Presidential aspirant on the platform of the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN), Mr. Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim spoke to Nseobong Okon-Ekong on the sideline of the party's first national convention held in Abuja that he has the capacity to run a united Nigeria
What programme does the ANN profess?
Number one, you will see that majority of the people in ANN are people who have something they are doing with their hands. They are not professional politicians who live on politics. The party believes in productive engagement. That is number one and consequently, the focus of the party is not to distribute handouts, but to make sure that we have sustainable employment that is tied to industry and manufacturing. Job is central to that. Creative people who are utilising their creative energy to make value for society is central to that. These are the kind of people you want to encourage in politics. They are the kind of people you want to use your political platform to empower.
Then we want a Nigeria that is not going to be driven on the basis of ethnicity or religious bigotry. We want a Nigeria where merit will determine a lot of things that will drive the values that society runs on. These are things that are quite different. That's not what you see in the two biggest parties in Nigeria. Anytime they are talking, it's about zoning; it's about whether the President is going to be from the South or from the East and all that. That is the conversation all the time. There is no serious focus on how to grow infrastructure. There is no conversation on how to create jobs. There is no conversation on to expand the GDP and the economy. Their conversation is who is leaving the PDP tomorrow for APC; what is the next permutation? When you centre the conversation on religion, these are inanities and lot of people can run away with a lot of things. It's that conversation that has fowled the atmosphere so much now. Criminals who should be in jail will escape with the loot because when you want to arrest them, they will say I'm from this corner or that corner. Then people from their village will go and make a public display that they are persecuting our son because the whole conversation is about ethnicity. It makes nonsense of anti-corruption. It makes nonsense of failure in governance. When you elevate the issues, then people cannot hide and escape the consequences of their criminal actions.
How can your party match the level of vote buying we have seen in recent elections?
That is a job for all of us, including the media. But the level of poverty in the country encourages it. I also think that those who have stolen a lot of money from government also encourage it. Once you de-market certain categories of people and that is the job of all of us, I think the vote buying will reduce, especially de-marketing them by making the election about issues. When the choices are not very sharp, or when the differences in the political platform are not clear, then the electorate will say they are the same. Tell me why anybody should prefer PDP to APC? There is no reason. That's an incentive for vote buying, when there is no difference between the political parties. When there is a clear difference. I think the scope of vote buying will become narrower.
As the former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), why are you pursuing your presidential ambition on another platform?
I left PDP in November 2006. I had issues at that time with the PDP and I think the party now is worse. We had issues of internal democracy and the standards were even pretty high in terms of values and we even questioned that they were not adequate. You can imagine what it has become now. I think it's pretty worse now than when we formed the party. Some of our colleagues in the National Working Committee (NWC) wanted automatic extension of their tenure from two years to four years. Late Harry Marshal, myself, and others challenged it, even though we were supposed to be beneficiaries of that extension. We had just come from military dictatorship and coming into democracy, we were not supposed to be conducting ourselves with impunity.
By 2006, a lot of people exited the party including the founders of the party. That was why the 2007 election was the worst election in Nigeria. It was like warfare because they had lost support of most of the members that made victory possible. They needed to rig election massively. Some of these people who became governors in that era on the PDP platform didn't really win elections. Some of them transformed themselves to Senators. The perfidy did not start today.
But the other dimension was that people who were helped into office through rigging had less loyalty to people's welfare. This took a toll on the quality of leadership. You had some governors who were making their houseboys governors. Some of them made their cash officers or account officers in banks to become governors. I just make my account officer in the bank; I say I'm going; you are the one who can cover my track. The guy had never participated in politics. He had never even been a student union leader. He has never been a leader in the CAN or a Muslim organization where he have some rudiments of organising people, and straight, he becomes Chief Executive of a state.
Why do you want to be President?
I can put Nigeria back together. Nigeria is badly divided and it needs a unifier and a bridge builder. Nigeria's economy needs to be rescued from complete collapse. Even the growth rate of 7 percent that we have for about 15 years until 2015 was not a good enough number to grow Nigeria out of poverty. We needed our GDP to expand sevenfold to be able to be at par with the countries that were in the same rank as Nigeria's like Malaysia at independence. We want to evolve a middle income country, having per capita income of between $16,000 to around $25,000 and if we are going to be at that level, we need to grow within ten years, our GDP by sevenfold. I understand how the modern economy is organised and I'm an investor myself in different countries and I have done business for 27 years. So, I have practical understanding of how to expand our GDP and grow our economy, as one who is on top of both economy, practically and theoretically. There are very few people in Nigeria who have the privilege of having strong level of political training and also sound economics and that's important for Nigeria. We have to unite the country and at the same time, we have to deal with the economic challenges. At the bottom of some of these challenges in the country is competition for resources and massive poverty. It also contributes to the number of these upheavals that we are having in different parts of the country. Some of the realities are quite scary and needs the urgency of now to arrest them. Otherwise, if the trend continues, things can really run out of hand. Some months ago, we were discussing with some people who came to visit us from Shiroro (Niger state) and we were talking about insecurity, they said the kind of insecurity we are seeing now is not just about herdsmen and farmers clashes; that in Shiroro, once they bury their yams in the ground around the planting season, some people will go and unearth the yams; some will even go and sell the seedlings in the market in order to have some money. What they do now is they mark the yam seedlings with paints so that when it shows up at the market, everybody will know that this is a stolen yam. Are you going to send policemen to be manning every farm in Nigeria? This is a huge social economic crisis. That one is no longer just security problem. It's a serious problem of chronic poverty and collapse of all the economic lever of hope. This matter is an urgent matter. You cannot discuss some of these security challenges outside the issue of poverty and the collapse of the economic support system for the people to live to be human beings in the first place. That demands an urgency of now.
