be doing what they are doing.

What if they decide to work for the APC and Tinubu’s presidential ambition tomorrow, will your principal be willing to embrace them?

Asiwaju and Babachir are too close that I don’t know what could bring them after falling apart. Babachir is my friend. We bonded very well but I disagreed with him fundamentally about his approach. But outside politics, he remains my friend. Just imagine if he were God, will he be justified to hand over the leadership of the country to another political party? He is arrogating too much worth to himself politically. I say this without fear. If he meets me, I will tell him that he is assuming a status he does not have politically. Therefore, let him not hide under religion to cause disaffection. Let him say he is angry because Tinubu didn’t pick him as a friend. He has no fresh ideas to bring into governance. His anger is not justified. He should learn to control his anger. You are a friend to somebody. There is a limit to which you can go by being on the other side without being mischievous.

What about your romance with Wike? How is APC consultation with him going?

Am I the one romancing him? I am also not the APC as a political party. But Wike is my friend and I salute his courage for him to be able to call a spade a spade. We are building Nigeria. Nobody should come with divisionism and continue to strip the country apart. What the PDP is preaching and what they are doing is antithetical to Nigeria’s unity. And if Wike, being a member and a foremost leader, could come to challenge them, I salute him. It doesn’t matter whether that will bring benefit to APC or not. The truth remains that all of us cannot die in silence. There must be people there when the roll call of courage is called. The Yoruba will tell you that it is better to tell a boy that this is where your father fought and die in the cause of fighting for liberty than to say this is the narrow road through which your father escaped. Wike is writing his history as those who fought to put Nigeria together. I, therefore, salute him.

What about the allegation that APC is probably fuelling Wike as agent provocateur?

If APC can do that successfully, I salute the party. If we can do that, I will support it gladly. But I believe Wike is a man of his mind. When you are frustrated, it is easy to know. When they say a cow is missing on the field and somebody climbs the ceiling looking for it. He is a confused man. That is what is happening to the PDP at the moment hence they are looking for every excuse to cry foul. They struck the cord when the man in question asked the party to drop somebody for there to be peace and the candidate said ‘no.’ Instead, he prefers to beat ethnic drum in the name of votes as if there are no intellectuals and nationalists in the North. It doesn’t work that way. If I also have the capacity to do what he did, I will do it to oppose decisions, cause disaffection and throw confusion into their party. To me, Wike is an asset. If we succeed in winning him to our side, that will be fantastic.

Why exactly did it take Tinubu this long to release his schedules for rallies and campaign kick-off?

Well, we gave them ample time to see them (the opposition) in action. Of course, we now know how hollow their rallies and activities are. It is just like watching Arsenal play Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea; they will study their matches to know what their strategies are. So, we have done all of that and now know they are merely using ‘Bolekaje’.

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