In an interview, the Director-General for Obi/Datti Presidential Campaign Council, Akin Osuntokun, speaks to AYOOLA OLASUPO about post-election matters in the Labour Party, restructuring among other issues of national interest

After the general election, has the Labour Party been able to carry out a post-mortem analysis of what transpired during the elections?

Yes, of course. It is not for only us to carry out the postmortem analysis. The media, INEC, and other relevant organisations should have done that too, and the conclusions we are going to get will not be difficult from the ones they have. All the observers and the international observers who witnessed the election have written an initial report. The external report of the election was quite comprehensive and objective. The profile of the ‘Obedient’ is that the majority of them do not belong to the party; some do not belong to any political party at all but there are some who are probably members of the Peoples Democratic Party or the All Progressives Congress.

So, we have a number of them who are united in their belief that Nigeria finds all the answers we have been seeking on what the proper leadership of the country is, and so that was the inspiration behind Peter Obi’s statement. Of course, we also recall the role of the judiciary. Ordinarily, the judiciary shouldn’t have such a big profile in post-election matters. It has become a general profile of the judiciary to avert the course of justice.

We saw all of that in the past year. It’s not merely restricted to elections. It has become the profile of the judiciary to misguide justice. We saw all of that in the past year. Direct evidence was provided by the husband of the former president of the Court of Appeals and then the retired Supreme Court judge in his valedictory address, accusing the judiciary outright of being subverted, becoming the agent of injustice rather than justice.

Is the party facing any pressure so far?

To begin with, I don’t hold any executive position in the party. So, I don’t speak for the Labour Party. The party has an organised structure that engages the public. I’ve not been very happy with a lot of things that have been done by the party, specifically when I came to the party to become the Chief Executive of the campaign. I don’t feel myself necessarily as an executive of the Labour Party. I didn’t come to the Labour Party to get the position. I got the position on merit, not that I’m a member of the party. I can’t speak authoritatively for the party. There has been pressure before now. Unfortunately, it’s not happening to me. The Labour Party is the one that is the platform. You see these guys; they will go and subvert the structure. That is the Labour Party that we have. The entire disagreement is being sponsored. It is being sponsored to cause trouble.

You were previously in the People Democratic Party before defecting to the LP,  where you hold a relevant position. What necessitated your defection from the PDP?

There was a question of defecting or not defecting. The party system in Nigeria is still in the stage of formation. We cannot differentiate them from their functional categories. I’m saying that what is the difference between the APC and PDP? Ideologically, is there any difference between the two? So, the party system is still in the stage of formation. Today, some people are in the PDP, and people are defecting here and there and vice versa. Sixty per cent of those in the APC probably come from the PDP. It is not a question of defecting or not. I don’t defect from anywhere. The thing is I take a personal position in every electoral cycle to support that candidate that corresponds to my idea of who should be the president of Nigeria.

One of the parties now is in the Zenith Labour Party, African Democratic Party, or whatever is the relevant one. I was in it. The only party I can categorically say that we formed and joined was Alliance for Democracy. All other ones, thereafter, were accidental or incidental. Former President (Olusegun) Obasanjo invited me to lead his campaign in 2002; it was not that I was a member of the PDP but it was based on self-recognition. So, when I took up the appointment, the natural assumption was that I was in the PDP. The PDP is antithetical to my idea of who should become the president of Nigeria. There is no way I can support the party whose candidate is another Fulani Muslim. That would negate all the things that I have said and that I speak for.

So, when people talk about defection, I think they don’t take the time to understand what is happening. Was that a defection from the PDP? It is not a defection from any party, because I am not in any party. A party is an idea. People have been reading what I have been writing for the past 10 years to realise my passion for a person from South-East origin as the president of Nigeria. We are talking about national integration and national unity, then they have to reflect it in the actions they take. I am going to ask you if the philosophy behind power is precisely the fact that not every part of the country will subscribe to have every reason to believe that nobody is more Nigerian than the other.

If you look at what has happened since 1999, we have had a president and vice president from the South-West, South-South, and the North. The notion is that once the president resides in a particular zone for eight years, then it will be zoned to another part of the country; the South this time around. The South comprises of three zones; the South-West, South-East, and the South-South. Out of those three zones, it is only the South-East that has not had a shot at the presidency of Nigeria. How does that depict a sense of fairness?

Can you throw more light on the statement that you made some time ago that President Bola Tinubu understands the power of propaganda and invested heavily in it?

The observation is self-explanatory. What I mean of course is that he has invested, as a politician, he has invested in the media and the purpose of that investment is to promote whatever he stands for, to promote his political aspirations and ambitions. So, generally, everybody understands that. But as I said, that is another point for him. Of course, there is an advantage for coming from the South-West. They are the intelligentsia. He (President Tinubu) has the advantage of working with the media. So, they have a very good relationship with the media and of course, to an extent in that respect, there is nothing peculiar about it. That happens all over the world.

