Probe Jonathan's Govt Fully or Forget Corruption War, Buhari's Associate Tells President [interview]

Ahead of the last presidential election, Femi Olufunmilade, head of department of international relations and strategic studies at Igbinedion University, Okada, was commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari to prepare a position paper on how the opposition could defeat former President Goodluck Jonathan. In this interview with PREMIUM TIMES, Dr. Olufunmilade, who was a member of the APC Presidential Campaign Council, speaks on the paper, the anti-corruption war of the Buhari administration, the future of the APC and other issues. Excerpts:

In the build up to the presidential election, you prepared a position paper for President Muhammadu Buhari on how opposition leaders in about eight African countries defeated the incumbents. Can we assume that the paper played a role to secure victory for the president in the March 28 election?

The paper you referred to is titled, “Opposition Victories in Africa: How it Can Happen in Nigeria – A Working Paper for the APC”. The research that produced it was concluded in August 2014, months before we went into the APC presidential primaries. Regarding whether or not it played a role in our victory at the presidential election, I can only tell you that a number of the factors identified as decisive in securing victory for the opposition in the eight African countries comparatively reviewed also played out in ours.

For example, there was the factor of fielding a “tested candidate”. Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, I pointed out won at his fifth attempt in year 2000, Emilio Mwai Kibaki won at his third attempt in 2002 in Kenya, both John Kufuor in 2000 in Ghana and Ernest Bai Koroma in 2007 in Sierra Leone at their second attempt and so on. Another factor was “coalition strategy”. That is a situation where diverse opposition parties form an alliance to defeat incumbency.

In the eight countries reviewed, the opposition did not win at the first ballot except in three cases. In the remaining five cases, it won in the run-off when the various opposition parties’ candidates had to step down for the strongest candidate who had pulled the highest votes among them in the first ballot. That was what happened in Ghana, Senegal, Benin Republic, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast. In the APC’s case, the merger of the ACN, CPC, ANPP, a faction of APGA, and the new PDP had largely taken care of a situation where parties had to hastily cobble up an alliance, which in our history was easily truncated by the power of incumbency. Yet another factor was “international pressure”. Or, simply put, diplomacy. This was highly instrumental to the accession of Alassane Ouattarra in Ivory Coast when Laurent Gbagbo lost the presidential election in 2010 and refused to step down. It took high level diplomacy, leading to the use of force by UN forces before Gbagbo was unseated and Ouattara assumed the presidency. In our case, you would recall that, among other super-diplomats, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry visited Nigeria days to the election and held meetings with the then President Jonathan and the opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari. It was a visit with a message: the US would only accept a free-and-free election, failing which there would be consequences. I think President Buhari himself raised this point during his state visit to the US. He spoke to the effect that the Kerry visit was instrumental to Jonathan’s acceptance of defeat. I think I’ve done justice to your question. Let me finally add that mine was only one out of other studies that may have contributed to our victory. There were others. I recall that Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, now our vice president, at a meeting my campaign support group had with him in Lagos a few weeks to the presidential election, told me of a study he conducted alongside some foreign researchers which had predicted victory if the merger that gave birth to the APC was done.

You were billed to present that paper on the day Buhari formally declared his ambition to contest for the president but you never did. Does that mean he rejected it? What happened?

Well, as a candidate, Buhari wanted a low-key preliminary declaration, which was held at a hotel in Abuja. A bigger declaration eventually took place at the Eagle Square and that wasn’t a venue for a lecture. He didn’t reject the paper. Otherwise, he would have said so. It was passed to him by email while he was in London. I have been a loyal, long-time follower of Buhari and he knows I can only act in his best interest.

If he had objections, he would have called me and express them in a fatherly, friendly manner. In fact, I subsequently was asked by his Chief of Staff, Col. Hamid Ali (rtd.), to research his Talking Points as he campaigned from state to state under the platform of the Buhari Support Organisation (BSO). I had inputs from BSO state coordinators like Dr. Almajiri Geidam from Yobe, Alhaji Umar Shuaibu Suleja (Niger), Mr. Ramsey Ndep (Cross River), Hon. Sunday Ibitoye (Ekiti) and others.

Buhari has a strong belief in the utility of research. You can see how he is taking his time, receiving briefs from the MDAs and giving directives to each of them, as they visit him, on what to do as a matter of priority. When the Ministry of Aviation came calling, he directed them to look into the establishment of a national carrier. When it was the turn of the Ministry of Special Duties, he directed them to quickly look into reuniting children in the IDPs’ camps with their parents and, a few days ago, over a hundred kids at a Christian Camp in Edo state were reunited with their parents. You’ve seen what he’s done in the Ministry of Petroleum Resources. He gets both formal and informal briefings in all these sectors, study them, seek expert advice, and take his decisions. That’s governance by research. Initially I was worried he was acting too slowly, especially when my university colleagues and others who knew my involvement with him began to take me to task. I was not alone. From the Director- General of his Campaign Organisation to the last man involved in his election, we were being harassed. Can you see your Baba doesn’t know what to do now? It appears you people were not prepared to govern? I really became worried and frantically sought audience with him, sending him copies of my book titled, “China’s Economic Miracle” dedicated to his victory, but I didn’t get a call. Later, I began to see logic in his approach and my rising blood pressure went back to equilibrium.

