2023: I’ll only drop my presidential ambition if slot is zoned to South-East – Dr Doyin Okupe

Dr Doyin Okupe has been lying low in the political scene since the defeat of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2015 general elections. Though still undecided on which platform to align with, he has made a declaration of his intention to join the 2023 presidential race.

This is even as he urged the APC and PDP to concede their tickets to the Southeast, promising to drop his ambition in favour of the concession.

Excerpts:

How would you react to the issue of power shift that is generating controversy between the North and the South?

If a Northern president has just concluded his Northern presidency, it is unjustifiable under any guise whatsoever for us to have another president from the North back-to-back for another eight years. The pronouncement of the Northern Governors’ Forum is astonishing. The language that was used to describe the pronouncement of the Southern governors is also highly unexpected. You don’t talk about your colleagues like that. In this country, we must learn to respect one another. There is no part of the country that is subservient to the other. There is nobody in the North; no matter the position the person occupies, that is superior to any counterpart in the South or anywhere else. To say that the Southern governors are confused is very unfortunate. What we must recognise is that the country has changed a lot, but some people are still living in the past. The citizens of the North in the 60s, and 80s are different from citizens of this 21st Century. Ditto for those in the South. It will be a matter of regret later.

The tension generated by the pronouncement in the last couple of days is already heating up the polity. Is that not a worrisome signal? 

The tension in the country is so great that if we do not apply wisdom, we may find ourselves in places we do not expect. I do not expect any group of leaders to gather in a place and make a declaration that can engulf the nation in crisis even under provocation. What has been done by the proclamation from Kaduna is to remove the political device we were hitherto operating on and replacing it with the North and South dichotomy. That is a dangerous development. From what I have seen, the APC and PDP are dead parties because their roles have been substituted with regional consideration. It doesn’t make sense for me now to go to the NEC meeting of my party when irrevocable decisions have already been taken. So, what are we going to discuss at our NEC meeting? What are we going to decide at our convention? These decisions have been taken already. The South says there must be a Southern president. The North says under no circumstances would they agree to power rotation. These issues have gone beyond political parties. As far as I am concerned, political parties have become irrelevant. And unless something is done very quickly, we may be heading for the rocks.

It’s like the governors are trying to play on the numerical strength of the North to spite their colleagues in the South. Don’t you think so?

I am the first person to admit that the North can become president on their own without any support from the South. The constitution says that if at the first ballot, nobody meets the criteria of securing a clear majority or 25 per cent of the vote cast in 2/3 of the states, there will be a rerun. For the rerun, the constitution says the winner shall emerge by a simple majority. This implies that if a Northern candidate is presented and nobody voted for him in the South, he can win with simple majority of votes from the North. But he will be a Northern president and not a president of Nigeria, mark my words.

Is that not where the country is headed now with the present scenario?

It is very obvious unless something is done very quickly. As an insider and as a stakeholder, I have had the privilege of seeing this country approaching the verge of collapse, but some people moved in quickly to avert the collapse. These people are still alive though they may have become old or temporarily incapacitated because of illness and all of that. But they still maintain their wisdom and political sagacity to put things together. I am talking about General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), former President Olusegun Obasanjo, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (rtd), General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Emmanuel Iwuayanwu, John Nwodo, and former President Goodluck Jonathan. These people must within the next 72 hours come together quickly to intervene because the cleavage that has been unveiled cannot be closed unless something urgent is done. It will be difficult for Nigerians to trust one another for a long time now. But we can still build a bridge to close the fault line to allow for a peaceful co-existence. The North-South dichotomy has been announced in Kaduna and it is very unfortunate.

From the current political permutation that is going on now, there may be a scenario where the APC will present a Southern candidate, while the PDP will field a Northern candidate.  If that happens, the race would be the North versus South scenario. What do you think?

That will be a recipe for disaster politically. A scenario like that is a recipe for disaster. And nothing good will come out of it. But I want to say that that scenario is not likely because the acting chairman of the APC is a Northern and he is one of the governors who said that power would not shift to the South. How is he going to preside over a convention where they will declare a Southern candidate as president? We have boxed ourselves into a very dangerous corner. If APC chooses a Southern candidate, and PDP chooses a Northern candidate that is a disaster. If the two parties choose Northern candidates, that will be double jeopardy. The only solution is for the two parties to field Southern candidates. It has happened before when Olu Falae was chosen as APP candidate and Olusegun Obasanjo was chosen as PDP candidate. It is part of the sacrifices we must continually make to keep the country together as one. From day one, this country was built on sacrifice. When the South was ready for independence in 1958, the North said they were not ready. Instead of Nnamdi Azikwe and Obafemi Awolowo going ahead and declare the Republic of Southern Nigeria, they decided to wait for two years for the North to get its acts together and team up with them. And that is why we have Nigeria today. So, we have always lived by sacrifice. The North has never said because of their large population they will continue to have the president until now. The South has not said because they are the most educated they will occupy all the posts. It has never been done. You know that I have declared to run for the president of this country. I want to run for the presidency because of the rampaging poverty in the country. But as much as I want to be president, in truth and honesty, the next Nigerian president should come from the Southeast. If the whole Nigerians will be fair, I am willing to drop my presidential ambition. If there can a universal concession in the country to zone the president to the Southeast, l will drop my ambition and I will work for a Southeastern candidate. I am going to run unless the APC and PDP come to a consensus that Southeast should produce the next president. If that comes up, I will drop my ambition for the Southeast. But in the absence of that, I will still run whether or not the North says power is not going to shift. Let me be defeated at the poll.

Some people see the declaration by the Northern Governors’ Forum as a reaction to the issue of VAT, knowing full well that most of the states in that region depend largely on revenue coming from the federation account…?

(Cuts in) What people are asking for is a nation at peace under an unjust law. The constitution is silent on VAT. It is not on the Exclusive List of the Federal Government. But we can have legislation that says because all fingers are not equal in this country, states that have higher revenue will devolve 10 or 15 per cent of their IGR to the Federal Government who will now share appropriately as they consider fit; after all, the oil that we share is owned 100 per cent by a section of the country. But we appropriate everything to the Federal Government and give them 13 per cent derivation. We must have justice in everything that we do. Any system that is built on injustice will not stand. Let us come together as a nation and agree on how we live like brothers.

You must have been reading the insinuation in the media that former President Goodluck Jonathan is being teased for another presidential contest. What is your take on this matter?     

Former President Jonathan is a citizen of the country and he has the right to take whatever decision he wants to take. It is also his right to contest the presidential election for another term of four years if he wishes to do so. He is equally free to join any political party that he wishes. But if I were to advise, I will say that ex-President Jonathan has become a national icon. To step into the political arena now is going to injure that status.

Isn’t it just an ordinary myth for anybody to talk about one North now?

That is a fact. There is nothing like one North again. The Middle Belt is a different kettle of fish altogether. Kwara has a very strong presence of Yoruba people who do not owe allegiance to the North. The same thing with Kogi with a sizeable population of the Yoruba and other ethnic groups who may not necessarily kowtow to the North. Those that will follow the North may be a majority in Nassarawa, not too clearly a majority in Adamawa and Taraba states. Benue and Plateau are not under political obligation to align with the Northwest.  When you talk about one North, you are talking about core North which is Northwest and a majority of the Northeast. Any other thing is a pipe dream, quote me.

That implies that your assumption that the North can on its own win an election is not realistic. Is it?

That is on the assumption that they will be able to keep their house in order and settle internal dissension. But if they are unable to do so, they are not numerically stronger. – The Sun.

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