Comrade Timi Frank is Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress (APC), from Bayelsa State, in this interview with selected journalists; he spoke on the choice of Prof. Yemi Osibanjo as Buhari’s running mate, the chances of the APC in the South-South, among other issues. Umar Muhammad Puma was there.
Some people believe that the choice of Prof Osibanjo as Vice President by the APC was not a good choice, what is your take on that view?
As a party, I believe that the APC has shown proper democratic process that even the acclaimed largest party in Africa, the PDP has never had. I don’t know who is complaining about the choice of our Vice Presidential candidate. But I believe that the choice of our Vice Presidential candidate was chosen by God because the time of change is now. When people ask why we take time in choosing our Vice President, I want to say that the delay was because we wanted to give the best candidate to Nigerians; it was because we wanted to follow proper democratic process and never wanted an imposed Vice Presidential candidate or one that will be handpicked by any individual. So, we consulted widely even outside the party. We consulted with people and Osibanjo emerged. You know that it was not just Osibanjo being considered. There were other persons and at the end of the day, we all unanimously agreed to settle for Osibanjo because this is the time we need change. This is the time we need men of integrity and experience and the time to balance the political situation.
What was that selling point in picking Osibanjo at the expense of other people whose name were mentioned and who were believed to have political structures?
The issue of the Vice President is not all about structure. You can even be a presidential candidate who does not have structure. When Jonathan became the President of Nigeria, he had no structures. When Yar’adua became the President, he had no structures. Osibanjo today may not have structures. It is even better and because of his Christian background, he has a structure whether you like it or not. Redeem is one of the biggest Churches you can think, it has one of the largest followers in Nigeria today. That alone is a structure. It must not be a political structure, but that alone can sell him. As far as we are concerned, every other person that was considered to be the running mate is a fantastic individual who you cannot compare to the PDP vice Presidential candidate. So, I can tell you that we did not chose Osibanjo, it is God that chose him for us as Vice Presidential candidate at this point in time.
We learnt that Osibanjo was arrived at to ward off the Muslim/Muslim ticket and that he was ordinarily a protégée of former Lagos State governor Ahmed Bola Tinubu and that the party was compelled to chose him instead of Tinubu. Is that what really happened?
That is not what happened. Whether you like it or not, these complaints are not coming from leaders of the APC. They are coming from the PDP angle because their own strategy from the beginning did not work out. Right now, the PDP is confused because they felt it would have been an easy beat if the APC field a Muslim/Muslim ticket. That was their calculation because they have turned Nigeria into a complex religious issue and issue of north and south. Before today, there was nothing wrong in fielding Muslim/Muslim ticket. During the 1993 elections, it was a Muslim/Muslim ticket that emerged. As a party, we try to take every religion along. It is not even the issue of religion, but we believe as a party that we should carry everybody along because we must do everything possible to win 2015. So, if that is the case and we pick a Muslim/Muslim ticket, we know that we will be playing into the hands of the PDP and that is what they are going to campaign with. So, we brought a candidate that they never expected would emerge. Successfully, we have announced our Vice Presidential candidate. Yes, people are saying that it is Bola Tinubu that brought Osibanjo. Let me tell you today that in politics, somebody must bring in somebody whether you like it or not. Was it not Obasanjo that brought Jonathan to limelight? Was it not Obasanjo that brought Umaru. So, the issue of Tinubu bringing Osibanjo anybody bringing Osibanjo does not play out in this context. The issue is that somebody has emerged and as far as we are concerned, the APC now has an impeccable Vice Presidential candidate, a man with character and fantastic background and a man that we believe can do the job and that is why we said unanimously that he should be our Vice Presidential candidate.
No matter how we run away from it, some people still see General Buhari as a religious bigot and are quick to point out his past statements especially where he insisted that the Boko Haram crisis was a fight against the north. How far do you think these issues will affect his chances at the poll?
