Former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Chief Olisa Agbakoba SAN, is the leader of the National Intervention Movement, which is aimed at working towards using the 2019 elections to produce a new crop of leaders for the country. In this phone interview with Newsmen, he spoke on a wide-range of issues and harped on the need for Nigeria to be rescued from its “worst” state that the President Muhammadu Buhari government using the forthcoming 2019 elections. Sylvester Ugwuanyi brings you excerpts…
Is there any relationship between the national intervention movement and the Coalition for Nigeria Movement, CNM, being promoted by former president, Olusegun Obasanjo?
There’s no relation between both (NIM and CNM). The Obasanjo own came much later. Obasanjo’s group came over maybe six months after ours had been established. We are not the same organization. The whole idea is that we should all be able to form a strong political movement that will make the 2019 elections viable, credible and fair and produce new set of political actors. There are so many movements, there is the NIM, the Tunde Bakare movement, there is the Obasanjo movement, there is Oby Ezekwesili movement; there is that of Charlyboy.
Is the possibility that all these movements will merge into a political front in the build up to 2019?
“What is important is to work towards a common agenda. Whether we merge or not, is not the issue. The issue is that do we all agree that our political and economic condition is in a terrible state. And if so, what can we do about it, particularly for 2019. That is the main issue.
Would you say you have the same agenda with that of Obasanjo’s group?
Some persons allege that Obasanjo is merely trying to install one of his loyalists as president come 2019, what’s your reaction to that?
I’m not interested in allegations. I’m interest in facts. The fact is that Nigeria is not in good shape today and the second fact is how can we make Nigeria a better place? Whoever is on the same page with me to stop Nigeria’s descent into anarchy is my friend. I am not interested in whether the person was a bad man in the past or whatever. My eye is focused on the goal of making Nigeria a better place by 2019 which means we have a great interest in the way the election will turn out, and we have a great interest in who becomes the Nigerian president.
A lot of people have stated that the time before 2019 is practically too short… (Cuts in)
For me, the answer to that is that it is better to do something than to sit down at home and complain. I hope you’re not suggesting that because the time is short and things are getting bad, nobody should talk. That would not be a viable alternative. So it’s best to do something, it’s best to do something. It’s best not to complain about what people are doing. It’s better to encourage them. Here is something new. Let us see how it will play out because we are all Nigerians. We all know that we have had a rough time at the hands of APC so-called change party. So, it is not whether we are merging with Obasanjo’s group or whether the time is too short. What is important is that can we achieve our goals towards 2019 successfully. And if so, how? Those are the important questions.
What really is your strategy towards making an impact in the 2019 elections?
Part of what we are doing is the fact that you are interviewing me on the issue. This goes to show that there is something different that people are looking. There is a momentum and national anger that we can really-really tap into. We have canvassed very heavily for people to make sure they have their voter card because without their voter card, they can complain all they like and remember that there are potential things we can do. The first is to make sure Nigeria gets new political actors in 2019 and for me, that is enough achievement. The icing on the cake is that we would be part of those actors to make sure that there is no derailment. So either of the two, what is needed is a mass conscientization. I can assure you that as the date (for the elections) become closer; the intensity to do things in a more radical way will emerge. You will find many presidential candidates emerging.
From what you are saying, is it that NIM wouldn’t be welcoming any of the traditional politicians we know?
We are trying to define who and who we can accept to work with, so that we don’t get to look exactly like the old people. I cannot say yes or no to your question, except that it is an interesting possibility. But if associating with any politician will put us in bad public light, then we would clearly not work with such. Because if the public feels that is another group being sponsored by the old politicians then we would lose our credibility. So I’d rather keep my credibility because if you lose your credibility you’d have no respect. But generally, I see no reason why in principle, one cannot work with the old politicians provided that they are not tarred or being recognized by corrupt practices or bad behavior. So, someone like Atiku Abubakar may or may not be a partner we can work with.
May or may not? Can you please categorically state whether you can work with the former vice president?
It is about national perception. If the perception is that working with him will not assist us, then we would not, but if the perception is that working with him is something that the Nigerian voters accept to overlook, then we will. So, it is not something I can say yes or no.
But what is your perception of Atiku?
My perception is that his political battle with Obasanjo has tended to put him in a light that Nigerians may see him as not a sort a person that can rule Nigeria in 2019. There is a perception on that. The other is that Atiku has got old but young enough with enough energy and detribalization to bring about the Nigerian dream. So it’s about perception. For instance, when we go into town hall meetings, suppose that we invited him to come and talk to us and we discovered that from the national random opinion, the public identified him as one of the potentially good leaders Nigeria has and if he is identified as someone we can work with, then we can work with him.
Would this happen regardless of Obasanjo’s position on Atiku’s ambition?