I recall that in that paper you suggested among other things, “In this connection, it must explore and exploit schisms within the PDP to firm up its membership base. It should also seek collaboration with organized groups cutting across trade unions to students. If possible, it can set up a team to work on this.” It is believed that these hardly worked during the poll as it was the personality of Buhari that actually won the election for the APC.

No doubt that Buhari has a winning personality. No argument about that at all. That precisely was why many of us rooted for his candidacy. However, the schisms within the PDP and the support of innumerable groups across the federation and the Diaspora were contributory to victory. Many youth organisations, trade unions and so on lined up behind the Buhari-Osinbajo ticket. It was a rainbow coalition that cuts across ethnicity, religion, region, class, professions etc. One unique feature of the Buhari ticket was the fact that the talakawas, the lower class, the very poor in society gave their time, money, and intellect to it. It was unprecedented. I recall that when my campaign team of the Buhari-Osinbajo Support Organisation (BOSO) campaigned in the Ibarapa region of Oyo state and we offered to pay some local folks to paste the Buhari-Osinbajo posters we took along, they rejected our money and felt somehow insulted. In other words, they themselves believed in this ticket. I’m talking of rural folks living in obvious poverty. It was a sobering awakening for us. We were not inducing them with money to vote for Buhari. We were wearied from pasting posters ourselves and had merely attempted to contract it out. People just wanted change! That’s what they got. It was a democratic revolution that occurred 28 March, 2015, in Nigeria.

In the next few weeks the Buhari administration will clock 100 days in office. Some say Nigerians are yet to feel the impact of the administration because it is far from implementing its electoral promises.

That assertion doesn’t speak to facts that are obvious. Which electoral promises are they talking about? President Buhari, during his campaigns, summarized his entire promises into three broad categories. One, tackle insecurity; two, fight corruption; and, three, revive the economy, particularly through jobs-propelled wealth-creation. On insecurity, it can be argued that he has mobilized regional cooperation, carrying along contiguous nations – Chad, Niger Republic, Benin Republic, and Cameroon – in the fight against Boko Haram insurgency under 75 days more than his predecessor. The president of Cameroon, Paul Biya, alluded to that when he played host to President Buhari and remarked that President Jonathan was not even picking his phone calls! Imagine that in a situation where it was clear that we needed the cooperation of our neighbours to fight Boko Haram. Buhari has toured all our neighbouring countries, has got the Multinational Joint Task Force going. He recently directed the Ministry of Defence to explore ways of making indigenous arms production a reality, with the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON), Kaduna, as arrowhead. Let me quickly note that we learnt a bitter lesson when avenues of purchasing arms to fight insurgency were blocked for a long time by the Western powers, or so we were told, under the Jonathan regime.

I had early in the life of the Buhari administration sent a strong memo canvassing the restructuring and revitalization of DICON if we are ever going to defend ourselves against foreign threats and domestic insecurity sustainably. Let’s face it: arms and ammunitions are the costliest goods in the international marketplace. Armoured tanks, jet fighters etc cost multi-million dollars. Our population is increasing; our armed forces have to increase in tandem. How do we arm and equip them? It was a shame President Jonathan had to seek $1 billion loan to procure weapons. Worse scenarios await us if we tarry in embarking on developing our indigenous Military Industrial Complex. And this is not as difficult as it may seem. We have the largest market for arms trade in Africa, or, potentially so. We have the army, navy, airforce, police, customs, DSS, immigration, prisons, Civil Defence etc to arm and equip generally. If you have the right framework in place, there are a thousand and one arms manufacturers out there ready to ship their production plants to Nigeria or build new ones. Egypt and South Africa are leading arms producers in Africa. Why not Nigeria? By the way, that $15 million botched arms deal in South Africa, I’m suspicious of it seriously. That is a small sum when you talk of buying arms to fight insurgency. What type of arms are they talking about? We should get the specifics! It sounds more like a case of money laundering; not clandestine arms deal. Believe me!

You are a close associate of the president, does he really not appear to be a bit confused, especially given the fact that it is taking him months to constitute his cabinet and even name the SGF who should coordinate government’s policies.

