National Coordinator of the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) in this live interview monitored by our correspondent, revealed why he broke the original organisation and how he has been able to succeed in leading the body. He also explained his reasons for supporting former president Goodluck Jonathan during the 2015 election. Excerpts:
Let's know about the issue concerning you and the Founder of OPC, Frederick Fasehun.
It has been resolved. We have reconciled. The crisis of about five years cannot be resolved immediately. Before the reconciliation, there were two parallel executives. We are still meeting. Most of the time, we come together when we have things to discuss to move the organisation forward. I feel the issue would resolve itself very soon. Dr. Frederick Fasehun is now the chairman of Unity Party of Nigeria. So his concentration now is on a partisan organisation than the OPC. We don't want to open old wounds, but at the end of day, with the aims and objectives of the organisation, the OPC would take its own shape. Our relationship is very cordial.
Buhari has been in office for a week now. What is your impression about his presidency?
First, I want to congratulate President Buhari for God giving him the opportunity to be the leader at last after contesting for four times. He had the opportunity the fourth time. I'm not pessimistic that Buhari's administration would make a positive impact based on his antecedents. He is a product with zero tolerance for corruption. He has also given us the impression that he would run a transparent government and reduce cost of governance to stop wastages. So I believe that with such impression, we should expect much from him. But I always say that Buhari may be an angel.
How about the people that surround him?
There is no way a single entity can run a very good government alone without a team. You can't be a good 'Maradona' without a goalkeeper, people in the midfield and defense. What is left for him now is to search for people of like-minds, a good team for a good product because the expectations are high. People monitored his campaign and people want to monitor the way he would implement the campaign promises one after the other. Nigerians were yearning for change. Now that the change has come, I think he should give us good governance.
You seem hopeful, but you were quoted during the campaigns to have said that Buhari cannot change Nigeria. So what has changed to make you start thinking this way?
You may have quoted when the campaign just started, but with time, towards the end of the election, we realised that he is so serious with good governance.
At what point did you realise this?
You know I said he cannot be an angel within many who don't believe in his ideology. His first statement when he was sworn-in shows that he is ready to make the change. If I say I am pessimistic about you, it is left for you to now prove me wrong. It is now left for Buhari to prove me wrong on what I have said. Look, in politics, there is no permanent friend or enemy.
It seems you have truly changed your mind, because categorically, you said...
Can you even tell me where I said it?
It was reported in the papers.
Like what papers?
What I normally said is that I am not pessimistic about Buhari, but what about the people around him. I'm talking about his political associates in the party. Majority of them are products of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). So when I said that I am not sure that people surrounding him would be good product, it doesn't mean I was condemning Buhari. I'm not giving Buhari a passmark until after six months. I believe we should play less about Buhari till six months and see what happens.
You talked about Buhari's ability to reduce corruption, but you openly campaigned for Goodluck Jonathan and promised him 6 million votes. If you believe, based on what you are saying that there is corruption, why then did you campaign for Jonathan?
I have had relationship with President Goodluck Jonathan for over seven years even as a Vice President. Secondly, I am one of those who agitated for a national conference. At the end of the day, this man organised a platform for Nigerians to discuss everything about the country, he gave us a blank-cheque to discuss and decide. At the end of the day, majority of us who attended the national conference agreed to support Jonathan so that he could implement the report. That was the cogent reason and it was not me alone who supported. When you monitor reports, you would notice that other socio-cultural groups in Nigeria including the Afenifere and the Yoruba Council of Elders followed suit. So our support for Goodluck Jonathan was based on ideology. Some of my friends were even complaining that I had joined the PDP but I told them that I am not a member of the PDP, but that I was supporting a candidate in the party. You have a choice. There were groups who supported Buhari but who are not members of the party. I still remain a leader of the OPC and have the right to support a candidate I wish to. Any right-thinking progressive believes in the restructuring of this country. Now, Buhari is in power, but I am not sure that he would think of implementing the national conference report in the next two years. For us to solve Nigeria's problem, we must restructure the country, but let's give the new President a trial. We have to give him time.
