Interview By Kayode Falade
The Vice-Presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, in this interview with Kayode Falade, talks about his nomination and other national issues:
Q: You were not in the early picture of contenders for the vice-presidential slot. When and how did your name pop up?
A: I think my name was always being mentioned. My name came up early. Maybe a great deal of importance wasn’t attached to it but it came up early. At least, in the press, it was reported frequently early too. This has been on since almost four or five months ago. There have been speculations for that long. Thus, my name has always popped up.
Q: As a pastor and legal practitioner who is not much of a politician; why did you accept the offer when you were nominated?
A: I accepted the offer because I believe one of the most important contributions that any person can make to a society is public service. For me, it didn’t require much reflection because I have always believed the most effective way of making maximum impact on the welfare and well-being of our society is through public service.
Q: You’ve always emphasized prayers. Did you pray about this before you accepted?
A: I always pray. I prayed about this just as I pray about many things because communication with God at all times is important. I also think people, maybe, get more religious when it comes to political office. People tend to say God told them to do something or the other; but I think the most important thing to bear in mind is that as far as the Christian is concerned, there is something called the priesthood of the believer, which means that every believer is a priest unto God. It also means every believer has a duty to serve man as if we are serving God. In other words, service to man is service to God. For a Christian, especially a pastor, to suggest that if he has an opportunity to serve millions of people, an opportunity to effect policies which may alleviate the sufferings of millions of people, as it is the case in Nigeria, an opportunity to fashion policies that may transform the lives of people, I think it may be hypocritical not to participate in that.
I also believe that when you are committed to doing God’s will — and His will for us all as Christians is that we must participate in solving problems, especially the problems of the needy and those who cannot help themselves — we must do those things. That is part of our calling and in fact, our scripture says that we will be asked on the last day, ‘What did you do when you saw me naked? What did you do when you saw me sick and in prison?’ If we then say, ‘Lord (Jesus), when did we see you hungry? When did we see you sick?’ And then, Jesus will say, ‘Every time you saw those sick people, the poor and the hungry; every time you saw the naked, it was me (Jesus).’ For me, it is almost unthinkable for a Christian to second-guess public service. We must be prepared to serve the people. That is what I teach and preach in my church. There are probably hundreds of thousands of individuals as deserving who do not get that opportunity, but I do. And then I should turn it down for some reasons? It wouldn’t even occur to me, except if God were to say specifically to me, ‘Don’t do it.’
Q: Did God reveal your victory?
A: That’s the point I’ve been trying to make to you. It is not about winning. That is not what I am interested in. What I am interested in is not what God says about winning or losing. I am not asking Him for, as it were, a lottery. If we were going to play a game, then I could say, ‘O Lord, will I win or lose?’ That’s not the point. The point is will I serve the people or will I not? That’s the only issue I need to consider and I don’t need any special directive on that because that is what God has already said we must do as believers.
Q: And what did He tell you?
A: No, I won’t disclose that to you.
Q: The Redeemed Christian Church of God, where you are a pastor, has come out to say it never endorsed you…
A: I don’t think the church has ever said any such thing. Also, the church does not endorse candidates. The General Overseer of the church, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, has not said any such thing. He has not issued any statement. In any event, the RCCG as a church cannot endorse a candidate. How can a church endorse a candidate?
Q: But did you seek Pastor Adeboye’s consent before accepting the nomination?
A: I serve under the GO of the RCCG as a pastor. If I am going to take any kind of action, especially an action that involves public service, it is my duty to consult with him. It would be absolutely irresponsible of me not to consult with him. And I have consulted with him.
Q: Did he give you his consent?
A: I have consulted with Adeboye fully. I am not prepared to share with you the details of our discussion. But be absolutely certain that I would not take these steps without properly consulting with him and that I did what was needful.
Q: The opposition has labeled you a stooge of the National Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. What is your reaction to that?
A: I think it is irrelevant. I cannot dignify that with a comment. What anyone should do is look at my track record. In any event, when you look at Tinubu, who is it that he has in any form supported that turned out to be his stooge? Is it (Lagos State Governor, Babatunde) Fashola or (former Ekiti State Governor, Kayode) Fayemi? Is it (Osun State Governor, Rauf) Aregbesola or (Edo State Governor, Adams) Oshiomhole? Is it (Oyo State Governor, Abiola) Ajimobi, (Ogun State Governor, Ibikunle) Amosun or Wale Edun? These are individuals who have contributed tremendously to the development of their states and the development of this nation. And all you need to ask those who tell you about stooges and all of that is, ‘Who are those men and women of character who they have produced to serve in the same states where we have served so creditably?’ I think the statement is not really worth the comment.
One of the reasons given for ‘zoning’ the APC vice-presidential slot to the South-West was that the region sacrificed so much for the emergence of the party and that it has been marginalised in the current dispensation. As a candidate of the South-West, what are your plans for the region?
