In the next few months, popular politician, Dr. Doyin Okupe will be 70, but he is unhappy that Nigeria is in a mess today. That is the reason he wants to run for presidency in 2023. Read on, its an explosive interview
Do you blame Buhari for what the state of the nation today?
When I was in NRC, a very senior member of the party, we told him, we needed to set up a committee urgently, that he should constitute a Committee of Seven, but he should use only the people he trusts and those he knows best because it was a special job we need to give the committee. That’s was on Friday. On Monday when we came back, he brought the list of 7 people, 5 of them were from his state. The other 2 were also from neighbouring states. We challenged him and say, this is a national party, and he said, we have instructed him to use the people he can trust. The politics we are playing that allow Buhari to do the things that he’s doing, that system is what is wrong. We should clamour for a system that, no matter what position you hold, it will be impossible for you to stray along with personal vested interest.
There’s a federal character act, but we are too sycophantic, we cannot speak truth to the system. When I was with President Obasanjo, I was more than a media aide, we were very close, I was glued to him 24 hours so I know his mind and all that. I didn’t really have an official post that was strong so if the president meets with the minister, by the privilege I am free to be there, and when he takes a decision, the president will look at my eyes, and see that I am not in agreement with the decision. By the time the guest leaves, he will call me and say ‘Mr Man, what’s your problem?’ and I will tell him straight, ‘Your excellency, that decision is wrong. Then I will give my reasons. Sometimes he will say, okay, I see. And sometimes he will not say anything, sometimes he will say ‘Go and sleep’.
Then sometimes, days later he will call me and asked me again, what did you say was the problem with the decision at that time, and I will list them out again. But I dare say I was the only one, maybe a maximum of two in an entire garment of government who will look at the president in the face and say, you’re wrong sir. One day, one a certain matter, I told him he was wrong and he said, I think you are getting too big for your shoes.
But I stood my ground.
So, in this country, we do not speak truth to power, especially those who are beneficiaries of power, because it is the position that has given them relevance in this country. I have been like that for long time, I can only add value to the government that I belong. I have been out of government for a long time, but I am still relevant, it’s because my opinions are still important. So the more we do not have people who have already cut their teeth in government and governance, the more the new leaders rough-ride both the system and the people.
When you appoint 19 people and 17 are from one particular area, somebody is the one typing the thing now.
I have seen the list of a promoted permanent secretaries and I was supposed to go and announced it. I went to the president’s office, and I will tell you that I met somebody who is also in government, but he was a northerner, and he was very high in that same government. I just went in and say, Mr President, this list is lopsided. He said, ‘is that so?
I said yes, look at it. I told him the north was poorly represented, he looked at it and saw it. He said, oh that’s true. Please come back, and let me make adjustments. The man with President Obasanjo that day is Ibrahim Gusau. When he left the presidential office, he was the NSA, he sent for me. He said, Doctor, I had respect for you, but today, let me tell you my respect for you is hundred times that of before. He added that if people like me are many in this country, we will go far. I am saying this publicly, General Ibrahim Gusau is still alive.
I will tell you what he did one day. My son was just admitted to Buckingham University and I don’t have the money. I was just talking to someone about it and he was sitting close, so he heard me. The next morning, he sent for me and gave me an envelope, I think it was 10,000 dollars or 15,000 dollars and he said, ‘I heard about your son, congratulations, this is to support you’. Shagari once said when you are in a high position in this country, only God can save you from the sycophancy of Nigerians.
I have been in a meeting where a very senior member of the national assembly rise up and said, Mr President, if you leave this your post, this country is finished. I was speechless. I have also seen a very powerful member of the cabinet, look at the President in the face and say, Mr President, you can do anything, and he hit the table hard, and say, Mr President! After God, you are next!. Now, if you get that kind of comment every day, even you will start to think he’s actually god.
I have also seen a cabinet member who came to see the President. He was on phone and as soon as he ended his call, the minister got up from his seat, knelt down and crawled on his knees to the president. I was so embarrassed. So when he finished and was going, the president said, ehen you, what’s your own, I said ‘nothing o, I just came here to say hello to you. Because me, I am not a minister, a whole minister who is very much older than me had to kneel to see the President, will I prostrate and dragged my big body to him? (laughs).
These are the things that make even best of our people, lose it if they are not careful. We do not advise authority correctly. Presidents disobey laws, governors flagrantly disregard what is normal. A governor once told me,’ so so person is your friend, and he’s fighting me. He said, ‘while I will be spending government money he will be spending his own. A sitting governor told me in his office. That’s how all his advisers made him to feel.
Sir, All eyes are on 2023, what’s your reading of the situation?
We all have to pray hard, that we get to that point in peace. Politicians only focus of achieving and securing power, they do not look at their environment. If this banditry, kidnapping, mayhem, and insurgency continue, 2023 will be meaningless. Which country are you going to rule over? Where are you going to vote? Who is going to vote?