Many Nigerians do not think the national conference was a great idea, because if you sold it to Nigerians, the former President would still be in power...
Nigeria was eager for change of power, not thinking about ideology or the concepts that give good governance. We are all Nigerians and we know we behave. I remember during the military era, when the leaders would give you different promises and you see people excited. After eight months, they would start criticizing and abusing that government. I am not praying that should happen because we are in the process of building a very good democracy. I don't want a break in the process. So let's wait and see what would happen.
What happened to your 6 million votes?
You are talking of 6 million votes. Do you forget that the total votes for Jonathan was more than 6 million? The structure of OPC is in 33 states. Our votes did not reflect in South-West alone. It is left for you to go and investigate if 6 million people in OPC voted for Jonathan. After all, the votes for Jonathan is more than 6 million.
We heard after the election that you lost your polling booth, so how come you promised votes but could not gather votes in your booth?
It is a serious fallacy and I am glad you brought up the question. We won the presidential election for Jonathan and won the governorship election.
Who are 'we' ?
I am talking about people of like-minds who supported Jonathan. It wasn't only me. People also supported Jonathan in that polling booth. But before the end of the election that day, some people sent information that Otunba Gani Adams was defeated in his booth. The Sun newspaper called us two hours after the counting of votes and we gave them the figures, but they went ahead and published. I called the editor the following day and he said we should send a rejoinder, but I told him the damage had been done. I'm not a politician, but you must not do anything that would slight my integrity. He apologised at the end of the day. The records of the election in Abule Ado is there. It was a false report.
Your organisation is not a security agency. So most people wondered why you were given the contract to monitor pipelines. Was it a deal to win votes for Mr. President?
The contract issue had been on since two and half years ago. If you monitor the media, you would hear Dr. Fashun spoke a lot about it and that it got to a stage we were saying it should be 50:50. Then, Alhaji Lai Mohammed heat up the issue warning that the contract should not be given to OPC. But suddenly, three months to the election, I got a call from the consultant who said that he was the consultant to the NNPC. He then narrated the entire issue about the contract and said it had got to a stage of approval and that I was needed in Abuja. So I called Abuja to be sure that it was not a fraud. After confirmation, we flew to Abuja. There, I was told that they had resolved to approve it and that was all.
Did you put the proposal forward?
Yes, we did.
But do you think it was your duty to guide pipelines? Is it the right thing to do?
Do you know how many streets OPC is securing in the South West? About 30 percent of urban areas is being secured by the OPC. We thought we have the capacity. Most groups in the Niger Delta have been doing it since the Obasanjo regime. So what stops us here from doing it? We started securing most of the streets in Yorubaland free of charge till when the landlords began to say they would be paying us some money. So when we saw that we could stop the national cake from being stolen by criminals, we had to propose for it.
The takeover of the pipeline security by your organisation has been tied to serious increase in illegal bunkering...
Who gave you such information?
That's a wrong information. Since we started on March 16, but the police handed over to us on April 26. And since then, the activities of illegal vandals have reduced. You can confirm it from the NNPC. The major area is Arepo and you know what goes on there. You know how many lives have been lost in Arepo? Since we started, we have reduced it because most of these trailers parking on the express way are involved in it.
How many months is the contract to elapse?
Three months, but they told us that based on our performance, we would be reconsidered. NNPC has now told us that we have done more than was expected. In fact, my line is the hottest within the system.
So you mean the contract should elapse by this month?
Yes, this month.
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Now, the new President has said the military might be taken over that area...
Let me tell you, the issue of contract is not a do-or-die. Our performance would convince Mr. President to either give it to us or not. We are doing a service to the nation. Security issues are not left to the security agencies alone all over the world. The Forest Guard in Britain is not a conventional security body. The Civil Defence started before it was recognised. We are not contesting security with the police, army or any other agency. We are only doing something to complement their jobs. When you have someone living in a place where pipeline passes through, such person has better opportunity to secure it than the police you bring from Nasarawa or Gombe. That contract will give 15,000 youths jobs in South West and the lowest paid is N50,000. It is a way of empowering them.
What's your relationship with Bola Ahmed Tinubu?