The discussions and analysis of 2019 leaves all these practical questions out. The real issues are left out and we will ensure by the grace of God that 2019 election is going to be about issues. It's not just going to be about the shenanigans of politics.
Do you see your ambition being hampered in one way or the other by zoning, ethnicity, which appear widespread?
I don't see how my ambition is limited by that. If anything, I think Nigerians want a truly Nigerian President. It only helps in a period of great division. Nigerians need a true Commander-in-Chief of all Nigerians regardless of where they come from or regardless of their State. That is the President that Nigerians need and that person is me.
Your name as it used to be known when you were in the PDP and what you are known now and also your home state have changed from what you have today. Are contesting from the FCT? Why these changes?
That's the Nigeria the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) wants. I've lived in Abuja at least for a while, doing business for more than 20 years. You shouldn't have a problem with (Governor Rauf) Aregbesola moving from Lagos to become governor in Osun State. This is not the first time we are having this type of thing. The country we want to build is the country where your regional descent should not define you politically. I have heritage in about three states. I have lived abroad for about 10 years of my life. I'm completely a cosmopolitan person. I don't have dual citizenship. I have only the Nigerian passport. I've had the opportunity of taking citizenship of other countries but I had never done that.
The Nigeria of our dream is the Nigeria where any Nigerian can get up from anywhere and contest for public office and that was the beauty of Nigeria before. Sir Kashim Ibrahim- a Borno man was elected in a predominantly Christian state (Benue). You talk about Zik of Africa who was elected into the Western House of Assembly. I think what we have now is a complete degeneracy in our polity in this era. The founding fathers of our Republic were more progressive and more forward looking, whether they were from the North or West. They were more nationalistic and more patriotic. It beats my imagination that the younger generation who claim to be more educated and more exposed, are regressing into clans which wasn't even the case in the First Republic. We need to take Nigeria back to those values that gave Nigeria independence; a Nigeria where an Igala man can become the Mayor of Enugu and Enugu people will have no qualms about it.
There is lots of irresponsibility on the part of the leadership where the body language of the various leaders have been encouraging division, rather than bringing Nigeria together. I'm happy to say that Abuja is my base now.
You have that the ANN will make the 2019 race a three-horse race. How your party achieve that?
The two horses are on their way to death already. They are bleeding very horribly. You have almost 10 million voters who are going to be voting for the first time in Nigeria. They are the crop of people who ordinarily were not showing interest in politics. These are the first line of support for the ANN. In a three-way race, if you start with 70 percent of that vote, you are already halfway through and you can do your research. These ones are unlikely to vote for PDP or APC.
Then you have a number of patriotic people even in the APC and PDP who have been trapped in that politics and these people have been given the impression that it's either this one or that one. But the ANN is offering a ray of hope that captures their imagination. They are already leaving the two parties in droves. Ordinarily, a lot of Nigerians are forward looking and they are really yearning for a new Nigeria, a new polity.
Having left the PDP in 2006, what did you engage yourself with between 2006 and 2018?
I've been a businessman. I've never had any other occupation rather than running my business for over 27 years. Politics is the one that is my second address, not my first job. That's why I can walk away from a meeting if I don't agree to what they are doing. I'm not compelled to be part of any political grouping except I really have interest in what they are doing.
I've never been more fulfilled in my life politically than I am currently and I am enjoying it, being a political platform that I believe in ideologically and that is expressing who I am and mirroring the kind of country I want. I'm not managing this platform. I'm at home. After the 2015 election, I promised myself that as long as I live in this country, I will never sit back and disallow the Nigerian electorate say, 'oh, we don't have a choice. These parties look the same'. We have to present them with a credible alternative because in 2015, a lot of people really didn't have a choice. The 2015 election was like a referendum to remove Jonathan and of course you see the consequence of what happened. Election should not be just any idiot. People should have concrete choices to make in terms of programmes, in terms of ideology and that is the least responsibility that we owe Nigerians. If we can present that alternative and that programme, regardless of how they vote, we would have done our due and then it will be for the electorate to live with the consequences of their choice. I have a lot of regard for the electorate that they are sensible enough, they are literate enough and they have shown that in fact they are rooting for good government. By the grace of God, the outcome is going to make the whole world proud of Nigeria.
Is that why you call yourselves technoticians? Can you explain?
That's a term in ANN. It means basically technocrats, lawyers, doctors, professionals who are also interested in politics. That is that slang in ANN. If I want to make it simpler, it's people who have something they are doing with their hands.
IN THE MIRROR (Box and Shade This Part)
*Former student union and rights activist; founding Deputy National Publicity of the PDP
*Imprisoned without trial by the IBB regime, declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International, later freed after legal battle and international pressure
*Formerly known as Gbenga Oladepo, now known as Gbenga Oladepo-Hashim' originally from Kwara State, now contesting for political office out of the FCT
*First runner-up in the 2007 Kwara State governorship election on the platform of the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP). Dr. Bukola Saraki won the election. Contested on the same party ticket again in 2011, but lost
*Spent over N50 million over two years to reclaim the mandate in legal battles, besides hundreds of millions spent on the actual quest for the governorship
*Serial investor in different sectors of the economy and multi-billionaire businessman
*Promised 400,000 jobs to Kwarans. Presented the blueprint titled, 'The Leader We Trust' which contained how the jobs would be created, where it would be created, the cost, where to secure the funds and how to payback within four years
When the choices are not very sharp, or when the differences in the political platform are not clear, then the electorate will say they are the same. Tell me why anybody should prefer PDP to APC? There is no reason. That's an incentive for vote buying, when there is no difference between the political parties.