Akin Osuntokun, the new Director General of the Obi-Datti Presidential Campaign Council, shares his thoughts with ADEBAYO FOLORUNSHO-FRANCISon the 2023 elections among other topics
You they were absent from his inauguration in Abuja as the new Director General of the Obi-Datti Presidential Campaign Council. Were you not informed of his appointment?
Of course, they informed me. But I had a previous meeting with one of the sponsors of the party. In fact, it was the presidential candidate who sent me the person in the Southwest. That’s why I wasn’t at the event.
Prior to his appointment, many LP supporters suggested that Isaac Balami would replace Dr. Doyin Okupe. Is the position hierarchical or just some other political appointment?
No, I don’t think we should make every issue political. Remember that the former DG was from the South-West. Naturally, someone from the same region is expected to replace him. He has nothing to do with prejudice. Also, Balami is a wonderful guy. He has also contributed enormously to the party. I think what he counted mainly for my appointment is the fact that I am from the Southwest. I have spoken with Balami. My own interpretation of things is that someone from the Southwest should succeed Dr. Doyin Okupe.
Experts believe that your arrival on the Obi campaign team was the work of your former director, Olusegun Obasanjo. Did you push for this role or were you influenced as speculated?
(Laughter) If I lobbied for the job like you said, will I tell you? There is no need for you to press for this position. I was designated, as you know.
What about the claim that Obasanjo probably handpicked you for this task?
It doesn’t matter. Most important is competence and the ability to do the job. These are my background. Look, I ran two campaigns in the past, specifically in 2003 and 2007, when I was a political adviser to the president. So running another campaign is not new terrain for me. First of all, I am there. I was appointed by my own right and recognition and not because I was the adviser to President Obasanjo.
Are there permutations that the 2023 presidential election can be a three-horse race that could end in a runoff? Do you agree with the notion?
I dont know. Look, if it goes to a runoff, there will be a constitutionally specified procedure for it. That is what matters most. But as we have seen, it is still a projection. We still have between now and February 25 to see how things play out. If it enters the second round, as I said, the Constitution has taken care of that. It will be the referee.
What are the chances of Obi, appearing on the ballot for the first time against Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, who is a veteran presidential candidate, and Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress, who has been described as a strategist? political?
I don’t think there is a basis for such a controversy. Obi is superior to both of them by a wide margin. This time, Nigerians will not agree to be bribed or bought with money. You have seen how people promote the popularity and acceptance of Peter Obi. He is spontaneous and overwhelming. That’s an indication that people have crossed that kind of backward politicking.
Second, at the center of Obi’s campaign are young Nigerians, who have continued to play a role throughout society. They represent and embody their own idea of what Nigerian leadership should be. One of the surprises that we are going to take is the uselessness of buying votes. I’m not scared in that sense.
He may soon come under fire for promoting a southeastern presidential candidate at his relative’s expense. How prepared are you for this attack?
Of course, no! First of all, I’ve been sort of a zonal coordinator in the Southwest and already in the campaign to take on Tinubu. Secondly, I belong to the Afenifere group and that is its position. Third, from the perspective of fairness, equity and justice, there is no area more deserving of producing the President of Nigeria than the Igbo people of the South East. And, of course, as I was saying, we can’t keep comparing Obi with the other two candidates. There is no basis for comparison at all. He is way above the two of them. I have been known to our people in the South West and, dare I say, Nigeria in general. As a person of integrity, I always position myself on the basis of principles. Before I joined this campaign, you have been reading my column over the past few years and can attest to me that I have always championed the cause of the Southeast being awarded the presidency. The Yoruba have overcome that.
Now that you have brought Afenifere onto the scene, we understand that the group has become polarized. The leaders also have differing positions on which presidential candidate the group should support in 2023…
That is incorrect. (Afenifere) has not polarized or divided into factions. The crisis that happened was between the former leaders and Chief (Reuben) Fasoranti. He has even issued a statement distancing himself from the attempt to factionalize the organization. So the supposed factionalization of the organization is not a problem and would not be maintained.
Is it true that you are still a Zenith Labor Party senatorial candidate when you took over as Obi’s campaign general manager?
That is a redundant topic. I have left the ZLP. Actually, it was the Constitution that I wrote. Dan Nwanyanwu was the chairman of the Labor Party (Zenith). It was at his insistence that I joined the party because I thought it was the Labor Party. That was until I found out it was the Zenith Labor Party. So, I’m not a ZLP member anyway. That’s why I say it’s a redundant topic. It has no consequence.
But your name is still visible in the INEC register for the candidates for the 2023 National Assembly. Does it mean that you have given up the race?
Of course, I never took it in the first instance. You can go and check the case for yourself. You can ask even the ZLP leaders, as well as Nwanyanwu himself, who is the president.
Having covered eight states and the FCT, is there a chance that Obi could campaign in the full 36 states or is he looking at some certain strategic areas with less than two months to go until elections?
Why should we ignore any state? That is not our standard. If we ignore a state, that state will not be justified if they say if you don’t come, I understand. What kind of presidential campaign would that be? We are not like (President Muhammadu) Buhari, who was unable to tour 70 percent of the South when he was in Congress for Progressive Change. We are having a serious presidential campaign here. No one should ask us those kinds of questions. Why should there be some states we wouldn’t go to for the campaign?
There are hints that Obi’s campaign team is broke, hence the need to spend less on his campaign. How will you react to that?
Well, you know we’re not moneybags like the other two campaigns, but we have enough funds to do what we have to do. So that’s not a problem. We are different from those wealthy people who have turned (the campaign) into a kind of festival. We are prepared enough to do what we want to do. In any case, we are also taking Nigerians back from the culture of money politics or what they call monetization of politics. And that’s part of it. It is difficult but it is possible to recover people from the destructive policy of monetization.
Can this policy really stop vote buying before the 2023 election?
It’s a mission. Of course, it’s not just for us. It is the task of all Nigerians to stop buying votes. It is a very destructive policy to buy people. I mean these people are not merchandise. It’s obscene. It’s morally and socially offensive to be seen buying people like you’re buying cattle at the market.
It is also believed that there is no silver bullet for vote buying until politicians stop using poverty as a weapon. Do you believe in such a theory?
That’s cynical. But before you can have a taker, you must have a giver. We have to approach it from both ends. The truth is that weaponizing poverty is not good for any society. And of course, those who sell their votes will regret what they have done. It is no different from selling one’s future for a pot of porridge as seen in the case of Esau and Jacob. Do you remember the consequences of his action? Therefore, Nigerians are encouraged not to sell their future.
Are you afraid that 2023 could be marred by violence due to the random attack on the facilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission?
Of course, I’m worried. That is cause for concern. The question is, who are the people who do it and for what purpose? This is because things are not taken at face value in Nigeria. You don’t know who can bring what into the underground election campaign to do whatever. It is not a good seed and there is no way for it to germinate good fruit. And if someone is behind this, God is there. He will visit the consequences on those who do those kinds of things.