He is a brother and we are very close.
Did you fall out with him at anytime during the election?
There can be differences in politics. You may have your views and I have mine.
Are you saying this because the elections are over?
I don't relate with you because you are in power. Go and ask our governors. If you don't invite me, I won't come to your Government House. God is enough to provide my needs. If we are doing anything in your state, if you don't support us, God will do it. I don't build my relationship because you are in power and I don't betray. I will not say because Jonathan is no longer in power, my friend is my friend whether in power or not. I am cordial with him (Tinubu), he is my brother, he is a political figure in Yorubaland and I am not his enemy.
What about the governor of Lagos State?
He is a new person. I am not close to Ambode. He is just coming into power.
You did say at a time that you had no faith in Jega and you led a protest.
If you want to dig into that, I would offend a lot of people. The protest was one of the most peaceful since June 12, 1993. Since then, we have not had one that had such a large turn-out. The purpose of the protest included issues with the card readers and poor distribution of voters cards. Not up to 50 percent of the cards were distributed to some states in the South West. After the election, the figure was so low in the south West and we are talking about the creation of more polling units in the North than in the South. So our argument was that Jega should do something about these or resign. In the election, you could imagine the figures that were coming out. In Oyo State, we had a figure of about 600,000 while in Katsina, we heard of 1.2 million. In Ondo, the two political parties did not score up to 600,000, but in Zamfara, we had a figure of more than 1million, in Kaduna, it was 1.2 million while in Kano, it was 1.9 million. It is a bad precedence for the South West.
Was the fault as a result of poor turnout in the South West or Jega's?
We thought that the result of poor distribution of voters cards affected most of the Southern states.
How would you rate Jega now because a lot of people have praised him.
They can praise him, but he did serious damages. It is not an issue of today. Nigerians would realise it in the future.
Why do you think Jega deliberately did it?
He is the head. Anything that happens to the Nigerian economy would be blamed on Buhari just like it happened to Jonathan. Jega asked for money and was given and promised Nigerians that they would get their cards at the right time. So we had the right to protest. Thank God Jonathan conceded. If not, we don't know what would have happened to Nigeria. That was one of the qualities we saw in Jonathan that made us support him. He believed that the presidency was not a do-or-die. And we see that after the election.
The OPC is one of the factionalised, sectional groups in the country...
Go and trace the history of our dear nation. Any organisation that has up to 10,000 cannot stay together for more than five years without factions. Even political parties, we know what happened to PDP before the election. We have to thank God, OPC is almost 22 years now and is still existing as an organisation. Do you know how many organisations pulled out from Uwazurike? Even Afenifere now has the main one and the renewal group. Nigeria is used to that. By the time an organisation gains prominence, you would see some rabble-rousers that would break away.
But people say that was what you did.
I did it based on the interest of the people and I succeeded in moving the organisation more than expected. I did not do it against the wish of the people. Assuming I did it against the wish of the people, I would not be able to sustain it. I would not have existed since 1999. And look at what I have done for OPC and how many organisations I have founded from OPC. If I were an opportunist, I would not have succeeded in building OPU (Oodua Progressive Union) in about 57 countries.
How do you think we can curb Boko Haram?
I don't subscribe to the ideology of Boko Haram. I don't believe an organisation that has ideology would be killing and maiming without telling the people what it stands for. It is a serious guerrilla warfare organisation. Not withstanding, I think to subdue the crisis of Boko Haram, all hands must be on deck.
Are there ways the OPC can help?
Definitely we can help. We have lost a lot of people in the North and it affects the image of the country. I just came back from Istanbul where I invited some people to Nigeria for a festival, but they said they won't come because of Boko Haram. Three months ago, I was in Johannesburg and I invited them but they said because of the Boko Haram. It is difficult to explain to them that this thing happens in the North. I am not a businessman. We are only talking about cultural exchange. Now imagine someone who is a businessman and trying to invite his expatriate friend. We have written Mr. President and suggested the way he would move the country forward.
It would be recalled that the OPC leader promised former president, Goodluck Jonathan 6 million votes during the last election.