These will not affect the chances of my party. As I said earlier, the problem of the issue of north and south, the problem of Christian and Muslim became stronger under the Jonathan government. Since they have no ideas of how to handle issues, they have no knowledge of governance before coming into government, the only way they can defend their failure is to bring issues of north and south or Buhari saying this or that. Has Buhari said what Jonathan has not said? Has Buhari said what people from the Niger Delta where I come from have not said? To me, that is not the issue. During the time of the Niger Delta crisis we were also complaining that this is a fight against the South south. So, if Buhari said that the case if Boko Haram in the north today is a fight against the north, what is wrong because we also did that during our time. We said then that what is happening in the Niger Delta is a fight against the Ijaw people. Yes we cannot compare what is happening in the north and what happened in the south south or the Niger Delta. Our ideologies were different because we knew what we wanted; we knew what we were looking for. The issue is that there is a crisis in the north and every northerner will think that the government of the day has failed to carry out its responsibility by protecting them and they can say that out of frustration. So, if you see Buhari saying that what is happening in the north is a fight against the north, he could be frustrated because we have a government with the resources and have all the machinery in place to end this crisis and that government of the day cannot do that, that government has failed to end the crisis and if Buhari said that, I don’t see anything wrong with that.
It is also the belief of many people that the Niger Delta is well secured for Jonathan. What is your take on this?
For God sake, how can anyone say that the Niger Delta is well secured for Jonathan? The first thing they should ask is whether Bayelsa is secured for Jonathan. When people say it is well secured, it is the normal process of rigging where they sit in their Government Houses and write results for the President. That is what they normally do in the Niger Delta. They don’t vote in the Niger Delta. In 2011, there was no vote in the Niger Delta. Everybody allocated votes for the President in the Niger Delta and I believe that is the mentality. Even right now, they are planning to allocate votes. Is it possible that you get up in a state and everybody vote for one man, even his enemies will vote for him? Even in Bayelsa, there are people who do not like the President. I can tell you that 60 percent of Bayelsans, if not more will vote out Jonathan in a free and fair election. The problem we have is that it is not everybody that has the guts or the mind like Timi Frank to come out and speak his views. It is not everybody that has the mind like Timipriye Silva to come and speak his mind. It is not everybody that has the mind like Rotimi Amaechi to come out and speak out. There are people that are more aggrieved than me and more eager to vote out Jonathan than me. These people are waiting to see if they will be given the opportunity for fair voting, if they will even see the box to vote, some of them are waiting for that to exercise their anger. That place where they felt that they will have 100 percent is where he will have the biggest shocker because people at the locality have not felt the impact of the Presidency; they have not felt the impact of having their son as the President of Nigeria. Under the government of Jonathan, the Ijaws became more impoverished and became more undermined than when we have a northern President. I can tell you how we got the amnesty programme. Some of the things that were agreed upon as part of that amnesty programme had not been implemented. It is not just sending people abroad for training that is the amnesty agreement. If you don’t know, I can tell you this because I was involved and I know everything. If you have the time and wants me to say it, I will say it because some of these things are what they are hiding and don’t want the public to know. I am not scared of anything, I must speak the truth.
If they had gone to tell the ex-militants and our people to come out and drop their guns so that they will be trained, none of them would have done that. There was some other bigger agreement that Umaru signed. There is a signed document on that. There were promises that were made by Umaru because he did not just make it as a promise. He made those promises because he wanted to do for the people of the Niger Delta because he felt this was his right and was determined to resolve the crisis in the area genuinely. But today, as I speak all of those, under their son from Bayelsa, from the Niger Delta have been buried. I understand that when they discuss some of these things that Umaru signed with the President, he will kick them away, telling them he won’t do it. So, tell me, how any credible Niger Delta man can vote for him? How? And you can interview any of the ex-militants or their leaders. I can recommend names for you for you to speak with them and they will tell you that what I am saying is correct. There was an agreement between Umaru and the people of the south south to build mass housing units in the states of the Niger Delta to compensate them. Today, where is the mass housing units after the death of Umaru and their own son Goodluck Jonathan took over? Today, where is the coastal road Umaru promised our people, assuring that he will award the contract as soon as all the militant came out of the creeks. As we speak, the coastal road is not there because the government of the day said they don’t have money to do that. So, if somebody from the north could give us these kind of heavy promises we have never seen before and he was determined and ready to do it and died in the process and an Ijaw son happen to take that office, the first thing the people of the region expect him to do is to hide under those promises and do those things with the excuse that he was not the one that made the promise, but the man before him and that he is only following his footsteps, but not to come and do worst. After training these people, what will happen to them at the end of the day, they would have caused more harm than before? That is why you are seeing that sea piracy is strong today and militancy is starting gradually again. If these issues of the Niger Delta continue like this under Jonathan government, I must say there is danger ahead. There is a time bomb in our region because if the local people do not get what belong to them, there is problem. I have confidence that if today, Jonathan wins Bayelsa State, it would be rigging and not by votes.