So, what can you say about the PDP in that regard? Will you say that it adversely affected their performance during the elections?

No, that is not what I’m saying. If you look at the period that the PDP was in power, it was roughly from 1999 to 2015. One thing that you would notice about the political party and the government was that they were not very skillful in publicity and propaganda. They were just sitting down like a duck. But maybe they didn’t feel any need for it. Essentially, of course, they said to themselves that the PDP meant power. Power alone is not enough to make you politically rooted in any environment. We also need to cultivate the goodwill of the people to skillfully use whatever achievements we have to project ourselves as what society needs. 

I’m just extrapolating from the period the PDP was in power. If you compare it to the APC, you will easily get the point I’m making. Of course, the Tinubuist and Tinubu faction of the APC was very adept at making use of manipulation of public opinions, projecting it with a very skillful use. I mean projecting themselves as progressives when nobody knows what a progressive is all about.

In the past eight years, if you ask me to make a distinction in the ideological persuasion between the APC and PDP, I discovered that there is no distinction, but here we are. Of course, the government of former President Muhammadu Buhari in the past eight years was the worst in the history of Nigeria. The implications are so huge that nobody can desire the devastation that they wrath on Nigeria. If you want to do a comparative analysis of the PDP and the APC, in the Fourth Republic, one of the things you will notice is the adept use of the media and publicity by the APC.

When Lai Muhammed was the Publicity Secretary of the APC, you were able to see what he did, and of course, they had a lot of foot soldiers coming out of the place, especially from the South-West and of course, everybody knows that Tinubu owns The Nation Newspaper. So, they took it very seriously. They have a right and they know how to use the media which is why we have to compliment them for that, which is different from their performance. The reality is that they were better able to use the media to solve their problems than the PDP. The PDP most of the time just sat down like a sitting duck.

You dropped your ambition to run for the Senate to take over as the Director General of the Labour Party presidential campaign council. Now that Obi did not emerge and all election matters are over, do you feel any sense of regret that you dropped the ambition?

I have no regrets. I wanted to go for the Senate on the platform of the Labour Party, not the Zenith Labour Party. It was part of my design to build and I said I was going to build up where Peter Obi was contesting.

Has the Labour Party been able to offer any kind gesture to its supporters who were attacked in Lagos State during the grand finale of the presidential campaign rally, especially the one who had his hand amputated?

Of course, I was involved in one when he needed to foot a bill of N1m. So, I raised the N1m funds for him. Peter Obi and the campaign organisation offered support and assistance to those who found themselves in difficult situations. Of course, you know you cannot satisfy everybody, even in the political party that we are.

There was a claim that the LP and Obi didn’t pay their polling unit agents their wages during the election, and this affected the party in one way or the other. How true is that?

I don’t know. We are not in a position to pay all our polling agents. That is the truth. We never had the money to do so. We had to narrow it down to where we can. We had a situation in which people that performed the role of agents, and polling agents were not enumerated. It was just their initiative to do so in most parts of the country. It is a fact that we couldn’t pay many of the agents.

But some people were saying that the funds were available and that they were mismanaged by some of the executives of the party.

Well, I don’t know where the information that the funds were available came from. Some funds were available but it was used to offset and didn’t go around the country. In any case, for anybody who is a party agent, should that be the concern if you truly love the party you are working for? Unfortunately, the Labour Party platform is a mixed flag. We have the likes of many of the people in the Labour Party who are there as machinery and things like that. They are not used to the idealism that the ‘Obidients’ represent. The Lamidi Apapa and Arabambi are typical of the Labour Party of the past. This is a problem. We have people with different motives. In the short period that we had to put everything together, there was no room to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The Lamidi Apapa faction of your party accused Peter Obi of being complicit in the national leadership crisis in the party. What can you say about this?

These people are the problem. These are the worst of the types of Nigerian politics. They are lucky because somebody exhumed them from somewhere with the intent of giving them money; they are those, who are down and out of their luck. If you say that you love the party, you won’t be doing things like that. I don’t know whether to say that Peter Obi should have intervened; intervened to do what? They even went to the Supreme Court. They wanted to withdraw Obi’s case but they had been anticipated. So, the first responder was Obi himself, then the Labour Party. These are the people who are claiming to love the party. What do you want me to say about those people? These are thugs. And these are people who are down with their luck.

Peter Obi said the LP would fully adjust to play its new role as the main opposition party. Do you agree with this position?

Of course, it is normal because that is the role that the Labour Party is supposed to play.

You are saying that the Labour Party will take the forefront as the main opposition party but we have always known that the PDP has been the main opposition party in Nigeria. What do you think about that?

I don’t know why you emphasise the main opposition party. You don’t need that to play your role. Anybody can come and play. I don’t have any problem. I don’t quibble about whether you call anybody the main opposition party or not. That’s your own decision. I don’t know whether the PDP wants to play the role of opposition. Peter Obi cannot wish the PDP away and say go away; we are now the main or major opposition party. That’s not how it works. It is of no essence.

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