Dr Doyin Okupe will be 70 in a few months. But nothing has changed about this Medical Doctor turned politician. He has remained an assertive individual who prefers to position himself on the side of the common man and identify with pressing grassroots concerns to shape lasting and sustainable solutions to most problems.
He has spent more than 40 years in active politics. Dr Okupe’s intimidating political and administrative credential precedes this fearless and dogged fighter who is yet to give up on the unity and existence of a one Nigeria.
The former presidential aide, in this interview, made it known that he is the most fairly well-prepared person to be the next Nigerian President
We want you to share how you see the country today?
Seye, you and I have come a long way. You are older now, and I am much older. I will be 70 next year. We are in a big big mess. It is at the government level, federal state, and local. It is at a business level, private sector. It is at a family level. So, we don’t really know where to start from. The degeneration is pervasive. Believe me sincerely.
If you start a business and you put people there, they will ruin it. Dishonesty is the order of the day. It has nothing to whether you are in the government or you are not in government. If you have a case and you report the matter to the police, you will have to pay, the person you reported will also have to come and also pay.
There’s total moral decadence in the nation. I’m not going to blame APC or PDP, because in the first instance for me, there’s no difference between people who are in APC or PDP, in terms of the calibre of men and women. Be that as it may, we as a nation, have become terrible lots; very uncaring, not ready to obey laws or rules; looking for advantages only for ourselves. Practising absolute dishonesty and ungodliness in all spheres of our lives. And it’s not easy to just say, it’s the fault of politicians. That’s not correct. Maybe through, persistent leadership failure, we have allowed the nation to disintegrate.
But did you see it coming?
Seye, it’s good that you are asking me this question. Over 30 years ago when I was in NRC as the Publicity Secretary, I made a major press conference in which you were present, and I said then that not this crop of Nigerian elites will save Nigeria. That was over 30 years ago. They nearly expelled me from the NRC at that time for that. But see what has happened?
Our earning structure is barbaric, it is selfish. That is why in my house I have my own fence, my gate, and my borehole. I’ve got security. And I have my own generator. That is the mentality of the Nigerian elite. The Nigerian elite will not say, oh this small street, we have only 21 houses, what can we do to make life easy for ourselves. Maybe to do a joint project. But no. We have the for me and my family mentality. So when we get to political offices too, it doesn’t matter if you are APC or PDP, we still apply the same mentality into it.
The whole nation needs a moral rebirth.
I have a driver, I wanted to buy petrol at a gas station. I wanted to buy fuel of N10,000. The driver got down and whispered to the attendant to sell N8000 worth of fuel, and I heard. And he sold N8,000. By the time we moved a distance, I asked him, “why did you buy N8,000 and started swearing, he almost swore on Ogun (god of iron), that I had to shut him up before he put all of us into trouble (laughs).
Now, also imagine when your boys in the house buy diesel from another Maiguard in the same street. Is the Mai-guard running a gas station? No. He’s stealing from his own boss to sell to others.
When you deliberately pay for a child to sit for JAMB or WAEC at special centres where answers will be written for them, that is not the government. That is you being corrupt.
I have 9 children. Some of them did university here, and they wanted me to speak to the NYSC administrator to influence their choice of state, and I said I will never do it.
I have never found a job for any of my children. I have never influenced posting for 4 of my children that were supposed to do Youth Service. But there are people who are doing that and they are not politicians. While I was in the office I know people who have come to me and asked for unfair favour; some illegitimate, and some unlawful.
The problem of Nigeria is so fundamental the president also has not helped matters in any way. That’s a different dimension altogether, but we as a people, we need to have a national rebirth.
What can you say about people changing from party to party?
Let me tell you when I was in President Jonathan’s government, this issue came up more often and I did research. I figured it’s the thing about politicians all over the world. It’s called crisscross carpenters.
Ronald Reagan started as a democrat, he ended up being a republican president. In the House of Commons in one particular year, over 20 lawmakers cross from labour to conservative party. So, it is not something that is unusual. Party politics is about interest. And all politics is also local. So, if your local interest conflicts with the central politics of your party, what will you be doing there? Staying there is nothing but stupidity. This may not be a popular opinion though, but this is the truth. I’m a practitioner. I’ll give you a classical example; all 17 southern governors, the executive leadership of the south they met and said the presidency must be zoned to the south.
And our local people back their position. Now, if my party takes a decision that is against that position, what will I be doing there? Let’s face it. It’s not a matter of disloyalty. Politics is a profession; the same as how accountancy is run, how nursing is run, and how engineers run their institution.
But because politics is an all comer’s game, you don’t need a certificate to enter It., but there are some people who are professionals like myself; I have been in the system since 1978. If there’s a qualification that is awarded in practical politics, I should be an emeritus professor in politics. So I ought to know what I’m saying. So if Ogun State, which is my constituency, they don’t want open grazing, and my political party says there’s nothing wrong with open grazing, and they start to use it as policy statement, can I follow their presidential candidate on a rostrum? These are the issues. If such things happen, then you are at liberty to move.
Also, politicians like a piece of the action. And that is also natural. Some people feel they cannot play opposition politics, say if you are now 65 years, and you are in PDP. You have played opposition in the last eight years. When you had another 8 years it becomes 73, and you’ll be shocked. Some will consider the issue of finance and all that. But also as a politician, you also want some achievements. It’s all part of your glorification. If you are working in a place, you want to achieve some attainments.
But if you are in the opposition for 16 years, you are not going to have anything. But if you wriggle your way unto the other side, you can become a councillor, a chairman, or even a lawmaker, while other oppositions is at point zero. So, many people will feel like well, it’s not happening on this side, I don’t want to mortgage my life. Let me go to this place to better my status, and rescue my financial situation. People do that. Society will be harsh on them, but it is legitimate.
Sometimes we are not members of our party because our party have policies and principles that agree with us. I’m not in PDP because PDP has some policies that coincide with my dreams and visions, no. I’m just in PDP by happenstance. But if for instance, in the U.K, If you are a labour person, the way labour man reasons, is different from the way the conservatives reasons.
There are guiding philosophies and it’s different from the way the liberal democrats think. So if you cannot practice conservative politics, you are not going to leave labour for conservative politics.
One would have thought that you will be in the APC where things are happening?
You know I have always played opposition politics. As a young man, I didn’t join the UPN even though the UPN was the in-thing around then. I didn’t join AD. I have not joined parties that are preponderantly dominating in the southwest. It has its pros, and it has its cons. I’m not sure did not even regret not doing so. I’ve got people who came much more after me, but because their party is local and they are participating in the party that their people want, they have achieved so much more. I have been a bit lucky, I cannot say so for a few of my colleagues.
God has shown me mercy. If for instance when I joined politics at the age of 28 or so somebody grounded me and told me that all politics is local, inasmuch that I had wanted the idea of unity and oneness in Nigeria, the idea of rising above tribal sentiment, I would heed to that kind of advice. If I’m to advise any young politician today, I will tell him to hold onto that precept, that all politics is local. You cannot be in politics and be against your own people. When others that you seem are being nationalistic with are playing politics that has the aspiration of their own people.