Some people see Buhari as a man with double standards because he promised Nigerians that he was not going to contest elections again after the 2011 election and the PDP is already bringing up these issues. Don’t you think this will count against him?
Well, I will support Buhari if he said before that he will not run for elective offices again and today, he said he will contest. Let me tell you that General Buhari made that statement. But before he made that statement, President Jonathan said he will do one term. So, I don’t see why the PDP will use that to campaign against the APC. Who first said I am not going to run? President Jonathan said it from the beginning that he will do one term. If you go to the internet, you will see those clips of his one term playing out. Former President Obasanjo said it clearly that Jonathan will do one term; their campaign manager said Jonathan will do one term. There are many leaders of the PDP who said that Jonathan will do one term. If Buhari said he will not run again since Jonathan promised to run for one term and he now sees that the President of Nigeria who said clearly to his people that he will only do one term has come out. Whose word should be stronger? It should be the president of Nigeria because he is the person that everybody follows. When you are a father, everybody will want to follow your footsteps. So, I believe that Buhari is trying to follow the footsteps of Jonathan, saying if Jonathan can come back after saying he will not run, I have every right to come out and run because after all that Jonathan has done he is coming out to say he want to be president again.
But APC says the man has integrity?
Of course, the man has integrity. The integrity of Buhari and that of Jonathan is not comparable. There is no way you can compare these two persons. For the little time Jonathan held power as governor in Bayelsa State, as vice a president and today, as President and you put Buhari as former Head of State and Chairman of PTF and a presidential candidate, you cannot compare who has more pedigree. I laugh because there is something that Nigerians have not thought about. In 2011, Buhari cried at the campaign ground when he was speaking. He was not crying because of the election or because the election was going to be rigged. He cried because what a possible four years of Nigeria under Jonathan would be like. He foresaw Nigerians crying after him. Today, are we not crying as Nigerians? He cried because he knew that the leadership does not have the capacity to lead Nigeria, fight corruption, sustain the economy, but coming to deceive Nigerians. Today, every Nigerian is crying.
Your boss and benefactor, Atiku Abubakar lost the recent Presidential primaries and many are of the belief that the frustration from that might force him to quit politics. What actually transpired at the primaries that made him lose and why the choice of Buhari instead of the younger men that contested the primaries with him?
This is a very serious question you have asked. To me, if you ask me who I prefer among the candidates and I have the opportunity to choose the Presidential candidate, I would have wanted my boss, Atiku to be the Presidential candidate. But I am a party man to the core. I believe that every quality you can think of in a man Atiku Abubakar has it. Is it by capacity or by experience? What is it you are looking for that Atiku does not have to become the Presidential candidate of the APC? To cut a long story short, APC as a party wants to win election and I can tell you that all the aspirants we had right from Atiku, Buhari, Kwankwaso, Nda-Isaiah and Okorocha have the capacity to beat Jonathan because I believe that they are more experienced than Jonathan. They have more capacity to bring peace and stability in our nation as at today. However, I think it is God that gives power, but you can only have one winner at every given time. You can never have two winners in a single contest. It does not mean that any of those that lost does not have the capacity to do the job. It was just a democratic process of choosing whoever should be there. The way I believe that Atiku Abubakar would have done better, that is the same way others believe that Buhari will do better or that any of the aspirants would have done better. Every one of them that lost out of the presidential primaries are still winners in their individual ways whether you like it or not.
The general election is just two months away. What will be the selling point the APC will be rolling out?