Number two, Seye, there’s a danger of food crisis in Nigeria as I speak to you. What I am spending in a week, is more than what I am spending in a month two years ago. A thirty thousand naira today can only buy onion, tomato and pepper these days for a week. If I can complain about it, you can imagine my driver, his wife and his children. There’s a looming food crisis that’s worse than insurgency. Many are not employed, those who are employed are underpaid. One of my daughters in iperu just called me and told me she’s leaving her job. She’s a graduate and her job pays N25,000, a graduate! My gardener earns N45,000, and he didn’t go to any school. Here’s is my own daughter, a graduate earning N25,000 and she’s even being owed two months.
So somebody who has a job hasn’t been paid, those who have no job, have no money. In a society where husband and wife and working and they remain poor, then know that there’s a danger. And let me tell you something Seye, I swear to God almighty, the only reason I decided I was going to run for president is that there are too many poor and needy amongst us, and nobody really cares.
I’m telling you. I am not playing to the gallery, that’s from the very bottom of my heart. I want to run a government that will take the matter of hunger as a matter of emergency. I may not do any new road, I will maintain the existing system and repair the ones that need urgent attention. But I will spend one-third of the national budget on social welfare. We have neglected the poor amongst us for too long. They are the ones who have become bandits, they are the one who has become insurgents, they are the ones who have become kidnappers, the robbers, the yahoos; these are eloquent testimonies to massive pervasive longstanding societal neglect.. so 2023 to me is a mirage. Although I have a passion to achieve what I intend to achieve I do not see the road clearly.
People are leaving the country en masse, even the embassies are not treating applicants well. The embassies leave our people in the scourging sun. Old people are applying to leave the country. People have lost interest in the system. They have lost faith. The youths have no hope. There’s despair. Let people come together and halt this crisis.
The poor people are the majority, they constitute about 80 per cent of the population and they re just leaving. Imagine an elderly man who is about to complete his how in Nigeria, sold his house and relocated abroad with his family. And we are here shouting APC PDP. I am also ashamed but I am also powerless to do anything; that is the greatest frustration and regret I am having right now. This is the most frustrating period of my life. You know when there’s something to be done, you have an idea of what it is to be done and you can’t do anything.
For instance, I have written letters, I have used contacts to reach my brother, Governor El-Rufai in Kaduna, I am saying it publicly. To say, my brother, I want to come and see you. I am not looking for contracts, I am not looking for money. I have an idea of what you can do to stop this incessant kidnapping of school children in Kaduna. And I met El-Rufai at a function and I said, governor, I have done, this and that to request your attention, and he said it’s true that he got them. You see what I mean. And the issue is still going on unabated. To see how things have turned.
People don’t sit around the table anymore to discuss and solve issues, they go to court. Over forty years I have spent in politics I have not seen that absurdity. What kind of politics is that? Have you heard Labour or Conservatives go to court? It’s a free association, you are not compelled to be there, and if you want to be part of an entity by choice, for goodness sake there are rules, but those who are at the helm of affairs do not even obey their own rules.
I give you a classic example, look at APC, I’m not trying to accuse anymore the first paragraph of APC constitution talks about restructuring. This is their 6th year in government, restructuring is like ampicillin, they spit it out when they taste it. That’s how restructuring is to them. Deception is accepted in Nigeria as a major pillar of governance and interrelationship. Whatever you are in Nigeria, without deception, you are a nobody. You must be able to deceive. Government deceive people, people deceive the government, we all lie to each other. And the lie is of the devil. Officially, people deceive us, unofficially we deceive ourselves and the government, so how can we make progress. It’s difficult.
How do you feel at 70?
So grateful. But I’m just hoping that God will just do some miracle that I will have power and opportunity. I’m not looking for money, or name or fame. I’m just looking for a platform, and my major concern almost exclusive concern is for the poor in this country. And if I have 4 years, just a term. My mission is one, lead the nation, reunite our various zones, and the people, establish farming on the ground, a social welfare program that will ensure that no Nigerian go to bed without food in his stomach; No Nigerian youth is unable to attend school, because his father doesn’t have money to see him through. That no person will die of sickness. We will all die no doubt, but 70 per cent of deaths in Nigeria are preventable. In four years, I will ensure that it will be impossible for you to die just because you don’t have money. It has to be that your time has come. Straighten out our education, because if there is no education there won’t be a future. If I’m able to do that, then in four years we can have brilliant and vibrant young people that we would have trained and we will hand over to them, they will now take the country to a stable healthy united country. They will have a platform to spring.
How do you see the possibility of the southern politicians that are likely to run for the presidency?
Like Asiwaju. I have the greatest respect for Asiwaju. I used to be very close to him although we have never been on the same side politically, you know we have always maintained a close link. Asiwaju is competent. He has capacity. If he’s well enough, I have said it before, he will be a good president. But I’m a better person to fit that position than him for various reasons.
I am much more of a nationalist in terms of my background and in terms of my outreach than him. He has operated mainly on a regional basis, but I have done nearly 30 years on the national platform. Even though I have so much respect for his organisational ability, I believe I am also slightly better endowed. But I have absolute confidence in him that if he’s elected, Nigeria will benefit from him.