A veteran journalist and former Ogun State governor, Chief Olusegun Osoba, is a prominent member of the opposition merger team. He was confident that the merger plan would not fail this time, even as he explained why the previous moves did not go far. These and more he discussed in this interview with Olawale Olaleye and Shola Oyeyipo. Excerpts:
Let's start with the merger plan. There are doubts that factors identifiable with interests and ambition are waiting to tear it apart and there is a reference point.
We agreed at our merger meeting that under no circumstances should we debate the process on the pages of newspapers because we are conscious of attempts and moves to sabotage the merger. I must however tell you that in principle, we have come together, not because of political offices, not because of sharing loot or simply because we just want to win the presidency at all cost but our philosophy and determination is to redeem Nigeria.
We are on a redemption mission. We are determined to redeem the lost glory of this country. It is our belief and philosophy that we must create a genuine, trustworthy and reliable alternative to the evil that the PDP has become in Nigeria because they have been in power since 1999 and I cannot point out to any major achievement of the PDP government since they have been in power after the emergence of the current democratic dispensation.
Have you tried to analyse why the previous attempt failed?
It failed because we had a presidency that wanted to create a one party state; a one party country. The totality of government machinery and the weapon of intimidation were unleashed on all forms to sabotage previous effort in the current democratic dispensation. The EFCC was used at a time when some governors felt there was need for a change. INEC was used to register multiple parties. Financial inducement was used to create disaffection in parties. The one I can tell you authoritatively was that of Alliance for Democracy. The presidency then funded the breakaway AD deliberately to sabotage the progressive in the South-west. This time around, we are determined to learn from previous experiences. If any of those weapons are unleashed, we have our own strategy to meet them.
Two things: one, people see this as a merger of strange bedfellows. Two, a recent report said PDP governors are also considering being part of the merger. But these are members of a party you'd sworn never to have anything to do with.
PDP as a party is different from decent, reasonable and honourable people who by circumstances found themselves in PDP. In 1998, when parties were being formed, some of our leaders, including Chief Bola Ige were part of the 34 leaders who were the foundation members of what metamorphosed into PDP. If we, the progressives, in the South-west did not break away from APP then, we would probably have created a two-party system right from 1998. A lot of progressives were lost to the PDP. People like Solomon Lar, I can tell you from my experience, were part of those who in the Second Republic, laid the foundation for the progressives to come together in the nine governors group that increased to 12 governors meeting.
It is the efforts of those progressive governors then that led to the formation of Social Democratic Party. When you call us strange bedfellows, you know it is a thing we had done before, when we all coalesced into Social Democratic Party, at that time, when the NRC was described as the conservative. In spite of the different background, because of the progressiveness in all of us, we survived in the SDP and produced the best election in this country that has not been beaten by record. We are back to the days of SDP where those progressive elements that we lost to the PDP will return to their folds.
Is this part of efforts to return the south-west to the so-called mainstream politics?
Our own attitude to the so-called mainstream politics is different from PDP's mainstream politics. PDP mainstream is sharing of positions, largesse and pocketing as much as they can pocket. Our own principle of mainstream is true federalism, in which power is evolved from over concentrated centre to the federating states- fiscal federalism where revenues are shared between the federal and the states.
Each of the federating state can create as many LGAs as it wants. These are part of our own philosophy of mainstream politics; not mainstream to enrich ourselves and enrich our pockets. It will be a country where attention will be focused on security of lives and property, management of the economy, regular and sustained power supply and the philosophy of Awolowo, egalitarianism and equality.
Talk of true federalism, where is the place of council autonomy?
There is nothing like local government autonomy. We had a Supreme Court judgment that ruled that local governments are creation of states. I agree with you that in some states, they are shortchanging the local governments but that is because we don't have true federalism. I have never heard of a country where you have the number of local governments listed in the constitution; 774, and making it impossible for states to create local government that will be developed.
Imagine, Lagos State, the most densely populated state in this country with the highest internal revenue, having 20 local governments and Kano State that was broken to Kano and Jigawa States combined have over 60 local governments, does that make any common sense; arithmetic or mathematical sense to you or even political sense? And then, you keep saying autonomy to local governments. It's autonomy to lopsidedness and marginalisation. Look at London. You know London is the most cosmopolitan country in the whole of UK. It has the highest number of local governments. That is how it should be.
There is an entrenched perception that there are tendencies in the ACN with greed and lust for power. So, where is the place of ideological politics with the grouping of people of different characters and background?
I have told you that the ideological politics in Nigeria was created by Social Democratic Party; this is not a military coalition. So, when you talk about greed and all that, you just might be enslaved to PDP's propaganda.
Ahead of the 2011 election, your party, whether overly or covertly supported the Jonathan presidency. At what point did you fall out?
There was never a time when the ACN ever sat down as a party to say we wanted to support Jonathan. There was never any negotiation between ACN and Jonathan in 2011.
How come he won in the South-west except Osun State?
I'll tell you at the price of repetition. Adamu Ciroma, then, had alienated a lot of southerners at that time with his northerness. He did not play his card well. Therefore, a lot of people who had never voted resented the idea of northern hegemony. Religion came into it. Jonathan was at the Redemption Camp and every born again group just went for Jonathan. Professionals who felt that some people just wanted to come back and grab power for their own interest went for Jonathan. The likes of respected activists, well tested leaders of the likes of the Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka fought on principle for Jonathan to be made president.
Just like retired General Alani Akinrinade who had been Chief of Defense Staff, with Bakare- highly placed people on all forms- the Save Nigeria Group went round the whole country for Jonathan to be given the power of presidency when Yar'Adua was sick. At that time, Nigerians' perception was that we needed to have dynamic person to take charge. Go around the Save Nigeria Group and ask what their experience is now- ask what their feeling is? What do they feel about the situation now? That was the situation in 2011; it went beyond party politics.
What do you think about the celebration of Nigeria at 100?
The centenary celebration, I have no objection to it. It is a fact that in 1914, we were forced to come together as a country. 100 years, for whatever it is worth; it's worth looking at- reviewing. It is not for me now to start crying over spilled milk. We know where we went wrong. In 1999, they imposed on us a president of the PDP without effort to win in the South-west. The PDP continued to rig elections; perfected rigging; created an INEC that was ready to collaborate and cooperate with them. And when I say we are on redemption mission; we want a situation where we would save this country from going over.
Do you think a National Conference can address our challenges?
Oh yes, definitely! What is wrong in talking!? It is very important. If you go to London every Sunday at Hyde Park whatever subject you want to discuss, you can just mount the rostrum and start talking- mentally derailed people, intellectuals and all kinds of character were always there. When I was younger, I used to go to there every Sunday to listen to all kinds of characters. There is freedom of association, freedom of expression was allowed. What is wrong in convening a Sovereign National Conference and let all of us come and discuss the relationship. It is like in a family- what is wrong in the family sitting down and asking themselves some questions of fundamental truth. I don't know why anybody is afraid? Has Britain broken into pieces all because people talk?
Are you not worried about the situation in APGA now following Governor Rochas Okorocha's support of the merger?
I told you that we are not going to debate the merger matter on the pages of newspapers. At the right time, when the recommendations of APC goes to all the parties and it is endorsed by the political parties because- we, as members of the merger committee, are the agents of our respective political parties. Our respective political parties are still to examine what we have done and come back to make pronouncement on it. So why do you want to ask me questions that are beyond my power?