Our selling point is very clear. It is clear that the evil of corruption is pervading the land. It is not getting better, but getting worse. All sectors of the Jonathan administration are totally corrupt. Our health centres are not working and they claim it is working, majority of our roads are bad. They claim that these roads are good, but Nigerians are seeing these roads because they are using these roads. Today, our economy is crashing because we could not manage the economy. Ask them, what happened to our foreign reserve? All these points to corruption. If you have a president who believe in corruption, if you have a president who love corruption, romances corruption instead of fighting it, what you are going to see is what we are facing today. Insecurity in our country today is caused by corruption. With the billions of naira they call every year going to security, our security agents would have been more equipped, if possible, more than the American security because we put more money into security than any other sector. But we lack the equipment. We have the men to do the job, but lack the equipment to do the job. We have the manpower to do the job, but they are not being encouraged to do the job. It is very sad that whether you like it or not, no matter what anybody will say the blame still goes to the President of Nigeria and that is why Gen. Muhammadu Buhari has come forward to ensure that everything we are going to promise Nigerians will be fulfilled. It is not going to be the usual promises. I am an anti corruption crusader. If this APC which I belonged to comes to power in 2015 by the grace of God, I am sure that we are going to kick against any form of crime or impunity. If we win the election, I will be part of the system and you can hold me to my word. If corruption is not being reduced, under our administration; I am not saying that we will eliminate corruption because stopping corruption will not be a one term thing and there might still be corruption In an APC government. What I am saying is that an APC government will try to reduce the endemic corruption in the system today. But with Muhammadu Buhari and his running mate, we can reduce it to about 40 percent.
Do you think that INEC has the capacity to conduct a credible election in 2015 in view of the complain trailing the distribution of the Permanent Voters Cards across the country?
My view as Timi Frank, with the election processes I have seen conducted by INEC under Jega, the 2011 election is the most flawed elections I have seen and joined with the other elections he has conducted, I have no confidence on free election under Jega. Jega may be a credible person and wants to stop the process of rigging. But the machinery under Jega, they might not allow him to do his job. The job is bigger than Jega as a person. But he will not be in Bayelsa State when election is taking place nor will he be in Kano State during the election, he will only sit in Abuja and wait for results and report. His own duty will be to announce the Presidential results. What I will say is that the people in INEC should know that Nigeria belong to everybody and the masses and not to PDP or President Jonathan. Some of us have been talking to the international community about and calling on credible organisations to come and monitor this election. If INEC officials try to sell the election for the PDP and Jonathan in 2015, they will not go and sleep because Nigerians will defend their votes from all angles. Nigerians are eager to vote and are prepared to vote and then want to make sure that their votes count. If they rig the election, they should be prepared to face Nigerians and INEC should do everything they can do to ensure they must get it right. We don’t want to hear that on the day of election, laptop is not working. We don’t want what is happening now to continue. We are laughing at them now because in some states of the north, they are reducing their voting strength. It has happened in Lagos, it is happening in Kano and in all the states where the APC has the voting strength, and failing to register people, while coming up with all kinds if tricks. Already, election maneuvering is taking place before the election. They have started rigging the election even before you vote, but it will not work. We will protest it by all means because we are very optimistic that despite their campaign and everything they are telling Nigerians that they have done, Nigerians know that they have done nothing because they are not blind. You can only convince Nigerians, but you cannot force them to what they don’t want to do. I can tell you that they have already rigged the 2015 elections by the way things are going. I can tell you that even the international community will not believe if today, INEC announce Jonathan as the winner of the 2015 elections. The first question they will ask is how? We know that Jonathan is very unpopular in the north and the south west. Maybe you can give him 50 percent in the south south because that is his zone. We are waiting to see how they will say that Jonathan has won Kano, Rivers and Lagos. I don’t know the magic they are going to do except they will be prepared to kill all Nigerians. But my message to INEC is clear and this they should know, that Nigeria does not belong to a political party or is Nigeria a company where you have an MD/CEO. Nigeria belongs to the masses, it belongs to everybody and so, they should do what is right to give us free and fair election.
If INEC declares results that fa our the APC, are you saying you will not accept it?
If INEC announced results that favors the APC, you will know that they have done the right thing because already, the APC is popular and everybody know that the party have the capacity and number to win the election. Infact, if he cannot win Kano, Lagos and Rivers state, how can you say you have won the election. These are states that APC has so much confidence to win. We have so much confidence to win the north west, north east and the south west as well as states like Edo, rivers and Imo. If they come out to announce APC as sinners, you know that they have done what they were meant to do. If we win the election and then are afraid to announce the results because of the president, the Nigeria, the Nigerian people will announce the results.