I am a candidate of the APC, which is a national party. Don’t regionalise candidature. Gen. (Muhammadu) Buhari is a representative of the South-West, the North and everywhere else, and so am I. We were elected nationally; we were not elected to represent regions or places. It would be wrong for us to say that the reason why I am there is for the South-West. What then would the South-East and South-South say? I don’t think that regionalising it in that way is right. I think we are persons who have been appointed into national offices and we will serve in those capacities. I think that is the right way to look at this. I believe the South-West will be an engine of change and development in Nigeria. It is important that that is maintained, just as all the parts of Nigeria — the South-East, South-South and the North. Everyone has a role to play and a contribution to make.
Q: Why then did your party say it gave the South-West the slot?
A: I’m sure that is not an official statement of the party. I am sure that is a speculation. I don’t think it is fair to say that is the official position of the party. The party may have its reasons; but officially, the fair thing to say is that Buhari and I were nominated by the party to be national, not regional, officers.
Q: As a lawyer, you are trained to obey the rule of law while Buhari is a retired Army general, who gained power several years ago through a coup d’état. Are you sure there wouldn’t be a conflict if you are elected?
A: I’ve interacted extensively with Buhari and I think he is conscious of the fact that we are in a civilian dispensation and that we are bound by the rule of law and the Constitution. He has repeated this so often. He has demonstrated this by going to court every time he lost election, pursuing the rule of law and legal processes.
He could have completely ignored it. He could have said, ‘I don’t even believe in the rule of law. I don’t believe in the system.’ But he has consistently done the right thing and whenever he speaks, you’ll notice that he always goes back to the Constitution. I believe whatever we may say about the military dispensation, we should realise that the era was not famous for the observance of the rule of law. But I think that after all of these years, Buhari has had plenty of time to reflect and all his utterances in the many years after military rule show that he definitely subscribes fully to the tenets of the rule of law and fundamental human rights and also understands that democratic rule is different from military rule. Thus, I have no problems at all working with a man like him.
Q: Some schools of thought have it that you are of less electoral value, compared with Governor Adams Oshiomhole, Governor Rotimi Amaechi and even Governor Raji Fashola. The argument is that the party is making a mistake by going for somebody who has never contested or won any election. Is the argument valid to you?
A: I think that, perhaps, there is an advantage to that, because it means that I have to work harder. And as you can see, I am working very hard. I think that hard work always pays off. We’re going round, speaking with the people to know their concerns. I take nothing for granted and that is one of the most important things I’d like to bring into the campaign. We must do what we need to do, we must work harder than ever, we must answer questions from the public. We are not saying to the people, ‘I am so well-known. I don’t need to come and speak to you.’ Thus, that might well be an advantage for the party; that I cannot take anything for granted. I need to work hard to get the party’s policies known and recognized. I think it is important that the party has chosen this and I am sure that it took everything into consideration before making the choice that it made. Of course, all the gentlemen you have referred to are thoroughly qualified individuals who would have brought something of worth and value to the ticket; but that’s the nature of the APC, we have many to choose from.
Q: What are the things of value you are bringing to the table?
A: I’m bringing in hard work, focus, my reputation for detailed work and also I like to support a man who believes in probity and accountability. I think that is important. I also would like to work with implementation of policies. We have shown that for eight years in Lagos State. We worked very hard on our justice sector reforms and all the other reforms of the Tinubu-led administration. Even in the subsequent administration, we worked hard with all of those who are there. We have been there in the public service; we may not be famous, but we have worked very hard.
Q: Considering the fact that the Office of the Vice President has no portfolio under the Constitution, how confident are you that you can realise all these?
A: Buhari and I have had several discussions. I know that he will not waste the peculiar attributes that I will bring to the table, because he is a person who obviously values contributions from other people. I have worked with him and I have seen him at work. I don’t think that he would waste my contributions. I think he will happily receive contributions and give me roles to play that will ensure that his administration benefits maximally. What’s the point of having me on the ticket, if he is not going to use what I will bring to the table? I don’t have any doubts at all that Buhari will find my contributions useful enough for him to say, ‘This and that are the things I’d like you to do.’
Q: Which roles do you think he would ask you to perform?
A: I cannot speculate on that. You will have to ask him.
Q: One of the most serious issues the country is facing is insecurity. How do you think this should be tackled?
