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Jonathan has failed Nigerians — Okurounmu

Femi Okurounmu
A leader of the apex Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Senator Femi Okurounmu, in this interview speaks on recent political developments in the South-West.

The controversy surrounding a contract for the protection of oil pipelines in the South-West, meant for the Odua Peoples Congress, seems to be tearing the OPC apart. What is the position of Afenifere on this?

I cannot say I’m giving you the view ofAfenifere, because Afenifere is no longer a whole integral body. There are many factions in Afenifere. Since 2003, there have been many splits in Afenifere. It is difficult for anybody to say he is speaking for Afenifere. There is the Fasoranti faction; there is theAfenifere Renewal Group, and there is another faction that is coming together now. In fact, everybody is Afenifere these days. But no matter how scattered we are, we that are Afenifere, we know ourselves. So, I’m giving you my opinion as an Afenifere leader.

It started with the Niger Delta militants. There is this programme through which they are paid millions of naira monthly. And we also heard they were given contracts in billions of naira; tax-payers’ money to keep them quiet. It is like buying peace. This is nothing but appeasing the people who are attacking the pipelines and destabilising the country. I think it is a bad policy. It is bad for the Niger Delta; it is bad for OPC. It is bad for any such group. It is not right for these ethnic militias to say they want contract to protect oil pipelines. Why do we have police and other security forces? If you make the job of ethnic militias to protect public infrastructure such as oil pipelines, then you will encourage other people to organise themselves and take up arms, so as to get a piece of the cake. It would compound the security situation of the country.

The pipeline contract has been linked to Dr. Fredrick Fasehun’s attempt to resuscitate the United Party of Nigeria. Do you agree with the Action Congress of Nigeria that President Goodluck Jonathan is attempting to use the contract to destabilise the South-West?

I don’t want to echo what the ACN has said about Fasehun. I’m neither an ACN member nor a Peoples Democratic Party member. At this age, I’m an elder statesman. So, if my view happens to coincide with anyone’s view; it is simply coincidental. I don’t know why President Jonathan would want to give Fasehun or OPC such a contract. But if the idea is to get Fasehun to work for Jonathan by resurrecting UPN to destabilise the South-West, then Jonathan has misfired. I think the idea of reviving UPN is one that is dead on arrival; that idea cannot fly. First of all, Fasehun was not a UPN leader. I was a member of the National Executive Council of the UPN, working directly under and with Chief Obafemi Awolowo. There are some other UPN leaders still alive today. It is only such people that can revive UPN with credibility. Among the UPN governors, at least, Lateef Jakande is still alive. I’m not aware he is involved in the effort to revive UPN. When Fasehun came to meet me, I was lukewarm about his idea of reviving UPN. They had already made up their minds before they started talking to people like us. They just want people to come on board. I didn’t believe it. It can’t work because a lot of the UPN loyalists are now either in ACN or the PDP. And these people are not going to leave their parties just because Fasehun, who was not even a leader of UPN, said they should come and revive UPN. It is an idea that is dead before it starts. Those who do not understand the South-West and are giving some money for the purpose of reviving UPN are wasting their money. But I’m not saying Fasehun is being funded for this purpose, but if he is being funded for this purpose, then it is money wasted.

In the days of UPN, the party was seen as a party of the South-West, led by Awolowo…

(Cuts in) That is a wrong impression. UPN was not a party for the South-West. I was the coordinator of UPN in the old Gongola State, which is now Adamawa and Taraba states. I led the campaign for Chief Awolowo there. There were five senators from each state, as opposed to three that we have now. Of the five senators in Gongola State, the UPN had two. We almost won the state. The whole of where we call Taraba State today was UPN, 80 per cent of Adamawa was UPN. We won Kwara and Bendel states and won seats in Southern Kaduna, and Plateau. How can anybody say UPN was South-West party? It was not.

What do you think about the merger of the Action Congress of Nigeria with other parties?

Starting from the Action Group, which was the party of Awolowo and his colleagues, the South-West has never set out to found a party that is exclusively for the region. The AG was not for the Western region. The AG championed the minority movement leading to what we call the South-South region and Middle Belt in the North. Awolowo went to the North to campaign. In fact it was the first place that he used an helicopter to campaign. If he didn’t expect to win election outside the South-West he wouldn’t have spent the amount of money he spent campaigning in the North. We have never set out to have a party exclusive to South-West, but the conservatives in other parts of the country always frustrate our effort to form a nationwide party through rigging. Even when we win elections in those regions, they would change the results and say we did not win because they want to give the impression that we were only limited to the South-West. Awolowo won election every time he contested to be president of this country, but they changed the result in the North for him to lose in an attempt to portray him as a Yoruba leader. Awolowo was a national leader, who had control and support of most Nigerians. So, what the ACN is trying to do, merging with other parties, is in the tradition of Awolowo finding friends from outside the South-West. On that one, I think they are correct. As I said, I’m not an ACN member but I think the merger is a correct approach.

Chief Olu Falae is leading a merger of the 16 parties. Does he have the support of other Afenifere leaders?

As I said, there are Afenifere leaders in the ACN and the PDP. But there is a group of Afenifere members, who are not in any of the two parties and Falae characterises this group. His attempt to form a party is necessary to deepen democracy. A multi-party system is good, if it not abused.

Do you support amnesty for Boko Haram?

I don’t support amnesty for Boko Haram. To give them amnesty is to admit the failure of security forces and government’s ability to protect its citizen. It is to surrender to people who want to destabilise the country. A government cannot operate that way. Boko Haram is a terrorist group and it should be tackled frontally.

Why is it that the South-West seems not to be interested in the presidency come 2015?

South-West is interested but the zoning arrangement rules out South-West. With Olusegun Obasanjo having served two terms as President, people assume that the South-West has had its turn.

Considering the situation of the country in the past two years, do you think Jonathan should seek a second term?

Nigerians are unfortunate because our politicians have failed us. They seek office just for their pockets. We have remained a developing country, when some other countries that had independence same period are now in the first world. That is because our leaders do not have vision. Nigerian politics has become a contest to see who will control the treasury and not a contest to serve to country. All of them, in all the parties, are jostling for turns to control the treasury so that they can continue to exploit Nigerians and steal the country’s money. I cannot get excited about anybody seeking to be President because I know they are doing so for their own pocket. I’m disappointed with Jonathan, but he is just typical of the Nigerian political class. Let any other of these people assume office, they will not do better. Not only that they are there to steal, they don’t have conscience.

Source - Punch news

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