Akin Osuntokun, the new Director-General of the Obi-Datti Presidential Campaign Council, shares his thoughts withwith ADEBAYO FOLORUNSHO-FRANCIS, on the 2023 elections among other issues
Y ou were absent from your unveiling in Abuja as the new Director-General of the Obi-Datti Presidential Campaign Council. Were you not informed of your appointment?
Of course, I was informed. But I had a prior meeting with one of the patrons of the party. In fact, it was the presidential candidate who actually sent me to the person in the South-West. That was why I was not at the event.
Before your appointment, many LP supporters had suggested that Isaac Balami would replace Dr Doyin Okupe. Is the position down to hierarchy or just any 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, it is expected that somebody from the same region should replace him. It has nothing to do with prejudice. Besides, Balami is a wonderful guy. He has also contributed tremendously to the party. I think what counted primarily for my appointment is the fact that I am from the South-West. I have spoken with Balami. My own interpretation of things is that somebody from the South-West should succeed Dr Doyin Okupe.
Pundits believe your coming into the Obi campaign team was the handiwork of your former principal, Olusegun Obasanjo. Did you lobby for this role or were you influenced as speculated?
(Laughs) If I lobbied for the job as you said, will I tell you? There is no need for me to lobby for this position. I was appointed, as you are aware.
What about the claim that Obasanjo probably hand-picked you for this task?
It doesn’t matter. What matters most are the competence and the capacity to do the job. These are my antecedents. Look, I ran two campaigns in the past, specifically in 2003 and 2007, when I was political adviser to the president. So, running another campaign is not a new terrain for me. First and foremost, I am there. I was appointed in my own right and recognition and not because I was President Obasanjo’s adviser.
There are permutations that the 2023 presidential election may be a three-horse race that could end in a run-off? Do you agree with the notion?
I don’t know. Look, if it goes into a run-off, 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 will play out. If it enters into a run-off, as I said, the Constitution has taken care of that. It will be the arbiter.
What are the chances of Obi who is coming 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 political strategist?
I don’t think there is a basis for such controversy. Obi is superior to the two of them by a wide margin. This time, Nigerians will not accept to be bribed or bought by money. You have seen how people promote the popularity and acceptance of Peter Obi. It is spontaneous and overwhelming. That’s an indication that people have crossed that sort of backward politicking.
Secondly, at the core of Obi’s campaign are the Nigerian youths, who have continued to play the role in all society. They represent and personify their own idea of what Nigeria’s leadership should be. One of the surprises we are going to have is the futility of buying votes. I have no fear in that regard.
You may soon come under fire for promoting a presidential candidate from the South-East at the expense of your kinsman. How prepared are you for this attack?
Of course, not! First and foremost, I have been a zonal coordinator of sorts in the South-West and already in the campaign to face Tinubu. Secondly, I belong to the Afenifere group and that is their position. Thirdly, in the perspective of equity, fairness and justice, there is no zone more deserving of producing the Nigerian President than the Igbo people of the South-East. And, of course, as I said, we cannot continue to compare Obi with the two other candidates. There is no basis for comparison at all. He is head and shoulder above the two of them. I have been known by our people in the South-West and, I daresay, Nigeria at large. As an upright person, I always take position on the basis of principles. Before I joined this campaign, you have been reading my column in the last few years and you can bear me witness that I have always championed the cause of the presidency being conceded to the South-East. The Yoruba have gone past that.
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Now that you brought Afenifere into the picture, we understand the group has been polarised. The leaders also hold different positions on which presidential candidate the group should support in 2023…
That’s incorrect. It (Afenifere) has not been polarised or factionalised. The crisis that happened was between the former leaders and Chief (Reuben) Fasoranti. He has even given a statement distancing himself from the attempt to factionalise the organisation. So, the alleged factionalisation of the organisation is a non-issue and wouldn’t stay.
Is it true that you are still a senatorial candidate of Zenith Labour Party as at the time you took up the appointment of Obi campaign DG?
That’s a redundant issue. I have left the ZLP. It was actually the Constitution that I wrote. Dan Nwanyanwu was the chairman of (Zenith) Labour Party. It was at his insistence that I entered the party because I thought it was Labour Party. That was until I discovered it was the Zenith Labour Party. So, I am not a member of the ZLP anyway. That’s why I said it is a redundant issue. It is of no consequence.
But your name is still visible in the INEC register for 2023 National Assembly candidates. Does it mean you have stepped down from the race?
Of course, I never took it up in the first instance. You can go and verify the case for yourself. You can ask even the ZLP leaders as well as Nwanyanwu himself, who is the chairman.
Having covered eight states and the FCT, is there a chance Obi can campaign in the entire 36 states or are you looking at some certain strategic zones with less than two months left to the election?
Why should we ignore any state? That’s not our standard. If we ignore a state, won’t that state 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 couldn’t tour 70 per cent of the South when he was in Congress for Progressive Change. We are having a serious presidential campaign here. Nobody should ask us that kind of question. Why should there be some states we would not go for campaign?
There are insinuations that the Obi campaign team is broke, hence the need to spend less on his campaign. How will you react to that?
Well, you know we are not moneybags like the two other campaigns but we have enough funds to do what we have to do. So that’s not an issue. We are different from those moneybags who have turned it (the campaign) into a festival of sorts. We are sufficiently ready to do what we want to do. In any case, we are also winning back Nigerians from the culture of money politics or what they call monetisation of politics. And that’s part of it. It is difficult but it is possible to win people back from the destructive policy of monetisation.
Can this policy actually stop vote-buying ahead of the 2023 elections?
It is a mission. Of course, it is not just for us alone. It is a task for all Nigerians to stop vote-buying. It is a very destructive policy to be buying people. I mean these people are not commodity. It is obscene. It is morally and socially offensive to be seen buying people as if you are buying cattle in the market.
It is also believed that there is no silver bullet for vote-buying until politicians stop weaponising poverty. Do you believe in such a theory?
That’s cynical. But before you have a taker, you must have a giver. We need to tackle it from both ends. The truth is that weaponising poverty is not good for any society. And of course, those who sell their votes will regret what they have done. It is not different from selling one’s future for a pot of porridge as witnessed in the case of Esau and Jacob. Do you remember the consequences of his action? Nigerians are, therefore, encouraged not to sell their future.
Do you fear that 2023 could be marred by violence going by the random attack on the facilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission?
Of course, I am worried. That’s a cause for concern. The question is, who are the people doing it and for what purpose? This is because in Nigeria, you don’t take things on their face value. You don’t know who may bring what to the subterranean election campaign to do whatever. It is not a good seed and there is no way it will germinate good fruits. And if anybody is behind it, God is there. He will visit the consequences on those doing that kind of thing. ,
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