Obasanjo is not the Nigerian voting public. He only got one vote. If a sample of the Nigerian voting public supports Atiku, then it makes him a good candidate. Because, at the end of the day, it is the voting public that you need… Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but she lost to Donald Trump who is the president. So, no matter what you say the national trend about how elections are conducted is what matters. Trump understood what the white voting American public wants and he played to it. So, in politics, you must amplify the voice of the voter, not your own voice. I might not like Atiku as a person but if the voting public wants him to be give a chance, then it is something we can look at but we have not reached that stage.
Has Atiku reached out to NIM?
“No, he has not”.
Given the role of money in elections, how do you intend to prevail over moneybags at the polls and where would you pull the resources needed to prosecute an election in Nigeria?
I’m not sure that money is all that it takes to win a presidential election. If money was to be what it takes, Jonathan would have defeated Buhari in 2015. Yes, money plays a very strong role. Buhari won the election largely on account of the disenchantment of the voting public against Jonathan. Yea, money is very very useful but I don’t think money is something that cannot be located at the appropriate time. But, I’d rather have credibility than money. Particularly now that President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC has become one of the worst governments in Nigeria is the main reason to expect the over 30 million registered voters to vote the way they want money or no money. There is a radical departure from money politics. Today, we have social media politics. There is something close to about two million registered members of NIM.
Does this membership reflect national spread or from a particular section of the country?
The calculations we’ve been working on the past two weeks say we have about two million members. We are national, we are at the six zones; we are at 34 states and about 350 local government areas. That’s the spread of NIM. We are in the Diaspora: Canada, India, New York etc. In fact, we have a very wide spread whenever I look at the statistics I get shocked on how NIM has blossomed across the world.
Is NIM going to register itself as a political party?
NIM is simply a movement. Now what does a movement do? If you followed the Italian election on Sunday, some political parties created the Five Star movement, this movement did not field candidates but they campaigned on anti-European issues. And as a result of their campaigns, there is no winner in the Italian election. So, the work of NIM is to energise 2019. Though we have two million people today by the next four or five months we may have five million members. These five million people can do a lot of electoral work.
“There are two levels of work. NIM as a movement is mainly about conscientizing, advocacy, talking, pushing the agenda. It had no electoral objective. Then the second objective is that we endorse a person to be president and we turn our energy and support the person. So, we don’t need to have a political party to achieve any of this. All we need to do is to have an alliance. We can find a good guy in APC and support him; we can also find a very good guy in PDP and support him because he meets our standard. But we have set a standard of what we want in 2019… extremely credible, fresh, innovative, technology driven type of candidate who works hard. And you won’t find that in only one party. At the end of the day, NIM can support candidates from across the parties. And I think, this is why NIM has been successful because if we had become partisan, we would have all kinds of squabbles. In fact, we have about thirty political parties within NIM but we don’t support any of them. It is for them to show us they deserve our votes not because they are carrying money. That is why I said money politics may not be as important as it used to be. Every election presents its own trend. I feel that the social media has broken down the barriers of money. So money becomes only important for administrative and logistics purposes. We are talking about highly undermined, unemployed, angry, discontented youths who have been pushed to the streets. If you have about 30,000 unemployed graduates in Lagos, you think they would go to the ward to collect money? They will go to vote based on what they are seeing on the social media and other advocacy issues. So the money would not be as important.
Do you have confidence that INEC will deliver a free, fair and credible election in 2019?
I don’t know but I just pray they do. I just pray that they understand that Nigeria expects them to deliver a reliable, credible and fair election but I can’t speculate as to how they would do it.
What sort of Nigeria do you expect your movement to bring about?
We want a Nigeria that is a prosperous, industrialized, innovative, technologically-driven country that has social security system for the vulnerable, the aged; A country full of ideas in the ministries, government is working, infrastructure is available, you can go from here to Benin at 8pm because it is safe. That’s the Nigeria of our dream; crime and poverty is at its lowest level, inflation rates are low, the interest rate is at a single digit, banks are lending money, small business are thriving. Nigeria is currently the laughing stock of Africa, a sleeping giant. So, we need to wake from our slumber and occupy our pride of place. Nigeria should one of the first ten of industrialists nations of the world because we have the population. Look at the kind of money MTN is making here. MTN is making more money than the banks and Dangote put together. Why because we are a hundred and fifty million people so how come we can’t take advantage of our huge population. We want the nation’s school system to work so the potentials of young Nigerians can be tapped.
So how would you rate the efforts of the Buhari administration in building a better Nigeria?
The Buhari administration is the worst government in Nigeria’s history. It has delivered absolutely nothing. All the economic indices are high. The interest rate is high, the unemployment rate is high, infrastructure is broken. The economy is dead. This is not the kind of country I dream of.