A: I think the first problem is recognising that you cannot deal with such a major assault on the integrity of the nation when you are misrepresenting the facts. And one of the things that the government, unfortunately, has done is to accuse the opposition of being responsible for the Boko Haram (insurgency), which, of course, has created a division. Look at everywhere else in the world where a country has come under attack. What the government does is to ensure that there is a bipartisan or a multi-party agreement on how to tackle the problem. You don’t politicise the issue. In this case, the false allegations made against the APC of being responsible for Boko Haram (attacks), including allegations made against senior members of the party by the government, first of all, created a distraction. Rather than identify the real causes and issues surrounding the Boko Haram (insurgency), they were busy labelling the APC. This, for me, is one of the greatest disservices this administration has done to this nation. The fact that, rather than focus on who the true enemy was, they waited until Buhari was almost killed by the same Boko Haram before, they started to rethink that allegation, is unfortunate. Whenever they find it convenient, they just throw the allegation around.
I think that the first thing, when you want to deal with a danger of such enormity to a nation, is that you must be truthful, sincere and forthright. You must identify who the true enemy is. The second is that you have to motivate and equip the military and the Commander-in-Chief must lead from the front. You cannot lead from behind. The people must see that just as you are saying to them that they must be prepared to fight Boko Haram, you are also prepared. It is apparent that our military is very disciplined. I have said this many times, the Nigerian Army is one of the best in the world; definitely one of the best in Africa. I served under UNOSOM 2 in Mogadishu, Somalia; the head of the Police that took care of the entire operation, Col. Pat Akem, was a Nigerian. He is now a brigadier. All of the troops from other nations were under his care as the head of the military police in that operation. The Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in that mission always insisted that Nigerians should be the one to guard him when he would go out of the UN compound. Nigerian troops have distinguished themselves in peacekeeping all over the world. It is unfortunate to hear terrible stories that Boko Haram insurgents chased soldiers away and they are not well-equipped or motivated. It is sad. If you want to win against an insurgency, then you must arm the military well. That is what is required. Look at the Chibok girls and all that has happened. Isn’t it right for the Commander-in-Chief to visit the place? For me, I think that these are some of the issues that boost morale, motivate the troops and the nation. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
The third issue is that we must also identify the fact that there seems to be a large pool from where these Boko Haram members are continuously being recruited. What is the reason for that? Many of our young people don’t have a stake in this society. They are jobless; there are no opportunities. And then somebody comes to them and says, ‘if you join us, whatever you steal or loot, including women, is yours.’ That is a problem. I think what we ought to bear in mind is that we must address some of the root causes, especially the pool from which these people are constantly recruiting from. We must address the problems of poverty and disillusionment among young people, especially in those regions where Boko Haram has largely been operating from. I believe that our government would be able to address those issues seriously and comprehensibly. If we say, so far, trillions have been spent on defence, and troops are complaining about bullets and rounds of ammunition, then there is something gravely wrong.
Q: Some personalities from the Niger Delta region have threatened that if Jonathan does not win, there will be unrest. What is your take on this?
A: I don’t think there will be any unrest. I think our brothers in the Niger Delta are very reasonable people. I think what everyone will be looking for is a free and fair election. If elections are credible, no one will take up arms or resort to self-help. If we have a free and fair election, I don’t think that anyone will put their lives on the line to defend the government or any such thing. What is most important is a free and fair election. That is what the Independent National Electoral Commission and the government of today should aim for.
Q: Do you see INEC accomplishing it?
A: The distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards has not shown INEC in a very good light. I would really urge INEC to rise up to its responsibilities. These coming elections are very important for the future of our nation. And I think it is important for INEC to live up to its responsibilities; understand the importance of the elections and understand why the elections should not be tainted in anyway by any kind of suggestion that they were not properly conducted. I think INEC really has a duty to this nation — to ensure that things are done properly this time.
Q: Buhari chose another pastor, Tunde Bakare, as his running mate in his last bid for the presidency in 2011. Does he have a disposition to clerics?
A: You will have to ask Buhari why he likes pastors. But I think it’s a good thing and a good sign. I think it shows that he is well and able to work with anyone — clerics and people of other faiths.
It is believed that Buhari’s quest to sanitize the political system is an overambitious one due to the level of corruption which political leaders in Nigeria have grown accustomed to. What’s your take?
I think our nation is at a point where corruption is almost the norm, especially in the public service. You and I know that that is probably the rule; the exception is any kind of transparency or forthright behaviour. But it is important to draw the line somewhere, because this nation cannot continue with this level of corruption. It is just impossible. I don’t think that people are born well. As a matter of fact, my belief is that most people will do the wrong thing if there is no consequence for their action. And the reason why we are here today is that there is no consequence for the actions that people take — for corruption, stealing, or anything of the sort. That is the reason why I think that what is required, first of all, is an administration where people believe that the number one man will not tolerate corruption. If the number one man is perceived as a man that will not tolerate corruption, then you have moved light years from where we are today. I think that Buhari is somebody who is respected for his strong views on corruption. What we need to introduce today is consequence for corruption. If we don’t do that, frankly I am fearful that we may not have much left of a country.