Like I said earlier, he’s taking his time systematically studying things, and looking before he leaps. In any case, he has promised us a cabinet in September. We are almost there. But already, he has made highly strategic appointments on the economic and security fronts. We have new set of leaders at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) with Mr. Ibe Kachikwu, Vice President at ExxonMobil, as GMD. The Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) also has Mr. Tunde Fowler, a revenue generator of impeccable domestic and international experience with enviable track-record of performance. NPA, another money-spinning agency has got a change in its leadership. Ditto the Budget Office. The Nigerian Customs Service has also had its Comptroller-General bowing out. So you can see that all these are strategic agencies germane to our quest for economic turn-around. You can see the deliberateness to these changes. They come slowly but steadily after Buhari has done his homework. But those unlearned in the art of transformational leadership expect a big bang. I’m afraid, we don’t need an explosion! On the security front, he had much earlier changed the service chiefs, the National Security Adviser, and the Director of the DSS. The credentials of all those security officers speak for them. They are the crème of their respective services. He left Solomon Arase as Inspector General of Police. I don’t think because he was new on the job, but because he must have seen that the guy knows his onions. Digging into the depth of Buhari’s heart, you would discover that he is not at all motivated by your ethnic group or religion in his appointments. He had a record that was highly distinguished before we elected him president. Beating his own past record is now the mountain he has to climb to summit, the tight rope he has to walk, and the turbulent sea he has to swim through to shore. Buhari’s only fear is failure, not meeting our expectations.

Look at the anti-corruption war. Do you agree the prosecution of the war is largely witch-hunting as alleged by the PDP?

That is the propaganda of those who have looted this country. They won’t like to go down without a fight. The Nigerian press and the public must see through the ruse. If those making those allegations have facts about any corrupt person around Buhari, that he has looted this or that fund, let them put it in the public domain. They can go to court. It is extremely insulting to insinuate that Buhari is the one telling the anti-graft agencies who to investigate or not. Buhari is too self-respecting to do that. Was the PDP not the party in power since this democratic dispensation began? So why is it surprising that they constitute the bulk of those being investigated? Did I, for instance, and many of my kind in the APC who have followed the tough road of politicking without money with Buhari, be probed for living our independent lives without any government appointment just because Buhari must be seen to be probing his party men and women?

Some members of the party have repeatedly suggested that Buhari should go after some APC chieftains who allegedly sponsored his election. No need to mention names. Don’t you see a sense in that if the crusade is to be convincing?

Even Asiwaju Bola Tinubu they keep urging Buhari to probe, did they not try their best to jail him when they sent the Code of Conduct Bureau after him under the Jonathan administration? Did they find him guilty as charged? The answer is capital NO! Let those naysayers keep shut if they have nothing better to say. Very soon they are going to tell us that his anti-graft war is targeting Christians and southerners, making sacred cows of Muslims and northerners. We are too wise now to fall for such diversionary tactics.

Some stories have been told about Buhari. Is Buhari himself really clean?

It was like when some Republican propagandists alleged that Obama was not born in America. It was laughable. Bottom line is: Produce your evidence for such accusations to jell. If Buhari has stolen your money or seized your land for his use, produce your evidence, please, or go to court.

Does he have the moral authority to fight corruption if truly he and his deputy reneged in the promise to publicly declare their assets?

Does the law even insists they must publicly declare his asset other than declare it to the Code of Conduct Bureau? You know we are in a grave security situation and I, personally, don’t think they should even do such disclosures beyond the limit prescribed by law. I don’t want a situation where you would hear that an innocent person living in Buhari or Osinbajo’s house has been kidnapped for ransom simply because they themselves make their addresses and property details open to every Dick and Harry. But, if they choose, they may still make public disclosures. Those who, for whatever reason, can’t wait can exploit the Freedom of Information Act and ask to be shown their disclosures with the Code of Conduct Bureau.

What is your take on the advice offered by the National Peace Committee led by Abdulsalami Abubakar to Buhari on the corruption war? I mean what Bishop Kukah told journalists.

You mean the plea to shield former President Jonathan from the anti-corruption searchlight? Bini people have a saying that it is the shit below that pushes out the shit at the top. President Buhari either goes the whole hog in probing the Jonathan administration or forget about anti-corruption. I’m sure he is not targeting Jonathan per se, but it is likely that in probing the NNPC, the sale of NITEL, defence budgets etc some discoveries would start pointing at Jonathan’s Presidential Villa. In that scenario, do we expect Buhari to halt further investigations? Believe me, even Buhari may have some tender feelings for Jonathan, who as a person is a likeable gentleman, but this is not about liking or hating somebody. It is about rescuing this country from drift once and for all. It is about securing a better future for our posterity. I think Father Kukah, a man I respect so much, will feel sorry for himself for ever, directly or by posturing, suggesting that Buhari’s probe should spare Jonathan when he reads the reactions of Nigerians about the issue in the social media. People have come really hard on him and I don’t blame them because enough of corruption, impunity, and sacred “cowism” in this country. We’ve had it to our throat and we are already throwing up. We are sick of corruption.

It is feared that there would be some negative consequences of the current mass entry of PDP members into the party. Is APC not risking implosion? Do you see it standing as a united party to stand in the 2019 election?

As democrats we can’t stop anybody from joining our party even if we don’t like his face. The Nigerian constitution guarantees political freedom anyway. Even former President Jonathan can join the APC in his ward, if he is acceptable to them and nobody up in the hierarchy would be able to stop him. What President Buhari had earlier told defectors to APC is that they shouldn’t expect to start taking governmental positions as ministers and so on immediately. They have to work long for the party and prove they have indeed come to add value to the party.

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